by Becca Swift
The very few books I had on the shelves, the table in my room, the bed I had slept in a few hand full of times.. they were all burning. Smoke from these things began filling my lungs as I lied down on the floor. Fire burned my clothing, the uniform I had paid gold for, meant to protect against basic level magic—it was never a match for the spell fired at me.
I heard breathing, and her sighing as she stared at me.
“So you are,” said Pauline. “Don’t worry anymore.” That’s what she said, ‘don’t worry’? Her words echoed through my mind, words that made no sense on any level.
The only pain I felt was the knock back from her spell. It wasn’t at all the fire that continued burning the fabric of my clothing, some also that clearly seemed to want to burn my skin but instead felt like a soothing fire around a campfire. I then heard people screaming from outside my house window, quickly catching my attention and I picked myself up and ignored Pauline, who had stood in front of me. I looked outside my window.
“Do you like what you see?” asked Pauline. There were soldiers running through the far streets in the night with uniforms that I couldn’t recognize, all of whom were lit by the city magic lamps floating above them. To their opposite were ones that I did recognize… a lion’s emblem, like the one that Zeyl wore. Where did they all come from? “Those are Talician soldiers.. your own people. ”
Dozens of fires started spreading all over the city while it was still dark out. Fires that were also emerging from various directions, explosions popping up left and right, magics of different variations, colors along with them that represented their spells and readiness to begin a conflict.. and I could feel my own breathing become heavier. This was my home and it was being destroyed… and I didn’t understand why.
“War has already started,” said Pauline. Then there was a sudden stinging pain on the back of my head, forcing me to hit the floor and in less than a second had lost consciousness.
* * *
I woke up. Felt like I was being held with stomach over someone’s shoulder and with steps echoing, splashing in one inch high waters as I looked on below me. It was a long narrow tunnel and we traveled in it with small fire forcing itself from the tip of Pauline’s lance to light the way. If I didn’t know any better, this would be the sewers. Then the first thing that came to mind was of the events that happened. Is Aril okay? What about Selsie? Kahl, Sophie? I tried wriggling myself out, but I saw that my hands were tied in a knot.
“Don’t worry,” said Pauline, again, a phrase I remember her saying. “Your friends are fine.” I tried wriggling myself out from her hold again.
“…Let go!” I yelled, this time managing to move myself from her grab and falling to the ground, making a small impact on my body as I hit the wet, cold floor. My hands weren’t tied to my back, so I had contact on the very shallow water. I immediately stopped movement of atoms by her feet, looking directly around her shoes and freezing them in place.
Crack. Like a sound of something shattering, Pauline easily broke through the ice and walked over to me. Dammit!
“I’m trying to save your life,” she said. How could I believe that when she blasted my room with fire. “Trust me… and sorry.” Again, I felt this sudden pain on the back of my head that was quickly followed by a sound of a blunt object hitting me. I lost conscious once again.
* * *
Again, I woke up. This time it was bright as day and were no longer in the tunnels. I was laying on my back and I could recognize that we were somewhere in the woods. Pauline was a few feet away resting with back against a tree and lance by her side. The moment I thought I could just so easily walk away, however, she had opened her eyes and looked at me. Got up and stretched her entire body. Brown eyes, brown hair, a face of young woman with small freckles on her face.. if I ever get away from her and we met again somewhere in the world, I won’t forget what she looks like.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why what?” she said.
“Why am I still alive?” I asked. “Why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“Because I need you alive,” she said. “I only wanted to make something certain back in Aria, and that was making sure you were the Queen’s son. It’s true.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Would you believe me if I said that–”
“I won’t believe anything you have to say,” I said, cutting her words before she could finish. She sighed and began walking over to me and proceeded to picking me up and placing me over her shoulders again.
“You don’t have to believe me,” said Pauline. “But just listen..”
“…” Not like I have much of a choice.
“The royals born in Talica, like I said before,” she said. “They have a great affinity to fire… They can’t be burned because the first king cursed his own family when he committed suicide by the very same flames he used to warm his region.. the region now known as Talica. That’s how the stories go.”
“…” Pauline kept walking through the forest with me on her shoulders and continuing with her narrative.
“There are many reasons for you having been… imprisoned… in your own castle,” said Pauline, catching a fraction of my attention.
“The moment you were born,” said Pauline, “as a male to the Talican throne, was the moment you sucked out all of your mom’s power. Most of it anyway, else I’m sure she’d die.”
“I wanted to know if that was true,” said Pauline. In the mean time, I kept looking past the tall trees for any sign of which direction Aria might be. She continued. “They want you dead.”
“Princess Nes, Alice,” said Pauline, “even the Queen herself wants you dead and by doing so… she gets her power back. All so she can be ready for what is already happening.”
“You have no proof,” I said.
“Well,” she said, “we already established that you were indeed a prince of Talica. You can’t burn and fire seems to love you.”
“…” We kept walking through the forest, myself still hanging over her shoulder.
