Black, red, and gold.
That was all she could see… Where had she seen it before? Oh, right, back at the Bannaanka Weyn, when they were being chased by soldiers… But… Among all that, what else was there?
Curved horns reminiscent of a ram’s. Huge wings consisting of a fleshy membrane with red and black scales. A slithering tail ending in a plume of red and gold feathers.
Was it a serpent? No… There was a face. A boy’s face… A face she knew.
He was quite good-looking, as she remembered him to be, ignoring the horns that sprouted from his head. His hair was black and messy, and his familiar crimson eyes were tinged with gold. Were his eyes always that color? He had a scar on his right cheekbone, and his mouth was contorted into a ferocious, snarl, revealing sharp canine teeth.
It frightened her, that expression, yet it was oddly soothing; comforting, even. It gave her a strange feeling… A feeling that no matter what happened, she would be safe. Had she seen that expression before? Where?
The memories came back slowly, first as a small trickle, then a steadily flowing river, turning into a waterfall before running dry again.
Serena bleakly opened her eyes.
Her head was pounding and her vision was blurry. The events that happened before were a bit rushed, but she could remember most of what happened on Atlantis. If she recalled, Kakane did something strange with his magic. Something about a ferocious beast she didn’t recognize. What was it…? Right, it was huge and reptilian, vaguely resembling Kakane with its red, black, and gold scales. Its teeth were huge, white, and contorted into a furious snarl. Right, she had wanted to know more about what that was…
Serena shut her eyes, feeling nauseous. Her chest felt awfully strained… It hurt a little bit, but she didn’t have any trouble breathing. It seemed her lungs weren’t damaged, only the tissue and bones above them. She supposed that was good, and the pain slowly faded away as she sucked air in and out continually. Right, as long as she kept working them, it wouldn’t hurt for much longer.
Eventually, her headache faded away and she opened her eyes again.
“Are you feeling alright?” Serena looked to her side.
It was Kakane, looking a little concerned but very much relieved. He was smiling, mouth stretched into a lopsided grin and ruby red eyes glimmering with thankfulness. Kakane’s eyes looked tired, but there was a bright aura around him. Bandages covered his wrists and neck, but he seemed unbothered by it, unlike the time at the Bannaanka Weyn.
“I’m so, so glad you’re okay,” Kakane murmured. Serena realized that he was holding her hand, gently stroking the top of it.
“…It’s not like you to be so concerned,” Serena croaked, cringing at the sound of her raspy, dry voice. Kakane coughed awkwardly, moving away from her, though Serena could see that the tips of his ears were red.
“I-I believe it’s quite normal for a king to be concerned for their subjects,” he said stiffly, clearing his throat. Serena smiled.
She sat up, leaning against her pillows to talk to him more easily. It hurt, but she wanted to see Kakane better. Just trying to move made her feel exhausted, but when it was worth it when she was finally eye-level with Kakane.
“I see you’re back to your usual self. I’m glad.”
“I, er, yes…” Kakane frowned and his shoulders dropped. “I’m sorry, Serena… I made you so worried with my behavior as of late, so much so that you risked your life to save me. You… You nearly died… protecting me, no more than a fool then. Thank you.” Kakane took Serena’s hand and placed a gentle kiss on top. He looked remorseful and sad, and the light in his eyes from earlier had dimmed. He refused to look at Serena in the eye, which disheartened her.
“I’m just glad you’re okay.” Serena placed her hands on Kakane’s cheeks, gently tilting his face so that their gazes met. She was smiling, brow cocked upward in confusion, which startled him. “But what do you mean by ‘fool’?”
Kakane smiled and shook his head, placing his hands on Serena’s wrists before responding.
“A king knows when he has made a mistake,” he told her. “Unable to look past my own desires and blinded by what was in front of me, I… I got distracted, and then this happened to you… Forgive me, Serena. I know I said I would not mess up the expedition, but… I swear to you, it will not happen again! You have my word. I will not break another promise to you, not on my honor and pride as a king!”
“Don’t worry about it. By the way, I want to ask you something. About that magic earlier, back on Atlantis. What was it?” Serena blinked as Kakane’s face immediately turned sour. He pulled away from her, shifting uncomfortably. He placed a hand on his nape and again, refusing to look at Serena in the eye.
“I… I’m sorry. I don’t… Dammit.” Kakane sighed, running a hand through his messy black hair. He placed a few fingers on his scar, and Serena had a feeling the mark had something to do with his strange magic. “Forgive me, Serena, but… I’m not used to talking about it. I’ve never… Well… It’s a sensitive subject, to say the least.” He coughed awkwardly.
“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to,” Serena said quietly. A silence descended upon the two. Kakane cleared his throat after a few moments.
“Well, now that you’ve awakened, I’m sure the nurses will want to do a check-up. I’ll inform Mira and Princess Megrez about your condition. I’m sure they’ll tell you more about the situation at Atlantis.” Serena nodded.
“Thank you, Kakane.”
He left hurriedly, seemingly not wanting to linger. Serena watched him go with a sense of melancholy and dissatisfaction. She sighed and fell back onto her pillows, head beginning to hurt again. Just how long could they continue this farce? Did it really matter? Was bottling up all her questions the most she could do at this point?
