The Lupine Saga 62

A week passed, and Rising started looking better. School had been out for the week, and many adults put their regular work on hold in order to help rebuild parts of the city. Several new things, like Fidel’s memorial, were to be built in place of buildings that no longer existed. Though he had a short rule, he had been a fun king. Rising was soon filled with the shouts of children and the bustle of commerce. People would return to their regular jobs and their normal homes. Fidel’s passing should have caused confusion and anarchy, but the announcement had been made that there was a successor, though the successor couldn’t yet be made public. Everyone was gossiping about this news, wondering who the mother of the young child could be. Aoi was the prime suspect. The common people didn’t see very much of her, but they knew that she had always been at Fidel’s side. It made perfect sense that she could have had a child with Fidel, and that child would be far too young to rule. At the least, the child existed in the people’s mind, and that was enough to get them through the uncertainty. The history of Rising’s kings was strong, so the people didn’t have any doubt that their ruler would eventually be someone suitable for the role.

Even the nobles who were privileged enough to see Aoi often were unsure of the truth. To make it even more difficult, Aoi had already left the country and returned home to the kingdom of water. Jane Melonscone never disclosed that she had heard from Fidel’s own mouth a key detail about his child. She was positive that Aoi wasn’t the mother, but that didn’t stop her from perpetrating the rumor. She didn’t want another person to find the child before her, so she ordered her daughter to find out who the child was; a task that Ruby thought unreasonable. When she asked for details, Jane would only reply that the person should look like Fidel and have white hair. Even Jane knew that white hair was rare on a child, so she assumed that the child was coloring their hair. Therefore, she told Ruby to look at hair roots, concentrate on who keeps their hair long or short, how often they cut it, and other traits. Jane didn’t mention that the boy would end up being Ruby’s husband. The thought of being royalty blinded Jane. Ruby, for her part, would be allowed to have a regular education. Her private tutors had their hours cut. Jane also lessened her discipline of Ruby, which was a welcome change. It wasn’t something Jane did consciously; she had just become too busy to mind.

Darius and Var were overworked. Darius promoted Var due to his valor and help during the maroon attack, which made it easier to delegate tasks to him. It was rewarding work, but it made Var think that he would rather spend more time being Ruby’s babysitter than organizing labor. It just wasn’t his type of work. Darius had more important matters to attend to, so Var didn’t mind.

Darius had an extremely important and confidential task ahead of him one particular day. When he received the details from Diren in secret, he was surprised. He wasn’t stunned like many other people would have been, but he still had to confirm with Diren that what he was hearing was correct. Secretly, Darius had his suspicions, but this task confirmed them.

A knock was heard at the door. Mai’ou put down the pan she was using, and opened the door. Va’il saw from his seat that it was Darius standing there.

“Mai’ou, correct?” Darius said pleasantly.

“Yes. How can I assist you, Sir Darius?” Mai’ou glanced back at Va’il once, and then quickly focused her attention on Darius.

“Your son, can he come over here as well?” Darius asked nervously. Va’il heard this and stood up.

“Sit down,” Mai’ou said with a growl. Va’il obliged. Darius frowned. He stopped for a moment, looking into the eyes of the woman who was becoming more imposing by the second. A flash of familiarity went through his mind, but it disappeared before he could grasp what it was.

He did it before Mai’ou could realize what he was doing. She didn’t have a chance to close her eyes or look away before seeing the words. Darius had, in a casual, fluid, and very quick motion, pulled out a piece of paper and shown it to Mai’ou. It was unreadable, but that didn’t matter. Darius didn’t have time to put the paper away before Mai’ou leapt on him.

“What does it say? Darius, what does it say?” Mai’ou yelled. She had pinned him to the ground. Va’il’s eyes went wide as he saw the shocking scene. He wasn’t sure if he should help Darius or not. His left shoulder started aching when he thought of helping Darius, so he silently apologized.

Darius could feel the armor around his shoulders start to bend under Mai’ou’s grip. She looked Darius in the eyes with tears in her own.

“Please, please, tell me what that said. I already saw it. It’s too late, I know. But please. Please Darius,” she said while she began sobbing. She pounded his chest a few times, and then stopped as she cried.

“‘I’m sorry, Mai.’ Those are the words he spoke last. Now I say them too. Now I know, it’s true. It’s true, isn’t it, Mai’ou?” Darius asked quietly.

“Yeah, it is,” she muttered in response.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, “Fidel engaged him to a certain girl.”

“That’s what it is? I see,” Mai’ou said calmly. She brought a hand to her face and wiped a few tears away. Darius saw her smile for a moment. She got off him. Darius got up and helped Mai’ou to her feet. He brought her in the house.

“Are you all right?” Va’il asked. He meant both of them, but Mai’ou wouldn’t respond. She sat in a chair and looked out the window. She brought a hand to her mouth and chewed on her claws.

“I’m fine. I deserve it. I forced your mother to accept something that someone she knows decided. That person decided something about your future, Va’il. She will accept it now. But will you?” Darius asked as he put a hand on Va’il’s shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Va’il asked.

“This is sudden, I know. I’m not good with delicate things like this. But Va’il, there are a few things that will happen now. You need to know. Let me ask you, do you know who your father is?” Darius asked.

“No,” Va’il answered very curtly. He wasn’t pleased at the mention of his father.

“I’ve come today, to tell you who he is, no, who he was,” Darius said.

Va’il recoiled at the words. He looked over at Mai’ou, but she didn’t come to him. She couldn’t talk to him right now, and it was tormenting her inside that she was doing this. Whatever Va’il thought of Mai’ou, it didn’t change the fact that she was really just a young lupus girl, who still had ten or more years until she was mature. She didn’t know how to handle crisis very well, and she overcompensated in so many different ways that it made her ache inside. She felt bad that she was partially relieved that Fidel had decided on someone for Va’il to marry. She had feared that being a half would make him lead a very lonely life. She stopped in her thoughts at that moment. Why did Fidel decide that, she wondered. She looked at Darius and realized what he was going to say. She thought about standing up and stopping him. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“Va’il, I know this may come as a shock, but you’re the son of King Fidel. You’re going to be the king of Rising.”

With that, the lupine prince had become a king.

(End of book one, The Lupine Prince.)

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The Lupine Saga 61

Va’il and Kelin ran as fast as they could towards the maroon, passing their other friends along the way. Kelin stopped for a moment to tell the three of them that the orb had been retrieved, and then continued running.

“We going to follow them?” Pete asked while huffing.

“I need a nap,” Zeick said as he lay on his back. Geon looked at the two of them, sighed, and then walked in the direction Va’il had run. He too was in pain, but he wouldn’t stop moving.

“You got an idea, Va’il?” Kelin asked as they ran.

“They want the orb, right? Then I will give them the orb!” Va’il said.

As they rounded a corner, there waiting for them was the full mob of rampaging maroon. The entire royal guard stood between the maroon and the boys. Va’il recognized Var struggling with his lance stuck in a sandy body. When Var couldn’t pull it out, he retreated and took up a giant shield. He didn’t realize that a few feet behind him was Va’il standing with his arms outstretched. The necklace dangled from his right hand.

“They aren’t reacting at all,” Va’il said.

“Why would they? They don’t have the same senses as us, Va’il. Think. How do the maroon communicate?” Kelin asked thoughtfully.

“Resonance,” the boys said in unison. Though they said that, they didn’t understand the full meaning. But Va’il had an idea nonetheless.

“I’ll make it up to you, Kelin, but do you think you can help me get past the royal guard? They aren’t just going to let me through. I have an idea. Springboard to Var, to the maroon.” As Va’il spoke, the maroon pushed against the guard. Var hadn’t yet gone to the front, but the sight that appeared made him rush even quicker.

The feeling of something hitting his shoulders startled Var. He looked up as Va’il flew over the heads of the other soldiers and onto one of the maroon. Behind Var, Kelin was standing up. He had been on his knees. There was a dirty footprint on his back.

“You will make this up to me. I won’t live for that kind of humiliation,” Kelin said with a toothy grin.

Va’il almost fell off the small maroon. The feeling of solid sand under his feet was strange. Before he lost too much momentum, he had jumped onto another maroon. He jumped as another maroon tried to hit him. Va’il took the opportunity to jump onto that maroon’s shoulder. The various maroon were progressively larger, and almost seemed like steps to Va’il. He had the necklace around his neck, and every so often he grabbed at the orb with his left hand. He jumped onto a building as the maroon he was on crashed into it. As the building collapsed, Va’il jumped to the next house. Three more maroon were in between Va’il and the largest maroon of them all, one the size of three houses. He didn’t hesitate to jump onto the first one, then leap to the second. He crashed into the side of that maroon’s head. The soft sand started to suck him in. Va’il moved again, and managed to free himself without trouble. The hand of another maroon tried swatting him, but it hit the head of the maroon he was on. As the sandy arm melted into the other maroon, Va’il jumped on it and made his way up. The slow maroon soon had the young boy on its head.

The largest maroon was Va’il’s target. It wasn’t any smarter than its companions. It too tried swatting Va’il. It missed, and bent down with the momentum of its arm. Va’il took the chance and took a final leap onto the head of the maroon below him. He fell and started sliding down the maroon’s back. Without thinking, he extended his left arm and every claw on it. The claws dragged against the sand for a while, but they eventually stopped. Va’il’s arm ached, and a couple of claws had snapped, but he paid no heed. He kicked off his boots, and using the claws on all four appendages, he scrambled up the maroon’s back. He just barely managed to make it to the maroon’s head as the maroon stood straight. The maroon shook its head left and right, but the slow motions were nothing to Va’il. The claws on his feet were firmly planted in the Maroon’s head.

“You want this? It’s yours!” Va’il shouted as he pulled the orb off his neck, breaking the necklace. The large maroon stopped all movement. Va’il held the orb tightly in his right hand, and then with all his force he punched the maroon’s head below him. He let go of the orb inside the sandy body, then quickly ran off the creature.

The large maroon had stopped moving entirely. As the sandy body closed the hole formed by Va’il’s arm, the other maroon stopped moving as well. Then the large maroon made an enormous sound. The buildings in the area shook from the vibrations caused. Va’il felt his bones vibrate in response. He put his hands on his ears while trying to keep still. He couldn’t keep his balance and fell to the ground. Then the sound stopped.

The sight was amazing. The maroon exited Rising far faster than they had arrived. They moved quickly in the direction that the largest maroon led them. Va’il could hardly believe the sight as the creatures were soon out of sight. He was still panting heavily from the ordeal, yet there weren’t any maroon left. The only thing they left was the destruction they had caused. Va’il lay on his back and stared up at the sunny day. He laughed.

#

“You, you are the crazy one,” Pete said while slapping Va’il on the back. Tears of joy fell off the emotional swine’s face.

“Va’il, no, Master Va’il,” Geon said respectfully.

“Please stop, you’ll just give this sand-brain a big head,” Kelin said.

The boys, who had gathered at Pete’s house after the whole ordeal, laughed happily while enjoying sweet bread. They were alone, as Pete’s family had earlier fled. Pete’s house was still safe, so it was only a matter of time before anyone returned.

“So, what do you think you’ll be rewarded with?” Zeick asked slyly.

“Rewarded?” Va’il asked.

“You just saved Rising. You should be rewarded,” Zeick explained.

“No one saw exactly what he did,” Kelin said, “I should know. I was the closest. After Va’il got past the second maroon, the guards were overwhelmed. They didn’t even mention Va’il afterwards. They were too confused about why the maroon stopped. I wouldn’t even know if Va’il hadn’t explained.”

“Then, shouldn’t we tell them?” Zeick asked.

“No. It’s fine. It’s not something I want recognition for. Not right now, especially. Should we be celebrating when so many of us are mourning?” Va’il asked quietly. The realization that several places in Rising had been destroyed, and that Fidel had died, sobered the children.

“Sometimes, history just needs to be recorded. Thank you, Va’il. Your deeds will at least make it back to my people. I will surely tell them all when I return,” Geon said.

“It’s been a pleasure, Geon,” Pete said respectfully.

“Thank you. Never had I met swine before. I enjoy your kind quite a bit. Especially your mother. But I still would rather be a small human, so I’ll have to soon miss her cooking. I’ll look forward to visiting again,” Geon said as stood.

“Wait, are you going, now?” Va’il asked. He was stunned at the sudden development.

“Yes,” Geon replied, “I have many things to do.”

“Can’t you at least spend another night? The battle just ended, you can’t leave right away!” Pete said.

“Dear friends. You have so much you need to do. Families, friends, people who are still in need and worried. I have things to do as well. You’ll understand what it means to have duties that you have to do, even when you would rather not, in time. I just happen to have encountered those responsibilities earlier in life,” Geon said seriously.

“Ah. He’s homesick and wants to see his mom as soon as possible,” Kelin said. Geon lost his serious look and couldn’t help but laugh. He tried to keep up his cool demeanor as he walked out of the shack. With that, he ended his adventures with Va’il’s group.

“I think you were square on,” Zeick said in disbelief.

“He should have stayed. This is too sudden,” Va’il muttered.

“It’s all right. That’s just the kind of guy he is. I still can’t figure him out. People, so full of surprising twists,” Kelin said. Secretly, he was filled with respect for and impressed by Geon.

“Being a mother’s boy isn’t so bad,” Va’il said with a laugh. The other three fell into riotous laughter as they thought of Va’il’s relationship with Mai’ou.

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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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