The Lupine Saga 46

The crab arrived shortly after Jane had finished yet another random topic of discussion that only interested her and Duke Tourney. Eason’s sour mood quickly improved once he saw the luxurious food placed in front of him.

“Well, I suppose I’ll suffer some of your company if you’re treating.” Eason smiled at Jane widely, his teeth clearly showing. Fearsome, Aoi thought, at the sight of the bared fangs. Jane softly smiled back, and then continued talking with the duke. Aoi had to wonder why Jane was so pleasant, compared to the usual intimidating presence she had. She decided to put her extra worries aside and enjoy the meal. Aoi had been creating several additional worries for herself for a while now, and if it weren’t for Fidel’s easygoing influence, she may have had even more.

She bit into the soft crabmeat. It was indeed a noble’s restaurant. The food was just good enough to remind Aoi of something she had forgotten. The seafood of the water kingdom surfaced in her mind. The taste and smell weren’t the same, but they were close enough to remind her of her real home. Slowly, memories of the people, the atmosphere, and the culture flooded back into her. Aoi took a few moments to savor the feeling. She laughed to herself as she stared at the food.

Quietly, so that not a soul could hear her, Aoi said, “I’m glad I came.”

Someone behind Aoi coughed, breaking her concentration. She snapped to attention, and smiled again at the food. Jane and Duke Tourney had gone into a conversation about seasonings, specifically about the ones that went best with crab and other shelled fish. She looked to her right to watch Eason as he happily ate. He looked as happy as any lupus eating something fleshy would. He turned his eyes up while taking another bite and noticed Aoi. He finished the bite, then pleasantly smiled and nodded. She replied in kind. Aoi thought for a moment, and then decided on what to say.

“Ah–” she started, however a loud cough interrupted her. She was about to start again, but she noticed that Eason was no longer looking at her. He was staring behind her, at the table where the cough came from. The sound of another loud cough made Aoi cringe. Another one followed, which sounded even worse.

The human man behind Aoi coughed again and again, each time harsher and more violently than before. Eason watched intently with a look of concern. Aoi turned her head to see behind her. A few people from other tables, and a few waiters, had started to gather around the coughing man. He was holding one fist to his mouth as he coughed, and shooing people away with the other. She heard him say that it was nothing to the people around him.

With the next cough, the man’s hand was covered in blood. He coughed repeatedly, dropped his fist, and coughed blood into his soup. Aoi turned back towards the table when she heard a chair move back. It was Eason. He had scooted his chair back, and was reaching down. He pulled a bag up into his lap. He didn’t get up; he continued watching the scene intently. More people had gathered, and the rest of the waiters had arrived, including the headwaiter. The headwaiter took three seconds to look over the scene. Aoi couldn’t tell what was going on any longer due to the crowd behind her.

“This man needs a doctor, quickly!” The headwaiter shouted for help. But no one moved. The other waiters who should have been rushing off were still stuck to their places, observing.

Eason then stood up, holding his bag at his side. He started pushing people aside as he walked towards the coughing man. He got up to the waiters, who weren’t willing to let him push through them.

“Move aside!” Eason commanded. “I’m apparently the only doctor here. It doesn’t appear to be nothing, after all.” The staff looked at each other, and then let Eason through. Aoi turned back towards her own table. Unlike the rest of the room, Jane Melonscone was enjoying her dinner. She didn’t pay any attention to the commotion that was going on around her. Duke Tourney was sipping his water while watching Jane.

“I wouldn’t worry, Eason is one of the best physicians,” Jane said. In a very rare moment, Jane had offered honest praise for another person’s skills. Somehow, it was reassuring to Aoi when Jane spoke like that about Eason. Still, it did nothing for her appetite, which Aoi had long lost due to the ever-louder ordeal.

“This can’t be!” Eason shouted. “This, this just can’t be!”

