Shadows

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Ch. 10

At Master Bell’s insistence, Terra was taken directly to the infirmary in the north wing, closest to main doors and Bell’s personal room. Bell didn’t want to waste any time getting the princess to the healers. The princess had come around before they had crossed the main hall. Insisting she could walk, Eric set her down but was at her side the entire way up. John stayed glued to Terra’s other side, with Bell and King Sol making up the front of the party.

They reached the infirmary and Terra was instructed by Bell to lay back on the bed in their while he and the healer on staff examined her. They each put held their hands just over two inches from her body and moved them up and down, checking for injuries or internal damage. She stared at the healer for a moment. Their white robes with the strange white hoods had always creeped her out as a child.

Age hadn’t changed that effect much.

“So explain to me again what happened,” King Sol asked.

“I wasn’t feeling well,” Terra explained, “so Master Bell suggested a ride might clear my head and make me feel better.” She snuck a glance at Eric; he was staring at her with a mix of emotions on his face. Terra could make out a few, but not all. She could see guilt quite plainly, relief also. Aside from that she wasn’t sure what was there.

“Then?” The King prompted.

“Then, as John and I were riding we came upon an over turned carriage.”

“Why weren’t you with Reynolds? He’s your Guard,” King Sol demanded.

Terra looked at Eric and he looked at her, neither sure what to say next.

“Excuse me my Lord,” Bell cut in. “May I have a word?”

“I’m trying to ascertain what happened to my daughter,” King Sol replied curtly. “Whatever your news is, it can wait.”

“My Lord,” Bell insisted, trying to communicate the importance of the information he had through his eyes. “This cannot wait.”

“Then just tell us,” Eric interjected rudely.

“Yes Bell,” King Sol agreed. “Out with it.”

Bell looked around and the all the healers dropped what they were doing and exited through a door at the back of the room. He turned and looked at John and Eric. He raised an eyebrow and waited.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Eric stated. “I let her out of my sight once today and look what happened.” He looked down and put a hand on her shoulder. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Bell turned his gaze to John.

John squared his shoulders and stared at the wizard.

“I would like John to stay,” Terra said quietly. “He’s been with me since the beginning of this ordeal. And besides that, he’s a trusted friend.”

“Is that so?” King Sol asked, staring the young man down.

“It is,” John replied not backing down.

King Sol leaned in further, looking like he hadn’t decided to hurt the young man or hug him. John stood his ground and stared back at the King, respectfully of course.

“Very well then,” King Sol declared finally. “Go and stand at her other side.” John saluted the King and then went to stand on the left side of Terra’s bed.

She looked to John who smiled and patted her shoulder reassuringly. Then she looked to Eric who reached down and took her hand in his. He squeezed it and all three of them turned to the Master Wizard.

“So be it,” he sighed. “I was first made aware of Terra’s situation when John, along with both the Master Carpenter and Builder, came barreling through the main entrance in a wagon. They explained to me what was going on and together we went in search of Guard Reynolds.

“When we found him I informed him of Terra’s situation and told him the only way to save Terra was to open his end of their bond and allow her to draw on his strength.”

“Why was his end of the bond closed in the first place?” King Sol demanded.

“That’s my fault Father,” Terra answered. “Eric and I fought and I closed the bond.” She looked up and met Bell’s eyes.

“There was no way for Guard Reynolds to open the bond. Not without physical contact,” Bell added.

“Wait,” Terra cut in suddenly. “That can’t be right. I felt a rush of energy. Someone gave me the strength to keep fighting. They saved my life. It could only have been Eric. I don’t share a bond with anyone else.”

Bell looked to the King who nodded.

“What?” She asked. “What is it?”

“You do share a bond with one other person. It isn’t a normal bond, and we certainly don’t understand all about it yet, but you do have a bond with one other,” Bell explained as gently as he could.

“No,” she whispered shaking her head. “There’s no way, it isn’t possible.”

“I’m afraid there’s no mistaking this magical signature,” Bell explained. “Look within yourself, and tell me I’m wrong.” His face was solemn as he watched her close her eyes for half a second before they flew open again.

“That makes no sense, why would he try and save me?”

“Who?” Eric asked, not sure he was following the whole conversation.

“I am sure,” Bell stated. He looked to the King. “There can be no mistake.”

“I see,” was all King Sol said. “Bell, perhaps we should adjourn to the war room and discuss this more.”

“Agreed,” he nodded. “Princess,” he added turning to Terra. “Rest up for now and I’ll come find you later for that lesson we missed.”

Terra could only nod as her mind started to race. How could it be possible? There was no way he would do what he had done and then try to save her. It made no sense. She nearly died, her horse did die! Not to mention he endangered John, Persephone and her young son.

King Sol and Bell took their leave and left Terra, Eric and John alone in the infirmary. Each confused about what was going on in their own way.

“John,” Terra asked, “What happened to Persephone and her baby?”

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “I entrusted her to the city guard. They should have brought her up by now. I can go find out what’s going on with her if you two need some . . . time.”

“Can you please make sure she’s alright?” She asked.

“Of course,” John smiled and bowed to Terra. He stopped and saluted Eric before he disappeared out the door.

“Was it Grey?” Eric asked. “Is he the one that saved you?”

Terra shifted uncomfortably on the bed. “It would seem so.”

“I don’t get it,” he muttered frustrated.

“Me either!” Terra shouted. “Those shadows had to come from him. He’s the Shadow King! So why would he send his shadows after me and then try and save me!?”

Eric looked at her; she was angry and frustrated and tired. He could talk to her later he supposed. Right now they needed to find out what Grey was up to before more people got hurt.

“So you’re sure then?” He asked. “You’re sure about where the energy came from?”

“I’m positive,” she confirmed. “It came from Grey.”

Grey flopped down onto his bed, exhausted. That had been close, much too close.

He had no idea where those damn shadows had come from but they had nearly killed Terra. He didn’t even know he had shadows in those woods right now. Let alone any that were hell bent on his ticket outta here’s destruction. Worse than that, when he had tried to command them to disperse, they hadn’t listened.

Grey had been certain he would have to stand there and watch as Terra died.

When he felt the reach it was all he could do to keep from crying out. He had happily given her all the energy he could spare. Through the eyes of the shadows he could see her stand and fight again. As he watched her climb to her feet again he felt like the largest weight had been lifted from his chest.

He could breathe again.

Except that now he was exhausted. To channel that kind of energy through this damn box and into Terra had nearly tapped him out. So he lay back on his bed and pulled a pillow over his eyes. He would try and get as much rest as he could before Terra, inevitably, appeared before him demanding answers.

Answers he didn’t have.

“It was a reach my Lord,” Bell whispered as they walked the halls to the war room. “There can be no mistake. Terra reached to the prisoner and he responded.”

“This is a good thing isn’t it?” King Sol asked, confused by Bell’s worried expression.

“It is and it isn’t,” he explained. “It is very good for us and our plan that when Terra reached to him he responded. It is, however, troubling that he could reach back and channel so much energy to her from such a distance and through his glass cell that should prevent him from doing anything like that.”

King Sol nearly stopped in his tracks. This was troubling noise indeed. “I seem to recall a conversation with you, many years passed, where you assured me that the cell you had constructed would hold that monster no matter what.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t factoring Terra’s part in all this. She is so much stronger now than she was four years ago. She is the one who reached and she is the one who allowed his energy to slip the confines of his cell.”

“So what does this mean for us Bell? For the plan?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know yet sire. I shall take time now, before Terra’s lesson to ponder on these things and decide the best course of action.”

