I eventually find the courage to get up and get dressed in a black formal dress which I hardly ever wore... but it was necessary to impress via Hael’s orders. I couldn’t let him down, I had to apologize to Althor.
I was devastated he had Roi back even after my attempt at rescuing him. I didn’t know what to do about the young spell caster. All I knew was I would follow my father’s order, hope that embarrassment didn’t befall me in front of the whole Horde and pray that I could negotiate Roi’s release.
I was glad Shai got away, which meant Roi had some hope. Even though their friendship was shaky with a rough past, I knew they were loyal to each other. She’d come back for him. Roi had unfortunately, never explained why Althor wanted Shai so badly.
He had been more distracted by Shai when we were a trio of mice. He had probably been continually distracted by her with my absence and that is how Althor would have managed to track him down and recapture him.
I was at least happy for the fact that Shai wasn’t captured.
I was just speculating events, though.
Now was the time to find out what was going on.
I glance down at my black dress, tight on my breasts and rippled and loose below. It was quite feminine and suiting of a princess. I even do my black hair up behind my head in a bun. I’m bare foot, though. Shoes were just unnecessary.
Just as I’m exiting my bedchamber to head down, I’ve opened my door and my mind is bombarded with a rush of thoughts from slaves.
However, not the usual rush.
Requiem slaves are panicking.
I can’t make out any clear words, only blurting, a loud mash of people thinking too fast and too much. I have to slow my steps, my fingers trembling with the bombardment. The panic was infectious. I almost felt dizzy.
I had to block it out.
Deep cavern, babygirl, now, Lochness floods my mind with his presence and I calm down in the midst of my father’s protectiveness. He understood what I was going through and his power helps quieten the other voices, try humming a tune, you know it works.
Yes, okay, what’s going on –
You’ll find out in Deep Cavern. We’re just being informed now of a possible war. Quickly now, Luv, Hael and Althor will tell the rest.
War? And what about my apology? I ask him, confused and bewildered all at once.
Forthcoming, I presume, princess. The news of war is the priority, however, don’t stray, Lochness is my calm anchor as I hum the tune Madeline was singing to me earlier.
I make sure I don’t stop humming because I have a sudden sick feeling in my gut. The bad kind of butterflies.
You don’t seem shaken, I point out, reaching back for my father, hoping for more details, I’m a little shocked. Who are we at war with?
I wait patiently for an answer as I tip toe down the cave corridors, trying to focus on the tune I’m humming. Lochness does not answer me.
I sigh and close my eyes as I walk, eventually regaining control of my hearing. At least I think I have, until I look over my shoulder and realise my control has returned due to a sudden calm in the storm of panicked thoughts.
Behind me, slaves are quietly crowding close, walking timidly with me. Their close thoughts are more warm and reassured now. And I can actually hear what they are thinking this time round.
The princess looks calm, she’ll protect us.
Half-bloods are infamous warriors, a war? No matter, we’re protected. Yes, yes, we are.
Oh my, Luvenia is so stoic and reasonable, she isn’t scared, that’s good, that means I can relax.
Maybe it’s a false alarm, the princess wouldn’t be so steady on her feet otherwise.
If I die, at least I’ll go down in history as serving the most beautiful princess in the world.
I’m smitten by how much faith these humans are putting into me, considering how much I’ve avoided them or silently made my way through the mountains my whole life. I guess, even silently, I was always with the people; even when I was quiet.
“Do not fear,” I decide to speak, timidly and a little awkwardly to those behind me, “We’re protected by the best Dragon Lords. My father’s care for all your lives and your health.”
“Is it bad?” one older lady at the front of the crowd following me, asks me personally.
“I do not know,” I answer, truthfully.
I turn then, leading them as I walk. We all make our way into Deep Cavern, amongst the crowd of thousands of slaves that have gathered, including the resident Dragons.
It was surreal, this only ever happened very rarely if there was a popular feast or market week on. Now it was mostly panicked beings watching the raised rock platform where my parents were.
As I get closer, I’m surprised to see all the fledglings at the bottom of the stage, returned to the Requiem Mountains. I spot the princes, in human form, chatting to my brother. They actually look like they are getting along for once, which is surprising after our encounter last night.
I guess times of stress like these brought people closer together.
I skirt around the crowd towards the raised rock podium, jumping over some large boulders to get their quicker. I finally make it to the side and climb up some cut out stone steps to the top, slyly making my way up. This way, the princes don’t notice me until the last moment.
