______________________________________________

Rook’s feathers sometimes caught fire. ‘Because he’s happy,’ was the explanation Nes gave me. She had reins over his beak and carefully guided us through the skies, and I was tucked between my two sisters.

“It’s normal for a phoenix,” said Nes. “At birth, a hatch-ling coats itself in a constant flame for warmth, for protection and as a natural instinct.” Nes tapped on my shoulder, “now, get some sleep.”

I was tired. Even moments where I could doze off were crushed by the slightest pull of gravity towards the ocean below. And if it wasn’t Rook’s feathers catching fire, the noisy winds would keep me awake, if not that, the fear that letting go of Nes meant that I would fall to my death. Unlike Lehvie behind me, her head rested on my back and arms around my waist, the only way I could fall asleep was if I was chained onto Rook and stuffed in a bag.

“You’ll get used to it,” said Nes, as if she could read my mind. And perhaps because we’ve been flying for over a day, Nes had been awake far longer. “You worry too much.”

“Is there magic that lets a person read minds?”

“No,” she said. “But there are some who can sense emotions. Besides, the way you’re reacting isn’t any different from how it was for Lehvie on her first time flying, or mines for that matter.”

“What was your first time like?” I asked, and there was a pause before Nes answered.

“The first time was with mother,” she said. “We were in Licia and had to fly home for an emergency. There was no preparation, no warm up. I probably screamed at the top of my lungs.”

“Probably?”

Nes chuckled, “probably. But it’s not like you feel any different. Anyway, here, ride up front with me.”

Nes got up, careful to stand on Rook, and like an acrobat on a tight-rope, she snuggled herself between Lehvie and I. And with arms holding to Rook’s rein, she made sure I wouldn’t fall.

“Hey, Nes,” I said.

“Hmm?”
For once I felt like I could fall asleep, and my consciousness drifted.

“Thanks.”

* * *

            I woke up to the bustling winds and chilly night sky. There were rows of lights below us, each like a candle lit brightly inside of buildings and like a weak sun shine below.

“Is this…”

“Stanhal,” said Nes. She had her gaze focused on the town and her rein over Rook tightened. Soon, we were gliding in a circle around a building and were getting ready to land on a balcony.

“What’s here?” I asked, and heard a yawn behind us. Lehvie had just woken up.

“It’s a Talician Embassy,” said Nes.  “You can feel at ease here.”

Rook slowed to a halt and flapped his wings to land steadily on the balcony. From inside came a group of people, all red haired just like us. Nes was the first down and offered Lehvie me a hand, then to Lehvie who had her eyes half shut.

“Your Royal Highness,” said one member in the group, and old man who was well dressed, even at this time of night. “We weren’t expecting you.”

The others wore formal attire, one had an emblem of a shield, and a great number of them wore just the phoenix. Two, however, had their eyes fixated on me. Their emblem was that of one I have seen before; phoenix bearing sword. In other words, my house emblem.

“We’re coming from Aria,” said Nes. She took the half-awake Lehvie in her arms and we were guided inside. It was as I expected, there were rows of bookshelves, desks and chairs neatly laid out. “Has there been any news from the capital?”

“Nothing,” said the old man. “Is there something your highness is expecting?”

“Nothing from mother, either?”

“The last message we received from the Queen was three months ago, she requested that we accommodate guest into the embassy. Nothing else.” Nes seemed relieved.

“And the boy?” asked the old man. Everyone’s attention was on me.

“Liel Oliver Charles Lician,” she declared. “First Prince of Talica.”

Everyone in their group kneeled, this time far longer than is comfortable. My cheeks were red and I wanted to avert my eyes. This was too much! The two from before with my house emblem, their posture seemed less forced, and more natural, as if they have known me for a long time. I felt a tug at my shirt. It was Nes and I took it as a sign to introduction.

It is a pleasure—or how are you—there were too many options to pick from.

“H-hello,” was my choice and there was utter silence, like expectations ran high.

“We’ll be leaving in the morning,” said Nes.

Afterwards, I found myself sharing a bed with Lehvie, who at the moment of touching the silk sheets had fallen fast asleep. I looked at the clock. It was ten minutes into midnight. I closed my eyes only to open them again and looked at the clock. Only twenty minutes had past. It was uncomfortable. Everything in the room resembled the one in my old room. The sheets, the wood, the stone floors, shelves, everything, I was sure, was Talician made. In a few moments I found myself sweating. My breathing was quick, and heart following in a rapid pace. I made my way to the door and found that it was locked and there was no way to open it. My hands were shaking and I felt desperate. I focused on the doorknob and sped every part of its atoms until it glowed red and melted off. I pushed the door open.

“Damn…” I whispered under my breath. Why now?

“Lee,” I felt someone tug at my shoulder. Lehvie was behind me, one hand on her mouth and yawning. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m going to sleep in the hallway,” I said, and sat with my back against the wall out in the hallway. Lehvie went to the bed and returned with a pillow and some covers. She sat next to me and we fell asleep.

