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Swear on Counted Stars

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A dark night sky marks the hour of twilight. Illuminating it is the moon, full and bright, traces of clouds concealing it. As the night begins to pass, it is revealed fully, surrounded by the shine of a thousand stars.

To the ear of a human, the scene might seem silent. Yet the beast's ears are easily able to pick up every tiny sound. The gentle breeze rustling through the branches, his own paws stepping lightly on the ground, and the much less cautious steps of a creature up ahead.

His nose twitches. With a highly evolved sense of smell, he is able to differentiate between the scents of nature and his prey. He is focused. A predator ready to stalk his prey for as long as possible. After all, he has the whole night.

He escalates his speed slightly, ears perked up in order to catch the sound of anyone near him. But there are none; simply the hopping of the clueless rabbit sends soundwaves to his ears. This will be easy, and easy means a quick kill. He is no more of a killer than any creature in search of food. A target of his will never be toyed with.

Several more steps causes him to peer past the trunk of a tree. A small clearing laid ahead, and he can see his prey clearly now through the darkness. Eyes of a vibrant green narrow in focus. The muscles in his legs tense, body lowering to the ground for just a moment.

Then he pounces. The rabbit's body jolts as though to evade, yet before it even has a chance to react properly, its neck has been punctured by the fangs of a canine, leaving them dripping crimson. Quick and simple. It would have likely been a painless death, and that's what the wolf always wants in his search for food. To ensure he has truly ended the creature's life, he lowers his head down by the rabbit, listening out for any breaths. No sound comes.

Before settling down to eat his catch, the large canine rises his head to the moon, opening his jaw to let out a howl. It is drawn out and slow – perhaps he has done this to call warning to other woodland critters, or to communicate with the other wolves he knows are nearby. Even if he is not sure of his intention, he still receives a howl back, one which he recognises from his own pack.

It is an eerily beautiful sound in the darkness of night.

 


 

Sorey … you awake?"

The boy grumbles, turning over to his side and brushing away the hand which taps his face. He has no care for what time it is – no hour of the clock could stop this sleepiness. Yet the hand's fingers poke harder, causing his voice to rise to a groan. His eyes open and blink when sunshine hits them.

“It's about time! It's already noon, lazy.”

He sits up as an arm rubs at his eyes, finding himself in the clothes he wore the day before. Blinking erases the blurriness in his vision and causes him to take sight of what is in front of him. His best friend, Rose, and behind her, a river he can recall eating by during the night.

“Honestly, why did you even eat and sleep out here? You don't even have to transform during a full moon, you doofus!”

“I only learned how to transform at will recently, you know,” Sorey responds. He gets to his feet, letting out a yawn. His hands proceed to brush dirt off a pair of jeans. “It's gonna take some time getting used to not having to do this at every full moon!”

“Still, sleeping by a river until noon even though you have a damn manor to sleep in? How stupid is that?”

Sorey grins at her. “Just because you're jealous that I learned how to do it first.”

She lets out a huff, folding her arms. “Well, I'll give you that one.”

“To be fair, you don't even look like you've transformed,” Sorey says, eyes scanning her. The red hair falling to her shoulders is tamed, and her outfit is fresh and clean. Usually when a werewolf wakes up as a human in the morning, they will be in a much more unkempt state, not having the chance to tidy themselves until they go back home after a night out in the forest. “Did you wake up early and had time or something?”

“That, and I also had Dezel with me last night. He guided me back home, so getting myself sorted out when transforming back was no problem!”

She gestures to her right, in the direction of a section of trees. Sorey's eyes follow this gesture, falling on a man standing on the side, one boot leaning back onto a tree trunk. A gloved hand rises in greeting.

“Oh, I didn't see you there!”

“Well, you only woke up five minutes ago, and we know how long it can take for you to actually not be half-asleep after.”

Rose sniggers, Sorey pouting. “Hey, I'm better at it now, okay? You try being a werewolf like me, it takes a lot of energy!”

“We get it, Mister Alpha's Son. We've heard all this before.”

“Then try listening!”

“Speaking of the Alpha, don't you need to be somewhere?” Dezel asks, straightening himself out and walking closer. “Doesn't your father like to see you every full moon, to check how your power is doing?”

Sorey scratches the back of his head. “Well yeah, but there's no fixed time of day. As long as he can compare me between when the moon is up and when its not, it should be fine.”

“Sounds tough being his son,” says Rose. “I'm glad I'm just a free wolf. Much more fun!”

“You're not,” Dezel corrects her. “You're still part of the pack.”

“You know what I mean. I'm as free as a member can be!”

“I mean, I'm pretty free too. I'm more free than you'd expect me to be.” Sorey's eyes drift out onto the river. “I mean, dad's always let me be that way, because it's in our nature to be like that. Maybe it'd be different if I was a vampire.”

“Right? All that hierarchy stuff, yikes!” Rose shudders. “Sounds way too controlling.”

“I guess they live too closely to humans,” says Dezel. “While we act like both humans and animals.”

“I can't really know for sure, not when I rarely actually see any vampires,” Sorey responds. He is soon to change the subject as he hears his stomach rumble, a sheepish grin reaching his face as he scratches the back of his head. “Ah, looks like I should have food before I go and see dad. That rabbit I hunted last night must have not been enough.”

“Not with your appetite!” says Rose, bearing him a grin. “But no worries, Dezel and I went fishing earlier and we got a couple of pretty good catches.”

Excitement washes over Sorey. “Nice!”

“… But I didn't say you could eat it.”

She laughs as Sorey gives her a gentle shove. “Don't be like that,” he pouts. “Tell her, Dezel.”

“Don't drag me into this.” Regardless, he walks over to the bag that he and Rose share when going on brief outings together, pulling out two fish wrapped in cling film. “Can you start the fire, Rose?”

“Most certainly!”

She pulls out a box of matches out of the same bag, thanking Sorey who had took it on himself to gather a bunch of twigs from nearby. They are placed into a pile on the ground, Rose lighting a match in order to set fire to it.

With three mackerels placed onto a stick, Dezel joins the two by the fire and begins to cook the fish above the flame. He spins the stick around occasionally in order to cook the fish equally throughout, long enough for it to be well done, yet far from burnt. Sorey and Rose both give a small cheer once the stick is brought away from the fire.

“We have disposable plates, right?” Dezel asks, Rose nodding in return.

“Yup, give me a sec!”

Sorey can almost laugh at the set-up of the combination of traditional hunting with the modernised additions. Rose pulls out three paper plates alongside cutlery, Dezel placing each of the fish onto the plates.

“If you want them skinned, do it yourself,” he says, grabbing a knife to do the job to his own fish. Of course, Rose and Sorey had expected the words. It is not long before all three are chewing the fish, appreciating the delicious freshness that only such a recent catch could bring. It is much more enjoyable than purchasing meat from the market.

As he was eating, Sorey's eyes shift to the positioning of the sun. In between east and west, it is now currently midday, which causes him to sigh. “Ah, I really should hurry up with this,” he says, speaking after taking another bite. “I kinda want some time to rest and things in between our sessions.”

“Are they still pretty hard on you?” Rose asks, taking a sip of water. Sorey shakes his head.

“Nah, I'm used to it by now. But I know that I'd definitely feel it the next day if I overdo it with training, and I think it's best to avoid that.”

“I agree,” says Dezel, “especially with how much you're outdoors. You'd injure yourself if you're not careful.”

Rose nudges Dezel with her elbow, bearing him a grin. “Awh, you really do care sometimes, don't ya?”

Dezel huffs, pushing her arm away as he directs his focus on finishing the remainder of his food. “Not really. I just know that the Alpha's son needs to be in good shape, that's all.”

“Of course Dezel, of course!” says Rose. She gives Sorey a wink, who laughs in response.

Before long, he is getting to his feet. He stretches his arms above his head, hand gripping onto his elbow. “Right, maybe I should get this over with. The sooner he tests me, the sooner I can do what I want.”

“Let us escort –”

“Let us not,” Dezel interrupts Rose with. “Training, remember?”

“Awh, but we did that yesterday!”

“If you want to learn to control your wolf side fully, you need to train every day!”

“But it's boring … Sorey, tell him! Sooorey!”

Sorey laughs as he jogs away from them, turning his head around to look over his shoulder and giving her a wave. “Sorry Rose, I've gotta go get changed before I see dad!”

“You're no fair!”

Yet she is beginning to laugh herself, sticking her tongue out and squeezing her eyes shut. Once Sorey was backing into the trees, he can see her waving, and he continues to return the gesture with a grin before his pace increases once again to a jog.

 


 

Even though he feels like he is brimming with energy after sleeping in, he still chooses to not transform in order to reach his home faster. It is tiring for any wolf to transform without much break in between the sessions, never mind one who has only recently learned to transform at will. It is best to save his energy as much as possible for the tests he will have to go through today.

They are not particularly gruelling. Easily able to be handled, mostly tests of strength, defensive abilities and speed. Yet he goes through these tests as both a human and a wolf, now having to transform at will for them, and he will also have to do the same once the moon is back in the sky, in order to see how much it will enhance his power.

Ordinary wolves do not need this. As long as they are strong enough to fend for themselves whilst they are out on a hunt, and are able to defend their pack should it be needed, then they are fine. However, Sorey is different. As the son of the pack's Alpha, its powerful leader, he needs a strength and resiliency higher than the rest. It is tiring, yet Sorey has never minded it. It is his duty to take after his father once the time is right, after all. He has to make sure he prepares for that day when it arrives.

The two live in a large manor located in Lastonbell, one of the few cities inhabited by werewolves only. This is the way that the world works – in some cities, werewolves, vampires and humans are separated. In others, they choose to live together. Some find safety in the first. However, others are in fact the opposite, believing that keeping themselves apart will only make it more likely for conflict to start between them. Or more specifically, between werewolves and vampires, with humans stuck between them. It has been a rivalry lasting for hundreds of years.

Sorey is part of the second. Despite living in a werewolf dominated land, what he truly wants is to coexist with other races. He believes that there is only so much one could know about vampires and humans through books and articles. To understand their kind properly, he knows that he has to speak to them directly.

He has done so at times. He is, by no means, trapped in Lastonbell. If his duties are completed first, he has every opportunity to leave the city and travel to almost wherever he wishes, as long as he is safe. His wish to allow the pack to meet others is perhaps not unknown, either – he has still yet to find the courage to ask his father about this. The only ones who truly know of what he wishes to obtain when he becomes the Alpha are Rose and Dezel. Both are at least partially in agreement, yet the latter much more wary, saying that they do not know enough about others to coexist. It is easy to fear the unknown.

Sorey understands this. Yet even so, he still does not hold this fear himself. He has not spoken to vampires anywhere near as much as he wants to and still has much to learn, but the times he has managed to exchange even a few brief words has been wonderful for him. They are different, but in his eyes, differences are a good thing. The world simply does not agree. That includes the father who Sorey is now venturing down the path of his manor towards.

It is not incredibly extravagant, or at least, not as much as one might expect of those with such a high status and wealth. Yet the land is still impressive, its appearance clearly suited for its kind. Whilst the lines of hedges and the large building with a modern charm are neat and sophisticated, the rest is wilder; the grass, whilst not overgrown immensely, is not trimmed short either. Trees are scattered across the land with their leaves concealing parts of the manor from view, and plants have been allowed to grow up the stone walls.

None of it seems out of place. The hint of messiness seems to only emphasise who lives there, and even though the gardens look natural, they are also tamed enough for neatness. It is something visitors tend to admire as they walk down the cobblestone path that Sorey is currently on himself.

Accustomed to the appearance, Sorey is not phased by it and reaches for the looped handle of the front door with barely a glance at his surroundings. Its creaking echoes in an eerily silent hallway. Had this been in the night and not in his own home, Sorey might have been feeling unsettled by it.

“Good afternoon, sir,” he is greeted with once he has stepped forward. He turns to find a butler, giving him a smile.

“Hey! Is dad upstairs?”

“Yes, he is waiting for you, sir.”

“I thought he would be.” Sorey scratches the back of his head. “I told you that you don't have to call me 'sir'. Sorey is fine!”

“O-Oh, I could not possibly do that. I'm only half-blood, after all … to speak to you in a casual way, sir, is unthinkable.”

Sorey lets out a sigh. “Ugh. All that half-blood stuff doesn't make any sense. I understand, though. All right, I best head on up there.”

“Then if you'll excuse me, sir.”

With a bow, the butler walks away – hurriedly, Sorey notices. A pang of frustration hits his chest. He himself is not feared. He has been told many times that his personality is one which others do not expect from someone of his status. However, that does not stop this said status from being intimidating all on its own. In the eyes of others, Sorey holds a power which is only beaten by that of his father. And power, regardless of how pure and innocent one may seem to begin with, can take its control and change them into someone who they have never been before.

No matter what others fear, however, Sorey is determined to not let this happen to him. He will give up his future of leading the pack if it means that he will stay as who he is.

After climbing up a set of stairs leading to the first floor, Sorey makes his way down towards the room which he knows that his father is waiting in. Surrounding Sorey are beige walls and simple decorations, the ceiling high above a dark brown carpet. The colour scheme and simplicity makes this place feel homely, yet not as much as being outside with his friends did.

He knocks three times on a wooden door before opening it. Inside, the consistent décor of the manor changes. This is a room dedicated to training, even more modernised than the rest. Sorey knows that as technology improves, so does this room. Spacious and full of equipment, it is available for anyone in the manor, all but for the days in which Sorey shall be participating in his monthly tests.

“Ah, there you are. I was wondering if you were going to be late.”

The voice belongs to his father, named Heldalf. The man stands in clothing much more casual than usual; he often dons large faux fur coats and outfits which represent his position of power, yet now, he is much more like his son in clothes which fitted loosely, better suited for exercise. He is standing in the centre of the room, his muscular arms folded.

“Sorry about that, I still kind of feel like I have to go outside at the full moon,” Sorey says, letting out an awkward laugh before he scratches his chin. “I guess old habits can be hard to get rid of, huh?”

“Of course. I was the same when I first learned to transform at will as well. Just never forget about these sessions.”

“Never, I know they're important!”

Heldalf nods, his facial hair concealing a tiny smile. “Good. All right, warm up first, and then we can start.”

This is essential for Sorey to not pull any muscles and potentially injure himself during the session. It is a mixture of training and a test, where he works on the already existing strength and skills he trains himself over the weeks, and see how much he has improved since the last month. At first, the changes had arrived slowly, but now there is a noticeable difference during each of these tests. Sometimes Sorey can even see improvement within a matter of a few weeks.

Minutes later, Sorey is finishing off preparing himself, one arm over the other to stretch the muscle. Once he feels he is ready and has rolled his shoulder for a moment, he is jumping from one foot to another, a grin on his face.

“All right, I'm ready! What are we doing first?”

Heldalf ponders this for a moment, before gesturing to a punching bag closer to the back wall. “Let's have a look at how your speed and strength is to start with. They are both vital.”

Sorey nodded, jogging over and standing a few feet away. He inhales deeply to bring himself focus, for there is much more to throwing punches than merely throwing weight around, as he has grown to learn over time.

Once he feels as though his mind is focused enough, his first punch is quick to proceed into a fury of them – stood lightly on his feet, he keeps up a rhythm which causes Heldalf's eyes to widen a little in surprise, yet this is the only evidence that he is taken aback by his son's improvement. He stands silently as he observes every movement.

A high kick is soon to replace the punches, his leg muscle tensing before it is slammed against the punching bag. After several more meet its target in succession, Sorey saw Heldalf raise his hand out of the corner of his eye, and he brings himself to a stop. The back of his hand wipes sweat off his forehead as he grins.

“How was that?”

“You are certainly getting a lot better at fundamentals. Your stamina is building up, too.”

“Yeah, I'm hardly breathing any differently!”

“We shall see how that keeps up. Have a few sips of water, and then you will defend against me.”

Sorey nods, turning the cap off a bottle and gulping down some of the water inside, letting out an appreciative sound as he wipes his mouth with the back on his hand. As soon as the bottle is placed back down onto the floor, he is jogging closer to Heldalf.

Knowing what is about to happen without any words being spoken, Sorey's arms are lifted up in time for Heldalf to send a kick in his direction. As Heldalf follows this up with a strong punch, Sorey's legs push back slightly, yet he is prepared enough to stand his ground. He blocks each attack thrown at him, surprising himself by not faltering once. As Heldalf's last punch is thrown, Sorey even performs a counter attack when he sees how stronger it is; he grasps onto Heldalf's arm and throws him to the floor.

“A-Ah, I'm sorry, dad!” he apologises immediately after the shout he had released. “It was instinct, I didn't mean to!”

Heldalf was shaking his head, bearing Sorey a smile as he got to his feet. “It's all right, I wanted you to do that. I purposefully attacked with more strength in order to see if you would counter. You passed the test.”

“Oh, I see … Still, a little warning would have been nice.”

“If I had told you what I was going to do, then your reflexes would have been hindered.” Heldalf proceeds to gesture to over his shoulder. “Now, shall we continue now we've tested your defences?”

“Sure!”

The exercises continue to be normal, the kind suitable for regular humans, not just werewolves. They are simple yet effective, and Sorey knows that Heldalf, as always, is observing everything. Most specifically, he is searching for any sign of an increase in his abilities, and the differences between him and those who are ordinary. Because that word is far from describing how Sorey is.

The extent of this is clear in the final exercises. Once Sorey finishes training physically in his human form, Heldalf, who seems satisfied with Sorey's progress, is soon giving his next instructions. These are still fairly new to Sorey, yet he already has them memorised.

“Now we shall see how your strength is developing in your wolf form.”

Sorey nods. Inhaling deeply, he closes his eyes. The transformation process for other wolves – or more specifically, those who are unable to transform at will – tends to be tremendously painful. After all, they are forced into it against their will as soon as a full moon has risen in the sky. But that is not the case here.

A flash of what can only be described as shadows forms around Sorey's body, stretching out and disintegrating into the air, leaving a beast in its wake. This is Sorey's wolf form. The height is, like the majority of werewolves, impressive; stood on strong legs is a beast a third times the size of a regular wolf. Yet aside from this, the form looks no different than any other wolf with brown fur. Though the green eyes which are gazing at his father could possibly be seen as those of a human.

“You have gotten quicker at the transformation,” Heldalf comments, giving a nod of approval. “That is a good skill to have.”

He lets out a chuckle as Sorey responds with a bark. He does not need to be told what to do next. His hind legs tense as he leaps onto a tall stack of containers nearby, jumping onto the floor straight after before he repeats the process. This is in order to test the speed and strength of the wolf's speed. These simpler tests continue in this form. Ones which continue to test the same skills, and the stamina that often increases once werewolves are in this form.

The most important test of strength is what follows this. A plank of wood is now being held between Heldalf's hands and was hovering in the air in front of Sorey. He walks over to it, leaning his head down and opening his jaw. Drips of saliva form in between its fangs. These fangs bite straight through the wood with no struggle in the slightest. The plank is left in two parts, the ends covered in splinters.

“You are already showing tremendous improvement,” says Heldalf, placing the broken pieces down to one side. His hands are now holding up a piece of metal the same size. “How do you feel about testing this?”

Sorey's head inclines in acceptance of this test. He takes more time to tense his jaw this time around, to find the strength within the muscles of it, before his teeth bite down. This time, the material does not break, but the fangs were certainly enough to puncture the metal fairly well.

“Brilliant.” There is no mistaking that Heldalf is impressed through his voice. Sorey removes his fangs from the metal, stretching out his jaw from the small amount of pain it has caused. “You would have never been able to do that months ago. I think before long, you'll be able to bite through it fully.” He places this one in the trash too before he gives Sorey a small smile. “All right, you can transform back, now. We're done here.”

Sorey nods, his head lowering as he concentrates. Moments later in the same cloud of shadow, he is now standing back in his usual form, dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing previously. His hand is soon rubbing his jaw.

“Yikes, that hurt more than I prepared myself for!” he exclaims.

“It was your first time trying something to that degree. I'm not surprised it hurt you.”

Sorey pouts. “Could've told me.”

“You seem fine to me.”

“That's what you think.” Regardless, Sorey is soon chuckling, before he asks, “Does this mean I can go, then?”

“Of course. Just make sure you're back here tonight; it's the last night of the full moon, after all.”

“Yeah, I know. I'll see you later then, dad!”

Sorey takes no more time than what is needed to exit the room. It is not until he is outside the manor, however, that he allows himself to release a deep sigh.

It is not as though he dislikes his father. He is sure he can never bring himself to do that. Yet there are times where he feels as though what the emotions he has towards his father go no further than respect and appreciation. To put simply, what he is supposed to feel. These sessions sometimes make him wonder if there is more to their relationship than this. After all, they rarely spend time with each other outside of it, making it seem as though this is all that matters. That Heldalf was nothing more than a father by blood, and the mentor which trains him to be stronger. All that matters is Sorey taking over the position which has been waiting for him all his life.

Sorey shakes his head furiously, slapping his cheeks as though to snap himself out of these thoughts. 'He's my dad, I shouldn't think this way. We just haven't spent as much time together lately because he's been busy as our pack's leader. I need to be more understanding.'

Feeling guilty and pushing away these thoughts which have made their way into his mind, Sorey continues to walk away from the manor with the plan to meet back up with Rose and Dezel. His eyes glance up at the sky, smiling at how clear it is, and he finds that once he was back walking through nature, his concerns over his father have disappeared completely.

 


 

 

Hours later, Sorey is laid on a patch of grass with his arms resting behind his head. Next to him is Rose sprawled out on her back, her breathing still a little heavy from her training with Dezel. He is a little in front of them, crouching as he scoops water out of the river they had been by earlier. Even if all of them have their own homes, their natures often bring them to do such things, finding enjoyment in staying outside and doing as much as possible there.

“One day,” Rose exclaims suddenly, raising her fist into the air, “I'm going to be like both of you. I'm going to be able to transform at will!”

Sorey sits up to grin at her. “You will! You've definitely made process.” He turns to face Dezel. “Right, Dezel?”

A nod is given in return. “She has. She still has some way to go, but she's come far, as long as she actually keeps it up.”

“Don't speak about me like I'm not here!” she pouts. She is soon sitting up herself. She looks a little more thoughtful, as though she was thinking about the topic a little more seriously. “There's just so much opportunity that comes from being able to transform at will, you know? It's really exciting to me!”

“That's how I felt when I was getting closer to achieving it,” says Sorey. His eyes find the river flowing in front of them. A small smile reaches his face. “When you're able to control yourself that way, a lot of doors open for you.”

Dezel glances at Sorey. “You're talking about those humans again, aren't you?”

“W-Well …”

“What do humans have to do with this?” Rose asks, seeming confused.

“Sorey's probably thinking that it's easier to be around them when you won't be forced into a wolf at every night of the full moon.”

“It's true.” Sorey's voice is a little defensive. “I just want to be able to be around them, you know? What's so bad about humans, anyway?”

“They're scared of us, for one thing. Vampires, too. Fear is a dangerous emotion in any creature, but that's mostly true when it comes to humans.” Dezel gets to his feet, fastening the lid on his bottle of water. “Who knows where that fear would lead. After all, they hold more power than some of us realise. Humans have done some disgusting things in the past, and if our kind interferes too much, they may just attack us.”

“It's not as though werewolves haven't done those kind of things, too.”

A brief silence falls. It is likely because Dezel knows Sorey is right.

“Look guys, don't argue over this again, all right?” Rose interferes. “I'm sure Sorey will be fine as long as he's careful.”

“I trust in that, and I'm not stopping you from doing anything. You know that I approve of how much you wish for equality, as many of us do, even if it's just secretly. I just wanted you to be aware. If you're going to be friendly with humans or vampires, watch your back. We differ more from them than you'd realise.”

“Differences don't just set us apart, though,” says Sorey. “They can bring us together as long as we accept them. We could all learn so much from each other if we just tried.

“It's too bad that not everyone agrees with this,” Rose responds, letting out a sigh. “It seems as though peace between us will never come. I can't imagine our kinds being anything but apart.”

Her words are true. As much as Sorey never wants to hear them, as much as he wants a world where everyone can live together in harmony, he knows that he cannot deny this truth. He simply wants to think positively. Yet deep down, he knows that this positive thinking is unrealistic more than it is optimistic. Unrealistic optimism will lead to disappointment at best. At its worse, it will bring back the hell which once existed for their ancestors.

It is not as though improvement has not occurred. Their current situation is the best it has ever been. Very little war and conflict exists between them, with the exception of a few less developed places, unlike the dark times of the past where all the people had known was fighting. Where fear lurked in every town, every city – there had been no escape from it. Living mostly separate as they do now, choosing more often than not to stay away from each other and keep to themselves, is the better option without a doubt. At least now, no one loses their homes, their loved ones, or their own lives. They are also blessed with the small amount of areas where different races did coexist.

Sorey is simply not able to, however, remove the slight bit of hope that remained. The hope that perhaps it could improve further. If there are already these locations where the three races lived among each other in harmony, why did it have to be seen as false hope to wish for this to go further? Is it really so hopeless to wish for this? Whilst Sorey knows it is better to live in reality than fantasy, as long as there are those who do live in the way that Sorey wishes for, it seems unreasonable to believe that nothing else will change.

If the wish he sees as reasonable is really so impossible, Sorey wishes at the very least to have someone who shares his ideals. Properly, unlike Rose and Dezel. The two do say that they agree with him. But unlike Sorey, they do not actively research on the places which are equal, nor do they travel with the purpose of meeting those who are not like them.

Sorey adores the pair. The two have been together longer than he has known them, yet he still feels as though he is truly their friend, that he belongs by their side. But no amount of adoration can stop the frustration that has been caused by them not agreeing more. That they do not share his ideals in a way which goes no further than simple agreement and support, rather than actually believe that things could possibly be changed. That they could strive for a future where the world could unite one by one.

Being so passionate about his own dream without the company of another is lonely. He has friends – in fact, the entire pack consisting of dozens could be seen as a whole family. But that is not the same as someone who supports you well and truly. It is not the same as someone who wants to share your dream with you.

It is in this moment that he decides he will do anything he can to find that unknown person he wishes to meet, even if he cannot know for sure if they exist. He does not want his dream to be his alone.

Chapter Text

Draped over two glass doors leading onto a balcony are see-through white curtains, blowing gently from the night's wind creeping through a small gap between the doors. Through them, you can look past the balcony to a night sky above the gardens of a palace. Brightly lit stars circle around a full moon. A beautiful sight, yet also tragic when you realise how it is the stars which shine the most who are the ones which are waiting to die the soonest.

The boy whose fingers dance along the keys of a piano knows this fact all too well. The beautiful notes which resound from the instrument represent this. The music is being played by a musician with a clearly polished talent, years of experience and practice in their wake. This skill is able to further emphasise the sadness of those notes.