Aoi turned to look. The crowd wasn’t obstructing her vision at that moment. She saw Eason at the man’s side. His face was extremely pale. He dropped his arms and put his supplies back in the case. Eason stood up and walked away as the man behind him continued coughing and moaning in pain. The woman who was at the table with the man grabbed Eason’s arm, then pleaded with him to stay. Her face was swollen from crying.

“Wait, where are you going?” she asked between sobs. Eason turned and looked at her, his eyes devoid of emotion at that moment.

“There is nothing I can do. Nothing any of us can do. This condition, it, it doesn’t exist in Rising. The medicine to treat it doesn’t exist here, either.” Eason said each word bitterly, but didn’t let any trace of anger or pity escape from his tone. Eason had given up.

“Not here? But he’s never been anywhere else! Rising is our home. How can he have something that isn’t from here?” the woman asked while pulling harder on Eason’s arm.

“As interesting as that is, it doesn’t matter at this point. I’m sorry.” Eason didn’t have to remove the woman’s hand. She let go by herself, and put both hands to her face as she cried.

Aoi swallowed as she watched, which took great effort. Her throat had started to dry up. She felt like she should cry, but she didn’t have tears to spare. Eason walked back to the table and sat down. Jane was still eating, and periodically watched the other members of the table. Eason cast his eyes towards a glass of water, and simply stared at it. Aoi summoned the courage to speak.

“What was it?” Aoi asked quietly.

“Cough. Vomiting blood. Yellow eyes. Green fingernails. Blue lips. Just how?” Eason muttered towards the glass of water. He was speaking more to himself than to Aoi, but he had answered her question nevertheless. Aoi swallowed again. She lowered her right hand into a pocket near her leg. She felt around until she touched a bottle inside. She grabbed the bottle as she sat. After sitting still in thought for half a minute, she started to clench the bottle harder. She swallowed again, grabbed the bottle even harder, and then stood.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Prince | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 45

A few days ago, in King Fidel’s room, Aoi sat next to Fidel while she served him a meal.

“What happened to the flavor? This taste is strange. It’s unpleasant.” Fidel made a face in disgust.

“What does it taste like?” Aoi asked with concern.

“I’m not really sure. It’s metallic, somewhat.” Fidel made another unpleasant face.

“Nothing has changed. You have, dear Fidel,” Aoi said softly. Her face had a sorrowful look. She slowly lowered the dish she had in hand while staring down. Fidel knew what this meant, without her saying anything.

“It’s close now. I knew it was coming.” Fidel smiled half-heartedly.

“Still,” Aoi said with a burst of expression that quickly calmed, “I was just hoping. And you still look well. Too well for this to be happening. Sure, everything is more difficult, but I still see that same smile from time to time. I knew things were painful, but you never forced that smile.”

“Thank you Aoi, you’re wonderfully observant. However, you haven’t noticed then, have you?”

“Noticed? What more could I notice?”

“My hair.”

“What about it?” Aoi asked with a puzzled look.

“It’s white,” Fidel said with his usual half-hearted tone.

“Yes,” Aoi replied with a sense of exasperation, “it’s always been white.”

“No. Its color is gone. Its color was white. Now, this precious hair is white due to lack of color. It may seem strange to say my white hair has gone white, but white is a kind of color too. I’ve lost it. Now it is white like the white of an old man. You not noticing is fortunate. You’re the closest person to me, yet you didn’t notice when it changed. It means that I’m the only one who has.” Fidel kept smiling.

Aoi looked closely at the hair on Fidel’s head. The hair itself was thinner, and the slight shine it once had was gone. It was a very small shift in hue that probably no one but the person in question would notice. The hair that was white from birth, marking the true descendants of Rising’s royal throne, had faded.

“Now, Aoi, how long do you think I have?” Fidel asked. Aoi shook her head sideways.

“I only knew how many years. Your condition has reached the stage where medicine won’t help prolong your life. There isn’t an estimate I can give now. There isn’t a definite time at this point. Tomorrow, next month, maybe a bit longer. For all I know, these words could be the last ones you hear. There won’t be any warning. It will be sudden and quick.” Aoi spoke seriously, but in a detached manner. At that moment, she was a doctor giving a diagnosis. It would have pained her too much to be anything more. Being a personal attendant for three years can have that effect on a person.