“If you weren’t so loved,” said Pauline, “that would have been the end of your life. I would be walking through this forest alone and war might have never broke loose in Aria… earlier than expected, of course. It would have still happened eventually.. just like all other countries.”
“But you are,” she said. “You are the little prince we’ve been looking for and now I need to keep you alive so that the power hiding somewhere in that little body of yours doesn’t return to the Queen.”
“So you’ll keep me safe?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Imprisoned, too?” I asked.
“No-” she she said. “We’re going to keep you in the Dahramn capital and you can wander the city all you want, provided you have an escort or two as a way to keep you safe.”
“How is that any better?”
“You won’t be dead, for starters,” she said. “You can do whatever you like. Study magic, drink and eat whatever you want… eventually, you’ll get older and you can marry whoever you want, have children and be happy.”
“You make it sound so easy…” I said. “Is that what you tell everyone you kidnap?”
“People will celebrate your well being!”
“And all you have to do is stay alive,” said Pauline. “As for Talica…”
“It won’t last,” said Pauline. I couldn’t see the face she was making, nothing but the ground moving below us as her feet moved.
“You were with them,” I said. “Why betray them?”
“Betray?” she asked, sounding confused. “No. Talica is just too powerful with just the Queen herself. I’m not from Dahram, and I’m also not a Talician. I’m not betraying anyone…”
“You sound like you’ve gone crazy,” I said.
“It’s not like I expect a child to understand,” she said. “But also, I’ve been wanting to know.”
“Where did you go?” she asked. “It was years before a signal from your seeker stone popped up. It’s a very expensive seeker stone, so it wouldn’t have mattered where you were as long as it was in this world..”
“Not going to say anything? That’s fine.”
“I’m tired,” I said.
“You must be,” she said. “I’ll get you something to eat after we cover more distance. Some fish perhaps?”
I looked at my hands, still tied up and placed them on Pauline’s back. Like the electrons I had on my mind, I let them jump from atom to atom to create a wave of electricity through Pauline’s body. Like a taser hitting a person’s body, Pauline immediately hit the ground along with me and her lance. .
“..egh?!” she let out an unintelligible sound. Her body, I could feel her twitching from the shock I had given her. Then I tried removing the bindings, but no luck. I walked over to her lance and carefully placed the pointy end to it to try and quickly cut through the biding. Again, it didn’t work. What is this crap made out of? A rope, jet black and tightened around my wrists.
With both hands still bound together, I touched the lance while it was now on the ground and had its atoms quicken its movement in all directions, heating the steel and letting it burn bright red, melting as I continued. There were magic stones that sinked into the melting metal. The lance’s height is about a foot taller than Pauline, heavy, too. I definitely can’t use this for myself.
“…” I looked to Pauline and back to the lance with hands on it. She won’t be able to use it now either.
Bright as it was, I know it was hot and indeed I couldn’t feel the pain. Heat, fire, whatever it was, it didn’t hurt me at all. I looked over at Pauline again, her head was facing her lance, eyeing her now useless weapon that was at most a foot away and she slowly tried to get up. By then, her lance had already melted down to the dirt on the ground. I placed my hands on her back and though she tried pushing me way as weak as she now was, I began shocking her with electricity again.
“Sorry,” I said. I’ve never been tazed before, but I hear it hurts.
If I did it without stopping, she might die. I stopped. She was twitching slightly. Muscles seemed to move a bit violently as I could see them react on her skin. That must hurt. She lost her balance and her torso hit the ground.
“Pp-p-php,” she tried speaking. “Pla-lease.”
“I’m not going to kill you,” I said, sitting myself next to her and trying to regain some of the magic reserves I used up while melting her lance. It took quite a bit. “Were you lying?”
She shook her head just barely. No? I sighed.
I took a look at my bindings again. What I could do is separate the atoms on it and practically cut through it. Thus, I began doing so. My thoughts filled of what Pauline had said and though I chipped away at the rope that bound my hands, in doing so, I quickly and by accident cut a shallow wound close to my wrist. It stung. I could accidentally cut my hands off. I need to focus. Slowly this time. I removed the atoms that made up the material of the rope and eventually cut through it.
“There,” I said. Wrists unbound and able to fully use my hands freely.
I looked over to Pauline, still down, she wasn’t twitching at all now. I gathered the nearby melting metal, still hot but it didn’t bother me the slightest. I slowly cooled it and shaped a portion of it, thus creating the image I had in mind. A hand-cuff, I then proceeded to wrap it around Pauline’s right hand and forced some of the metal to dig deep into the earth to keep her bound. Now I don’t have to risk damaging her insides from repeated shock.
The rope, I picked it up and looked at the cut I made by removing its atoms in a line that was unbelievably clean. Smooth to the touch as I placed my fingers over it. This world is no exclusion from being made up of mostly atoms. I don’t think there is such a place. I forced the atoms from the rope’s material on both ends together. They stuck to each other as if I had never cut between them in the first place. This used little magic.
