Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 11

Soren’s P.O.V

The day went by surprisingly quicker than I would have thought.

King Avrim and I, along with a few other soldiers and the faeries, had been holed up in the drawing room for the better part of the morning. Bringing together a plan of action to rescue the queen and young prince was a bit trickier than we had orginally thought, as we still could not link either of them. Assuming that whoever had taken them was keeping a steady supply of silver in their systems.

And that was a complicated matter all on it’s own; whoever had taken them.

A few soldiers who had flanked the King the night of the attack had tried tracking the scent of the rogues that had escaped west. They came up empty when they had reached the Sângele Râului.

The Blood River.

Just the thought of that damned river made me shudder. It wasn’t a river flowing with actual blood.

Of course.

I had heard stories growing up about the mysterious deaths that surrounded it. Men and women disappearing after having made a journey from home to it’s waters, to see if the rumors were true. Most had returned home convinced that whoever spread the tales were just trying to scare people. Only, their bodies were then found days later in its waters. Or the story of the children who had woken from their beds in the middle of the night and were later found floating in the river, bodies completely drained. It was truly a mysterious, dangerous place.

Every time my wolf and I had even come within a hundred feet near it’s banks my hair had bristled and an eerie feeling had crept along my skin. Making a deep gut wrenching sickness spread through my belly, I gladly refrained from it entirely.

But as the scent had died off right before the river, it would seem it would be an inevitable task this time.

Grabbing a large piece of the morning brisket and popping it into my mouth I listened to what the soldier next to me was going on about. He seemed to be slightly on edge as he attempted to steady his weight between either leg.

"Mue regele, I assure you, we ran up and down Sângele Râului five miles in either direction. Twice. The scent completely cut off at the riverbank. Who ever had taken them was either very smart and calculated, or had no fear for their own mortality.”

Frustration clearly evident on King Avrim’s face, he blew a hot breath before he turned to face Commander Neculai.

“Is there anything you can do to try to track them through the waters?”

Neculai shook his head, his black hair gleaming as it moved. “No, our magic does not work that way. We can alter the mind, create illusions. Essentially creating a new reality. This matter would be something the elves would be able to be of more assistance for.”

His face was hard but his tone was softer, as if he knew this revelation would upset the King.

And it did.

He threw his hands down on the table in anger, a goblet nearly jumping off the table and clattering to the hard concrete.

“There is no time to retrieve any of the elves! They are several days journey in one direction. The longer it takes to get them, the more likely my family will be dead in that time!”

His chest was heaving and I could see the sheer panic of coming to what seemed to be a dead end.

The red haired faerie nodded his head slightly and then whispered ever so softly once to Neculai before Neculai nodded back to him and then stood from his seat.

“King Avrim, my soldier just informed me that there is a witch, Iovonna, who is just half a days journey North. She could be the best option to unconvering a way to track across The Blood River.”

The King slowly turned around, seeming to collect himself as to refrain from shifting, anger rolling off of him in waves. As he returned facing Neculai he said, “Go, gather the witch and bring her here under any means necessary.”

He motioned for the soldier to my left, Baelik, to come forth. Neculai lowly whispered and one of the blonde faeries behind him nodded his head once. Neculai then spoke quickly in a low tone.

“Mihal will accompany the way to Iovonna.”

This peaked my curiosity.

“Why not send him?” I asked, jerking my head to the ginger who slowly smirked at me, blue eyes blazing through me.

“He is my counsel. He stays,” was simply all Neculai said.

For some reason this put my wolf on edge and he started pacing in my mind, wanted to push forward into our fur. He was constantly on guard now that the faeries were staying longer than anticipated. But it was something about this red head that made us bristle.

I huffed back lowly and turned to face my king.

King Avrim shot a look in my direction.

What is the problem? He demanded through the link, anger leaking into my mind.

I’m not sure, your majesty. Something does not sit right with me here, about that fae. He sets my wolf on edge every time he is around. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

Well keep it together and stop letting your emotions show. These creatures are cunning and will use any sign of weakness against us if it were in their favor.

Yes, mue regele.

I turned my attention to Mihal who had stood and regally made his way towards Baelik. They left the room together at once, wasting no haste to journey for the witch.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Neculai’s lips murmuring something and I assumed he was communicating with carrot top there.

Fantastic.

The red heads eyes shot over to me for half a moment before snapping back to King Avrim.

Bastard.

“When will the work begin on the repairs Soren?”

“Tomorrow morning, your Majesty. I have already assigned a crew to the rebuild and stationed a few guards to man the watch at the east gate as well as the residential wing of the castle. I figured since our man power has decreased we should defend our weakest point and our people first.”

“Excellent. I want around the clock eyes on Odette. I don’t want her so much as sneezing without me knowing, is that understood?” His pain broke through his face as he nearly winced near the end.

The ruthless King did have a soft spot after all. From all my time as his advisor he only ever showed affection, in his own unique - stern - way; to his wife and children. In all my days though, I still hadn’t uncovered why his rage was inflicted on Zenobia.

As soon as the thought of her entered my mind, anger ripped through me as my eyes glanced over at Neculai. Remembering the way she had blushed at the mention of his name had roused the most peculiar feeling in my chest.
The thought of her near him in any intimate capacity set my heart on fire and made my mind go hazy. My wolf had growled so viciously that it nearly rumbled out of my chest. I had to quickly leave her before I did anything that would have scared her.

But hell, she scared me.

The fire that had blazed through her eyes was fierce and she lit up like a firecracker. Her rage had burned off her tongue so unexpectedly that I nearly pissed myself from shock alone. I had never seen her so worked up about something before, at least not enough for her to fire off at me like that. Something about the way she defended her meeting with the damned faery had my wolf snarling in my head.

And if I was being honest with myself, I almost felt... Envious.

Envious that something about him had captured her attention so much so, that it would rise such a passionate response from her. Such passion that I was not aware that she held within her.

I need to know what happened between them.

Agreed. My wolf bit out at me as he rose on his legs, shaking out his fur.

Don’t come too close to the surface, we do not need him thinking we view him as a threat in any capacity.

Snarling was the only response I got from him but I could feel his reluctant submission flood through my mind. It was best not to raise suspicion.

As Avrim adjourned the meeting officially and dismissed himself from the room, the few remaining soldiers started to disperse as well. I slowly rose to my feet from behind the big table, downing the rest of my drink and made my way toward the two faeries that stood talking lowly by the big window at the other end of the room.

As I came upon them, Neculai’s eyes flashed over to meet mine and his red haired confidant turned his body facing the window. Slightly narrowing my eyes at him I turned my attention back to Neculai.

“Sir. Neculai, I was meaning to speak with you about collaborating our training sessions, so that we may learn from each other, strength our forces.”

I stopped a few feet in front of him and his light blue eyes quickly scanned me. He nodded his head once as he spoke, “Yes I believe that would be in the best interest for all parties involved.” His answer was short as he almost sounded bored. He seemed to be a man of few words.

Still prepared for any trickery, it was difficult to get a good read on the man before me and what could possibly draw Zenobia’s defenses to him. Sure he was easy on the eyes, a bit taller than I, but he was not as stockly built. Toned as any warrior but not as thickly muscled as Pricolici. Glancing once over at the irritating redhead that made my wolf’s fur bristle; it was easy to see that the lean, tall, and muscled look seemed to be a fae thing.

“Very well, we will have you and your remaining men meet us down by the barracks training yard after supper to go over our different skill and tactics. We have much to learn from eachother in a very short amount of time.”

He swiped his hand over his smooth, slick-backed black hair and I saw his jaw twitch slightly. My wolf’s ears perked when I spotted the redhead’s lips murmuring so quickly and softly that had I blinked I may have missed it.

He nodded his head once again and replied, “We will be there.” He raised his head as he moved to leave the room. His confidant turned on his heel, cobalt eyes piercing mine with a look I couldn’t quite place. My wolf instantly shook his fur and tensed, ready to break through my skin at any moment. As I looked the faery in the eyes, something inside me snapped.

“I don’t know what your problem is, but rest assured I will find out. And if any harm comes to my people because of you, there will be dire consequences.” My words were menacing as they slipped out before I could stop them. The glint in his eyes shined brighter as he took a step to the side of me, ready to take his leave.

“Oh, you will know soon enough. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to figure out prematurely. These things take time.”

With that he side stepped me and made his way for the door. Feeling his presence leave the room, for some reason it felt like a bomb finally exploded inside my chest as I slammed my fists into the hard oak table.

An earsplitting crack split the solid wood table in two and I could taste the blood where my canines had pierced my tongue through my rage.

There was something not right here. My wolf sensed it, I knew it, and I was sure the King knew something he was not too keen on sharing.

I would find out what it all meant and why the hell Zenobia felt connected to it.

****************

Later that day after the supper had been served - a delicious feast of pot belly roast, garlic potatoes, carrots, and onion alongside fresh loaves of baked bread - the warriors were standing around me in a large circle. About fifty of our men had come to train and learn along side the Ilele. Whatever they had to teach us I was sure would be insignificant to the way we fought our battles. It just wasn’t our way.