“Hah! Well if that’s the case, I better tell the chef that he doesn’t have to abide by the diet you planned for me anymore. All the trimmings, I can’t wait!” Fidel rubbed his hands together in childish expectation.

“Fidel!” Aoi reacted as Fidel knew she would. Her momentary trance was broken, and in the flash of anger that Fidel had caused, she felt happiness.

“Save your medicine, Aoi, since it’s past the point of help. At this point, I only wish for three things in life.” At that, Aoi stood up and objected.

“I’m not the one you should be saying this to! I won’t be the person who has to listen to your will!”

“Now now, sit down. I was only going to say that I only wish for three things, and one of them is a good meal. Do you care to help with that? It’s not exactly a will or a dying wish. And put that away.” Fidel pointed to a very small bottle on his bedside table. It was the medicine that Aoi mixed with the dish earlier. She took it and placed it in a pocket.

“Yes. A meal it is. At this point, I, I, will go.” Aoi got up and left the room quickly. She had almost said that she was now useless. There was nothing more she could do, she thought. Leaving Fidel’s room, leaving his side, was the same as saying that though. It was extremely rare that Aoi ever went more than a room’s length away from Fidel; however, she was now going to the kitchen personally.

As she walked through the long hallways, she was reminded of how Fidel would take her from one side of the castle to the other. If it weren’t for his unnecessary trips, she wouldn’t know how to get to the kitchen. There wasn’t a need for Fidel to travel anywhere but from his bedroom to the throne room or meeting room, and Aoi would have been very content with just that. However, Fidel liked to walk around, beg his chefs for exquisite food, tempt the dogs with sausages, admire the view, and do just about everything else that could be done inside the castle walls. Though he couldn’t do half of it without assistance, he didn’t complain. He laughed at his inabilities, cried at emotional plays, and became angry with those who were unjustly angry at others. But he never questioned his eventual fate, and never shed a tear over his plight. Thoughts like that started to well up in Aoi, but before she could fall to the ground and sob, someone turned into the hallway she was walking through.

“Why, hello there, Miss Aoi.” Rillin, the old advisor, had walked into the hallway as he tapped his crooked cane.

“Rillin, sir,” Aoi said with her usual composure.

“Separated from our lord today, are we?” Rillin chuckled as he spoke. He was quite old, by human standards, and was always very friendly to Aoi.

“I’m just relaying a message from Fidel. It’s alright to leave his side once in a while. Today, it’s alright to take a step away.” Though Aoi meant to sound casual, she regretted the mournful way she spoke. She quickly became worried that Rillin would notice something was wrong.

“Oh, yes. Quite interesting. Anyways, I was just coming to see you, so this works out well. Just a moment and I’ll get it.” Rillin didn’t flinch at Aoi’s words, so she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Me? What for?” Aoi asked.

“You received a letter. Ah, here you are.” Rillin reached into his brown robes and brought out an envelope. He handed it to Aoi, and then walked off. He waved as he walked past her. Apparently he had other things to do, and didn’t have another moment to spare.

Aoi carefully opened the normal-looking envelope, and took out the handwritten letter inside. Her eyes widened as she finished reading. She nearly dropped it when she was done. She looked left, then right, and then quickly ran back towards Fidel’s room. She held the letter tightly in hand as she ran, crumpling the paper.

“Fidel! What do I do?” Aoi asked suddenly as she barged into the room unannounced. Fidel, while sitting in an armchair, raised his eyes from the book he was reading.

“Food?” Fidel asked.

“I didn’t have time for that. Look at this!” She rushed over and handed him the letter. Fidel read it over.

“Go,” Fidel said in all seriousness.

“What? No!”

“Why not, Aoi?” Fidel asked, his expression still serious.

