The Lupine Saga 60

“Va’il, it’s action time,” Zeick said with glee. For such a frightening situation, he seemed enthralled. The four of them ran until they were only a street away from the rampaging maroon. Several families were fleeing as the fourth district succumbed to the assault. The maroon marched undeterred by soldiers or houses, demolishing or flattening anything in their path.

The maroon stood still for a moment. Not even one of them stirred as the strange tones of Geon’s xylophone echoed through the air. The other boys quickly ran in the direction of the sound. There, standing on top of a single story house, was Geon. As the other boys arrived on the roof, the maroon started moving again. Geon stopped, looked up, and then quickly returned to what he was doing. He made more notes one after another, but not a single maroon flinched at any of the sounds.

“It’s now useless,” Geon said in desperation, “they have stopped listening to me. They know that their objective is close.”

Va’il was about to speak up, but Zeick talked first.

“Then, it’s over? Will Rising be flattened?” Zeick asked with all seriousness. The initial excitement he had felt had passed, and now the full impact of the situation was upon him. The maroon that were swiftly approaching in the background also contributed to everyone’s unease.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Kelin asked while holding out his hand. Every sharp claw was extended in a threatening manner.

“You already know that’s useless. Only that thing will stop them,” Pete said.

“Unless you want to die trying,” Geon said, disheartened.

“Why not?” Kelin asked, then ran and jumped to the next roof before anyone could stop him.

“Did he just? What did he just do?” Zeick asked quietly.

“He’s a bit crazy,” Pete said with a laugh, “but I wouldn’t worry. I would sooner cry before looking at what he actually does, but he won’t die.”

Pete was the only one who was calm while the other three boys contemplated what horrors awaited. They had just begun fearing their ally’s death when Kelin returned. He was covered in sand from head to foot, and his left cheek was bruised.

“Even the small ones are tough,” Kelin said as he picked sand out of his claws and teeth.

“Ha! That was useless,” Zeick said, his mood greatly improved. Va’il couldn’t help but be amazed at how quickly Zeick changed moods. He truly is a felis, Va’il thought.

“Aside from your antics, shouldn’t we be running away?” Geon asked. The maroon were only a short distance away. Though they moved slowly, the building the boys were on was just to the side of the maroon’s path.

“Yeah, it’s not like we can do anything. But I don’t want to leave Rising! What’s going to happen?” Pete asked.

“Hey guys, listen to this–” Va’il said, but Kelin cut him off.

“No time Va’il, let’s go,” Kelin said. He put his arm on Va’il’s shoulder and tried leading him away. Va’il didn’t budge.

“No, listen, I found that girl. The one from Lake Tershi,” Va’il said loudly. The other boys looked at him in wonder.

“Why didn’t you say that already?” Kelin asked as he rapped Va’il once on the head.

“I tried, but you kept interrupting,” Va’il said timidly.

“This isn’t like you at all,” Pete said with a disappointed tone.

“Where is the orb?” Geon asked.

“You’re right. It isn’t. What have I been thinking? I didn’t ask the girl!” Va’il yelled in frustration. He took off running right away, the other four trailing behind him. Kelin shook his head and laughed, then caught up to Va’il.

Va’il and Kelin arrived at school far ahead of the other boys. Looking around the empty campus, Va’il remembered where all the students should have been.

“Now, roll call. Who isn’t here? Too many, I think. Mourning students are going to make this job harder than usual,” Sensei said sadly. Ten students were missing from his class that morning. He didn’t blame them, as many people were taking time off work and school to mourn Fidel’s death. Some, like Sensei, kept working to keep their minds busy and the sadness away. After he finished marking his charts, he looked over at another class. A young avian woman was having trouble with her class. She taught students a year older than Sensei’s, and was currently trying to introduce a new student. It was a hectic affair, considering the commotion. Sensei laughed as the woman was obviously unsure of what to do. A new teacher, he realized. Who else would be so inexperienced to try introducing a new student when the city was in danger? The girl being introduced, obviously a noble of high status, stood with a stoic expression.

The sudden sound of a door slamming against the wall grabbed Sensei’s attention. There, running through the kicked-opened door, was a silver-haired half-lupus. He checked another two boxes on his chart when he saw Kelin as well. The two boys ran full sprint towards the noble girl in the other class.

“You,” Va’il said while panting, “you have something. It’s from that time. You have it, don’t you?”

Ruby said, while keeping her stoic expression, “You? Is that how you refer to me? I have a name, you know.”

“You refused to tell it to me!” Va’il said angrily.

“That’s correct. I have. And I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“This isn’t the time to act like a stuck-up noble, Ruby!” Kelin said with a growl.

“You are?” Ruby asked. Her voice was trembling.