It is hard to put a finger on how exactly this music is upsetting. Perhaps it is how whilst most of his kind, who tend to strive better at night, are out there living their lives and enjoying themselves; even in his palace, he knows that visitors are gathering together, that his small family are likely the same. Yet as one who is separated from them by circumstance and his own views, he is instead locking himself away in his room, letting the piano notes carry him away.

His fingers seeming to have a mind of their own, the boy can shift his gaze away from the piano in order to gaze out at the night concealed by the flowing curtains. He knows that resting in that sky is the full moon, meaning the race opposite to his own are also out there, roaming underneath what transforms them. This scene, combining with the piano that he is playing, is chilling. He knows he should sleep soon, yet he finds himself captivated by what he himself is creating, the music which represents the loneliness this hour brings.

It is an eerily beautiful sound in the darkness of night.

 


 

Your highness? I've been instructed to come wake you up … Your highness …”

The prince's nose twitches sleepily. An arm he has held over his face rubs over his eyes. He sits up slowly, strands of white hair sticking out from his head. He can hardly remember actually getting into bed to sleep. But it is clear that he must have done so; he is dressed in loose silk pyjamas with the covers of his bed resting over his lap.

“Are you all right, Prince Mikleo? You seem very tired.”

Violet eyes fall on the woman who is asking this. She is one of the daytime maids, wearing the quality uniform given to all women in this position. Mikleo nods, arms reaching over his head in order to stretch the muscles surrounding his scapula.

“Yes, I'm fine. I think I had a little bit of a late night.”

Now that he has mentioned it, the memories return to him. He almost heard those piano keys in his dreams. It is the one thing which could ease his mind before sleep, soothing him unlike anything else can. There is no denying that sometimes, however, he finds himself getting carried away.

Nodding in understanding, the maid smiles. “The Queen and Lord Michael would like you to join them for breakfast.”

“They're awake at this time?”

“Yes, they have been readjusting their sleeping schedules. I believe it is because they have more businesses to attend to during the day.”

“Ah, I do believe they mentioned that in passing, actually.” Mikleo pulls the covers off himself, continuing with, “Can you please tell them that I'll be down in a few minutes once I'm dressed?”

“Of course, your highness,” says the maid, bowing her head. She gives him one last smile before she leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind herself.

Mikleo feels a little relieved. This maid has now been working in the palace for two years, since he was sixteen. Like most, she seemed to have feared him at first. Less because of his personality and more because of his position of hierarchy. He understands this well; after all, all vampires of this position are half-bloods, typically looked down upon and the receiver of racism which is not always quite so subtle.

'We're more alike than you'd realise,' Mikleo often thinks to himself. She must have seen this by now. It has taken a while, but at least she has finally learned to grow more comfortable around him. He can only hope that this will also happen to other timid workers.

After getting to his feet, Mikleo walks over to the walk-in wardrobe located in his room. As he knows that the visitor he has today is one he will only have to wear casual clothing for, he settles on clothing which is not quite as elegant and extravagant as it can sometimes be.

Once the pyjamas are removed, he is slipping his arms into the soft turquoise material of a tunic, which he tucks in at the waist by a fake leather belt. Slender legs are slid into slim-fitting white trousers, and he slips on knee-high boots of a warm dark grey over them. He takes a moment to glance at himself in the mirror. Even if he is not to be seen by any visitor of particular importance, it is still an unspoken necessity to appear maintained.

Many other vampires choose to opt for much darker colours than this. Black, darker shades of grey, reds, sometimes midnight blues – the only colour here that Mikleo himself has a fondness for is the latter, but only when teamed with white and silver. It is one of the many things which makes him stand apart from others. And with his sweeping white hair, he looks even less like a stereotypical vampire. Even his porcelain skin seems more tantamount to that of a doll than the greyish tinge other pale vampires sometimes tend to have.

Following the change into his clothes comes the quick brushing of his hair to ease the messiness. He decides that showering will be best to come later; after all, he has training today, and there is no use washing now only for him to have to do so again hours later. And so now, he is able to exit his bedroom and make his way through the palace's corridors.

Decorated with white walls, deep crimson carpets and chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, as well as the candle holders attached to the walls, it certainly holds a gothic atmosphere perfectly suitable for his kind. Mikleo himself does not hold too much of a fondness. He is very much interested in the history behind the architecture, especially with how this type of décor and the building itself goes back for years on end. But the appearance itself is a different story. Mikleo often finds himself disliking anything which holds the stereotype of who he is.

His steps take eventually take him to the double doors leading to the dining room. His hand grasps onto the silver door handle, pulling it down to open it. Creak. They really could do with oiling the hinges again. The building is slowly beginning to sound as old as it really is.

“Good morning, Mikleo.”

A smile rises to Mikleo's face as soon as he hears his mother's voice. It is the one thing which can bring him happiness these days. When there are little visitors eating with them, she always chooses to sit where she is now; on the side of the table, rather than the chair on the end saved for the Queen. She is donned in a dress of deep red and much lighter creams. It is simpler than her other dresses, yet still has an air of quality. Teamed with her light brown plait falling over one shoulder, she has the classic appearance she always wears beautifully.

Opposite her is a man who does not quite bring Mikleo as much happiness. Michael, his uncle. The two get along fairly well – or at least, do so as much as they are expected to. Yet despite how it is in fact his sister rather than him who has the highest position of power, he is typically the one responsible for the strict rules and guidelines in Mikleo's life. It is 'all for the best', so he says. It has been recently that Mikleo has started to doubt this.

“Good morning,” Mikleo says as he walks over. His choice of where to sit is not considered for a moment; he sits right next to his mother. He finds that a plate of food has already been left there for him; the dish was one of his personal favourites, a strawberry crepe with honey sauce. He has always had a sweet tooth. Two glasses rest nearby. One is a glass of orange juice and then, of course, a glass filled with blood.

Before eating, he gives a smile to both of his relatives, the one he saves for his mother a lot more natural to give. He asks, “How are you both? Slept well?”

“I've been sleeping pretty heavily these days,” says Michael after he finishes a bite of food. “A lot of work as been done lately, after all; I find myself exhausted enough to fall asleep quickly each night. That has been the same for you, Muse, hasn't it?”

She nods. “Yes, definitely. I think it is nice, though. I sometimes struggle to sleep otherwise.” She turns to Mikleo, a warm smile on her face. “Though I heard you playing the piano again last night. You really have improved a lot with it in a short space of time.”

Mikleo clears his throat. He often finds himself struggling to think of a reply to give to his mother's compliments; after all, her words are never the flattery he receives from others, but rather genuine appreciation for his talents. “Yeah, I've been able to have a lot of practice,” he replies eventually. His hand picks up the glass of blood when he realises how much he is lacking in it, swirling the liquid and bringing it up to his face. As he always does as a precaution, he takes a sniff of it. Good. It is definitely animal blood.

“You've still had time for your studies, haven't you?” Michael asks. The voice is not spoken harshly; Mikleo knows that this was a necessity to ask. He nods his head.

“Of course. I have spare time still though, and I like to be productive when I'm not reading. I can fit everything in.”

“Please don't put too much on yourself though, Mikleo,” says Muse. “There's only so much a boy your age can handle.”

He chuckles. “I'm already eighteen. Basically an adult.”

“It is still a lot, especially with your responsibilities as a prince. I worry that you will burn yourself out one day.”

“I'll be fine, honestly.” He begins to cut up his crepe, placing a bite of it into his mouth. After he chews and swallows it, he speaks again. “Sergei is definitely coming around today, isn't he?”

“That's right.” Michael's eyebrows furrow, his mood seeming to drop a little. “I still feel rather concerned about having a human visit here so often, especially as he is not actually from Hyland. He hasn't seemed … suspicious at all during your sessions, has he?”

Mikleo shakes his head immediately. “Not at all. Sergei strives to be the best person he can be, uncle. That includes being helpful towards others. Not all humans are as bad as you say, I'm sure.”

“There is no way that you can be sure of that.”

The words force Mikleo into a silence. Whilst Michael is now finishing off his own food, Mikleo finds that his appetite has practically disappeared. The sweetness of a strawberry could be a piece of cardboard for all he knows.

Wanting to lighten the mood, Muse says, “I would say that Sergei at the very least can be trusted. You've come far already with his training, haven't you?”

Mikleo merely nods. He appreciates her wish to fight the tension which has fallen over them, and often times, she can succeed. But there are certain words which manage to get under his skin more than others. These are some of those words.

He rises the glass of blood to his lips in order to drain the rest, knowing he at least has to be nourished from something. Muse's and Michael's eyes avert to him as he then leans his hands down on the edge of the table to stand up.

“I'm sorry, but I feel rather sick.”

“You're not ill, are you?” Muse asks, concern flickering in her eyes.

“No, I just no longer have an appetite. I'm going to go read until Sergei arrives, if you'll excuse me.”

He leaves silently, shutting the door quietly behind him. A deep exhale escapes him once he is in the hallway. Guilt is beginning to wash over him. Mostly for his mother, as he never likes to leave her presence so suddenly. Yet it is also partially for his uncle too, as he really does know that Michael wants the best for him. It is the way that the man goes about it that Mikleo dislikes.

The reasons why Michael can be so harsh are as clear as day. He often worries just as much as his sister. But that does not mean to say that Mikleo will happily let himself receive Michael's rudeness, to accept it for what it is. There are times he has to draw the line before he loses his temper.

He finds this temper easing the moment he enters the large library their palace is blessed with. Aside from his bedroom, where he is comforted by the privacy, this is his favourite place of his home. Extravagant could almost be too mediocre of a word to describe the huge shelves of books which line the walls, the sophisticated marble flooring which rests beneath his feet, the silver chandelier hanging from the high ceiling, the tall clear windows from which the morning light shines inside … Mikleo is not always one for such a lavish display. But as the home of the many books he spent hours escaping inside the pages of, he finds himself having a fondness for it.

He settles down onto one of the sofas, taking a book at random and opening it. By this point, there is a large chance that he will end up picking up a book he has already read. He has adored reading ever since he was a child, after all. Yet he would never mind if this happens. He enjoyed almost everything here, in the place where he can find gratefulness for the solitude he usually dislikes, where he felt as though there is nothing which can judge him or his life.

As it always does when he is settled here, time passes fairly quickly as he loses himself within the words. Reading as much as he has over the years allows him to be able to do so fairly quickly, so by the time the door to the library creaks as it is opened, he is already fairly far into the pages.

“Ah, Prince Mikleo, there you are!”

The voice belongs to the maid from earlier. Mikleo slips a bookmark he always carries around with him between the pages he has been reading, placing it onto a mahogany end table to his side as he makes eye contact with her.

“Is Sergei here?” he asked.

“Yes, that's right. The Queen said you were likely to be here.”

A small smile creeps to his face. “She is not wrong,” he says, getting to his feet. “Thank you for informing me.”

“No need to thank me, your highness. Now, if you'll excuse me, I should start preparing the dining room for lunch.”

The woman bows her head before she leaves the room. Mikleo is soon to follow in her footsteps, except from taking a right turn towards where he knows he is to meet Sergei. He is starting to feel grateful that their session is today. After all, he is certain that nothing is quite like training for fighting against built-up frustration.

 


 

Minutes later find him walking through the ground floor of the palace. He makes his way to one of the farthest rooms of the palace, closed off by a single door. He opens it, bringing a little more light inside. His foot steps out onto stone flooring.

“Ah, there you are, Prince Mikleo! It's good to see you again!”

Always one to admire how enthusiastic Sergei was every time the two see each other, Mikleo has to suppress a chuckle, smiling at the man instead. His appearance is the same as always; the casual clothing he wears under a suit of armour, the spiked up brown hair, the perfectly trimmed beard. The familiarity is soothing all on its own.

“It's good to see you too,” Mikleo says as he closes the door after him. He and Sergei are stood in a rather spacious room built specifically for training. Weapons are lined on the walls, mostly consisting of swords, though there are also a selection of bows and spears accompanying them. Vampires do not always train themselves in such things, yet due to Mikleo's position as the next in line for the throne, it is a necessity for him to be able to defend for himself against anyone.

“I'm afraid that I do have business to attend to back home later today, so our session might be a little rushed,” Sergei explains. “I do apologise!”

“That's all right, there's a lot of duties I have to attend to myself as well.” Mikleo's hand reaches out to the storage besides him and grips onto the blue handle of a long, thin sword. He holds it out in front of him so the tip of the blade points at Sergei. “Sword practice first?”

Sergei chuckles, reaching to remove his own sword from his holster. “But of course, Prince!”

In an instant, the sound of steel resounds in the room, echoing off the concrete walls. Mikleo perches on the balls of his feet, stepping to the side as he evades Sergei's careful attacks, he almost appears as though he is floating. An angel rather than a vampire.

Once Sergei is confident that Mikleo has built up a rhythm in which he can defend himself well with, his speed is picked up, which is the moment that Mikleo begins to counter. He leaps into the air to avoid Sergei's foot sweeping by his own feet, body landing to Sergei's side and slashing the sword down. He is ready to stop the attack if Sergei is not there to defend against it, yet he manages to do so. His blade clashes once again with Mikleo's. He forces the prince back, who lands flawlessly in place.

Sergei grins. His sword has not moved from being held towards Mikleo. “You've certainly gotten better, Prince!”

“All that practice hasn't been for nothing.”

Mikleo leaps forward again, Sergei's instincts telling him to sidestep and thrust his sword forward. Mikleo rolls out of the way, bringing his sword up against Sergei's. The continuous dance of offence and defence does not stop for some time. Whilst Sergei is better built in size and with physical strength, Mikleo is fast and agile, allowing both to have their advantages and disadvantages against each other. It is easy to believe that they are equally matched, and no victor would arise from this.

Yet it is not long before an end is decided for them. A swift kick to the back of Mikleo's legs sends him falling down to the floor with a wince, a sword held in front of his throat before he has the chance to grab is own.

“It seems as though I win this time,” says Sergei. He returns his sword to its holster before stretching his hand out to Mikleo. “But it was a good fight. I've not had to put that much effort in for a while!”

Panting, Mikleo takes the offered hand and allows himself to be brought up to his feet. The sword is still held in his spare hand. He walks over to place it back into its storage, saying, “Still, I have a long way to go. I should have been able to go on longer for that. If it was real, I could very well be dead right now.”

“You are far too harsh on yourself! I'm a knight who has been training for a long time now; you have been holding a sword for a much shorter time. It is only normal for you to not quite be able to overcome me in a fight.”

Despite knowing deep down that the words were filled with truth, Mikleo can only bring himself to force a smile. He knows that he is experienced. He knows that he will improve over time and has done so already. Yet when responsibility falls heavy on his shoulders and he knows how much danger exists in the world, he cannot afford to fall behind. He cannot afford to remain weak.

“All right, I do believe I have some more time before I have to head back to Rolance,” says Sergei, his eyes drifting to a clock ticking on the wall. “Would you like a bit more practice with anything else?”

Mikleo nods. “Of course. We should never waste time.”

His hand reaches for the wall to take hold of a bow and arrow. He knows that using this will bring back his confidence. It is the one weapon which feels natural to hold, something which he finds that he can use better than the rest. If only a long range weapon would assist with combat up close; there would be no use to be so harsh on himself in regards to his lesser talent in using a sword.

“Right, let's go for the target closest!”

Mikleo nods. He pulls out an arrow, carefully easing it into its place on the bow's string. He breathes out, feeling his frustration with himself fade away. Once he is certain that he is focused, he aims the bow at a dummy. The arrow is pulled back, a moment taken to steady his hands. He then releases it.

Perfect shot. It has been shot directly into the chest of the dummy, a thin trail of sand pouring out from where the tip of the arrow had pierced. Sergei whistles, giving Mikleo a thumbs up.

“That was great; you didn't even have to warm up!”

“Of course,” says Mikleo, his confidence returning. “I'm best at this, after all.”

His next aim is at a pile of sacks located a little further away. To test himself, he spends less time to position the arrow and release it. It pierces the middle sack more off centre than he wished to aim for, yet with less preparation, he decides that hitting his target was enough.

He proceeds to an actual target located on the far wall. He takes a little extra time with this, breathing quietly and at a steady pace as he forces all shakiness out of his hands. He positions the arrow in place, narrowing his eyes to focus on the target. Once he feels as though he is ready, he releases the arrow.

Smack. It lands in the centre of the target. Despite his confidence with a bow and arrow, Mikleo cannot hide how he is impressed with himself. There is no mistaking the proud smile which reaches his face, or how his eyes seem to lit up from the direct hit.

“Brilliant!” Sergei exclaims, jogging closer to the target in order to peer up at the perfect shot, green eyes lighting up. “You're even better at this than some of the archers in the army!”

“I've trained with this more than anything else whilst you've been away, in all honestly,” says Mikleo. “I know I shouldn't when I should focus on what I struggle with, but –”

“There is no need to defend yourself over this,” Sergei interrupts kindly as he gives Mikleo a reassuring smile. “I know how it feels to hold a weapon you feel most comfortable in. It gives you confidence, helps to ease your mind. Plus, it is fine to continue to hone what you're best at!”

“Thanks, Sergei,” Mikleo responds, returning the smile. “I appreciate it.”

“You're welcome! Now, we haven't got much time left, so do you want to move onto something else for a few minutes or wind down with this?”

Flashes of the words spoken at breakfast return to him, causing him to remember the frustration that they had brought. He glances down at the bow in his hand, immediately finding his answer upon doing so.

“I'm going to use this a little bit more.”

Sergei nodded, stepping back and folding his arms. “Then go right ahead.”

Mikleo does not have to be told twice. He is quick to pull back another arrow and shoot it at the dummy from before, this time through the head. He does so again through its chest, before rolling and hitting the far off target from earlier. Not in the centre, but after his speed, the edge is close enough.

A few more arrows are sent across the room, the focus spent on each one seeming to help ease his stress, before their session has finally come to an end. His breathing a little heavy from the exertion, he glances at the bow and arrow with a smile. Even if he is not one who would ever wish to harm another unless absolutely necessary, he cannot deny how this is one of his favourite hobbies.

He returns the bow and arrow to their rightful place, before turning to Sergei with a smile. “Thank you again for today,” he says, holding his hand out towards the knight. “Your encouragement and practice with me definitely helps a lot.”

“It's always a pleasure to assist you,” answers Sergei, taking the hand and giving it a firm squeeze. Perhaps a little too firm, for he appears apologetic and is soon to release the hold. “I only wish that I was located closer to you, so I could train with you more frequently!”

“That is simply … unfortunate circumstances, I suppose.”

“Yes … but still, Pendrago is one of those places where any race is welcome, you know. We will always welcome you if you would like to visit us one day!”

A pang of pain hits Mikleo in the chest. “Yeah,” he says, forcing a smile which he hopes covers the sadness he is feeling. “I hope so.”

His mind is wandering when he escorts Sergei towards the front of the palace, yet still finds it in himself to chat during their walk and to react as expected. At the front doors, he smiles at Sergei, who bows before exiting through the doors with a wave. A butler escorts him down the steps leading up to the palace and towards the exit.

Mikleo's attention is then drawn to himself. He has worked up a lot of sweat during the training, and is now thankful that he chose to leave his wash until now after all, especially with how he can feel pain and fatigue washing over him. He declines a passing maid about whether he requires anything, wishing to hurry to his en suite bathroom without bumping into anyone. He is relieved when this is granted and he has made it to his room.

His thoughts move back to his and Sergei's training session as he dips his hand into the water pouring into the bath before him, and then more specifically, the words that Sergei had spoken to him.

“Pendrago, huh?” he murmurs to himself, switching off the tap when the bath is filled enough to his liking. To go so far, to a whole other country … that can be no more than a dream, and a dream he knows will never be granted.

 


 

The day continues to pass. It is somewhat of a blur, with Mikleo's head hanging over books in order to study from. He is forever polishing his knowledge of what it takes to be King. He knows that the day is still far ahead, yet he also knows how quickly time can fly by. Learning as much as he can now will help him in the long run.

Doubt and questioning often joins his studying, however. What kind of a ruler will he be? What can he actually do for the people of Hyland? Reading books can only go so far. He needs experience, he needs to feel security in knowing that yes, he has what it takes and yes, he will do what is right. But there is no way he can be certain of this at all.

Pushing aside a decent time for a break, he instructs for his lunch to be brought to his room rather than him venturing out to the dining room. He knows it will likely cause him to be told about how he needs to watch out for his health, that breaks are important, and he is aware of this. But the breaks he allows himself are short, mostly no more than quick breathers. He bites into a baguette as he continues to read, continuously processing information.

Burning out, as his mother had said this morning? Yes, it is very likely. But responsibilities do not hold much account for one's well-being.

There is no avoiding a longer break by the time that dinner arrives, however. A butler enters his room as evening begins to draw in, informing him that he is to eat his food elsewhere. Mikleo does his best to keep his face blank when he is told that this place would be in Michael's study, rather than the dining room. Mikleo nods, informing the butler that he will be on his way shortly. He waits until he is alone that he slams his book closed.

'This is just going to end up with more lectures,' he thinks to himself. 'Am I not already doing enough?'

A deep breath is let out in order for him to control his anger. He leaves his room, descending down a set of stairs to the second floor, in which his uncle's study is located. He knocks twice on the door, awaiting the confirmation that he can enter, doing so as soon as it is received.

“Good evening, Mikleo.” Mikleo sees that at a table which is often covered with piles of paperwork and books, Michael is sat down in a chair, a plate of a roast chicken dinner in front of him. The table is clear for all but this plate and, Mikleo notes, only one other plate. Merely two glasses, as well; one of blood for Michael, and one of water for Mikleo. At least this was taken note of.

“Where is mother?” Mikleo asks. He is a little hesitant to sit opposite Michael, yet does so regardless, swirling the water in his glass. It takes a lot of willpower in order to avert his eyes from the liquid to his uncle.

“She is attending a meal with the Diphdas. I think they would have liked you to attend as well, but …”

“I see.” Mikleo speaks quickly. He does not want to hear any continuation of those words. “And why did you wish for me to eat with you?”

“I want to talk after earlier on. I apologise Mikleo, it seems as though it makes you uncomfortable.”

“I'd say.”

The sarcastic tone had been spoken before he could bite his tongue. He does so now, his fork playing with a pile of carrots. Michael lets out a sigh, yet he does not seem to hold any anger in his voice.

“I understand why you would be like this with me. But Mikleo, you're the Prince, you have responsibilities and you need to be kept safe –”

“I feel like I'm a prisoner,” he says quietly. He cannot find it in himself to make eye contact, yet surprises himself for being able to speak at all. “That all I have out of life is the work and studying I do. I want something more.”

“You will one day, Mikleo. But for now, you know how important your duties are.” Michael hesitates, watching as Mikleo rises the glass of water to his lips in order to take a sip. “You would be a little stronger if you allowed yourself to drink more blood.”

“No. I won't.”

It is the one reply that he can say confidently and with defiance. He takes a gulp of water calmly, breathing out as it is placed on its place holder. Eye contact is at last made with Michael.

“I don't have to drink that much. Therefore, I won't.”

“There is no harm in it, Mikleo. It is not as though any humans are killed for the blood we drink; it is donated willingly.”

“I don't care. I know how addicted some vampires get, and I am not having that happen to me. That's one thing that's not being taken from me as well.”

The words seem to have their impact. Michael sighs and nods his head, chewing a bite of the chicken and swallowing before he speaks again.

“All right, I will not force you. Please just know that I only say this out of concern for you. I'm sure your mother is concerned as well, as is Alisha … You have to be careful about how you live, especially with how much work you pile on yourself.”

“I will. Thanks for caring.”

Michael smiles. It seems to be genuine, but insecurity can convince the mind to think otherwise. “It's no problem,” he says. “You're not just the Prince, Mikleo. You're also my nephew, my family. I care about you more than you think.”

Perhaps it is the truth. After all, it is not as though Michael has ever come up and said that he dislikes Mikleo. He is simply strict. Perhaps it was the feeling of being far beneath him that brought on this anxiety, making the words that Michael says seem much harsher than they are.

Either way, it does not stop his loneliness, the feeling of true support. The only true relationships he felt as though he had was with the two friends who he often can only see on occasion, as well as that with, of course, his mother.

She is wonderfully caring and humble for one you might expect to be a lot more conceited. After all, she is a Queen – she has every reason to be vain. Yet she is not. It is quite clear that Mikleo's care for others, even if he typically tries to conceal it a little, came from her. In fact, he is like her in almost every way. Their close bond has formed from not only their connection by blood, but also by how well their personalities combine, how they truly love each other. There is no mistaking that this love was real and was not arisen from expectations.

But even with her, he is lonely. There is only so much love one person could provide. Or perhaps, it was not even love he needed. Simply companionship, someone to listen to his hopes and dreams. The dreams that he is very well aware are practically unattainable. After all, how can someone like him strive for equality, to be part of a changing world? He is a Prince, sure, but how far could this bring him?

He doubts that he has the ability to influence the world. A small part of him believes that perhaps, just perhaps, he might be able to find someone who shares his dream. A dream of peace and unity, of freedom and simply the ability to live life. He wishes for so much that it all mingles together, making it difficult to tear apart and see what exactly he wishes for. A person feeling as though they're trapped in their own darkness, after all, often has an endless amount of wishes.

If he can choose one to become true, however, it would be the company of a person who understands him. Because a world where your opinions matter feels more welcoming to live in, where you can truly share your thoughts without the worry of everything going wrong because of it.

One person. That is all he cares about. But how he will ever meet this person, if they should so exist, he does not know. It seems impossible, utterly hopeless.

Though perhaps there is still a tiny flicker of hope inside that will shine one day. That his dreams will no longer be his and his alone.

Chapter Text

With the full moon now over, Lastonbell has become lively again. Even if the energy of the city never once stops completely, during a full moon, there is a clear and understandable change temporarily.

Being forced to change into a wolf is exhausting on the body. It is worse for some than it is others – when he used to be one of those who was forced into the transformation, Sorey found himself to not be particularly affected very much, likely because of the Alpha blood running through his veins. Others are fairly normal, where they may just feel a little malaise and fatigue. Meanwhile for others, they may have to take time off work or education in order to rest instead.

So now that a week has passed since the last full moon, the city has been back to its usual self for days. It seems to not even be the home to werewolves during the time it strives. After all, it is known for its vast amount of trades, and incredible products on sale. It seems as though it is more of a place where humans would live, yet of course, werewolves were very much human throughout most of the month, set apart by only small differences during this time.

