---Outskirts of the Ganswood Villages---

It took three months for her to cure him.

Lungs inflamed, liver affected and heart weak- it was all Aphredia could do to keep him alive. Night after night she stayed by his bedside, rummaging through her memories for all that her mother had taught her. Though she had assured his wife that he would be cured, Aphredia was not completely positive that she could save this man. If only she had powers to save him… She gave a hollow laugh at her own weakness. The one thing that she wished with all her soul to inherit from her father – magic – was beyond her grasp. It seemed that she, like her mother, was a mere mortal.

And yet, Aphredia was somewhat glad she didn't inherit The Gift as her father so put it- perhaps it was magic which turned a soul evil- slowly corrupting a body from the inside out.

He let out another shuddering cough, as shakes ransacked his body. They had come less frequently and he no longer coughed blood. Good fortune at the very least had come. There was little left she could do for him now- it was time to return home. She would collect her blood debt from his family later.

"Selonar... how I wish you were here with me." She murmured. But the cold winter air, stole her aching wish and it never reach the ears of the tall blond warrior, gazing from the castle rooftop of the Fardonti Mountains.

"Where are you my love?"


---- City of Drelone, Near the Western Seas ------

"A flower for your lady sir?" a street vendor asked, holding out a deeply orange rose.

"Of course," Torrine smiled and took the rose from the man's old hands, delicately weaving the thornless stem into Aradia's midnight black hair. She could only gap at him in shock.

"Close your mouth darling," Torrine smirked as he gently touched her chin.

Regaining her senses she jerked back from his touch, "I am never, and will never be your darling!" she spat as she furiously turned and stormed away.

Amused, Torrine tossed a silver coin at the merchant and easily caught up with Aradia, laughing lightheartedly, "Ah, but Aradia- You will be my mine someday if I have anything to do about it."

Aradia froze. Was Torrine flirting with her? Never in her wildest dreams had she ever expected something of that sort from him. Well… perhaps in a wild dream or two here and there- only to be forgotten in the morning.

'It is because there are no other ladies of breeding near here,' she assured herself, 'surely he would not ever say such a thing to me were that not so… but how dare he taunt and tease me like this! I'll show him the stupid cow."

Smiling coyly, Aradia turned and wrapped her arms around Torrine's neck, feeling her own heart rate leap but ignoring the feeling of heat that spread throughout her limbs. Leaning up as if to kiss him, she weaved her hands through the midnight locks, and then whispered lightly into his ear"Never. Not in a million years." And then before he could react, she tore her self from his warmth, and dove into the crowd.

Torrine shuddered at her touch, aroused instantly, and when her heat left him wanting for the loss of it, he took time to recover. Shaking his head, he chuckled amusedly as he ran after her.

The chase took them through the streets, as Aradia wove in and around the market crowd, doubling over in laughter as she went. They ran farther and farther a ways from the city with Aradia easily jumping from stone to stone on the path towards the sea. Torrine had no problem, it seemed, following – going faster as she ran longer. The grasses released a sweet aroma in the early afternoon, but were soon overwhelmed with the heady aroma of the ocean. As she stumbled over her own feet, Torrine caught her around the waist and mock glared at her.

Aradia's silver grey eyes glowed with amusement, but quickly lost their gleam as she saw the look on Torrine's face. His eyes drawn to her lips and face dark with something she didn't recognize.

"Torrine?" she started hesitantly. At the sound of her voice his eyes gazed up from her mouth, ensnaring her with their depth and hue. Midnight cesspools of blue swirled with something that she was beginning to think was, well, need.

"Yes?" the husky question almost melted her from where she stood. His voice went right to her very core and for the first time in her life, Aradia felt weak in the knees.

"I think we've left the village," She whispered quietly, trying her hardest to ignore the growing attraction she felt at his very presence. His arms and gaze made her feel safe, wanted, and beautiful at the same time, and she knew that she would fall for him if this kept up. Come to think of it, Aradia had only hated Torrine because of his mouth- and it hadn't run off in such a long time.

They could be friends. That's right- great friends. Besides was he not already engaged to Calina? By her own hand, nevertheless.

"I think I'm going to kiss you now," Torrine stated before she could think any farther, and there was nothing Aradia could do but nod. Her mind had left her long ago. Gently cupping his large hands around the base of her head, he tilted her up to face him, scanning her face for any sign that she wanted to leave. His other hand traced invisible patterns all over the small of her back as he gently leaned down to capture her lips.


---Hephestia ---

"Send him away!!!"

