Zakiah Adara: Year One

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Part Five: Crossing to Destiny

Kai stood in front of the ticket booth, trying his best to weasel his way into getting a decent room. So far, the only thing the girl working the booth could come up with, well, it just wasn’t going to work. Not if it meant sharing a bed with Akki for the duration of the trip.

“Is that really all you can do?” asked Kai

“I’m really sorry sir, but if you had arrived sooner then perhaps I could get you a better room. However, now all we have available is the one room,” replied the young female attendant. He might have found her attractive, if she weren’t so damn good at telling him no.

Kai grumbled, “Listen, three beds is not going to do it, we need four.”

“One of the beds is a king, so it’s basically two.”

Kai growled and banged his fists against the wooden desk. “That just won’t do!”

“Sir, perhaps you should wait and leave tomorrow. We have plenty of rooms on that ship. However, if you continue to make a scene, I’m afraid I’m going to have to inform the guards.”

With a heavy sigh, Kai was running out of options. Then, the corner of his mind spoke up sharply, and he couldn’t help but reply. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea, but this was an emergency.

Kai smiled and leaned forward against the wooden desk. “Listen, I know that you must have heard of the attack at the palace, am I right?”

The girl looked worried, “Uh, yes.”

“Well, what if I told you that I was there. Not only was I there, but I happened to be, uh, protecting someone. Someone who just happens to be very important to Zakiah Adara. Someone who is standing right over there.”

He pointed to where Devona stood near the edge of the dock. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the woman’s jaw drop. She got it. She believed it and she nodded.

“I…I will…go see what I can do,” said the woman. She quickly rushed out of the room, leaving a smug Kai standing there.

“Now that’s more like it.”

A few gulls cawed in the clear blue sky over the ocean. A breeze came from the waves, blowing through Devona’s long blonde hair. Just as her hair blocked her vision, she could see a smiling Kai coming toward her. He noticed and smirked as she struggled to keep the strands of gold out of her face. Quickly she grabbed her hair in her palm, calming it for a short while.

She hardly noticed that his eyes gleamed brightly. “So, did you get the tickets?”

“Oh, you bet I did.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ll explain when Kestrel gets back.”

Kestrel was off checking the horses in. They actually needed separate tickets, since they were such large traveling creatures. Devona was really glad this wasn’t Earth, or else the animals might be in quarantine for months.

Kai smiled at her and she rolled her eyes. Her plan had worked perfectly, she had road with Kai the entire way to the dock. Strangely enough, riding with him was much more entertaining than it had been riding with Akki. Even as good looking as Akki was, he had been silent the entire time. It was hard to keep up with his dark and mysterious attitude.

After a while, it got a little annoying, especially since Devona loved to talk. No matter how hard she had tried to start a conversation, he just answered very simply or didn’t answer at all. It was really starting to get on her nerves.

Or maybe, after last night, she was trying to find reasons not to like him. After that wonderful moment they had shared, when he held her so close, so tightly…

No, that couldn’t be it at all.

Glancing back, she saw the man she was thinking of.

Akki was not too far away and standing in front of him were two women. They were beautiful in every way, and almost the exact opposite of Devona. Tan, short dark hair, perfect bodies, tall, and one was even taller than Akki. Unknowingly, Devona’s face turned red in rage. Kai sighed, bringing her attention back towards him. He smiled and leaned against the railing looking down at the water.

“What?” asked Devona.

“He just loves to flirt with girls, especially the ones that aren’t blonde.”

“Well, Kai, you must have mistaken me for someone who cares. See, it’s none of my business…not that I care or anything.”

Kai scoffed, “No, of course you don’t care.” His words were clearly laced with sarcasm. It was nice to see that they actually had sarcasm in Zakiah Adara, however right now she didn’t want to hear any of it.

His green eyes glanced back at her, causing her face to go red with anger. Who was she kidding? Of course it made her mad seeing him being happy with these random women. Even if she had only known him for a short time, still it was upsetting.

It was time to change the subject, but to what? It was then that she realized the women he was talking to weren’t speaking English.

“Uh, what language is that?” asked Devona. It was the only thing that came to mind, even though it still had to do with Akki. Damn her one track mind.

“Spanish, it’s his native language.”

She raised an eye brow, “Really?”

“Well, each Constellation has a specific language that they speak, however everyone knows English. It’s the international language.”

“But, it’s actually called Spanish? Is there a Spain in Zakiah Adara?”

“Spain?” asked Kai.

“It’s the country that Spanish originated in, well on Earth anyway.”