Serena didn’t know, and she didn’t want to think about it. Once she was out of the hospital, she would just focus on completing REAN. What came after that could be contemplated another day. Serena resolved to take events as they came.
At the corridor outside of the infirmary, Kakane was once again cursing himself out of anger and spite. He took back his words from earlier; he was still no more than a damned fool. His scar burned, and Kakane knew it was out of spite towards himself.
Why was he such a coward? The shackles chained upon him from that day were still overwhelmingly strong, binding his heart and throat. They would not let him speak, and their doubt and sorrow seeped through Kakane’s mind. What good would come out of telling her? Then again, would anything bad come out of it either? He didn’t know, and he didn’t want to think about it.
Serena wasn’t like his allies of war, who knew about his origins so that they would all be joined in their hatred and anger. She was kind and trusting; not an ally with whom he had to keep up professionalism but an equal with whom he stood on matching grounds. Serena was his first friend, his best friend. Yet here Kakane Beureum was, taking advantage of her kindness and forgiving nature to continue to keep his secrets to himself. Some king he was, unable to tell his beloved subject anything about himself! Serena probably hated him by now, or, at the very least, was thoroughly disappointed in him. Who wouldn’t be? Kakane wondered how long they could keep this farce up for.
How would he tell her? Could he tell her? When? If?
Kakane closed his eyes, swallowing hard. He leaned against the wall and sighed, running a hand through his hair. Without his horns, it felt strange, but then again, it always did. He had been wearing this stupid disguise crystal for a little less than ten years yet not being able to feel his horns still gave him a lot of discomforts.
Looking up, Kakane could see the bright blue sky through the glass roof, calm and peaceful. The clouds were playful and wispy, lolling about and randomly disappearing as they pleased. Kakane wished he could be as lazy as those clouds, but now he needed guidance and had no time for frolicking about.
Mother… Father… Please, help me… Tell me…
What should I do?
“You seem troubled. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Your Majesty.” Kakane bowed. “It’s nothing, really,” he added quietly, looking at the floor.
“Has Serena woken up yet?”
“Yes, she has.”
“Really?” Kai raised an eyebrow. “I would think you would be overjoyed upon hearing that. Is there something wrong with her? Is something threatening her condition?”
“N-No, she seemed perfectly fine when I spoke with her a few minutes ago.” Kakane sighed. “I guess… Well, when it comes down to it, people like Serena and I just don’t get along.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s an intellectual while I’m a battle-hardened warrior. She explores and asks questions while I work towards a clear goal. She has no ambitions, while I strive towards a single one. That curiosity of hers,” Kakane swallowed, mouth feeling dry, “might be the end of us both.”
He was lying through his teeth and he knew it. This was just his desperate attempt at coming up with a reason to explain these new turn of events. It wasn’t Serena’s fault; it was all his.
Gods dammit, Kakane…
“Are you keeping something from Serena that you don’t want her to find out?” Kakane flinched and Kai’s expression softened. He placed a hand on Kakane’s shoulder and continued, “Now, obviously, you can’t keep secrets from each other if you want to have a long-lasting and happy relationship. But I believe Serena is understanding enough that she’ll be willing to wait as long as it takes for you to finally come out to her. Take your time. If she’s really that concerned, she’ll confront you herself.”
“I… I don’t want to push her away… with the truth. There is too much haunting me… I’m afraid she might abandon me when she knows who I really am.” He touched his scar, looking at the floor.
After all, Cateye and Aaliyah only accepted me for my hatred; they don’t care for my origins, it just adds to my credibility. Serena… Serena is different.
“If that is the case, then maybe you are right. You and Serena won’t get along. But I have faith that you’ll come through. This all depends on you, Kakane. Find the strength to push forward. Such is the way of a king, no?”
“I… Yes, you’re right,” Kakane admitted. “I would have died if not for her. I don’t want to lose her friendship,” he realized.
Whether or not she’ll accept me… Is something I’ll have to brace for when the time comes. And whatever her answer may be, I’ll have to accept it without hesitation, even if it forces us to part ways…
“Your eyes tell me of a renewed resolve. Your future looks bright, Kakane.”
“Much appreciated, Your Majesty.” Kakane bowed again.
“By the way, Mira mentioned something about uncovering several stone tablets by a riverbank on Atlantis. I believe she’s cleaning up and translating them now. I saw them earlier, and I must say, the puppet detailings on them are remarkable.” Kakane’s eyes bulged.
“WHAT!? Your Majesty, did you not think it imperative to mention this before!?” he seethed. Kai chuckled.
“I have a meeting with some counselors now. Mira should be in a room to the hall on the left down on the first floor. I’ll see you later, Kakane,” he said, smiling serenely.
“Your Majesty…” Kakane sucked in a deep breath. “Room in a hall on the first floor, to the left. Got it, very much appreciated. Please enjoy your meeting,” he said through gritted teeth before speeding off. Kai blinked before scratching his head.
“Oh dear, did I say something?”