“Your magic is that of a devil.” Baba explained. “That means you have an affinity for shadow and illusion. The devils didn’t become a threat that pushed at the borders of the human realm because of their physical prowess. No, it was the ability to mess with the mind. You may have overwhelmed a simple guard with the use of will, but in a fight with another will user, it’ll be your wit and your ability to control the flow that ultimately dictates who will win.”
“He is my student,” Bala complained. “If you’re just going to blather on about will, it’d be better if he learned it from me.”
It had been three days since the fight in which I killed one of the bodyguards. After that, the remaining four had fallen in line and I hadn’t had any other challenges to my authority. More than that, I had gotten the interest of Baba who decided to move up my training in transit. At the same time, Bala’s desire to teach was inflamed. Soon, both women were trying to get my time. Bala’s respect for Baba quickly dissipated, and she wasn’t above openly arguing with the little girl.
Everyone else could only give odd looks as the two fought over my time. For a person as prestigious as Baba, watching her fight for a disciple’s time was unheard of. Even Saria didn’t know what to make of the situation as her sister grew increasingly competitive. I admitted that I didn’t hate being the center of two women’s attention, but between a cross-dressing elf and mysterious loli, I wasn’t really sure if I liked either of my options.
“Anyway…” Baba flipped her hair, ignoring the other woman. “The smallest illusions are sometimes the most powerful. Do you understand?”
“Yeah…” I nodded. “It’s like how I can change a couple of my own facial features and create a disguise that makes me unrecognizable, but if I wanted to completely change my face or perhaps even appear as someone else, it’d be considerably more difficult.”
Baba clapped. “Exactly! There is also a certain degree of timing to it. You get what I mean?”
“No one gets what you mean…” Bala growls, her face scrunched up in confusion.
I nodded again. “A well-placed illusion when they are distracted is more likely to go unnoticed than trying to put in an illusion while they have their entire focus on it.”
“So… that means something important. Can you reason what it is?” Baba stuck her tongue out at Bala.
“Ah…” I scratched my chin in interest. “I see what you mean.”
“You do?” Bala chimes in disbelief.
“You’re saying that the easiest level of illusion is perception. A mind is more in tune with seeing what it expects to see. If something is not there, then it’s continued absence would be the norm, and thus the easiest illusion to pull off. The opposite is also true. That means that the true art of illusion is fulfilling expectation.”
Baba was staring at me with her mouth open, but then she closed it with a click. “Yes! Exactly my point!”
“How was that your point!” Bala cried out. “Admit it, you barely know what you’re talking about. Who’s teaching who here!”
“You shut up!” Baba snapped. “Are your lessons any better? You just hit him with a stick a dozen times and keep telling him to get back up!”
“One must learn through error. It’s the quickest way to pick it up!” Bala shot back.
While the two women argued, I sighed and took a seat, beckoning Aeryn to bring me a fruit drink. I took a swallow and considered the implications of Baba’s words. Like will, using magic was something you sort of just do. There was no guide that could instantly teach you how to use magic. It was more of a feeling.
There was very little to it other than to learn its applications after that. Even Aeryn could cast a bit of wind magic. Humans were very versatile and could learn any type of magic, although every human had their own strengths and weaknesses. With most other species, the strengths and weaknesses were more ingrained into the innate abilities of the species, but those with sufficient strength could trounce most humans in their respective fields.
In other words, an elvish wind mage would traditionally be far stronger than a human wind mage. However, a human could just as easily be an earth mage too. Furthermore, strength wasn’t everything. When it came to a battle of magic, there was a certain level of skill and ingenuity that also played a part. As of yet, I still hadn’t exhibited any magical skill, even amongst my racial ability. When it came to will, I could only execute it in fleeting amounts. Bala told me it could be years before I’d be able to control will at her level.
As the two reached the end of the argument, which usually happened after Baba started to tantrum and Bala turned her back and started ignoring the other girl, an elf guard who was scouting ran up to Saria. The elves did the majority of the scouting, although I occasionally forced Doar to send out a man if the situation seemed questionable.
“Find out what the news is from your sister,” I spoke softly to Bala so only Baba and Aeryn overheard.
Aeryn was already aware of the situation and was impassive, whereas Baba didn’t care one way or the other about most mortals. Without a response, Bala walked away, heading back to her sister. The two exchanged a few words, but from this distance, I couldn’t make heads or tails over anything that they said. After a moment, it was Saria who approached me, while Bala stayed behind.
Behind Saria, Bala crossed her arms and gave me a strangely concerned look. She hadn’t mentioned Saria creating any plans to kill me since we started this journey. Was this because Saria had dropped her plan to kill me? Or was it that she realized Bala could no longer be trusted with that kind of information.