Sorey finds himself fairly busy. As the Alpha's son, it is part of his duties to spend a lot of time with the pack roaming the city, getting to know the population that belongs to his family. After all, it is in the werewolves' nature to look out for each other and understand one another. By ensuring that Sorey knows as many members as possible himself, he is not only giving himself the good image he has no reason to fake, but he can also build up the strength of the bond which conjoins the pack.

It is less of a chore to Sorey and simply part of something he enjoys. Smiling at those who pass by and are too shy to say a word to him, making conversation with those who seem confident enough to speak and help rise this confidence, answering questions about his life and the exact role that he plays. It is not a duty. He is certain that he would do this regardless of whether or not it was expected of him.

Sometimes during his time in the city, he is joined by Rose and Dezel. The two have become increasingly popular themselves due to citizens often seeing the three together. They were quick to recognise their faces, greeting them alongside Sorey. Their names were soon spread across the city. Rose seems to enjoy the attention a little, yet Dezel's opinion on the matter is not clear. Either way, he still joins the two, so cannot dislike it too much.

He seems to be admired almost as much as Sorey at times. After all, it is not a necessity for those who are not in line to run the pack to be able to transform at will, and it is much more difficult for a regular werewolf to manage the training. Yet Dezel has been able to do so for a long time now. It is an incredible feat, and Dezel is often asked for tips on how others can do this themselves.

“I wish they realised it isn't so easy,” he says as the three sit down on a bench. He was questioned about this moments ago, by a young teenager accompanied by her friends. “I think they believe that I have some kind of secret trick that allowed me to do it instantly.”

“Come on, be a bit more flattered, Dezel!” Rose exclaims, letting out a laugh. “They admire you, that's all. They want to be like you, and they know they can't exactly be like Sorey, so …”

“Looks like they're latching on to you just as much because of that,” Sorey grins. “They're like you, or at least are like how you once were. So they want to obtain what you have done.”

“Well, they better be ready for some sleepless nights and gruelling exercises.” He faces Rose. “Unless they're you; you seem to be managing it pretty well.”

“Awh, thanks Dezel!”

“As well as I'd expect from a short and irritating wolf like you, anyway.”

Sorey laughs as Rose punches Dezel's arm, folding her own straight after. “I could be shorter, thank you very much! I'm only a little under average, even in my wolf form.”

“I know. In all seriousness, size does make a difference sometimes. I think I would have achieved it faster if I was taller.”

Rose's glances up at his face, grumbling, “You seem tall enough to me already.”

“Hold on,” Sorey interrupts suddenly. His gaze has averted to the distance. He is usually not one to interrupt in such a way, so Rose and Dezel have immediately left their conversation to concentrate on him. “That's him, over there.”

Rose's eyes follow his; it is easy to spot what he is looking at. After all, a head of thick hair with a long ponytail is rather hard to miss, and they have heard it be described to him already.

“Lunarre, was it?” Rose questions, Sorey nodding.

“That's right.”

“Lunarre?” Dezel questions. Unable to see through his eyes, he is instead seeming to focus on his hearing; being a werewolf gave him a natural enhance in this sense, but his true skill has formed from years of training it to perfection. “I can hear the wind through his hair, I think. He's a bit too far away to hear his footsteps. What is he doing?”

“Just walking right now, but I don't trust him,” says Sorey, getting to his feet. Rose glances up at him with a little surprise.

“You're going to follow him?”

He nods, keeping his gaze locked on the man. “Dad doesn't seem to trust him very much,” he says. “So I know that I don't suspect him for no reason.”

“He's clearly a sketchy guy,” adds Dezel, joining Sorey on his feet. “We should go. Hell, if you end up catching a potential criminal, that'll win you over.”

“All right, stealth mode on …”

“This isn't a game, Rose.”

“You know I find this kind of thing fun!”

The trio have to walk at a rather fast pace at first in order to catch up to Lunarre. To their luck, however, the crowds do well to conceal them from being spotted easily if Lunarre was to turn around. The same crowds do pose a slight problem when it comes to them being able to follow him, yet with a tall height and the hair which stands out like a spotlight, it is not enough to hinder their movements.

“He just … keeps walking,” Rose says quietly. She does not need to completely whisper; after all, there is still a distance between them and their target, and they are surrounded by the bustle of chatter. “Maybe he's not actually doing anything?”

“I'd still like to follow him just in case,” Sorey responds.

“Oh, same here. I'm just saying that he might not actually be … oh. Now that's suspicious.”

Lunarre has just made a turning on his left. Rather than lead him to another main street, this was a side alley instead. His turning had also been so sudden that it was as though he was in a hurry to not be seen.

“I doubt he's just taking a short-cut,” says Sorey, picking up his pace a little. “Let's go!”

The other two do not hesitate to follow in Sorey's lead. His faster walking slows as the three edge closer towards the alleyway that Lunarre entered, drawing to a stop once they were stood at the wall's corner. Sorey raises a finger to his lips, nodding to Dezel. To Sorey and Rose, they can only hear the hum of voices when they concentrate, and Sorey entering his wolf form would bring far too much concentration.

Dezel grows still and quiet as he listens. His lips move silently as he makes out what he is hearing. He eventually says in a whisper, “He's with someone else further down the alleyway … 'This is the stuff, right?' … 'I trade fairly. You know that.' … Yeah, some kind of trade going on. Suspicious isn't even the word to describe it.”

Sorey nods, deciding to take the risk to peer his head around just enough to peer at the scene. The alleyway is blocked off from a lot of sunlight and is cloaked in darkness, yet it was not heavy enough for Sorey to be unable to pick up the scene.

Lunarre is the taller of two figures, the other wrapped in a cloak to conceal their identity. During his brief glance at them, he was able to make out the sight of some kind of object being handed to Lunarre, Sorey guessing that it was in return for whatever item that Lunarre has traded himself. But this is all he is able to see before he turns back around the corner. He knows the risk behind being seen, and as much as he wants to put a stop to any criminal activity, he is unsure of whether he has the power to step in.

“Yeah, it's definitely a trade,” he says to them. “One smaller figure is with him, in a cloak.”

“Do you want to go stop them?” Rose asks, Sorey shaking his head.

“No, I can't afford to cause a scene. Plus I don't know much about either of them, so it could be dangerous. I think it's best to let dad know for now and see what happens.”

“Smart move, I suppose,” says Dezel. “But be sure to tell him soon. Who knows what they're up to.”

“Yeah, I know.” The three begin to walk back through the streets, wanting to put a distance in between themselves and Lunarre before they are spotted. “I wonder what the trade was, though. Weapons or something?”

“Maybe,” says Rose. “Or it could be something simpler, like drugs. Wouldn't surprise me if a guy like that is on them, honestly.”

Sorey laughs, feeling a little less tense from her words. “Yeah, that's probably true.”

“Lastonbell, the home of many types of trades, apparently. Really though, let's not fuss over it for now. We saw the scene, had Dezel here to listen out for us, and that's great in itself. Being sensible isn't a bad idea!”

“Thanks, Rose. I appreciate it. I'll head home now!”

“Want us to come with you so I can talk personally about what I said?” Dezel asks.

Sorey nods. Not many people would feel so confident about asking to see the Alpha, yet Rose and Dezel were exceptions. As Sorey's closest companions, the two had spoken to Heldalf on numerous occasions, feeling more welcomed than most in his presence.

And so, the trio begin to make their way towards Sorey's manor, certain to keep the image of the scene in their minds so no detail is forgotten.

 

 


 

 

 

It takes around ten minutes to arrive on Sorey's grounds. Rose whistles as she looks out onto the grass around them, seeming to have to control herself in order to stay on the path. Habits of their wolf side can still shine through even when they are in their human form.

“You guys have let it grown out a bit, haven't you?” she asks, eyes scanning over the bushes and long blades of grass.

“Yeah, we thought it suits us better!”

Sorey smiles as Rose continues to glance around her with excitement expressed in her eyes. He will give her a tour of the gardens once again one of these days, as well as Dezel, but he knows that they should not be wasting time. The pair stand back as Sorey reaches for the handle of the front door, pushing it open and stepping it inside.

“Hey!” he calls, gesturing for Rose and Dezel to enter after him. “I have Dezel and Rose with me!”

No one answers for some time, giving the three a chance to remove their jackets and hand them up by themselves. A maid comes running by moments later. She seems to panic over not being waiting at the door for when she arrives.

“My apologies, sir!” she says to Sorey breathlessly. “I had businesses to attend to. Welcome, Miss Wilk and Mr Yurlin.” She bows her head to the two of them, who try to not appear taken aback. After all, Sorey is used to this treatment, whereas Rose and Dezel only receive this on the occasions they visit this home. “Shall I fetch some tea?”

“Actually, we'll only be here for a little bit, I think,” Sorey explains. “We need to speak with my father.”

“O-Oh! I see. Master Heldalf is currently in his study, I do believe. Would you like me to escort you, sir?”

“Nah, I'm good! Thanks though. And make sure to take a break, you seem exhausted.”

The gratefulness behind her smile is so great that you would expect Sorey to have offered her millions of gald. “That is very kind of you to say, sir, I have been on my feet all day …”

“Please, go get yourself something to eat and drink. If any of your superiors bother you, explain that it is on my orders.”

She nods, her smile growing even further. “Thank you sir, I shall. Have a pleasant day to all three of you!”

She soon hurries away. Sorey suppresses a sigh. Though this is one of the best attitudes he receives, there had still been nerves in her voice. Is it really too much to ask for to not be feared this much?

Yet he is soon smiling as Rose pats him on the back, the three beginning to walk towards the stairs. “Look at you, being the perfectly humble Prince!”

Sorey laughs. “I'm not exactly a Prince, really.”

“Well, you're an equivalent. It must be lovely for them to work for you!”

“I wouldn't say that …”

“Half-bloods are rarely treated with such respect,” says Dezel. “So Rose is probably right.”

Sorey knows this, yet he does not like to agree aloud. After all, to admit that he does treat his workers better than what is expected is admitting about how a balance in respect is to not be expected. Not just because of Sorey's position – he can accept being treated differently because of something this important. But the line that is drawn between full bloods and half-bloods is one which he believes should be erased. Inequality all because a wolf falls in love with a human rather than one of their own kind; it is unneeded in his eyes, yet to this day, still causes racism and discrimination.

At least half-blood children are no longer hunted and killed before they even have the chance to flourish as an adult. Times have improved enough for at least that.

Minutes later, the three are outside of the door which leads to Heldalf's office. Sorey knocks twice before opening it, peering inside and seeing that his father must currently be having a break. He is looking out of the window with a mug in his hand.

He turns at the sound of the door opening, appearing surprised, yet he is soon smiling in greeting. “Ah, good afternoon,” he says, placing the mug down onto his desk in order to give the trio his full attention. “Is everything all right?”

“Well, kinda,” Sorey answers. “We saw Lunarre before, he was seeming pretty suspicious.”

“Oh?” says Heldalf, leaning on his desk with his eyes growing interested. “Care to elaborate?”

“After you saying that you've been keeping an eye on him and everything, when I spotted him today, I thought that it might be best to … well, follow him. Just in case he was getting up to anything.”

“And it seems like he was,” Dezel continues for him. “I overheard what he and a cloaked person were speaking about. Some kind of trade, it seems. Didn't seem normal.”

Especially as they were down an alleyway,” Rose says.

“Did you happen to see what they were trading?” Heldalf questions. Sorey shakes his head.

“No, I didn't. I didn't want to get any closer, as I thought you wouldn't want me getting into trouble.”

“You're right about that. There's huge risk in you being involved with things like this, and who knows what could happen with it. I am glad you chose to come speak to me rather than do something about this yourself. It is a lot safer this way.” He pauses as he peers over at a piece of paper on his desk. “I do have some work I need to discuss with him soon in regards to some imports. I will see if I can find anything out then.”

“Thanks, dad,” says Sorey, feeling relief. “I appreciate it.”

“Of course. Thank you for informing me about this; I have definitely been wary in regards to working with him.” Heldalf peers out at the window once again, taking in the view of sunshine filtering through the trees surrounding their home. “You've been working hard lately, have you not?”

“Um yeah, I have,” says Sorey, a little confused by the sudden statement

“Then you deserve a break. How about you go exploring somewhere for a while? However much you like, as long as I see you around by the end of the week when you are to attend a meeting with me. It's been a while since you have had a vacation like this.”

Sorey's eyes lit up. He is already feeling excitement. “Really?!”

Heldalf nods. “Absolutely. Breaks like this are good for the soul; it is important for you to be refreshed. Not only is it better for the work you have to complete, but it is also good for yourself, too. I would not want to see you feeling run down from your duties.”

Sorey grin could not be any larger. “Thanks, dad! I'll go get my bag ready now!” He turns to Rose and Dezel, “Would you guys like to come with me?”

Rose lets out a sigh, scratching the back of her head. “I'd love to, but being a part of the Sparrowfeathers kinda stops me from taking trips like this so suddenly if it's for pleasure.”

Sorey nods; he understands. The Sparrowfeathers are some of the most trusted merchants around, forever keeping Rose on her feet and have her schedule be filled. He knew her answer before it had been given.

He is also sure of what Dezel's answer will be. “And I suppose the same is for you?”

Dezel nods. “Sorry, but I don't leave Rose's side.”

“That's all right, I understand. Travels are still fun on your own anyway!” He turns back to his father one last time. “Thanks again, dad. I really am grateful.”

Heldalf nods, soon settling back into his chair. “Just make sure you return home on time.”

“I will, I will!”

Moments later, he is escorting Rose and Dezel to the exit of the manor. He is a little disappointed to not have their company, but simultaneously, he never minded travelling alone if it was necessary. Company is a very enjoyable thing, yet with how busy and interactive his general life is, sometimes solitude is also welcoming. Silent walks on his own often brought him to peace.

After his two friends had bid their farewells and left, Sorey was now jogging to his room, where he plans to prepare his rucksack ready for the journey ahead. He can hardly contain his excitement.

 


 

 

The sun which is shining down on Sorey's back is warm, yet is not too stifling due to the cool breeze which combines with it. The sky is clear, which he is thankful for. It is not as though he dislikes the rain, yet the drier the ground is, the easier he finds running on all four paws. It is much easier when water is not causing you to slide around.

He has been varying between travelling in both forms over the last couple of days. At first, he is uncertain about where he wants his travels to take him. Further into Rolance, or elsewhere? He allows himself to not think about this too much. He lets his steps take him further naturally. No carriages or vehicles. He has been given such a wonderful several days of freedom, and he wants to make the absolute most of it.

The place he finds himself reaching is Glaivend Basin, the border which separates Rolance and Hyland. The latter seems to be the most popular kingdom in Glenwood for vampires, though he knows that humans and werewolves are located somewhere there, too. The thought of going to a place he was unfamiliar with excites Sorey rather than cause him anxiety.

Glaivend Basin is only used nowadays for travelling. It is free from plantation, clouds of dust being blown across the plain and depressing lands, and is not exactly a place where one would like to stop. Especially when you remember how this place had once been a popular spot for war to commence.

It is bound to take a long time to pass over as a human. Yet as a wolf, he is certain that he could cross the plains within half a day at the most. Never more thankful to now hold this ability proudly, he places his rucksack down onto the floor and closes his eyes in concentration. A warm sensation flows through his body as he is painlessly transformed, falling down onto four legs. The ground feels much better under paws than human feet.

His head bends down in order to pick up the handle of the rucksack in his teeth, before his legs are soon taking him across the plains. He sprints at first, appreciating the feel of wind blowing through his fur and the sand kicking from his paws, yet he knows that his energy will not last if he keeps up such a fast pace. He slows down to a more manageable run instead, and also keeps to the side with a watchful eye out for other travellers. It is not as though he would be attacked for being a wolf, yet as it is daytime with no sign of a full moon, he has no doubt that his appearance would easily frighten someone.

Once he has been venturing across the plains for a couple of hours, he decides to stop and rest. Not wanting to waste energy by transforming into a human to only transform back again, he instead uses his snout to enter his bag and pull out a wrapped sandwich, as well as a bottle of water.

He has another two bottles spare, so allows his fangs to pierce through the plastic, ripping it on top so he can lap up the water. He does the same to the packaging around the sandwich. Of course, hunting for something he'd much rather eat in this form would be preferable, but he cannot hear any prey nearby. It is no wonder; with a scarce amount of water and plantation here, he can easily imagine that the only animals around are birds passing by, insects and snakes. The first would be too difficult to snatch from the air, the second not bearing enough nutrition, and the latter … he had tried a common green snake before, and would rather not taste something as disgusting again.

The food and water replenishes his energy levels well, and he knows he can easily start travelling again. Not wanting to leave litter out in the wilderness, he pushes the trash from his consumptions into the bag, fastens it carefully with the teeth on the side of his mouth and once again scoops up the bag. He finds it easy to now pick up a slightly faster pace than last time. Judging by the location of the sun, it will soon be setting, and he wants to find a proper place to settle before this happens.

Luck is on his side. The rest of the journey is across rather even land, and after all of his travelling so far, he finds himself accustomed to it. He manages to enter Hyland in just under two hours, and as soon as he is blessed with the beauty of green nature, he finds his excitement returning.

He carefully runs off to a patch of trees on the side of the path before he is seen. Here, he places down the bag before he allows himself to transform back into a human. It feels strange to be stood on two legs again after such a long amount of time, though he is glad to be able to walk now with less focus on himself.

However, being transformed for so long and all of his running has definitely had an effect of him. Whilst the food and water had previously helped, it has not stopped the aching in his leg muscles, as well as the tiredness which seems to be sinking in. He is not concerned; after all, it is a normal reaction to the hours of activity, and he knows he will feel better after rest. He simply needs to find out where he would like to do this.

There is the option of stopping off at an inn. He knows that Marlind is nearby, which he has always wanted to visit since he learned how it is a city of knowledge, filled with gorgeous nature. He knows that part of a royal vampire family live there, too. But he also thinks that wasting the still wonderful weather, even now the sunset has began to kick in, is not worth staying at an inn for. He has the supplies; he would set up camp nearby the city and visit there in the morning.

He walks the rest of the distance in his human form. Fatigue definitely sinks in further as he makes it closer to Marlind, yet he does not mind. It is not overwhelming, and he knows that he'll be sitting down and likely eating soon. If he finds food, he might even be able to eat something fresh, and save the food he already has with him for possible emergencies.

His steps take him through forestry. In the distance, he can see the taller buildings that are located in the city, as well as a large tree resting inside. It seems to be much more modern than he has seen pictured in books, but of course, times do change quickly, especially in recent times.

As he finds a clear spot of land within the trees he knows will be good for setting up camp, his eyes spot a rabbit nearby. It seems as though luck is on his side. He does not have proper equipment on him, yet he does have a trusted knife at least. This will be enough for a clean kill. His skills at throwing knives grew rather impressive from Rose's training of him.

Despite his tiredness, he finds himself able to focus well on the rabbit. He crouches, eyes fixed on the small animal. He dares to creep a little closer, freezing as the rabbit looks up from grass it is chewing. It contemplates if it has heard anything, apparently deciding that this is not the case, for it is soon lowering its head in order to continue its feeding.

Sorey wastes no time to throw the knife as soon as he sees his aim is correct. It lands straight in the creature's eye. It is an instant death, not a sound made in return. Sorey sighs in relief and steps forward. Meat is vital for a werewolf's health, what with their carnivorous side, but Sorey would rather avoid causing an animal pain as much as possible. An instant death is best.

The rabbit turns out to be a rather decent size when inspected up close. If Sorey teams it with some of the vegetables he has prepared in his rucksack, he will find himself well fed after the hours of travelling.

He begins a fire and allows the flame to dance as he begins to skin the rabbit. A night sky as arrived by this time, causing the fire to stand out beautifully against the darkness. He smiles to himself as he appreciates the sight for a moment. It has been a while since he has felt so at peace.

Time is taken to cook the rabbit thoroughly, as well as the vegetables. It is worth the wait as he begins to eat the meal. Perhaps the atmosphere, with the brightness of the fire and gentle sounds of the forest, helps to emphasise his appreciation for the taste, but this meal is certainly much better than anything one could eat in luxury.

Though he expects to feel energised after eating, he finds sleepiness has been drawn from it instead. Ah well, it hardly matters – he can always have an early night to sleep, and then venture into Marlind once the sun has risen. There is hardly the existence of rules when camping out in the wild like this.

He pulls out a sleeping bag, patting it on the floor, and settles inside of it. It does well to preserve his body heat, and it is not long before exhaustion washes over him, and takes him into a slumber.

 


 

 

Morning arrives with the sound of chirping birds and the rising of the sun.

Sorey can just about see the sun as he sits up in his sleeping bag. The trees do well to cover the sky, yet through the foliage, he is still able to see the sunrise. He realises he slept a little longer than he was planning to, yet is also not surprised. It must have been what he needs, for he finds himself feeling wonderfully energised, the pain in his body disappeared.

Thankful for this, Sorey begins to gather up the sleeping bag in order to put away. He is sure that there is going to be others wandering around the city at this time too, and so he decides on making his way there. He takes a moment to drink some water and eat crackers first, before he is on his feet once again and makes his way through the trees, towards the city which he can see clearer now in brighter lighting.

He always loves the forest in the morning. He can see rodents gathering up food to take to their families, he can smell the nature around him, the birds are still in the process of singing their morning songs, combining with the sound of …

His footsteps halt. What is that sound? It sounds higher, just as high as the birds, yet definitely has a different tone … Sorey focuses on this sound, attempting to differentiate it from the rest even without transforming.

An instrument. That must be it. Yet it is a little too far away to make it out properly.

Curiosity has gotten the better of Sorey. He begins to follow it, hoping to find its source. At first, he believes he might be heading in the wrong direction, for the music does not become any clearer. But as he slides down a slope and continues to venture through the trees. Due to being distracted, his hand is cut by thorns which rest to his side, yet he barely even notices enough to flinch. Not now he can now hear the sound much better.

A flute. Beautifully played, or at least what Sorey can make of it. But why here, in the middle of nowhere? It seems like a dream. Sorey has to pinch his arm in order to make sure that it was in fact real.

Being able to identify the instrument is not enough for Sorey. He wants to know who is creating this sound, and why they are doing so. His steps forward seem to be doing so of their own will, almost. Yet he does not mind, because the more he hears this melody, the more desperate he becomes.

He can hear it become louder. In fact, it is close enough now that he is certain that a human would have been able to hear it just as easily. He knows that he only has to step down a slope in front of him in order to find the source.

The slope takes him outside of the forestry. For a small moment, the flute is almost forgotten, as his eyes are now staring at a beautiful landscape. A river which is crystal clear, luscious plants and flowers dotted all around, a bright sky and, in the distance, what appears to be a large lake which surrounds a different city to the one he wishes to enter.

Sorey snaps back to reality. The reason he has come here is still playing, the notes sounding even more beautiful up close. He has never heard anything like it.

The one creating this melody is a slender figure, their body facing the waters which flows down stream.

 

 


 

 

 

The night at the palace feels hectic.

One second, Mikleo has been minding his own business in his room. Deciding that he needs a break from his duties, his eyes have been reading sheet music, picturing the sounds in his mind and deciding to practice them as soon as he felt as though he feels like he has a moment. But before long, there is a butler knocking on his door. Mikleo prays that he is here to simply ask if he wants refreshments. This is not the case.

“Alisha Diphda is here, your highness! It seems to be an urgent matter.”

Mikleo adores Alisha, he really does. Yet he cannot push back the small amount of frustration which arises from his night perhaps not being so peaceful after all. However, he does know that this is likely not her fault, and that it is her family's doing which has brought her here.

And so, with a nod, Mikleo says, “I shall be right there. Where is she waiting?”

“In the foyer, your highness. She is sat on one of the sofas.”

“Please inform her that I will be there shortly.”

The butler nods, bowing low before he leaves. Mikleo gathers the sheets in a pile, feeling a little disappointed that he cannot practice. Though concern has replaced his previous frustration. Has something happened to her? He surely hopes not. Her schedule is just as packed as his is, if not more so, and the last thing she deserves is more trouble.

He takes a quick moment to straighten out his clothes and pat down his hair before he leaves the room. He nods at a maid cleaning in the hallway, guilty that he does not have the time to say something, yet his mind is focused on Alisha. His hand is soon reaching for the door leading to the foyer.

“Oh!” Alisha exclaims as she sees Mikleo enter. She places down a teacup to walk over to him and take him into his arms. He returns the hug, looking down at her once they part. “I'm so sorry that I've turned up unexpected, Mikleo.”

“It's all right, I'm just concerned. What's the matter?”

Alisha opens her mouth as though to speak, but stays silent as her eyes glance around her. “Shall we go to your room so that we have some privacy?” she asks. Mikleo nods. Her words translate to them not being overheard by people trying to listen in on their conversation, and he very much agrees.

In order to not seem as worried as he is, Mikleo asks, “So how have you been?” as they venture down the hallway. The smile Alisha has on her face is a little forced.

“It has been difficult, I must say. Anyone who thinks a princess has nothing to do all day … they are certainly mistaken. I swear that Maltran piles more work on me to do each passing day.”

“It sounds tough, I'm sorry. You are getting rest though, aren't you?”

“Oh yes, of course. Unfortunately I can do nothing but work, eat and sleep, I'm afraid. Visiting here this evening is definitely a nice break to the usual, even if it is not under the best circumstances.” She directs her attention to Mikleo, asking, “So what about you?”

“It's … the usual, I suppose.”

He does not need to say any more words in order for Alisha to understand. She squeezes his arm, eyes bearing sympathy. “You have my deepest wishes for your situation to improve.”

Her kindness is appreciated, much better than the pity another person might have given him. “Thank you,” he says, pushing himself to smile. “I appreciate it regardless of what happens.”

The pair soon arrive at Mikleo's room. He allows Alisha to step inside first, following in her footsteps. As though she could not contain herself the moment she was within privacy, Alisha sits down on Mikleo's bed, inhaling a deep breath.

“My parents wish for our engagement to be pushed forward.”

Mikleo stares at her. Surprisingly, this is some of the worst information he could have received. He was not ready for the responsibilities that this marriage would bring, and nor is she. Neither are ready to marry a person that they did not love. But of course, whilst both would rather wait to fall in love naturally and marry who they wish to, they had no place to argue against this fate. It is the path that those in their position must take.

“We are only eighteen,” Mikleo says. There is a slight shake in his voice. “Eighteen, Alisha. How are we expected to marry and prepare to rule so soon?”

“I have no idea.” Alisha rests her head in her hands, letting out a deep sigh. “I am trying and trying to tell them that this is not a good idea. On either of us, on the kingdom – neither of us are ready to be King and Queen and they know this. But they are determined for us to marry. I expect that in their plans, we will be ruling by the time we are twenty, at the very most.”