“Because I can’t. I have to watch you, right? Why me? Why would she ask me? This is strange, too strange.”

“Just go anyways. Besides, I’m fine without you,” Fidel said without blinking.

Aoi frowned, creating several deep wrinkles on her forehead. She was hurt at the comment, but the panic she felt overwhelmed the pain. She was also very annoyed at Fidel’s manner.

“Why do you want me to go?” Aoi asked.

“Well, if you must know, I haven’t had a night alone in a while. What should I do with all that free time, I wonder?” Fidel became whimsical like normal. Aoi couldn’t help but relax.

“Fine, you obnoxious king. I’ll go. It has been a while since I’ve talked with anyone outside the castle. Even if the person isn’t someone I can imagine myself talking to. Ah, I’m so sick of this castle.” Aoi talked as she looked up in the air, smiling softly. Fidel laughed at Aoi’s impersonation of him. Aoi decided that she should just let her worries go, and accept what the letter said. Fidel sent Aoi out of the room to conclude their night together.

“Wait,” Fidel said when he was finally alone, “where is my feast?”

Posted in Books, The Lupine Prince | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 44

Aoi continued sitting as the fourth member of the table arrived. She squirmed uncomfortably, and constantly looked down with a shy look on her face. If Fidel could only see me now, he would surely say something embarrassing, she thought.

“Miss Aoi, have you ever had crab? It’s quite a delicacy you know,” Jane Melonscone, sitting to Aoi’s left, said.

“I’m from the water kingdom, after all,” Aoi said very softly. Even though she wasn’t loud, it didn’t matter, because she was going to be ignored anyways.

“You must try this restaurant’s crab. It’s from the western seas. The duke’s territory, I believe, for this particular establishment. Quite good. An area just above one of my beaches. Correct, Duke? Interested in selling?” Jane laughed as she called the waiter over and started ordering.

“Anything for Madam,” Duke Tourney replied in his usual submissive voice to Jane. He smiled happily, as though he enjoyed being ignored by Jane. He sat across from Aoi, and was constantly looking to his right.

“And Eason, how are you? Wonderful of you to join us, even if it is a little late,” Jane said while she turned towards the table. The waiter ran off to place the order.

“Disgruntled and unhappy around you, Madam Melonscone,” Eason said with a toothy smile. His sincere voice betrayed his pleasant look. He sat across from Jane.

“You always have been such an honest person. A pity, that.” Jane pleasantly smiled at Eason. Aoi looked up and watched Jane’s face. Aoi couldn’t help but feel shocked as she watched Jane smile. Her words aside, it was hard to be unimpressed by Jane Melonscone’s incredible beauty. Aoi was very familiar with Jane’s words; as she often had to listen to Jane speak during governmental meetings. She hadn’t ever familiarized herself with anyone other than then a few of Fidel’s closest advisors, so Aoi had never met Jane personally before. She had only seen Jane at a distance as she yelled from the gallery, and had never taken a closer look. Her personal image of Jane, before, was that of a stereotypical noble woman. Expensive jewelry, amazing clothing, and pounds of makeup were used by noble women to seem more attractive than they really were. Remove it all and all that was left was something that could come out of the poorest parts of the fourth district. Yet Jane was different. Perfect in every way, on the outside, with no need of jewelry or makeup to create the illusion of beauty. Yet the jewels and makeup that were used perfectly accented Jane’s face in just the right parts. It was shocking to Aoi, who had never met a noble that had looks that could truly match their vanity.

“You know Madam, just why did you decide to invite me?” Eason spoke as he sipped from a freshly poured glass of wine. His furry ears twitched in Jane’s direction, expecting a good answer. Aoi thanked Eason internally, as she had been wondering the exact same thing, but didn’t have the courage to ask.

“Why did you attend?” Jane asked in jest towards Eason.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Eason replied in like manner towards Jane, with an ounce of force in his voice.

“Now now, I cannot tell whether you two love or hate each other,” Duke Tourney said in a casual voice. Aoi froze in fear, expecting that he would soon regret his words.

“I don’t really mind him,” Jane said as she settled into her seat in a relaxed manner.

“She’s fine by me, recently,” Eason said with a glare. Still, he had settled down.

“Years, Mr. Eason. Only recently makes it seem like it was only yesterday.” Jane spoke while rotating a glass of wine with her right hand. “She has been quite good for a while now, as your monthly visits confirm. She’s become more obedient, so there hasn’t been as much need for discipline. Of course, we never have too long of intervals in between each time, to keep the memories fresh, you know. Oh, glare all you want, but discipline is quite necessary. Why, compared to when I was a child, my parents, I’m soft. I appreciate it now, though in my youth I hated it. I suppose that’s why I’m even still too lenient. I should revise my earlier words. She appears more obedient, but I know that she still does things behind my back. The royal guardsman that I have assigned to her actually does a good job, as well as the bear can do with a noble. He goes along with her whims, yet keeps her just within my boundaries, and then reports back to me. As long as I have a tab kept on her, I do not need to reveal that little secret to her. I do hope she matures a bit more, and afterwards she just might be ripe enough to, hmm, that’s all I’ll reveal.”

“Yes, quite more than enough, Madam. Though, as much as you talk about her that way, I have to ask, do you love her?” Eason asked Jane seriously.

“I love her royal blood,” Jane said with a smile.

“Nothing but a tool for you. Aren’t there more important things than your name?” Eason resisted the urge to become upset, and then sighed. “Why do I bother?”

“Indeed,” Jane said, amused, “it’s foolish to argue with me. But I really quite like you, dear Eason.”

Aoi was prepared for it this time, and the pretty face and smile that Jane showed didn’t shock her nearly as much as before.

“Madam, you do that too well,” Eason said while sounding wholly unimpressed.

“Well then, would you prefer that Aoi smile at you?” At Jane’s comment, Aoi’s concentration broke, as the conversation that she was finding herself engrossed in suddenly involved her. She, and quite obviously Duke Tourney, hadn’t understood much of the previous conversation.

“What?” Aoi spoke, and would soon be thrown into the midst of another strange conversation. She regretted, at that moment, opening the letter that she had received a few days ago.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Prince | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 43

“Oh dear, I’m sorry!” she said as she closed the door. The boys quickly stood up and called for her to come in.

“It’s alright, he’s got a hard head,” Zeick said, which prompted a thud on his own head from Pete’s hand.

“So does he,” Pete said while smiling. The girl laughed at the comedy duo of felis and swine. They took a bow, and then a step back.

“Please come in, Madam, er… Miss, um… what?” Zeick was bowing, but his head was up and he was looking at the girl.

“Teena Fen, daughter of Alen. Pleased, really. You’re too funny.” She did a small curtsy with her orange skirt that ended just at her knees.

“That’s a noble’s introduction, yet you’re a hostess,” Kelin said.

“How rude! Don’t mind him, he’s just a noble as well,” said Zeick.

“No, it’s all right,” Teena said. “I’m no noble. It’s just that my parents gave me an additional name, and told me to introduce myself like that. It’s a habit, now. I’m a bit annoyed that I have an extra name, but I think I’ll keep this habit for a while longer.”

“Interesting,” Va’il said, “it’s a nice name. Oh, mine’s Va’il. Anyways, ignoring our ridiculousness, you’re welcomed in with the best of entertainment. A smile is guaranteed, even if the actors are frowning.” Va’il smiled widely at Teena, his teeth visible yet not intimidating. He turned to the other three, and two of them also smiled. Kelin kept his composure.

“Thank you, Va’il.” She smiled in return. Sharp fangs gleamed in the dim light of the room, those of a real lupus girl.

She sat down, along with the boys, and they all continued playing cards again. This time, with five people, they changed to a game that didn’t have teams. A while passed while the shuffling, moaning, yelping, and snorting that was customary with every game continued.

“Drat, I lost again!” Teena tossed the cards down and scrunched her face.