Porcelain flew only to shatter against the doorway.

"I told father once and I'll say it again- I am marrying no one!!!"

Leones winced as something else shattered against the door.

"But my lady, please- be reasonable!"

"Reasonable?Reasonable! How dare anyone ask me to be reasonable when you know what I've sacrificed?" the woman broke down sobbing then, "How can he ask me to give what I've already lost?" she whispered brokenly.

But before Leones could hear more, the servant who was leading him to the throne room ushered him away.

"Who was that?" Leones asked curiously, "surely that was not Princess Levinia?"

The servant started before giving Leones a disgusted look. "Princess Levinia? Never would my lady act in such a manner. The Light of Hephestia has much more class than that. That my dear sir, was Lady Kathra."

"I never meant to imply that Princess Levin was in anyway uncouth." Leones hurriedly assured the quickly purpling man, "it's just that I would find it hard for any woman to be in the position that she's in at the moment. Her father telling her to marry a stranger would not sit well for any woman."

The man's face reddened to dark claret and he refused to speak anymore. The long walk down the hall was continued in silence as Leones struggled to find something that would lessen the man's anger. He held himself in deep concentration, ignoring the brilliant white halls of the palace and the colorful tapestries that adorned them.

He ignored the smartly suited men in livery waiting to open the doors to the throne room. He even (after a while) began to ignore the angry man beside him as he started to mull over what he would say to the king and to the princess when the time came.

Leones ignored so much that he was startled when a page began to announce him to a rather ordinary looking man upon a golden oak throne. There was not haughtiness or regality in his bearing. No sense at all of royalty, but there was a quiet air of command that surrounded him and demanded respect.

"His Lord Leones, on behalf of the kingdom of Heliosa."

The ordinary man with deeply graying hair rose to greet him as Leones bowed before the throne. But he soon felt a hand on his shoulders that lifted him up.

"My lord, there is no need for formalities here. You and I are but ordinary men in extraordinary situations. I am Regent Saldor, I welcome you to Hephestia- the White Kingdom and one of the last thirteen kingdoms standing freely." There was a hint of weariness in his tone, but the underlying strength was still there. Leones wasn't sure that he would pick out Regent King Saldor if he merely passed by him on the streets, but there was no doubt that here this man radiated respect.

"How was your journey?"

"Well, my lord- though I bring news for both yourself and for her lady- Princess Levinia."

The dark green eyes of the king hardened slightly at the tone of Leones's voice, "Nothing too serious I hope?"

"Dark raiders have taken Heliosa. Crown Prince Vicant has gone missing. The King and the Regent are being kept prisoner in the Towers of Arden Bay. Prince Torrine and the Western Armies of Heliosa are currently in Bordua awaiting for the Alliance of the Kings to come together. You my lord, know as well as any other that of our thirteen, only four remain free from the Raiders."

Saldor nodded his head thoughtfully. His face twisting as he thought. Pacing back and forth across the Great Hall, the King debated his kingdom's fate. Hephestia, the White Kingdom, had always been a place of peace. It was the center of Arts of Gaeron – the place where musicians, craftsmen, and artisans gathered to show off and sell their wares. Multiple Guilds were located in the very heart of the White Kingdom, and the kingdom prospered because of it. But now the Darkness had taken nine of the other Kingdoms- two of which bordered Hephestia. The Darkness threatened the Kingdom itself, and while Hephestians weren't very martial people, they had a sizable army and navy. Quite able, in fact, to lend a hand to the Rebels of Bordua, in an attempt to throttle the Darkness before it claimed the White Halls of the entire kingdom.

There was also the marriage contract that Regent Prince Garth and Torrine of Heliosa had signed. It wouldn't be official of course until the Light of Hephestia signed it, but that was only a matter of time. His niece was stubborn, true, but she would do anything for the good of the kingdom. After the death of her brother, Levinia hid herself from the world. Her foot never stepped outside the palace walls- indeed the only sunlight she got was from her own private garden connected to her tower in the North Wing. That was where the Light of Hephestia resided. Hundreds made journeys from all over the Kingdoms to visit her, but she only received children and the peoples of her own kingdom.

The Lady was now twenty summers old, and since her self-seclusion only a handful of people ever saw her true face. It was said that she veiled herself to all who were older than ten summers old. But Saldor wouldn't know. He supped with his niece every evening and regaled her with stories of his day. She knew full well of the tremors that shook throughout Gaeron, and she was the stone he rested upon to recover from his maelstrom of daily horrors.

If Levinia did sign the marriage contract, the Hephestia would be forced to aid the Heliosan King. If she did not, the White Kingdom would do as it always did- stand-alone and weather the tides as they came.

Ahh, but he was getting old, and the people restless with fear each day as more and more cities and towns burned to the ground in the kingdoms surrounding them. Yar was the last kingdom connecting Hephestia to the rest of Gaeron, for the other two kingdoms had fallen and the Sea made for a silent neighbor.

"Perhaps it is time you met the Light of Hephestia, Lord Leones. Perhaps she may shed light on more things than I."

Leones bowed, "I would be honored."

By the Sea

It was glacial. She shivered uncontrollably at his touch; the small patterns he drew over the small of her back were driving her insane. It was fire. She burned all along her insides as his kiss made her veins run molten lava. Her limbs weakened until it was only he that kept her upright. The kiss had started out innocently enough- merely a brush of lips. Butterfly kisses that lightly grazed against her. But they deepened until she felt as if she were going to be swallowed by the passion that was burning in her veins. Her stomach knotted together and her coherent mind had left her.

When both had to surface for fear of asphyxiation, he was breathing heavily and she still could not stand.

Torrine knew for sure now that there could be no other. That kiss had branded her into his very soul.

"I love you." He whispered, her holding her tightly to him.

Aradia's heart ached. Months ago she would have doubted this statement. Months ago, she would have pushed him away and scolded him for making fun of her or for playing games with her mind. But she could not now. Aradia felt his love for her pulsing through his every touch and murmur. But how dare he love her? This changed everything. There was Calina to be thought of, the rest of the kingdom, a war going on. They were different in almost every way, they were childhood enemies, they were wrong together. But then why did this embrace feel so right? Why did his kisses send shivers of delight through her very bones?

Ten thousand questions soared through her mind, but the only thing that she managed to say was: "For how long?"

He pulled her closer, "I don't know. It crept slowly and silently and so subtly that I had no idea until it hit me."

Aradia felt her heart sing even more. But reality hit. They were on two separate paths of life, and she still needed to finish her assignment from the guilde. Not to mention Iyora was waiting for her to bring the future High King.

"What does this mean for us now?" She asked equally softly, not willing to break the air of peace that the two had made.

Torrine smiled into her hair, "It means that I want you to be mine, if you'll have me. It means that I've been an idiot, and I should have realized all those years that I've missed you when you left Heliosa it was because I loved you. It means that I would give everything I have and am to keep you with me, because I've discovered that my life is colorless without you."

"What about Calina?" Aradia asked, battling with herself whether or not to accept his proposal of courtship. She had always been attracted to Torrine (at least since she came back from Ganwoods Forest), but it was too soon to declare herself in love with him.

Torrine laughed quietly, "My love, that has been over for a long time now. The only thing I'm worried about is that My father and I signed a marriage contract to persuade Hephestia to join us in Battle."

Aradia jerked out of his arms. "Then how dare you ask me to be yours when you are not free?" she demanded.

"The Light of Heliosa has not yet agreed." Torrine smiled, and gently pulled her back into his arms, "and even if she did, I've already said that I would give everything I have to keep you with me….. please, I know that you felt something in our kiss as well."

Aradia signed and melted in his arms. It was so hard to fight when her soul wanted the same thing. "Alright," she whispered, "I'm yours."

Instantly his lips captured her own in a fierce show of possessiveness and want. "Never leave me." He begged- his lips lowering again to kiss her again- more slowly this time.

"Never..." she whispered back.

---Hephestia ---

As they climbed the stairs of the Northern towers, Leones started to think more and more that he was about to see a god. There were roughly fifty people lined up to see the Light, and his guide said that it was not unusual for the princess to have as many as two hundred visitors in a day. She was a ray of joy to her people, and they flocked to see her.

Mostly it was children wanting to see the fabled princess of their kingdom. Unlike many other royals, Princess Levinia did not periodically frequent the country to visit her people, although the Regent did. Since her brother died, she locked herself away, and her shroud of mystery drew the swarms of many. Added to the fact that Levinia veiled herself except to children, added more to her allure and mystic.

The people of the kingdom seemed to worship her, and Leones was getting disgusted.

But before he could think more and sink deeper into his disgust, they had arrived, and a herald was already announcing their entrance through the door.

"My lord, the Light of Hephestia." The guide announced before he bowed and left.

Leones was left standing awkwardly on the threshold of the door. Was he supposed to enter before the crowd of people before him? Or was he supposed to wait behind the swarm of old ladies and their grandchildren?

"Come in, my Lord," a light voice came from inside.

Shrugging, Leones entered. If he had any doubts that he was in the White Kingdom, they would have been swept away by the room. The Light of Hephestia lived in a man made garden of wilderness (if that is what it could be called) in her tower. Trees lined the room replacing the columns of marble that should have been there. A tiny waterfall and pond were in the back and the marbled floors and walls were pure cream. It felt as if the entire room was bathed in light, as the glass-covered ceiling did nothing to stem the brightness of the sun from outside. There were flowers everywhere, and the Light of Hephestia was elegantly situated on a small bench under a topiary of roses.

All the rumors about her were true. Princess Levinia was aptly named the Light of her Kingdom. Her hair was white gold- the palest of blonde that Torrine had ever seen and her skin was a milky white but she somehow did not look sickly at all. Levinia shone with an inner glow and grace that left no doubt to her royal bloodline. Her pale green dress did nothing to hide the rose of her cheeks and the color of her lips, and set off her eyes beautifully.

Leones was beginning to be more and more disgusted with this place.

"My Lord," The Princess smiled, "it is good of you to come all the way here to visit us. Hephestia is honored by your presence."

He bowed. A lengthy pause followed before she spoke again, as it was clear, Leones had no mind to do so.

"I assume you are here on behalf of Heliosa and Prince Torrine to ask for my hand?" The Light demanded, a bit of her delicacy fading, "well I am sorry, but my answer shall remain no." Levinia raised her chin and almost glared at him, though her regality and poise were still perfect. "Hephestia shall not be drawn into a war of blood shed that has nothing to do with us, and our people will not be slaughtered, all for the marriage of two strangers who have never met before."

Leones smiled. He was beginning to like her. Beautiful as she might be, she was not the dumb bitch that he had believed her to be. The Light had secluded herself, but she was no weakling or idiot despite it.

Her eyes held intelligence that he did not expect, and her body language, a strength of character that he didn't not dare to hope for.

"Then, my Lady," Leones bowed, losing a fit of his formality, "I ask that you send your people to war, without the marriage contract."

Her nose flared with anger, as she stood in a rush of silks. Leones was momentarily distracted by the gesture as he had never seen someone move with such elegance in the heat of the moment.

"You are asking me to do what?!"

"You know as well as I do that there are only four kingdoms remaining. Of the four, Hephestia stands in peril. You have the best ports and trade of all thirteen kingdoms - how do you think you will stand against the tide of Black Raiders when you are the last standing kingdom and we have all fallen? Who are you kidding if you think that there shall be no blood shed in Hephestia? My lady, I mean no disrespect, but you are either naive or plain stupid."

The Light raised an eyebrow, collecting her self and her anger as she sat back down.

"Hephestia has always weathered the tides of invaders. We have never fallen, and we shall survive again if needed."

"The Kingdoms of Gaeron have never all fallen at once!" Leones exploded, "you have weathered nothing, compared to this."

She glared. "Good sir, you forget your place. I shall think about what you have said. In the meanwhile, please, I have kept my people waiting long enough. You may stay if you wish, we shall resume when they have tired for the day."

Leones gave a deep nod, "Forgive me, my Lady. We shall continue this again, but allow me to stay for the time being."

Princess Levinia waved her hand to the guards and a group of three children with their pregnant mother rushed in.

---Outskirts of the Ganswood Villages---

Aphredia trampled through more bushes. Would this forest never end? On the way she had collected dozens more samples of the plants that she needed, but enough was enough. All she wanted was her bed, and she had to go through at least twelve more villages and a range of mountains to return home.

Curse her father.

--Author's Note—

Hi Guys! I'm back from the dead. Yes I know it was a long time, and it's a long story why, but I figured it wasn't important to write here since all you want to know is that I'M BACK! I know dozens of you gave encouragement and I appreciate it, it's really kept me going.

Specifically I want to thank JC Peters for re-inspiring me to write again.

Also, Sekine Hana, I find it hilarious that you thought I wouldn't update, a couple hours after I have finished this chapter.

But note please, I do not approve of Fanfiction for this story. It is copy write via Fictionpress, and fanfiction is a violation of such copy write law- especially since my story has yet to be published.

Please be respectful of my work.

Anyways, yes, I'm back. Yes I'm still alive. I've appreciated all comments that you guys have given me.

See you next month! (I'll be updating monthly now). I will answer all questions emailed to me.

Angel of Artemis