“I guess that it's futile to explain that we don't love each other at all in this way.”

Alisha shakes her head. “As a last effort, I did try to remind them of this. But they just don't care. 'A princess and prince should not care about love' is what they said to me. They even believe that we are bound to fall in love as soon as we marry, as soon as we raise children together. They just don't believe that a man and woman might not necessarily fall in love, even if … if …”

“It's like we're living in the dark ages,” Mikleo murmurs. He sits down by Alisha on the bed, looking down at his hands with his back slouching over. “The fact that they still expect this out of us. Normal vampires live so much more freely now, but us …”

“We're still stuck in how it used to be.”

“Exactly.”

The two grow silent. It is tense, yet filled with a strange comfort from how they understand each other. That they are both trapped by their families, by their expectations, by a list of reasons which seem endless. A nightmare which just never ends. With such intense control on the two, chaining them down, how could they ever expect to find happiness?

“I'm sorry that after not seeing each other for a while, I come bearing such awful news,” says Alisha. She rests her head on Mikleo's shoulder. “I wish I could tell you something which can bring you happiness, not something like this.”

“I'm sure that there is nothing which could do such a thing.”

Alisha's head rises from Mikleo's shoulder. There are tears brimming in her eyes. “I want to argue against that, but …”

“I don't want false hope. It's all right.”

“Does your mother not say anything about this?”

“She wants me to be just as happy as you do, but … well, she also needs to do what's helpful for the kingdom. She can't rule forever, and she knows that one day, even if it's not as soon as your family would like, we will have to marry. So there's not much she could do. And then with uncle …” He lets out a humourless chuckle which causes Alisha to almost flinch. “Well, if I started spouting stuff about how I want to wait to fall in love with someone, he'd probably hit me at best.”

“Don't say that, Mikleo.”

“He sees romance as a weakness after his past. I would hardly put it past him.”

Alisha bites her lip. Her hands cup Mikleo's cheeks, and he sees that her tears have not fallen. They have instead been replaced with eyes filled with determination, with desperation. “Please, Mikleo,” she pleads, not taking her eyes from his. “No matter what happens, remain who you are. Do not let anyone change that. I … I adore you, and I would hate to see you lose yourself.”

Though the words are hard to say, Mikleo still finds the will to say, “All right. I promise. But the same goes for you, too.”

She smiles. This time it is genuine, unlike the forced smiles she had given him previously. “Of course. I would hardly be your family if I let myself go like that.” She plants a kiss on his head so softly that he can hardly feel it. “I see that your hair is still as light as ever,” she says after, her hand shifting to twirl the white strands. “Still haven't drank any human blood?”

He shakes his head. “I haven't, and I never will.”

“I do admire you for that. There are not many vampires who manage to have such an incredible amount of self control.” Her hands are removed from him, a sigh escaping her as her eyes check the time. “I should really be going soon, I'm afraid. I did come here unexpectedly, after all. I just needed you to know as soon as possible.”

“It's all right, I understand. I appreciate your visit, even if it was not under better circumstances than these.”

“Of course, Mikleo. If I could come to see you more often, I would do so in a heartbeat.” She rises to her feet, yet they do not take her to the door. She instead walks over to the pure white piano resting in the corner of his room, a hand running over the smooth surface. “Can you play for me?” she asks, her voice soft. “It's been such a long time.”

He nods, getting to his feet and walking over to join her. She steps back as he takes a seat on the stool. He lifts the lid covering the keys. His fingers glide over them lightly to begin with, imagining the melody he is going to play.

It is then brought to life. The mood is solemn, reminding them of the misery which brought Alisha here. Mikleo can only wish to have the will to play something happier, lighter – he finds that what he always plays reflects his mood. Yet Alisha does not seem to mind. Her eyes are closed as she listens to the notes. They seem to be bringing her away from their awful situation, allowing her to escape, even if it is for only the minutes of a song.

A silence falls once the song has finished. It is not broken with words to begin with, but rather by actions as she steps forward in order to wrap her arms around Mikleo's torso from behind. She smiles at the familiar scent of vanilla he always seems to have.

“Thank you, Mikleo,” she says in a voice barely above a whisper. “I've missed that.”

They sit in silence for the rest of the precious minutes that Alisha has available to sit here with him. It is not long before the tears she has been holding back since she arrived are falling, her sobs quiet. Mikleo does not address them. If he speaks, he knows that he too will cry. And he cannot allow that, not when it is his wish for Alisha to feel joy, much like her own wish for him.

So with a pain lodged in his throat from forcing back his own tears, he allows her to hold on, running a hand gently over the arms which embrace him. They stay like this for a few more minutes before Alisha forces herself to let go.

“I appreciate you doing all this for me,” she says, wiping at her eyes. “I promise I will return as soon as possible, okay?”

“Take as long as you need. I can wait.”

She nods, her feet finally taking her to the door. Her hand hovers over the handle as she looks over at him once more. “Best not to escort me,” she says. “After all, we'll likely be questioned about this, and I … I really don't want to think about it more than I already have.”

“That's okay, I'm the same.” He can no longer force a smile, yet knows she understands. “I'll write to you.”

“Thank you. I shall look forward to it.”

She exits the room silently, the door shut quietly. Not finding the will to move from his spot, Mikleo's fingers run over the keys of the piano absent-mindedly. It seems as though everything in his life is against him, and now, it is dragging his loved ones down alongside him.

 

 


 

 

 

Mikleo wakes in the morning with a throbbing headache.

It is an awful pain, causing him to wince and hold his forehead in his hand, yet it is not uncommon for him to be this way. The headache has likely been caused from a mixture of stress and lack of sleep.

He recalls how he had been lying wide awake into the early hours of the morning. His thoughts had seemed endless. About how he and Alisha will be pushed towards the throne before either are ready. How the high amount of responsibilities and expectations they have now, which have clearly been dragging Alisha down too, will grow even stronger and perhaps take away the last amount of enjoyment in their lives. And then, what is likely not as serious as the rest yet still causes Mikleo’s heart to sink, how neither, unless they will be willing to break rules which could throw everything into disarray, will not be able to fall in love. They will never know what this feels like.

Mikleo sits up. He shakes his head, trying to erase the thoughts from his mind. But it is not something which can be easily dealt with, not with the positive thinking of “It will get better.” Because it will not, and he is aware of that just as much as Alisha is.

Still, focusing all of his energy on this negativity now will not help in the slightest, not when he has a busy day ahead of him. He stretches his arms before sliding his legs out of the bed and onto the floor. When he stands, he feels a small amount of weakness in them caused by his lack of sleep, yet it is not intense and he knows it should calm once he has walked around.

His steps bring him to the doors leading out onto his balcony. When he pushes the clear curtains out of the way, he sees that it is still early in the morning despite how late he slept, the sun only just rising into the sky. His hand reaches for the door handle to open it. A draft of cool morning air immediately greets him, causing him to shiver, yet he still steps out onto the balcony regardless.

It is large, the floor coloured in a cyan marble, black gothic railings around the edge. He often finds himself out here. Almost daily, he rests his hands on the railing and stares out at the nature before him, listening to the morning song of birds within the trees in the distance. A nature which he has no chance to explore or see.

Or does he? A sense of unfamiliar rebellion washes over him, alongside an anxiety causing a strange feeling in his stomach. What is truly stopping him from going out there now, whilst others were asleep and he finds himself needing freedom? Time after time again, he has stood on this balcony with the wish to explore the sights laid before him. It has always certainly been a nicer thought than jumping over this railing to the floor below, which he will admit he has also imagined on numerous occasions.

Nothing is truly stopping him. Rules exist, as do repercussions, but there were no true restraints. It is not as though he will run away. He wants to, but he will not. He simply wants to be out within those trees, perhaps venturing out to the rivers he knows are bound to exist there, and clear his mind of the worries which burden them.

But he has to be quick. He has no time for doubts. After all, today he will have public visitors in the gardens, and he will be expected to talk to them, to give them his knowledge of the palace and his ancestors. It happens every few weeks, and each time he must attend. But if he can take even a couple of hours beforehand …

The decision has been made. He hurries back into his room, shutting the glass doors behind him. The door to his wardrobe is opened after, his eyes scanning the clothes as he wonders what was the best choice. Does he have time to dress for comfort, or should he choose what he will be wearing later on when he greets their guests? He is quick to decide on the latter. Doing this will save him time when he returns, as well as make it less questionable if he is seen.

This clothing is his more formal choice of attire. He wears his usual white pair of trousers, though this time, what joins them is a shirt hidden underneath a sophisticated turquoise jacket. It is fastened at the front with a bow, emphasises his waist with a thick belt, and falls against his thighs in gentle frills. The sleeves have a similar touch with the frills resting on his hands.

On top comes his cape, with decorated shoulders. It falls only partially down his back, still leaving the belt and the longer back of his frilled jacket on show. Finally, his dark boots are placed on his feet. The process takes a while, but he knows it is the best option.

He runs a brush through his hair just in case he does not have the chance to do so later. As he is about to leave, his eyes fall on an instrument in his room. He smiles as the coolness of a flute is taken into his hands. Perhaps playing music out with nature would be a successful way to soothe is soul. It is placed into a bag, where he still has a little water remaining from when he explored the lands of his palace.

Nerves have began to run high. After all, he has never once gone against rules this much. But the excitement of rebellion is fighting back against these nerves. He finds that the trembles in his body are mostly from this excitement as opposed to anxiety.

He opens his door slowly, peering out in the corridors. It is not as though being up this early would arise suspicion; after all, he has always been somewhat of an early riser. But he is also aware that when feeling pressured, he is not the best at lying. He does not want to bring unneeded attention to himself. Luckily, he naturally knows the palace well, and is certain that he can make it through without bumping into anyone.

This turns out to be mostly true. The only person he sees is a butler, one who he thinks is fairly new, who merely gives a curt nod and hurries along almost fearfully. Mikleo does not have time to focus on the frustration this fear brings. He is becoming more and more aware of the possibility of coming across someone who will question him, and he wants to escape as soon as possible.

Luck is on his side when he steps outside minutes later. He sighs in relief, taking a moment to inhale the crisp air. The gardens before him are bathed in the warm light that sunrises bring. Though the trees around him conceal a lot of the sky, he can see still speckles of pink and yellow in the sky.

How should he do this? He knows where to go; after all, the forests around the palace are all part of their land up until a certain point. He simply has to travel past the mile radius of their land … but how can he do this and return in well enough time of his visitors?

Moments later, he mentally sighs over himself, his steps taking them round the side of the palace. Of course he knows the answer to this. He had been so caught up in the nerves and excitement mingling together in his chest that he completely forgot the obvious solution.

A few minutes of walking bring him to his destination. This is the palace’s stables for the fine stallions that they own. They are usually out in the field during the day, yet were preferred to be kept in the safety of the stables overnight. It seems as though Mikleo is up early enough for the horses to not be let out yet, for when he opens the door to the stables, he can hear the drinking of water and chewing of hay before his eyes even land on the horses.

Though he pets the horses which are not his own, his true focus lies on one horse in particular. It has a well groomed coat, both this and its mane and tail alike a white much similar to Mikleo’s hair. The horse raises its head from a bucket of water as though sensing Mikleo was there. It walks over upon seeing him, Mikleo smiling as his hand reaches to its head to stroke it.

“Good morning, Juliet,” he says. “Fancy going for a ride?”

He laughs lightly as her head pushes up against his hand, almost as though she is saying yes. She is let out of her enclosure, allowing Mikleo to fasten a bridle and saddle onto her. He is aware that the process of getting her prepared is using up his precious time, yet he knows that it will be worth it in order to travel faster.

She is guided outside once she has been prepared. A boot eases into one of the stirrups, and he inhales deeply as he rises the tension in his leg. She’s a rather spectacular height, whilst his stature is very small in comparison. But he manages to bring enough strength to rise himself up and swing his leg over to the other side of her, his foot resting in the other stirrup. After his hand strokes and pats her neck, his heels kick lightly against her sides to prompt her to start walking. Her speed soon escalates into a trot to reach the forest.

He always adores the feel of this. The breeze blowing against his hair and through his face, the scents and noises of nature through the trees around him. Yet he can never go too far despite how free he feels here. Even Juliet is aware of their boundaries, and she slows to a stop when they reach a certain point, ready to turn to the side in order to stay within the radius of their property.

“It’s all right,” he says reassuringly, fingers brushing lightly against her neck. “We can go further today.”

He prompts for her to continue. Even though she hesitates, she follows his order and continues through the forest.

Theoretically, this part of the forest is no different to what he has been in before. But it feels entirely different at the same time. He has never been here before, seen this particular pattern of trees and plants. Years of living in the same home has made him know its surroundings off by heart. But not here. Here, it feels as though he is in a new world. Here, he is free. He finds himself wearing the largest smile he has had in a long time.

“Whoa, hold on,” Mikleo says as they trek further down, tugging on the reins gently in order to come to a stop. He swings his leg over to dismount. His eyes are on a tree which is resting near them, one which is bearing large red apples. Seeing them causes him to notice the rumbling of his stomach, and he remembers that he has not yet had breakfast.

He walks over to the tree, reaching up to the lower branches to take two of the apples. He bites into the one which is a little smaller, eyes widening in delight over the delicious taste which fills his mouth. A smile reaches his face and he turns to Juliet, who has been watching him. He walks over to her and holds out the larger apple to her.

“Here, they’re delicious,” he says, watching fondly as she bites into the apple. She seems to like the taste as much as he does. Whilst the food he eats in the palace is fairly fresh, he realises it does not compare to eating out in the wild like this.

A few minutes is taken to eat and for Mikleo to drink some of his water, before the two are venturing through the forests again. Their speed has escalated to a canter by now. After all, as much as he finds himself wanting to say here for much longer, he knows that time is not on his side. He wants to see as much as possible before he has to return.

Their pace only slows as Mikleo sees that there is a clearing in the trees ahead. Not knowing what lays there makes him a little worried, yet he also finds that his curiosity builds anticipation. They head towards it, and as soon as they emerge through the trees, Mikleo is glad that he did not turn back.

A clearing is laid in front of them, further forestry ahead of them and, even further than this, what he believes to be mountains. A river is also ahead of him, the water seeming to be even clearer than the black and white photographs he has seen of Hyland. When he turns to the right, his eyes widen at the sight of a huge lake in the distance, surrounding a city. Ladylake. Somewhere in there is Alisha. Mikleo thinks of her for a moment, wondering how she is faring, before his attention is drawn back to the nature around him.

He beckons Juliet to continue. He has always had a fascination with water, ever since he had played in the fountain in the central of their gardens as a child. It is natural that he feels drawn to the river in front of him.

He settles back onto the floor again, Juliet taking the moment to lap up the water with her tongue. As she does so, Mikleo crouches by it, his hand reaching to the water to touch it. It is pleasantly cold. The surface is so clear that he can easily see fish swimming through it, as well as the plants which grow from the riverbank. He finds a sudden desire to be able to fish, and wonders if there is any possibility of him acquiring a rod and learn how it is done.

As Juliet continues to drink, Mikleo finds himself wandering down the river’s edge, eyes following the fish which swim by. Inspiration is soon to wash over him. The soothing sight of the water encourages him to pull out the flute he has brought with him. He has little time, after all, and he wishes to make the most of this sense of freedom.

His eyes glance around at his surroundings first to ensure that no one is around. When this is confirmed, he holds the flute to his mouth. His fingers press over the keys on the body and foot joint, positioned to play. The moment air is blown into it, a beautiful sound is released, and he finds that his eyes close naturally.

The music envelopes him. A curse seems to have overtaken him, in which the melodies he plays always sound lonely, leaving him trapped in a place where only sadness can be played from his notes. Yet there is no denying that it is beautiful despite this emotion. In fact, it possibly enhances its beauty more. A trapped bird who has finally found freedom to play his song. Only it is not true freedom, and he does not have the chance to spread his wings.

He is unsure of how long he plays. He has lost himself in the sound, vaguely aware that Juliet is listening to him, that perhaps even other creatures are. One eye opens. His heart sinks as he sees that the sun has risen. A sign that he has likely been out here for too long already.

His mouth is removed from the flute with a sigh. He lowers it to his chest, feeling the same misery he had before wash over him. It is different now. Before, he longed for freedom. Now he longs to stay in it now he has tasted what it is like.

A snapping of a branch brings him out of his thoughts. Startled, he whirls around to face where the noise came from, partially expecting it to simply be an animal. Yet it is not. His eyes widen as they land on another pair, what he believes to be green yet cannot completely tell from a moderate distance between the two.

They simply stare at each other. Mikleo does not speak, unable to do much more than swallow due to a rising of fear, nerves and a strange sense of curiosity. He does not know why the other man is silent as well. Whatever the reason, his eyes have not shifted away from Mikleo, though his expression is one which is difficult to guess. He seems curious, perhaps. Intrigued in the one who has played the music which has likely been what lead him here.

In the moment, Mikleo is too overcome with a confusing array of emotions to think about what this encounter means. Yet when he looks back in the future, he will see how fateful this locking of eyes was, how it was perhaps no mere coincidence that the two would be out here on the same morning.

The beginning of star-crossed lovers.

Chapter Text

An angel has descended from Heaven in front of him.

This is the first coherent thought that runs through Sorey’s mind. After all, in all of his life where he has met hundreds of people, he has never one saw one person like this, if ‘person’ is the right word to use.

White hair blows gently in the breeze. It seems to almost blend into his pale skin, yet as it is caught by the sun, it shines in a way which makes it seem beautiful all on its own. Eyes the colour of what Sorey thinks is amethysts were staring into his. Below them are the features of almost a doll brought to life, with a small nose and soft pink lips, as well as a round, young face.

He is wearing an unusual outfit with an air of royalty. The belt emphasises a slender waist, the coat falls elegantly onto legs which hold a dancer’s grace. Even his posture seems beautiful, what with how his small stature, stood perfectly straight, makes him appear as though he would float rather than walk if he moved.

An angel is the only possible way to describe him. Especially with how this boy had been the cause of the music which brought him here. He seems so ethereal that Sorey starts thinking about whether he is dreaming again.

It takes what must have been a whole heart-pounding minute before Sorey comes back to reality. He steps forward towards the boy, opening his mouth to speak, yet he is soon interrupted. The boy glances down, Sorey having no time to follow his eyes before a shriek is let out. Startled, Sorey jumps back, watching as the boy does the same. His eyes are wide in what Sorey can sense is fear.

“Wh-Whoa I’m sorry, did I scare you?” Sorey says hurriedly, wondering if the boy had been so caught up in the music he had been playing that his reaction to Sorey being there had been delayed. After all, Sorey himself finds that he too had been too caught up to not notice everything in the scene either; a beautiful white horse is now making its way closer to the boy in a way that Sorey swears is protective.

The boy is glancing down again, and says in a voice which manages to seem both fearful yet firm, “You’re a werewolf, aren’t you?”

“Huh? How did you …”

Sorey’s words trail off as he follows the boy’s gaze. It falls on his left hand, the one he can vaguely remember being cut by a thorn as he was walking through the forest. Accustomed to small injuries like this from his time out in nature, he only notices the pain once he focuses on the cut on his hand. Blood seeps from it, yet he has had worse, much worse. It is not deep at all and the bleeding will likely stop shortly after it is wrapped.

His mind then focuses on the boy’s words. Asking if he is a werewolf, looking at the blood trickling down his palm … An answer arrives immediately, one which is so obvious that he is surprised it did not arrive sooner.

“Oh, you’re a vampire, right?” Sorey holds up his hand, his eyebrows rising. He can hardly believe that even with space between them, this boy had managed to pick up the scent of his blood. Werewolves are the superior species when it comes the senses of both hearing and smell, but this shows that what Sorey hears about vampires having this scent be polished for blood is true. Perhaps that is why he is dressed in such a lavish way; Sorey has little knowledge, after all, about how vampires tended to delve into luxury more than werewolves.

The boy nods slowly. His hands have held onto the reins of his horse; whether it is to hold it back or to make him feel protected, Sorey does not know. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Either way, he stays silent, simply inspecting Sorey and seeming unsure of what to do. Sorey tries to not be personally offended; perhaps he has not been around werewolves much. If he lives in Marlind and has not travelled much out of there, it is likely that he has never seen a werewolf in his life. It is no wonder that he was startled.

“Sorry, that must have startled you if you’re unfamiliar with our kind,” says Sorey, letting out an awkward laugh as he scratches the back of his head.

“What are you doing here?” the boy asks. “You do realise you are on the outskirts of Marlind, where werewolves rarely visit?”

“Well, I was just travelling, and …”

“I’m not sure where you came from, but I suggest you go back. Or, if you need to stop by an inn, sort out your hand at the very least. If they figure out you’re a werewolf, they won’t be pleased if you’ve entered without permission.”

“That bad, huh,” Sorey murmurs. Saying that, he is hardly surprised. The same treatment would go to a vampire if they trekked into Lastonbell without formal permission. His father has always told him to report to the police immediately if he sees a vampire he does not recall having this permission. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble, I swear. I just have some days off and I headed over here from Rolance.”

“Rolance?” says the boy, his eyes widening. “All the way from Rolance?”

“That’s right! I live in Lastonbell.”

“Lastonbell …” the boy murmurs. Though it might be his imagination, Sorey swears that he can feel the boy’s guards drop a little through what appears to be curiosity. “How did you arrive all the way here? By horse and carriage?”

“Oh no, I ran. As a wolf.”

“You … ran? But it’s not even a full moon, I thought werewolves …” The word seems to be a trigger for the boy’s fear. Whilst curious and intrigued for a precious moment, he is now wary again, even if he is trying to hide it. Almost as though he expects Sorey to lash out and attack him any second.

“I’m not going to hurt you or anything,” says Sorey in what he hopes is a reassuring voice. “I swear. If anything, I’m actually really glad to have met you. I don’t speak to vampires much, even though you guys interest me.”

“Is that so?” the boy responds. He is quiet, as though he is unsure of whether it is safe to let down any guards again. Apparently, he decides that it is not, for he is soon placing one of his boots into the horse’s stirrup. Sorey cannot help but feel impressed that a boy of his size can clamber onto a horse so large. “I … I’ll get going. Again, be wary if you go into Marlind.”

Just as the boy turns the horse around by the reins, Sorey calls out desperately, “Wait!” He watches as the boy seems to hesitate, before he turns his head slowly. “Can I at least have your name?”

“Why would you want it?” the boy answers quietly, turning his head back around. “It’s not as though we will meet again. I’m to stay away from your kind.”

“Well, I’m Sorey, and I do hope that we meet again.”

The boy does not answer. Yet there is no mistaking how he hesitates before prompting his horse to start walking away. It is as though for a moment, he had taken in Sorey’s word, perhaps with a softer heart than before.

Even if this is the case, Sorey feels a strange pang of sadness as he watches the horse trot into the trees which lay nearby. He cannot help but feel that a wonderful opportunity has been taken away from him.

 


 

Laying on the grass with his back perched up against a tree, Sorey contemplates over his remaining days of freedom. It is the day after he met the young vampire. He still has a few days left before he has to be home, but of course, the half day’s worth of travelling to return there has to be taken into consideration as well.

Out of hopefulness he knew would be useless, he has waited by the river the two met in order to see him again. Sorey does not have a strong idea of what has made him be so enthralled by the vampire. Is it simply because Sorey has not met much of their kind, and sees this boy as a way to learn more, to befriend someone of a different species? They do seem to be around the same age. Whilst the boy’s face seems younger than Sorey’s, the sophisticated way in which he speaks suggests to Sorey that he is a little older than his features suggest.

He lets out a sigh. Perhaps it is silly to think about this so much. After all, the boy seemed to be very much against the idea of them meeting again. He said so himself. But there is a small glimmer of hope despite the words that the boy spoke, and that has been caused by the one beautiful moment in which he seemed less defensive, that he had seemed to want to know about where Sorey has come from and how exactly he got here. If the boy truly hated Sorey from the moment they spoke, then the natural reaction of curiosity would not have existed. So what should Sorey do? Try to find the boy again, or to leave all of this behind and go home?

Of course he will not choose the latter. The last thing he will ever do is choose the easy way out.

He decides that the best course of action is to go into Marlind. He brings his hand up so his eyes can inspect the bandages wrapped over his palm. Yes, the bleeding has stopped, and the cut is only likely to be reopened if he leaves it uncovered, so it should not reveal his identity. And even if this does happen, he knows that he would likely not be in any danger, or real danger at least. If this happens, he will simply have to cross that bridge when he gets to it.

His face is washed by the river, his clothes inspected to make sure that they were in a good state. The rucksack he has kept with him is then thrown over his shoulder, and his footsteps start his trek back through the woods, his eyes inspecting the buildings he can just barely see over the trees.

There’s a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. Nerves? No, he would not say so. Fear? Definitely not. It must be excitement mixed with anticipation, as well as the concern he feels over possibly not discovering anything. After all, even if he will accept nothing coming from this visit to Marlind if it so comes to it, that does not mean he will not be disappointed. Not when he has found himself a little transfixed with those unusual violet eyes.

Soon, Sorey walks out onto a clearing and is now making his way closer to the city. As well as the thought of discovering more about the mysterious boy, he is also excited for other reasons. Visiting new places is always a blessing for him, considering exploring is one of his favourite things in life. He is also strangely excited to be visiting a vampire dominated land. He is ever-so-slightly on edge, yet he is looking forward to seeing if they live any differently to his own kind, if there are any noticeable differences there.

He finds one straight away upon entering the city. Whilst there are people wandering around, it is a little quieter than he would expect. Then he remembers that some vampires prefer the traditional way of living, where they strive during the night and sleep through the day. For werewolves, this only tends to occur during a full moon, aside from some exceptions who find themselves working better during the night. It makes Sorey wonder what makes the boy want to be out during sunlight.

Some of these vampires are carrying parasols varying from the deepest black to the brightest colours. Remembering what he heard about vampires being affected by sun stroke easily and terribly, Sorey knows that this is likely for those who are walking for long distances to protect themselves, or those who are particularly sensitive.

I never realised they were so diverse,’ Sorey thinks as he walks by them. Even in his traveller’s gear, he is barely given a glance because of how different the citizens vary from each other. Some are clearly traditional in gothic fashion and dark, intense colours. Others dress much more brightly and give off a cheerful vibe. Then there are those who appear to be regular humans, blending in so well that Sorey cannot truly tell the difference between those and vampires. There could even be hidden werewolves visiting like Sorey in secret.

He soon realises that he has become so caught up in what is going on around him that he has forgotten what he has actually arrived here for. He walks over to the side of a pathway in order to stop without getting in anyone’s way. His eyes inspect the area as he begins to think.

