This chapter is kind of crazy- it's another Vale chapter, so you get to know more about what's happening with him and Shanta. Enjoy!


"Life comes from the earth and life returns to the earth." ~Zhuangzi.

I've spent most of my life in a castle. While I would have been content to spend it just in an ordinary house, a cave is really a step down from one of the four finest buildings in the world. And it's not even, like, a nice cave. By cave standards.

I mean, since I'm part of the Earth Kingdom, I like nature... but not this type of nature. Bats and insects cover the walls, along with some sort of slime. Algae? I'm not sure I want to know. Moss is there too, and at least that's not so bad. Stalagmites and stalactites cover the floor and roof. I'm chained to one of them. The rocky floor beneath me is one of the least comfortable places I have ever sat, and that would probably still be true even if I wasn't accustomed to sitting on thrones.

"Enjoying your new home?" Shanta asks me, almost like she can read my mind. That theory is supported when she continues "I know you're used to palaces, but hey! Not all of us can afford them."

"Oh yeah," I reply sarcastically. "It's a really nice place you've got here. I think I might redecorate the castle to look like this."

"Oh, there's no need," Shanta laughs. "You'll never come to miss this place, because you're never leaving."

"Well. That's great," I respond.

Apparently, Shanta is bored of talking to her new prisoner. (Armel tells me- or, told me- that I have that effect on people. Medeina, I even miss his wisecracks and insults.) She continues deeper into the cave. Desperate to learn more about where I am, I follow as quietly as possible for as far as my chains will let me go.

Just barely within my line of sight is a table, maybe Shanta's desk where she plans all of her kidnappings. Books and stray papers cover the surface. I feel a strong urge to organize that mess. How on earth does she find anything with a desk like that? In addition to the papers, the table has vials of a gold liquid (At least I think it's gold, the lighting in here is pretty terrible,) and- oh, Medeina- a needle. I pray to the goddesses that she won't use it on me, but who else would it be for? I'm doomed. Needles are awful.

A head of small dark brown braids peeks around the corner, interrupting me from my thoughts. Rose, I remember.

"Hey," she says softly, voice almost a whisper. "Can I get you anything? Food? Water?"

"Um..." I make sure to match her voice in volume, thinking that she doesn't want Shanta to hear. "Water would be great, please." When she returns holding a glass of water, I thank her. The awkward transition from her hand to my chained one is awkward, and twisting my arm to tilt the cup to my mouth is difficult, but the cold sweet liquid pouring into my mouth makes it worth all that.

"No problem," Rose answers, ducking her head and blushing.

"So, how'd you end up working for Shanta?" I ask Rose. She seems nice. Not like someone who would want to end up working with a kidnapper.

Rose twists one of her braids around a slender finger. "She tried to take my brother. I negotiated until she had me as a servant instead. I'm not... I guess, powerful... enough to be used for... well, the reason she kidnapped you. So, I just do some of her dirty work."

"Which is?" I prompt. Rose gives me a confused look. "What does she need me for?"

Rose looks down again, but this time it seems out of shame, not bashfulness. "I'm not allowed to tell you. You'll find out soon enough. And trust me, you're better off not knowing, anyway."

"That only makes me want to find out more," I say.

"No. You don't." Rose looks like she's about to say more, but then she sees Shanta's blonde head returning. Quickly, she snatches the water from me and pretends to take a sip from it. So Shanta doesn't know she was being kind to me, I guess.

"I need to go get an Air elemental," Shanta says, look directly at Rose and ignoring my very existence. Not that I'm complaining. "You're in charge of making sure our prisoner here doesn't escape. Remember, I have the only boat- so no trying to escape with him. If you even try, and I find out, I'll kill you both. Have a nice few days."

We watch in silence as Shanta leaves the cave.

For the next few days, I'm well aware that things could be far worse, but I still do miss the comfort of home. Any attempts to sleep in the cave are so futile it could be laughable- not only is it remarkably difficult (read: impossible) to find a comfortable spot, the bugs crawling all around the sound of bats flying add to the unfortunate mix.

During the waking hours (or hours that I'm not trying to sleep,) Rose and I will get to know each other better. It turns out that, if we'd met under different circumstances, she and I would make really great friends. Rose is from Earth, like me, but she lives nearer to the coast. I promise her that if we ever manage to get home, I'll try to visit her.

"That's sweet, but it's never going to happen," Rose replies, braids falling over her mournful chocolate brown eyes.

For hours at a time, Rose will undo the chains trapping me in the cave, and we'll go for walks. Disgusting caves aside, the island is actually quite nice, as a bit of exploring proves. The internalized map shows that we're on an island southeast of Water and directly south of Earth, called Byica. Deadly in a language called Basa. That's cheerful.

Although being a prisoner isn't the best, I find myself actually enjoying myself at moments, and not completely miserable the rest of the time. Sadly, I know it can't last longer than a few days- and I'm already dreading the time that Shanta returns. Sure enough, that time comes one morning when Shanta's sneering face is the first thing I see after I wake, rather than Rose's smile.

Elsewhere in the cave is a boy of about eight- presumably, whoever Shanta kidnapped from the Air kingdom. According to Rose, his name is Zephyr. And later that day, when I see Shanta returning to my makeshift prison holding a (gulp) needle, I figure that I'm about to learn why I'm here.

"This might hurt a little," Shanta says, before the needle stabs into my skin. Although I hate watching the way it sinks into me, I'm unable to tear my eyes away. Little droplets of dark red blood appear on the skin surrounding, and more blood drains from my arm into a small tube. Why does she need my blood? Also...

"You cleaned that needle before using it, right?" I ask.

Shanta snorts. "Sure, Your Highness." If she doesn't kill me, whatever disease that needle is going to transmit will.

"What do you need my blood for?" I ask.

Shanta's lips curl up as she removes the needle from my arm. I massage the place where it punctured, letting out a soft groan. "Well, you see, the magic of elementals is found in the bloodstream. For especially oh-so-talented people like yourself, even a few drops of blood will provide a substantial amount. Consuming that magic- oh, don't worry, I filter out the blood first- will make the drinker immortal. Recent discoveries have shown that the intake of enough magic, from each of the four elements, will give me all four abilities. Of course, that may- will- come at the expense of your life... but hey, there's no 'Prince Vale' in 'Immortal and omnipotent,' now is there?"

I'm silent as the information begins to slowly sink in.

"Lovely talking to you," Shanta says cheerfully, before leaving- making her way to either Zephyr or her table, I can't tell.

On a scale of one to ten, there isn't a number in the world high enough to express how bad this is.

Shanta's evil plan has been revealed! Ooh! What will happen next- wait, I'm the author, I've already written what will happen next.

Anyway, it's quarantine and I'm bored, so I wrote a new short story called "Fifty Percent Chance"- if anyone would be willing to check that out, that'd be great. As always, any reviews would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks so much for reading!