Chapter 26
Ryland

I woke up to the sound of Seyra's voice, begging me to get up. When I opened my eyes, her face was wet with tears and her expression was full of terror.

"We have to go, now!" She yelled, extending her hand.

I grabbed it, and our tattoos reacted immediately, giving me the energy I needed to get up and start running.
I still felt exhausted, all of my muscles were aching, and I knew I had at least a couple of broken ribs. I wasn't fast enough, and I knew the scorpions were quickly catching up to us.

"You have to fly to the walls!" I yelled at Seyra, who was still holding my hand, running alongside me.

"I'm not leaving you again!"

I saw the sorrow in her deep blue eyes, which mirrored mine. The moment we shared in the tower was unbelievable, and after making my heart so happy and full, she had ripped it out by choosing Aiden yet again.
But now wasn't the time to ponder about what had happened, we needed to survive.

Seyra looked back, and whatever she saw filled her eyes with terror.

"I will meet you inside the city," She told me, and then let go of my hand.

She turned around and started running the opposite direction, heading for the scorpions. I called out her name but she didn't stop. I let out an annoyed sigh and then ran after her, but I wasn't the first one to reach her.
I had never been more happy to see Aiden, as he landed next to Seyra and joined her in fighting the scorpions. They were bending the earth, smashing rocks against the creatures, creating holes underneath them to make them fall, building walls they would crush against. But the creatures kept coming, growing in number by the minute.

"Run, Ryland! We can't hold them much longer!" Seyra yelled at me, as she glanced back at me.

I hated leaving her behind, but there was no other choice, so I did what she asked.

In front of me the main gate was opening up, and dozens of soldiers carrying the Royal colors came out, on the back of their horses, swords raised to the sky.
They reached me shortly after, and even though they all passed right by me, one of them stopped and extended me his hand.

"Your Highness, I was ordered to bring you back inside."

I let him help me on the horse and we rode away, back to the safety of the city, as men and elves were fighting the dark creatures of the witches.

I made the young soldier take me to the top of the wall, so I could see what was happening on the battlefield. Seyra was still there, right by Aiden's side, her long partially braided hair flowing in the wind she was manipulating against the monsters.

"Ryland!" My father called out to me, but I completely ignored him.

I was incredibly angry at him because he had sent me out there, and I was angry at my injured body because I couldn't be there.

We took in a few losses, but we came out victorious. They all returned to the city, closing the gate once again. I hoped this would be it, but in my heart I knew the siege had just begun.

Seyra found me quickly, and brought me into an empty room in one of the watchtowers and healed me with her magic. I was grateful for it, because I knew how much I needed my strength back.
When she was done, we awkwardly stared at each other, not knowing what to say. We were sitting on the cold stone floor, surrounded by noises of cheer and excitement for the recent victory.

"Do you want to talk about it?" She finally asked me.

"Talk about what?"

"You know, what happened out there," She said, pointing at my hands.

I instinctively hid them behind my back, feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

"I'm sorry, I…" I started saying, but she interrupted me.

"You don't have to apologize. I think you were absolutely amazing out there."

My mouth dropped. Did she really mean what she said?

"You... You don't think I'm a monster?" I hesitantly asked her, and she put a hand on her chest, shaking her head.

"You could never be a monster, Ryland, don't ever say that," She said, moving closer to me.

She offered me her hand, and I placed mine in hers, and the light from our tattoos lit up the small room.

"You were afraid of me," I told her, looking into her eyes that were sparkling with the light.

"Only for a moment," She started saying, intertwining her fingers with mine.

"But I knew you would never hurt me."

She brought our hands towards her mouth and gently kissed each one of my fingers, sending jolts of electricity in my chest.

"I've let you down and disappointed you so many times Ryland, and I'm sorry. But I will never leave you again, I promise."

She seemed genuine, but I didn't believe her. No matter what she'd say, or think she was feeling, I would never be her first choice. She would always put her friends and her people first, and even though it hurt, I could never blame her for doing that.

"Whatever is happening to me, it has to do with our Bond," I told her, changing the subject and taking my hand away from hers.

She looked disappointed by my gesture, but she tried to hide it and agreed with me.

"If we get out of this alive, we need to go to Caelior. You need to find your father, and I need to find answers."

It was a giant leap of faith to think the ruins of an ancient city could guide me to the truth, but it was the only lead I had, and it was worth exploring. And it wouldn't be a wasted trip, since that was exactly where Seyra wanted to go.