Where would a good place to gather information be? Had it been night, Sorey would be walking over to a pub as his first choice. Yet as it is daytime, he doubts he would get much from there. Perhaps the next best choice would be a merchant’s. They often have plenty of information gathered in order to run their businesses well, and with the right price or even simply with the right kind of communication, they are often willing to give this information. A merchant herself, Rose has told Sorey all about the trade, and he is certain that simply asking about one boy will not arise suspicion about himself.

There is only one problem with this idea. He has no idea where everything is located in Marlind and does not have a map. It is hardly a worry, but with how much he knows areas in Rolance on the back of his hand, it is a rather foreign feeling to be so unfamiliar with his surroundings.

“Excuse me!” he calls out to someone walking by. Perhaps it is wrong to avoid stereotypes, but just to be safe, he has called out to a person not donned in mostly black. He seems to have made the right choice when the person turns around and smiles. “I’m sorry to bother you. I’m just a traveller and I don’t really know where everything is. Would you happen to know if there are any merchants around here?”

“Ah, you’re not actually that far from it. Around the corner here,” the person gestures to their right, “there are items being sold. Good ones, too. If you miss them, just see if you’re near the inn. They’re close to that.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it!”

The man nods before he continues on his way. Sorey breathes out a little in relief. He had been a little concerned over seeming suspicious, but the man had not seemed to feel that way at all.

Sorey begins to walk in the direction of where the man gestured towards. Sure enough, he had been correct; Sorey soon has the sight of the merchant’s stalls in his line of vision, as well as a store. He chooses the latter, partially because he wants a little privacy from being out in the open, but also because he is curious about what is inside.

He is soon glad about his choice. The store turns out to be one which is the holder of miscellaneous items, from souvenirs to artefacts, books to food from the area. His mission is temporarily leaving his mind again as his eyes scan them. He picks up a book on the history of Marlind, flicking quickly through the pages. The book is kept in one hand as his eyes scan the rest of the items. Caught up in it all, he does not hear someone approach him, and is startled when he suddenly sees them out of the corner of his eye.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you! Traveller?”

Sorey smiles at the woman; she appears to be the shopkeeper. “That’s right, I come from Rolance.”

“That far? Got here by the carriage service?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” His voice sounds a little awkward, as it always does when he lies, and he hopes that the woman thinks it is caused by nerves from speaking to someone he does not know. “I was just hoping to bring a few things back. Oh, and I do have a question, if that is all right for me to ask.”

The tinkle of the dream catcher hanging on the door resounds through the room as someone enters. “Welcome!” she calls, turning her attention back to Sorey. “Of course honey, what is it you want to ask?”

The voice is a little flirtatious. Sorey lets out an awkward laugh, trying to ignore it alongside the way she is looking at him. She is likely expecting him to ask her out somewhere, and he would rather not let her down.

“I was just wondering if you’ve seen someone around. I met them yesterday and I want to speak to them more.”

She seems disappointed, but this does not stop her from attempting to help. “What do they look like? And male or female?”

“Male. He has pale skin, white hair and purple eyes. He was wearing pretty fancy clothing, too – a bit like how I’ve seen others around here wear, only a little more elegant. Is there anyone like that around here?”

It is only when Sorey stops speaking that he realises that the atmosphere around them has changed. Tension seems to now fill the air, and the woman is looking at him a little warily. He does not dare to question this, simply leaving her to questioning the situation in her mind, which he can tell she is clearly doing by her expression. After tense moments of silence, she opens her mouth to speak, but not before someone else beats her to it.

“Seems suspicious to be asking about that.”

He turns at the sound of a girl’s voice, finding that his eyes have to look down, for she is of a very small stature. She has blond hair, a longer section pulled into a ponytail on the side of her head, and is dressed in what Sorey sees as more traditional. A black dress adorned with lace and ribbons falls to above her knees, and an equally dark parasol is folded and held in her small hands.

She appears young, but the way she is holding herself makes Sorey see that she is likely much older. This is emphasised when the shopkeeper, who was previously speaking casually to Sorey, gives a small bow of her head to the petite girl.

“Good morning, Lady Edna.”

Lady?’ Sorey repeats in his mind. She must be of a higher status to be addressed in such a way. Her clothes do not look like they are cheap, either. He wonders what exactly puts her higher than this woman. Perhaps she is linked to the royal family or is a business owner?

Either way, this girl does not appear to like Sorey already. Not with a cold stare being given to him. She addresses the woman with a nod, but that is the only recognition given. It is not out of rudeness, but rather from Sorey seeming to need all of her attention.

“It doesn’t seem right that someone would be questioning that appearance.”

“W-What?” says Sorey, baffled. “I don’t understand.”

“Where do you come from?”

“Rolance.”

Edna hums in thought. Her eyes have not grown any less suspicious. “That explains it slightly, but still not much. Not if you’re a vampire, anyway.”

Sorey’s heart skips a beat. He watches as Edna’s eyes trail down to the bandages which wrap his hand. “What happened there?” she asks.

“I cut it on a bush in the forest.”

“Was it deep? Maybe you should get it checked out.”

“No, it … it isn’t that bad.”

“Then why does it need to be bandaged?”

“I didn’t want it to start bleeding again.”

A hint of satisfaction flickers on Edna’s face. As though she feels like she has found victory somehow. “And why is that?” she questions, raising an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t want someone to smell it and see what you really are?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you don’t.” The satisfaction has gone from Edna’s face, instead replaced by an expression that Sorey cannot put his finger on. Determination? Protectiveness? “Any vampire would be able to instantly know of that appearance you have described. White hair, purple eyes – in fact, you could just say one and they could likely guess. Yet the fact that you don’t know proves it. You’re a werewolf, or at the very least a human. But I doubt the latter from your hand and the vibes you give off.”

Sorey is dumbfounded. Not one person has suspected him so far. In her silence, even the shopkeeper had not seemed suspicious, but rather surprised and unsure of how to respond. This girl is smart. Cunning, like one would expect of a vampire. Sorey cannot help but be impressed.

“Why are you asking about him?” Edna continues. Her stare has not yet broken.

“Because …” Sorey hesitates. He does not know what to say in order to give the impression that he is not here to cause harm. From the way Edna looks at him, it appears as though this is what she is wary of. “Well, yesterday I –”

“Wait.” It seems as though Edna has finally gathered all of her thoughts, the ones that Sorey could see she has been intensely processing in her mind. Her eyes widen a little as though she has come to a realisation. A tongue runs over her lips, before she says, “Your name is Sorey, isn’t it?”

Now the girl is beginning to freak him out. How does she know his name, when he has not seen nor heard of her once in his life? If he lived near here, he would understand. As sad as it is, sometimes it is easy to forget names, and he could have forgotten hers whilst she knew his. But there is no possibility of this being the case. Not when he has not stepped into Marlind for one second of his life before today.

“How did you know my name?” he asks. With how observant this girl’s eyes seem to be and how Sorey is a bad liar, he knows that there is no use in trying to act as though this is not the truth. The girl does not answer this, however.

“I recommend that you be careful. As you likely know, we don’t condone your kind visiting unless permission is given in advance. And going around blathering about white hair is not going to win anyone over. Purchase what you’re buying and leave.”

It is strange that such a small girl could make him feel threatened, like he has to follow through with her words. But she is not just tiny; she is fierce, too, and seems as though nothing holds her back. And so, he cannot help but nod, turning back to the woman who had been frozen as she listened to the pair’s conversation.

“Can I purchase these, then?” he asks, holding up a book and a small glass ornament. Still a little taken aback, the woman only nods as she hurries over to the cashier’s desk. Sorey glances at the items, deciding to buy some home-made cookies sprinkled with local seasoning in order to bring home for his friends as well, before he makes his way over to the desk in order to purchase them.

“That’ll be 2,000 gald,” she says, Sorey nodding and handing over the money from a pouch with his mind still distracted. “And it’ll be the usual for you, Lady Edna?”

Edna nods, making her way over. “Same quantity as always.”

The woman nods, heading into the storage room behind her. Edna watches as Sorey places his purchases into his bag. Once he has fastened it and thrown it back onto his shoulder, she speaks again.

“One last thing; stay away from that boy. It’ll be what is better for the both of you.”

For some reason, these words are spoken in a less harsh tone than her previous statements, and her eyes look away after she says it. This confusing change in attitude causes Sorey to do no more than nod. He leaves without another word, the dream catcher resounding once again as he makes his way outside.

He is frustrated over his lack of answers, upset over how much it is becoming more and more unlikely that he will meet this boy again. Yet the conversation inside the store was not completely pointless and absent of information. No, the harshness and protectiveness, the shock that had been struck into the attendee made at least one thing as clear as day.

Something is separating him from the white-haired boy, and it goes beyond the difference in their races. He simply has no idea yet what this could be.

 


 

His trip to Hyland does not last much longer. He spends another two nights in the forest, thinking over the confrontation with Edna and what it had meant. This causes his sleep to be rather restless, and his dreams strange.

Whilst he does not see the boy’s face in the dream, he can immediately tell who it is by the white head of hair. They keep walking forward, their destination unclear, for all that is in front of him is darkness. Sorey wishes to call after him, yet how can he do so when he does not know the boy’s name?

He simply keeps following the boy who will not stop. His pace quickens with the boy’s when he begins to jog, increasing further when the chime of bells rings in the distance …

And this is when Sorey wakes up from the confusing slumber. He does not do so in a panic, for he does not exactly see the dream as a nightmare. He simply has strange images swirling in his head from the dream, wondering why he would even see the boy in his sleep at all. He sighs, sitting up and running his fingers through untamed hair.

It does not matter what the girl had told him about the boy. He knows that regardless of anything she has said to him, he will not ever be able to forget that encounter. For a reason which is not clear to him, he sees it as important. Perhaps he can go as far as to say it has been life-changing.

Either way, he cannot wait around for the boy any longer. His father had already been generous enough to allow him to venture out here at all, even for so many days. It is a long journey back, and the last thing Sorey wants is to betray the trust that his father has in him and break his promise of returning on time, even with his other wish of wanting to see the boy again.

This does not stop him from stopping by the river the two had met, however, conveniently located in the direction he has to take in order to begin his journey. He is not completely sure why. He is certain that there will be no one there, no sound of music or a white-haired boy sitting by the water, once again accompanied by his brilliant horse.

And he is right. The only company Sorey has by the river is that of a few chirping birds, and a squirrel which runs when Sorey’s steps startle him. Sorey’s eyebrows furrow as disappointment washes over him. He has not expected anything different by coming here, but this does not mean that he is not disappointed regardless. An optimistic person is very often hopeful that their doubts will turn out to be false.

He is not disheartened, however. As he places his bag on the floor, ready to transform into his wolf form, he thinks to himself how this is not the last time he wants to venture out here. Even the nature alone would have been a good enough reason to return, considering he has grown fond of it. But the boy strengthens his resolve to return. Who is to say that the boy may never return? Or that Sorey might not find him wandering through Marlind one day?

Nothing is impossible,’ Sorey thinks to himself. Now on four paws, he picks up the handle of his rucksack into his mouth and begins his run across the plains. ‘At least if I don’t meet him again, I know that I tried. If I just stay in Rolance, I’ll be disappointed in myself for not even doing that.’

Trying without succeeding. It appeals much more to Sorey than simply giving up. A small chance is lowered to no chance at all when one does not simply try.

He is a little unsure of how he will return, however. This small vacation was something he had not expected at all, not during his busy life. As he runs towards Glaivend Basin, this is the questioning which preoccupies his thoughts. There must be a way. He will have to be careful in the way he speaks to Heldalf. After all, he does not want to bring up that his main reason for wishing to return is so he can meet a vampire again.

But considering there are other reasons for him to return to Hyland, it will be less of him lying and more not telling the full truth. He knows that this gives him a little hope. He is not one to give up on anything he wishes for and he is certainly not doing so now. At the very least, he at least wants to know the boy’s name. It is likely unique, just like his appearance. Sorey finds himself wanting to know it more than anything else.

Luckily, he naturally has a long journey to think over this. It is similar to how it had been several days ago. Running across the land as a wolf, stopping in order to eat food. There is one moment in which those in a carriage spot him, but he runs by so quickly that the blur they see might simply be a regular wolf or even a large, domestic dog. Their eyes do not have enough time to pick up just how large he really is.

Lastonbell is located close to the border, and so once he has travelled over Glaivend Basin, he is near enough already home. He transforms back into his human form upon entering the city and begins to make his way to his manor. Of course, he wants to see Rose and Dezel for the first time in days, but he knows that his father is top priority. Plus, judging by how the sun is setting in the sky, Sorey knows that Rose is likely finishing up her work.

A few words of greeting and questioning about where he has been slows down his speed, but soon enough, he is entering his manor. There is the usual greeting of someone running up to assist him. This time, it is a maid, one who is a little clumsy out of nerves from having a new job here. Like all their workers at this bottom level, Sorey suspects that she is a half-blood.

“M-Master Sorey!” she stammers, bowing her head. “Did you have a safe journey?”

“Ah yeah, I did thanks! Is the job going well for you?”

The maid blinks. Clearly, the last thing she expects is to be questioning about something like this. “Oh yes, it is lovely.” She is speaking very quickly from anxiety. “I never thought that someone like me would be treated so nicely. O-Oh! Sorry for babbling, would you like me to take your things for you as you see Master Heldalf?”

“That would be helpful, if you don’t mind!”

“Of course not, it’ll be an honour! If you’ll excuse me.”

She bows again, taking Sorey’s things and hurrying away, almost tripping up the stairs. Sorey lets out a sigh. He understands nervousness on the job, but as always, he knows of the true reason behind those nerves. Sometimes he wishes that he was a half-blood too, just so that his workers would feel more connected to him.

Saying that, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I was,’ he thinks to himself. After all, a half-blood child would never be born into such an important family, and if for whatever reason they did, they would be abandoned. There was no room for those who do not wield the same power as others. Though in reality, Sorey knows that half-bloods often have their own thing about them which make them special, something which makes up for what nature has not given them. It is too bad that all the world seems to care about is the blood running through one’s veins.

Sorey pushes these thoughts out of his mind as he knocks on his father’s door. He knows that it is not the kind of thing he should be thinking about whilst in his presence. When he receives the confirmation to enter, he opens the door, bearing his father a large grin.

“I’m back, dad!”

“Oh, Sorey,” says Heldalf, getting up from his seat with a smile. “I was wondering if you would be back soon.”

“Did you worry for me?” Sorey says teasingly, his father chuckling.

“Hardly. It is you, after all. How was your trip?”

“It was amazing! I felt so free, and I feel like I learned a lot.”

“Where did you go?”

Sorey pauses for a moment. After all, Hyland is highly populated by vampires. He has to be careful about what he says.

“I headed around Rolance before seeing the nature in Hyland,” he answers. It is not a lie; he simply left out his trip into Marlind, and his meetings with vampires. He would have sounded much less believable if it had truly been a lie.

“That sounds like a good experience for you.”

“It was, definitely.” His father’s positive reaction brings a sudden idea into Sorey’s mind, one which brings him hope and he has not thought of sooner.. “Dad, can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

“Can I … can I maybe travel like that more often? Not just to nearby places in Rolance, but further. I think it would really help with me taking over the pack if I had more experience with the world. More than I have already, anyway?”

There is a moment’s pause as Heldalf contemplates this. “I’m not sure, Sorey. When do you think you’d fit this in?”

“Well, I’m pretty much free of duties on weekends. Maybe then, and longer travels every now and then as a vacation?”

“That sounds like a lot for you to handle. Do you think that you could manage it?”

“Absolutely,” says Sorey with a determined nod. “You know me, I’m full of energy!”

“I cannot deny that. All right, as long as you are sure you won’t get behind, I’ll let you. But it’ll be best to let Selene know, too.”

“Mom?” says Sorey, his eyes growing wide. “You’ve heard from her again?”

“A few days ago, while you were gone.” A smile has returned to Heldalf’s face; it is small and concealed by his facial hair, yet Sorey is still able to see it. “Coincidentally enough, she is returning home some time today. You two were always in sync.”

“Yes! I can’t believe it!” Sorey is grinning from ear to ear, fists raised in excitement. “How long has it been? Three months?”

“Almost four. She had a lot of business to attend to. You would think that she was the Alpha, not me.”

“You work hard too, dad.”

“As do you. Though for now, you do not have to continue with that, not after your travels. Feel free to get some rest until Selene gets home.”

“You know, I think I’ll take you up on that offer.” Though he found that the journey home had been easier on him, likely because he has done it once before already, he is still a little fatigued from how long he had been travelling for. “I’ll see you soon!”

“See you soon.”

With one last smile to Heldalf as he settles back into his seat, Sorey exits the room and closes the door behind him. His trip has been great for his mood, the nature putting him more at ease than he has been for a while. Yet now he is ecstatic.

Whilst he does take after both his parents, he seems to have most been inheriting his father’s looks aside from his eyes, and then his mother’s personality. Like him, she has a very kind nature, has a keen sense of adventure and is very upbeat and energetic. During the times of his childhood when Heldalf’s duties became too great, Sorey often spent time with his mother instead. She was the one who helped him hone his hunting skills, studied plants and their uses with him, as well as take care of him during a full moon.

Heldalf, of course, also used to spend time with Sorey, too. The times the three had together were the most wonderful of all. But his absences have always been understandable, and Sorey having his mother there instead for him was something he will always be grateful for.

This is why when Sorey settles on his bed, a book opened in front of him and a hand keeping the pages spread apart, he cannot focus much on the words. Which is strange for him, as he is passionate about literature. Perhaps the particular choice of book is not helping. It is one that he and his mother had read together in the woods one day. It is an amusing memory which brings a smile to Sorey’s face, for he can recall that it was actually a birthday gift for his father.

Don’t tell him about this,” she had said as she pressed a finger to her lips, which were stretched into a grin. “I just knew you’d love it too, so you can see it first.”

Wouldn’t he get mad?”

No, not at all. I just don’t want him to know about the contents.” Her fingers had then prodded into Sorey’s sides, causing him to giggle. “And I know what you’re like for babbling on about books!”

Sorey smiles warmly to himself. He no longer even tries to concentrate on the pages, instead allowing his mind to fall into his memories. He cannot wait to see her again. Hear her voice and laughter, see the smile which grows as large as his own. During her time away, Sorey has not fully missed her, for he knows about how busy she becomes and did not want to be sad about that. But now, he has instantly realised how much he has likely missed her deep down, and how much he does so now. He hopes she arrives home soon.

During his wait, he takes some time to bathe. Despite his love for nature, he sighs with relief as he slips into a bath filled with warm water. He doesn’t mind bathing in river water and even goes as far as to say he enjoys it, yet a relaxing bath in the warmth of his home is a better way to wash away the fatigue which has developed from his travels.

The relaxation and washing away his long journey helps to distract his mind from his mother for a short while. Or at least, distract from one thought to another. Because for a moment, as he absent-mindedly begins to wash his hair, he finds himself thinking of hair which is much lighter than his own.

He is soon stepping out of the bath and begins to dry the droplets of water away from his skin with a towel. Before the bath, he had left a pile of fresh clothes to one side in the bathroom. He pulls them on; a black T-shirt with an unbuttoned dark blue shirt on top, and loose-fitting, comfortable trousers. He then exits the bathroom, one hand shaking his hair with a towel to continue drying it. The towel is left on his shoulders to catch any drips from the strands.

His walking falters for a moment when he hears laughter in the distance. Eyes widening a little, his pace increasing once again when he realises that among that laughter, he is certain that he can pick out that one laugh he adores. He jogs down the stairs, his eyes landing on a pair who were hugging, the woman smaller than the man. She pulls back with a smile, which grows as her eyes land on the figure jogging down the stairs.

“Mom!” Sorey exclaims.

“Hey there,” she responds, her arms wrapping around the boy’s neck as he takes her into a tight embrace. It lingers, those in the foyer growing silent over the reunion of mother and son. The two do not want to apart for some time, and Sorey can imagine that this was the case when it came to her and Heldalf, too.

Still not letting go, Sorey says, “Welcome home.”

“It’s good to be here.” The words are the signal for them to eventually part, Selene grinning as she peers up at Sorey, using her hand to gesture between them. “Have you grown at all in the months I was gone?”

“Um, I don’t think so,” Sorey says, laughing as he scratches the back of his head. “Maybe a centimetre or two?”

“I swear that you grow taller each time I see you. You definitely take after your father with height.” Selene backs away, glancing upwards. “Yep, I’m definitely right! You seem healthy and energetic, too. Have you been out a lot?”

Sorey nods. “Yeah, I try to get out as much as possible!”

“And he has just had a little vacation to travel, too,” Heldalf adds.

“Oh, on your own? That’s my boy, you always were so brave.” Unable to comfortably reach up to ruffle his hair like she used to, she instead settles for a gentle punch on his arm. “Where did you go? Here, there and everywhere?”

“Yeah, I was … around.”

His voice stays relatively normal, yet he can see in his mother’s eyes how she sees more meaning behind his words. She has always been able to read him well.

“Seems as though we’ll have to travel together one day.”

Sorey’s eyes light up. The two have never ventured very far outside of Lastonbell together; Selene had only been less busy when Sorey was younger, and at that age, it was naturally a little dangerous to travel far on foot.

“That would be amazing! I’d love that!”

She grins in response. “I knew you would.” She faces Heldalf, nudging him with her elbow. “As long as you don’t get too lonely, obviously.”

“You know I’ll be fine.”

Letting out a laugh, she turns back to Sorey. “Never one for a joke, is he? So yeah, we should definitely venture out together one day.” She holds up a finger to indicate a second. “Hold on, this reminds me. I got you a present.”

Her hands go into a bag on her shoulder, shuffling through before her hands grasp around something inside. She pulls out what Sorey immediately sees is a book. It’s is thick with pages, its cover embedded with an elegant gold detailing. She holds it out to him, a smile not once leaving her face.

“This is called the Celestial Record,” she says. “I picked it up from a man named Zenrus. He wanted me to give it to you.”

He takes the book from her. Carefully so, as he always does with books which seem to hold quite the value. “This looks really cool,” he says, balancing the book in his hands as he begins to flick through the pages. Pictures of historic figures adorn the pages, alongside places of not only werewolf residents, but human and vampire, too. In fact, all of the book seems to be diverse, spreading the message of unity and showing those who have lived among each other.

“Whoa,” Sorey can only say for a moment. He reaches the book’s end, feeling warmth rise in his chest from not only being given such a thoughtful gift and the sentiment behind it, but also how his mother is accepting and understanding of him enough to give it to him. She is much more so than her husband. “This is amazing mom, thank you!”

She dismisses the gratitude with a wave of her hand. “Don’t mention it! This guy was more than willing to give this to you, actually. You’ll have to meet him one day.”

“I’m glad you’ve gotten a gift that you love,” says Heldalf. His eyes shift from the book to his wife. “Selene, may we talk for a while and join back with Sorey for supper?”

“Oh honey, did you miss me this terribly?”

With a roll of his eyes, Heldalf turns, gesturing to the hallway to their left. “I did not miss you terribly.”

“Sure you didn’t,” says Selene. She gives a wink to Sorey once Heldalf’s back turns from them fully, stepping forward herself. “Guess I should go see what he wants. I’ll see you shortly!”

“Yeah, see you!” They give each other a wave before Selene jogs up to keep up with Heldalf, her hand slapping him on the back. Sorey watches as they leave, still smiling widely. She is as cheerful and welcoming as ever. This time, he hopes that she stays home for a little longer than before.

 


 

The following day brings Sorey to Rose’s workplace. With the news of Selene’s return, Rose has had a rather large amount of customers, what with people taking the moment to stop by for items whilst they walk around Lastonbell in hopes that they may just catch sight of the woman that they adore.

Even if she is not the Alpha herself, as his wife, she holds almost the same amount of power and is cherished just as much as Heldalf is. Perhaps even just as much, due to a combination of her approachable personality and also how her travels causes people to miss her and wish to see her again.

Rose, as much as she is glad for the increase of customers and profit, has to have a break at some point. She slumps back in a chair with a loud exhale of air, taking a bottle of water off Dezel as she gulps it down. With a rough idea of her schedule, this is the moment that Sorey enters in order to visit, greeting her colleagues before going to the back to see her.

“Sorey, I’m dying,” she groans after wiping water away from her mouth. “Honestly, who would guess that your mom would bring in so many customers?”

“Well, you, because you always prepare yourself for this.”

Rose grins, giving him a thumbs up. “Right you are! The cash is coming in loads.”

“Have a break, then,” Dezel says, taking his water back off her. “You know, as the Sparrowfeathers’ boss, you really don’t need to deal with customers yourself.”

“I know I don’t have to. But I want to! Brings in more business if even the boss is approachable. Unlike you,” she says as she jabs his side, “who could scare someone away with your scowl.”

“I’m working on it.”

“Sure you are.” Rose turns her attention to Sorey, giving him a large grin. “So what’s it like, then? Having your mom back, I mean.”

“Ah, it’s great! I had no idea she was coming back, so it was a huge surprise.”

“I bet. I’ve always loved Selene, you know. Shares some of your ideals, doesn’t she?”

Sorey nods with a smile. Whilst he is not sure if Selene strives for equality just as much as her son does, he at least knows that her works tends to take her to others of different races, and she never seems to mind communicating with them. And with the gift she brought home for Sorey, perhaps she is more accepting than he had realised.

“She does,” he says, deciding to voice his thoughts. “She even got me a book, too. It’s full of history about reunited areas and everything.”

“Huh. Well, maybe she really does want what you do then, but just hasn’t mentioned it because of Heldalf.”

“Yeah, she has to be careful of that,” says Dezel. “Heldalf doesn’t seem as positive about your ideals, Sorey. And there’s been bad cases in the past when an Alpha and their husband or wife disagree on something.”

“I don’t think that’ll happen with them,” Sorey responds quickly. “I’m not just saying that out of hopefulness, either. I truly feel as though they understand each other, or at least try to. If anything … well, I think she might actually influence his opinions.”

“We’ll see what happens with that, then,” says Rose. “Maybe mentioning how you want to meet vampires on your travels might help, too.” Her eyes widen as she sees a grin form on Sorey’s face. “You’ve already asked about that?”

“Kind of. But I actually, well, already saw a few vampires when I was on my travels. Not in reunion areas, too.”

This grabs Rose and Dezel’s full attention. The two sit up straight, their eyes staring at Sorey with the need to hear more.

“You have?” Dezel says first. “You went to a vampire dominated land?”

“I did, yeah. I travelled across the border to Hyland.”

Rose whistles. “God, it takes us ages to get over there by carriage. And let me guess, you ran all the way as a wolf, didn’t you?” His grin says it all. “Why am I not surprised?”