“My dear fiancé, we are approaching the city of Virdainia. My men would like to enter the city and restock supplies. We’ve decided to spend tomorrow there to recharge.”
I raised an eyebrow. It was the first time that Saria had ever deliberately provided me with any information, let alone speaking of her own plans. Up until now, we had been mostly just carry-on, following behind the larger party.
“A day of rest wouldn’t go amiss,” I replied. “Is there anything the matter? You seem a bit… contemplative.”
Her face had been stoic as always, but she couldn’t stop the hint of surprise from showing. There was something going on and she had been worried. How interesting. Her face was schooled quickly enough that I would have missed it if I wasn’t looking for it.
“Nothing, my prince.” She said, her voice overcompensating and coming off a bit too flat of emotion.
I couldn’t help but break into a chuckle. In some ways, talking to her was a bit amusing. I had felt relieved to surround myself with straightforward women like Aeryn, Baba, and Bala… but I was starting to feel a certain bit of charm when it came to someone like Saria. Her composure broke as I laughed, her cheeks turning slightly red.
“What is it?” Saria demanded, a displeased expression on her face.
“It has come to my realization that you and I have never been on a date,” I said.
Saria’s expression flickered in complete surprise. I could see her mind working a mile a minute. Why did I mention a date? What was my aim? What did I plan to do? The truth of it was that I just wanted to see her flustered. Had she known that she would have certainly been furious. She quickly regained control of her features, this time showing the right level of emotional control.
“My fiancé, you wish to take me out? That sounds lovely.” Saria gave a perfect curtsy.
I hid the dissatisfaction on my face at that. She was less fun when she had her fake personality back up. I didn’t mind her deceptions, but I liked it when it came from her true self. My change in demeanor was probably caught by her, but at this point, her face wouldn’t show a single crack in façade.
“Tomorrow, lunch then,” I said simply.
Saria gave another curtsy and then walked away. Aeryn refilled my cup.
“So, you plan to honestly pursue your fiancée now?” Aeryn asked tightly.
“Are you becoming jealous?” I mused.
I let out a soft chuckle, feeling in a particularly good mood. My butt was sore, and Bala’s sword beatings were wearing me down. I wanted a break, and a day in a new city seemed like a wonderful thing. No, it was more than just a day in a city. It was a day in a fantasy city. I had remained in the castle during my entire time in the capital. This was my first chance to see the outside world. Getting back on my horse, I even bore the humiliation of riding with my mother in my arms so that I could have a higher vantage point.
The city appeared in the distance. We’d still arrive a few hours before sunset, so perhaps we had time to look around. The city had a massive ten-foot wall all around it, with six guard towers creating a hexagon shaped city. The gate was made of iron and was attached to a pulley system. It was currently set to up, yet each person who went to enter was stopped. We pulled up to a line of about twenty people, which moved rather slowly into the city.
“Once night falls, those gates close until daylight.” Captain Moar spoke in my direction. “It’s the only way to keep beasts and demons from sneaking in at night.”
“We haven’t encountered any beasts on our journey so far,” I responded.
“They tend to avoid the roads. Plus, we’re still somewhat close to the capital. This might be the last safe city for a while. Once we pass this point, it becomes increasingly more wilderness.”
“Perhaps for the remainder of the human realm.” The older elf dignitary spoke. “But once we reach the elf realm, you can be assured of your safety, my prince.”
“Wildlands…” Captain Moar snorted disdainfully.
The other man shot him a glare but ended it at that. Since the line was pretty tight, we were grouped up with the elves, acting as a single party for the first time since we left. I could only sigh and shake my head at the immediate bickering that followed. Perhaps it was because I was already an outsider, but the elvish and human rivalry seemed like something that ought to not exist given the closeness of our alliance.
“Name.” A guard finally demanded as our group approached.
“Party to Princess Saria of the elvish nation.” Saria stepped forward.
The man looked up and then bowed. He made a few commands and a messenger was sent running instantly. I didn’t like the sign of that, but I decided to leave it as it was. He backed up and gestured to allow the group to pass. We started moving forward fine until the guard saw me. His eyes widened and then he let out a cry.
“A devilkin, what is this?”
Several swords were drawn in an instant. Mother, who was in my arms, grabbed my knee tightly. I could feel her body tensing. I wasn’t wearing a cloak or making any attempt to hide my appearance. In reality, I had expected something like this to eventually transpire. However, I had thought it would happen more on the elvish side of things.
“Stay your weapons, you stand before Prince David, you curs!” Captain Moar bellowed.
“Nice insult.” I nodded approvingly.
Captain Moar blinked, but then gave a salute and stood slightly prouder. He was a snobbish, arrogant man, but also was very malleable. After killing one of his men, he had fallen in line completely. He was a man who understood money, convenience, and pecking order. Although he had bullied my mother in the past, I didn’t particularly hate him. As corrupt as he seemed, his backroom dealing was probably one of the reasons Prince David had made it seventeen before his untimely death.
As for the men around us, they didn’t pull back their swords, but they did look around uneasily. There was a sense of disbelief, and people were muttering back and forth amongst each other.
“Prince David… isn’t that the devil prince? He really is a devil.”
“The Lord Stebe is this city’s lord. We don’t need a devil entering our city.”
“It’s a bad omen…”
“He’ll bring calamity.”
Those were the kind whispers that came from the distance. Part of me wished I had a human hearing, which wasn’t nearly as sharp as the devilkin. At least, I could school my face a little bit easier. Ignorance was bliss, after all.
“I’ll handle this!” A magnanimous voice rose from the distance.
The crowd split and a group on horseback were leading the way down the street. On the tallest steed in the front was a handsome looking man with blond hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a polished silver armor which covered everything except his head. His hair looked like it had been treated at a hair salon, and he had just enough facial hair to have that douchebag look.
“Thank the gods, our Lord is here.”
I waited patiently as the man rode up to our caravan. Rather than addressing me, he rode straight to Saria.
“Princess Saria, I just heard of your arrival.” He said in a grand voice that could be heard by the people. “The rumors do not do your beauty justice.”
Saria nodded as if expecting no less from a noble.
The man grabbed her hand and kissed it. “I am Lord Stebe. Welcome to the city of Virdainia. You are my welcome guess. Please… come to my keep. I will provide you with all the amenities expected of a distinguished guest. The elvish are always welcome in my city.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Saria spoke eloquently, and I might have grown irritated if she didn’t present him the same fake persona she often threw my way. “Of course, I have come with other guests as well.”
I couldn’t guess what her thoughts about this Lord Stebe were, but they weren’t enough to get through her scheming brain.
“Of course,” Lord Stebe smiled. “All your guests are welcome…”
His smile flickered when he landed on me. I gave him a large smile back.
“Good day, Lord Stebe. I’m Prince David. It’s a pleasure to be welcomed in your city so openly.
“O-of course…” He forced his smile back on his face.
With him having announced that I was welcome, the guards no longer could resist. They put their weapons up and waved me on. I moved my horse and the remaining procession through the gate, approaching the elvish guard. As I came into full view to those inside the city walls, talk began to spread like wildfire.
“A devil has entered the city.”
“More than that, he’s was a devil with a beautiful woman in his arms. How shameless?”
“I thought he was engaged to Princess Saria… does he taunt her by holding other women in his arms.”
“He must play with her on the ride and make the poor princess watch.”
“Truly a devil.”
That was enough to make me blush awkwardly. Strangely enough, the talk seemed to encourage mother, who put her head back on my chest and snuggled against me comfortably. Even Saria wouldn’t look at me when it was like this. How dreadful.
“I’m going to the inn.” Baba suddenly spoke up. “I need a drink.”
“What is with this child?” Lord Stebe’s smile flickered for a moment.
“Dear Fiancee…” I spoke clearly to Saria. “I will see you tomorrow. My lord, I’ll regretfully decline your offer to stay in the keep. I’ll join the Grand Magus. In fact, drinks for all the men.”
The four guards let out a hooray. As for Lord Stebe, he looked like he was turning purple. Too many emotional blows in a single sentence. The offer to stay at his keep wasn’t meant for me anyway. Had I tried to force it, he might have eventually agreed to let me stay to seem like a good and generous lord, but not before I embarrassed myself. The way I worded it instead made it seem like I had been the one who turned down his clear offer.
Then, there was my Fiancee, who I spoke to with some familiarity despite our distance apart and his attempt to flirt with her. Finally, the reveal of the Grand Magus as the unassuming Baba was the final blow. The man was looking down at her as a child and came dangerously close to insulting her. Had I not spoken up, he might have embarrassed himself. In the end, he knew I had protected him from making a faux pas. Instead of him seeming like the smooth and generous lord, the table was turned completely in only a single sentence. Take that for devil!
I gave a polite nod, no more from someone of a superior position, and me and my men rode off to find an inn. Saria looked slightly bewildered by our sudden departure. Perhaps she thought I would push for the honor of being allowed in his keep. Actually, my decision wasn’t ruled by anything like honor. Rather, I simply wanted to visit the town. The keep couldn’t be any more amazing than the castle. I wanted to see a town, and I couldn’t do that staying with a Lord who likely didn’t even really want me there in the first place.
As we left the street and the spreading gossip, Saria whispered some words into Bala’s ears. She nodded and then kicked her horse, following us. Perhaps Saria wanted to keep tabs on me. Perhaps, it was the Grand Magus that caught her attention. I couldn’t pretend to know what was on her mind. For tonight, I wasn’t really concerned. I just wanted to be in a real fantasy city for once!