* * *

            When morning arrived, I could feel the presence of others nearby. I opened my eyes and saw the early light coming from inside the bedroom, and next to me, Lehvie missing. To my right and left were two people standing guard, both bearing my house emblem. They stood there with spear at hand and unmoving, they were like statutes but armored in dark reds and gray steels from head to toe. I wondered how long they had been there. I breathed in deeply and yawned, and yet there was no reaction on their part. Not for a moment anyway, as one of them followed with a contagious yawn. I stood and folded the covers and soon brought that and the pillow back inside the room. The doorknob I had melted was no longer there, instead, it had been replaced with a new one.

“Young prince,” said a voice, an effeminate one. She sounded hesitant, as if unsure how to address me.

“Yes?”

“Is there anything you need—“

“Lee!” Lehvie walked in, “ah, excuse me.”

Lehvie pulled me the arm and dragged me to the bathroom with the guards following behind. Inside were shelves of items, towels, shampoos, and other toiletries. Besides that, there were two doors separate for men and women, but before I could do anything, Lehvie pushed me inside the women’s bathing room.

“Wait!” I said, “wait, wrong room!” Lehvie might be a few years older, but her strength was no joke.

“Hmm? No, it’s not,” she said, “no one’s here.” Lehvie took off my clothes and grabbed two towels one our way in. The bathing room was empty, and there were magic crystals hanging in pairs on the walls with mirrors below. Buckets littered around and a pool area at the end that steamed.

“That’s a relief,” I said.

“No one is allowed inside while members of our family are here,” she said, and I sighed. I gave in to Lehvie and she had me sit down near the shower. “Just the hair.” I lowered my head and closed my eyes. The crystal above shot a gentle stream of water, and Lehvie scrubbed every inch of my head with shampoo.

“Hey, sis,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Whose orders are they following?” I said, referring to the guards. Perhaps Nes ordered them to look after us.

“I don’t think anyone’s,” she said. “You noticed the house emblem they wore, right? Your emblem. Technically speaking, you are their lord. The emblem shows the house they serve. Like Lilia and Pauline, even Alice.”

“But do they the follow anyone’s orders?” I said, “for instance, Nes.”

“No,” said Lehvie, “as their lord, they are to follow your orders and no one else’s, even against mother, their Queen.”

“Does it not cause problems in Talica?”

“On the contrary,” said Lehvie, she rinsed my head and repeated with more shampoo. “The people of Talica have a right to change monarchs at any giving time if they think that the current ruler is out of line… but…”

“But?”

“That’s as far as I understand it,” she said. “Anyway, you can open your eyes now.”

She said that and as I did, they began to burn.

“Ah! Sorry!” she said. I held my hands to my eyes but Lehvie pushed them away. She held them open and let the shower water cleanse them. “Better?”

“…Better.” It still burned.

I went outside the bathing room and left Lehvie to the steam bath at the end. There was a set of clothes laid out at the entrance while my old set was gone. I put them on, and the fit was perfect. A white tunic and shorts. With that out of the way, I began roaming the halls and looking inside every room with just one problem. The guards are always a few steps behind.

The next room I looked into was filled with tables and chairs. Every room till now was strangely vacant of inhabitants. Lastly the balcony, and I saw Rook was relaxed, wings tucked and nested on the ground. I made my way to the concrete railings with the guards closely behind and took the sight in front of me. It was still morning and the usual reds from an early sun were long gone, but the town and cleverly placed trees made for a view to enjoy, a change of what Aria was with its few trees and greens.

Rook let out a cry. He walked over to us and lowered his head. His eyes big and wide, however, something changed in them. A second glance and he wasn’t looking at me. The guards behind me stood there, shaking as if struggling to move.

“Rook,” said Nes, “that’s enough.” Rook averted his eyes and the guards fell to their knees. All the while Nes walked from inside.

“What was that?”

“I asked Rook not to let anyone near you or Lehvie,” she said. I walked to the guards and helped them up, though it was more for show because they were heavy in armor.

“Are you two okay?”

“Yes,” said one of the guards, I signaled for both to meet me at eye level. “My lord?”

I removed their helmets to reveal and young man and woman, both seemed to be in their early twenties as their faces were absent of any sign of aging, like wrinkles and crow’s feet, except that they instead had bags under their eyes.

“Please get some sleep,” I said, “and thank you for watching over us.”

Nes picked me up and sat me on Rook with Lehvie running from inside and onto the bird, lastly Nes, this time she sat at the end but nevertheless had Rook under her control and he slowly flapped his wings. I waved goodbye and the two guards below bowed. Once airborne Nes handed me a small pouch.

By then the people below were like ants. Unlike a fortress with high walls, Stanhal had roots of buildings stretching in all directions, a privilege that a country island could enjoy.

Chapter  End.

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Author’s Note:

Yes, I’m finally back after a gruesome semester at university. I really wasn’t expecting to get bombarded with work and family duties. Also, to be blunt, I had a bad case of writer’s block. For those that took notice, I’ve change the original first chapter to this one (content from the original will be put elsewhere).

Anyway, hope you enjoyed.