“So where did you go in Hyland?” Dezel asks.

“Near Marlind, and I headed in there eventually. I was considering just saying in the woods, but … well, I actually met someone there, and I wanted to see if I could find him in Marlind.

“You met someone?” says Rose excitedly.

“A vampire?” Dezel adds. Sorey nods in response to both of those questions.

“I did, yeah. It was so strange. I was walking through the woods, when I heard something I couldn’t quite make out properly. So I carry on walking, trying to make out what the sound was, and then it hit me once I was closer. It was a flute.”

“A flute?” Rose echoes. “That seems random.”

“It was, but it was also really beautiful. I had to see who was causing that sound, so I followed it.”

“And let me guess, it was the vampire?”

“That’s right. But he seemed really … against us talking. I had a cut on my hand from a bush, so he could smell I was a werewolf. And he seemed really scared of that, even though he was trying to hide it. He left without telling me his name when I asked.”

“I can understand nerves and wariness, considering you were a werewolf in vampire territory,” says Dezel. “But full on fear seems odd to me.”

“Yeah, me too,” Rose adds.

“I thought that too. I found it really strange, and I want to see him again, as I really do think he could be a really interesting and kind person underneath that fear and everything. But when I went into Marlind and questioned about him, a female vampire got really suspicious about me. Almost protective over whoever the boy was as well, I think.”

Rose hums in thought. “I don’t know if that’s strange. I mean, maybe she guessed you were a werewolf somehow and got worried?”

“She did guess, but … well, the suspicion came from how I would not know who he is by his appearance. So what’s all that about?”

Dezel and Rose exchange a glance. “Sorey,” the latter says slowly as her gaze returns to him. “What exactly was this appearance like?”

He found himself still able to picture it easily, able to answer in an instant. “He was really beautiful. White hair, purple eyes, pale skin. And he was fairly small and wore elegant clothes.” He watches as Dezel and Rose glance at each other again, the latter bursting into laughter. “What?! What’s so funny?”

“Oh my God, you are so oblivious,” she sniggers.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“That’s the Prince of Hyland, Sorey,” says Dezel, Sorey’s eyes growing wide.

Wh-What?!”

“How on Earth do you not know that?” Rose questions, still breathless from her laughter. “I mean, he’s of the same status as you. I thought it’d be normal for you to know about him.”

“Well … Dad never told me about the royal family in Hyland. I knew there is one, but I didn’t really know any details. It’s like he didn’t want me to know.”

The remainder of Rose’s laughter fades. It is replaced with a sigh. “Well, that’s figures.”

“Basically, the hierarchy in Hyland is split into two locations,” Dezel explains. “The guy you met resides in Marlind, as you probably guessed. Then the princess and her family live in Ladylake, the capitol.”

“Oh, I see … that’s pretty different than over here,” says Sorey, both nodding in response.

“It’s likely because Rolance is much larger than Hyland,” says Rose. “So our kind can’t really be dominant over a country. Whereas Hyland is smaller, and is mostly inhabited by vampires and humans. Well, all except one village, though.”

“Really?” Sorey’s voice rises a bit in excitement. “What’s the name of that?”

“Elysia,” Dezel replies. “It’s one of the most peaceful places of reunion, so I’ve heard.”

“Yet we don’t know much about it aside from that,” Rose continues. “Our business isn’t taken directly there, after all. We’ve never been inside the village.”

“I see … And so the royal family reigns over that, too?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Hey, maybe your mom will know about it, though. And what about that book she gave you?”

“O-Oh! The Celestial Record! I have it with me, hold on …”

“Of course he does,” says Rose, grinning at Dezel, who has his own smirk.

“No stop to the history nerd,” Dezel responds.

Ignoring them both, Sorey has been shifting through his bag in order to find the book. He lets out a small cheer as he finds it, bringing it out to open it up on his lap. Rose and Dezel shift closer in order to look down onto it. He looks in the contents, finger scanning down the beginning of the alphabet. Written at the bottom of the first column is the name ‘Elysia’.

“Here!” Sorey exclaims. He flicks through the pages to find the allocated number. He stops as his eyes catch it. By a few paragraphs of information is a black and white photograph of a cliffside, surrounded by masses of tall rocks and a sky stretching out for miles. “Ah, there’s not that much on it, but at least there’s a little. It looks beautiful.”

He then begins to read aloud, Rose and Dezel listening to each word:

Elysia is a small village situated in the mountaintops on the border of Hyland. It is an independent village which does not come into contact with other towns and cities often, the residents choosing to keep to themselves and their fellow citizens. It is less developed with technology than other places, yet the village’s people are easily able to look after themselves. Rather than use money, they help each other to hunt, build homes and with illness.

It is one of the few places of the world which has a true alliance between werewolves, humans and vampires, and is said to be the most peaceful place of reunion in the whole of Glenwood. Anyone is accepted in this village regardless of who they are or where they came from. It is often a place which is seen as a fresh start for those who go through the effort to search and find it.

Those who have limited life left also sometimes choose to live here for the remainder of their life. With its given name inspired by the Elysian fields, known as a celestial plane before death, it is clear why people choose to spend their life here in serenity.”

He looks up when he finishes reading, not breaking the silence for a few moments in order to think over what he has just read. Elysia is the place he has dreamed of. Of course, this is not literally. But how the people are united together in peace, how they are not bound by the laws which control the rest of the nation, or even the whole world. From just these three paragraphs, Sorey can picture a world where everyone is treated equally and fairly, regardless of their race or blood status. It is a world in which he wants to be a part of as well.

“Just three paragraphs, huh?” Dezel comments. “I guess not many people know of it.”

Sorey shakes his head. “I mean, even I didn’t, and you know what I’m like. I think you two only know about it because of your work, right?”

Rose nods. “That’s right. We only make deliveries of medicine there, and even then, we only travel as far as the foot of the mountain to meet with someone. They’d rather us not go further.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“They want peace,” says Dezel, drawing Sorey’s attention back to him. “And you know what the world is like. Let the wrong kind of people through and they’re bound to spread word of the place and ruin it. And let’s face it, the ‘wrong kind’ is certainly much larger than the ‘good kind’.”

“Chances are that someone who is harmless might give directions to the place with someone who is, well, not so harmless by mistake,” Rose adds. “So I think they want to lay low to make sure that doesn’t happen. They’ve secluded themselves away and want to keep it like that for as long as possible.”

“That makes sense, and I don’t blame them for that,” says Sorey. “I hope I can go one day, though.”

“Who knows, maybe your mom could help you with that.” Rose springs to her feet as realisation hits her. “Crap, we should get back to work! Come on!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Dezel says as Rose pulls him up by his arm onto his feet, the speed causing him to stumble momentarily. He shakes her hand off, the two briskly jogging to the door. It is when Rose’s hand reaches out for its handle that a sudden thought comes to Sorey.

“Wait a moment!”

The pair turn, Rose saying, “What is it?”

“What’s his name?” Sorey asks. “The Prince, I mean.”

“The Prince? Oh, he’s called Mikleo Rulay. The Rulays live in Marlind and the Diphdas live in Ladylake.” She opens the door, letting Dezel through first to give her a moment to call to Sorey once again. “You can let yourself out, can’t you?”

“Yeah … yeah, of course.”

Yet he does not move straight away aside from the motion of getting to his feet. He has a name to the face which has seemed to barely leave his mind. A face which belongs to a person he would have never expected.

“Mikleo Rulay …” he says quietly to himself. He was right; he does have a unique name. A smile rises to his face. It is perfect.

Chapter Text

Sorey. That is the name of the boy who has come into his life unexpectedly. It is the name of someone who Mikleo can already tell he will not forget. The werewolf’s face does not, and cannot, leave his mind as he canters through the forest.

He feels as though he is likely late. Usually, such a circumstance leaves Mikleo in a state of panic, for keeping things in order and having a grip on everything is his security blanket, what keeps him calm and collected. But he barely has any thought to spare for this potential lack of punctuality. How can he spare any thought for anything but the werewolf he has just met?

Why is he even here?’ Mikleo thinks to himself as he makes his way through the forest. He has had to slow down Juliet’s canter into a trot, for his distracted mind is causing him to not be able to control her as well as usual, or to avoid branches of trees hitting into him. ‘I know he is travelling, but …’

Perhaps the boy does simply have a love for adventure, so much so that his travels would even take him to a vampire dominated land. After all, regardless of their race, anyone would be able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes which bless Hyland. But why here? Why would the werewolf choose to bring himself right to the outskirts of Marlind, a place where werewolves are not very welcomed at all, when there are beautiful places in Rolance too, so Mikleo has heard?

The curiosity Mikleo has over this strange person is likely what causes him to think a little deeper than this. His horse’s pace slowing further, he forces himself to process his thoughts in a calmer and more observant way.

The way in which Sorey had seemed interested in Mikleo confuses him. It is as though Sorey truly did feel happy over meeting Mikleo, that he wishes and means no harm for his kind. And if this was not the case, why would he care so much for Mikleo’s name?

He didn’t seem to know who I am.’ It is true. If Sorey had met Mikleo whilst knowing of his identity, his reaction to meeting him would have likely been much different. Usually when people meet Mikleo for the first time, they seem to be in shock, tripping up over their words in their nerves and disbelief over meeting the Prince. But Sorey’s reaction had been different. Curious, intrigued – those are not the reactions of someone who knows who Mikleo is.

Of course, there is the possibility that Sorey had been lying and faking his reactions, which Mikleo does need to think about warily. But he is certain that this is not the case with Sorey. After all, Mikleo knows next to nothing about werewolf packs which roam in Rolance. Perhaps it is not so far-fetched to believe that Sorey is the same, too.

In this case, his questioning and wish to see Mikleo again are not from negative means. Perhaps he even shares the same dream as Mikleo does. Perhaps they really will meet again.

Mikleo shakes his head. ‘No, we won’t,’ he thinks to himself, arguing against the hope which had risen. ‘I can’t do this again, and I doubt he’d be able to, either. Rolance is very far, after all.’

He chooses to ignore the disappointment which arises from this thought. The emotion is pushed away to one side as he speeds up Juliet’s pace a little. He doubts that he is late enough for people to guess where he rode out to, but he also wants to make sure he is not late enough to have to think of a whole web of lies. A single thread can be difficult enough as it is.

Minutes more of trotting brings Mikleo to the clearing within the trees. With his distractions, he has hardly noticed that the forestry around them is the familiar part of their own lands. He slows down once they emerge from the trees to the palace’s gardens. Well, there is no one looking for him yet at least, so that must be a good sign.

He guides Juliet over to the stables. There is no one there either. Perhaps he had worried a little too soon; after all, he did leave rather early. He wonders if he had been more anxious than he realised about leaving, too caught up in his excitement to truly notice his worries.

“Thank you,” he says to Juliet once they reach the building, leaning down as he pats her neck. “I bet you enjoyed that too, didn’t you?”

She gives a small snort. Mikleo knows that it is simply in response to hearing her master’s voice as opposed to his words, but he lets himself imagine just this once that she understands him and agrees.

He dismounts her, carefully easing himself down onto the ground before leading her into the stables. Her saddle and bridle are removed before the latch is pulled across her gate. Mikleo’s eyes check her food and water levels one more time, before he takes hold of her head with his hands and places a kiss down gently on her forehead.

“See you soon,” he says as his farewell, before his steps take him out of the stables behind him. He shuts the door and finds himself looking up at the sky. It is completely blue now with no traces of the sunrise, yet he is certain that it is still a little early in the morning.

“Wow, who knew that it could take so long to ride around a thirty-metre radius?”

Mikleo jumps at the sudden, unexpected voice. He turns to see the source of it, eyes landing on the girl currently leaning back on the wall of the stables with her arms folded. She is, of course, dressed in her usual black attire. Mikleo thinks he has not actually seen her in anything but the darkest colours.

“Give me some sign that you’re there next time, Edna.”

“And you give me some sign that you’re going to wander off out of the palace.”

His heart beats a little faster in his chest, yet he tries his hardest to keep himself composed. “How did you know I was gone?” he asks. He knows full well that it is pointless to lie to her.

“I was up and saw you leaving. I followed you, and yeah. I didn’t actually see you go off the lands, but you were gone long enough for me to guess.”

“Why were you already up?”

“Nightmares.”

Mikleo’s heart sinks a little over how casually and quickly she says this. “What about?”

She simply shrugs. “So what suddenly gave you the urge to leave?”

Feeling free for the first time in his life and meeting Sorey has caused him to forget what pushed him to do this in the first place. He swallows, his previous misery attempting to creep back. From the way Edna’s expression changes a little suggests that Mikleo’s own expression has been taken over by this misery.

“Alisha visited yesterday.” He licks his lips. This is surely to be kept a secret, though he is sure that Alisha would never mind him opening up to Edna about something like this. “Our marriage is meant to be pushed forward.”

Edna lets out a sigh. She stands up straight as she speaks. “I thought that day would come eventually, but it still seems pretty soon.”

“Yeah … way too soon.”

“And I never expect any true feelings to come into this. You can’t have your own children, either.”

“I know. Yet all they care about is the power it would bring to have us marry. They want to continue the reign with truly royal blood.”

“And what era is this?” Edna walks over to Mikleo, eyes glancing up at him. She might not always show emotion, but in this moment, there is sorrow evident in her eyes. “Hang in there, all right? I can’t say how things will work out for you, but …”

“You still want me around?”

“Yeah.”

Mikleo chuckles. “I wouldn’t expect you to say that, but all right.”

“Only because you’re the most fun person to tease.”

The two begin to walk back to the palace together. Mikleo notices that he feels a little better again since speaking to her. The two may argue a lot, their bickering caused by even the slightest things, yet it is in a way he secretly appreciates. It is as though she is his sister. And as someone who grew up rather lonely as an only child, he can appreciate that.

It is strange that Edna is one of the people he feels closest to, yet does not know a huge lot about. She is mysterious and secretive. Her past is kept to herself, and she is only partially open about herself in regards to the present and the future. It is clear that whatever she has been through was difficult for her emotionally and has led to this secrecy, though Mikleo has no idea what this could be. All he knows is that whatever happened led her here, working for his family in a higher positioned role. Even if he wishes that her past was not as awful as he fears, he is also glad that it brought her to him. She is a major part of his life, after all.

“So how was it being out there?” Edna asks. Mikleo copies her as she slows to a stop short from the palace’s walls. She is likely thinking the same thing as him; it is too easy to be overheard within them. And of course, he much prefers the thought of this keeping between the two of them. He will not even be able to tell his mother.

“It was amazing,” he replies, a smile returning to him. As images of the forest’s beauty and the stretches of greenery return to his mind, as does the peace which he had felt not long before. “Even if it wasn’t really any different from here, I still found it all incredible.”

“Because you were free?”

“Exactly.” His face drops a little. “Past tense being accurate.”

“So you’re not going back again?”

The question catches him off guard a little, causing him to simply look at her for a moment before responding. “I mean, going out like that without permission was a bad idea the first time. I shouldn’t do it again.”

“Well, no one found out this time,” says Edna with a shrug. “What’s stopping you?”

“I don’t know.” But he does. It is the fear he knows all too well. A fear which has derived from imaginary chains binding him to this palace, the anxiety and stress caused by what is expected of him. Emotions which have grown so common within him that they are the norm.

And Edna knows this norm all too well. “Yes you do,” she retorts. “And to me, as long as you’re not caught, no harm is done. You can’t let yourself be trapped forever. It’s going to destroy you eventually.”

She is true. As he always is, he is grateful for her honesty, for the way she never once sugar-coats the truth for him. She tells everything how it is. Whilst she speaks of reality, it is another side of it which allows Mikleo to feel that little more hopeful. As though reality does not actually have to be him remaining as a prisoner of his own home.

“Besides,” she continues moments later when there is no response, for he is too caught up in thinking over her words, “there seems to be something here which is telling me that you want to go back. And not just to see some pretty trees or whatever.”

Even if she has no clue what this ‘something’ is, Mikleo cannot deny how impressed he is by her observation. His teeth scrape gently across his bottom lip as Sorey’s face and voice return to his mind, the cheerfulness seeming to echo within it.

“I met someone,” Mikleo says before he can stop himself. “Out of the forest, by a river.”

Edna seems to have not expected this answer, for her eyes grow wide for a moment. “Whoa, seriously?”

“Yeah. He said his name is Sorey.”

“Sorey?” Edna says a little slowly. Her expression tells that she is trying to think. “It rings a bell, but I can’t figure out why. What was he doing there?”

“He was travelling, apparently. He had bags with him, so I think he was travelling in the forest. He came from Rolance.”

“Oh, that’s pretty far.”

“Yeah. And not only that, but …” Mikleo pauses for a moment. Should he be telling her this? Moments later, he has already told himself yes. Not telling someone would be bound to drive him mad, and he cannot confide in Alisha. There is too much risk in their letters getting intersected. “He’s a werewolf.”

Edna cannot hide the shock in her face, and does not attempt to do so, either. “A werewolf? By Marlind?”

“That’s right.”

“Wow. I mean, it does happen, but … well, I guess it’s always a surprise. And you’ve never seen a werewolf before, have you?”

Mikleo shakes his head. “I was a bit scared if I’m honest, what with how much I’ve been told to keep away from them.”

“I doubt it was just ‘a bit’ because of that. You were probably shaking in your boots and trying not to scream.”

He shoots her a glare. “Shut it, Edna.”

“Come on. You at least let out some sort of pathetic noise, didn’t you? Like a shriek or something.”

“I’m not answering that.”

She smirks. “So, what was it like meeting the race who you’ve been taught to never speak to?”

“It was … strange, I guess. He was different than I’d expect a werewolf to be.”

“How so?”

“He was … nice.”

“Nice?” she repeats, raising an eyebrow. “That’s dull. What a great compliment.”

“It’s hard to explain!” he exclaims. He breathes out, recalling the words Sorey had said, the reassurance he gave when he saw that Mikleo had been frightened. “He seemed kind. Considerate. And … and he was pretty handsome. More well kept than I would expect of a travelling werewolf.”

“Handsome. You meet a werewolf for the first time and one of the first words you come up with is handsome.”

“It’s – it’s the truth, though! He just …” His voice calms, and before he can stop himself, there is a small smile on his face. “Different than I’d expect someone like him to be.”

“Let me guess, then. You want to go meet him again?”

“No.”

No?” The word had been spoken quickly, yet also seriously. It is clear that Mikleo is not lying. “But you just said he was a nice, considerate guy.”

“That’s what he seemed like. Who knows what he could really be like.”

“Are you saying that just because you’re scared of what might happen? Not just with him, but your family too?”

“Yes. I mean, no. Argh, I don’t know …”

She considers teasing him for a moment, but decides against this when she sees how frustrated he truly is. “Look,” she says, watching as his eyes return to her. “I’m not going to lie to you. Something like this really is dangerous and I don’t personally recommend that you go searching for him again. But at the same time, if you meet again by chance … Who knows what that means?”

“That’s strangely romantic of you,” Mikleo comments, a hint of a smirk on his face. “What’s gotten into you?”

“I just think that sometimes fate can play a part. That’s all. But … be careful. He could be dangerously reckless if he dared to be so close to here.” She gestures towards the palace. “Come on, then. The guests will be coming soon, and you could do with tidying yourself up a bit so you don’t look like you had just been running around beforehand.”

He glances down at himself. He is likely not as unkempt as she makes him out to be, yet he can still see why she has said this. Even though his boots are a dark colour, he can see some dirt has been scuffed along the front of them, and his general attire all seems slightly out of place. A hand rises to his head; the cantering seems to have ruffled his strands of hair, too.

And so, he follows her into the palace, his mind thinking over her words. It is true that Edna is right with how it is dangerous to see Sorey again. Even if Sorey really is the same person that he seems to be, this does not mean Mikleo is safe. If word got out to the city that he was secretly meeting with a werewolf, or simply those in the palace knew of it, he cannot imagine the sort of troubles it would bring. He might be lucky and have it work in his favour. But things have never really seemed to be this way for him and he doubts that it will suddenly happen now.

“Edna?” Mikleo says quietly as the two continue to walk. He thinks the volume of his voice might have been to low for her to have picked up, until she looks at him, seeming as though she had been interrupted from her own thoughts. “If … if I really did that again, would you tell anyone?”

“What am I, stupid?” she jokes, before her voice grows more serious. “Of course I wouldn’t. As long as you keep yourself safe and that you’re aware of anything which could happen, it’s in your hands. And let’s face it, not many things are left to be decided by you. Might as well cherish that.”

“Thanks, Edna.”

She merely shrugs, even though his gratitude is sincere, her words meaningful. After a life where things were decided for him, even if it is going against the policies and rules set for him, it does feel a little satisfying to have this be in his hands for once. But there is also no way he can deny that it is also frightening.

Saying that, when is something not this way?

 


 

Before long, Mikleo has cleaned himself up after his venture outside. Luckily, he had not been messy enough to need to change his clothes or anything like that. He simply had to clean his boots, adjust his outfit and tug a brush through the tangles in his hair. He looked very much like he did earlier in the morning when he looks into the mirror again. Only now, though it could simply be his imagination, he can swear that something else is different too. Perhaps a little more hope is causing his expression to be brighter.

He has no time to contemplate this. A message has just been given to him about the guests arriving shortly, and he knows he has to leave now in order to be there waiting for when they arrive. A Prince must always have good punctuality.

This is a common event held every month at least. Certain parts of the garden are open to the public every weekday, yet there are times when more is open to those who have signed an admission form early. It is a way to allow the citizens to feel connected to the royal family, so they say. It also gives them the chance to meet them and to ask any questions they have thought of.

As he got older and became more aware of the troubles in the world, Mikleo had questioned how the people were trusted to enter. After all, anyone could be entering with the worst deeds imaginable in their minds. Needing to know the answer, he asked his mother about it. It turned out that the attendees are not only searched for any hidden weapons, they must also have proof of their identity and on their first visit, even have their blood checked to ensure they are a vampire or human. It is racist to werewolves in Mikleo’s eyes, yet he can also understand the meaning behind it. If a werewolf went through the trouble of coming all the way out here, it would likely not be for a good reason. It would be most probable for them to be on an assassination mission.

Perhaps not Sorey, though,’ Mikleo thinks to himself. Even in the short time the two had been speaking, Mikleo was certain that Sorey was the type to try something like this with no awful deed in mind. Yet he shakes the thought from his mind. Now was not the same to think about Sorey.

He opens the front doors of their palace, a smile reaching his face as he sees the long brown plait falling from his mother’s head. She turns at the sound of the door opening, smiling as she sees Mikleo.

“There you are,” she says, giving him a brief hug as he walks closer. “I was wondering where you were.”

“Sorry,” he replies, trying to ease his momentary panic to speak normally. “I got carried away riding Juliet.”

“You locked her in the stables correctly?” says Michael, who is standing by Muse’s side. Mikleo nods.

“Yes, she has water and food, too. As do the other horses.”

Michael smiles. “Good to hear.” These words bring a smile to Mikleo’s own face. Even with all of the reasons he feels uncomfortable around his uncle, one thing he does appreciate about him is his love for animals of any kind. It reminds Mikleo that Michael really is a regular person under the stress that being part of the royal family gives.

“Oh, looks like they’re entering,” says Muse. She begins to walk down the steps, watching as an excited group of citizens are guided into the gardens.

“You know, if this is too stressful on you with how much you have to do, you can always leave this to Mikleo and I,” says Michael, Mikleo nodding in agreement. “We do worry that how much you take on will affect your health.”

She shakes her head. “I appreciate your concern, but I truly am fine. If anything, I see this as a break. I love speaking to our people.”

Mikleo’s heart grows warm over her words. She has always been a humble Queen. She sees everyone in Marlind as equal, even those who are half-blood or human. He can only hope that one day, he will be the type of King who can bring the kind of smile that she does.

Yet even now, he can see that he already does this to some degree, perhaps sometimes even to the same one. As he, Muse and Michael prepare to greet the small group of guests, Mikleo notices how much he grabs their attention. Some even seem to notice him more than they do Muse.

“Good morning, everyone,” she greets, bringing each pair of eyes to herself. “Thank you for taking the time to come here today. If you follow us, we will show you the most beautiful part of our gardens, and you can ask any of us any question you like. These gardens date back centuries, maintained by our gardeners over all of these years …”

They begin to trek through the gardens. Unless they come across a signature part of the gardens, such as a long-living plant or a statue, the conversation is in the hands of the guest. They speak to each other, as well as nervously to the trio. Muse receives the most questions, Michael the least, though the latter is the one who is asked the most about the lands, for he is well known for being the one to plan and maintain its design. Meanwhile, Mikleo notices he is surrounded by mostly females who seem to be in awe of him.

“You really do have white hair!” says a young guest, Mikleo assumes to be around twelve-years-old. She stares up at him with fascination written on her face.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Are the stories true?” another asks. With her face older yet similar to the child’s, Mikleo assumes her to be an older sister. “That your hair is this light because you don’t drink human blood?”

He nods. “I’ve always drank animal blood.”

“That really is quite noble of you.”

“Proves that you have some power, too,” says a man, looking rather impressed. “I mean, pure-blood vampires usually can’t handle drinking such little blood, can they?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Mikleo says, thankful there is no awkwardness in his voice. “I’ve had to have a special diet constructed to make sure I’m receiving enough nutrients. I’d rather it be this way, though.”

“What a precious young man you are,” says another woman, letting out a sigh. “Mind you though, I personally couldn’t give up a large glass of blood to go with dinner!”

The rest of the small group surrounding Mikleo laugh. He does too, yet it is much more forced, and he has to force himself to not gag over her words. Luckily, no one seems to notice his discomfort and not a word is said in regards to it.

Even with this moment which made him uncomfortable, he is soon enjoying himself as he both answers questions himself and listens to the explanations given by his mother and uncle. He is not used to speaking to others this much, and even though he is certain that they only like him because of his status, it is a pleasant feeling to be appreciated like this.

It is not long, however, before the words of a couple catch his attention, causing him to be more alert. “Did you hear? The wife of an Alpha is in Hyland right this instance! She is in Ladylake as we speak,” says the woman.

“With permission, I hope?”

“Oh yes, most certainly. Not only is she the wife of an Alpha though, they rule the biggest pack in Rolance. They’re said to inhabit the whole of Lastonbell!”

“Lastonbell? The city known for its trades? Blimey, if I had known that so many imports here were from werewolves, I’d be more picky about what I buy!”

Mikleo grits his teeth. It is not often that he hears something like this, so is not yet accustomed to remaining calm. He goes to say something, yet his mother luckily beats him to it.

