Author: jimar PM
In the peaceful world of Esteria, a dark force that threatens to consume all civilization looms just behind the horizon. A young woman finds that she has more in common with this dark power than she would like and tasks herself with the salvation of the inhabitants of Esteria-but will she instead find herself consumed by the secrets that lurk in her blood?Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 7 - Words: 38,799 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 02-26-13 - Published: 12-18-12 - id: 3083927
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Alex was standing on the deck of the ship, watching the land on the horizon slowly grow larger. She was wearing a white, high-collared, long-sleeved shirt underneath a knee-length, blue dress with a vested bodice. Her left arm was in a fabric sling with her shoulder still bandaged up. The past three days on the ship were uneventful. Normally, Alex would have sparred with Joshua, but her injured arm said otherwise. Things had also seemed a little tense around Joshua and Leah, but Alex disregarded it as nervousness. Antise was finally in sight though, and they would be able to have their audience with King Riese. She had gotten Leah to help her pull her hair into a ponytail, leaving a lock free on either side of her face. The wind whipped her bangs around as she focused on the landmass that grew closer.
"How's your shoulder feeling?"
Alex turned around and saw Emile behind her. He wore a white, collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a dark green vest with black trousers. It reminded Alex of the morning after Prince Julian's ball. He was smiling as he had his hands in his pockets.
"There's not too much pain anymore. I want to get out of this stupid sling though." She pursed her lips.
"Do you want me to check it right now?"
"If you wouldn't mind. What Leah said about those wolves…and demons? I just want to be able to defend myself if those things appear again." Alex sighed and placed her free hand on her hip.
"Yeah…even though she said she couldn't sense any dark energy coming from Antise, I can't help but feel unsure about all of it." Emile started heading toward the cabin, with Alex following close behind.
"I wish she would have known something about my dreams, though. I'm not particularly satisfied with the whole 'intuitive future' thing she talked about." She shook her head as they entered the cabin.
"You're probably going to hate me for this, but I think she knows a little more than she's letting on." Emile hummed as they walked past the other doors toward the medical bay at the end of the hall.
"That's a little rude, isn't it?"
"I'm allowed to my opinions. Granted, aren't we all hiding something?" He glanced back at Alex and smirked. She rolled her eyes and smirked in return.
They reached the entrance to the medical bay and entered. There were a few rows of empty cots and a few beds in the corner. Alex chose a cot close by the entrance and sat down. Emile gently untied the cloth sling. Alex slowly lowered her arm, bracing for any discomfort she might feel. There was a bit of pain as she unhooked the collar of her blue dress with her right hand and unbuttoned her shirt. She gently slipped her left arm out of the sleeve and took a deep breath, feeling a stinging pain. Emile unraveled the bandages around her left shoulder and gingerly removed the cotton gauze that covered her wounds. The punctures were reddish-pink and slightly puckered from the stitches.
"It looks good. I'll take the stitches out tomorrow." Emile nodded approvingly. "You can go without the sling, but please don't overdo it."
"Awesome. I'm going to go change, then." Alex smiled and slipped her arm through her shirt sleeve. She started to button up her shirt when Emile sighed audibly.
"It's not like you're going to spar, so why not stay in your dress? You look really nice, and we're going to meet King Riese anyway."
Alex looked at Emile doubtfully.
"No way, I'm going to go change." She finished buttoning her shirt and she carefully hooked her dress's collar back together.
"I don't want to risk you sparring and hurting yourself." He picked up the cloth sling from the cot.
"I won't spar, don't worry!" She started to stand up and waved her hand nonchalantly.
"Alexandra, I am being your doctor right now." He looked at her with a deadpan expression. Alex cringed as Emile used her full name. "And I am ordering you to stay in that dress so you aren't tempted to spar or do anything that will pop your stitches."
Alex rolled her eyes again. It wasn't often that Emile went into doctor mode, but when he did, he was serious about his instructions.
Emile smiled and motioned his head toward the hallway.
"Let's go find Joshua and the Advisor."
They left the medical bay as the ship began docking in Antise. All the passengers eagerly watched as the port grew closer. Once the gangway was lowered, the people began to pour out of the wooden ship. She followed the current of people that were leaving the ship. Alex clutched her suitcases eagerly as she looked at the port town with wonder. The buildings were made of brightly colored wood and were all bunched closely together. It was a different atmosphere from the gray and white stone structures in Dorman and Nore. The smells and sounds were more lively and excited than what Alex experienced back home.