But we needed to have an edge against the rogues, a peg up so to speak. At this point the King’s desperation was tangible and the people were feeling the weight of his anger and grief. Any sort of advantage would benefit us when we made it across The Blood River.

The men in front of me automatically started to part as the three Ilele made their way to the circle, their leader Neculai coming forward towards me. He made a slight bow of his head, urging me to start the session as the blonde and redhaired fae stayed near the circle. The redhead had a snarky look on his face.

Bastard.

“Josiah.”

The sandy haired Pricolici shot his head up and looked at me, preparing for any command I gave. I waved him forward and he stood before me, tensed and ready.

“Alexandru,” I called out to my left where the squared shouldered wolf stood. He came to my side and looked at me and then to the Ilele with curious eyes. “I will be sparring with Josiah. When the time comes, I want you to command our wolves to come forward.” Nodding my head towards Josiah to make sure he understood. “We stay in human form until Alexandru commands our shift.”

“Yes, sir.” Josiah immediately lowered himself into a crouch as I started to circle with him. He went to make the first move, fist cutting through the air. I dodged it with just enough time to land a blow to his ribs, catching him off guard. He hissed and took a step back, slinking into his crouched position once more. Readying for his attack he managed to land a blow to my left shoulder.

My wolf bared his teeth, snapping at the wolf in front of us. I circled Josiah again as he went to land a punch on my jaw. Grabbing his fist, I used the hold to balance my weight as I shot my foot right into the dip of his waist. He stumbled back, cleary needing to regain his balance. He growled out at me and chaged with his wolf close to the surface. The uppercut to my chin made the metallic taste flood my mouth.

I wiped the blood that trickled from my mouth as he lunged for me again. He collided, knocking us both to thr ground. I managed to twist his arm back locking him in a chokehold, using my leg to hold his body in place. He struggled against my hold, and I nearly had him out when I heard Alexandru.

“Shift!”

Wasting no time, my beast burst through my skin and snarled at the wolf before us. He had shifted rather quickly as well, his bounce back making for a much more satisfying fight. We didn’t need a weak spar, especially in front of those damn faeries.

She snapped his jaw at me as he slinked forward and my beast instantly dug his claws into the dirt, tensing the muscles to spring. In the next second we were launched in the air hurling toward the wolf.

He was well trained though.

My beast yelped in pain as his canines broke skin on our shoulder blade. The crunching of bones made me cringe inwardly. Not letting it distract him though, my wolf instantly clawed at him slicing through his fur and skin like butter.

His momentary distraction gave us the opening we wanted; his neck.

His canines unlatched from our shoulder and we instantly wrapped ours around his neck, pressing our teeth in hard enough to draw blood but not enough for a direct kill. He instantly stopped struggling and lowered himself to the ground on his belly.

Releasing his neck my beast licked his teeth and I could feel my skin shimmering back as my bones cracked and realigned. The bleeding in my shoulder had already stopped and the healing had already begun. I tried to roll my shoulder but the pain seared through me and I slightly winced. Looking out at the other warriors I told them to pair up and spar as I made my way over to the fae.

Neculai drew a breath and he handed me a towel.

“That was a good fight. It seems as though your opponent there was a little too eager for the fight to begin with, making him a bit clumsy in the beginning. Is your kind always so ready for a fight?” His words were not condescending, merely curious as he asked.

“We were trained to always be prepared. And we are a little short tempered but that is just one of the characteristics we derive from the beasts. He has just been itching to kick my ass around for a while now since I took him out at our last spar.” I chuckled inwardly at the memory of the good chunk of his hide I had literally torn out. He hadn’t walked right for a day or two.

“It seems as though brute strength is on your side in your techniques. But it could benefit you to watch your opponents when you can afford to, play them and look for their weakenesses. In some cases, strength can only get you so far. You need to calculate your attacks.” His eyes scanned over all the warriors who were now in a mixture of their human and wolf forms.

Behind him the ginger still had a cocky look on his face and I was itching to go over and knock the look right off myself. But the burning pain in my shoulder held me at bay and I looked back to Neculai.

“Alright then, go ahead and show me how you faeries battle it out. It would be helpful to see where we differ,” I offered out to him and stepped aside, giving him plenty of room.

A small smile tugged his lips and the two fae instantly came up behind him, the blonde looking almost bored. The carrot top looked me over with a smug look that had my beast snapping his jaw.

Bastard.

He called over his shoulder to his men.

“Let us get to it then, shall we?"

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