“Very well then,” King Sol said, dismissing Bell. “I shall be in the war room if you have need of me.”

Bell bowed, fist over his heart, and then turned back up the stairs. King Sol walked on to the west wing, unsure how to feel about the information the day had provided. With a tired sigh he headed down the long corridor to the War room.

Eric helped Terra out of the infirmary bed and over to the door. “I’m ok,” she assured him. “I can manage walking.”

“You say that now,” Eric laughed. “But I haven’t always known that to be the case.”

“Oh wow, really?” She asked laughing. “Taking cheap shots when I’m half dead? That’s nice. Very gentlemanly too.”

“Well I do what I can,” he replied laughing.

Terra laughed and made her I’m-gonna-kick-your-butt-face. “You know I would smack you right now if it wouldn’t drain what little energy I have left.”

“Oh you mean that energy you took from me?” He asked, holding the door open for her.

Terra straightened up and walked through the door and into the hall. She looked around for a moment and stopped.

“What’s wrong?” He asked still smiling.

“Nothing,” she lied, not giving Eric the satisfaction of knowing she wasn’t sure where to go.

“Lead on Princess.”

Terra sighed. “I’m not sure where I should go.”

“Why ever not?” He asked mockingly.

“I’m not really sure what time it is.”

Eric laughed and walked forward. He was going to put his hand on her shoulder when he stopped and thought better of it. He was beyond relieved that Terra was ok. He was thrilled that she was fine, but that didn’t change anything that happened between them. There was still the issue of the dream and her lying to him about it. He couldn’t just act like none of that had happened.

Terra could sense the change in him as soon as it happened. She knew things wouldn’t stay playful like this. Things were said and a line was drawn in the sand. She could tell things had to change if she was going it keep Eric in her life. After everything that had happened she knew she needed him.

“Eric,” she started.

“Terra I can’t do this right now. I want you to be safe and I can’t tell you how horrified I feel to know what you went through because of me.”

“That wasn’t your fault,” she explained turning to face him.

“It was. If we hadn’t fought then you wouldn’t have been outside and you wouldn’t have been out there when those shadows showed up. You would have been safe.”

“If that had happened then Persephone and her baby would have died. I was in danger, but I wouldn’t put my safety above their lives. In a way our fight saved them.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Eric said flatly.

“Well it should,” she insisted. “I know that things are . . . hard right now with us, but I want talk to you about that.”

“Terra I don’t need to go over the same things over and over again. I heard what you have to say . . .”

“You haven’t heard all of it,” she interjected. “Things have changed.”

“Changed,” he asked, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

“Changed,” she confirmed.

“Changed how?”

“Are you the Princess Terra?” A voice called from behind her.

Terra and Eric turned at the same time to see a large blond woman come walking toward them. She was the largest woman either of them had ever seen. Taller than Eric, and possibly even Grey, she had shoulders as broad as Terra’s arm. Her light blond hair was cropped short and only added to her overall manliness. She was wearing a dark black tunic and dark black pants.

Eric, knowing it was impolite to stare, tuned his eyes downward.

Terra walked up, extending her hand. “You must be Merope, from the Kingdom of Pleiades.” She didn’t remember all of Pleiades customs, but she did know that they don’t bow, they shake hands. When you shake the hand of a warrior, and Merope was that indeed, then you had to shake hands firmly.

“I am,” the big woman replied taking Terra’s smaller hand in her own. “But you may call me Mer.”

“It’s very nice to meet you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me and my family that you agreed to train me and my sister.”

“I was honored that your father thought I might be able to help.” Mer looked over Terra’s shoulder. “And you are?”

Eric stepped forward. “Eric Reynolds, Royal Guard to the Princess Terra.” He put his hand out and shook Mer’s hand firmly.

“Well to be honest Guard Reynolds,” Mer noted taking in the sight of Terra, half soaked, dirty, torn dress, hair down, barefoot and a number of cuts all over her arms and shoulders, “You don’t appear to be doing a very good job.”

Eric’s chest puffed out as he walked toward the large woman. “What did you just say to me?”

“Ok I think it’s time for our first lesson right?” Terra asked Mer, stepping up between her and Eric.

“It is time,” she replied laughing at the sight of Terra blocking Eric. “Unless you’d like some time to change?”

“No I’m fine,” Terra assured her quickly, knowing she needed to get Eric away from Mer. “I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t take too much time,” she laughed and heading back down the hall.

“What did you do that for!?” He demanded as soon as Mer was out of earshot. “She insulted me! You should have . . .”

Terra leaned against Eric, and pushing up on to her tip toes she kissed him.

A quick and simple kiss.

Every thought in Eric’s head vanished. He looked down at her and she smiled up at him. She had actually kissed him. That had never happened before. He had always instigated anything romantic between them.

“Changes?” He asked.

“Changes,” she confirmed smiling. “Will you meet me in the Queen’s garden before dinner?”

“I can . . . yes I’ll be there.”

“Good,” Terra sighed, her smile widening by the second. “I’ll see you then.” She pushed herself up on her toes and kissed him again. This time he caught her and kissed her back.

“I’ll see you tonight,” she whispered breaking away.

“Uh hu,” was all he could manage.

She smiled and started down the hall. Completely forgetting about her appearance.

Eric watched her go, feeling for the first time in years, like things might actually be getting better.

Terra caught up with Mer before she made to the girl’s practice room.

“So you look like you’ve been through quite a bit today Princess,” Mer remarked as Terra came up alongside her. “I heard something about a wall of shadows and a blinding white light?”

“Yea,” she replied sheepishly. “That was me. Thought I’d take a ride into the woods earlier. Not my best idea.”

“It would seem not,” Mer said neutrally. “Did you really take on that many shadows at once?”

“I did,” she admitted, not feeling like it was something you brag about.

“If you can do that, Princess,” Mer commented, considering. “Then I’m not sure there’s much I can teach you.”

“I’ve heard all about you and what you can do,” Terra explained. “I know that you’re the strongest warrior anyone has ever seen. And it isn’t all about your strength either, although your strength is formidable. It’s about the way you think and the way you analyze a situation to make the most use of your available resources and time.

“That’s what our father wants us to learn.”

Mer nodded. “You certainly know a lot,” she conceded. “Do you really think this is something you can learn? I don’t want to be rude Princess but training like this, is a hard, difficult struggle that not many people can handle.”

Terra silently considered what she had said. It was true that her father had her and Diana in defense training from the time they were little. He had people brought in from all over the world to train them in self-defense. Defending against people and against shadows, but they were not taught any kind of offensive strategies. As a princess she knew that she should always try to solve her problems with words before resorting to violence. Since she was, as the kingdom referred to her, the “shadow princess”, nobody had bothered to teach her much of anything.

“I know that it will be hard going,” Terra agreed as they rounded the last corner before the double doors that lead out to a small practice yard the girls used for weapon and physical training. It wasn’t a huge space, as Diana would often complain, but it was isolated and easy to keep safe.

“If you don’t wish to receive the training Princess,” Mer started.

“No I do,” she assured her. “I want to be trained.”

“Good,” Mer smiled. “You have to want it.”

“Oh and Terra, please.”

“Not Princess? Or Highness or Majesty?” Mer asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No titles, please,” she insisted.

“You may be the first royal I’ve ever met who didn’t love the sound of their own title,” Mer observed.

“You may also call me crazy if you like,” she added with a laugh.

“I’ll take that under advisement.”

They spent the next hour learning the commands Mer would use while they trained. If she made this noise it meant duck, this one meant jump, this one meant run. It wasn’t until the last twenty or so minutes that she started to train Terra.

“You have to turn off the voice that says fear and the voice that says panic. You need your mind to be at peace, calm, tranquil. Or you’ll be struggling to keep up the whole battle. This is the first and hardest thing to learn. Once you can calm you mind, even in the face of great danger, then you’ll be ready to learn what I have to teach.”

“Princess,” John called, poking his head through the door.

“This isn’t a great time John,” she explained, indicating with her head toward Mer.

“Terra I found Persephone.”

“That’s great,” she sighed, relieved.

“Do all your guards call you by your first name?” Mer asked from behind her.

“I’m not her guard,” John corrected.

“Just a friend,” Terra corrected him. “So where is she?”

“In jail.”

“How did this happen!?” Terra exclaimed as they ran to the city guards barracks in the courtyard. The main gate that lead to the courtyard in front of the castle was flanked on either side by large round turrets. Each one housing barracks for the guards who patrolled the city surround the castle. The one directly to the left from the castles main door was where the King kept his personal jail.

“I have no idea,” John replied as they raced down the hall. “I left her with the city guards but then I had to get Eric and everything happened with you.”

“Why would they arrest her?” She asked out loud. “They can’t possibly think she had anything to do with it.”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

They ran across the courtyard, the rain still beating down on the kingdom, until they reached the far left side. There were soldiers loitering outside the three wooden doors that spanned the length of barracks. The doors were simple but they were made of thick strong wood from the King’s forest.

As Terra and John approached, the five or so soldiers who were joking around outside fell to their knees and formally saluted them.

“Princess,” the man closest to her said. “How may we be of service today?”

Terra stopped short.

She had never been treated so formally by the soldiers. They were always respectful but never so formal.

“I . . . uh,” she stammered.

“May I say, Princess,” a solider off to the left said. “We heard about what happened outside the city walls.”

“Oh.”

“We were so amazed to hear how you handled the shadows,” a man to the right added.

“Yes, we just wanted you to know that we are honored to be able to say we have served you and would be happy to help you in any way.”

“That’s good,” she started “Because I have been informed by John that the woman who was brought in by him an hour or so ago, right before the shadows attacked, that she has been placed under arrest.”

“She has,” the solider in front of her said, getting to his feet.

“I would like to know why.” Terra said trying to sound as much like her father as she could.

“Per the Kings orders, no one is to enter or exit the kingdom without consent of the King or his advisors. She raced past a check point without stopping and led the soldiers there on a wild chase through the countryside.”

“She also stole your horse,” another man offered. “She endangered the life of a princess of the realm.”

“I was never in danger,” she countered.

“I’m afraid that’s not up to us,” a dark haired man at the back said. “It’s up to the judgment of the King.”

“I see,” she thought for a moment. “Then I’d like to see her please.”

“I don’t know if we can do that,” the man near the front remarked.

“Jesse,” John started. “This is princess Terra; she just took on over three dozen shadows and walked away. She just wants a few minutes with the woman she saved.”

Jesse looked to the other soldiers. After a few seconds of whispered conversation, he turned back to her and said, “We can let you see her but not for long.”

“That’s all I ask,” she sighed gratefully.

Together the seven of them made their way through the main part of the barracks that had the kitchen and a number of tables and chairs. Through the sleeping area that was wall to wall bunk beds. Through the weapons room where they housed the swords, maces, shields, and the armor that the soldiers used, and finally to a large metal door that lead to the prison.

Jesse turned to the group at the door and said, “I’ll take them down. You guys make sure we aren’t disturbed to soon.” The other four men nodded and headed back out into the sleeping area. “You won’t have long to talk, and if anyone catches you in there in could be a lot of trouble for all of us.”

Terra paced a hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “I promise no blame will fall on you. I’m your princess and I ordered you to do this.”

“Alright,” he said with a nod. He pulled a key from under his shirt and put it in the door. After a few rotations there was a click and the door popped open. Jesse pushed it in and motioned for John and Terra to follow.

He led them down a long spiral staircase that at first was made of wood but as they went deeper they appeared to be cut from the same stone as the walls of the castle. Torches were placed in brackets intermittently along the walls as they went down. Creating light but making the air smell of smoke so badly it burned Terra’s eyes. Deeper and deeper they went until she was beginning to wonder how far down the prison really was. One thing was certain, the princess was starting to wish she’d grabbed shoes.

John, seeing the look on Terra’s face said, “They cut the prison down deep into the stone under the castle to ensure that no prisoner could ever escape and get to the King. It’s deep but it’s safer this way.”

“Right, safe,” Terra muttered.

After another few minutes they came to the bottom of the stairs and another large metal door. Jesse knocked on the door three times, then two times and then finally four times. There was a sound of a key in the door on the other side and then it swung open to reveal a man in his late forties with dark brown hair and blood shot brown eyes.

He eyed Jesse, John, and Terra for a moment and then turned to Jesse. “Who are they?” He asked jerking his chin in their general direction.

“Princess Terra and her guard John. They need to see the woman they brought in a while ago.”

“Can’t do that,” he grumbled.

“I need you to do this,” Jesse told him. “I’ll explain it all later, but for right now, let them pass.”

He considered Terra and John a moment more before saying, “You’ll owe me Jesse.”

“That’ll be fine,” he sighed, “Now let us pass.”

“Not my head on the block of it goes sour,” he grumbled as he shuffled back and pulled the door all the way open.

Terra rushed through with John and Jesse on her heels. There was only one row of cells with maybe six cells all together. It was dark, barely lit at all. But the air, that’s what nearly stopped Terra in her tracks. It was thick and smelled of foul things. She couldn’t believe they would keep anyone in a place like this.

“Persephone?” She called.

“Terra?” Persephone cried, her arms sticking out of a cell down on the left. “Terra is that you?”

“Oh dear spirits,” she muttered rushing forward. “I’m so sorry I didn’t realize they would arrest you.” She faltered for a moment. The “cell” was nothing more than an eight by eight opening cut in the stone underground. There was no sit or rest and as far as she could tell, the floor doubled as a bathroom.

“I figured they might,” Persephone remarked bitterly.

“Persephone . . .” she started.

“Seph,” she cut in. “The only people who call me Persephone are my parents and my old instructors.”

“Seph then,” Terra corrected. “Why would they arrest you like this?”

“I’m a runaway princess,” she explained.

“Princess?” Terra and John asked simultaneously.

“Yes,” she sighed. “I am Persephone of the Moon Kingdom. I am the youngest of five siblings and a wanted fugitive in my own county.”

“Wanted? Why?”

“I fell in love,” she answered simply.

“Last I checked love wasn’t a reason to arrest someone,” John observed.

“When you loved someone who’s a Shadowed Man, it is.”

“A what?” Terra asked.

“A Shadowed Man,” Seph explained, “Is a man or woman who supports what the Shadow King is trying to do. They believe that the world has gone wrong somehow, twisted. They think the darkness the King brings will purify the world and set it back on the right track.”

“That’s insane,” John laughed. “How could anyone think what he does is a good idea?”

“People, generally, are insane,” Seph commented.

“I’ve never even heard of such a thing as a Shadowed Man before,” Terra murmured.

“Neither have I,” John added.

“Me either,” Jesse chimed from behind them.

“So what happened?” Terra asked.

“I fell in love,” Seph sighed, “his name was Darien and he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He was tall with dark hair and blazing blue eyes. He had the kindest face and the most amazing smile. He worked with my father and my two older brothers on a castle for my older sister. She had just gotten married.

“He was around all the time, working on plans helping select materials. He was everywhere, I went every time I went there. One day I was in our garden playing in the stream that ran through there when I slipped on a rock and fell.”

Seph pause and smiled at the memory. “He was there. He helped me out of the stream and tore his tunic to wrap my ankle. He carried me all the way back to the castle and stayed with me until a doctor could be summoned.

“After that we were inseparable. Everywhere I went, he went and vice versa. Before I knew it we were in love.”

Seph stepped away from the bars and paced back to the end of the cell. Terra had seen tears in her eyes before she had turned away. Whatever she was about to say must be very painful for her. She walked back to the bars, tears gone, and continued.

“One night he asked me to marry him. I said yes of course and we went to my father for his blessing.

“As it turned out my bothers had been looking into what was happening with Darien and me. They began to look into who he really was and what kind of past he had lead. It was then they found out about his connection to the Shadowed Men.”

“Connection?” John asked, “Was it a connection or was he actually one of these Shadowed Men?”

“He was one,” Seph confirmed. “They followed him one night to a meeting that was being hosted just outside of Luna, our capital city,” Seph added noting John and Jesse’s blank faces. “They were meeting in some of the woods near there. My brother’s men hadn’t anticipated on the shadowed men’s paranoia.

“They had traps set and warning systems in place. When the men got close the shadowed men knew. What they had hoped would be a simple arrest tuned into a blood bath. In the end my brother’s men won and arrested everyone there who was left alive.

“A lot of people died that night.

“Darien managed to escape somehow. He came to me and explained everything. He told me that his father had been a Shadowed Man and he had just been raised into it. He stayed active with them out of respect for his father. We both knew that no one would ever believe him. So we ran.

“We married in secret while we ran and found out less than a week later that I was pregnant.

“So we settled into a small town near the border and waited for the baby to be born. Until one day a guard passing through town caught sight of Darien and arrested him.” Her voice broke as she continued to speak. “I watched as they put his head on a block and beheaded him in the square.”

Tears streamed silently down her face as she remember the way Darien had looked up and met her eyes just before the axe came down. He had managed to convey to her a lifetimes worth of love in those last few seconds.

“Once I saw how quickly they killed him, I knew my baby wasn’t safe there anymore. So I left. Darien’s manservant found us an unmarked carriage and we ran. It took a few weeks to get out of my country and then once we had enough money we tried to buy our way into Sol.

“We nearly made it, but we were spotted by some guards and they chased us. We managed to hide in a nearby farm when I had the baby. It wasn’t the easiest labor but we got through ok.”

“Wait where’s the baby?” Terra asked looking around.

“With the king’s men,” Seph sobbed miserably. “They took my baby boy. My little boy. They just took him right out of my arms.” She breathed out sharply, the tears in her eyes flowing faster down her face. “I have to keep him safe. No matter what happens to me he has to be safe. That boy is all that’s left of the man I love. I have to know he’s safe.”

“I promise you Seph,” Terra said reaching through the bars and grabbing the woman’s hand. “We’ll make sure he’s safe. We’ll make sure both of you are safe.”

“Thank you princess,” Seph smiled, “But I don’t know that you can keep me safe. I saw my brother’s carriage when they were leading me down here.”

“Your brother?” Terra asked. “What will he do?”

“If Charles is here,” Seph answered, looking grim. “Then he’ll go before your king and insist that I be turned over to him to be taken back to my own kingdom. They’ll prove that I had a baby with Darien and I’ll be shamed and beheaded.”

“What?!” John burst out.

Terra put a hand on his shoulder and nodded. “What grounds will he use?” She asked turning back to Seph.

Seph thought for a moment and then said, “He’ll say that I’m a runaway princess and that I need to be returned to my family. I’ve broken no laws here, except racing passed the guards at the border.”

“That’s not enough to hold you here,” Terra observed. “Even if my father wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to keep you here.”

“If they take me now they’ll know I had a baby. I’ll be killed and my poor boy will be killed along with me.” Seph whimpered, her words dissolving into sobs.

“Can’t we do anything to stop them?” John asked Terra.

“Even if we can stop them today,” she replied, “We couldn’t stop them forever.”

“I don’t need forever,” Seph cut in. “I just need them to wait a little longer, maybe a day or two. By then they won’t be able to prove I had a baby.”

“That we might be able to do . . .,” Terra pondered out loud. “What would two days change?”

“I had the baby weeks ago now. Everything’s pretty much back to the way it was, except my milk is still flowing.”

John and Jesse both looked away awkwardly.

“Will two days really change that?” She asked.

“I only nursed my son the first night of his life, after that we made do with bottles or wet nurses. Whatever we could find where we were. I’m confident that in a few more days the milk will completely dry up.”

“Maybe we can find a way to buy time, just enough so that by the time you got home there would be no proof of the baby,” Terra said thinking out loud.

“So what happened after that?” John asked. “How did the carriage turn?”

“Shadows.”

“Shadows?” The three outside the bars asked in unison.

“As we made our way down the road a huge group of shadows came out of the woods in front of us. They didn’t stop or try to hurt us, but they did spook the horse. It bucked and bucked until the yolk broke on one side. It tried to run, but the carriage was still attached and it took this corner too fast and we tipped. All the weight and pressure on one side tipped the carriage and broke the other side. Before we even had to me to react to the shadows, we were free falling into the embankment.

“Tom . . . he . . . got pinned. I tried to pull him out but . . .” Seph’s voice broke and her tears started again. “Did he . . . is he . . . gone?”

Terra looked to Seph, her own eyes full of tears, and explained, “We found him under the carriage. We managed to set it back on the road and free him.” Her voice shook and she wasn’t sure she could go on.

John set a hand on her shoulder and gave her a warm smile. He looked to Seph and said, “Terra held him in her lap and took his pain away. He passed comfortably into the next world, his final thoughts of you and your son’s safety.”

“He didn’t suffer then?” Seph asked.

Terra shook her head, “No, he didn’t suffer in the end.”

Seph slipped her hands between the bars and offered one to both John and Terra. “Thank you both so much,” she whispered as they each took her hand. “I would have died if not for him. I can’t tell you what it means to me to know that he wasn’t alone or suffering in the end.”

“It was right after that when you took Venus,” John remarked.

“Oh,” she blanched, “I am sorry about stealing her and about her dying.” She pulled her arms back into her cell.

“I know,” Terra said smiling at her, “You were just doing what you had to do to save your son. I couldn’t fault you for that.”

Seph gave Terra a small tight smile. “So what can we do to keep me here? You seemed to be thinking something earlier.”

“I’m not sure yet, but I have a few ideas. But Seph what happens to your son when your brother eventually takes you home?”

Seph looked like she might dissolve into tears, again. “He’ll have to stay.”

“Stay?” Terra asked confused. “I thought you had to keep him safe?”

“What do you think I’m trying to do?” she snapped. “The safest place for my son is as far away from me as he can get. He’ll stay here and I’ll be forced to deny him.”

“What exactly does that mean?” Jesses asked.

“It means they’ll bring him before Seph and demand that she say he’s hers. Most likely they’ll hurt him and see if she reacts,” Terra explained, her voice dripping with disgust.

“What person wouldn’t’ react to child being tortured?” John asked disgusted.

“I don’t know,” Seph replied. “But first we have to find a way to keep me here.”

“Well,” Terra started, “maybe we can . . .” A sound of boots on stone pulled everyone’s attention back the way they had come.

Jesse jogged to the door and looked up, his face when pale and he ran back to them. “The King’s guards are coming down the stairs right now,” he whispered panicked. “You two can’t be down here, we have to hide you. Follow me.”

Terra and John followed Jesse down to the last cell on the left. He fumbled with the keys for a second but finally got the door open. He motioned for the two of them to get inside and quickly. Terra, trusting implicitly, hurried in. John, however, stopped at the door and turned to Jesse.

“Don’t worry I’m not going anywhere,” Jesse assured him. “You two can’t be down here, especially not the Princess.” After only another second of hesitation, John stepped over the threshold of the cell and Jesse closed the gate quietly. He had just enough time to run over to the door before the King’s Guards became visible on the stairs.

Terra walked to the corner of the foul smelling cell and listened as the guards came down and started talking to Jesse and the other prison guard. John leaned against the cell wall near to where the metal bars connected with it. He leaned back and gave her sheepish grin. Terra, understanding his meaning, retuned the gesture.

There was a sound of bars being opened and Seph started to shout.

“What are you doing?! Unhand me! Do you have any idea who I am?!”

Terra started forward, ready to jump to Seph’s defense and stop the guards.

John caught her around the waist before she could reach the bars. He pulled her over so her back was against him and put a hand over her mouth. He shushed her quietly when she started to try and talk through his hand. She quieted, although somewhat begrudgingly.

There was another sound of footsteps, going up now. Terra struggled against John as Seph’s voice started to fade away. They were taking her to the King and if she didn’t get there soon she wouldn’t be able to help Seph or the baby.

Satisfied it was safe; Jesse came back and opened the door to their cell. Terra burst away from John and ran to Jesse.

“Where are they taking her?!” She demanded.

“To the King, for judgment.”

Terra and John raced up the spiral steps as fast and as safely as they could. They raced through the barracks and passed some very confused looking guards. Back out into the courtyard and the pouring rain they ran. Terra was starting to tire, she had had used all of her energy and borrowed energy form two other people already. She was starting to feel light headed and her legs were getting heavy. Still she pushed on. Through the main hall, tracking mud and dripping water, straight up the grand staircase and into the throne room.

Together they burst through the normally open ornate double doors and into the room. King Sol was standing at the edge of the small landing that raised his and Queen Elise’s thrones off the ground there was an unfamiliar man standing next to him talking to him behind his hand.

Seph was standing at the edge of the worn red carpet, shackles on her wrists with chains that led to the King’s Guard standing next to her. Her head was hung and she was soaked from head to foot. Terra couldn’t see it but she was sure there were still tears streaming down her face.

At the sight of Terra, dress torn, hair down, muddy, soaking wet, barefoot, and out of breath bursting through the door, the King’s jaw hung open.

His shock was short lived as he rounded on his daughter, his face getting red and the vein on his forehead sticking out.

“Terra,” he asked gruffly, “What is the meaning of this?!”

“Father,” she panted. She sank into a deep curtsy as John formally saluted the King next to her. “I must speak to you about the prisoner. It’s urgent.”

King Sol motioned for Terra to approach him. She waked toward her father with all the dignity and grace she could muster in her battered state. John followed behind Terra, making sure he kept a respectable distance away from the Princess in the presence of the King.

“My Lord,” Terra said, curtsying again as she approached him. “I need to talk to you about the prisoner you have here.”

“Daughter,” King Sol said, a warring in his voice. “This is Prince Charles of the Moon Kingdom. He’s come to collect his little sister. Prince Charles this is my youngest daughter Princess Terra. You’ll have to excuse her appearance; she’s been through a great ordeal today.”

“Your highness,” Terra and Charles said in unison as they each bowed or curtsied to the other. Terra looked up and studied the prince. He was as tall as Eric, with dark blond hair and dark blue eyes. His face was chiseled and gorgeous, and it seemed to Terra that his body was as chiseled as his face. As she stared at him she could see the darkness behind his eyes. There was something black inside him and she was worried. She couldn’t allow him to take Seph.

“Might I just say,” Charles add, taking Terra’s hand in his. “I was at the gates to the city earlier; I witnessed your impressive display of power.” He pressed his lips to the back of Terra’s hand. “I was most impressed by what I saw.”

Terra smiled politely, as she was raised to do, and said, “Thank you.”

“You must tell me how you managed to accomplish such a thing.” Charles asked, still holding Terra’s hand.

“I assure you, your highness, it was nothing,” she replied. She kindly pulled her hand from his and turned back to her father. “Father I must speak with you immediately about the prisoner.”

“I’m afraid Persephone will be coming home with me,” Charles said. “She has a doctor waiting to examine her and pass judgment over her for her crimes.” Seph’s face went white and her brown eyes found Terra’s pleadingly.

“Father you can’t let her go!” Terra shouted.

“Terra,” King Sol demanded, surprised. “What’s gotten in to you?”

The princess racked her brain for a thought, any thought that might help her get Seph free. She only needed to buy a few more days to keep her safe.

She had it.

“I’m sorry father,” she said, trying to sound convincing. “I’m still a little shaken from the day.”

“After what you did today princess,” Charles mused, “I wouldn’t be able to stand.”

Terra smiled kindly at him, he was helping her case. She was planning to convince her father that Seph had threatened her life somehow and that she would have to stay for a few days while they investigate. She just needed to look exhausted, which wouldn’t be too hard at this point. Her vision was starting to swim and her head seemed to be buzzing.

She looked at her father and tried to keep her vision locked on him but that got harder and harder to do the longer she tried to force it. “Father I need this prisoner to stay while I investigate her claims.” She tried to explain as the buzzing in her head started getting louder.

“What claims?!” Charles demanded.

Terra tried to shake her head, to clear away the buzzing but it only made it worse.

“What claims is she speaking of?” Charles demanded of the King.

“I assure you sir I do not know,” King Sol warned, “But I’ll remind you to whom you are speaking.”

Charles put his hands up and said, “I apologize uncle, I meant you no disrespect, I simply need to know what your daughter is speaking of. Not that it matters. King Sol, my sister and I should be going before this storm gets any worse.”

“No,” she stressed. “She claimed she knew a way . . .” her vision started to tunnel, “to defeat . . .”

“Princess,” John shouted. He ran up and caught her as she started to fall.

“Terra!” King Sol shouted. He quickly closed the gap between himself and John. Carefully he lifted his daughter out of the young man’s hands. He held her close against her chest and gently pushed the hair out of her face. Her eyes fluttered open for a moment and he knew she was fine, exhausted but fine.

“Is she well?” Charles asked.

“She is,” King Sol said, lifting Terra off the ground. “I’m afraid I must attend to my daughter. This will have to wait until tomorrow.”

“King Sol I’m afraid I must insist we conclude our business here first,” Charles insisted, his temper coloring his tone.

“And I’m afraid I must decline,” the King responded, his voice dangerous. “My daughter is unwell and must be tended to. This can wait until tomorrow.”

King Sol turned to leave, making every guard in the room jump to assume their positions around him.

Terra reached up and touched her father’s face. He stopped immediately and turned her slightly so she could see his face better.

“Terra, what is it?” He asked.

“She’s a princess,” Terra breathed, “we can’t put her in the prison. It would insult mother’s . . . family . . .”

King Sol pulled his daughter up again and turned to face John. “You, guard. What is your name?”

“John, your Majesty.”

“Who are you named for?” King Sol asked, purely out of curiosity.

“Uh, your father, sir,” John answered awkwardly.

“Good man. You are to take Princess Persephone to Princess Diana’s old room on the fifth floor. You will then find Jones, tell him what is happening and post a guard outside Persephone’s room. Instruct him to find appropriate accommodations for Prince Charles and then come find me. I’ll be in the infirmary.”

John, having finished relaying all the information the King had asked him too, headed to the infirmary. He ran the whole way there, afraid to keep the King waiting and wanting to know if Terra was ok. She was probably the best friend he had in the castle, aside from Eric. Originally he and Jack were great friends, until a few years ago when he suddenly stopped hanging around. He wouldn’t tell John where he was or why he didn’t want to hang out anymore. He was just always busy.

Come to think of it he hadn’t seen Jack in a while. Not in at least a day or so. He hadn’t even reported for duty. John would have to figure out what was going on with him. Defecting was not something the King took lightly.

He reached the door of the infirmary and took only a moment to collect himself before he knocked and entered.

King Sol stood over a bed holding Terra’s hand. Bell stood at the head of the bed holding his hands over the princess’s head. There was a healer at the foot of the bed holding his hands over her feet. Terra was breathing steadily but her feet twitched every so often.

“Your Majesty,” John said, saluting the King. “I have done what you requested and everything has been arranged as you asked.”

“Good man,” King Sol repeated, not looking up from Terra.

“If I may ask my Lord, is the Princess alright?”

King Sol looked up and stared at solider for a moment.

“You’re concerned about her.” It wasn’t a question.

Still, John answered. “I am my Lord. She is a friend, as well as my princess.”

“I see,” the King considered.

“Papa,” Terra mumbled waking, “what’s going on?”

“It’s alright Terra,” he said, “you’re alright.”

She tried to sit up. “What happened to Seph? Is everything alright? You didn’t let her leave did you?”

“Calm down,” he said, a hand on his daughters shoulder. “Princess Persephone is in your sister’s old room, under guard, and her brother is put up in mine and your mother’s old room.”

“Thank the spirits,” she whispered, sinking back into bed. “I was so worried.”

“My Lord,” John asked, still in the doorway. “I was wondering if there was anything else you need me for?”

“Yes,” King Sol said, finally looking away from Terra. “Today you protected my daughter. You put her life above your own and, if what I’ve been told is true, you are the only reason my daughter made it back to the castle and the only reason Guard Reynolds was able to reach her when he did.”

“My Lord it was . . .” John started.

“It is a service I can never repay,” the King explained, raising a hand to silence John. “For that service, I would like to extend to you the offer of being my daughters second Royal Guard. Despite it being her sister in the prophecy, Terra seems to have a knack for finding trouble.

“It would ease my mind knowing that there was a man with your convictions at her side.”

John found he couldn’t speak. He wasn’t even a captain. He was only slightly above the lowest rung on their totem pole. A promotion like this was unheard of. However, Terra was his friend and it would mean that he could spend more time with her and Eric.

He bowed formally to the King and said, “I would be honored to be so trusted by you my King.”

“Terra?” King Sol asked. “How would you feel about that?”

She looked to John and gave him a warm smile. He was a good friend. “I would like that, very much Father.”

“It’s decided then,” King Sol said beaming. “John I will leave my daughter in your care and send Guard Reynolds along in a while to explain to you the details of your new duties. Terra, get rest and I’ll send Mammy to your room to draw you a bath so you can bathe before dinner. Will you be alright without me?”

“I will papa,” she assured him smiling at her father. “Thank you and I’m sorry about earlier.”

“You don’t need to apologize to me,” the King said. “But you will explain yourself to me as soon as Bell tells me that you are well.”

“I know father,” she answered, feeling guilty. “I promise I will explain everything to you soon.”

“Look after her,” King Sol said, looking to Bell and John. “I will expect to see her well rested and cleaned up at dinner.”

“Yes my lord,” John and Bell replied together, bowing to the King.

King Sol, satisfied that his daughter’s needs were being met, headed out the door, a line of guards following him. Bell smiled at Terra and slipped out the door after the King.

“Majesty,” he said, “might I have a word in private?”

“Give us a minute,” the King said, waving his small army of guards away. “What is it Bell?”

“Things with Terra,” he started.

“I know,” King Sol cut him off. “Still, she survived and so long as she’s ok, then the plan will still work.”

“Majesty, I know it’s not my place, but maybe it’s time to consider a different plan? To awaken Terra, just enough to get her to open her eyes, not enough to fully revive her; it took nearly all the energy the two of us could muster. If she depletes all of her energy like that again, there’s no way to know how long it might take to awaken her.

“I think it’s time to consider a new plan.”

“We can’t do that,” King Sol replied. “We’ve come too far. There isn’t time to start again.”

“As you wish sir,” Bell answered reluctantly. He waited for the King to turn and walk away before turning back to the infirmary door and slipping in.

Terra watched as Bell headed out the door after her father. Once the door had closed she sat up and slowly swung her legs over the side to the bed. Her head was still swimmy but the longer she sat up the better she started to feel. She slipped down to the floor and, as soon as she was sure she wouldn’t fall, she waved John over.

“Royal Guard hu?” She asked, “That’s amazing!”

“I can’t believe it,” John agreed. “I think I just passed nearly a dozen different ranks”

Terra smiled and threw her arms around him. “I’m so happy for you!”

“P . . . princess . . .” he stammered awkwardly, “what’s this for?”

“I’m saying congratulations,” she explained, “and thank you. For everything you did for me today.”

John put his arms around the princess and hugged her back. “I think this is going to make every other soldier and guard I work with jealous,” he laughed.

Terra pulled away and smirked at him. “Jealous of all the perks your new position comes with?”

“Jealous that I got to hug a princess,” he said mockingly.

“Ha ha ha,” she joked. “What do you say we head up to my room? I don’t want to keep Mammy waiting.”

“Especially if she heard about what happened today,” John observed. He put his arm around Terra’s shoulders and helped her walk to the door.

“Oh I don’t even want to think of how frantic she’s going to be if that’s the case,” she muttered laughing nervously.

John reached for the handle just as the door was pushed open. Bell walked in and eyed the two of them. He looked at Terra and she could tell there was something he wanted to say, something in the way he held her gaze made her feel like he was on the verge of speaking to her.

“Princess,” he remarked nodding. He pushed the door open wide and stepped back so they could pass through.

“Master Bell,” she asked. “Our lesson?”

“Ah yes,” he replied, the faint trace of a smile on his lips. “If you have time before dinner, meet me in the school room. The lesson I have for you is short so it won’t take long.”

“Alright,” she grinned, glad at the chance to keep her lesson. “I will see you shortly.”

John helped Terra walk up through the castle and up to her room. Mammy was pacing back and forth outside the door. At the sight of her, she exploded into tears and rushed forward to help John.

“Terra, oh my dear Creator! Baby what happened?!” Mammy was blabbering and tears were streaming down her face as she took up Terra’s other arm and helped them the rest of the way to her room.

There was a large porcelain claw foot tub in the middle of the room filled with water so warm Terra could see the steam rising from it. She stopped, halfway through the door. Her normal tub was a barrel that they rolled up from the closet in Eric’s room. She had never had a tub like this. She couldn’t even figure out how the tub got all the way up to her room in the first place.

“Your father sent it up,” Mammy said, catching Terra’s gaze. “He said that after the day you had you deserved to be able to bathe comfortably.”

“How?”

“Master Bell,” Mammy answered simply.

“Oh.”

“John you should go now,” Mammy said, “I know you have other responsibilities.”

“Actually I don’t,” he smiled.

“What does that mean?” Mammy asked. She stepped away from the two and pulled a screen around the tub.

“You tell her,” he whispered, setting her down on the padded stool in front of her dressing table.

“Are you sure?” She asked, whispering too.

He smiled and nodded.

“John has been assigned as my new Royal Guard,” Terra explained still smiling at him. “Effective immediately if I’m not mistaken.”

“Two guards?” Mammy asked walking back over to Terra.

“Apparently I’m some kind of lightning rod for trouble,” she replied with a shrug.

“Who knew?” John asked sarcastically.

“Well Guard or no,” Mammy said smiling kindly at him. “You’ll need to head out while the Princess bathes.”

“Oh, of course,” he said blushing. “I’ll be right outside if you need me.” He bowed to Terra before turning and walking out the door.

“So then,” Mammy sighed, “Tell me about today.”

Bell walked slowly back to the school room. He mind was racing and he walked mindlessly forward. What he had seen Terra do today went beyond anything he could have ever imagined. It changed everything that he and King Sol were planning. If only he could get the King to see that.

Terra being as strong as she was meant that it might be nearly impossible for them to manipulate her the way they had intended. She would be able to detect and deter any magical advance Bell might make. If it got out, before their plan was complete, exactly what he and the King had been planning for the last four years, it would destroy Terra. Her trust in them would be shattered and they would lose any advantage they had over the Shadow King.

It made Bell nervous to think about her being isolated and alone due to his poor planning. If she became estranged from her father and from him she would be weak to any advance the Shadow King might make. She needed something to protect herself with, something to keep her safe from him and what he can do.

A thought struck Bell then. Years and years ago he had taken a small crystal from a locked cabinet in the schoolroom. He hadn’t known then why he had taken it out and what he was going to use it for. Now, however, he was beginning to think he had figured out why he pulled the thing in the first place and maybe, a way to help Terra.

Terra sat on the padded stool again.

This time Mammy stood behind her pinning her hair up.

She was fresh from the bath and she felt wonderful. All the dirt and sweat from the day had been washed off, leaving only a clean shiny princess behind. It had taken a while though. Terra had soaked in the tub for nearly half an hour. By the time she finally rose from the water, (kept nice and toasty warm by her mastery of fire), her fingers and toes and gone past wrinkling and looked to be turning in on themselves.

“What’s wrong dear?” Mammy asked with a mouth full of pins.

“Nothing,” she sighed, not really sure what it was about her appearance that unsettled her.

“Terra, you know I know when you’re lying to me.”

“I know,” she admitted. “I just don’t know about this dress.”

“Why is that dear?”

“It’s such a pure white. I’m terrified I’m going to ruin it.”

Don’t be ridiculous. You look stunning in the dress and besides,” Mammy explained placing the last pin, “this is the dress your father specifically requested you wear.”

“Why is that?”

“I think it has something to do with what happened in town today. Although it could have something to do with the prince in our castle too,” Mammy observed pointedly.

Terra made a face at Mammy through the looking glass. “Oh no Mammy,” she explained, “he is not a good man. There is some kind of darkness around him. Not to mention the fact that he’s my cousin.”

“Second cousin,” Mammy corrected.

“Still,” she insisted, standing. “I don’t like him. More importantly, I certainly don’t like the way he was looking at his sister today. I’m worried about her Mammy.”

“You’ve spared her so far,” she reminded the princess, “let’s just see how things go from here, alright?”

Terra nodded as she appraised herself in the looking glass. Her dress was completely white. Not off white or an eggshell color, it was white. It had a very tight corset that made Terra feel like her waist was gone and her hips were wide. There was some kind of beading and lace work done throughout the entire dress and the skirt was a full poufy skirt. It was beautiful, but more like a wedding dress than a dress you wear to dinner.

“It seems like too much,” she remarked.

“Not at all,” Mammy assured waving away Terra’s fears. “Now off to dinner with you.”

“Not just yet,” she said, “I have to go see a few people.”

Terra knocked quietly on the door to the schoolroom and waited.

“Come in,” Bell called from beyond the door.

Terra walked in slowly and closed the door. Bell was back at his desk holding up something that glinted in the light of the setting sun like a blade. He was rolling it over in his hands as Terra walked up.

It was in fact a knife.

A dagger to be exact.

It was a beautiful steel weapon with some kind of engravings on the blade and on the hilt. Terra couldn’t read it but she could feel the magic coming off the object as Bell held it reverently in his hands. He turned to her and extended the knife for her to take.

She hesitated.

Terra didn’t enjoy fighting or violence, and she especially didn’t enjoy death. Still, Master Bell didn’t do things for no reason, so she carefully lifted the blade from his hand and examined it.

She was struck as soon as she touched it buy the odd feeling that circulated through her. It was clearly a magical blade, quite powerful in fact. Although to her that power seemed to be limited. At the end of the hilt there was a beautiful polished purple stone. Amethyst, she thought.

“What do you make of this blade?” Bell asked.

“Its old,” Terra answered, her eyes fixed on the blade. “Steel I think?”

“Steel handle, silver blade,” Bell informed her. “What else?”

“Well I can’t read the language the inscriptions are in, but I can tell its powerful, though that power seems, to me anyway, limited somehow. Leading me to believe that this dagger was created for one specific purpose only.”

“You’re mostly right,” he confirmed. “What can you tell me about the hilt?”

“Well, its grip is wrapped in leather and there’s a sizable piece of amethyst in it.” She touched the purple stone for a moment as she tried to nail down what it was about that stone that felt different. Then she realized it was that it felt different at all.

“This stone, it wasn’t originally part of the blade was it?”

“No.”

“It feels like it has power too and I can tell you it’s different than the blade.”

Bell reached out and took the dagger from Terra. “This knife is the only one like it in existence. It was specially made and crafted to stop the Shadow King. All of these words,” he indicated with his hand to the hilt, “they are each a kind of disappearing spell. And these,” he pointed to the runes on the blade now, “they mean vacuum and hold.

“When this blade is thrust into a person of substantial magical power, the hilt disappears. Not only that, but the blade pulls all the magic the victim has and keeps it pinned in one place in their body. Rendering all of their magical powers innate and making them defenseless.”

Terra looked up into the eyes of the man she had known all her life and for the first time she saw a hardness in those blue eyes that she didn’t recognize. “This was made to kill Grey, to kill the Shadow King.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes. After the prophecy was first translated your great-great-great- grandfather contacted my master’s master, Master Atlas, and had him construct this blade. When I was contacted by you father to by the Master Wizard of his kingdom, my master entrusted the blade to me.”

Terra was silent as she considered all that Bell had said.

“You’re giving it to me, aren’t you?” She asked.

He nodded. He picked up a black sheath from the table and careful slid the blade inside. There was a small clasp at the top that prevented the blade from slipping out. He fastened it and handed it, hilt first, to Terra.

“After everything that happened today, I don’t think we can ignore the threat the prisoner poses to you.”

“Master Bell if you are suggesting what I think you are suggesting . . .” she started.

“I am only suggesting that you carry this knife with you. That stone in the top, it’s has the ability to project your conscience out of your body.”

“What would I need that for?”

“When you’re in Grey’s presence, so long as you have the knife, he can no longer read your mind.” Bell explained. “Even if you don’t project your mind it will coat it in a sense. Making it impossible for him to know what you’re thinking.”

“So he won’t see it coming,” Terra said flatly.

“So that you are safe,” Bell sighed. “I know that you have developed some sort of feelings for him and while I can’t say what those feelings are, I know that they exist.”

Terra opened her mouth to argue with Bell but the hard look in his eyes stopped her.

“Your feelings for him tend to cloud your judgment. I just need you to be safe and you carrying this blade ensures that.”

“I can’t say what I do or don’t feel about Grey,” she replied honestly, “But I do know that my judgment isn’t clouded. I know that he’s the enemy and I know that he is evil. There is darkness in him and it’s a threat to every living thing on this earth.

“I also know that the prophecy says that Diana must be the one who kills him. Who knows what might happen if we start changing things.”

“I’m not saying that you should kill him. I’m only saying that it would make all of us feel better knowing that if he tried something you could protect yourself.”

Terra looked at the knife. There was a feeling in her gut that she couldn’t shake. Something about this knife made her very nervous. There was fear and hatred attached to that blade and she wanted nothing to do with it. Looking to Bell, she knew that she didn’t have much in the way of options. He wanted her to take the knife and she knew that it would be good to have a way to keep Grey out of her head, especially after today.

“It could help Diana,” she sighed. “In the end.”

“Will you take it then?”

Terra sighed, “If it’ll help Diana, I will take the knife.”

Bell sighed and he seemed to visibly relax. “Thank you Princess.”

Eric stood in the center of the Queen’s garden as the sun set over the ocean beyond the cliffs at the edge of the castle grounds. Queen Elise had the garden specially made when she and the King had first married. She had brought over hundreds of different flowers from her home in the Moon Kingdom. Some bloomed during the day, but most only bloomed under the light of the full moon. It was a magical place to be on nights like those.

Eric glanced up at the sky.

He was almost certain tonight wouldn’t be a full moon, but it might be close and it would still be beautiful.

It seemed only fitting that tonight would be the night he and Terra finally expressed their feelings to each other. Or she expressed her feelings for him seeing as how he had already vocalized his.

This morning seemed so long ago now. He had talked with her and explained how he felt like she had wanted, or like he though she wanted. After that fight he was sure that it was over between them. He couldn’t think of life without her but he also couldn’t handle living the way they had been.

He paced back and forth, thinking of all the things he would say.

As the sun slid down the sky, it shone its fading light on the garden and made the water in the fountains and streams sparkle. Eric stopped and admired the beauty of the things around him. He loved the way the light would wash all the pale flowers in oranges and yellows. Twilight was his favorite time of day.

“Eric?”

He turned to see Terra standing under the archway behind him. Her dress seemed to glitter and glow in the fading light of the sun. She was beautiful.

“Terra,” he said breathless. “You look amazing.”

“Thank you,” she blushed, walking forward. “And thank you for meeting me here. I know after everything we talked about today and after all that was said it wasn’t easy for you to come. So I want you to know how much I appreciate you being here.”

“Terra,” he started, walking up and taking both her hands in his. “I need you to tell me honestly what’s going on with us. I love you, I’ve told you that and you completely shut me down.”

“Eric . . .” she started.

“Let me finish please,” he interjected. “Terra, ever since the night I stood in the dark with you and watched the fireflies I have loved you. And I know that you were young then and it wouldn’t have been fair to put that kind of emotion on you. So I waited. Then you told me that we couldn’t have these feelings for each other and I knew then that it was too late.

“Still I waited, silently, until a time came when I could hold you without fear and tell you how I feel. And maybe today wasn’t supposed to be that day, and I’m sorry for the way I acted earlier but I need you to understand that I only acted that way because I love you and not being able to tell you how I’ve felt all these years has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

“So please, if you can stand here and tell me you love me too then tell me because I need to hear you say it. Otherwise . . . you . . . you have to let me go.”

There were tears in his eyes as he continued, “If you can’t be with me than you can’t. I know you have your reasons and I respect that you have conviction enough to stick with them. If that’s the case then you have to break our bond and let me go.”

Terra, tears in her eyes waited until she was sure he was done before she spoke. “Eric . . . I’ve been through so much these last few years. All the changes I’ve made and all the changes that have taken place in the world. Some good, most . . not. Still, no matter what was going on I knew that you would be here, at my side, no matter what.

“You’re right, I do have reasons why I think we can’t be together, reasons that I still believe are valid. I do think that you’re a target based on your proximity to me. Just as my Father, Mother, Sister and now I suppose, John are.

“But today . . . today I stood surrounded by shadows knowing that I was going to die. I laid flat on my back, looking up at the sky and I knew I would never see your face again. Never again would we joke or play around like we used to. I would never get to tell you how I feel.

“I know you know how I feel, but I would never get to tell you. Certainly I had reasons. A lot of reasons actually, more than I needed and more than I wanted.” She paused as she considered how to tell Eric what she had to say. She felt like she would need all night to properly tell him how she felt.

“I stood there and realized how stupid those reasons were. No matter what I say to you, you will always be a target. What did my being honest with you change? Nothing. Except perhaps how happy we are. I decided then that if I ever got out of that mess I would bury myself in your arms and tell you exactly how much I love you.”

Eric started. He opened his mouth and closed it several times as he searched for the right thing to say. Terra said she loved him. He wasn’t wrong she had said it.

“I love you Eric,” she said again. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you have had to suffer for my short comings all these years. I can’t promise that we’ll be together forever because I don’t know what’s going to happen, for all we know I could be dead tomorrow. And I can’t promise you anymore than my heart. Even after everything between Diana and Grey is settled, I’m still a princess. Which means I have little to no say in who I’ll marry.

“So if you can accept the limitations of my love, accept me knowing that I can only give you so much, then . . . then stay. Because I don’t know if I can do this without you here . . .” she was cut off when Eric, having heard all he needed to hear, scooped her up in his arms and kissed her.

She laughed and cried as he lifted her off her feet and spun her around, kissing her.

He spun her, both of them laughing and crying, kissing her until they were both to dizzy to stand without leaning on the other.

“Of course I’ll stay,” he laughed when he set her on her feet. “All I want is to be with you for as long as I can. Even if it’s only until tomorrow, I’ll take it. I love you Terra and you’ve made me happier than I ever thought possible.”

Terra smiled, tears still in her eyes, “I love you too.” She smiled at how amazing it felt to finally be honest with Eric. To be able to tell him just how much he meant to her and how much she cared, it was beyond what she thought it would be. It was the greatest moment of her life.

A sound of music coming from inside the castle signaled that it was time for dinner. Terra made a sound and buried her face in his chest. Eric, understanding her frustration, sighed. He put a hand on each of her shoulders and pushed her back so he could see her face.

“What are you going to do?” He asked.

He didn’t say it, but Terra could hear the “about Grey?” at the end of his question. She sighed and fidgeted with the tip of the sheath that Bell had given her. She felt odd standing there in her mother’s garden, telling a man she loved just how much she loved him whilst wearing a very old, strangely powerful dagger around her left thigh.

“I have to go talk to him,” she answered finally. “I don’t want to but I have to know why he did what he did. And then I’m going to tell him that I will no longer be keeping him company at dinner. I’ll still have to bring him dinner since the box is keyed to me. Still, no more conversations between him and me, no more me being his friend. I’m done.”

“Do you want me to go in with you?”

“No. I need to do this alone. He focuses better if it’s just us. I just have to go in there hand him his dinner and tell him I’m done. He’ll argue I’m sure, but I can handle that. After everything today, I can handle this too.”

“If you’re sure,” he asked, “Then let’s go get this over with.”


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