“Ha, what’s with that face,” Kelin said. He was sitting across from her. Instead of replying, she repeated the motion, but directly at Kelin this time.

“It seems that games that involve bluffing don’t turn out well for such an expressive woman,” said Zeick.

“Exactly! Thank you, Zack,” Teena said innocently.

“It’s Zeick, Teena,” Zeick said.

“Oh, sorry Zack,” Teena replied. She said it with such sincerity that the boys didn’t for a second think she was teasing Zeick.

“It’s… oh never mind. Say, it’s getting kind of stuffy in this room, with the five of us being so active,” Zeick said with a casual air.

“Yeah, it is kinda hot,” Pete said. Pete looked at Va’il and made a motion with his eyes.

“It’s cool outside, but really warm in here, strangely enough,” Va’il echoed the sentiments.

“Really? I feel just fine. Maybe my tail and ears are feeling a bit warmer though,” Teena said thoughtfully.

“Then it’s settled. Let’s go outside,” Kelin said as he stood up. He took Teena’s hand and pulled her up as well without another word.

“No, you can’t go outside,” Teena said in firm opposition.

“And just why not?” Va’il asked as he rose.

“It’s not safe, at night. And I was told that your group is special, and shouldn’t be let out,” Teena said.

“Ah, you think we’re a bunch of troublemakers!” Va’il scowled as he spoke.

“No, really. Please believe me,” Teena said with deep concern in her voice, “it’s really not safe out there.”

“Why?” Va’il asked.

“They might come. They stopped a couple nights ago, but they might come again. The creatures that bang on the walls.” Teena spoke very slowly.

“Creatures?” The boys asked in unison.

“Could it be?” Pete asked.

“That’d make sense,” Zeick said as he nodded.

“Excuse me?” Teena asked, confused.

“Well,” said Zeick, “you yourself just said that we are special, and shouldn’t be let out. We may be quite young, but we were entrusted with a very special, and secret, mission. Our safety is of the utmost importance when others are around, since we don’t know if any citizens in the city are dangerous or not. However, for our mission, all of that is to be forgone, and we are to go immediately to the scene to assess the situation. Until we have done that, our safety should be assured. So, surely you can understand why we need to go, now.” Zeick spoke quickly and without hesitation as he lied. He hoped that Teena wouldn’t see though his deception. He didn’t need to hope for long.

“Um, well, I don’t understand, but if you need to go then I should stay out of the way. Anything, anything to stop them. Please.” Teena’s voice had started shaking. It was obvious that she was deathly afraid of the creatures she had mentioned. Thus, she readily believed when presented with any hope, false or real.

The boys all nodded in unison at Teena, who was no longer standing in their way. Then it happened. Off in the distance, a loud crash was heard. At the sound, Teena covered her ears and looked down. She closed her eyes, and her breathing became heavy. The sense of fear that she had was overpowering the boys in the room. Kelin was especially sensitive to the atmosphere. He walked over to Teena and placed his arm on her back. He patted her twice, firmly.

“It’s going to be alright. Nothing will happen to you.” Kelin forced her to walk forward, and then maneuvered her to the closest bed. He had her lay down, and then he turned to the rest of them.

“Ready Kel?” Zeick asked.

“Let’s go on an adventure,” Kelin replied.

Va’il, hearing the sound of more crashes in the background, with his voice full of excitement, said, “Alright guys. I don’t know what lies ahead, but it’s not for cowards, Pete. Adventure? No idea. Danger? Probably. Will our parents scold us later? Definitely, that’s why we will refrain from telling them more than necessary. The army? We’re going to find out why they are here. Our motto? ‘Hard work. Effort. And love. We can do anything.’ Let’s go, you ruffians!”

“Lame,” Zeick said.

“Utterly embarrassing.” Pete echoed similar sentiments.

“I don’t know you anymore.” Kelin sighed and shook his head. To top things off, Va’il had put his fist in the air, expecting a hurrah from the rest of them. The miserable failure didn’t deter Va’il, as he led the group outside. For a lame speech, it had actually done a great job of relaxing and motivating the group, but they weren’t willing to admit it.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Prince | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lupine Saga 42

The next couple of days passed quickly. The weather was clear and dry, and there were no additional stops to make before reaching Tendal, which happened without event.

“Darius, Royal Commander of Rising, is hereby welcomed by Governor Jess of Tendal.” A lone deeri spoke with Darius just outside the gates of Tendal. He alone had walked out of the gates to meet Rising’s procession. It was a strange sight, to see a single person exiting the gates, the entirety of the city behind him. The walls were still there surrounding Tendal.

“Thank you. Are you it, to welcome us?” Darius asked.

“Sorry sir, it’s been, well, you understand, I hope. We cannot make much fanfare right now,” the deeri replied.

“Acknowledged. In fact, that’s what I was hoping for, it’s only right that we scale back anything unnecessary. Can you bring us in?” Darius asked. The deeri bowed, then went back to the gates. The gates opened fully, and the entire procession from Rising entered.

The boys entered the gates, led by Var. Va’il noticed that the walls were extremely thick, much thicker than the walls that Rising had. Guard towers were every fifty meters, and three guards were always on duty. The walls, as thick as they were, did have one problem, which Va’il completely overlooked. On the outside of the walls were several small dents in the stone. But Va’il would learn, soon enough, the reason those dents existed.

Tendal looked like it should have been a very calm city, but the tension in the air was easily felt by the children whose natural instincts informed them of everything that went wrong around them. Even Pete, who didn’t notice things the same way as the three descendants-of-hunters did, could tell that something was wrong. Walking through the streets, none of the locals smiled or ran. Everyone had a determined look on their face and calmly but briskly walked from one place to the next. More noticeable than that was the lack of children.

Var took them to an inn, where they were confined to a single room upstairs. It was large and had four beds, and every hour a pretty lupus girl would enter the room and see if the boys needed anything. Food, drink, and a warm place to sleep were all provided to the group.

“What do you think, Kelin?” Zeick asked the lupus who was sitting upright in a bed, reading.

“About what?” Kelin asked with an exasperated tone.

“That girl, pretty, isn’t she, for a lupus? Looks like someone we know, right?” Zeick asked with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk.

“Not really,” Kelin replied.

“Right, right? See, she’s just about right. She’s been looking your way each time, too.” Zeick spoke with a smile, and had his lip twisted in one corner; something was stirring in his head.

“You sure you want to be tempting him? After all, his one true love still awaits him at home!” Va’il said.

“That’s enough!” Kelin said with a howl. “I swear I’ll bite off a finger or tail if one of you mentions it again!”

“Oh, but hear me out first,” Zeick said with a whine. His persistence and feline nature were showing. “I’ll just start it off when she comes next, you just follow along. Trust me!”

“Start what off?” Va’il asked.

“You’ll see. Kelin just needs to follow along for a bit. You’re quick; you’ll see where I’m going with this soon enough. Besides, this late at night, she’s probably only coming in once or twice more.” Zeick finished, and the group silently acknowledged his unspoken plan. Kelin’s interest was piqued by Zeick’s words, so he didn’t object to what Zeick wouldn’t reveal. The boredom of the day was wearing on his already trip-weary mind.

There was a knock at the door after another hour had passed. The boys were seated in the middle of the room, playing with the cards that a previous patron had left. Zeick got up and walked over to the door. He put his hand on the handle, and then turned to look at the rest of them. He nodded once, and the other three boys nodded as well.

“Come in,” Zeick said as he opened the door. He held it open very wide as he moved with the door. He stood with his other arm outstretched, inviting the lupus girl in. She had green eyes and straight brown hair down to her tail. She walked in with a slightly confused look on her face, but she didn’t hesitate because she had always walked in before. Unexpected though, was the door closing behind her.

“Hello again. Are you all in need of anything?” the girl asked. She sounded very earnest and polite.

“Just another player, our fourth just left,” Va’il said while looking over at Zeick, who was still standing at the door. The girl looked back at him.

“Aren’t you sitting?” she asked Zeick.

“Why don’t you have a try, do you know how to play?” Zeick smiled and put out his right hand with the palm up.

“I know, but I’m a little busy,” she said.

“Just one game, we’d all be quite pleased if you would. Especially my friend here, since I was his partner till a moment ago.” Zeick walked behind Kelin and put an arm on his shoulder.

“I guess it couldn’t hurt. I’m not very good though,” she said as she picked up the cards.

Twenty minutes passed as she played two rounds of cards with them. She and Kelin won each round with significant margins over Pete and Va’il, which made her quite happy. After the second round ended, she very quickly stood up, and said with a straight face, “I must work! I will play with you again later. A little while, then I’m free!”

“Ah, she ran off,” Zeick said as the door slammed behind the bouncing girl.

“She’s a bit…” Va’il started.

“Straightforward,” Pete finished. The two of them laughed.

“She just completely relaxed once she started playing. She’s a very single-minded person, isn’t she?” Zeick said.

“Hmm, I like that.” Kelin said with a thoughtful look on his face.

“Mr. Complicated likes a direct girl, how ironic,” Va’il said. He was feeling very self-satisfied to be able to tease Kelin.

“Well, it matches him well. Who really wants someone who thinks the same way as they do anyways?” Pete asked.

“You,” the other three boys said in unison. Pete leaned back a bit as they all peered at him knowingly.

“Well, maybe it would be nice to have someone who knew how to cook and liked to eat. She should be intelligent, too. Huh, you’re right.” Pete closed his eyes to think, and the other three sighed.

“And if she is humble, then you’d both be a complementary match. Though I wouldn’t want to take you out to eat.” Va’il smiled as he spoke to Pete, who laughed at his words.

“Humble, I’m humble! But I don’t need to be around you three! Arrogance incarnate, mischief maker, and a trickster, what am I?” Pete asked.

“The token nice guy,” Kelin said with a straight face. The other two nodded in agreement.

“Token? You’ve been reading too many strange books again,” Pete said indignantly.

“Oh, but somehow you really fit the part, Pete. The single person who is nice and calm in a group of wild people, the voice of reason in the eye of a storm, the character type that is required just simply to fill space and to balance an otherwise top-heavy group out.” Zeick’s speaking was stopped by a swine jumping on him and pinning him to the ground.

Thus, the wrestling match began. The boys all wore smiles as they tussled, knocking each other back and forth. The first thing that happened after Pete jumped at Zeick in a belly-first manner was Va’il and Kelin moving things out of the way. Zeick had managed to throw the large swine up and onto one of the beds, and at the same time Va’il and Kelin finished moving everything to a safe corner.

Zeick had jumped and landed on Pete. Pete grabbed Zeick’s leg and tossed him towards the next bed over. Zeick landed on his back then quickly turned over. Kelin and Va’il watched as the two boys continued with the tossing and jumping.

“You want to join in, right?” Kelin asked Va’il.

“Yeah, but we can’t,” Va’il said, dejected.

Va’il and Kelin had a certain trait that wouldn’t let them join in this particular fight. Claws didn’t lend themselves well to childish playing. The chance of poking an eye or otherwise seriously injuring another was one they couldn’t take with their friends. At home, Pete’s ever-understanding mother had made strong leather gloves for the boys, ones that wouldn’t let a claw through even on purpose. It wasn’t an item that either expected they would need on a trip such as this.

The scuffle continued for quite a while and ended with a thump. Zeick had thrown Pete towards the door from across the room with the most strength he could muster as a half, which resulted in Pete hitting the ground quite hard. Zeick jumped across the room and landed on him.

The thump was the sound of the door hitting Pete’s head, twice. The second time, the door stopped moving and the girl from earlier was seen.

Posted in Books, The Lupine Prince | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment