Saria said very little else to her aunt, who continued staring at Bala on the ground with her arms crossed and a displeased look on her face. A stretcher was brought out and Bala was picked up in an instant and carried in by a group of elves. Saria remained by her side, not letting the pair of them part by even an arm’s length. Meanwhile, the aunt and the rest of the elves headed inside. I could only gesture for our group to follow them. It was better to get inside before they noticed us and thought to do something about it.
As the doors shut behind us, I watched as Bala was carried off into a side building. I wanted to follow, but I had no healing ability. Frankly, I would only get in the way at the moment. Saria would make sure her sister was taken care of. Even though it was one of these soldiers who shot Bala, to the best of my knowledge, they were still loyal to the crown and would follow the orders of a princess, especially if her aunt was the one in charge of those stationed here.
Speaking of which, that aunt stayed in the courtyard in front of the main gate and barked orders at the men. The condition of the fort did not look great. While the woman herself looks impeccable, a woman who looked to be in her thirties or forties despite the grey hair, with smooth skin and a strong jawline. She looked tired, but she was good at hiding it and it was only with a discerning eye that I could see that there was a certain darkness in her eyes and a slouch from an impossible weight on her shoulders.
Her soldiers, on the other hand, had haggard and haunted look. A few of the men hadn’t shaved, and while I never knew elves to grow beards, many of them have grisly unkempt faces. Their eyes were often bloodshot, with dark shadows underneath. Many smelled as if they hadn’t bathed in a while. Overall, on the surface, they appeared as orderly as any military, but there were signs of breakdown. An untucked t-shirt here, a stained uniform there, or a person staring off randomly rather than doing their job. It was clear that something was happening to this fort, and everyone here was on edge. Perhaps entering the fort wasn’t the best option after all.
However, after seeing Bala injured, I was in no humor to act civil to these people. Not only was I attacked, but one of my followers was hurt in the process. I felt an anger and rage I hadn’t felt since I had come to this world. I rounded on Ayda, unable to control the fierce expression on my face. She was giving out the last of her orders, but I interrupted her speaking.
“What the hell kind of command do you have where this is allowed? What is happening to this fort?” I demanded.
Ayda shot me a severe expression, then turned back to the man she was talking to as if I had said nothing. “Make sure to separate the rotted from the clean. We need the food dry and cool, or we won’t have any left. Burn the rotted foot outside.”
The elf she was ordering nodded and then turned to leave. Only then did she glance back at me. However, she only glared at me, her mouth closed tightly. I wouldn’t be intimidated to silence. I stared right back.
“I will have answers,” I responded forcefully.
“Devilkin, I don’t know why-“
“That is Prince David to you. I am a human prince and future king of a country you align yourself with.”
“Don’t test me. I have come to your country diplomatically, and now an attempt has been made on my life. That your command is so inept that you end up shooting your own princess in the process is laughable.”
Her face finally turned red, a rich anger filling her up. “You dare-“
“Your man has already dared, but I have yet to hear a single apology or receive compensation for your poor leadership. I demand retribution!”
Her eyes flashed angrily, but before she could respond, a door burst open and an elf came stumbling in. Behind him were two other elves that had pushed him through. They closed the door behind him, then crouched and picked him up. He had a haggard appearance and tried haphazardly to struggle. When he stood up, I finally got a look at his face. This was the man who had been on top of the wall. This is the one who shot an arrow and hurt Bala. My eyes narrowed as Ayda spun to the man.
“Private Lease, why did you fire upon a group being escorted by elf rangers.”
The man sputtered and shook one hand free of a guard, pointing it at me. “He’s a devilkin! Can’t you see? He must be the reason they’ve been coming every night. He’s the monster behind all this! He must be killed!”
Before she could respond, I pushed past her and moved up to the man. Pulling a small dagger from my belt, and I sent it straight into his chest, aiming for his heart.
“No, wait!” Ayda behind me seemed to realize my intent only too late.
The guards in their exhaustion and inattentiveness were more concerned about keeping the man from pulling away and running, not about holding him. Thus, I was completely unimpeded as I pierced him. He looked up at my eyes in surprise as I stabbed in the heart. He held shock, fear, and even a bit of confusion. His face grew slack, and then he died just like this. His body fell back as the men tried to throw him back too late. He was already dead.
Both men drew their swords holding them to my neck. Ayda behind had also pulled out her sword, pressing it against my back. Captain Moar and the other soldier who were nearby trying to unattach the horse from the carriage, spun and grabbed their swords while cursing. More men pointed their bows and arrows at us and the scene grew just as tense as it had been a little while before when we were outside the gate. I remained motionless, watching as the elf on the floor twitched one more time and died.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ayda demanded, clipping off each word with extreme agitation.
“As I said…” I responded calmly, “Retribution.”
“What gives you that right?”