As the thousands of slave eyes turn towards the stage, everyone notices me. Just below, Slyvan and Thaddeus both watch me with curious gazes. I dismiss them with a frown and come to stand by Lochness, who is by my mother and Hael’s side.
Althor is holding up a cage with a brown mouse just opposite.
Everyone calm down and open your ears after you’ve shut your mouths, Hael connects to everyone’s thoughts, instantly commanding silence.
“Do not continue to panic as you are,” Hael growls out across the cavern, “There is no war near us, but don’t become too complacent either. Althor, our ally from the Horde of Fortune, is here in support of our Horde as much as we’re in support of his.”
I feel Althor’s gaze on me now. I catch his cold look, his mind may be impenetrable but his eyes were easy enough to read. He was icy towards me with his soulless gaze... but I could also see fear. I look up to try and catch my father’s gaze but Lochness is focused on Hael. When I look towards Madeline, she is standing on the other side of Lochness with clouded over, distant eyes.
“Listen, everyone. This is a warning you must all hear, and a call to defend,” Althor takes a few steps forward, holding Roi close in the cage, Althor glares at me for a moment before continuing, “From far, faraway lands, Tempest Dragons and spell casters have been told that I have killed their greatest fortune teller, Zayda. She was the daughter of Mage King Zillaux and she passed away 19 years ago. They have never been informed of her death but the mage I had been searching for, Shai,” Althor glares at me now when he says this, before looking over everyone, “has gone back to her homeland to start a war. I do not take this responsibility lightly, but I killed her sister over twenty years ago. Shai was looking for proof and found it when I stumbled across her in the forest this morning and we conversed. She immediately declared war on us all. Something broke inside of her. I ask you all not to take this threat lightly, she is the mage who turned all the Horde of Fortune Dragons to stone. In this cage, however, I have her first love. A naïve, young spell caster. It will work in our favor to win.”
“What type of war was declared by Shai?” I ask, confused.
“War is war, princess. Shai is hugely admired in Tempest territory. We must defend the border –” Althor tries to explain, but Madeline also gets in on the drama.
“I’ve briefly heard of Tempest wars from hundreds of years ago... what are our chances of winning such a war now?” Madeline interrupts, she sounds worried.
“Five wars have happened in the past,” Althor explains, “We have a 100% chance of success, if you want to go by history. So nothing is to fear, but we need a coherent decision to protect our lands.”
“Done. Dragons,” Hael steps forward, projecting his voice, “Those who deem themselves fit and worthy can go protect the border. Whoever is willing, get up here now.”
The solution seems easy enough.
I watch in morbid curiosity as Thaddeus, Sylvan and Lex all agree to come up together instantly.
“Do not panic. We are safe,” Althor calls out, “Thaddeus and Sylvan have the connection of Tempest Dragons in their bloodline. They will do well to serve in defence. Wars are won, majority of the time, when Leading Dragon Breeds are involved.”
“Leading Dragon Breeds? I think you mean half-bloods!” I correct, I can’t help it, because people forgot so easily.
Everyone looks at me now. Sylvan raises a brow at my public humiliation of them, as if I’m trying to defame them. Thaddeus just rolls his eyes.
Althor looks exasperated as he adds, “It doesn’t matter, girl! The Tempest Mages may be born human; yet they are extremely powerful,” Althor warns, “I believe you owe me something, too.”
“I apologise for stealing... Roi,” I decide to just say it without hesitation.
“Your apology is accepted,” Althor acknowledges me with a murmur.
It takes me a moment to realise Lochness has stepped forward into the fray of willing Dragons. I only notice when my mother seems closer to me than before. As my gaze goes over the volunteers, I see that Ginette is one of the female Dragons. Some human slaves also get up to volunteer. I find myself taking a small step towards Madeline. Her eyes are focused upon Lochness.
“It won’t be long,” I whisper, “Just until they sort out the border, however far away that is.”
“A month’s worth of flying, I’ve heard” she whispers back, turning to face me with tears in her eyes, “It’s nice to hear your voice, Luvenia... I’ve missed it.”
“It’s entirely my fault I’ve been so distant with you,” I whisper, “I’m so sorry.”
Today seemed to be my day of apologies. As I glance up I see Thaddeus giving me a sly once over and Sylvan is simply boldly glaring at me, as usual. They both felt proud in this moment, I guess because they were volunteering to go to a war. I was meant to be impressed.
I just continue to ignore them.
“But why is dad there?” I ask Madeline with confusion, focusing back on Lochness, who is now speaking to Lex one on one, seriously.
“He wants to go,” Madeline snaps it, her eyes can’t be taken off him.
It is at this moment, Hael comes toward us, quite out of the blue. All at once, his gigantic wall of a chest comes into view, and blocks out mostly everyone as he holds his hands out. With a palm on my shoulder and a hand on Madeline’s head, he pushes us away from the commotion.
“I don’t want you both here, okay?” Hael growls, “Go bathe or dine, but do not linger.”
“Why not?” My mother asks dryly, but mostly to try and cover up her worry. My anxiety is also sparked by the desperation in Hael’s tone. It was barely noticeable but being his daughter, I knew him, and it was disconcerting that he’d feel shaken at all. It wasn’t like him.
“Out, now,” he snarls this as he moves us all the way to the side exit.
Madeline eventually takes my hand and pulls me along, a nervous and protective motherly look in her eye. She is holding my hand too tight, though, as we walk.
“I don’t know about you, but this is all very confusing,” I mutter.
“Because this isn’t good news, Luv,” Madeline is straight out with it.
“But, it’s only urgent that they go soon because of the long flight, that’s why they’re rushing, right?” I find it strange talking openly so much with her after being so silent for so long.
But everything was changing so quickly; so out of the blue. I had no choice but to change.
As we walk down one empty corridor, I see a familiar face pop up at the end. Someone I hadn’t seen in good while; aunty Thea!
She is a lot older than Madeline; well, she just aged quicker. But she is wearing some loose knit men’s clothing and boots, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes hardened.
“Come on,” Thea nods her head and motions for the main cave corridor, “Let’s take a walk.”
“What aren’t they telling us?” Madeline asks her long-life friend, eager for further answer. Thea wasn’t my biological aunty, but she helped raise me by being right by Madeline’s side as Lex and I grew up.
“Follow me first... nice to see you for once, Luv, you’re usually always hiding in the shadows,” Thea mentions this to me with a smirk, trying to add in some humor.
“Well... yeah, sorry,” I shrug, barely audible in my response. I was starting to feel closed off.
Thea leads us to Madeline’s bedchamber, where she closes the door and collapses onto a couch by the fire place. Madeline and I sit together, for once very close and our knees bumping.
“You might not know, Luvenia, but I grew up in a town with a lot of Tempest migrants,” Thea starts off, “I know their history of war, it’s very prominent in their story tellings.”
“Get straight to the bloody point and tell us what they are refusing to speak about, please!” Madeline snaps and my eyes nearly pop out of my head at how short she is while asking the question.
“There is nothing to really fear, we’ll win the war, if there even is one after all this fuss,” Thea explains, striving hard for a positive outcome, “It’s just...well it’s just stories. Exaggeration, dramatizing boring facts and what not... I don’t want to worry you both for no reason. I saw Lochness join the ranks.”
“Yes, we know,” Madeline snaps, again, “He is a Rogue, it’s what he does. Tell me, Thea, or Dragon gods so help me I’ll fight you if you keep holding back.”
"Fine,” Thea snaps too, losing her patience, “I’ll inform you, your highness. So funny because I’ll always be taller than you, queeny.”
Thea’s sarcasm, finally, something that was familiar, normal, and therefore slightly calming. It’s what I knew Thea for, certainly not her trying to sound so fake or forced.
Madeline stays silent.
So do I.
We are now just patiently waiting for the answers.
Thea licks her lips now, looking at the ground.
After a few breaths, she then glances back up, finding the courage to continue.
“In the history of Tempest wars... there are two things they are not telling you. They usually last for several years and despite the winning verdict... there are never any large groups of survivors –”
“What is the likely hood of survival?” Madeline asks, “Specifics, please.”
“One in ten,” Thea answers, quietly, “It’s been one in ten for the past five wars and it’ll be one in ten for the next five.”
Madeline’s shoulders almost instantly hunch after she’s whispered it on her own lips. I can’t even bear to see the look in her eye for fear I might start to cry if she tears up.
“So, what now?” I force myself to ask, feeling numb.
“We do what every-one hates practicing,” Thea is as dry as can be, but honest none the less.
“Which is what?” I prod her and I don’t like her answer.
“We pray they make it back alive.”