“Even if you do not particularly get along with them, it is a good idea to stay civil this way,” she says, falling back a little so she matches their pace. “Our world strives much greater now that we assist each other. Regardless of your beliefs, surely you think that this is better than war?”

Her tone is not argumentative. It is gentle, as though no matter what the answer will be, she will remain understanding and kind. Mikleo has no idea how she does it. Especially with something like this, which causes his blood to boil.

This way of speaking seems to get through to the couple well. “I suppose that’s true,” says the man after moments of silence. “Even if I can’t say I like them, I don’t want to be at war with them, either.”

“Yes,” the woman agrees. “As long as we’re not together, I suppose it’s fine.”

Their words still irritate Mikleo a little, but he is at least not as angry as previously. There were others who speak in a much more violent way towards werewolves, or so he has heard. Words of wanting to kill them. To wipe their whole existence. Of course, the words are not even close to a true threat, but such harshness comes from some kind of desire, whatever level it may be. That level can scarily rise if a weapon is placed into their hands.

“I’m glad that you believe in this,” Muse continues with a smile. “Also, you are correct about Selene visiting Ladylake. I have met with her myself before and plan to do so tomorrow; she is a very good woman.”

The couple, and others who have began to listen, seem a little confused over how they should respond to this. On one hand, it is the words of their Queen, which are usually honest and fair. But on the other, she is speaking about a werewolf in such a positive way. This is not normal for their ears.

“She’s not trying to … get information from us or anything?” someone asks. Muse shakes her head.

“I can assure you that is not the case. Anything she wants to learn is so she can work towards us working better together, for the good of not just Rolance, but the whole of Glenwood. You have nothing to fear with her visiting Hyland.”

This seems to reassure the guests. They start murmuring to each other. It is hard for Mikleo to hear every word they say, but from what he can tell, they are speaking about how they did not know that such a werewolf exists and would perhaps even like to meet her. This is what Mikleo admires about his mother. She cannot speak of this to a large audience, for there is sure to be backlash. But here, where people know it is an unspoken rule to not repeat the words which are spoken on the palace’s grounds, Muse can speak more freely.

Mikleo hopes to be able to speak like himself one day. For now, he simply listens to her voice with a smile on his face, knowing that the day will come where he too has this confidence. Or at least, he prays it will.

These events can leave Mikleo feeling rather tired. He’s not as accustomed to maintaining such lengths of conversation as his family, and the mental drain it causes tends to bring on physical effects, especially as he knows better than anyone that his health is not exactly the best. But today, with the combination of his restless sleep, early waking and his venture out of the palace’s grounds, he is exhausted.

“Are you all right?” Michael murmurs to him after finishing an explanation to a guest. Mikleo hesitates before shaking his head, torn between wanting to hide his fatigue because of the guests, yet also wanting to head inside and rest.

“I didn’t sleep well and haven’t had blood yet,” he explains, only now realising the latter. A flicker of concern finds itself in Michael’s eyes. He quickens his pace for a moment to catch up to Muse, saying something in her ear. She gives an apologetic smile to the guests as she brings her attention to all of them.

“I’m afraid that my son is feeling unwell, so we will have to cut this a little short today.”

Being appreciated, even if it is merely for his status, definitely has its perks. Rather than protest against this or even let out a sigh of disappointment, the guests are immediately concerned for him, saying how he should have said something sooner and yes, he did look rather pale. He is a little embarrassed over the attention yet grateful all the same. And before long, he finds himself settled down on a sofa in a quiet room, being handed a glass of blood.

“Here,” says his mother, smiling gently. He takes it from her, giving it a quick sniff before he begins to sip it, knowing it will not be beneficial to his system to gulp it down quickly. “Why did you not have any this morning?”

“I forgot from getting caught up with riding,” he says somewhat truthfully.

“You have to be more careful,” says Michael, settling down next to him. “We have to watch your health enough as it is. Your diet is important.”

Mikleo nods. He does not want to argue and is not even irritated by Michael’s words. They’re the truth, and Mikleo knows it was foolish of him to not be more careful.

“I’m sorry. I’ll watch out for myself more.” He takes a few more sips from the glass. By now, he can feel some light-headness fade, though his fatigue has not shifted and a headache is already beginning to form. “I think it might be best for me to take a nap.”

“Are you sure you don’t need medicine?” Muse asks, pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. “You’re feeling a little warm.”

“It’s nothing that a little rest won’t solve, I’m sure.”

“All right, as long as you are sure.” Her hand shifts to brush strands of hair off his forehead in order to place a kiss onto it. “I’ll check on you later. Michael, can you escort him?”

The man nods. He gets up off the sofa, holding a hand out in order to help Mikleo off the sofa. The hold is maintained whilst Mikleo’s head adjusts to standing, soon letting go so they can walk. However, Michael still stays close to him, glancing at him with concern here and there.

“I’m fine on my own, you know,” Mikleo says as they make their way up the stairs.

“There’s no harm in being careful. Plus, it is what your mother wanted me to do.” Michael stays silent for a moment, contemplating his next words. “I really do worry about you, Mikleo. Even if you don’t feel like I do at times.”

The guilt that Mikleo feels makes him frustrated with himself. Aren’t his doubts understandable? “I know,” he says. “I can see that in these moments.”

“I don’t want it to just be in certain moments. I want you to trust me generally.”

Mikleo opens his mouth, perhaps to say “I do”, yet the words do not come. Perhaps it is because he knows that it is a lie. And not just him, but Michael as well. This is likely the reason that Michael pats Mikleo’s shoulder as they enter his room, looking at him with an expression which is slightly pained.

“I really do hope you can trust me one day,” he says, before leaving after one last smile, the door shut behind him. Mikleo simply stands for a moment despite how much he desires to fall down on his bed and sleep.

He is not sure if he will ever understand his uncle. There seems to be so many different sides to him. Whether he will ever see the real one, Mikleo does not know. He can only hope that the side he just saw now was real.

 


 

Mikleo usually finds that his dreams from his naps are always stranger than those he has at night, especially when fatigued. They are similar to the strange images one sees when they are ridden with flu. Only during his sleep now, the world that Mikleo’s mind creates are not strange in the slightest.

The images linger briefly, yet he can see them clearly and is able to have a conscience of what is happening. Trees are a blur either side of him. The sound of hooves resound underneath him, scattering miniscule stones away from them. A sunrise is ahead, peeking out from above the horizon and speckling the sky with varying shades of yellow, blue and pink. Then, for what seems no more than seconds, the sight of green eyes. The most blurred sight of all, yet somehow able to make him feel something the most. What this feeling is, he does not know. All he knows is that his heart feels a little different when seeing them.

Then his own eyes open and blink as they take in the real world. The first thing he notices upon waking is that the sleep did not particularly help. The edge of his exhaustion and headache seem to have eased, yet Mikleo suspects that this is from the extra blood running through his body rather than the sleep.

“Ah, Mikleo,” says the voice of his mother. He has not seen her at first, for she is to the side of his bed, standing still and peering out of the glass doors leading to his balcony. She walks over, a smile on her face and concern in her eyes. “You seemed to be stirring when I entered, so I thought I’d wait for when you woke up.”

“How long was I asleep for?” he asks as he sits up, back leaning against the headboard. A hand is momentarily held to his forehead.

“Only for a couple of hours.” She settles herself down onto his bed, reaching over to brush his hair out of his face. “How do you feel?”

“Not much better. But I think the blood helped with the worst of it.”

She nods, seeming to be a little relieved. “I do wish you would be more careful.”

Guilt washes over him. It is enough for his uncle to say this, never mind his mother. “I’m sorry. I’ll watch out for myself more.”

“Thank you. I just don’t want you to become too ill. You lose many things if you lose your health, after all.”

“Yeah. I’ll remember that.” He pauses as he thinks back to the conversations from before. After his encounter early that morning, something had stood out more than others. “You said you were seeing an Alpha’s wife tomorrow, didn’t you? What was her name?”

“Selene. Yes, I am seeing her. We are going to discuss the current state of trades between Marlind and Lastonbell. Why do you ask?”

He thinks for a moment about how to word his answer. After all, he cannot say that his interest in werewolves has arisen from him meeting one. “I just … wanted to know about her, I guess,” he replies. “I don’t ever see werewolves and everything, so hearing about her caught my interest. You spoke of her like she is a friend.”

“Well, to me, she is a friend,” she says, smiling a little sadly over the surprise on Mikleo’s face. “Yes, it is shocking, isn’t it? For a Queen ruling a vampire dominated land to find friendship with a werewolf … well, one would hardly expect that. But Selene is very much unlike one would expect. Her energy and cheerfulness are like that of a stereotypical werewolf. Yet she is wonderfully charismatic too, one of the friendliest people I know. It is like she has the positives of her kind and her own personal traits. I think you would like her very much.”

“I’d like to meet her,” he says before he has even thought about this to himself. But as soon as the words exit his mouth, he knows that they are true rather than have slipped out with no meaning to them. Perhaps it is because that whilst he still naturally has his fear for werewolves, he no longer has the separate kind of fear which came from never having met a werewolf in his life.

Muse seems less surprised than Mikleo would have expected. Her eyes widened a little and her eyebrows raised, but rather than be completely out of surprise, it appears as though she is joyful over his words, too.

“What a pleasant surprise,” she says, voicing Mikleo’s thoughts. “I wouldn’t have expected you to say that you want to do something like this. Are you certain, though? After all, you’ve never seen a werewolf before. The thought must make you nervous.”

“It is pretty nerve-wrecking,” he admits. His voice sounds normal, for he’s not lying about this – meeting Sorey has not stopped any anxiety which would arise from the thought of seeing his kind. “But I think I do want to meet her. I can’t be closeted from this kind of thing forever. Not when I’ll be taking over the throne in the future.”

She nods. “I agree. You are definitely … sheltered, to say the least, and you lack in some areas expected of one who rules. I think it would be a good experience for you to meet her. I’ll speak to Michael. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind her visiting here, as long as we have security within the palace.”

“You’re the Queen anyway. You can make these decisions if you like.”

“Well yes, that is true,” she says, laughing lightly. “But he is my brother and high in position. I’d rather not do anything behind his back and make sure he is fine with everything.” She rises to her feet, bearing Mikleo a smile. “I will go find him now and speak to him, then get word sent out to Selene about her coming here instead so people are prepared. Do you need to rest some more?”

“I … yeah, I think so,” he admits, feeling a little useless because of it. Yet the smile which remains on his mother’s face is understanding and helps to reassure him. She leans down to place a kiss on top of his head.

“That’s absolutely fine. Dinner will be ready in half an hour; if you don’t feel up to coming down to the dining room, I’ll have it be brought here for you. There’s no need to strain yourself.”

“Thank you, I appreciate it.”

“Of course.” She gives him once last smile as she stands in the now open doorway, before she steps through and shuts the door after herself. Mikleo lets out a small sigh once she has gone. A hand reaches to his stomach, realising that he does in fact have hunger pains, reminded by the mention of food. Vampires still need to eat just as werewolves and humans do, rather than rely completely on blood; not consuming it results in a deficiency of nutrients, yet it is not as though they will not starve as long as they drink it. And so, by not eating all day, Mikleo is now very well aware of his stomach rumbling and is thankful that dinner is on the way.

In the meantime, he allows his thoughts to wander, which pass the time quickly. Imagining what Selene is like in person, how Mikleo will be when speaking to her, not to mention whether or not she will actually be permitted to come here. Strangely enough, as he pictures how the woman will look and sound, he cannot stop focusing on Sorey. It is likely because of him being the only other werewolf he has seen, yet it is still strange how easily he comes to mind.

He had surely left a large impression, and it is not simply because of what he is. Mikleo knows he has to hurry and erase his thoughts before he finds himself stupidly disappointed over the two not seeing each other again.

 


 

Much to Mikleo’s delight, Michael gives his permission to allow Selene to visit the palace in order for Mikleo to meet her. He is admittedly very surprised over this. Not solely because of his and Michael’s volatile relationship, but mostly because of how much everyone has been wanting to shield him from werewolves. His health, his high status in hierarchy, the small base of racism that most seem to have – there are several things which can put him in danger, and it is normal to think that in this moment, Michael might have denied Mikleo’s request in order to protect him.

Nerves naturally creep closer the following day. Not just for Mikleo, but others as well. Like him, there are some workers in the palace who do not tend to see werewolves either. A couple admit that they have never seen one in their life, being as they do not venture further than Marlind and Ladylake. It causes a small amount of tension to rise in the atmosphere of the palace. Yet this tension is not severe or unbearable; people trust in Muse and Michael, and if they give their word that such an event can take place, then they will believe that it is fine.

Surprisingly, Mikleo is not given the instruction to dress formally in order to meet Selene. He is told that werewolves do not tend to dress as formally as vampires do. If they choose to do so, it is of their own choice rather than expectations of them. Because of this, Selene is bound to not judge him if he is not dressed in his absolute best.

His eyes scan his wardrobe as he remembers being told this and he has to hold in a laugh. Sophisticated clothing is all he owns, and unless he wants to meet Selene in silk pyjamas, he has no choice but to dress nicely. In order to boost his confidence a bit, he decides to go for one of the more formal options after all. Dressing in layers like this strangely helps him to feel protected. It is as though they make him able to hide his insecurities and flaws behind them.

The bow at the front of his shirt is just being fastened into place when there is a knock on his door. He turns to see Michael, who seems a little on edge.

“She’s here now,” he says. That explains the vibes Mikleo can sense from him. Nerves, the feeling that he will lash out if needed. Honestly, Mikleo is nervous himself, but is this really necessary? To feel defensive to such a degree?

Then he remembers how wary he had been when meeting Sorey, and decides that perhaps his uncle’s reaction, one that he likely cannot keep control of, is understandable. “I’m on my way,” Mikleo responds. He doubts that his voice would be this unshaken and strong if he had not met Sorey the previous day.

He follows Michael down the hallways. The latter explains that because of the hour of the day, their first stop will be the dining room. Mikleo feels a little relieved. Meals make conversation much easier; the taste of good food tends to bring out the better side of people, as well as be an initiator for conversation if one is unsure of what else to say. And if all else fails, well, perhaps his mind has simply wandered as he thinks of how exquisite the tastes of food are.

But he realises upon entering the room that there might not be any need for this. Even outside of it, the pair could hear the faint sound of laughter coming from inside. Now they could hear this more clearly and see the two women sat on one end of the table. Smiling, seeming as though they have been friends for years. Mikleo is too transfixed by the sound of their happiness to properly notice their turn to face them.

“Ah, there you both are,” says Muse. “Come, have a seat! They will be bringing the food soon.”

Next to her, in the seat furthest from Michael and Mikleo, is a brunette woman, the hair a little darker than Muse’s. It is shorter too, falling down to her shoulders in layers. Mikleo sees the rest of her appearance as he draws closer. Her bright, beautiful smile, eyes of a green which he thinks might have been a little similar to Sorey’s, though he did not have such a close-up view of the latter’s so cannot truly tell. Gorgeous, like the woman next to her, yet in a different way. For whilst Muse appears gentler and softer, Selene is more rough around the edges. The tunic she is wearing over leggings tucked into boots adds to the appearance which suits her greatly.

“Hey there!” she greets. Her voice is enthusiastic and cheerful. “You’re Mikleo, aren’t you? And then you’re Michael,” she says as her eyes shift to him. “It’s nice to meet you both!”

“And you,” says Michael, reaching his hand out to shake hers. Mikleo does so too, though more silently; he is a little taken aback, for the woman herself reminds Mikleo of Sorey, not just her eyes. Is it normal for werewolves to be this similar to one another? Perhaps Sorey is in the same pack and it is common for them to acquire traits from each other. He makes a mental note to look into this if he is able to. “How are you liking Marlind?” Michael asks once he and Mikleo are sat down.

“It’s gorgeous here!” Selene answers, a joyful smile on her face. “I like Ladylike too, but Marlind has a different kind of charm to it that I just really love. The atmosphere here is a lot calmer than that in Lastonbell, but I think it’s a nice change rather than a bad one.”

“Lastonbell’s population has grown a lot, hasn’t it?” Muse asks.

“I’d say. We’ve had to increase security a little bit because of it, especially as we’re right by the border, but it brings more positives than it does negatives. Trading has flourished, and it’s become so much happier! I’d love you to visit someday.”

“I would like that, too,” Muse answers. She is about to continue, though two butlers entering stops her in her tracks.

“Your lunch,” they say, placing a plate of food in front of them, as well as blood for the vampires. Selene does not seem to be made uncomfortable by this; in fact, she barely gives any attention to the glasses, and instead focuses on the food which is now laid on the table. This surprises Mikleo, for he’d expect her to at least react a slight amount.

“Wow!” she exclaims instead. Her eyes widen as she stares down at the food in front of her. “You can sure tell we’re in a palace!”

“As one of the leaders of a werewolf pack, though,” says Michael as he picks up his cutlery, “aren’t you used to this kind of thing?”

“Yes, to some degree. But we don’t really live in luxury as much as this.”

“How come?”

“I guess it just isn’t in our nature. We’re much more wild, I suppose.” She glances around the room around her, taking in the sight of tall walls, a high ceiling, the silver chandelier and pillars stood in the corners of the room. “Our manor is pretty large, but I guess it has more of a casual feel to it.”

Mikleo cannot help but comment. “It sounds nice. Like it’s pretty homely.”

Selene smiles at him. “It most definitely is. But this place is lovely, too. Do you like it here?”

He hesitates. He’d rather not talk badly about his home, even though the corridors which seem never-ending and the dark, depressing atmosphere causes loneliness no matter where you are inside of it. “It’s … it’s lovely. I guess living with such huge space just gets overwhelming.”

“I can understand that. My son is similar, he spends more time outside than he does inside.” Selene pauses the conversation in order to eat a couple more bites of food, letting out an appreciative sound. “This is delicious! The only food I ever taste being this fresh is that I’ve hunted.”

“Oh, you hunt?” Muse asks after swallowing.

“Most certainly. Werewolves don’t really tend to rely on others as much for food; we like to hunt for it ourselves most of the time. That’s why we can trade meat so often!”

“I was wondering why your meat trades in particular were popular,” Michael comments.

“This is definitely why. You rarely get a single werewolf who can’t hunt – unless they have a disability stopping them, of course. We tend to teach young wolves how to hunt fairly quickly. I think my husband and I started teaching our son when he was six.”

“That’s incredible,” says Mikleo. “I wasn’t even allowed to pick up a sword until I was a teenager.”

Selene chuckles. “Perhaps that’s for the best. There were many near injuries, as it is with many kids! But … well, being forced to transform at every full moon means you need to get skilled at this kind of thing. You could end up being hurt or go the whole night hungry otherwise.” Moments later, she is changing the conversation. “And did you say … sword? You can use weapons?”

“Oh … yes, I can. Not that many, though.”

“He’s incredibly skilled,” says Muse, clearly wanting to emphasise the abilities that her son is hesitant to speak about. “He had the grasp of it much sooner than I did.”

“What are you able to use?” Selene asks, seeming curious.

“I first started with a sword, which I’m pretty good at. But I ended up having a more natural inclination to a bow and arrow a year or two later. I can use a spear too, but not that well.”

“That’s great! You should have more faith in yourself, you sound very talented. But is there any reason you started practising?”

“Well, he is the Prince, as you know,” says Michael. “And it is not uncommon knowledge to know that there are some people that hold grudges against the royal family.”

Muse nods. “Unfortunately so. Because of that, we need to be able to fight for ourselves, including Mikleo.” The smile she directs at him is a little strained. “And as you can probably see, he stands out quite a fair bit. We need to be careful of that.”

“You seem like such a sweetheart, though!” says Selene, her voice and words bringing a little joy back to the conversation. “I’m sure that no one could hold a grudge against you personally.”

“I … I suppose not,” says Mikleo a little slowly. “But I’ve always been taught to be safe.”

“That does seem like the best option. But do you do anything else but train?”

“Most certainly. I like to read a lot, and I’m a musician.”

“Multi-talented, eh? What do you play?”

“Piano, flute and … well, I sing.”

She grins at him. “You’ve certainly got a lot going for you. Even if you weren’t the Prince, I’m sure that you’d be wealthy anyway with what you can do.”

“O-Oh, well …” he stutters, feeling a faint blush rise to his cheeks. Michael chuckles, patting him on the back as his eyes avert back to his food.

“He gets embarrassed over compliments sometimes,” Michael explains, eyes shifting back to Selene. “Don’t take it personally.”

“Oh, I understand! Sorry if I made you uncomfortable. Still, Muse … our families sure do vary beyond simply our races. It’s quite wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” says Muse, smiling back at her. “I agree.”

Mikleo’s gaze shifts back up to look at the two women, his mother’s smile growing as she meets his eyes. For a moment, he thinks that she is smiling for the same reason as him. That there is nothing standing between them in this moment. Even if it is just for a small while, vampires and a werewolf are eating together joyfully, appreciating the company of each other and seeming to grow closer to each other as time goes on. Even Michael, who Mikleo had previously sensed a large amount of tension from, has grown much more comfortable.

Then he realises that this is not all. Yes, it is bound to be one of the contributors to Muse’s joy. But it is also him. Muse and Michael believe that this is the first ever werewolf that Mikleo has spoken to. Considering the conversation he had yesterday had not been very long at all, it can be considered the first werewolf he has spoken to properly. Yet he is here speaking to her normally, with no sense of fear. For one who does not see that many strangers generally, it is likely that Muse is grateful for this moment.

The conversation continues for the meal and even after, despite how Selene did arrive here with Muse to discuss business matters. For now, they stick with personal topics, telling casual stories about themselves. Mikleo and Michael remain to listen. Whilst they do chip in here and there, they mostly seem content with listening. Muse, with her heavy burdens and schedules which will never be clear, seems wonderfully relaxed in Selene’s company. For some time, they are able to forget their differences and act as though nothing stands between them.

Yet it is not something which can last forever. Soon, Mikleo and Michael are forced to leave the two women in order to discuss what their arrangement has been for. They instead decided to do a little studying together in the library. Those in the royal family are expected to know every single detail in regards to Marlind’s history, and even with Ladylake and the rest of Hyland, and so there is still much for Mikleo to learn.

Michael, with his own knowledge high and surprisingly a natural tutor, often assists him with this, like he is doing so now. However, the two are a little more distracted than usual. The events of the day are so foreign that it is understandable for them to be on their minds.

“You seem to get along with Selene well,” says Michael after Mikleo finishes taking notes from a page of a thick book, which is spread apart by Michael’s hand. Mikleo nods, eyes looking up once he’s marked the end of the sentence.

“She’s the kind of person I think anyone could get along with,” he replies. “I felt pretty comfortable in her presence.”

“I did as well. Even though I’ve met werewolves before, I still get on edge with them. I expected you to not be as talkative as you were though, even with that.”

“Honestly, same here. But I really did like her company. I hope that mother can continue to keep in contact with her.”

“Yes … yes, that’d be nice. Perhaps reunions with werewolves really aren’t a bad thing after all.”

Mikleo, whose eyes had fallen back to the book, once again look at his uncle. These eyes widen in joyful surprise. After all, the last person he had expected to talk this positively about werewolves was Michael. He’s so taken aback by this that he does not have the chance to respond verbally before Michael has spoken again.

“Perhaps this means that …” Michael’s words trail off, Mikleo blinking in confusion.

“Means what?”

Michael shakes his head, avoiding Mikleo’s eyes. “Never mind. It’s nothing. Let’s do a little bit more here before we go and see Selene off, shall we?”

Mikleo nods, his attention falling back on the book, only now he is unfocused for a different reason. Michael seems almost … upset. Disappointed. And what reason has caused this, Mikleo simply does not know. He pushes aside the curiosity which cannot be satisfied in order to instead focus on his notes.

The two finish before long. Michael closes the book, the heaviness causing a loud noise from the impact, and places it onto a shelf before he smiles at Mikleo. The small hint of sadness he had previously expressed seems to have vanished.

“Shall we go, then?”

Mikleo nods, leaving the room with Michael before the two head to the foyer. It turns out that they have done so just in time; Muse and Selene are parting from a hug together by the front door, where a maid stands with her hand on the door handle.

“Ah, I was just about to go see if you two wanted to see Selene off,” Muse greets them with as they walk closer. “This is good timing.”

“It was great to meet you both!” Selene exclaims. She holds out a hand to Michael in order for him to shake it. “Hopefully I can come back one day.”

“You’re always welcome,” says Michael. Warmth fills Mikleo’s chest when he realises how sincerely the words are spoken.

“As you are with my place if you ever find yourself in Rolance.” Selene’s eyes soon fall on Mikleo, who is prepared for a handshake. However, this is not what he receives; instead, Selene pulls him into a hug. His body freezes for a moment from his surprise, yet he is soon to react by returning the embrace.

“Hopefully I’ll see you again one day,” he says. She beams at him as she pulls back gently.

“I’m sure that you will! I’ll have to introduce you to my family one day, too. Come down to Rolance sometime!”

“Yeah …” he says, a small stab of pain hitting his chest. “That’d be nice.”

Muse smiles at Mikleo and Michael before leaving through the doors with Selene, in order to walk her down to the carriage which awaits her outside of the palace. An arm from his uncle around his shoulders seems to confirm the positive thought which is going through his mind.

Selene’s visit has brought happiness and hope to their home. Simply her presence has somehow made a difference, and it is one which Mikleo wishes will lead on to even more hopes.

Chapter Text

Having Selene be at home again seems to lift everyone’s spirits. Her family, the citizens, even the servants who tend to be fearful of pure-bloods show cheerfulness in her presence. They appear to show less nerves even with Sorey, almost as though the presence of Selene is helping to ease each of their minds.

It is not as though the manor is a negative place to live. Sorey knows that it is much better than elsewhere. But sometimes, with its size and the servants who often fear him, as well as how busy his father is, it feels as though it is a little lonely. Having Selene be there once again helped to erase this loneliness.

He has many questions to ask her, too. Where exactly did she go? What did she do? Does she know about Elysia, the tranquil village which has taken Sorey’s interest? He has not had the chance to speak to her as much as he likes and she has not gone into great detail yet. She does still have business to attend to, as does Sorey. But he hopes that he has the chance to voice all of his thoughts soon. Preferably away from his father, who he knows does not have quite the same ideals as his wife.

Having them be apart is harder than one would think. When they are apart, it is because of work and their duties. And often times, they do this together, and their schedules are so busy that it does not seem as though they ever do anything but working, eating or sleeping. It has already been two weeks since Selene returned home, and yet taking a moment to speak to her properly has been difficult. Even Sorey himself has been rather busy, causing him to not quite go through with his plans of venturing out on weekends just yet.

However, not all is lost. She will still be home for some time, and even if Sorey cannot speak to her about what he exactly wants to, he still has her company on occasion, the most common being at meal times.

Sometimes, they do not even use this dining room at all. It is not uncommon for them to go out to the woods instead, hunt fresh food and eat there, be it Selene and Sorey alone or all three of them. But due to their schedules, they have not had the chance to do this, and so it is here that they have been eating.

It is a simple room, the walls mostly bare and the pattern of the tile flooring simple. But the space is humongous, like one would expect in a manor of their size, and when it is only the three of them eating like it is now, it can seem as though there is too much space. Though Sorey knows it is needed for when they have guests. The long chestnut dining table is filled from end to end during certain times.

“Time has just flown right by, hasn’t it?” Selene says. She takes a large gulp of water, exhaling deeply after it is swallowed. “Only seems like yesterday that I arrived home.”

“It’s no wonder with how busy we’ve been,” says Heldalf, sitting next to her. “You came home right in time for a lot to be going on.”

“Just my luck, huh? Still, I’m glad to help out.”

“How are things going on in the city, now?” Sorey asks. “Are things under control?”

“It seems to be as such,” Heldalf answers. “I’ve asked people to keep an eye on a few who are suspicious, including Lunarre.”

With a nod, Sorey says, “That’s good.”

Whilst Lastonbell is a positive place overall, during recent times, there has been a slight rise in crime rate in correlation to their increased population. Large packs of werewolves often face this problem; other packs sometimes never reach more than a mere dozen. But this pack was gigantic compared to the norm, all residing together in the city.

It is hard to keep control of such a pack. After all, packs are supposed to be a family of wolves who look out for each other. And they definitely do care for one another. The sick and disabled are taken care of rather than be shunned, children are made sure to be getting the education they need, the community works together. They are most certainly a well-functioned society. But as the pack grows, the family bond seems less special, provoking those who might want to rebel. These rebels are the ones who cause a shift in everyone’s routine.

Lunarre, the man that Sorey, Dezel and Rose had followed those weeks ago, seems to be one of these, yet it was hard to tell. It was difficult to work out anything about him. His intentions, his motives, why he was in the pack to begin with. Even his name alone brought tension to Sorey.

“How did Lunarre end up being part of the pack?” Sorey continues, the question one he has never thought of before, yet now it has been asked, he wonders why this is the case. “I mean, did nothing seem wrong with him at first?”

Heldalf shook his head. “Just the opposite, in fact. Whilst you were a child, he … well, I should not go into detail. Confidential matters, I’m sure you can understand. But he entered the pack of my own request as opposed to his.”

“Whoa,” says Sorey, eyes widened a little in surprise. “I would have never guessed.”

“No one would with how he is now,” says Selene. She finishes off the last of her food, which has been chowed down quickly after how hungry her work had made her. “He’s a suspicious one, all right. And as soon as we see him get up to something, that’s when he will no longer be welcome.”

If he does something,” Heldalf corrects her. “I like to imagine that there is still faith to have in him. He’s always been a strange man, even when we met. Free wolves usually do have something … peculiar about them. But I will see to questioning him shortly.”

“Sorry if I’ve put more on your plate, dad,” Sorey apologises, suddenly feeling a little guilty over bringing the conversation up. But Heldalf shakes his head.

“It’s fine, Sorey. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do regardless. Lunarre just wanders around so much out of Lastonbell that it is pretty difficult to get hold of him, and our times together are so busy that it is hard to fit everything in.”

“It’s good you’ve brought it up,” Selene adds. “Your intuition is pretty great after all, even for a werewolf. We should go through with any gut feeling you have.” Now finished with her food, she stretches her arms over her head, letting out an appreciative noise. “That was great! I swear that you don’t get any food fresher – aside from when we hunt, of course.” She grins from these words, turning to face Sorey. “Hey, we’ve not done that in months, have we? Fancy doing so tomorrow?”

Sorey smile widely, his eyes lighting up. “Really?!”

“Yup! We’ve not had a good catch up yet either, not like Heldalf and I have. We should go.”

It is almost as though she has read his mind. In fact, he would hardly be surprised if this is exactly what she has done. “Yeah, definitely!” His eyes shift to his father. “Is that okay with you, dad?”

He nods. “Of course it is. I was just thinking that you might want to get your duties finished as fast as possible so you can take another trip.”

“Oh, you’ve not told me much about that either!” Selene exclaims. Her voice sounds mildly offended, causing Sorey to laugh.

“Sorry, mom. And don’t worry dad, I’m actually pretty on top of everything, so I’m sure I can fit in both.” He is especially sure he can with the motivation he can feel rising from his father’s words. There had been a small level of doubt over whether or not Sorey really could travel more often. It is reassuring to know that Heldalf has still taken note of it, even to the point of reminding Sorey himself. Of course he has not forgotten his plans. He still wants to see Mikleo again, after all.

Mikleo. The amount of times his face has crossed Sorey’s mind randomly over the last two weeks. Perhaps it helps that he discovered Mikleo’s name before too long, or how unique he seems to be. Regardless of the reason, the memories of their conversation, however brief it may have been, have not been forgotten. Is there a possibility of asking his mother about him, too? She seems to know everything. Perhaps she has even met the Queen herself.

Sooorey,” she sings, laughing as her son is startled, sitting upright with his eyes wide. “You were in a world of your own, then. You okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. Just started daydreaming about my trip! What were you saying?”

“Just that I’m excited to see how much you’ve improved,” she says. A hint of a smirk grows on her face. “If you have, that is. Can’t be that good if you start dazing out like that in the forest.”

“Shut up, I don’t do that,” he says, laughing. He has now finished with his own meal, and upon doing so and hearing his own laughter, he truly realises just how much his mother’s presence can brighten everything.

 


 

 

The next day arrives with a small chill in the air. Even with this, it is the perfect weather for hunting. The wind is not too powerful, thus it will allow them to hear their prey easily, and it is a bright day which will help keep their eyes sharp and senses clear.

Selene and Sorey decide on hunting for their dinner. With the time of year being early spring, the nights do not fall quite as early. This allows them to also wind down for the evening, in which they’ve both decided to take off. They know that overworking themselves to the point of being burnt out will bring nothing good. Meanwhile, Heldalf will be heading out to speak with the city’s police department in order to receive updates on any crimes.

Both mother and son are equipped with a bow slung over their backs for long-range attacks. For short-range, knives are equipped on their belts. Anyone looking at them will know what their intentions are. They even get approving glances as they head towards the exit of the city, with a couple of people calling for them to have fun and to get good game.

They have decided on an area of forestry located on the outskirts of the city. Considering this a moment in which the two will be able to catch up with each other and appreciate some time alone, they have decided on this being a suitable plan.

“You’ve probably had a lot you’ve wanted to ask me, haven’t you?” Selene says as they make their way towards the forest. “You keep seeming like you’re going to burst.”

Sorey chuckles, nodding in confirmation. “Yeah, pretty much. We just haven’t spent much time together.”

She pats his back as she looks up to give him a grin. “No worries, we’ve got plenty of time now. Better save the questions so we don’t scare anything off, then we can have a catch up when we’re eating. Sound good to you?”

“Definitely!”

“I’ve got some things I want to ask you, too. Such as how you managed to grow again.”

“Jealous?” he says teasingly, in which she gives a huff in response.

“Nah, I’m still pretty tall for a woman, you know. You should try not being so rude to your mother.” Her serious tone cannot last for any longer, however; she soon bursts out laughing, giving her head a shake. “Honestly, you’ve grown up way too similar to me. I feel sorry for poor Heldalf.”

Following this conversation, the two are heading inside the trees. This is where both of their attitudes transform simultaneously. Both reach for the bows tied to their back, taking them into their hands and sliding an arrow into place. Their footsteps, whilst they do not slow all that much, definitely tread carefully over overgrown grass and shrubbery. They remain in sync as they head further in.

“You might have grown, but you’re still as careful as ever,” Selene murmurs to him. He grins in response.

“Just as you always taught me to be.”

She grins back over this answer. She is then surprised when Sorey presses a finger to his lips; moments later, her ears pick up the same sound of something rustling through the foliage. It seems as though his sense of hearing has heightened even further. ‘Likely when he learned to transform at will,’ she thinks to herself. As soon as one controls their wolf form to this degree, the characteristics which sets a werewolf apart from any other species tend to polish.

As he is the one to hear the sound first, Selene gives the task to Sorey. He tiptoes further to find the source of the noise. It turns out to be from a rather large squirrel; an animal which those who have the ability to be picky would choose to not hunt at all, yet also an animal which Selene told him is much better than one would expect.

We can’t learn to be fussy in this world,” had been the lesson his mother taught him when he first began to hunt. “Yes, you live carefree now, but like for anyone, it might not be that way forever. You need to learn to make the most of what you have.”

And that is what he does. He crouches down on the ground in order to bring himself closer to the squirrel’s level. It remains clueless about what is happening. Sorey brings up the bow, pulling back the arrow on the string. He does not release it straight away. Instead, he waits for the moment in which the squirrel’s head will turn, the moment which will allow Sorey get a clean shot through the eye.

This moment soon arrives. The blur of an arrow is shot towards the squirrel and reaches its target. An instant, painless death is its fate, leaving it to fall on its side. Silence remains on the area before Selene gives a small whoop.

“Man, you’ve gotten even better at this!”

“You flatter me, mom,” says Sorey as he rises back to a standing position as he scratches the back of his head. “I’m no better than I was before.”

But she is shaking her head. “No, your skills have stayed the same, but there’s a change in your presence and focus. Maturity is what I’d call it.”

She bears him a smile. He returns the gesture before the two head over in order to inspect the squirrel. Yes, the creature definitely had an instant death. Sorey retrieves the bow from the animal before he stores it safely in a pouch used for gathering food. He raises back to his feet, gaze falling back on his mother.

“Want to get more?” he asks. She stares at him as though he asked the stupidest of questions.

“Absolutely! Let’s get ourselves a feast.”

And a feast is what they do end up gathering. They remain in the trees in order to hunt another squirrel, before their attention is drawn to a stream trickling through the forest. They peer into the clear water, able to see that a few fish were swimming underneath the surface. Their arrows are used in order to retrieve a particularly large one. It is a little more difficult than hunting on land, yet they soon manage.

To compliment the meat, the two begin to search for plants and berries they know are edible. A fond, heart-warming smile reaches Sorey’s face from the memories that this causes. Even now, ten years later, he can picture his mother’s words as she instructed him about different plants. He would sit back attentively as she held out leaves and berries towards him.

If you ever get stung, use this …”

“These berries are perfectly edible. But these will make you coil over as soon as you swallow them.”

These basically taste like lettuce! … Just make sure you get bugs off first. We’re not wolves all the time.”

The same words and memories seem to be returning to his mother as well. As the two are gathering some of these edible plants, she holds out a branch full of red berries, brighter than the colour of blood. “Remember what I said about these?”

“They ‘will make you coil over as soon as you swallow them.’”

“Exact wording, too. You don’t forget anything I taught you, do you?”

He shakes his head. “I know it all word-for-word.”

“Good! I deserve that.” Her tone grows more serious, a small smile on her face as she continues to speak. “I like the thought of you passing on what I know to someone else one day. A friend, lover, your child … anyone.”

A certain pair of eyes strangely pop into his mind, but he pushes aside the thought instantly and nods. “I want to do that. You’ve taught me so much, and I want others to know that, too.” He pauses, fiddling with the branch of leaves they have gathered from. “Mom … do you think I’ll be able to teach people like that when I take over dad’s role? Be able to have them listen and trust me like they do him?”

“Of course, sweetheart.” She looks a little concerned. After all, it is not often that she bears witness to her son’s insecurity. “Why?”

“I just … I turned eighteen a few months ago, and it’s reminded me that I might not actually have that long before I take over him. And … well, dad’s a great man. I want to be as good of an Alpha as he is.”

Selene reaches over to pat Sorey’s shoulder. “You’ll do perfectly, Sorey. Don’t tell him I told you, but … I do think you’ll be even greater than your dad is.” She laughs aloud at the mixture of shock and puzzlement expressed on Sorey’s face. “No need to look like that! You’re a strong person, charming, friendly … not to mention how much you strive for equality. I think that you have power to change the world because of that. And speaking of which, I have something to talk to you about that! Why don’t we get all this food prepared so we can finally have our chat?”

Sorey nods enthusiastically. “Sounds great!”

The two decide to settle down by the stream in front of them in order to begin cooking their food. In the distance, the sun begins to set, an orange hue brought with it which washes over the sky. Sorey feels himself calming as his eyes settle on it. With a smile, he helps his mother begin to gather sticks in order to light a fire. The food is left to one side momentarily.

“Argh, I forgot to get matches,” Selene says once she checks for them. “Do you have any?”

He shakes his head. “We have keys then, don’t we?”

“Here.” A set of keys used for their home is placed into Sorey’s hand. “You were always a bit more patient with it than me.”

With a chuckle, he shifts closer to the sticks, knowing he cannot deny that fact. He takes hold of one key and begins to scrape it over another in order to create a spark to light the branches. It is always a very tedious process. Sometimes you can barely make a spark at all, and even if you do, it might not necessarily light a fire. Eventually, however, the effort pays off, and Sorey is soon blowing down on the flame in order to increase its height.

“There,” he says triumphantly. “You just need to be patient.”

“Show off.”

He laughs, before he gestures to the food. “Lets get this cooked, then.”

During her absence, he has done this a few times, either with Dezel and Rose or simply on his own, like when he went on his travels. It is a great feeling to be doing this with the one who taught him almost everything. Laughing and joking as their food is hovered over the fire, watching as the suns sets further and begins to bring evening along with it. As much as he enjoys this freedom regardless of who is accompanying him, being here with his mother brings a joy he never wants to lose.

It takes a while to cook through each food they have caught, but eventually, they are done. The meat remains on sticks to eat from as the plants are left to one side. It is a lot more traditional than Rose and Dezel’s choice of typically using cutlery and plates.

“I haven’t done this in so long,” Selene says, sighing contently after she had taken a bite of fish. “On my travels I was eating a lot at inns and with other people. I didn’t ever find time to hunt like this.”

“It sounds like you were busy.”

“Definitely so. That’s one of the things you wanted to know about, wasn’t it?” He nods, sitting up a little straighter. “Look at you, paying full attention! It was nothing incredibly special though. I was mostly going around towns and villages in Rolance, assisting with any issues, discussing alliances, things like that.”

“You say it’s nothing special, but that still sounds like a lot to do,” Sorey comments. Selene nods in response. She takes a moment to eat a handful of berries before she continues.

“It is, but as it’s what I’ve always done, it doesn’t feel special anymore. I just want to help out the world as much as possible. Of course, there are those differences which divide it, but … I can do what I can.”

“Do you want us to be equal?” Sorey finds himself asking. “I’ve never really asked.”

“I do, and I also don’t. I want the world to live with each other happily and to not be so … awful to one another, as they can be at times. But I also don’t want war to happen again. Then there’s our different traditions … If we lived together everywhere, royal families might not be the same for vampires, and our own packs might change as well. It’s something we have to think about.”

“I’ve never really thought about that,” Sorey admits. He knows about war at least, but not anything else that Selene has said. “I guess not everyone is willing to move on from how we’ve been. Even I don’t like the thought of being in a pack anymore, yet that’s a tradition too.”

Selene nods. “Exactly. Packs are our home, how we feel safe. Yet if there was nowhere which belonged to just werewolves, we might have a hard time being able to keep them. It’s awkward when deciding what to try and do.”

“But if there wasn’t the worry about that … would you want equality?”

“Of course I would. Every decent person wants that, I’m sure. It’s just a difficult thing to achieve.”

Sorey nods, feeling a little disheartened. “I understand.”

“Who knows what you will accomplish, though,” Selene continues, bringing a little light back into Sorey’s eyes. “I have already achieved a far amount by travelling as I do. Who knows, maybe when you take over, you will be able to go further than I have.”

“And you’d both be okay with that?”

“I want you to achieve whatever you want, as I know that all your choices are made with others in mind. As for your father … I’m working on that. He was raised with rather strict ideals, and since marrying me, his views have been conflicted.”

“I get that. I hope I can still make him proud.”

“You will. I’m sure of that.” A smile reaches to her face after she takes a gulp of water. “I also went to Hyland on my travels. Did you know?”

He shakes his head. “Why did you go there?”

“Two reasons. One was to visit the royal family, the second was to Elysia.”

“Elysia?” His food has been left forgotten as he stares at her with wide eyes. “You went to Elysia?”

She nods, the grin already on her face growing. “You’ve heard of it, then?”

“Yeah! Rose mentioned it to me, and it was in the book you gave me.”

“That book was actually given to me in Elysia,” she explains, “by a man named Zenrus. I talked to him about your beliefs and wishes, and he would very much like to meet you.”

“Would … would dad be okay with me going there, though? Considering its meant to be like a sanctuary.”

She hums. “I’m not sure. You’ve been to Pendrago, even though that is a co-existing city. But I’m not sure how Elysia would be.” A grin returns to her. “Tell you what. You want to travel a little more, right? How about we go to Elysia together and just … not be precise to Heldalf about where we’re going?”

His eyes light up brightly. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, why not? It’s a gorgeous place. You would adore it. And considering Zenrus wants to meet you, I think it’s a good opportunity. You’ve never been to Hyland either, have you?”

“I have,” Sorey blurts about before he can stop himself. He decides there’s no use growing silent now and instead explains himself. “On the trip I took while you were away, I headed to Hyland for the end of it. I stayed in the forestry by Marlind.”

“Oh, did you now? You’re growing into quite the rebellious one, aren’t you?”

Sorey grins, scratching the back of his head. “I just wanted to see what it was like over there. It was really beautiful.”

“It is, definitely.”

“You said you were meeting with the royal family, right?” Sorey asks, reminded by the mention of Marlind. “Was that in Ladylake or in Marlind?”

“Both, actually.”

“Wow, you went everywhere!”

Selene laughs. “Pretty much! But yeah, Muse – the Queen of Marlind, that is – called me over in order to discuss trades. She was originally going to head over to Ladylake to meet with me, but she said that she wanted her son to meet me.”

Sorey can feel his heart begin to beat a little faster. “Mikleo Rulay, right?”

“Ah, you’ve heard of him?” She smiles as Sorey nods. “You’re learning more about the world without me even realising. Yes, Mikleo. The Rulays are a fairly small family – simply Muse, her brother Michael and then Mikleo. All three look very much alike.”

“What about his father?” Sorey asks. He immediately regrets the question, guilt washing over him. It seems like too much of a private thing to ask. He receives an answer regardless of this, however.

“He’s not around, it seems,” Selene explains. “Muse explained to me briefly that Mikleo’s father left before he was born. They don’t know if he is alive or not.”

“I see,” Sorey says, looking crestfallen. “That’s pretty upsetting.”

“She says that Mikleo does not seem to mind, possibly because he takes after her so much. But … well, to me, it seems like there is something missing from that boy’s life.”

“How do you mean?”

“I’m not sure how to describe it. He is a really friendly person, very polite and seems to be rather talented. But underneath all that seems to be someone who is lonely. Very lonely. Who knows if that’s because of his father not being around or not.” Despite the sadness of her words, she turns to Sorey with a smile. “I think I’d love for the two of you to meet. Alpha’s children and vampires in royal families are sometimes forbidden to do so, but … well, the two of you share a fair amount of interests, and with how cheerful you are, I think you’d light up his world.

“Listen to me rambling on, here!” she adds, laughing. “I bet you have some things you want to tell me, too.”

There is, but from her reminding him of how such a meeting is frowned upon, he does not feel as though he should talk about how the two have already in fact met. But now, with the way that she has described Mikleo to him, it’s made his desire to meet with him again more. Especially now he has more knowledge on why the notes of the flute that day had been overcome with loneliness.

“Do you think we could meet?” he ends up asking. “I-I mean …”

“I understand. And all I can say is that I do hope so. The world is still a struggling place, Sorey, and among a city of vampires, you may not be all that welcome. But … well, it was nice for me to be among those three, even if I felt tense in the city itself. It was like we have no differences at all in the palace. So perhaps it isn’t far-fetched to think that yes, maybe you two will meet one day. In fact …”

“What?” says Sorey. “What is it?”

“Nothing. Or, well, it’s something I’ll have to think about and will get back to you with.”

“Okay?”

She laughs over the confused tone. “Sorry, I really do have a habit of thinking aloud, don’t I? We’ll see how things go. For now, I want you to go to Elysia. I think you would love it there.”

“We’ll just have to make sure dad doesn’t find out.”

“If he does, let me deal with that,” she says, smiling. “He seems to be coming around more and more as time goes on. I think he just needs a bit of a push in the right direction. But the real change will lay in your hands, I’m sure. And I’m looking forward to where that leads to.”

The encouraging words warm his heart, brings him the confidence he previously had not realised he lacked in. Perhaps he really can change the future. Times are already changing now, and if he could just take hold of that, truly strive for what he wants … perhaps his chances really are not as bleak as they once seemed.

It is not only that which brings him happiness. Right here besides him, there is someone who shares his dream, even if she feels like her time to achieve it is drawing to a close. It makes him feel less lonely when he realises this.

And yet, he still finds himself longing for someone else. After all, his mother can only do so much when it is in fact her husband who holds the most power. Support can unfortunately only lead so far.

 


 

The previous two weeks have been rather boring for Mikleo despite his usual busyness. Well, all except for the day he was told that apparently, a rumour had managed to travel around that he was seriously ill. Potentially dying. He has no idea how a little fatigue from one day was enough for this to be spread around, but it happened. Luckily, word also got around that he was in fact fine, so the rumour died rather quickly.

Another thing which managed to break up his usual repetitive duties were Sergei’s visits. They were seeming to become a little more frequent now, with the knight attempting to travel over at least once a week. At first, Mikleo had wondered why this is the case, but the realisation was soon to fall over him. With him potentially becoming a married man earlier than planned, he is possibly expected to be that much better at offensive skills in order to protect Alisha with.

The thought makes him laugh. Not because he does not think he can protect her or does not want to do so, because that is not the case at all. He simply knows that she needs no one to protect her in the first place. In fact, the spear – a weapon that he himself is not very talented with – is her preferred weapon, proof of her strength on its own. She has been training with this under her mentor, Maltran, sooner than Mikleo began his own training. She is definitely not a force to be reckoned with.

Though the two have written to each other, they have not been able to see each other again yet. It is a little ironic that the apparent ‘couple’ who are expected to marry rarely actually get to spend time in each other’s company. As much as he misses her when they spend time apart, Mikleo is a little glad. He is sure that before long, people will expect them to start acting more like a couple together. The thought is rather nauseating for them both.

The marriage is a stressful thought which is constantly in the back of his mind. Before this, though he has known since he was a child that he is engaged to her and that their wedding was determined as soon as they were born, the engagement had not actually been a constant worry. It was more like a concept which never seemed to truly be real. But it has suddenly materialised into something much clearer. It is real now, so much more than a mere concept, and it is now a fear which looms over the two of them.

When the thought comes across his mind, he finds himself gazing out of the palace’s windows to the forestry surrounding the building, remembering how it had felt to be out there. It has been a little over two weeks, and yet he has not plucked up the courage to leave without permission once again. You could always just ask,” Edna had told him when he voiced his wishes to her. She does have a point in saying this. Yet he has a feeling that his request would be declined simply because they might fear him running away. He can’t exactly blame them.

His situation with Edna is another thing all together. He is not sure why, but it feels as though she is hiding something from him. Whether this is the truth or simply anxiety, he is not sure. He has not got around to asking her yet being as their times together are usually cut fairly short. It is frustrating, but he’s sure that she will come to speak to him in her own time. Perhaps the weekend which has now just arrived, which is a little more relaxed on the palace.

It is a dream on Friday night which once again brings spontaneity to the weekend. The sight of roses, the chiming of bells – nothing had been clear in the images, but his conscience seemed to be sure it was a wedding. Whilst he is not exactly shaken upon waking, it certainly leaves him feeling irritable and contained, as the thought of being tied to this unwanted marriage always does. And so, he decides that this morning is the time he will venture out of the palace once again.

He considers heading to where he had been two weeks ago. Not only was the scenery utterly beautiful there and he has developed a wish to return to it, but a part of him wants to see if the strange werewolf might just be there once again. Maybe. He is trying to deny it to himself but is failing.

After seeing how nice she was,’ he thinks to himself as he gets himself dressed, able to do so more casually due to not being aware of any guests to attend to, ‘I kind of want to ask him a couple of questions.’

He is not sure how exactly the only two werewolves he has met are similar. Perhaps they are related somehow – after all, they do have similarities in their appearance, too. But that would make Sorey have at least a partially important role, and why would someone like that be camping out in the woods alone? Deciding it must be a coincidence, he finishes getting himself prepared and begins to head outside.

The weather is disappointing. Rather than the beauteous sunrise which had been before him last time, he is now faced with a sky full of dark clouds. Not only is it displeasing on the eye, it also strikes him with more difficulty to be able to keep an eye on what time it is. He has a little more time on his hands than previously, but he still needs to be careful.

There is the hope that it will in fact rain, however, rather than simply remain cloudy. He is not one for storms as much or simply heavy downpours. However, a gently falling rain calms him, sometimes even more than the sun can. Juliet is also rather fond of it as it trickles down her face.

He is leading her into the forest now, feet kicking at her sides. It appears as though the one trip out of their usual boundaries has sunk into her mind, for when they reach the limit they used to stop at, she barely hesitates to continue trotting past it. It is a strangely wonderful moment for him, as though it is a sign of things aligning for him. Which is a stupid thought being as the stars have never once been in his favour.

A smile reaches his face as his hope is granted. Cool rain has began to drop down from the sky, falling down onto his head gently. He lifts it, eyes taking in the clouds which now seem more appealing to him. They only lower when he prompts Juliet to canter in order to reach the stream faster.

The landscape still looks beautiful in the gloominess of the weather. It has a poignant feel to it, yet it is also relaxing, especially when Mikleo dismounts by the river and crouches to watch the rain drop into the water, constant ripples forming in it. As he had been in a slight rush, he did not think this time to bring an instrument to him. But the falling rain is music all on its own.

He remains crouched on the ground as his eyes watch the fish swim together, hand reaching to stroke Juliet’s head when it lowers down to him. A strange thought comes to him as he wonders what it would be like to swim in those waters, how it would feel to block out the world which laid on land, to simply be caught up in the beauty resting underneath the surface. It causes him to think of something he has never actually considered much. Despite how water calms him, he has never once been taught how to swim, even though he would very much like to do so.

Soon, he is back on his feet, glancing towards the forestry behind him. Disappointment is beginning to wash over him. It appears that Sorey may not turn up after all. