The Firebird Prince

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Kellan was on fire.

He was every inch the perfect prince—handsome even in battle, brave, commanding as he shouted out orders and charged with his men.

He would make a great King.

By all means, Asa wasn’t supposed to know that. She should be in the cellar with Zara, guarded by hundreds of guards. Kellan probably thought she was there, safe and sound.

But Asa had never been one to hide.

She was blending in well enough in the crowd of soldiers; no-one was noticing any difference in her. She was wearing the same uniform, armed with a regular sword. Her face was hidden by the helmet.

And as they all rushed forward into the fray, nobody had the time to notice anything off. A thrill of fear slithered into Asa, but she pushed it back. She could fight better than most soldiers. There was nothing to be afraid of.

Women aren’t meant to fight, Arkan had said when Asa had marched up to him, demanding training. It’s not natural.

It’s not natural for someone to be as narrow-minded as they are tall, Asa had retorted, and yet there you stand.

She allowed herself a smirk. She’d proved that, when Arkan was sitting on his bottom, blinking up at her, his sword thrown across the room.

The two parties collided with a great roar and Asa turned her mind only to the fight. But before she could actually tackle anyone, a hand grabbed her arm and pulled her back, into relative safety. As soon as they let go, Asa whirled around angrily and saw Ahad, his arms crossed, face blank as he looked at her. “Princess,” he said, and Asa immediately felt as if she’d been scolded.

Asa was excellent at reading people, but Nico and Ahad were the two people she could glean absolutely nothing from. So she crossed her arms too, and scowled.

“What is the meaning of this, Commander?”

“You’re not supposed to be here, Princess.”

Asa raised an eyebrow. “Why? Cause I’m a girl?”

Ahad looked mildly annoyed. “No, because Prince Kellan instructed you were to be hiding in the cellar.”

“I don’t want to hide,” Asa said shortly.

“Princess Asa,” Ahad said very patiently, “I will have to take you by force.”

Asa gave him a defiant glare. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “You can’t make me.”

“I can,” Ahad said.

“I am your Princess--”

“And that is precisely why I have to protect you. I am sorry, Princess Asa,” he added, not sounding sorry at all. “but the Crown Prince’s word is above yours.”

Asa glared at him. “I don’t need protection,” she said fiercely. “Besides, this is just because I’m a girl, isn’t it? If I was a boy, you wouldn’t say anything. But I can very well fight! I can—”

Ahad, who had been looking at her with thinly veiled disdain, briefly shifted his eyes at something just over her shoulder. His face betrayed no emotion, but he moved suddenly, wrenching Asa to the side. Asa stumbled and barely avoided a fall, twisting around to see Ahad lift his sword just in time to cross it with a raider. He pushed at him, and with a grunt, the raider’s arm gave way. Ahad made quick work of him after that.

Asa blinked at the raider, who now lay clutching at his stomach, groaning and moaning. Then she looked to Ahad, who wiped his sword clean and looked up at her, his eyes unreadable, mouth set in a thin line.

“You may be able to fight,” he said, “but do not know how to battle. There is a difference, and that difference could have gotten you killed. Now, please come with me, Princess.”

Asa swallowed hard. She wanted to say no, wanted to stay and fight. But then her thoughts went to Zara. What would she be going through, alone in the cellar? Her brother was out fighting, still freshly injured; her sister was missing. She had no way of knowing where Asa was. And Asa knew she had the sense to remain in the safe place and not come out looking, so by all means, she could be believing Asa was dead.

So she grit her teeth and said, “Okay.”

Ahad signalled to a guard to escort her, and Asa was led inside, the sounds of the fight fading as she got deeper into the castle. Now that she wasn’t occupied, worry started to burn. Kellan was out there—he was injured; how was he faring in the fight? The worst thing was, nobody would even notice something was too late till it was too late. Curse Kellan and his convincing smiles.

They made their way deep into the castle, where the cellar was. At the door, the guard knocked at the door. Inside, another one asked sharply, “Name yourself!”

“Princess Asa,” Asa said. “Open up.”

The door’s heavy locks slid open, and Asa stepped in. Immediately, Zara cried out.

“Asa! Oh, my God.” She hugged Asa so tight Asa thought she might burst. “I thought you were hurt! I thought you were—”

“I’m okay,” Asa said, pulling away, noticing Arkan’s mother sitting quietly in the shadows, barely noticeable. “I’m sorry I did that.”

Zara shook her head incredulously. “Let me guess. You went out to fight.”

“Yes,” Asa said, not blushing. “And I would be out there, if Commander Ahad hadn’t caught me.”

“He sees everything,” Zara said darkly, but her joke fell flat. She was pale and fidgeting, so Asa sat her down on her chair.

“The raiders are no match for out soldiers,” she said. “Kellan with finish them in a second.”

“He’s hurt,” Zara said. “How is he supposed to fight at his best?”

“It’s Kellan,” Asa said. “We may jot know the new him much, but if he’s the same Kellan as he was ten years ago, I can definitely say that he’ll pull through.”

“Maybe,” Zara agreed.

Outside, there ware the sounds of a scuffle. Asa frowned at the door, not too worried. But then the door opened and a strange man strode in. He was slim but incredibly fit, and his dark eyes glittered in a way that reminded Asa of a black hole. He was smiling, easy and smirking--like Kellan, but without the warmth.

The guards all rushed at him, but all he did was calmly flick his hand, and they all dropped to the floor, unconscious.

Then he looked to Asa and Zara, who were now on their feet. Asa clenched her fingers around her dagger, and saw his eyes flick to it.

“So you’re the smart one,” he said in a rich, casual voice. “I gutted your brother really well, didn’t I? Now he’s out there, dying.”

Zara flinched, and Asa tensed. Dying? He had to be bluffing.

“Now,” the man added, inclining his head slightly, eyes on Asa, “it’s your turn.”

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