“We’re going to be doing a lot of hard-core training today, and you will be put to the test mentally and physically. You sure that you want to do this?” Aquaphira asked me as she stood in front of me with her hands on her hips. She sounded like a drill sergeant. I was nervous about going ahead with it, but I needed this training.
I nodded to Aquaphira, being as serious as I possibly could. She nodded with approval and took me over to a huge table that was filled with different kinds of herbs. Aquaphira went through all of the herbs with me. She told me their names and explained what properties made them useful to healers and other people. It took us about two hours or so to go through all of them. By the end of it, I felt like my head was going to explode and it was only noon.
Aquaphira mentioned that she would want me back to the greenhouse later tonight for another lesson. I nodded to Aquaphira and turned to leave. But she grabbed my wrist before I could get too far.
“One more thing that I forgot to mention, well actually two things,” Aquaphira murmured. “One, be careful of Amavin she is very dangerous and not to be trusted under any circumstances. Two, please try to get between Amavin and Zavin. I know that you’re probably thinking that there isn’t much of a point in getting involved. But we need him to see that he doesn’t need to go all stupid noble. Especially after what had happened a few months ago.”
I hesitated. Sally had asked me to do the same thing. I thought that they wouldn’t want me to get involved because Avin was engaged but I guess that nothing has changed in that department. Well except that there was now another player in the game.
I nodded, still unsure of myself and how I was supposed to do what they wanted me to do. Aquaphira smiled and let go of my wrist. She seemed very pleased.
“You’re just what he needs,” I heard her say from behind me. When I turned around to question her about what she meant, she was gone. I stumbled backward a couple of steps in surprise. Where the heck did she go? I looked around, but I couldn’t see her anywhere.
I shook my head, turned around and headed for the door. But I paused at the door. Avin was nowhere to be seen. He might’ve run off to do something important. Or he might be “hanging out” with his new wife to be.
I felt a weird and slightly painful pang in my chest as I thought about it. Wait, am I jealous? No, I can’t possibly be. It was probably just my hatred for Amavin that I felt. I felt the pang again. Yep, that’s what it was.
I walked out of the greenhouse and saw something out of the corner of my eye that made me turn to get a better look. Sitting on the floor just outside of the door was Avin. He was leaning against the glass wall of the greenhouse with his head lowered and his arms crossed over his chest. As I quietly looked him over, I heard a soft snore coming from his direction.
It took all of my self-control not to giggle. He looked so innocent and handsome when he was like that. I walked around to the front of him, stood at the edge of his feet and looked down at him. That looked like a very uncomfortable position to fall asleep in.
I knelt down by his feet and tried to look up at his face to see if he was sleeping. Well, his eyes were closed, and his breathing was slower than it normally was. Hmm, I guess he was asleep.
Well, I was in there with Aquaphira for a while, so I can’t blame him for falling asleep. But isn’t he supposed to be my personal guard? How can he possibly do that if he’s asleep on the floor? I tried to stay mad or even frustrated, but I just couldn’t manage to do it.
I hung my head and sighed. I couldn’t help myself when I smiled. Well, I guess I’d better wake him so that I could move to someplace else. Hopefully to relax. I shuffled closer to Avin while still crouched on the balls of my feet.
“Avin, wake up,” I called to him and waited to see if he would move or wake up. But nothing happened. Heavy sleeper? Or perhaps he was just drained? “Come on, wake up Avin.”
I looked up at his face now that I was a bit closer. I could see the scars on his face much more clearly now. I hadn’t realized how deep the scars were. It looked like deep grooves in his face rather than white patches of skin like you typically see for scars. The scars on his face looked like claw marks.
I considered reaching out to touch them, but I thought that that would be an invasion of privacy. I hadn’t realized that my hand was already reaching out to touch him. Or maybe I had and just ignored what I was doing. Either way, I noticed that my hand was centimeters away from Avin’s face before I realized what I was doing.
I hesitated. This was probably not a good idea. I started to pull my hand away when Avin’s eyes popped open. We stared at each other for half a second before he tackled me to the ground. Pinning me there before I knew what was happening.
I was panting once I was pinned. I could feel a slight throbbing in the back of my head. My head must’ve hit the tiled floor when Avin tackled me. I looked up into Avin’s face to see if I could get him off of me.
Avin was looking down at me like a happily confused puppy. I was very puzzled by his expression. Then he did something that was completely out of character for him. Well from what I knew of Avin it seemed really out of character.
Avin leaned down and began to kiss down the side of my neck. It felt amazing. Like beyond amazing. I think that I made a noise and then suddenly we were standing. My head felt like it was spinning.
Once I could stand on my own two feet, I looked up to Avin’s face. I felt a pang of disappointment when I saw that he had put his mask back on his face. I dropped my eyes away from his face. I couldn’t let him see the war that was waging inside my mind and in my heart. I definitely couldn’t let him see which side was winning. That would probably not turn out the way that I would hope that it would.
Avin put a hand on my back and started walking. He didn’t give me much of a choice. It was either come with him or be dragged by him. We walked down and around a couple corridors, and down a set of stairs. Avin opened a door, and we walked into a service kitchen. Girls and guys of all different species were bustling about and cooking.
Avin dropped his hand and walked over to a young lady with little horns coming off of her head. He said a couple of things to her in their language. The young woman smiled and responded, which made me feel a bit jealous.
Dammit, I need to start taking lessons on speaking their language. It pissed me off not being able to understand anything in this upside down world. They had exchanged a few more words before Avin came back to me. He put his hand behind my back again and directed over to a different door. He pulled open the door, and we walked out into a much more open area that had a horse hitched up to a cart. The cart was filled with crates of different kinds of food.
I looked up at Avin, confused. But he just nudged me forward. I swear that he was trying to suppress a smile. What was he planning? I walked over to the cart and noticed that it was a lot taller than I had first thought that it was.
I hesitated at the step of the cart, debating on how I was going to get up to the seat of the cart. Suddenly I felt two hands on my waist. The hands boosted me up into the wagon. When I turned around to thank whoever helped me, no one was there. Confused, I turned back around to take a seat and noticed that Avin was already sitting down with the reins in his hands.
I didn’t know when he had changed, but Avin had changed into a t-shirt and pants that were dirt brown. The clothing looked like they had been hand stitched together with thick string. I looked down at myself. I was still in the fancy outfit from earlier this morning.
“Um, should I change?” I asked Avin, feeling a bit more than a little self-conscious. Avin looked me up and down. I could feel my face heat up a bit as he took a bit longer than was probably necessary to look at my clothing. Then came back the mask. He gave a quick, jerky nod and then tossed me some clothes. They looked kind of like the ones that Avin was wearing.
I looked around. There wasn’t anywhere that I could change, so I just threw the clothes on over top of my other outfit. I sat down in the spot next to Avin once I was all situated with my clothing.
Just as we were about to set off a familiar face popped up beside the cart. I was surprised to see Mallon, but it surprised me less and less as time went on. He was dressed in the same clothes as Avin, but his shirt was a darker brown. Mallon smiled up at me. It was the kind of smile that made my heart flutter around in my chest. Oh no.
I looked over to Avin, who had stiffened up when Mallon had appeared. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! Do both of these guys have a thing for me or something? I thought that it was kind of ridiculous but at the same time it did make me feel vital.
Mallon hopped onto the cart, which forced me to move over on the seat to make room for him. Thus, I wound up being squished between two big and rather hot-looking males, both of which hated each other. I was starting to develop a feeling for both of them which I really couldn’t have. I really couldn’t afford to develop feelings for anyone because once I started growing attached, I began to question things. I just don’t want to be hurt like that again.
I felt the tension begin to grow the longer we sat still in the cart. Avin and Mallon were having a severe testosterone war and were glaring at each other. I got fed up with their games and snatched the reins from Avin.
Both Avin and Mallon looked down at me in surprise, but only for a split second. As soon as they looked down at me, I snapped the reins. We took off so fast that they got flung into the backs of their seats. Somehow I knew exactly how to steer the horse-drawn cart.
The boys had recovered shortly after we had left the castle gates. Avin had tried to take the reins from me, but I had slapped his hand away. I gave him the best disapproving look that I possibly could before turning my attention back to the path. I snapped the reins. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I had a vague idea of where we might be headed.
I headed to where I thought the courtyard was as I let the guys stew in their thoughts. I turned a corner and continued down the path. At the end of the road, I could see a gate with about four guards standing in front of it.
I slowed our pace once we started to get closer to the gate. As I got within a few feet of the gate, one of the guards held up his hand for me to stop. I complied, tugging back on the reins gently until the horse came to a stop just in front of the closest guard.
The guard walked over to Mallon’s side of the cart and said something to him. Mallon responded while gesturing to the food, me and almost reluctantly Avin. The guard looked at each of us, then nodded. He turned around and yelled something to the other guards just before gesturing for us to continue on our way. I snapped the reins and watched as the gate slowly rose as we approached.
Something was puzzling me, though. Were we just outside the walls? Or is there another wall with another gate? That seemed to be what might be the case, but I couldn’t see where the other wall at all.
I looked around as we entered the gate. I have to say what was on the other side of the wall saddened me greatly. This was much worse than the area that I passed through when I had first arrived. Everyone in this area was covered in dirt and grime. Some were even covered with dried blood, dirty bandages, and scabs where there wasn’t clothing.
The clothes that they wore looked more like burlap sacks that had been hastily sewn together. There were also some different colored patches where the clothing must’ve ripped or worn through. Some of the younger residences worn next to nothing and nobody had on any form of footwear. I noticed that some of the people were even missing limbs.
The stench was horrible. It was so bad that it made my eyes water, and I could feel myself want to gag. This place reeked of death, pain and sickness. How could they have let things get this bad? This is just atrocious.
The only shelters these people had were a couple of crummy tents and makeshift shacks that barely stood up. I think that the only reason that they were still standing was the sticks that were holding it up from the inside.
Everyone had stopped what they were doing and were staring at the cart. They all seemed very anxious and curious, but they wouldn’t approach the wagon. In fact, they shuffled back when we got a bit too close for their liking.
“What is this place?” I asked quietly, hoping that one of the boys would answer me. They were quiet for several minutes, so I thought that they weren’t going to answer me.
“Prison Camp,” Mallon replied through clenched teeth. He sounded agitated and disgusted. So all of these people were prisoners of war? That explains the guards and the need for a secondary wall. But why were they being kept in such horrible conditions? They had rights too, didn’t they?
“Stop here,” Avin told me as I came upon what looked like it might’ve been a square or a marketplace at one point. Avin didn’t seem as hostile as Mallon did, but I could tell from his body language that he was wary. I stopped the cart next to an old dried up fountain. That once must’ve been beautiful but now lay in a pile of rubble.
Now that I wasn’t focused on steering the cart I could get a better look at the whole place. I stood up in the cart and stretched out my muscles as I looked around the camp. There were burnt down house everywhere. Every once in awhile, I could see a lump of dirt in between the destroyed houses. I didn’t need to get any closer to realize what those periodic lumps of earth had underneath. What was going on here?
I walked over to the edge of the cart, where Avin had already climbed down, and prepared to jump down off the wagon. Mallon had clambered into the back of the cart where all the crates were stacked and were searching for something. Just as I was about to jump down, Avin stepped in front of me. I tried to protest when he grabbed my waist, but he was already lifting me off of the cart.
He placed me down on my feet just in front of him. But being my clumsy self, I stumbled when I tried to take a step forward. I stumbled right into Avin’s chest. I guess he acted on reflex and wrapped his arms around me to help keep me steady. Whoa, he was solid muscle. But I was surprised to feel that it wasn’t that super hard muscle that some guys have. It was comfortable, and with his arms around me I felt safe and happy.
Then I remembered that he was engaged. I could feel my face heat up with embarrassment. I ducked my head down and pushed myself away from him.
“Thank you,” I murmured through my embarrassment before I walked away from him and towards the back of the cart. Once I was away from Avin I heard the boxes on the cart start to move around again. I hadn’t realized that Mallon had stopped moving them. Had he noticed our little exchange? It didn’t matter to me if he did.
Mallon was fun and all, but I didn’t feel the same around him as I did around Avin. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing I wasn’t quite sure yet. I didn’t want to develop feelings for anyone, but things were starting to change in me without my consent.
When I got around to the back of the cart, Mallon had several crates already on the ground and had moved the rest to the edge of the wagon. I supposed so that they were easier to grab for whatever we were going to be doing. Mallon moved the last couple to the edge of the cart before jumping down to join me on the ground.
“I don’t know why he brought you along,” Mallon commented to me smiling. “This is no place for a beautiful lady such as yourself.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or flattered by Mallon’s comment. So I just smiled to try to hide my anger and confusion. Yeah, I wasn’t too sure that I liked him as much anymore now that he had said that.
“Um, thank you,” I replied trying not to sound too rude. Truthfully what Mallon had said bothered me. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice a person come up behind me until Mallon’s expression hardened into one of disgust.
I turned around thinking that Avin was behind me, but instead, I noticed that there was a little boy. Why did Mallon show so much hostility towards a child?
I looked at the child for a moment. He looked to be only about 10 or 12 years old and had only a pair of worn out pants on. He was very skinny and well-muscled, too skinny for a child of his age. I swear there wasn’t one inch of fat on him anywhere. The boy had short dark blue hair that reminded me of the night sky, and eyes so green that they looked like a part of a forest.
He seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place where I knew him from. The look on the boy’s face made me think that he might have the same feeling too. But where could I possibly know him from?
Mallon yelled something, which I assumed was directed at the boy since he was speaking Elvish, in a tone that I hadn’t expected to hear from him. I whipped my head around to look at Mallon, shocked by the pure hatred in his voice. That was no way to talk to anyone, especially not a child.
Mallon didn’t even acknowledge my presence. His attention was solely on the child. This wasn’t right. There was no balance here just pure dominance over people who were not as strong or privileged as others were.
I turned my attention back to the boy. He was carefully backing away and towards a cluster of tents and burnt out buildings. Fear was clearly written on his face and in the shakiness of each step that he took backward. The boy looked once more to me before he turned and ran off behind the burnt out houses.
I turned around to give Mallon a piece of my mind, but he wasn’t there anymore. In fact, nothing was behind me anymore. Well except for a lot of fog. Where had all of this come from?
I spun around as I tried to find something that resembled the place where I had been just moments ago. All I could see was fog. I took a step forward, but something didn’t feel right. I looked down at my feet. I screamed when I noticed that the brick road was gone. What the hell was going on?!
I felt my heart rate and breathing pick up as panic started to settle in. My arm was starting to heat up as my emotions began to unravel. Where was I? How did I get here?
Just as I felt like I was going to pass out the fog began to dissipate. I started to relax a bit. Until I noticed that I was starting to fade along with the mist. I stared in wide-eyed terror as I watched my hands and arms slowly begin to disappear. I could still feel them. I just couldn’t see them. That was probably the only thing that kept me from screaming and passing out.
I looked around at my new surroundings hoping to calm myself down by finding something else to focus on. Well, I was not in the prison camp anymore. But I was getting a serious sense of déjà vu as I was looking around.
There were houses lined on either side of a dirt road. The dirt road just seemed to be going on forever. There were street carts set up on either side of the road with people selling just about everything that you could think of. Children were playing in the street. Some horses and dogs hung around some of the carts.
Everyone looked so happy as they went about their business and chatted happily with each other. This place seemed so peaceful. I wanted to see more of this location.
I hesitantly took a step forward. I had no idea what was going to happen with me being translucent and all. When I put my foot down though I felt it hit the ground. I felt out a breath that I hadn’t realized I had been holding in.
I looked around at the little village as I continued forward. I smiled more and more as I walked further and further into the village. The sadness, fear, and anger that I had felt before faded until I couldn’t even remember why I was any of those things. This place was fantastic.
There was just something that seemed out of place, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I stopped moving and looked around more closely. Some of the tops of the roofs were patched up and had scorch marks scarring the edges of some of the rooves. Was this the prison camp?
“No, it’s a long ways away from there,” a voice replied from somewhere behind me. I whipped around to see a young lady standing behind me. She was wearing a black hooded cloak, so I couldn’t see what she looked like. Maybe she could explain what exactly was going on here.
“Who are you and where am I?” I asked her hoping for a straight answer. I was startled by how my voice sounded when I spoke. It sounded way too high-pitched to be mine.
“I am you, and this was home,” she replied as she pushed back her hood and the cloak so that it was behind her shoulders. She was a very striking young woman with a rather muscular build. Her eyes were bright gold, and her hair was pitch black.
She had the same tattoos down both of her arms as I did down my left arm. She also had two additional tattoos. One came from her left ear across her eye to just below her cheekbone and just above her eyebrow. But the design was different in both color and style. The color was cyan blue and was almost a floral-like design. The last one was at the base of her neck just below her collarbone. It looked like some symbol.
“Peace?” I questioned out loud. The lady who said that she was me smiled and nodded. But suddenly there was a flash of light, and I saw staring back at the burnt out houses and tents. It was like no time had passed at all. What had happened to me?
I blinked at my surroundings and took in a deep gulp of air. Just before I started coughing. Holy shit, had I stopped breathing?! Just as I caught my breath, I felt my legs go numb, and I fell to my knees.
Surprisingly, Avin was the first to come to my aid. However, I couldn’t focus on him. My mind kept spinning, going over and over what I had seen. Trying to process it. Trying to make sense of any part of it.
No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t wrap my mind around much of it if anything. I noticed vaguely that Avin was checking me over as I knelt on the ground panting. I barely registered the sound of rushing footsteps behind me. Then suddenly a face appeared in front of me, startling me backward into Avin’s chest.
“Hey Kris, are you okay?” Mallon asked worriedly. I opened my mouth to tell them what had happened to me, but a nagging feeling in the back of my mind made me change what I was going to say.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I told him and put on my best apologetic smile. Mallon seemed to buy it pretty quickly, but Avin kept looking at me funny. I just kept up my smile and stood up. Both of them tried to help me to my feet. I just gently pulled away from them and walked towards the cart.
“Are we done what we came here to do?” I asked not bothering to glance back at them. I knew that they would catch up to me eventually.
“Yes, shall we head back then?” Mallon asked. He sounded slightly relieved as he spoke. Did he not want to come to this place at all? Why did he come in the first place if he didn’t even like being here?
“Sure,” I replied, turning my head to the side to look beyond Avin and Mallon. They may have thought that the boy had left, but I knew that he was still there, watching us as we left. He probably wasn’t the only one either. I felt a chill go up my spine. Yep, more than one person, was watching us.