"This is your first time in Antise, isn't it?" Alex heard Joshua shouting close behind her. She turned her head to see him and Emile smiling. Leah was behind them, with a stern expression on her face. Alex gave a small grimace as she was reminded of Leah's cold stare at the ball. She turned her focus forward again as she stepped off the gangway onto the pier. She walked over to an empty area and set her luggage down. Emile, Joshua, and Leah were all close behind. Alex gave a sigh of relief as she saw Leah's expression had lightened.
"So what's first, Leah?" Alex asked excitedly.
"King Riese will be sending us a carriage first thing tomorrow morning, so you have time to look around the port. For now, let's go to the inn we'll be staying at." Leah's expression had also improved. Alex smiled and nodded. She looked around again as she picked up her suitcases. Leah began to walk toward the rows of colorful buildings. Joshua followed her close behind as Emile stayed closer to Alex.
"You've been to Antise before, right?" Alex glanced at Emile.
"Yeah, but I've never been to Adler—where the monarchy lives."
"That's not very far from here, if I remember correctly."
"Not very, but the city is like a fortress. The streets are organized in a certain way that if they were ever invaded, they'd get lost before they would even reach the first sector. Even the lower end of the city is protected."
"I thought you said you'd never been there before?"
"I haven't," Emile chuckled. "But my father has. He always described the places he would visit in great detail."
"Well, what do you know about here?" Alex looked around at all the street-side vendors. The smell of baked goods and tanned leather filled the air. She heard metal clanging together and eager haggling between the vendors and the tourists.
"Bergfalk is the most successful port in Antise. Anyone who comes to Antise always comes through here at least once. Most foreign vendors come here to sell their goods since the traffic that comes here is pretty consistent, even during the winter. It's also pretty popular here since it's a straight shot to Adler once you land in port. Granted, it can still be dangerous. Not every vendor or tourist is here to make an honest living." Emile shrugged.
"You sound like a regular tour guide." She laughed.
"So if the whole High Priest thing doesn't pan out, I have a future in tourism?" He responded with a smile.
They followed Leah and Joshua to a bigger, three-story building that was snuggled between a bakery and a tailor shop. There was a large wooden sign that read 'Bergfalk Inn' in clean, white letters.
"We'll be staying here for the night." Leah waved to them. Joshua stepped in front of her and pushed open the wooden door. They quickly entered past the outgoing visitors.
Alex examined the wooden interior of the building. The ceiling was high and had white wooden rafters. Lamps hung from each of the rafters, but were unlit. Sunlight poured in from the windows by the doors and the ceiling. There were halls and a large wooden staircase was in the front corner that led to the inn's rooms. A kind-looking woman stood at the front desk, with her graying hair pulled back into a bun. Leah walked toward the woman and started speaking to her. Alex couldn't make out the words, chatter from the streets still coming into the building. She continued to look around, catching glances of other well-to-do people checking in and out.
"Bergfalk Inn is where most noblemen come to stay if they're in port for any amount of time." It was Joshua informing her about the town this time. He had a smile on as he held his hands behind his back. "Advisor Leah made reservations for us, so we'll be up in our rooms in a few minutes."
Alex simply responded with a smile and a nod.
"I didn't get to ask earlier, but it looks like your shoulder is doing better." There was a hint of guilt in his voice. Alex slightly puckered her lips. She wished that Emile and Joshua would stop blaming themselves for her mistake.
"Emile said I don't need the sling, but he doesn't want me overdoing anything. I could still beat you with one arm though." She replied with a sneer.
Joshua looked at her with an amused smirk.
"You wanna bet?"
"If you two spar," Alex felt a hand grip her neck. "I will personally stop both of you before you even lift a finger." She turned her head to see Emile's unimpressed expression and his hand also on Joshua's shoulder. She gave a sheepish smile.
"I don't need you popping those stitches I worked so hard on." He sighed. "Anyway, Leah checked us in so you can go put your things in our rooms. Follow me."
Emile playfully pulled on Alex's ponytail as he walked toward his suitcases by the main desk. She laughed and grabbed her suitcases with her uninjured arm and sped toward the stairs. She waited anxiously as Emile walked past her and went up the stairs. She followed him closely as they reached the next floor.
