The country of Peri had five princes and two princesses. In order of birth, it was Onvyr, Akkar, Gantar, Theo, Saria, Gorwin, and then Bala. Gantar had recently just run off with my own sister Olivia, and possibly also plotted for my death. However, this group didn’t appear to be attached to them at all.
Saria had told me a bit of each of her brothers, she didn’t respect or trust them at all. Onvyr was currently in line for the throne, so it was unlikely that he would cause problems. Since third in line, Gantar seemed to have other plans. It made it Akkar who seemed to be the one who was at play here.
The man standing before me, or rather I should say, before Bala, wasn’t Akkar though. He was one of the other brothers, sent to do the dirty work while Akkar worked in the capitol. If I had to guess, I would say that he was Gorwin, the youngest brother. He seemed like the hot-headed type.
It also stood to reason that Gorwin was working for Akkar. In order to accomplish such a feat, Akkar had to promise him something. His eyes seemed to flicker to Bala, who despite being armored and dressed like a tomboy, had stopped hiding her appearance since we reached Peri. There was a look of longing and desire within those eyes. Was Bala promised to Gorwin? If that was the case…
“Where is Saria?” I demanded.
“That is why we left Greenvale,” Ayda said. “Rather, I had my doubts you’d be here, but both Bala and Aeryn insisted they knew what direction you were in. I suspect you know the reason why.”
She gave me a hard look, but I let it wash over me. I hadn’t known for certain that the bond between Bala and Aeryn given by their impregnation would allow them to locate me. I supposed it made sense in some ways. If I dwelled on it, I too could probably point in their general direction with some confidence. It was an unexpected side effect and advantage of the girls.
It was because I had sensed the girls were in the direction of the Capitol that I hadn’t worried too much about meeting up with them again, although I couldn’t tell for certain until I was on the road with a straight shot to the capitol that this was in fact where they were. As for us growing closer, I had thought that was my own movement toward the capitol. It was only now that they stood before me that I realized that while I was going to them, they were coming for me.
Of course, that left one bigger question. Why? Although I appreciated the save, I didn’t have a clear reason as to why they went out of their way to come here. As for what that had to do with Saria, that was the most worrying part. That was because I could guess what had happened.
“The King has annulled your engagement to Saria,” Ayda calmly explained when I didn’t respond.
“The King, is it?”
Ayda bit her lip. “I saw him make the command himself. He also ordered her to be married to-“
“Theo…” I said.
“You know?” Ayda blinked in surprise.
“They don’t waste time, do they?” I responded bitterly. “Then I’ll need to get the Greenvale quickly.”
“I didn’t come all this way to lead you to Greenvale!” Ayda shot back.
“I brought you your retinue. Bala… I didn’t need her with Aeryn, but the girl insisted on coming along, and the King allowed it for some reason.”
Of course, he allowed it, that way he’d be sending the bride straight to the groom. In the same way that Saria was promised to Theo, Bala had been promised to Gorwin. Both brothers had been lusting after their sisters. That was why Saria had sworn to marry me and had encouraged Bala to dress in an unflattering way and learn the sword. It had been to protect the pair of them from their lecherous brothers.
However, in the past, the King had always been expressly against incestuous marriage. It seemed like that policy had changed in the castle. Now, both girls were being handed to their brothers… in exchange for cooperation. Theo was older, so he got the older one. I’m sure Gorwin was a little sore about that, but it was clear that he was willing to settle.
I already figured everything out, but I decided to ask anyway.
“I’m on a peaceful journey to the capitol. Lucy aside, why should I not finish my journey?”
“The King has ordered you exiled from Pria.” Ayda bit her lip. “I told him what you did. Shortly after you went missing, the greenery returned. The nightmares were gone too. I told him how you must have figured out how to save Peri. He said that since the curse left when you left, and your blood cured the curse, then it must have been you who was causing it. He said he didn’t want to see you enter his capitol, and were to be expelled from this country as soon as possible.”
Mother was shooting her a hateful glare, Captain Moar and Derald looked slightly awkward, and Aeryn had a cold, uncaring face as always. As for Ayda, she looked regretful, but also resolute.
“Will you be expelling me?”
“Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
It turned out what I thought was my savior was actually my escort out of the country. In her mind, she probably saw this as a kindness. She knew me and would help me on my way peacefully. If other elves, for example, the hot-headed Gorwin behind me, had his way, then I would probably just be killed.
Ayda used my silence as acceptance and then looked over my shoulder at Gorwin. “I will be taking my leave and escort the prince.
“Fine!” Gorwin, who had been listening to this conversation, finally barked.
It appeared like while he lusted after his sisters, he did have at least some respect for his aunt. If that respect only went to the level that she was a strong swordswoman who could probably kick his ass, that was good enough for the situation.
“Good…” She nodded as if that settled everything.
“But… Lucy and the General are mine!” He snapped. “And Bala will travel home with me!”
By the look Gorwin’s face, he didn’t plan to wait until the wedding night to take his prize from Bala. He’d probably turn her into his plaything on the way back to the Capitol, with the head of Lucy and the General in his back.
“Do you honestly think I’ll leave peacefully as you threaten to kill my sister?” I demanded.
“You speak as if I’m giving you a choice.” Ayda sighed. “Bala, please remain behind with Gorwin. I promise you I will not kill him. That is the only thing I can offer for your cooperation. As for you, devil prince, you can either come with me willingly, or I will carry you over the border and kick you out.”
Bala didn’t move from her position, but Gorwin put on a nasty grin and let his guard down.
“Brother…” An unexpected voice spoke up, Lucy. “Just go. Tell Uncle what they did, what Peri did. He won’t stand for it.”
“Not Benatang?” I asked.
Lucy winced. “I don’t know… if they really have attacked, then perhaps they didn’t value me as much as I had thought.”
“What are you saying?” General Tucci cried out. “Are you doubting our King? This is clearly some treachery of the elves!”
A guilty expression formed on Lucy’s face and her ears flopped down until they were almost indistinguishable from her white hair.
I glanced up to Baba, Aeryn, and my Mother, who were all on horseback along with our two remaining guards. I gave a gentle smile.
“Ride with one of your women.” Ayda sniffed. “Come quickly now, so you don’t see your sister’s death.”
“Lucy… I’m sorry. I won’t die for you.” I said, closing my eyes.
Lucy looked down and spoke bitterly. “Don’t you think I know that.”
“I’m a devil, after all. I won’t die willingly. But… I am willing to do all manner of awful things.” I turned to look at Bala, who was still in the same pose from the moment she had jumped in front of us. “Bala… kill Gorwin now.”
There was a second of silence, and the Gorwin let out a laugh, looking around with a smug expression.
“No!” On her horse and nearly twenty feet away, Ayda could only cry out as Bala suddenly moved.
Her body blurred, and there was a sound of steel unsheathing. A second later, she was on the other side of Gorwin, her blade was out, and there was blood on it.
Gorwin was staring at us now, his eyes wide. “Geg…”
That was the only noise he got out as his head fell from his shoulders. His body collapsed to the knees, and then the ground. Then blood began to spill on the ground. The entire motion took about five seconds, and everyone only stared in wide-eyed bewilderment, unable to grasp what they had seen. While they were all looking at the scene, I leaned to Baba, who was currently the closest to me and whispered in her ear. After a second, her eyes widened, and then she nodded, going into her robes and then pulling out a small vial.
“Are you sure?” She asked as I grabbed onto it. “It’s not easy to get.”
“As sure as anything.” I shrugged.
She rolled her eyes and sat up straight in her saddle as if ready to enjoy the show. It was at this moment that the shock had finally worn off.
“Sh-she’s killed the prince!” Someone managed to shout.
This broke everyone from their silence, and men started to surround her.
“What have you done?” Ayda cried out. “I can’t save you now. I can’t save either of you.”
Lucy and the General both had their mouths open, complete shock in their eyes.
Ayda pulled her weapon finally and lowered it at me. “You devil! I tried to save you, and this is how you repay me.”
“You threatened my family, and you call it repayment. Is that how far the words of an elf go?”
“Don’t try your honeyed words with me? He was my family. Your family? Your sisters all hate you! They see you as a monster, just like the rest of the world.”
“I know…” I nodded sadly. “Which is why… I must go to even greater lengths to protect them! Let it be known here and now, that any who threaten my family, do so at their own peril. I don’t give a shit about your status. I am the prince of the human realm, and they are my princesses. All who don’t heed this will die!”
“You’re the ones who will die!” Ayda hissed. “I will have to kill you all now. You could have been saved… this didn’t have to be this way…”
“You speak of saving Ayda… but it’s only because you are a fool. Because you are a fool, I will do the one thing you don’t expect. You see… I’ll be saving you.”
“I already said, your nonsense won’t work on me. Knights! Cut them all down! Spare the Grand Magus, but the rest must die.”
“Oh? You’ll spare me? Whoever said I’ll spare you?” Baba responded dangerously.
“Don’t try me, sorceress.” Ayda hissed. “You may be powerful with spells, but all I need to do is keep you from casting. If you talk, I can take your tongue, and if you gesture, I can take your arms!”
“Don’t worry.” I reassured Baba, “A fight with her won’t be necessary.”
With that, I tossed the vial in my hand at Ayda. She lifted her hand and caught it, but the lid had been unscrewed, and even as she caught it, it cracked and liquid burst all over her hand.
“What’s this? A potion?” Ayda sneered. “You’ll have to do better than that! I can resist most potions. Even your blood you pride yourself on that you used to capture my nieces’ hearts, I will be able to fix.”
As we were speaking, the guards had already attacked Bala, and she was systematically taking down each one that threatened her with impunity. Her movements were fluid, and she cut down horse and rider with precision. It was enough to even impress Ayda, who knew her niece was a will user, but perhaps didn’t know how good of a one she was. It still didn’t matter particularly much to Ayda. She was better.
However, she wasn’t attacking me. Rather, despite having ordered her nephew’s death, she still had a fair amount of hesitation in her eyes. By all accounts, she knew that Bala would be able to take out all of these men, but she couldn’t bring herself to save them or attack her. I breathed a bit easier, afraid she would have attacked me instantly. I had a few tricks up my sleeve, including depending on Baba, but I didn’t want to call every card I had if I didn’t have to. Only a minute or two had passed, but it had been enough.
“You’ve been hesitating…” I said and then shook my head. “Now it is too late.”
“If you think Bala can save you, you overestimate her strength. She can’t be put up against me!” She responded angrily.
“It’s not her I’m putting against you,” I admitted, pointing up. “It’s him!”
As if planned, the massive creature hovering in the sky let out an ear-piercing shriek. Ayda, who had been flustered by the death of Gorwin, and then focused on the devil she didn’t trust, had completely missed the approaching creature in the sky. She was completely startled, and as the thing began to dive, her face turned white.
It had been a chimera attractant I had asked Baba for. Thankfully, as practically a walking apothecary, she had one on her person. It was apparently made from the urine of a female chimera in heat, which is what I had already guessed at. The vial had been tossed at Ayda, and the contents were now all over her and her horse.
Not wasting any time, I leapt onto the horse behind my mother, wrapping my arms around her and grabbed the reins of the steed.
“Oh my… my son had grown so manly…” She purred. “I’ve missed you so much. You made your mother worry something awful!”
“Not now, mom!” I cried, gesturing for the men to go aid Bala.
They barely had to do anything, as she was finishing up with the last two men when they finally rode up to her. At least, they had brought her a horse, so she was able to mount quickly.
As for Ayda, seeing everyone around her was basically ignoring her, she was frantically spinning around while keeping an eye on the ever closing in Chimera. After wasting a few precious moments of time, she gave out a curse.
“This isn’t over, devil prince!” She yelled as she turned her horse away into the forest and began galloping.
In the thick foliage, she’d have a chance. Furthermore, she was a lot more skilled than any of us, so her ability to fight it should be quite good. As she took off into the forest, I made a gesture to my men, who went and recovered the prince’s body. There was no use wasting a good thing. The rest of us started moving toward the Capitol at a steady pace.
“Son? We’re going the wrong way! We’re going back into enemy territory!”
“What are you doing?” Lucy demanded. “This is madness! You heard them! We’re all outlaws. Where are you going?”
“Olivia is still in Gantar’s hands, and my fiancée is in the castle,” I explained.
“Even so, you must regroup. What do you think you can accomplish?”
“Didn’t I already tell you?” I snorted. “When it comes to people threatening my family, there is only one thing that I will ever do. Something terrible.”
“Princess, we should turn back while we can!” General Tucci warned.
“No!” She declared stubbornly, “I’m going!”
“Hah…” General Tucci sighed. “I was afraid m’lady would say that. Well, I am tasked with protecting you, even if it kills me. I suppose we all must die one day.”
“So, you’re going to join me?” I asked, glancing over at her.
“I have a letter to deliver!” She lifted her chin arrogantly. “Besides… if Brother is good enough to storm a city and save sister, then how could I not be?”
I grinned, a bit of darkness shadowing over my eyes. “Then… we ride!”
A group of nine people charged the Capitol of a foreign nation. Anyone who saw this would only think one thing. They must be crazy. Perhaps they were.