Through the dark corridor a single silhouette briskly moved. Arriving at the entrance to the great hall of the royal barracks was Jane Melonscone, thoroughly displeased at the lack of lighting in the hallway leading to the entrance. The great hall was filled with hundreds of people who were enjoying food, drink, songs, and friendship.
Jane put her hands on her hips and looked at the rowdy bunch, indignant that no one had yet noticed her. Then, with more force than a human should be able to muster, she stomped her foot. The wooden floor resounded with the force, and the entire hall went silent. Every person turned to see the woman. One of the men quickly got up and ran to the side of the entrance. He was a herald.
“Announcing the entrance of Madam Jane Lucrene Melonscone! All respects are due!” The herald’s announcement reinforced what every person in the hall but Jane had feared. Everyone immediately stood up from the tables and bowed slightly in the direction of the high-noble woman.
On the other side of the room was another corridor, which a middle-aged man had just walked out of. He was dressed in long green robes and wore an olive-green cape. He had black hair and olive skin. He saw Jane on the other side of the room, and walked over to her with a smile.
“Ah, Madam Jane, how lovely it is of you to visit such a lowly place. Please, do tell what you are here for,” the man said.
“My daughter is missing, and you’re going to find her, Darius.” Jane didn’t mince words.
“Excuse me?” Darius, the commander of the royal guard, was taken aback by the sudden command.
“Ruby, my daughter, is missing. Find her.”
“Madam, please, let’s discuss this in my chambers.” The troops had all heard every word that Jane spoke. Her commanding voice resonated throughout the hall.
“No, right here is fine. After all, everyone here is to help.” Darius couldn’t help but sigh. Jane was going to ignore anything she didn’t like, and Darius knew nothing could change her way of seeing things. Such was the temperament of Madam Jane Lucrene Melonscone.
“But what about the king’s permission? We cannot move without his consent.”
“Nonsense. It’s nothing to get his approval. You start moving, I will get authorization. Do you still contest me?” she asked with a huff.
“Then please explain exactly what’s going on. What’s going on with your daughter? How should we find her?” Jane contemplated his request, and realizing it was reasonable, answered.
“Ruby Louise Melonscone is missing, Darius. The rest of these beasts will have to rely on you to know what she looks like. As much as I love her, the child can be rebellious. A few nights ago, she escaped secretly. Well, she thought she had. Her servant girl managed to spot her and informed me immediately. I sent the servant after her. They have not returned. They headed north. Find them.”
“I see. But, though I want to help, that doesn’t require the use of the royal guard.” Darius soon regretted his words. Jane was a shocking sight at all times, whether it was due to her beauty or her expression. And the look she gave demanded an apology from Darius.
“You dare to say Ruby, the only descendant of two of the greatest noble families that Rising, no, Fervi, has ever known, is not important? The girl who shares the same blood as me, her loss doesn’t require the use of the most prestigious force in Rising? Shall I leave this matter to the city guard, when in fact she is no longer in the city? Shall I, Darius?” Jane trembled and shook as she spoke. “I tell you now, find her or the nation shall find out my wrath.”
“I understand, we shall move to your order once the king is informed,” Darius said with the smallest ounce of bravery he could muster. “Do you know anything else other than the direction the two headed?”
“Nothing of use. Ruby is too valuable; I had no choice but to send the bird alone as quick as possible.”
“Yes, that servant avian.”
“Dear Madam, can you please describe this avian? It will be much easier to search for an avian paired with a human. Even more so if it is unique.” Upon hearing this, Jane looked up in thought. She seemed to be thinking quite hard, as though she was trying to remember something long forgotten. Finally, she stopped and smiled. A pleasant look, as warm as the sun itself, appeared on Jane’s face.
“Yes, very unique, actually. I don’t often remember my servants, much less the filthy birds. But this one I know quite well. I remember finding her many years ago. She is the same age as Ruby. She is very obedient and quiet. She might be smart. But, as rare as that is, she has another trait that will assist you in finding her. She has white feathers. Pristine, white, elegant feathers. Always clean, that one. She has spent many years with Ruby. Find her, and you find Ruby. Her name is Shiroi.”
Va’il and Ruby sat silently in the tunnel. They had been walking for hours. They went up and down, passed tunnels leading further down into the darkness, and rested when tired. Va’il’s arm had begun swelling, but the pain had diminished. Ruby was holding luminous rocks in both hands, and Va’il held one in his right hand.
“Do you think we will ever get out of here?” Ruby asked.
“Do you?” Va’il asked back.
“Hey, didn’t you come here with a group of others? Won’t they try finding us?” Ruby ignored Va’il’s question. “Your friends, right, they will come, right? Tell me they will come.” Ruby started breathing hard. She was panicking at her own thoughts.
“Do you know what happens when we die?” Va’il carelessly asked. Ruby stood up at the words, walked over to Va’il, and slapped him as hard as she could across the side of his face.
“Don’t you dare speak of that again!” Ruby had stopped panicking; anger had taken its place.
Va’il rubbed his cheek, but he didn’t speak again for a while. He was at a loss for thought or emotion. The broken arm had a larger effect on Va’il than either child realized.
“Sorry. I started it.” Ruby apologized after a period of silence.
“My group, they won’t come. They’ve given up. We were seen drowning. No one would come after us either. We were not allowed to swim even a tenth of the way out, where the water level suddenly drops. The teacher warned us that anything past the shallow area was dangerous. He’s concerned for everyone’s safety, so he won’t let anyone even try and come after us. Even if he did, no one would come. Where would they start? And who other than my two friends would risk themselves for a half?”
Va’il went quiet again, and for the next half hour, neither of them spoke. To the surprise of Ruby, Va’il was the first to speak again.
“Shiroi, who are you?”
“This again. I’ve told you enough, haven’t I?”
“I don’t believe anything you told me anymore. I’ve thought about it. I would know you if you’re a student. You’re not. You might not be in my grade, but I’d have at least seen you.”
“Um, well I’m not in your grade, so how would you know? How old are you?” she asked offensively.
“Eight. I’m a fourth year.”
“What? You’re really two years younger than me? I just thought you were short. That really proves it. We don’t know each other, see? And besides, why would I know a beast?” Va’il’s hair stood on end at Ruby’s last comment.
“A beast?” he asked quietly.
“You may be a half, but you’re not a human. Closer than a real lupus I guess, so I guess I won’t be punished for talking to you. Out of need, now. Jane won’t know anyways. What am I talking about?” Ruby smiled a bit and looked at the defensive Va’il. He was torn between being angry and being hurt. Ruby kept smiling, so Va’il calmed down a bit. He thought her smile matched the sweetness of her voice, even when the words were cruel or commanding. Va’il then remembered what he was going to say. He got closer to Ruby and put his right hand on her shoulder.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Ruby asked in surprise. But Va’il had already leaned into her. His face came close to her neck, and then he breathed in deeply through his nose. He then moved away from her. He had a puzzled look on his face.
“I thought so. You’re not a student. You’re not part of my class. You’re not on this trip. I’ve never smelled you before, you’re new to me. You don’t have the scent of the school either. Who are you?”
“I have my reasons. Can you just accept that for now?” Ruby said with a hint of defeat in her voice. She didn’t have the chance to be angry with Va’il for his sudden and very personal action.
“Oh, okay,” Va’il replied cheerfully. He wasn’t going to push Ruby to reveal the truth; he just wanted her to give him a real answer. Being unwilling to divulge information was still a truthful answer. “Well then, let’s keep walking; we don’t want to stay in one spot forever.”
Ruby, surprised and relieved, stood up and started walking with Va’il. In the partial darkness, she wore a smile that Va’il couldn’t see.