“Just quickly, tell me. Did you take the glass orb three years ago, the one in the middle of that room filled with statues and luminous stones?” Va’il asked directly. His expression was serious, and he stared at Ruby, awaiting a reply. Ruby’s expression softened as she looked at him.

“I, I don’t recall that,” Ruby said with a quivering voice. Her noble fa├žade fell.

“Please, it’s important. It’s alright, please. Just answer truthfully,” Va’il pleaded. His human-looking but silver-colored eyes stared intently at Ruby. She looked away.

“Ruby Louise,” she said quietly as she undid the top button of her dress. She placed her hand inside and pulled upwards. It was a necklace. In a gold setting was a clear orb. She pulled it over her head and off her hair. She handed it to Va’il. “Sorry.”

“I know. Thank you, Ruby Louise. Your real name is pretty. It matches you well.” Va’il smiled once then dashed off.

“Later, Miss Melonscone,” Kelin said. He then followed Va’il. Ruby smiled happily as she watched them run off, not realizing that everyone in the auditorium had been silent since Va’il’s intrusion. Ruby put her hands to her face and turned back to the class, all of whom were staring at her. Her eyes opened wide in surprise. She quickly dropped her arms and returned to her serious look.

“Button, Ruby, button,” Sensei said. Ruby blushed as she reached up and buttoned her dress.

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The Lupine Saga 59

The quiet city sat motionless under the blue light of Sendes. Va’il, Darius, Var, Zeick, Pete, Geon, and Kelin slowly approached the city a step at a time. The journey to Tershi and back was supposed to take one day; however, they had taken two, and were returning to the city on the night of the second day. Darius and Var would soon regret that they had done that. The laughing and eating they had enjoyed that morning were forgotten once they spoke with the guards at the northern gate.

“What? Is that really true?” Darius asked in a panic.

“I’m sorry sir. I’m really sorry. I wish it wasn’t,” the guard said while wiping his eyes.

“Mercy.” Darius uttered only one word, and then rushed off. He left the six others behind without looking back.

“Sorry children. Duty calls. Go home, quickly.” Var jogged away in the direction that Darius had headed.

The five boys didn’t know what to say. Pete looked down at the ground, and looked like he was about to cry. Zeick had lost the playful expression that he always had. He didn’t have anything that could lighten the impact of what he had heard. Geon looked dejected, but he didn’t seem as affected as the rest. After all, he was a foreigner. Kelin had not a word, nor a book, to say or read. It was Va’il, though, who took the first action. He walked away without looking at the rest. He headed home without looking up or looking behind him.

“Va’il,” Mai’ou said softly as she looked down at the boy. He stood silently, his hand still outstretched from when he knocked on the door.

“Home. Safe,” Va’il muttered.

“Yeah, you are,” Mai’ou said as she knelt down and hugged him. Her wet face touched Va’il’s cheek. He swallowed with some difficulty when he realized she had been crying for a very long time. She eventually stood and brought Va’il inside the house. The door slowly closed and latched behind them.

Rising had always been a loud city. Celebrations and parades were common. There were arenas and theaters for entertainment and large gatherings. Several unique games were always being played by the large number of children that freely ran through the streets. The city was filled with people who benefited from being in the capitol, so crime was low as well. Royal guards that were specially trained and incredibly talented didn’t hesitate to help the populace in any way possible. At night, one could lay on their roof and watch Sendes light the city in a soft hue of blue that complemented the many buildings well. It certainly wasn’t the most spectacular of cities, but its focus on being pleasant made it a wonderfully lively and pleasantly noisy place to live. Even the poorer area of the city was filled with farmers and soldiers that lived a relatively satisfying life of pleasantries and revelries. However, never had the city been as quiet as it was that night.

#

Va’il awoke early the next day. His mind swirled as he tried separating dreams from reality. He had to ask himself, is King Fidel really dead? He hoped it was a dream. He hoped he was still dreaming. He hoped that the dream was realistic enough to cause the heavy feeling he had in his chest. But the grim reality presented itself quickly once Va’il stood up. He wanted to lie back down, but for some reason he felt that sleep would be frightening. He felt drained emotionally, and wanted something to do. He wanted to occupy himself. He went to his closet. He flung off what he was wearing, and put on clothes that were not clean. Though he had been gone for two days, Mai’ou had not done his laundry. He wore the cleanest of the dirty clothes he had.

Once he had cleaned his face, he checked the kitchen. It was silent. The fire was dead. The icebox’s ice needed to be replenished. Cooking utensils were strewn about. It looked like Mai’ou had used things to make herself something to eat, then didn’t clean up after herself. It was an odd sight. Va’il pulled a ceramic bowl out of the icebox. Cold meat that tasted wonderful made its way down his throat.

“Mum, you in there?” Va’il asked when he knocked on Mai’ou’s door. He didn’t get an answer.

“Mum?” he asked again as he entered the room. He walked over to Mai’ou’s bed and put his hand on the sleeping woman’s shoulder. She opened her eyes slightly.

“Va’il?” she asked quietly. She had puffy eyes and red cheeks.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Just tired. Be good and don’t skip school,” she said while putting effort into a smile. Va’il left the room and prepared a meal in the kitchen. He came back a little while later with warm stew and bread. Mai’ou had fallen asleep again, so he left it in the room.

Va’il wondered whether there would be school or not, considering the circumstances. He also didn’t want to leave Mai’ou’s side. He had never seen her act like this before.

Seeing other children on the way to school reassured Va’il. He overheard that yesterday there was no school due to the announcement about the king’s death. Overall, though, it seemed like the city was quieter than usual. All the kids that were on the road were quiet and walking slowly. No one was overly energetic, as expected. A familiar sight soon provided some comfort to Va’il.

“Hey Zeick,” Va’il said. Zeick turned around.

“Hi. Gloomy day, isn’t it?” Zeick looked up. The sunny day didn’t coincide with Zeick’s words.

“The rain in your heart doesn’t match the sun on your head,” Kelin said. He had arrived almost out of nowhere. Trailing behind him was Pete.

“I don’t really have anything,” Zeick mumbled. He meant that he didn’t have a witty retort of any kind.

“My mom was baking all of yesterday. I have some if you all want,” Pete said as he arrived in the circle. The sweet bread he offered further denied the bitter mood that lingered in the air. It was delicious, and just what someone the age of a child needed when every adult around them was emotional and heartbroken.

They arrived at school earlier than normal, and each of them went their own direction before class started. Va’il walked the halls of the school while watching everyone around him. He listened in as a couple hares praised a few of Fidel’s impulsive decisions. He heard a few deeri talking about the history of the kingdom. Some bearans were arguing over what could have happened if a couple of wars had gone differently. Va’il didn’t pay too much heed. He mostly just wandered, watching people.

Even Riley’s gang had calmed down for the day. Va’il walked up to them and said hello. The rivals nodded silently in acknowledgement, and then went back to discussing whatever plans they were making. It sounded like plans for a study group, but Va’il left without overhearing anything more.

Eventually Va’il made his way to the rooftop. He breathed in the fresh air a few times. He looked towards the elementary section and admired the big tree in front of one of his old classrooms. He laughed as a couple younger kids, oblivious to the worries of the world around them, fell face-first into a pile of sand. He took another look at everything, and then went back inside the building.

“You!” Va’il said with surprise. He had just turned a corner and seen a sight he was not expecting.

“Me?” Ruby, who was standing in the hallway, asked. She looked at Va’il for a moment, and then her face lit up. “Oh! You!”

“What are you doing here?” Va’il asked in disbelief. He stared as the older girl wearing the yellow dress smiled.

“Ah, this. Well, I go to school here. Starting today. Against my will, really. So, you’re a student here too?” Ruby asked.

“Yes, but, what? Today? Why? How come? Why have you appeared now, and here, of all times? I’ve been wondering how I’d find you!” Va’il said.

“You’ve been trying to find me? Really?” Ruby asked happily.

“Yes, of course,” Va’il said without realizing that Ruby was misunderstanding his intentions, “I thought there would be no possible way I could see you again. Again, why are you here, if it’s against your will?”

“My mother, after years of keeping me separate from other children, just the other day came home being stranger than she ever had before. She said that I had to go to Makeen. Something about finding a boy who’s a student here. He’s got a hidden identity or something important, I guess. So, she forced me to go to school. Not that I mind, really, but it’s not what I’m used to. But I don’t think it’ll be so bad if there is someone I know here,” Ruby said while still smiling.

“Really? Who? Wait, no, first, I have to ask you something. It’s really important,” Va’il said with all seriousness. Ruby stopped smiling and pretended to be just as serious.

A sudden crash interrupted Va’il. Both Ruby and Va’il ran to a window to see what had happened. The maroon had arrived. A portion of the eastern wall had been destroyed, and people were fleeing from their houses. Soldiers were running in droves towards the disturbance, and the ones that had already encountered the maroon were being thrown out of the way with ease. The maroon had arrived in full force. Va’il saw enough maroon to fill the cavern under Tershi, and in every size he had seen before. One maroon was as large as the wall itself, and had been the one to knock it down.

Va’il saw in the schoolyard below many running children being herded by the teachers towards an auditorium. Va’il spotted two of the children running in the opposite direction, towards the maroon. A flash of red; it was Kelin and Zeick. Va’il scanned the area until he saw Pete, trailing far behind the other two.

“What were you going to ask?” Ruby asked the empty spot where Va’il had been. She sighed after she asked. Va’il hadn’t hesitated to run away.

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The Lupine Saga 58

“Jane Melonscone enters!” the herald announced. It was a normal afternoon meeting in Fidel’s throne room, however today Jane was entering through the corridor. Vacant from her place in the gallery, she had come seeking a direct audience with Fidel. Being a high-noble, her entrance was announced.

“Madam, are you not going to interrupt from the gallery today?” Fidel asked with a chuckle.

“Funny. Now, dismiss the room except for those that are closest to you. Every noble must leave, as well,” Jane said in a demanding voice.

“Madam, please. State what you need. There isn’t a need to go to such great lengths,” Fidel said calmly.

“There is. I’ll be using something today. That. Dismiss the room.” Fidel sighed as Jane spoke. Jane walked closer to Fidel and spoke again very quietly.

“Those who do not know the real reason why that woman is at your side should be dismissed,” Jane said. Fidel then dismissed the room except for a few select people. Even the other high-nobles were dismissed. There were only a few people left in the room. They were those who knew Fidel’s secrets.

“The room has been cleared. Speak, Madam,” Fidel said.

“You don’t have to speak that formally with me right now,” Jane said.

“Fine. Then what do you know?” Fidel asked. He eyed Jane cautiously.

“It breaks me to say this. To do this. But I won’t hold back. You, you’re not going to be around much longer, are you, Fidel?” Jane asked softly.

“Jane, how can I respond to that? I can’t lie well to you, can I? Your perception is amazing, as always,” Fidel said with a laugh.

“This isn’t funny! You brought a doctor from the water kingdom to stay at your side all day long for years, and you think I wouldn’t realize that your life is coming to an end? Just, just how do you think I feel about that?” Jane asked. She sounded angry and hurt.

“I know. I’m sorry. You’re right. I ache, I hurt, I can barely walk, and I don’t know when I will leave. The accommodations Miss Aoi has made for me to help me keep up my appearance have been amazing, but I’m still helpless,” Fidel said with sincerity.

“I knew it. You ridiculous man. Too ridiculous. I won’t feel bad if I use it now, selfishly,” Jane said. Her voice was trembling, but still held a resolute aura.

“It’s within your right. I promised. I was a fool, but not a liar. Even if I add another regret, it won’t matter. I’ll be looked at however people want afterwards. I suppose I can guess what you’re leaning towards, Jane,” Fidel said.

“Fidel. Fidel, just why haven’t you done what’s right? Even I did. I can’t regret it now. I’m asking for it. If I don’t, what will happen? Write it, finish it. I already know you will,” Jane said as she reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It had a few scribbles on it, but no real words.

“Wait, Jane. Maybe I misunderstood. What do you mean, if you don’t ask for it? What you want, tell me directly first,” Fidel said. A rush of old memories filled his mind and he half smiled.

“Sovereignty. Who will rule when you are gone?” Jane asked. A few people in the room wanted to yell out in objection, but they kept quiet out of respect for Fidel.

“Ah, well that’s easy. My son,” Fidel answered with a smile.

There was a gasp in the room, even though there weren’t many people. Jane was white-faced, and her mouth was slightly open.

“Your, you have a son?” Jane asked quietly.

“This, I suppose, is the first most of the people here have heard of this. But it’s true. I’m sorry, Jane. You know, as well as I, that the heir becomes the ruler. I cannot give you this. But there is something, wait, no, never mind.” Jane took a few steps back and let the truth sink in. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and calmly breathed.

“Your son, how old?” Jane asked in a quick manner.

“I will not tell,” Fidel said. His face didn’t betray his words; he was serious.

“But who, where, how? You’re not that old, Fidel, your child can’t be old enough to rule!” Jane said. She took a few steps forward and got closer to Fidel, who had started speaking quietly.

“Until he can, the country will last. Rising is strong; the people can work as long as they know there is someone who will rise to the throne. They will accept going for a few years without a singular ruler. My legacy is a group of wonderful advisors who should be around long enough to guide him. Makeen is also filled with wonderful guides. You don’t need to worry, dear Jane,” Fidel said just loud enough for Jane to hear. He said each word with care and concern, as if to reassure Jane’s fears. He had forgotten to watch his words, and didn’t see Jane’s eyes open widely in realization for a moment. It was too quick to notice, and afterwards she immediately responded.

“You know, Fidel, you are someone I still haven’t figured out. Just when I think I’ve come closer, you pull away. I cannot control or predict you. I’m glad. But this doesn’t end it.” Jane smiled politely, and handed Fidel the paper. She then stepped back.

“What is it you want, Jane?” Fidel asked. He reassumed his royal tone and volume.

“Power, prestige, nobility. I have these. I want royalty. I want to give something to the future as well, so that, in time, those in my descent will do something that honors me, as I want to do for my ancestors. Dead as they are, they each did something that honored a previous ancestor, knowing that their descendants would repeat that. Fidel, do you understand?” Fidel nodded at Jane, and took a pen in hand. He placed it on the paper. On the sidelines, the various people in the room were concerned with what Fidel would give Jane. They were filled with several questions, the most important one being why Fidel was so nice and accommodating to an incredibly intolerable and arrogant woman.

“This will fulfill not only our promise, but my will. I apologize to those whom it may harm, and to those I make happy, I rejoice over. You who will be affected by this, you may hate me again. Maybe, you will understand in time. Oh, dear Jane, one more thing. What is your youngest girl’s full name? The girl with both families blood. Practically royalty herself, correct?” Fidel asked. Jane smiled as she realized what Fidel meant by his asking. In her heart, she felt relief, as she had been wondering if Fidel would really fulfill his promise towards her. She knew that she no longer had to spell out exactly what she wanted, as Fidel had already guessed it. He knows me too well, Jane thought.

“Yes, Sire. Ruby Louise Melonscone. Did you direct all that towards me? Ruby, did you give her something that will fulfill my desires in the process?” Jane asked, respectfully. Fidel finished writing and held up the paper in his hand. He showed the words to Aoi first, and placed it in her hands.

“Aoi, please hold onto this. Show it to Jane and the rest of the people in this room,” Fidel commanded.

Aoi held the paper up. Jane saw the writings before she could turn away. She cursed herself internally, since she didn’t yet know what the words meant, and no translation was written below.

“Fidel, you made me see the Right, the edict. Tell me, what does it mean? Will you make me regret the trust I placed in you? Should I have just asked directly?” Jane asked with worry in her voice. Aoi finished showing the paper to the people in the room, and sat down again. Fidel took the paper from her hands.

“Madam Jane Lucrene Melonscone. By the promise that Fidel has given to her, he will give a command in her favor. This command is that Fidel’s son will be married to the daughter of Jane Lucrene Melonscone, Ruby Louise Melonscone. That’s pretty much what it says, the short version at least. I know it’s too late to ask, but do you accept, Jane?” Fidel asked. As he finished speaking, the people in the room committed the words to memory, so that later on they could fulfill the edict.

Jane started crying. She dropped to her knees and cried for a minute. She soon stopped, wiped her face, and then stood up. She was smiling.

“Wonderful. Just wonderful. Mother to the queen, I accept, Fidel! You fulfilled it. Thank you. Thank you.” Jane walked up to Fidel, who sat smiling in his throne.

“You’re welcome, Jane. You’re welcome. I’m, I’m sorry, Mai.” Jane reached down and took Fidel’s hand in her own. She kissed it, and then looked at Fidel’s serene face. He was staring into the distance. She hadn’t paid much attention to Fidel’s last words.

“Fidel, Sire, King, who is your son? You can tell me now, right?” Jane asked. Fidel didn’t respond.

“Yes Sire, your son? And the exact translation of the edict?” Rillin, the old advisor, asked. Fidel didn’t answer. Behind Rillin was Diren, the hare. Diren looked at Fidel, then at Rillin, then at Jin, who also happened to be present. Diren noticed that both were frowning in silent contemplation.

“I’ll keep silent till his inauguration, so please, tell me,” Jane said. Fidel kept quiet.

“He has his reasons. The boy is still young,” Diren said quickly. He had answered impulsively. He took a sharp breath in worry as he looked at Jin and Rillin. Jin was frowning at Diren, and Rillin looked surprised. Both human men were thinking that Diren, a naturally rash hare, knew something they did not, which was true.

Diren silently cursed the impulsive blood that coursed through his veins. He thought over his words again, and then breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that his words didn’t betray any additional information, as it must be obvious that any child Fidel had would be relatively young. But if Diren had been human, the others wouldn’t have paid any attention to his words. Being a hare, though, Rillin and Jin both secretly thought that Diren was naturally prone to thoughtlessly revealing secrets. They noted Diren’s action in that instant, and then went back to observing the commotion around the king.

“No. That’s not the reason, Diren,” Aoi said as she stood up. The three advisors looked at Aoi. She put a hand on Jane’s shoulder. Jane looked up at Aoi with disgust in her eyes.

“Don’t tell me even you know who the boy is? Even an outsider? Really, Fidel?” Jane asked, half spitting at Aoi, half pleading towards Fidel.

“No, I don’t know. Madam, please. Let go of him,” Aoi said quietly, “so he can rest.”

“I won’t, not until he answers.” Jane refused to budge.

“He won’t answer you. He won’t answer anyone, anymore. Please, look up.” Jane looked up as Aoi moved one hand to Fidel’s face. She moved her hand softly over his eyes. Jane watched in horror as Aoi closed the eyes of the lifeless king.

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The Lupine Saga 57

The giant turtle opened his mouth wide, inviting the group to step inside. Darius appeared frustrated. He didn’t get the answer he was hoping for. The group looked at the mouth inviting them in.

“You, you won’t eat us, right?” Va’il asked cautiously.

“No, I do not eat flesh,” the creature said with a huff, which was actually a laugh.

“Then, thank you. You? You are? Your name?” Va’il asked.

“Tenrai. Keeper, your name?” Tenrai asked.

“Va’il.” At that, Va’il took the first step. The rest followed with some hesitation. There was more than enough room, which made the experience even more frightening. Ten men could be eaten whole by a single creature. The seven small people took some relief in the fact that Tenrai was a vegetarian.

The mouth opened, revealing a dark tunnel in front of them. Darius and Var pulled out a few candle-torches, and then blew on them to light them. They stepped out of Tenrai’s mouth and handed a few candle-torches to the boys. They quickly moved up the incline that the tunnel made.

“Great fortuity,” Tenrai said as he pulled his head out of the tunnel. In its place was water. They were in a low spot that moved to higher ground, so they did not have to worry about water entering the tunnel.

It didn’t take too long to reach the room filled with golden luminous stones. The tunnel that Tenrai had brought them to was obviously much more direct than the one Va’il had taken in the past. Everyone considered asking Va’il more about what had happened to him in the past, but they arrived at the room before anyone could ask.

“This is amazing,” Var said.

“It really is,” Darius said in agreement.

“Ever seen so many stones in one spot? It’s almost like daylight,” Zeick said.

“This is wrong. Very wrong,” Va’il said, breaking the mood.

“How so?” Darius asked. He was still amazed by the sight.

“It’s empty, the statues are gone,” Va’il said. The room was completely empty except for the raised pavilion in the middle.

“Statues? There were statues here before? The maroon were here then!” Geon said excitedly.

“I had no idea we housed those things,” Darius said.

“But they are gone! Why did they go all that way, just to come back to Rising, if they were here already?” Va’il asked.

“Didn’t I say it before?” Geon asked rhetorically. “They didn’t know which direction to go upon waking. They wandered for a while, then the item, something made them want the item. So they are coming back to get it. Maybe it is still here.”

Geon had been speaking quickly, and his voice was filled with excitement. For him, this was part of a learning experience that none of his ancestors had known. They could only pass on knowledge. He was excited that he could finally use the knowledge that he had been given and have an experience he could pass down to those that would follow him. He started walking towards the pavilion. The group followed him up the steps.

“This is, this is it,” Geon said when he reached the top.

“What’s that?” Pete asked and pointed to the pedestal.

“It houses the item,” Geon said, then walked over to the pedestal.

“The glass orb? Is that the item?” Va’il asked.

“Orb? Where?” Geon asked with a worried tone. Va’il caught up to him and looked down. There was no longer a glass ball sitting on the pillow.

“It was here, before. A glass ball. It’s missing now. Could it have been the item? Is this bad?” Va’il asked in a rush of words.

“Glass? Ah! Glass, of course it would look like it; that explains it. That explains those legends. I see now. Oh, I see. This, this is horrendous.” Geon’s voice had risen quickly, and then fallen, as the weight of his realizations hit.

“Well?” Darius asked.

“The item, the mother’s item. That’s what it is. The maroon are the children that sleep to her song. If Va’il is right, then there was an orb here that would be the item we need. The only thing that will satisfy or stop the maroon is the mother’s item. They all look like sand, right?” Everyone nodded at Geon.

“Well, what is glass made of? Sand. The item, I didn’t understand until now, what it is. It’s the mother of these particular maroon. Maroon do not die like we do. But, if I’m right in my understanding, they can be turned into glass. They might even be able to do it to themselves, I’m not sure. I’ll need to read the writings we have again. They sleep because of the resonance with the mother orb. That’s how they communicate, by resonance and vibration. The mother orb must have been lost or taken, the resonance was muffled, the maroon children awoke, searched for the orb, lost their way, and then something must have made the orb resonate again, causing the maroon to feel that and start making their way back! The orb, Va’il, are you sure it was here when you were?” Geon asked.

Va’il recoiled from the quickly spoken explanation. He thought about it all again.

“Yes, it was here. Right here, when I left,” Va’il said. Geon’s countenance dropped.

“Then, even though this is good to know, we still haven’t solved anything. Where could it be?” Geon asked, his voice still a mixture of happiness and sadness.

“Could someone have taken it?” Pete asked. Kelin, standing behind everyone, perked his ears at Pete’s question.

“Maybe. But wasn’t this place sealed? If it wasn’t for Va’il and your strange relationship with Tenrai, could anyone else even get in?” Geon asked.

“Taken,” Kelin said. Everyone turned to look at him. “It was definitely taken by someone.”

“How can you be sure?” Darius asked.

“Va’il, you’ve either been hiding this or forgot. What important fact have you left out?” Kelin asked.

“Not sure what you mean,” Va’il replied defensively.

“You weren’t alone down here, that’s what I mean,” Kelin said. The attention focused back on Va’il.

“Oh. Oh right. I didn’t think to mention that. But, wait, then you’re accusing her of stealing?” Va’il asked.

“Yes,” Kelin said firmly.

“I don’t know. I don’t think she would have,” Va’il said while racking his mind. He was trying to recall the exact events that had happened in the past.

“Look, she might not have been evil in doing it, since she didn’t know the consequences, but don’t you think it makes more sense that she took it? Are you sure, absolutely sure, she didn’t, Va’il?” Kelin asked.

“I can’t be sure. But what you said makes sense. And the more I remember, the more doubts I have. It’s the best lead we have. But, then, what can we do? I don’t know who she is. Wait, Darius does!” Va’il said.

“Who are you talking about?” Darius asked.

“Remember, Darius, three years ago, when a certain noble girl caused a cacophony of problems for you? The youngest daughter of a certain family,” Kelin said.

“Melonscone,” Darius said with a mournful laugh.

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The Lupine Saga 56

Early the next morning, the group of seven set out. First, they visited the homes of the boys and informed their families that the children would be with Darius and Var on special orders. Kelin’s family had already approved. Pete’s mother wanted to invite the entire group in for breakfast and a talk, but the group didn’t have time for that. She happily sent Pete away with a smile and a tear in her eye, being the somewhat eccentric person she was. Zeick’s mother silently accepted the situation with a sigh. Mai’ou, for her part, was stunned by the whole thing. She managed to voice her approval, after Va’il’s short explanation. He told her that he was going away for a short while, and this time he was actually telling her, and that even the royal guards were coming along. With Darius standing by, Mai’ou could only agree.

The morning was still early when the group left Rising. The seven of them walked at a quick pace. Time passed quickly, so it was noon when they reached the familiar sight of Lake Tershi. They took a little while to eat and rest, and afterwards approached the lake’s edge. Darius pulled a small glass jar out from a pocket.

“I know this has been a very fast pace of events, but is everyone ready for yet another stunning event?” Darius asked with a knowing smile.

“Yeah, of course!” Va’il replied eagerly.

“Please sir, of course we are. The wisdom of ancients is something I’ve longed to hear,” Geon said.

Darius opened the jar and poured a small amount of clear liquid into the lake. He put a lid on the jar and returned it to his pocket. He then stood there, waiting. A few minutes passed in silence.

“What was that?” Va’il asked.

“Saliva. Spit,” Darius replied.

“Spit? Who’s?” Va’il asked.

“That, dear boy, is a secret. Just wait. He should arrive soon. In fact, look at the water,” Darius said.

Va’il looked out over the lake, searching for any disturbances or clues. While he looked, a small wave soaked his feet. It surprised him, since he had been a few feet from the water’s edge. He looked down as another wave came close to his feet.

“Ah, that,” Kelin said.

Va’il looked up. In the middle of the lake, something was rising out of the water. The giant creature caused an even larger wave that forced Va’il and the rest to run away from the lake’s edge. After they had gotten far enough away, they turned and admired the creature that was now making its way to them one giant step at a time. Each of its four legs looked like enormous trees. The shell on the creature’s back was darkened brown with hints of gold and blue. Its head was so large that swallowing Var whole would pose no problem. Va’il knew that such a creature was something to be feared even by the most violent or voracious of lupus. The creature looked down at the group with its large yellow eyes. Then, it spoke.

“Someone called?” The creature’s words echoed loudly throughout the area.

“We did,” Darius said while standing firm. The creature brought its head close to Darius before speaking again.

“And you are? King of Rising? Keeper of the covenant?” The creature spoke much quieter than before, at a volume just right for the circumstances.

“Darius, commander of Rising’s royal guard. I come on the behalf of King Fidel, of Rising,” Darius said stiffly. Even he found it difficult to remain calm when being interrogated by an unquestionably superior being.

“Keeper is required. Proof. I will speak with none other. Give me the lock of hair as proof.” The creature opened its mouth and stuck out a long tongue.

“Proof? Hair?” Darius asked.

“Give me a lock of hair,” it said, then repeated the same motions. Darius quickly pulled a knife out and cut off a small bit of his hair. He placed it on the outstretched tongue.

“Is this what you wanted?” Darius asked cautiously.

“Not right at all. Different,” the creature said slowly, then again stretched its tongue.

“I’m not right. But, hair? Var, you try,” Darius said. Var obliged.

“Not right,” the creature repeated.

“Fidel didn’t mention this,” Darius said with a sigh. He tried remembering what happened many years ago when he last met this creature, but at the time he was too awestruck by the sight to pay attention to what had actually transpired.

“Not right. Different,” the creature said yet again. Darius saw Zeick pulling his arm away and shrugging his shoulders in disappointment.

“What are you doing?” Darius asked with an irritated tone.

“He’s asking for hair, I figured I’d try as well. Maybe he’s got a taste for something different?” Zeick shrugged at Darius.

“There is something more to it. Fidel may know. It might be a riddle of some kind, or other way of proving who we are. A taste for hair? I don’t know anymore, but we can’t take chances,” Darius said.

“What’s the harm? He’s asking. Let’s try something tastier,” Kelin said as he plucked a short hair off Pete. “Even swine have a hair or two, right?”

“Not right,” the creature said.

“Fine, I suppose.” Darius gave in as Geon cut off a portion of his own hair.

“I offer this to the ancient one. You are from ancient times, correct?” Geon asked as he placed the hair on the tongue.

“Not right. I will not answer any other question until the keeper arrives,” the creature said.

“Just the two of us left, Va’il. Let’s see how what reaction mine gets,” Kelin said as he gave a piece of hair to the creature.

“Still not right. One of you is left? Just one more, then I leave,” the creature said.

Va’il took a pinch of hair with his left hand, and used a knife in his right to cut it off. He walked towards the giant turtle, hair in hand. He could smell the creature’s breathe as he got closer. The taste of the lake’s water was the same as the smell of the turtle’s breathe. As he dropped the lock of hair on the creature’s tongue, he remembered when he almost drowned three years ago. One detail he had forgotten made its way to the surface. He had seen something yellow before passing out. The creature’s yellow eyes reminded him of that.

“Acknowledged, you are from Rising. You again, I see.” The creature moved its head towards the ground and then back up in a motion that was supposed to be interpreted as a bow.

“Again?” echoed Darius and Kelin.

“Now I can speak freely. It has been a short time since we last met. You woke me just a little while ago, but disappeared then. Back now, young one?” the creature asked.

“I guess. You must mean a few years ago when I almost drowned here,” Va’il said.

“A few years to you, a couple days to me, it makes no difference. Now, why have you come?” the creature asked. Darius stopped questioning the conversation, and decided to speak up.

“If you don’t mind, we have a few questions to ask, if you can help, and if you know,” Darius said carefully.

“I shall, I will, and I may know. To answer an earlier question, yes, I am ancient, in your terms. Five thousand years ago I lived, and I shall live for that much longer and more. Do you have a question about those times?” True to his word, the giant turtle was speaking much more coherently and quickly than before.

“Then, we will be straight to the point. The maroon, that ancient species, has been destroying cities. We are unable to stop them. Can you tell us anything that will help?” Darius asked.

“The maroon? The ones that aren’t made of flesh?” the creature asked.

“Yes, them,” Darius said.

“Curious. That cannot be right. You must be mistaken. It cannot be the maroon,” the creature said with firmness.

“But it is! They are awake and searching for a way to sleep again,” Geon said.

“Cannot. Otherwise, I have failed. Understand, I am the guardian of the maroon’s sleeping place,” the creature said.

“You are? Where?” Darius asked.

“Below ground. Below Tershi, they sleep. I watch from here,” the creature said.

“But how, then, is it that they are out? Could they have left without you knowing?” Darius asked.

“I doubt they could without me knowing. They will sleep unless disturbed, and I’d know if they were disturbed,” the creature said.

“You’d know? But what if someone walked in through the entrance in the forest? The cave that leads to that room, it wasn’t sealed before I was there, I think,” Va’il said.

“You! Of course, the disturbance back then. But the cave you speak of, it isn’t what you think. It cannot be entered, it can only be exited. It was opened because you were coming, it sealed because you left. Appearances belie the truth, young one. The important thing, is that you were there. My failure is twofold,” the creature said with grief.

“Failure? But how did I disturb it?” Va’il asked.

“I do not know. You should go, see what is there. Fix what happened,” the creature said.

“Wait, but what about the maroon? How do we defend against them?” Darius asked.

“Likely, you will find the answer below. The maroon are a peaceful species. Invulnerable to your weapons though. They just want to sleep. Go now, and find what they are missing. I will take you,” the creature said.

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