A moment later somebody knocked on our door, and one of my father's personal guards walked in, informing me that the King was requesting my presence in the palace. Did he really think the attack was over? That the witches wouldn't send any more creatures? Or was he hiding in the safety of the palace walls, knowing that the city would fall first?
I sighed, and decided to go see him, hoping I could get some sense into him. At least he was letting his soldiers defend Midayel, and if another attack came, I would be able to get there fast enough to hopefully be of help.
I asked Seyra to come with me, and even though I was expecting her to tell me that she wanted to find Aiden first, she didn't.

We were walking side by side, accompanied by two human guards and their elves, our hands barely touching. The sun was starting to set, and the way the light hit her skin made it look like it was glowing. I realized I hadn't painted in a long time, and I wished I could've painted her at least once before the witches tried to kill us again.
I was still hurt and upset by what she had done earlier, leaving me when I was potentially about to face death. And yet, a big part of me wanted to close the distance between us and hold her hand.

My heart was still deciding on what to do when we heard people scream not too far in front of us. We ran towards the noise, which was coming from one of the city's bridges. The biggest snake I had ever seen was wrapped around it, twisting its body tightly, as if the bridge was its prey and it was trying to suffocate it.
We heard a loud snap, and the cement that was keeping the bridge attached to the road crumbled, making the bridge and the black and slimy creature collapse underwater. A few moments later, the head of the snake resurfaced from the river, its jaw open in a hiss. Its forked tongue was long and slim, and its fangs were sharp and venomous. I wondered if Seyra's magic would be strong enough to counter the effects of its poison, and I hoped we would never have to find out.

"We have to kill it," I told her once we got close enough to it.

"I know. Together, this time," She said, and I nodded.

She charged towards the creature, her hands moving in elegant motions, and I saw the river water start to rise around the snake. It created a wall around its head, and when Seyra clasped her hands together, the water started spinning like a tornado, closing in on the creature. Seyra moved her hands again, and ice darts started shooting from the water tornado into the creature, stabbing it in its head and body.
The snake tried to get away, but Seyra was faster, creating one last big and sharp ice missile, which she threw in the snake's open mouth. It flew right through the creature, severing its throat, killing it instantly.

"I thought you said we were going to do this together," I told her grinning as the dead creature fell back in the river.

"It's not my fault you're so slow," She joked, but our laughter was cut short.

We heard screams again, and I saw another snake in a nearby river. Before we even started running towards it, we heard shrieks coming from above us, and we looked up to the sky, which was blackened by the multitude of creatures flying across it. They were the same kind of the one that attacked me and my father the day before, huge birds with bat wings and scales instead of feathers, and there were dozens of them, flying above us, terrorizing the people of Midayel.

They weren't attacking yet, they were just flying in circles, as if they were looking for their prey, looking for me.

"We have to lead them outside of the city," I told Seyra, as she was still looking at them with fear and repulsion.

"Go kill the other snake, and meet me back by the main gate."

"Separating is not a good idea, Ryland."

"We have no choice," I told her, and I was about to leave when the guards that were taking us to the palace finally caught up to us.

"The King is expecting you, your highness," The human one said, but I shook my head.

"He will have to wait," I told them, and then started running towards the nearest tallest building.

I climbed on top of it, and then started shouting and jumping, trying to catch the flying creatures' attention. I saw Seyra with the corner of my eyes, about to battle the water snake, and I wished I could've held her in my arms one last time before letting her go.
The black birds saw me pretty quickly, and emitted what sounded like a hunting cry before flying straight towards me.
I leaped off the building, landing on a nearby roof, and I jumped from one balcony to the next, climbing on houses, making my way across the city from above, keeping the birds' attention strictly on me.

They were fast fliers, but I was faster, and even though one of them caught up to me, I punched it in the wing, feeling the bones underneath the scales breaking, and I watched it fall to its death.

I was almost to the wall when I felt something sharp grab me by the shoulders, and I was lifted up in the air. I pulled the claws out of my flesh, but before I could let go and fall back down, another one of those creatures flew right for me, pulling me by the legs. I used the momentum of its pull to use the bird I was still holding on to with my hands as a weapon, throwing it right into the second bird. They started fighting each other, and my legs were finally freed. But as I was falling, another one caught me again, digging its claws into my already wounded shoulders, making me scream out in pain.

"Do you need some help?"

For the second time that day, I was glad to hear Aiden's voice. He threw a dagger at the creature that was holding me, and I felt its claws release me, blood sprouting everywhere.
Aiden caught me before I hit the ground, and carried me to the top of the wall, while archers in my father's army worked tirelessly to kill the flying creatures with their arrows.

"Where's Seyra?" He asked me once we landed.

*She's fighting a gigantic water snake."

"You're kidding, right?" He asked me, and I shook my head.

He cursed under his breath, leaping off the wall and flying towards the city. I muttered a thank you, but he was gone so quickly I didn't think he was able to hear me.

I grabbed a bow and a quiver full of arrows from the weapon room in the watchtower near me, and I joined the other soldiers in shooting down the creatures. There were so many of them, but we had trained humans and elves fighting them, and it looked like we were winning.

All of a sudden we heard a loud bang that shook the ground we were standing on, and I immediately ran to the other side of the wall, and looked down. Black creatures were pounding on the main gate, and by their sizes and strength I knew it wouldn't take long for them to smash through it, unless they were stopped, and soon.

"Are those bears?" I heard one of guards ask out loud, pointing at the beasts.

*No, they're definitely not bears," I told him, looking at their big heads that resembled eagles' heads.

They were muscular creatures, and kept punching the gate with their huge paws, making the cement walls shake around it.
I called out some of the archers to join me on this side of the wall, and we started shooting the gryphon looking bears. Our arrows sunk deep in their skin, but it was as if they couldn't feel the pain, because they kept pounding, and stomping, until fire rained down on them.

I turned around, and I was surprised to see Grem there, with a dozen free elves alongside him.

"We're here to help," he said, and I thanked him deeply.

"Alani and other water elves are by the rivers, taking care of those nasty serpents. We're here for the furry ones," he told me, pointing down at the bears.

I nodded, and after he barked some orders, a few of them stayed behind to finish killing the bat-birds, while the rest threw everything they could on the creatures down below. They burned the bears, drowned them, asphyxiated them, tore through them with rock spikes they grew out of the ground, slowly killing them all one by one. I helped with my arrows where I could, but when I realized my efforts were useless, I went back killing the last of the birds, until no purple-eyed creature was left breathing.

For some reason, I was expecting to find Seyra in Aiden's arms when I finally found them near one of the rivers, but the two elves were not close at all. In fact, they looked like they were avoiding each other.
When she saw me, her features brightened and she ran towards me with a big smile across her face.
She lunged into my arms, and I held her tight. I was still angry at her, but that didn't mean I wasn't happy she had survived.

"You know, I may not always be around to heal you, so you should be more careful," she said, pointing at my torn up flesh once I pulled myself out of our embrace.

I shrugged my shoulders, and she shook her head.

"Come on," she told me, and I followed her down by the river bank.

The body of the dead snake was laying right next to us, and this close it looked even more creepy and terrifying.

"So, how many of these things did you kill?" I asked her once we sat down, using the carcass to hide us from indiscreet eyes.

"I think there were twelve in total. It felt like as soon as we killed one, another one would appear in another river. I'm so glad we had help."

"Me too," I said, and I told her of how the Circle helped us on the front wall as well.

"What happened to your father's army? I thought they would be prepared for this sort of thing."

And they were. But soldiers are as strong as their leader is, and my father had not been acting like a king. If it wasn't for the Circle, we would've surely been invaded, and the number of lives lost would've been tremendous.

After Seyra healed me, again, I asked her to come with me to talk to my father. I had to confront him, about how he risked my life, and the lives of all his subjects here in Midayel, by declaring war and then not taking the adequate defense methods.

Before we left for the castle, I stopped to talk to Aiden, who was in the middle of a conversation with Alani.

"I wanted to thank you, for saving my life. Again," I told him once I took him to the side, and there were no traces of pride in my heart.

A couple of days ago I felt weak and childish whenever somebody saved my life, but now I just felt grateful.

"You saved a lot more lives today," He said, shaking my hand.

"We're going to the palace, you're more than welcome to join us," I told him, but he shook his head.

"I'm going back with them," He started saying, pointing at Alani.

"There's nothing keeping me here."

He looked at Seyra, who was only a few feet away from us, with a sad look in his eyes.

"Good luck. I'm sure we'll meet again," I told him, and he nodded, shaking my hand again.

Him and Alani left, along with the other members of the Circle who had come to help us in the attack.
Seyra didn't try to stop him, but I could see how much it was hurting her watching him go.

We walked silently to the palace, the city still deserted. Even though the attack was over, and we had won, people were still scared out of their minds and they were barricaded in their homes.
As soon as we walked into the throne room, I could tell something was wrong. There were a lot of guards, more than usual, and they all looked pale and scared. My father was sitting on his throne, but instead of lazily lying on it as he usually did, he was on the edge of it, his back straight and his hands glued to his knees.
It was dead quiet in there, and the echoes of our steps on the marble floor was the only audible noise.

"What's going on?" I asked my father, looking at him right in the eyes, but he refused to meet them.

"I'm sorry, son," he finally said, his voice low and broken.

"It was the only way," he continued.

"What are you talking about?"

He didn't reply, but the answer came walking in through a side door right behind the dais.

"Prince Ryland, it's good to see you."

A shiver ran down my spine, as the witch in front of me made her way next to my father.

"Mirilla," I said through gritted teeth, recognizing the witch who had captured Seyra.

"Rayka Mirilla," She corrected me, brushing a finger on her whip.

Seyra was tense next to me, and she was looking at me, waiting for me to decide our course of action.

"Father, we had won. What have you done?" I asked him, feeling confused and betrayed, again.

"We only won because of the deal I made, Ryland. They would've killed us all," He said, still unable to meet my gaze.

"Not if we fought back!" I shouted impatiently.

"And how long do you think you would've lasted, little Prince?" Rayka Mirilla started saying, "for every creature you kill, there's a hundred more waiting to replace them."

She had to be bluffing. But what if she wasn't? Were we all doomed?

"What kind of deal did you make with them, father?" I asked him, but my heart already knew.

"There's only one thing we wanted: you," Rayka Mirilla said, and then she threw her whip towards me. Seyra jumped in front of me, trying to protect me, and the whip wrapped tightly around her neck.

"Surrender, or she will die."

The whip was made of Rayka stone, which was a conduit for the witches magic, and repelled the elemental magic Seyra possessed, so she was powerless against it. But I wasn't.

I grabbed the whip in my hands, and the contact burned my skin. I ignored the pain, pulling on it so hard that Mirilla had to let go of her weapon. She screamed as I ripped the whip in two, breaking it and freeing Seyra. She coughed, raising her hands to her neck, but her eyes told me she was ready to fight. She turned around and sent an air blast that pushed the witch off the dais and against the back wall. Mirilla's head hit the cement so hard that it cracked the wall, and she fell on the floor.

"Guards! Take them!" My father yelled, and I prepared myself for the imminent fight.

But the guards, both human and elves, didn't move. I looked into their eyes, and where once I saw derision and despise, I now recognized respect and admiration. I bowed my head to them, and then faced my father again.
Seyra had trapped the witch into an ice sphere, and she was waiting for a sign from me to know what to do next.

"If you kill her, you will have doomed us all," My father said, pleading with me to spare the witch.

"We will let her go if you spare the lives of these guards," I told my father, and he nodded.

"You're all free to go!" He yelled at them, and they all rushed outside the room.

"Find Radnar Don!" I shouted as they were running away.

I slowly walked up to my father, and he retracted into his throne, scared of me and of my powers.

"You will regret turning your back on your kind," I told him, my voice full of anger.

I wanted Seyra to kill Mirilla more than anything, but my father was right, the witches were going to retaliate by destroying Midayel, and I couldn't allow that to happen. But at the same time I couldn't stay, I wasn't strong enough to protect the city from the witches, and me being there put so many innocent lives in danger. They wanted me, and they were going to stop at nothing to have me.

"Seyra, we have to go!"

She looked at me, and nodded. Just a few hours ago she would've argued with me, telling me how I couldn't control her or make decisions for her, but she understood now. It wasn't about power, it was about trust. She had enough faith in me to trust that I knew what I was doing, that I was making the best possible decision for us. And now, she finally respected me enough to humble herself and let me become a contributing member of our team.

She threw the ice sphere against a wall, and pieces shattered everywhere. The force of the impact hadn't been enough to kill the witch, but it was surely going to give us enough time to run away.

I was grateful I had stuffed my pockets with golden coins and the ancient map I drew at Professor Lucille's house, because we definitely didn't have time to stop anywhere on our way out of the palace.
I told Seyra to jump on my back, and I ran as fast as I could through the many hallways of the palace, until we were back out on the streets of Midayel.

We exited the city through the North gate, and Seyra called out a mist that covered our tracks. I ran through the woods, as my eyes quickly adapted to the moonlight, trying not to think about what I was leaving behind.
Did I make the right choice? Or would it have been better to stay and fight?
The only thing keeping me going was the hope that we would find the ruins of Caelior, the City of Souls, and something or someone that could help us understand our Soul Bond, but most of all, my new found powers.

I looked down at my hands, remembering how they looked like when they were shaped more like paws. What if that was just the beginning of my transformation? What if there was more to me, more to my abilities?

I stopped to turn and look at the city I left behind, covered in Seyra's magical mist, my heart torn in opposite directions.
Was I saving them all, or dooming them?

End of Book One.

*** Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read my story! ***