He laughed and turned to face her once more. He leaned back against the wooden railing, and it creaked under his body pressure. She thought for sure it was going to give way any second. Though as he stood there, leaning against the rotting wood, he had never looked more attractive. Another breeze from the ocean wisped across the dock sending strands of orange and red blazing in the wind. Her mouth dried and her heart raced.

No matter what she did, she was going to have feelings for one of these men. The only question was which feelings would be stronger?

“Well, Zakiah Adara was created after Earth was, so maybe we borrowed the languages, I’m not sure.”

“What was your native language?”

He laughed once more, causing Devona’s eyes to sparkle. “Well, being royalty…” Devona noticed how he stumbled over the word. It must have been so long ago to him, when he was actually in his kingdom with his family, so long that he didn’t even believe his own status anymore. “I had to learn all the languages of Zakiah Adara, but we spoke English around the palace unless we were just trying to show off.”

“What about Kestrel?”

He paused for a second, “French, I think.”

“What is the purpose of having the other languages if everyone speaks English?”

“I think it has to do more with keeping tradition. It was about 3,000 years ago that the mandate to make English the international language occurred, and it actually happened for the Princesses. They originally found it hard for the guardians and Princesses to communicate in the past, since they all spoke different languages. The Princesses, for the most part, have always known English as their first language, so it just makes it more convenient for when the Princesses come if everyone knows what they are saying.”

“Wow.” The fact that they created English as the International language for the Princesses was amazing. Her existence in this world really was a big deal, much bigger than she had fooled herself to believe.

Her blue eyes fell to the wooden floor of the dock. Kai didn’t seem to notice at all, still he was babbling on about who knows what. Pain struck her heart, thinking once more about Arthur and Thea’s deaths. They had died for her, because of her.

The only way she had been able to cope with any of this was to make it light hearted. It made the situation less serious, easier to deal with. Now, however, the truth had finally hit her hard. People were dead because of her, people were going to die because of her. The entire world had changed simply for her and the other Princesses. All of this was just too much to deal with.

Glancing back over to where Akki stood, she found him looking at her. His eyes were full of concern and wonder. Quickly she looked back over at Kai, pushing her pain down into her stomach. She forced a smile on her face, coming into the very end of Kai’s conversation.

“So basically that’s the meaning of the war,” was all she heard him say.

Immediately she was utterly confused, but she couldn’t let him think that she had been ignoring him this whole time. So instead she just smiled and nodded.

“I totally agree,” replied Devona.

He stared at her intently, a look which she had never seen from him before. Automatically she knew that she had said the wrong thing.

“Do you have any idea what I just said?”

“Of course,” there was a long pause followed by a hard stare. “No, I’m sorry I really am. I’m just trying to grasp all of this. It’s hard.”

“Trying to grasp that each Constellation has its own language?”

She sighed, rolling her eyes, “No, never mind.”

Luckily, Kestrel returned just then. If Kai had asked Devona one more dumb question she was about to just have a mental breakdown. Instead, he turned toward his other female companion.

“What took you so long?”

Kestrel glared at him, “What’s the rush? The boat isn’t leaving for another two hours.”

Silent glares were exchanged between the two of them, and Devona was just glad not to be the center of their attention for a while.

“Well, did you get us a room?” asked Kestrel.

“Well…” Kai paused for a second, causing Kestrel to raise an eyebrow at her. “I actually got two rooms.”

“That’s good.”

“Perhaps, except that one of the rooms only has one bed, and the other has three.”

“Who is going to get the single room?”

“Well I was thinking we could share it? The reason I got two rooms is because the one room only has three beds. One of the beds is a king, but I don’t want to share a bed with him

Kestrel crossed her arms, “Right.”

“What did you do Kai?” asked another voice.

The three of them all turned to see that Akki had finally joined them. As soon as Devona saw him, she looked away from him. Flush lit her face as she ducked it to hide behind her hair. He either didn’t notice, or didn’t care, because his attention was still on Kai.

“Well, I just figured we could all share the second room. We’ll rotate, and when it’s Devona’s turn to sleep in the room…one of us will sleep in there with her. Sounds like a good idea to me.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” said Akki.

“Ulric, I know you don’t trust Kai to sleep with Devona and not do anything, but they are both grown, if they want to do anything let them,” said Kestrel.

Devona was so embarrassed by Kestrel’s words. What was wrong with her? Devona looked at Kestrel with frantic eyes. Kestrel refused to meet her gaze. Devona crossed her arms over her chest. First it was, “stay away from the guys,” and then it was “let’s put Devona in awkward situations with them as if to encourage behavior that is forbidden.” Kestrel really needed to make up her mind.

Akki glanced over at Kai.

Kai shrugged with a smile, “I agree with Kestrel.”

Akki sighed, and looked over at Devona. She wouldn’t meet his gaze and stared down at the floor. Slowly he shook his head and looked back over at Kestrel.

“Alright, but,” he quickly turned to Kai, “if you hurt her, or make her do anything she doesn’t want to, I will kill you.”

Kai laughed, “You sound like a jealous husband.”

Akki ignored his comment and turned back toward Devona. She glanced up at him through strands of gold. It almost looked like there was a sadness in his eyes, though she wasn’t quite sure why. Besides, why should he be sad? He was the one who was just talking with those women.

“Shall we get going?” asked Kestrel. They all looked up at her, but Kai was the first one to nod.

Once they were on the boat, things didn’t go so well, especially when Akki found out how Kai got the second room. As soon as they walked in, it was obvious that this room was not cheap. Just about everything was laced with gold and what looked like diamonds. The sheets were purple silk with intricate embroidery. To top it all over, the room had a balcony overlooking the water. It was beautiful, the main suite for sure. They all turned to Kai.

Devona and Kestrel were excited about the room, but Akki on the other had looked furious. He stomped over to Kai and got right up in his face, and Kai didn’t budge at all.

“Yes?” asked Kai.

Akki snarled, “Don’t you remember that we agreed we wouldn’t tell anyone?”

“It will be fine. The girl was really excited. She even wanted to meet Devona.”

“That’s not the point! Obviously this is a suite for royalty, don’t you think that they will see us leaving this room? Someone is going to figure it out. You had just better hope that it’s NOT a Black Dragon.”

“A Black Dragon won’t even be on this boat anyway since they can’t go to the First Constellation, nothing to worry about. You just need to relax.”

It ended there. Akki left the room, but it hadn’t stopped them from using the room. They could just tell that Akki really was not happy about it. Luckily, the room wasn’t hidden or in a special location. It was behind a normal door with the rest of the rooms. Unless the person worked on the ship, there was no way that they would know that they had the suite.

So, why not enjoy it while they could?

Kestrel was the first one to stay in the room, while the others were to stay in the normal room, which just happened to be a few doors down from the other one. It made Devona feel better knowing that if anyone tried anything she could just scream.

She was finally beginning to settle in, getting closer with her guardians. That was until she was hit with a severe cause of sea sickness. If only her family were sea lovers, she was from Florida after all. However, the last boat she had been on was the fairy at Disney World. Kai found it hilarious, having never heard of such a thing. All Devona could do was glare at him in-between throwing up. Once again, thank God they had plumbing.

So far, Devona had slept in the “special room” as she and Kai called it, twice. Once was with Kestrel, which was extremely boring. Devona still wasn’t sure why Kestrel didn’t seem to like her. At least now Kestrel wasn’t trying to kill her.

The second time she stayed in there with Kai, which was much more of an adventure. At first she was nervous that he would try something like Kestrel had joked, but he didn’t. They spent a lot of the night just talking to each other. She found out more about his family and his determination to avenge their death, minus any mention of who killed them. She hadn’t told Kai that she knew about what Akki had done, and she felt it was best that way for now. She also found out more about Zakiah Adara.

He told her what the Constellations were, how they were similar to continents. Each was a huge island, none of which touched like the ones on Earth. There were twelve in all, though there were legends about a thirteenth were the dragons lived. He didn’t explain the dragons, so she just assumed that he meant scary dragons lived there so that’s why they forgot about it.

After a while, they spoke about her instead. She told him about her siblings. How Brian had gone off to college this year and Liz was in her last year of middle school. Then she had to explain how the school systems on Earth worked. Eventually, he asked her about the cross she always wore. She explained to him the basics of her faith without going into too many in-depth details. Once she finished, he looked really surprised.

“Wow,” he whispered.

“Wow what?” she asked.

“You have purpose to your religion.”

“What do you mean?”

“No one has faith here, everyone here just knows, we don’t have to believe in anything. The only thing close to an actual religion is the people who follow the Dragons. We pray, we worship, we go to temple, but there really is no purpose. Unless you’re a horrible person, or a Black Dragon, everyone is pretty much going to Heaven.”

“So, you don’t really have a religion?” she asked.

“We do, but, like the languages, it seems like it’s more of a tradition than anything. I mean, unless you follow the Black Dragon you’re going to Heaven anyway.”

“Why would anyone be a Black Dragon?”

He scoffed, “I have no idea. They might as well just throw away their soul. I think they are hoping that when Mushin gets control, they will get the world that they want. Though, I’m not entirely sure what that is.” He paused, and looked back at her once more, “Any other interesting things you can tell me?”

She smiled, “I’ll try to think of something.”

Devona was surprised that she was actually having such a conversation with Kai. He always seemed so carefree and happy, but now she saw that it was all a façade.

Over the years, he must have learned that the best way to feel better was to ignore his pain entirely. To pretend like it didn’t really exist. To act as though he was actually happy, when deep down he was falling apart.

Eventually they fell asleep, exhausted from their late night discussions. It wasn’t until the sun peeked through the curtains that Devona felt the warm body next to her.

She looked over, trying not to gasp, and she saw Kai lying next to her. His chest was pressed up against her side with his arm draped across her waist.

She wasn’t sure what to do. So, instead of doing anything, she calmed her heart rate and went back to sleep. It seemed like the best thing to do at the time. After a while she was able to slow her heart rate and go back to sleep. Amazingly enough, when she finally did wake up he had already left. After that night, neither one of them acted any differently towards each other. She still would get mad at him for saying stupid things and he would still say stupid things. Neither one of them said anything about what had happened. Though, she wasn’t sure if he knew that she knew or not. She would keep it hidden for now, realizing she was already beginning to have her own secrets in Zakiah Adara.

The soldiers watched in silence as the demoness investigated her new home. It was a castle on the 9th Constellation which they had recently over taken. Though, it was gorgeous: stained glass on all the windows and large cherry wood doors, she still seemed disappointed.

With a reluctant sigh she sat upon her dark throne. A few of the soldiers exchanged looks, hoping that she wouldn’t take out her frustration on any of them. The large doors opened with a low creaking sound. They each looked over to see someone they had all become accustomed to. The soldiers fell to their knees as he passed by them.

The man, who was heavily clad in black armor, walked past them. The sound of his black metal boots was muffled by the red carpet than lined pathway to the throne. As he marched his way towards her, the demoness paid him little attention. Instead she stared as her long deadly nails, imagining the next kill she would make. How she longed to see blood ruin that perfect blonde hair.

His long black hair fell into his face as the man fell to his knee, crossing an arm over his chest. Now her fierce eyes dared to look over at him, she could smell the sweat and blood that clung to his tired body. He was fresh from battle with the White Dragons.

“My lady Mushin, I have come to report,” was all he said. His lack of information was proof that she knew more than what he was willing to give.

“Ryuujin, what in the world could you have to inform me of? We have the Constellation under our control, what could possibly be happening that would force you to barge in on my throne? Hmm?”

Her voice sounded so sweet but the venom that laced each word hung in the air. His dark face grimaced as he rose to stand before her. His crimson eyes intent on seeing her eye to eye.

“A few White Dragons have decided to convert.”

She laughed, “So what are you waiting for?”

He looked puzzled, “What do you mean?”

“Kill them.”

“But my lady, we told them that if they converted we would spare their lives. How can we go back on our word?”

A dark evil smile curved her lips as she seductively rose from her seat. With a slow exaggerated sway of her hips, she moved her way toward him, caressing her exposed thighs as she did so. He visibly swallowed and took an evasive step from her, only to be countered with a hand to his thigh. Her evil smile curved even more as her hand forcefully moved its way further up his leg.

“My lady,” was all he could whisper. Deadly eyes met each other, only for her to see that he was desperately trying to control his body and reject her. Little did he know that she had never been rejected.

Immediately, it stopped.

She stepped away, turning her back to him, walking away with a fast pace. Confusion lit his face as she glanced back at him with a confident smile.

“Need I remind you what the penalty is for treason, Ryuujin?”

His confusion turned to utter shock, “But, my lady, their treason is against Oriana, not against you. In fact, their treason can only aid you.”

Her face turned deadly. “If I allow these people to join our ranks, then we are sending a message that treason is acceptable. That it’s fine to turn against your beliefs and become one with the enemy. I will not allow a White Dragon to be one of my own. Kill them or I will do it myself, and I will enjoy every moment of it.”

“Does this simply have to do with your hatred for the White Dragons?” he asked. She could tell by the passion in his voice that her orders greatly upset him. “We offered them life. We can’t just take that from them.”

With a quick jerk she cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. “Are you questioning my orders, Ryuujin? You know, the only reason I have put up with you till now is simply because you were the one who won the Constellation, and of course your power. But you are no longer needed, so I suggest you do as I say and get rid of them immediately, or you will soon join them with treason of your own.”

The room turned unbearably cold. The look in the demoness’ eyes was sucking the warmth from the room.

Not another word passed between them for there was nothing left to say. Either way the White Dragons would die, either way he had to have known he would not win. He turned, left the room with his head hung in shame, and went to make a selfish decision.

Where had all the time gone? It was moving at an uncoordinated pace. It seemed as though it had been ages since she had been home, and other times it felt like she had been in Zakiah Adara only a mere few days not weeks.

It was now the farthest she had been away from her guardians since the night she arrived. All around were the other people on the boat, but she had no idea where any of her guardians were. They had been so cautious to keep an eye on her and she had managed to escape with little resistance. She wasn’t entirely sure if she should be worried or not, so instead she just sat down in a chair and watched the sea.

She closed her eyes, laid her head back, and let her hair hang over the back of the chair. Sitting there, listening to the waves crash against the vessel was relaxing. Oh, how she wished that she weren’t in some strange world. How she wished that right now she was actually on a cruise with her family to the Bahamas or someplace tropical like that. How she wished she were anywhere but here.

Opening her eyes, she found herself in the same chair, on the same ship she had started on. She missed her parents terribly, and, it was hard for her to believe, but she missed her siblings as well. As many fights as she had with them, she still loved both her brother and sister and missed them terribly. The idea of not seeing them or anyone for five years hurt her soul.

The laughter of children graced her ears and brought her attention back to the world in front of her. Glancing to her left, she saw two boys about the age of five running around on the deck, chasing after a smaller girl. She was probably only about three, she didn’t understand that the older kids were ganging up on her. Her dark black hair danced in the wind as the older children chased her in circles.

A game of chase, something that would be dangerous to someone older, perhaps even deadly in this world, was something so innocent to the young ones. Immediately her mind wandered back to her own age of innocence, of her brother’s friends chasing her, ganging up on her.

Brian had been eight at the time and Devona was five. He had never really taken the role of being a big brother then, and she wondered if he ever really had. All she knew of her brother was him playing jokes on her that always seemed to make her cry and get him in trouble.

Like the time when he put a fake roach in her cereal and she didn’t stop crying for hours. Sure, she should have realized that it wasn't real, but her deadly fear of the bug destroyed all rationality. Or like the time when he told her that Santa wasn’t real, and she knew that he was telling the truth. That got him grounded for a week.

Such little things that were burned so deep in her memory she would never forget. However, it was that day when his friends were over that she actually felt that he was her big brother. They had been ganging up on her again, and one of the boys pushed Devona into the pool. It was scary, but it ended quickly when Brian pulled her out.

Just as the memory was coming back, a loud scream snapped her back to the present. The young girl had fallen down and now was crying while the older children all circled her. One of the children, a young boy with equally black hair, stepped closer to her and bent down next to her. She grabbed onto him and continued to cry and he checked her over for wounds.

Of course there were none, but to a child the fear was not of the pain but the idea of pain. With age she would grow out of that idea and then she would fear the pain its self.

“There you are,” said a voice.

Turning her attention to the opposite direction of the children Devona found Kestrel coming toward Devona. Her face was cold and deadly serious. Now Devona knew she was the one who was going to be in trouble.

“Where have you been? We have been looking everywhere for you. Ulric was about to tear the entire ship apart.” As strange as those words sounded, Devona knew they were completely true.

Now the memory of why she was there in the first place came back to her. Kai and she were staying in the room with multiple beds and had been his turn to watch her while Kestrel and Akki did whatever they wanted to do. Devona was tired of being watched like a baby so she ventured out on her own. Yes, a very stupid idea, but Kai had dozed off so it seemed like the perfect time.

She sighed and looked back toward the ocean. “I’m sorry. I just had to get out for some fresh air. I thought for sure that room was going to suffocate me.”

Devona had expected Kestrel to snap at her, yell at her for her stupidity. Instead, the guardian let out a low sigh and sat down in the chair next to Devona.

For a while the two of them sat in silence, staring out at the ocean. How glad Devona was that she had finally conquered her sea sickness, or else sitting there alone would make her feel ill. Eventually, blue eyes glanced over at the guardian. Her gaze was not returned as Kestrel continued to look out at the ocean. Afraid to say anything to anger the guardian, Devona simply looked back at the ocean as well.

More time passed and eventually Devona couldn’t take it anymore.

“You’re angry aren’t you?”

Kestrel scoffed, “Not as mad as Ulric is.” Finally Kestrel looked over at the Princess. “You do realize that you could be attacked at any second, right?”

Devona shrugged her shoulders and looked at Kestrel. “I honestly haven’t given it much thought. The idea of someone wanting to kill’s so absurd. I know Mushin attacked the palace in order to kill me, but that seems so long ago. I guess...I don’t have the fear that you all have.”

“Well, you’re lucky that’s for sure,” Kestrel paused and crossed her arms over her chest, turning her gaze back toward the ocean. “Black Dragons are not allowed on the First Constellation, so we don’t really have to worry about being attacked quite yet. However, they could have spies that no one knows about, so we always have to be cautious.”

Devona hung her head a bit in shame, “I just needed some time to myself to think.”

Kestrel looked back at her, “You miss your home, don’t you?”

Devona laughed, leaning her head back in the chair again. “Missing home doesn’t quite describe it. I miss my family, my friends, and, hell, I actually miss school. Besides, I have unfinished business there and that pisses me off the most.”

Kestrel uncrossed her arms and leaned closer to Devona, “What ‘unfinished’ business?”

Devona squirmed in her seat, “Nothing...”

“You have to tell me, I’m your guardian.”

“No I don’t.”

“You brought it up.”

Devona glared at her, “Doesn’t mean I have to tell you anything!”

“I won’t tell anyone, I swear on my soul.”

Devona sighed as Kestrel raised her right hand as though she were taking an oath. She really shouldn’t have brought it up at all.

“Alright, but you can’t get mad at me, okay?” Kestrel quickly nodded, and moved around a bit to get more comfortable. “Back on Earth, I was dating someone.” Kestrel looked confused, and Devona rolled her eyes knowing she was going to have to explain. “I was with them a lot. We held hands, kissed...”

She gasped, “You’re someone’s fiancée!”

“No, no, no! It wasn’t that serious! God no! We were…courting?”

“Not quite as astonishing as if you were engaged, that would have been cause for anger,” said Kestrel.

“Anyway, while we were ‘dating’ as we call it on Earth, he decided to seek, uh, sexual fulfillment elsewhere?”

“He cheated on you?”

Devona sighed in relief, at least they knew the relationship term for ‘cheating.’ “Yes, he did.”

“Well then, what is your business left unfulfilled?”

“The night that you guys found me at the carnival, I had finally decided to end the relationship, break up with him as we say. I was just tired of him treating me like I didn’t matter. I felt, well I don’t know, like I deserved better or something.”

Kestrel gasped, “Of course you deserve better!” Totally shocked by Kestrel’s protest, Devona’s mouth fell agape.

“I what?”

Kestrel sneered at Devona, “Do you really think that I hate you? Yes, at times you can be annoying, bossy and a little over dramatic, especially when it comes to the men, but I would never wish ill of you. This man you speak of is a horrible bastard and is not worth your time. I just wish that you could have ended it without living in this turmoil of knowing he still thinks that you’re his.”

Devona sighed in relief, “I’m just glad you aren’t mad at me for flirting with the guys. To me, Mark and I are done, it’s just not official.”

Kestrel’s face turned serious once more, “Devona, you can’t be with Kai or Ulric, you know that.” The lonely Princess sighed and nodded. “Why do you continue to torment yourself thinking that you can?”

Devona glared at Kestrel, “You’re the one who keeps putting me in situations where I have to be close to them! Like, when I had to share a horse with Akki.”

The guardian’s ruby trimmed lips smirked, “Would you rather have ridden with me?”

Devona rolled her eyes again, “Well, okay, not really, but still! That was so your idea! And then you made that comment about Kai and I sharing the room together.”

Kestrel smirk turned sinister, “Well, did anything happen?”

Before Devona could push the argument any farther, they heard someone clear their throat. The two women looked up to see Kai standing in front of them. He hunched over Kestrel to get a better look at her. Devona blushed, hoping he hadn’t heard her mention Kestrel’s comment about him.

“What are you two doing?” asked Kai.

“Talking,” said Kestrel.

“Well, you might want to change your plans. I think Mr. ‘I call myself leader’ is about to start breaking things. If he finds you two just sitting out here and no one informed him that the Princess was found...well he’s not going to happy. I’ve had to put up with his shit one too many times today, so guess whose turn it is.”

Kestrel glanced back over at Devona, “Come on, we wouldn’t want him hurting himself.”

“Where the hell have you been?”

Devona glanced back at Kestrel only to find no comfort from the guardian who quickly left the room. Slowly she brought her attention back to Akki, dreadfully afraid of what she knew she would find there.

The tall man was glaring down at her with those piercing golden eyes. Now they seemed as if they were glowing with anger, an eerie feeling that really didn’t comfort her. His brow was scrunched and reminded her so much of her father.

“I uh...” she tried to be very cautious with her word choice, “went for a walk?”

“Do you have any idea of what could have happened to you? If the wrong person realizes who you are, they will not hesitate to kill you!” There was no denying how angry he was, and all Devona wanted to do was crawl away and hide underneath one of the beds for the rest of the trip.

“I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to get out of this room and get some fresh air, you know?”

Somehow, his anger faded slightly. The look in his eyes became more concerned than furious. This made her feel even worse, reminding her of the famous, “I’m not angry, just disappointed” line that parents love to use.

Sighing heavily she dropped her eyes to the ground, “I’m sorry.”

He sighed as well, and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “You have to remember, these rules are in place for your protection. If something happened to you...”

His pause caused Devona to look back up at him. There was a fear in his eyes that she had never really seen before. Not afraid for now, but afraid for the future, afraid that something might actually happen to her. The look took her breath away and she couldn’t help but stare at him in awe. The grip on her shoulder tightened as the fear turned to a fierce look of loyalty. He really would fight to the death for her.

All at once, the moment disappeared and Akki’s hand was back down at his side again. Devona continued to stare at him, wondering what emotion would come over his face next. Of course, it went back to anger.

“Don’t you ever do that again, unless you are asking for death,” his words were cold and harsh. She had never heard him speak in such a way before. All she could do was bow her head and nod.

Looks like alone time was gone forever.

A few more moments passed before she looked back up at him with an unsure smile. He could tell she wanted to say something, but he was afraid to hear what it was.

“What?” he asked harshly.

“Can you escort me to the bathroom?”

He rolled his eyes, “By the Spirits Devona, couldn’t you have done that while you were out gallivanting about the ship?”

She sighed, putting her hands on her hips, “Well, I didn’t have to go until you just scared the crap out of me!”

“What in the hell does that even mean?” snapped Akki.

“It means I have to go to the bathroom, and it’s your fault, and since you’re the only guardian around right now, it’s your duty to escort me to the restroom.” Oh, this might be fun after all.

A disgusted look covered his face and she couldn’t help but smile. The fact that she could spark such reactions from him made her giddy. What had happened to the girl that had just felt like hiding under a bed? She wasn’t quite sure, but she liked this new courageous girl much better.

“Fine, but you had better be quick about it.” He moved toward the door and as he opened it she heard him mutter, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” This caused her to smile even more, simply from amusement.

The disgruntled guardian led the way down the hallway with Devona close behind. As she watched the back of his head, she remembered the few minutes earlier when they had been in the room. The look on his face was so astonishing that it would remain burned in her mind.

All of a sudden her smile melted away and she turned sad. Someday, Akki would die and it would probably be when he was trying to save her life. One day, he would truly die for her.

She remembered back to the inn, the promise she had tried to make him give her.

It was only now that she realized, he had never answered her plea. He totally ignored the request for a promise because he knew he couldn’t make it. One day, he would have to die, and he must have assumed that dying protecting the Princess would be a noble death.

“Oh Akki,” she whispered. She wasn’t quite sure if he heard her, and she hoped he hadn’t. She was too busy wrangling her emotions that she hadn’t noticed the woman entirely clad in black as she passed them by.

Akki immediately stopped and turned around, Devona ran right into him. She looked up just in time to see the fear return to his eyes. The next thing she knew, he pushed her away from him toward the wall. She hit it hard and gasped in pain. What the hell had gotten into him? She looked up to see his sword drawn and a strange, sharp, circular object lying on the ground by Akki’s feet, where she had been standing.

Devona turned her attention to where Akki’s eyes were focused to see the woman in black glaring at them. She had been hidden well behind the hood of her black cape, but it now fell away exposing her to them.

Her eyes were a piercing red color that Devona had never seen on a human before, only once on Mushin. Dark jet-black hair waved against her shoulders, silhouetting her pale skin perfectly. She wasn’t that big in stature, but those strange circular objects in her hands made her look extremely deadly.

A smug look curled her lips, “So, we meet again Black Wolf. I would have thought you were dead by now, but never would I have guessed that you were a guardian.”

Akki growled, “What the hell are you doing here?”

The beautiful woman cocked her head to the side with a laugh, “Obviously, I am here to kill the Princess.”

He moved to stand in front of Devona, protecting her. Her heart leapt into her throat, No, he can’t! I can’t let him die!

Just then, the woman’s eyes turned from crimson to black. Devona gasped. How was that possible? No one could just change the color of their eyes like that, especially from crimson to black!

He snarled once more, “Oh no you don’t!”

The woman simply laughed, “Next time, you won’t see me coming.” She took off running away down the hall. Devona was shaking against his back in confusion. What just happened?

He turned to her, “Devona, get back to the room now. Lock the door and stay there until I come back. Don’t open the door for anyone. You hear me?”

“But I—”

“Get to the room and stay there!”

He turned to run off, but she grabbed his hand and halted him. An annoyed look quickly passed over his face as he glared down at her.

Taking a deep breath she said, “Please be careful.”

He tightened his grip on her hand, and took off down the hall, pulling her behind him. In no time they reached their room, and he left her there. She couldn’t help but stare as he ran after the woman. Was it really safe for her to be alone? Was it really safe for him to chase down some woman? Could she really just idly stand by while he ran off to fight? What if he died?

She became determined and quickly took off after him.

Upon entering the large cargo hold of the ship, he regretted chasing her down alone. He had known Ashic from his days in the Black Dragon army; she was good ally but a formidable enemy. In the large open hold, with plenty of crates and animals to hide behind, this was going to be trickier than he had originally thought. Then again, there hadn’t been much time for thought.

Slowly he stepped about the entrance way, ears perked, waiting to hear movement. She had picked the perfect place to hide, since her smell, which already was so hard to detect, was drowned out by all of the livestock in the hold.

He raised his sword and sidled his way toward the center of the large room. This left him more open to attack, but also made greater chance of her showing herself.

“Ashic!” he shouted. A few of the horses startled, including his brown one. His eyes darted around the hold, looking for any sign of movement. She was doing a great job of hiding herself. He knew she was in there, he just knew it.

The clang of metal hit his ears and he turned just in time to dodge out of the way of some of her throwing stars. There she stood, on top of some large crates glaring down at him with those black eyes.

“How dare you turn against us Akki! This is high treason, and cause for death! Why is it that you are still breathing?” snapped Ashic.

He couldn’t help but smirk, “Apparently Queen Oriana had quite a bit planned for me. Being that I’m now a guardian.”

With a hiss she threw another two stars at him, but he simply evaded them. Her anger had blinded her; this was going to be a simple fight after all.

Ashic glared at him as she walked across the crate, her boots cracking against the wood. “Mushin knows where you are now; she knows exactly what ship you are on.”

Akki shrugged it off even as the reality struck his heart. All it would take is one fire ball from Mushin and the whole ship would be in flames.

The woman smirked seeing the fear in his eyes, “I wouldn’t put it past her. She’s done worse things before. Who knows, she might just sink the entire ship!”

“Then why would you be here in the first place? Isn’t it obvious, you know as well as I that Mushin’s power is diminished over water. She’s lucky to fly across let alone sink an entire vessel.”

She sneered at him, “Her power grows stronger every day! As do her minions!”

She held up a black gloved hand toward him and made a gripping motion with it. All of a sudden, his throat grew tight and he could hardly breathe. He fell to his knees, trying to gasp back his life, as his sword fell away from him.

No, this couldn’t be!

Ashic leapt from the crate to stand directly over him. Her dark head tilted to the side with a cold smile on her lips. He knew that all of the Black Dragons dreamt of this moment, to have him on his knees before them, gasping for breath. Then her hands actually moved to his throat to finish the job.

“Any parting words?” she laughed as his lips began to turn blue, “Oh that’s right, you can’t say anything. Poor little Black Wolf, looks like you can’t protect your Princess after all.”

A surge of power ran through his entire body as his eyes snapped wide open. It was something he hadn’t felt in years and he dreaded feeling it again, but there was no other choice. In a movement that was too quick, he grabbed the sword and ran her through with it. This time she gasped in pain as she looked down at the sword that was embedded in her stomach.

“Go to hell,” he whispered, pushing the sword even deeper into her.

Angry black eyes looked up only to meet the same angry eyes. With her dying breath she scoffed at him and shook her head.

“See there...Black’ll never be free.” She went limp on his sword. With a growl, he stood and raised his foot to push her off of his weapon. He felt so alive, so strong, so powerful, and so deadly. He wanted to scream in joy and writhe in horror. He raised his sword and looked at the red blood that smeared it. What just happened? What had he become?

A gasp brought him back to reality.

There she was, his only reason for existence. She was standing in the hold, staring at him with wide blue eyes. His eyes pierced back at her with a somber look. And instead of the normal golden color she had come to know, she was greeted by another color.
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