The ship ride to Neelos was quiet and steady. Kakane and Serena didn’t talk to each other for the majority of the trip, only conversing to make travel plans. Instead of leaving Serena when they reached the mainland, Kakane agreed that they should part ways once they reached the nearest town, bypassing whatever port village the ship arrived at.
It was quite the distance between Neelos and Poseidos, so it was quite awkward trying to avoid each other. Neither of them felt like being in each other’s presence, or even talking to each other. The ship was only so big; Serena and Kakane ran into each other more often than they’d liked. Luckily for Serena, she busied herself with teaching Rean how to read and write. It made Kakane’s life easier; he could stay on the deck while Serena was in the cabins with Rean.
Mira had invited Serena to stay at Poseidos until Rean’s education was complete, but the white-haired girl had already vouched to travel with Kakane. Mira was disheartened, but she understood Serena’s desire to travel. As a parting gift, Mira gave Serena a winged hairclip, not unlike her own, which the white-haired girl now wore to keep her bangs out of her face. For Rean, Mira gifted it a spiral-bound notebook with many blank white pages and a heavy leather cover. The puppet was fascinated by the gift and it often ran its hand over the cover of its new treasure, delighting in the smooth texture. With Serena’s help, Rean etched its name onto the front of the notebook. The puppet often stared at and traced the letters, as though trying to embed them into its head.
Megrez had also given Serena a heartfelt goodbye, giving her a bracelet of faintly pale pink pearls that reminded Serena of her sister’s hair. Kai and Kakane were also present at that moment, with Kakane accepting a sword from Kai. Remembering his skill with the scimitar from the Bannaanka Weyn, Serena knew he would put the gift to good use. She had watched as Kakane unsheathed the blade, a dense longsword with a bright red jewel at its hilt. He had twirled and slashed the air with it, putting it at his waist and nodding once he was satisfied. Kakane thanked King Kai and immediately left, not sparing Serena a glance.
After a week at sea, they finally landed on the northern island of Neelos. Serena mutely followed Kakane out of town, with Rean trailing behind her. It clutched its notebook close to its chest as it took in its new surroundings, drinking in the new sights. The cloudy grey sky, the dark green shrubbery, the stone buildings, it closely observed everything that caught its eyes.
Neither Serena nor Kakane said anything to each other as he led them out of town and down south. The plan was to reach another port that was willing to take them onto the mainland, but just outside of Doryokan territory. From there, Kakane would travel until he reached the town of Gawain while Serena would go elsewhere.
They walked for quite awhile. Both Serena and Rean became fascinated when it started to snow, allowing the soft, white sparkles to land on their clothes and in their mouths. Kakane let them play for a while, but he was in a grouchy mood all the while. Serena knew how much Kakane hated the cold, and she nearly laughed as he hissed and shoved snow off his shoulders. He complained about the weather and how wet the gosh darn snow was, and was soon snapping at Serena and Rean to get a move on.
He was in a thoroughly foul mood as he trampled through the snow, but it was light, and soon stopped falling from the sky. The puffy, angry-looking clouds soon cleared, revealing a periwinkle sky that was closer to purple than it was blue. Kakane’s mood lightened considerably after that.
He soon stopped at a small clearing on a hill, glancing at the sky.
“The sun is going to set soon,” he said. “We should set up camp.” Serena nodded.
“Alright. You make a fire while I set up our tents.”
They worked in silence, with Kakane working to get the fire blazing while Serena and Rean attended to setting up tents. After they were mostly done and Rean got the hang of putting the poles into the waterproof fabric, Serena left it to start working on dinner.
They had some provisions from Poseidos, but Serena felt comfort wandering around the clearing as she had done back in Zetreum Forest. There was something so calming and soothing about taking a walk through nature. Thanks to her efforts, there were now dandelion greens, mushrooms, and pine needles to add to their dinner.
Taking out some herbs and dehydrated vegetables, Serena placed a lightweight cooking pot over the fire and began making a soup base. The weather was still somewhat cold and Serena knew that Kakane would appreciate eating something warm. As soon as the water soaked up flavor from the ingredients, Serena added the fresh greens and some fish. She watched as Kakane did some more combat instruction with Rean as the stew cooked. When it was ready, she called them over and set a kettle over the fire to boil pine needle tea.
They ate in silence, with the only disturbance being the scream of the kettle once the tea was ready. Serena almost laughed again at the face Kakane made after drinking the tea. It also confused Rean, who had no digestive system, but watched in fascination as Serena and Kakane put their spoons to their mouths and ate. There was something cute and innocent about the way it observed them.