“Why, was the right yours? His? Your Kings? How about your princess’s right?” I responded bitingly.
“Tss…” She made an annoyed hiss, “This man hurt her by accident! He didn’t have to die. Bala is only injured. She has a chance. You gave this man none!”
“I gave him the same chance he gave me.” I snorted. “It’s a shame those standing by him weren’t willing to leap to his protection, as Bala did for me!”
My words stunned her for a moment, and even the two men in front of me loosened their grip on their blades. My words had been a dig at them as well. These two men literally held their friend while I stabbed him. If anyone should have prevented it, it should have been one of them. They could have easily moved in his way and took the blade instead, but who would do that?
“You…” Ayda’s voice shook, pulling the point in my back away, even though she didn’t sheathe her sword.
I had also reminded them just who took the blade for me. Their princess had risked her life to protect me. Now, they had their blades at my neck. The truth didn’t have to be spoken for it to resonate with everyone present. They might as well be spitting on their own princesses’ sacrifice by threatening me like this.
“Do you deny that he shot to kill me? I only responded with the same killing blow. The only difference is the outcome. He died quickly, while the princess of the realm dies slowly. Between their lives, I’d say hers holds far more value, do you disagree?”
Even if she wasn’t their aunt, no soldier would be so bold as to claim their life had more value then the ones they served. I couldn’t see her face, but I didn’t need to see it to understand the complex emotions that had to be running across it now. The two men nodded in response to an order I couldn’t see behind me and then pulled back their swords. However, I was immediately grabbed by the two men, who grabbed me and started to restrain me. I said nothing as they spun me around to face Ayda.
She had a face like a storm. She looked like she wanted to replicate what I did to her man to me, but I knew that she wouldn’t do it.
“I’m her family too…” Ayda suddenly said. “Don’t think for a second that I would have tolerated what happened. However, you’ve put me in a hard place, devilkin.”
I didn’t have to ask to know what she meant. Naturally, she would have been angry her niece was injured too. She probably wasn’t that angry at his death after he had injured someone she cared about. Ayda assuredly would have done something about it if she could. That man would have been punished, maybe even hanged by her order. However, since I took that choice away, I could be seen as usurping her authority. I wasn’t in the human realm anymore. I was only a guest. Thus, I couldn’t act as bold. I had let my emotions get the better of me here.
“You’ll be locked up until I can decide what to do with you. I’d rather concern myself with Bala’s recovery and other things.” When she said the word other things, it felt like a loaded word.
There was definitely something happening in this fort. The men were all on edge. The man who was on the wall broke. Not to mention, no one was watching the wall when we came. It was definitely very suspicious. I could hear the rattling of chains as someone brought them out to put me in irons. I gave my guards a nod and they put their weapons away. Mother was watching me tearfully, looking like she wanted to run out and beat the guards down. Aeryn had a hand out casually, ready to catch Mother if she tried.
“Take him away!” Ayda ordered.
Just as they turned to push me, I stopped for a second and glanced back. “Bala will die without me.”
They shoved me forward, intending to bring me to the brig, but I had already said the words. We only made it a dozen feet before they stopped and then spun me around. Ayda was standing their staring at me with a severe expression on her face.
“What is it?” She demanded. “I won’t be toyed with as well.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Bala has lost a lot of blood. Even with healing, blood cannot be easily restored. By the time your medic removes the arrow and Saria heals Bala’s wounds, there is no saying that she will survive the night.”
“This is merely the limitations of medical aid. There is a blood increasing potion that could alleviate these symptoms.”
“And, do you have it?” I asked, feeling just a hint of worry.
She shook her head bitterly. “We recently used up our stock. I’ve sent someone to Greenvale to replenish, but it will be another week before their return.”
I let out a breath and nodded. “Then, Bala’s life at the moment is fifty-fifty. Personally, I do not like those odds in the least.”
“Enough of this!” Ayda took a step forward. “If you have some devilkin magic or trick, out with it! I won’t do anything that hurts my men or breaks the balance of nature!”
I shook my head. “It is nothing like a sacrifice or dark magic. Simply put, Bala needs a blood transfusion.”
“Transfusion…” She shook her head unfamiliar with the word. “That sounds like dark magic after all.”
“No, I’m saying someone needs to lend her some blood. People have more blood than they need. You can take someone else’s blood and give it to her.”
She had a blank look on her face. For a moment, I was worried she was going to ignore me. However, after a moment, she gave a slow nod.
“I will take what you said into advisement. I have not heard of this blood transfusion, but I will speak of it with my medic.” She waved for them to take me.
“It won’t work!” I said before they could drag me away. “Everyone’s blood is different! I don’t know how elves work, but I don’t think you can accept blood from anyone. If you picked any person, there is only a 1 in 4 chance it’d be accepted. Otherwise, it could make her even sicker!”
She spat angrily. “Then why have you told me this, devilkin. Stop wasting my time!”
“I can give my blood to her!” I declared.
Her eyes narrowed. “What did you say?”
“All species more or less descended from humans. They were offspring of faery and humans, eventually solidified into the bloodlines we know today. Elf, Dwarf, Beastkin, even Devilkin, we’re all just humans mixed with a faery’s magic.”
“That is debatable, but what is the importance of this?”
“Devilkin, in particular, has a very unique bloodline. It’s built into our species to combine with others. As a result, we’re what you could call, a universal donor. My blood can be mixed with Bala’s blood. I’m the only person we know for certain can successfully perform a blood transfusion with Bala. As I said, without me, Bala will die!”
“She is strong, she could make it through,” Ayda responded stubbornly.
“Will you bet your niece’s life on it?”
Ayda grimaced bitterly but then her features relaxed and she shook her head. “It’s a commendable effort devil, but I also know a bit about devils. For example, I already know the effect blood has on other species. Exposure to a devil’s blood is dangerous. If I were to pump my niece full of your blood, it’d be equivalent of handing her over to you!”
I gritted my teeth angrily. It turned out she was more knowledgeable than her nieces. She might have even fought in the last devil conflict, so she would know about our blood. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but now that I had come this far, I couldn’t back down now. I let out a low laugh, a slight smile on my face.
“The blood wouldn’t have any negative effects on Bala…”
“You dare lie… I know what it does. I’ve seen what your kind do to women!”
“You didn’t let me finish!” I cut in. “My blood wouldn’t make Bala do anything, that she hasn’t already done!”
This time, Ayda grabbed her sword. “You dare slander the princess!”
It seemed like the knowledge of the devilkin blood was not widespread, even in the army. Although Ayda knew about it, most of her soldiers gave blank or confused looks. They didn’t seem to understand what we were talking about at all. Well, it made things easier for me.
“What slander?” I shrugged. “I’m simply speaking the truth. You already know it to be true. The act is already done. Why else do you think she’d jump in front of an arrow for me?”
Ayda’s face grew white and her sword hand shook. That had to be a thought that had been bothering her. Why would the princess put her life on the line for a devil? This answer explained everything! The truth was, Bala was a slave! She couldn’t help but protect me. She was compelled after I had done unspeakable acts to her and used her body for myself.
“I’ll kill you!” She cried, taking several steps forward.
“Easy… you need me alive to save her.”
“You don’t need to be alive when I drain the blood from your body!” She snapped.
“Yeah? And how do we take care of after?”
Her steps stopped as the realization came to her. Blood was an aphrodisiac, so pumped full of all that devil blood, Bala would be complete ravenous. If I was dead, there was no one to relieve that pressure. Where it might take a few weeks to drive someone to insanity with normal exposure, Bala would be a lunatic by the morning, driven insane with lust.
“You… pig! The king-“
“The king sent the princesses to be my brides. How have I acted unreasonably? Unlike you, I honor the elvish nobility and acted in accordance with his majesty’s wishes.”
“Brides? One bride! Have you… with both?” Her eyes grew even fiercer.
“Hehe… oops, when he sent both, well, you can forgive a man for growing confused. It doesn’t take a devilkin to struggle to choose between two flowers, so he greedily gobbles them both up.”
Our conversation, even without context, was starting to be worked out by some of the men, and they were now shooting me angry and hateful looks too. As for Ayda, she looked like she was about to have a fit, but only just managed to regain her composure once again. I had to applaud her. Perhaps she wasn’t as bad of a leader as I had made her out to be when I first got here.
Of course, I was mixing lies into what I was saying too. I didn’t want Ayda to understand where she stood with me. It’d be easier dealing with her as long as she couldn’t get a fix on me. I had never touched Saria. She was still pure. However, she was my actual fiancée, and if asked, she would say as much. There is no way Ayda would think I touched Bala and didn’t touch her. Even if she asked and Saria denied it, the effect of slavery could mean that she was lying.
Subtly, I had put a barrier between the two girls and their Aunt. She couldn’t fully trust them, and that isolation would drive them closer to me. Even though they were home now, I refused to let the girls go. They were far too important to my plans.
“Very well, you have said your piece.” Ayda let out a sigh like she was buckling under impossible pressure. “Take him to a cell.”
“I will confirm what you have said, and then decide what happens next.”
As she had ordered, I was dragged away. However, I wasn’t taken far. My cell was actually not in some underground dungeon but in a room built into the walls. I was dragged in and chained to the wall. However, rather than frustration or anger on my face, I wore a sight smile. This Ayda really was a lot more careful than I gave her credit for. That left the question, what was happening in this fort that left her so unhinged. An answer that could leave such an intelligent and stable woman at her wit’s end was definitely something that left me deeply curious.