"Your room is with the Advisor's. I believe she's already in there, so you can just go in." He motioned to the second door on the hall that was slightly ajar. Alex quickly entered the room and saw Leah sitting on one of the beds with her eyes closed. She carefully placed her suitcases on the other empty bed, trying not to make any noise. Her left shoulder ached with the deliberate movement she tried to use. She clenched her teeth as she heard the bed quietly creak under the weight of her suitcases. She tried to open her larger suitcase as quietly as possible to retrieve a small bag of coins. Her hand grasped a small cloth bag and she pulled it out. She released her grip on her luggage and silently moved back toward the door.
"Please return before dark."
Alex froze as she glanced behind at Leah. Her eyes were still closed and she was on the bed like a statue, but the edges of her black lips were turned up in a smirk. Alex smiled in return.
"Okay." She gently shut the door as she left. Alex looked at the bag in her hand and shook it, quietly satisfied with the jingle she heard. She wondered if she could spend a little time on the streets by herself. She glanced at the other room and heard Joshua's deep voice responding to Emile's gentler tenor. She sped down the stairs and left the inn.
She smiled as the loud chatter filled her ears again and the smell of fresh food wafted through the air. She started tracing her way back toward the pier, skimming the vendors' displays. There were different, colorful people who shouted out sales pitches and siren calls of delicious food. She felt giddy and excited as a little kid again. There weren't many immigrants or foreigners who came to Doran, much less stayed. The only foreigner she could think of was Leah, but she had been in the service of King Castor for so long that no one thought much about it.
She continued to look around at the different vendors as the sun was starting to move across the sky. Some sold exotic jewelry and accessories while others sold unusual fabrics and clothes. She looked around until she saw a small passage between two vendors. Alex slipped between men and women, and found herself between two of the large buildings. She carefully strode forward, seeing many other vendors who either scrutinized Alex or gave her a friendly smile. There was a particularly curious young man sitting behind a display of mysterious weapons, by another man selling foreign breads. He wore tan pants with roped sandals and a black tunic with a hood that covered his head, but his eyes were brightly shining as he saw Alex walk over. His visible skin was a caramel color and he had bandages wrapped around his hands. From what she could tell, he didn't seem much older than she was. She felt her skin tingle slightly as she scanned the young man and his wares. She shivered faintly, trying to dispel the tingling sensation.
"Are you interested in examining some of these fine weapons, Miss?" His voice was cheerful as he motioned to the sheathed weapons that were placed side by side on a beige tarp. Alex smiled as she knelt forward to get a closer look at the various swords and knives. They had elegant markings and shined with a kind of otherworldly glow.
"Of what origin are these? I've never seen any swords like this before."
"My father's a blacksmith from Hanelle, but he uses techniques passed down from many generations to create weapons that last much longer than your ordinary sword." The boyish vendor flashed a smile. Alex delicately touched one of the exotic swords before looking back up at him.
He nodded happily.
Alex looked over the all of the swords again and gently picked up a curved saber that had polished stones on the end of the hilt. She pulled it from its sheath and lifted the blade slightly over her head, trying to catch the sunlight. She did this with many of the other swords for a while, the young man making small conversation and giving a brief history of each blade she observed. It reflected sparkles on the other weapons and on the young man's face. She returned to the saber she first looked at, and pulled it from its sheath again. The blade reflected the now-setting sun, casting small rays of light on the other weapons and the young man. For a moment, Alex thought she saw a yellow gleam in his eyes. It stunned her as she remembered the yellow flashes that plagued her dreams.
She shook her head and looked back at the vendor. His currently-concerned eyes were a dark color.
"Sorry, just lost my train of thought. How much do you want for this one?" Alex motioned the sword to him.
"Well, for a lovely lady…it's on the house." He mused with a smile.
Alex looked at him with surprise.
"You'd give this to me for free? But the quality is so exquisite!"
"Well, I've sold quite a few already. If I give one to a pretty girl for free, my dad won't mind too much." He laughed.
"I have to insist though!" Alex started to dig in the small cloth bag she held.
"Really, don't worry about it." He sheepishly placed his hand on his head and waved his other hand in response. "Truth be told, though—I'm actually here trying to find someone. My father just gave me these to sell so he could make room for more weapons. I've been here for about a week now, and I haven't had much luck finding who I'm looking for."
She tilted her head curiously.
"Who are you looking for? Maybe I can help."
"You're a tourist though. I'm not sure you know your way around here much better than I do." He crossed his arms.
"Maybe whoever you're looking for came in with us? We just got here from the Baldric Province in Doran."
The vendor boy enthusiastically leaned forward.
"Did you say Doran?"
"Yeah, that's where I'm from."
"That's where my aunt is coming from! Dad didn't know exactly when she'd be coming…maybe she did come in with your ship."
Alex hummed as she sat down in front of him.
"What does she look like?" She asked as she placed the elegant saber on her lap.
"She's got long black hair that she likes to have covering one eye…she really likes to wear black too." He pantomimed long hair with his hand over his left eye.
Alex arched an eyebrow.
"Does she have this super-intense stare, too?"
The vendor boy gasped and dropped his hands into his lap.
"She does! It's really scary sometimes! Do you know her?"
"I know an Advisor Leah Regnus…is she your aunt?" Alex gasped as well.
"Aunt Leah! Yes, that's her!" He frantically started to pack up the swords and knives on the beige tarp. "Can you take me to her?"
"Of course I can!"
The boy gave a wide smile and happily grabbed her hands.
"Thank you so much! My name is Andreas! I haven't gotten the pleasure of your name, though!"
Alex looked back at the joyful young man with surprise.
"I'm Alexandra. But you can call me Alex!" His enthusiasm was infectious.
Andreas continued to smile as he released her hands and quickly packed the various weapons together in the tarp.
"It must be fate that you came by! Where are you staying?"
"We're at the Bergfalk Inn."
His eyes opened wide.
"Wow, so you must be a noble then. That only makes sense though—your beauty is something else!"
Alex shook her head and blushed.
"You're too kind. Do you meet many other nobles?"
"None nearly as kind as you are. They're all more occupied with the vendors on the main streets, but let me tell you! The best stuff is always hidden back here." Andreas grinned. He finished packing up the weapons by rolling them in the tarp and tying a rope around the middle. Alex noticed that underneath the tarp there was a large, dark case covered in chains and unusual markings. She stood up as Andreas did.
"Do you need some help carrying anything?" Alex asked.
Andreas quickly hoisted the large case up, which was almost as tall as he was. He adjusted a strap and lifted the case onto his back. Alex quickly jumped up as he easily flung the case around.
"Nope, I'm all good. Thanks for being so considerate though!" He picked up the bundle of swords and held it under his arm. He adjusted his hood with his other hand and smiled again.
Alex looked around and noticed that lamps were being lit as the sun started to set. She inhaled sharply as she remembered Leah's request.
"We need to hurry. Your aunt asked me to be back before the sun set." She gripped the saber close to her chest, along with the small coin purse.
"I know a shortcut to the Bergfalk Inn back here. Come on!" Andreas motioned for Alex to follow him as he started going deeper into the alleyway. She took a deep breath and quickly followed him. The sun hadn't completely set, so there was still a bit of light illuminating the alley. She started jogging to keep up with Andreas's long stride. She still found it hard to believe that such a thin young man could carry so many things so easily. Despite the sun not being completely set, Alex started to feel a pit forming in her stomach. She felt like she was being led into a trap by this young man. She immediately began to curse her naïveté.
Andreas quickly turned a corner. Alex stopped for a moment.
"Hey, what's wrong?" He turned around.
"How do I know this isn't some kind of scam?" She asked hesitantly.
Andreas looked taken aback by her question. He looked dejected as he rubbed his chin pensively and walked back to Alex.
"All I can give you is my word, I guess. I really need to go find Aunt Leah, though. This case is hers and my dad was really urgent about getting this back to her. I have no idea what's in it because I can't open it. Aunt Leah's the only one who can. He kept mentioning stuff about dark forces or whatever...but I'm not totally sure what he meant by that."
Alex looked at Andreas in surprise.
"Dark forces? Like…demons?"
He looked back at her with apprehension.
"...How do you know about that?"
Alex was about to answer when she heard a deep growl. Her blood ran cold as she remembered the last time she heard a growl like that. She could feel her shoulder ache with the memory of the deep punctures she received. She looked at Andreas fearfully. He was nervously looking around at the shadows. He turned his back to Alex and placed his free arm out protectively, backing her close to the wall.
"Stay behind me."
She felt her heart racing as she began to hear the snarls grow closer. She gasped as she saw a large, black wolf emerge from the shadows. Its pupil-less yellow eyes were haunting. The rotting stench from the creature stung Alex's nose.
"Are these the things Dad talked about?" Andreas whispered to himself.
"Please be careful…" Alex murmured quietly.
She could hear Andreas chuckle.
"Don't worry—" He began to respond, but he was tackled away by another large wolf on the other side of them. Alex let out a cry as she watched Andreas fly across the alley. She instinctively backed up against the wall. Tears started to build in her eyes.
"Andreas!" She shrieked.
The wolf that attacked him flew into the opposite wall. Alex jumped as the wolf let out a pained howl. She looked at where Andreas was thrown and gasped.
There were long gashes through his black tunic, but there was no blood, just his bare skin. The strap on the large case had ripped, leaving the case on the ground. His hood had been knocked off and revealed his angry yellow eyes. His shaggy black hair had also been revealed along with a pair of pointed ears. His eyes were the same shade of yellow that had pained Alex for many nights, but there was something different about them. His boyish face was focused on the wolves.
"As I was saying…don't worry. These things are nothing." Andreas glanced at Alex and smiled. He cracked his knuckles before moving toward the other wolf. "Now, I don't know what you things are, but you made me look lame in front of Alex! I hope you're ready to make it up to me." He growled.
The other wolf he threw against the wall had retreated by its companion. Alex watched in disbelief as Andreas swaggered toward the creatures. He pounded his fists together and suddenly leapt at the wolves. Alex watched him move like a blur as she heard loud whacks and thumps accompanied by wounded screeching.
A sharp pain shot through her head. She placed a hand on her temple and grunted as she saw a single yellow flash. When she opened her eyes, she looked to her right and saw another wolf several feet away from her.
Did they always travel in packs of three?
Alex grunted as she placed her right hand on the hilt of the saber she was clutching. The wolf sauntered closer to her. She looked around with confusion. Was this wolf biding its time or was it something else? She glanced at Andreas and was able to make out his swings and punches. She had no time to figure out how he was fighting these creatures with his bare hands as she turned back to the other wolf. It had started to lunge at her, but it looked like it was moving in slow motion. Her eyes widened as she unsheathed her saber and ran toward it.
"Alex, no!" She heard Andreas call out. She ignored his call as she found herself underneath the wolf and angrily swung the saber at its neck. The blade sliced cleanly and the wolf had returned to its normal speed. The wolf and its head flew past Alex and landed on the ground with a thud. She dropped to one knee and released the saber from her grip. There was a dull pounding on her head and her left shoulder ached painfully. Alex was panting as she tried to regain her bearings. Andreas ran over to Alex and knelt down.
"Are you okay?" He placed a hand on her back. She looked back at him. Upon closer inspection, his eyes were not so much yellow—but a warm golden color, and instead of rounded pupils they were thin slits—like an animal's. His eyebrows were knit together in concern.
Although they seemed feral, she felt relief to be looking into his amber eyes instead of the milky yellow eyes of the wolves.
"I'm fine…I think." She groaned as she stood up.
"What was that, that you just did?" Andreas moved his hands to her arm, steadying her as she recovered her balance.
"I could ask you the same thing." Alex gave a weak chuckle. "But let's get back to the inn first."
Andreas nodded and ran over to the large case on the ground. She heard him groan and then saw him start to dart across the alley, picking up swords that had been strewn everywhere. Alex picked up the bloody saber and grimaced. It was covered in the same black blood the other wolves had. She looked at the other wolves Andreas had faced.
Their legs were broken every which way and there were trickles of blood coming from their mouths. They looked like mangled lumps of fur and bone, and for a moment Alex felt fearful of Andreas. However, she quickly abandoned that fear when he came bounding up to her like an eager puppy. He held the large, mysterious case under one arm and the bundle of swords in the other. His hood was back up, despite the now-poor quality of his tunic.
"Let's go, before someone comes to investigate all those howls." He warned with a small grin. Alex nodded and followed after Andreas as he started to jog down the alley. The sun had hit the horizon now, and the light that had illuminated the pathways started to fade. Alex found herself running to keep up with Andreas. After a series of turns, he slowed down and came to a door at the back of a building. He walked up to it and knocked on it with his foot a few times.
A young woman with her light brown hair in a braid answered the door. Alex subtly lowered the saber to her side to hide the black blood that stained the blade. She looked at Andreas skeptically.
"It's you again. What is it this time?"
"Hey, I'm strictly here on business, okay?"
"Of course you are." The young woman started to shut the door.
"No, really, wait! I'm delivering this case to Leah Regnus." Andreas pleaded.
The young woman shook her head.
"Yet you look like you got your clothes from the scraps left behind the tailor's."
Andreas rolled his eyes.
"I can vouch for him." Alex spoke up. The woman looked surprised to see her behind Andreas. "I came in with Advisor Regnus this afternoon. She said she was expecting something to arrive." Alex hoped that this white lie would get them in.
"Then why didn't you use the front door?"
Alex gave an internal grumble.
"Because I would have been kicked out again! A guy knocks over one vase and suddenly he's a felon!" Andreas groaned.
"That vase was really expensive, you know!"
"I said I was sorry! I even offered you some of my swords as an apology!"
"Um, I hate to interrupt," Alex looked at the young woman expectantly. "But we really need to come in. If you want, I can go back around to the front and get Advisor Regnus myself and tell her how you wasted our time in trying to get this important package to her." She pursed her lips. Alex didn't like to play the 'holier than thou' card, but the daylight was fading quickly and she had a lot of questions to ask Leah.
The young woman's eyes flew open as she realized who Alex was. Her cheeks flushed from embarrassment.
"…You're the young Lady Waldgrave! My apologies, but this man has been constantly bothering us, so I did not realize—"
"It's fine, but just please let us come in."
The young woman apologized again and backed up into the building. Andreas looked back at Alex and gave a huge smile. He went inside and Alex followed close behind, hiding her saber behind her back.
"Thank you." Alex bowed and dug into her small coin purse, still trying to hide the stained sword, and clumsily pulled out two golden coins. She gave them to the young woman and dashed off behind Andreas. They were in one of the halls filled with rooms.
"Follow me." She darted in front of him and started walking down the hall. She navigated to the main lobby and saw Emile and Leah downstairs, about to leave the inn.
"Wait, wait! I'm back, I'm sorry!" She ran up to them.
They turned around, and Emile gave a relieved sigh while Leah's eyes widened in a combination fear and anger as she looked at Andreas. Alex glanced back at him and back to Leah.
"Leah, I've got a lot of things I need to ask you." She looked around to see if anyone else was in the lobby. It was empty, allowing Alex to motion the bloody saber to her. Emile's expression hardened as he realized what was on the blade.
"Everyone needs to come upstairs." Leah responded after a moment of looking around the room. She glided up the stairs without another word. Alex looked at Emile and then at Andreas before following her. She could feel her heart starting to pound again. They reached the second floor and Leah flung open the door of Emile's and Joshua's room. Joshua sat up on the further bed with a scared look on his face. Everyone trailed into the room with anxious looks on their faces. Andreas carefully entered last, trying not to bash the large case into anything. He settled with placing the case and the bundle of swords by one of the beds.
"Shut the door, Andreas." Leah ordered. Andreas flinched at her harsh tone. He hastily shut the door and looked at everyone in the room.
"You can take your hood off now. It's safe here." She sighed as she rubbed her face. Andreas reluctantly pulled his hood off and his pointed ears and golden eyes were visible again. Alex noticed that he looked similar to Leah, but his dark skin set him apart from her. He looked guilty, like he was about to receive a scolding.
Emile and Joshua tensed up at his appearance. There was no human who looked like he did.
"You two can relax. He protected me from those wolves. It was thanks to him that I didn't get eaten alive." Alex tried to give a reassuring smile to Emile and then to Andreas. "But I do have some questions for you." She turned to Leah.
"He was able to take down two of those wolves with his bare hands. How is that possible?"
"Andreas is a half-demon." Leah curtly responded. Everyone's expression was surprised or confused.
"He also said he was your nephew…so what does that make you?" Alex continued half-heartedly, afraid of the can of worms she was opening.
Leah smirked and crossed her arms, as if she knew what Alex was thinking. She let out a breathy chuckle and shook her head.
"Andreas didn't lie. He's my nephew—my brother's son. My brother is a demon, but his wife is a human. Demon-human relationships are rare, and successful ones are even more so. Andreas is the product of their successful marriage. I suppose that means that I'm a demon too."
Alex felt her stomach drop at Leah's nonchalant answer. Everything inside her fought against believing what she heard.
"I don't know if you have much of a choice on whether or not you believe me. Look at Andreas again and tell me how he was able to walk away from those wolves unscathed."
They all looked at Andreas. His black tunic was still shredded, but his tan skin was unmarked.
"I must say, I was not expecting to reveal all of this to you so soon. Andreas really threw my schedule ahead. However, this is fine. It goes along with what I was planning to tell you anyway. It's very obvious that whoever is in control of these dark forces is moving faster than I anticipated." Leah's tone was pensive.
Joshua tensed up as he glanced at Alex. He remembered what Leah had told him the first night on the ship. As if on cue, Leah glanced at Joshua and then back to the others. His hands started to tremble nervously. Would she tell them about Alex?
"I discussed a little bit of this with Lord Joshua, but I didn't go into too much detail. I'm not just meeting with King Riese to discuss social diplomacy. I've been observing the flow of energy for many years now, and I noticed that there has been an increase in dark energies—especially in Doran. My brother has been observing this as well. Being demons allows us to see things that most others can't. Being an advisor to the king has given me a lot of inside information that even the knights don't know about."
Joshua's fear of hearing one thing slowly turned into another. Alex and Emile also started to be afraid of what they would hear.
"Someone has been instigating the idea of war in Doran—a hostile takeover of the rest of the continent. I'm not sure where it came from, but those who brought it to the King were absolutely filthy with dark energy. The King has been touched by this darkness little by little. I've done my best to keep it at bay, but there was only so much I could do without revealing myself. What I mean to say, though, is that war is imminent. I've been in a correspondence with King Riese about these events, and now the time has come for me to begin forging an alliance between Antise and Hanelle to stop war from ravaging the entire world."
"But why would you bring us with you?" Emile suddenly asked.
"You have the potential to stop this dark power from expanding any further. This will be reliant on the choices you will be forced to make in the coming weeks, though." Leah looked at Emile, then Joshua, and finally Alex. Her gaze lingered on Alex for a bit longer before she closed her eyes. Alex remembered the burning stare she received at the ball. She felt uncomfortable as silence started to hang in the air like a heavy fog.
"You had said that the demons' bodies had changed…is that really true? You look just like a human." Joshua apprehensively broke the silence.
"Andreas only bears a portion of demon qualities. Demons have many different traits from humans, the most important of these being horns. The horns are very sacred in demon culture and also are very important to channeling magic in its purest form. I had mentioned to you about my troubled past…well, here's the most important part. I had fallen in love with a human man after finding a portal to this realm again, and I thought that I would live my life in happiness with him. Unfortunately, he was corrupted by the idea of power and I was forced to cut him down. After this, I became disillusioned with my identity as a demon and I removed my own horns in an attempt to kill myself. Obviously, it didn't work…and I lost many of the things that made me a demon, among them being my yellow eyes and my ability to effectively use concentrated magic the way I was able to. However, I was not quite human either." Leah hummed as she thoughtfully placed a finger on her mouth. "Perhaps I should retract my previous statement about me being a demon. I am not a demon, but I am not a human either. I've cursed myself to a life as an abomination, I believe."
"Is this dark power something only a demon could be capable of?" Alex murmured.
"Yes." Leah's voice was calm.
Alex couldn't comprehend how she could be so calm about telling her painful past and so calm about the thought of Doran going to war. She clenched the saber's hilt, trying to make sure that she was still awake. All of these new details coming to light made her slightly lightheaded. She then remembered the way she killed the wolf in the alley. It had something to do with the yellow sparks she saw. Did it have something to do with demons too?
"Andreas, I need you to go back home. Your appearance will cause too many questions if you stay with us. Thank you for protecting Lady Alexandra, though." Leah walked past Alex toward Andreas, shocking her out of her thoughts.
"Aunt Leah, let me come with you. Dad wanted me to stay with you anyway." He responded carefully.
"No. Go back home. I'm not going to risk any more lives than is necessary. I can't afford to watch you the whole time." Her voice was reproving.
Andreas looked defeated and he gave a dejected sigh.
"Leah, let him come with us. He was able to take on two of those wolves without any injury. I don't know how strong actual demons are, but if a half-demon has that kind of power…" Alex gave Andreas a reassuring glance. "If anything, he'll be the one protecting us."
Leah looked back at Alex with a stern glance. She wanted to shrink, but steeled her courage and tried to give Leah her most focused stare.
"Advisor, please." Alex's tone was slightly pleading.
"If Alex trusts him…then so do I." Emile suddenly spoke.
"You two don't seem to understand the implications of bringing him with us."
Alex looked at Emile with hesitance. She couldn't think of any way to respond.
"We didn't know the implications of going with you, did we?" Joshua stood up and looked at Leah. He towered above everyone and had an unyielding look on his face. Andreas looked at Joshua with shock, like he was watching an argument between his parents. Leah looked at Joshua as well, but with a furious stare. Alex watched in amazement and fear as Joshua showed no signs of faltering. The tension between them grew thicker as neither made any effort to speak. She knew that something had happened on the ship. Alex hoped that someone would back down soon. She could feel her stitches starting to ache and her head began to hurt.
"You're right." Leah said after a tense minute. "I apologize for my hypocrisy. Andreas can stay with us, but he will be your responsibility if anything should happen." She looked at Alex. Alex nodded nervously.
"Do not forget that King Riese will be sending for us in the morning."
Leah gave one last glance at Joshua before turning and leaving. As she left through the door, Joshua slumped onto the bed again and groaned.
"Why did I do that?" He put in head in his hands and continued to groan. Alex, Emile, and Andreas all relaxed. Alex couldn't help but laugh, even with the pain she felt in her shoulder.
"Give her some time to cool down…Aunt Leah always likes to have things under her control, but she'll get over it. She knows when she's been proven wrong." Andreas sighed, but then dashed to hug Alex. Alex gasped at the sudden embrace.
"Thank you for sticking up for me!" His voice was excited and Alex felt it rumble in his chest. He stepped back and smiled before glancing at the long case by the bed.
"I've got to go give that case to Aunt Leah, but I'll be right back. I want to get to know you guys more since you seem like an interesting bunch of people!" He laughed and ran to the case. He quickly hefted it up and carefully toted it out the door. Alex watched him go out the door with a smile.
"How are your stitches?" Emile asked. Alex looked at him apologetically.
"They're hurting. But it doesn't feel like anything popped or broke."
"Let me check them, just to be sure." He said as he rubbed his hands together.
"Can you give me a minute? I want to…" Alex paused, trying to think of something to let her be alone. "Clean this sword off. It was supposed to be a gift for Father and I don't want it to tarnish."
Emile looked at her quizzically.
"Sure. You can use the bathroom. Just let me know when you're ready." He responded with a shrug.
Alex smiled and walked into the bathroom on the other side of the room. She shut the door behind her and leaned against it. She could feel her head pounding and walked toward the sink. She grabbed a rag that was folded up by the faucet and ran it under the water. Alex began to see yellow sparks as she tried to focus on the blackened blood on the blade of the saber. She silently begged the sparks to disappear as she weakly rubbed the damp rag against the sword. She remembered the haunting yellow eyes of the wolves and then tried to replace them with Andreas's kind golden eyes. She then thought of Emile's gray eyes and how frightened they had been during the past few days. The yellow sparks subsided until they became a faint throbbing in her temples, feeling a small bit of relief. She glanced in the mirror and gasped—all of her relief quickly replaced by fear.
Instead of her usual dark brown eyes, her eyes were a golden color and her sclerae were completely black. She dropped the saber on the sink and stepped back in horror. Her reflection was equally as terrified as she was. She leaned into the mirror and looked closer at her reflection. There was a knock on the door.
"Is everything all right?" Emile's muffled voice came from behind the door.
Alex glanced at the door in fear. She quickly turned back to her reflection and saw that her eyes had suddenly returned to normal. She looked at herself in disbelief and shivered involuntarily. She noticed that her eyes were turning bloodshot and she had dark circles forming underneath her eyes.
There was another knock. Alex was quiet, trying to smother her distress before she answered.
"…I'm okay." Alex finally stammered. She then cupped her hand over her mouth and sighed.