The silence continued even after their meal, when Serena and Kakane put away the silverware and drew out blankets. They wrapped themselves in the quilts as they sat by the fire, warming their bodies as the sun began to set. But the silence was growing to be unbearable.
It’s now or never, you can do it…
You have to, please!
Get your true feelings across.
“Hey, Kakane?” He flinched.
“…What is it?”
Serena took a deep breath, fogging up her vision as she exhaled. When the smog cleared, she saw that Kakane was looking at her apprehensively. There was something in his gaze that told her he knew this had been coming for a while.
“That… Strange magic you used on Atlantis… What was it?”
Anger, fear, and a plethora of other emotions flashed through Kakane’s eyes before he finally resigned himself and sighed. Briefly touching his scar, he pulled up the sleeve of his right arm, revealing the strange red crystal Serena had all but forgotten about. Kakane hesitated for a moment.
Is this really the right thing to do?
He pulled the gem from his arm.
Instantly, his horns were back, still lined with the gold thread in its spiraling pattern. But that wasn’t all. Huge bat-like, reptilian wings burst from behind him, scaled black with freckle-like red scales and the occasional gold. A tail slithered out from him, ending in plumed feathers of black and red that were stiff and uptight. Scales in colors of gold, red, and black lined Kakane’s cheeks, neck, collarbone, and the upper parts of his arms. When he smiled ruefully, Serena could see that his canine teeth had extended into fangs.
Her breath was knocked from her chest and even Rean was blinking wildly. Kakane’s tail wagged back and forth slowly, coming a bit too close to Serena for her comfort. She scooted away from him, but he was just staring at the ground uncomplaining.
“Kakane… What… What are you?” Serena gasped. He sighed.
“I’m a Draconid,” he answered. “I highly doubt you’ve ever heard of my people; we were all wiped out ten years ago. Well, all of us except for me.”
Serena stared at Kakane in mute confusion, with Rean tilting its head back and forth. Kakane seemed hesitant to do so, but he continued.
“You see these gold scales? My mother had them as well. All Draconids born into the royal family are born with them; they are proof of our royal heritage. My mother was the queen of our kind, but she and the rest of my people died ten years ago. I say I am a king, but in truth, I am nothing more than a prince who has lost everything.”
“W-When you say died ten years ago, what exactly do you mean?” Serena gulped.
“We were wiped out,” Kakane said simply. “Massacred. Slaughtered. Slain by the hundreds every single day until not one of us remained alive. You see this scar on my face?” He touched it, grimacing. “I got it on that day, from one of the enemy soldiers. I barely escaped with my life thanks to the sacrifice of one of my mother’s retainers. And the Thunder Lion, who we met at the Bannaanka Weyn, he was… He was one of the commanders from ten years ago that killed my people, one of the perpetrators of the event I now call the Draconid Genocide.”
“How horrible… Who would do such a thing?” Serena gasped. Kakane tensed up, lips pulling back into a snarl.
“Doryoku,” he hissed, feeling his scar. “Its king ordered his soldiers to come to my country and rid it of its people so that he may take our land and resources. Enjo Hononen was the one who orchestrated the entire Draconid Genocide!”
“But why? What good comes out of killing the citizens of a kingdom?” Serena asked tearfully. Rean looked concerned. Kakane shook his head.
“I don’t know. I was too young to understand the full details. All I know is that they wanted our land and killed us to take it. Even now, they occupy what was once Draconia. But I have sworn, on the graves of my parents and of everyone who died that day, that I would take revenge. I will kill Enjo Hononen and restore Draconia, our home, to its former glory. That has been my life’s mission for ten years. The magic I used on Atlantis was the magic of the Draconids: dragon magic. It is a hereditary gift but I lack the sufficient knowledge needed to unlock its full potential. It carries too many risks though; as you saw, it reveals my true form. If any Doryokan saw that they would have killed me immediately.”
“I’m so sorry…” Serena placed a comforting hand on Kakane’s shoulder, but he quickly brushed it off, looking away from her.
“It’s fine. Well, now you know the truth about me. You’re not… You’re not disgusted, are you?” Serena shook her head.
“Of course not… No matter what you look like, you’re still the same Kakane that I became friends with.”
“Serena…” Kakane’s eyes softened and he looked relieved.
“I’ve had my suspicions since the Bannaanka Weyn,” Serena admitted, “and truthfully, your story is a little difficult to believe. But I’ve got living proof of it right in front of me… It must have been so hard, seeing everyone you’d ever known dying all around you.”
“I… I’m just glad you accept me for who I am… What I am.” Serena nodded and Kakane took a deep breath. “I hear their voices in my nightmares, the voices of those that died in the massacre. They ask why I haven’t avenged them yet, why Enjo Hononen still lives. Until their souls have been laid to rest, I cannot and will not stop my quest for vengeance. Not on my honor as the last prince of the Draconids. Everything that was lost will be returned, mark my words.”
“I see.” A pause descended between the two when Serena began stroking one of Kakane’s wings. He flinched and bit his lip. Even Rean started poking it.
“H-Hey, that tickles!”
“Can you fly with these?” Serena asked.
“Well, technically, yes, but I never have,” Kakane admitted. “They were too small when I was six, and after the genocide, it was too dangerous. My flight muscles are so underdeveloped I doubt I can even fly at all now.”
“That’s unfortunate… It must be a magical experience, being able to soar above the clouds,” Serena said dreamily. Kakane smiled softly.
“If the day ever comes when I will be able to fly freely, I will carry you up into the sky so that you may touch the clouds,” he promised. “That’s a king’s promise.”
“Thank you,” Serena beamed. “What else can you do?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure. Since all of the Draconids died in the genocide when I was so young, there isn’t actually a lot I know about myself. I guess you could say I have limitless potential.”
“I see. There’s something sad yet hopeful about that,” Serena remarked. “Kakane, I have something I want to ask you.” He nodded.
“Please, let me join you on your quest to restore your home, Draconia.”
“I-I concede that I may not be much help in killing Enjo Hononen, but I am certainly good at mathematics, organization, and planning. In a way, restoring a kingdom is like building a puppet, no? You have to source the materials, make plans on how you’re going to do it, and then execute it in a way that leaves room for unexpected errors. And if I remember correctly, those things aren’t exactly your forte.” Kakane wings drooped and he smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah… I know. But… It will be dangerous.” He clasped her hands, looking at her seriously and staring into her bright pink eyes. “Serena, I’m planning a war against Doryoku to get my land back. It will be bloody and it may seem heartless, but toppling the Doryokan Empire is the only way for me to reclaim Draconia. But if you are willing to be a part of the upcoming conflict, then I will not argue with you.”
“Kakane, I want to help you,” Serena reassured him, taking his cheeks into her hands. Her thumb stroked his scar, which was rough and carried the memories of a living nightmare. “You’ve done so much for me, assisting me with Rean and taking me to Poseidos. I want to return the favor.”
“Serena…” Kakane’s eyes softened. “Thank you.”
“So, what do you plan on doing now?” Her hands slipped away from Kakane’s face but as they fell, he took one of her hands and gripped it firmly. Serena leaned her head against Kakane’s shoulder as he stroked the top of her hand softly. Rean began hugging itself in its lonesomeness, bringing a smile to both their faces.
“There are three Doryokan noble families that I’m allied with. They were affected by a coup six years ago called the Usurping of the Cardinal Five and lost all their land, wealth, and status as a result. They wish for the dethroning of Enjo Hononen, but they don’t know about my Draconid heritage. They just think I’d be a good fore figure for the war. I’d like to recon with them when we get to the mainland.”
“Okay. Do you know where they are?”
“Probably in Gawain, a village near the Yukishi Mountain. Two of the families live there, with the third nearby. It’s a poor place, covered in snow and ice year-round.” Kakane frowned. “I don’t want to go there, but after taking a detour by working on Rean, I’m curious as to how Doryoku is doing.”
“I see. Then we’ll need to head there as quickly as possible, won’t we?” Serena smiled at him. “Here, it’s getting late; we should sleep now.”
Serena pulled Kakane into a tent, gently wrapping them both up in blankets. Kakane felt tension release in his chest and realized how heavy his eyes were. He sighed and put the disguise crystal back into his arm, hiding away his tail, wings, horns, and scales. They had done a lot of traveling, and he had gotten a large weight off his mind; it was no wonder he was tired. Not needing to sleep, Rean plopped itself in front of the entrance to the tent and began to doodle in its notebook. But if anything happened, it would be an excellent watchman.
Entangled in Serena’s arms, Kakane closed his eyes, slowly falling asleep when he heard Serena begin to sing.
Sleep now, rest in the bosom of the night; the azure moon. Sleep now, walking in the great forest; great and mighty. Sleep now, carried away by angels high; the setting sun…
Her voice was so soothing, gentle, and caring. Kakane felt himself drift asleep almost immediately, as if swept away by fairies into the night.