Pauline was still on laying down, front facing the ground but still immobile with one hand cuffed to the ground. Her eyes looked directly at me. Eyes half opened and her iris following my movements. They were a warm orange or brown color now that I had a closer look.
She move the cuffed hand up but it was strong enough to keep itself from being dug out the ground. I immediately placed my hands on her and she stopped resisting. She knows I’ll send in another shock if she tries that again.
“How can you do that?” she asked.
“If you go back to them,” she said. “They will kill you.”
“I just want to hear it from them,” I said. “If Alice tells me the same thing you said.. that they want me dead… I’ll fight back… and I’ll hate her forever. Also, I have one more thing to ask you.”
“Can I trust Lilia?”
“Lilia…” she said. “Yes, you can trust her.. because I truly believe she will protect you, even if it means going against the Queen herself..”
“Thanks,” I said.
I took the rope and walked away from her, then looked at my surroundings one more time. A good place to start was the general direction we were walking away from.
“Liel!” I could hear Pauline yelling my name but I ignored it.
I then spotted foot prints on the ground, likely Pauline’s, and began following the direction they came from. Five or so minutes passed and the prints were gone in what looked like an open field, a rare open patch of land in the forest. The prints could be in any direction now.
“Great..” I suppose I could just keep following the same direction and hope I pick up on the prints again.
A faint sound was heard. Like muffled steps heading from somewhere ahead of me where the forest began again on the edge of the open field. I immediately ran to hide behind a bush and trees. The steps grew in numbers, quickly, they sped through the forest and to my direction. Three people suddenly stopped about forty feet away from me. I saw them.
“… Alice,” I whispered. She was there with Nes and the other must be Lilia. They looked around and saw the foot prints that led to Pauline. They now had their backs to me and I stepped out of hiding from the bushes. The sound from it quickly alerted them and heir eyes turned to me. Lilia’s lance, Nes’s sword, both pointed to me.
“Prince Liel?” asked Lilia. She let her lance down, and I know Nes recognized me, yet her sword was still pointing at me. Alice moved and seemed to want to run towards me.
“Stop!” I yelled… and she did. This is like a repeat of that time in the castle.
“I want to know,” I said, looking straight into the eyes of Alice, then Nes. “…Did you come all the way to Aria, just to kill me?” I then looked to Lilia. She placed her lance down, kneeled and closed her eyes. I kept waiting for an answer. There was a long pause and every second longer forced some sort of truth with Pauline’s words.
“Yes,” said Nes, “that would have been true at some point a few good many years ago.”
“I see,” I breathed in… and out.
“Don’t misunderstand, little brother,” said Nes.
“It is true that you were meant to die if war should have ever broken out again,” said Nes. “Our mother, however, would never let harm come your way and made sure to keep you a secret from some… more extreme Talician nobles with resources stretching as far the Queen herself if they all ever banded together.”
“…She loves you,” said Nes. “Lehvie, our mother, and even myself.” She looked to Alice. “I’m sure Alice, too. We all love you.. so come back home. We will protect you.”
“…” And there it was… I wanted to laugh at what I believed to be a joke. “Please, define the word ‘protect’ for me.”
“Just until the war is over,” Alice entered the conversation, seemingly eager to calm an urge to yell at them within me. “We’ll keep you in your castle home.”
There was a feeling of anger welling up inside me.. but it’s not like I didn’t understand their reasons. Yet.. I’ve lived this whole time without others bothering me in Aria. No one tried to kill me, and I found a place to call home. Then someone else spoke up.
“My lord,” said Lilia. “I will abide by your decision, so, if you will allow it.. let me stand by you.”
“…Tell mother,” I said, ignoring Lilia for a moment, “… that I renounce all claim to the tittle as Prince of Talica. There is no need for anyone to follow me anymore..” I looked directly at Lilia. “But if it’s something you truly want to do, then I won’t stop you.” Lilia got herself up and walked over to my side. We now faced both Alice and Nes.
“It won’t be that easy,” said Nes. She put her sword up in what seemed an offensive position “Even if I have to drag you back home.. I won’t hesitate to do so.”
“It’s never easy,” I responded, along with a need to Laugh as I looked back on my past troubles these years.. Lilia pointed her sword at Nes. Now there was one more person. “Alice?”
“…I’m with Nes,” she said.
“You can’t protect yourself with so few,” she said. The same way Nes put her sword up, Alice with both hands up and out from her sleeves were magic stones flowing out one bye one. They began circling her, floating around her in the air like the same way a moon orbits its planet. Twenty well trimmed stones, crystals poured with magic and each began glowing brightly. Some even glowed a familiar hue of blue, like the one that had once protected me. The same color was now aimed in my direction.
“…We won’t hurt you,” she said. “But you need to come with us…”
The wind blew carefully, and I breathed in the forest scent around us. There was a very long pause, a minute or so.. and I gave them my answer with just one word.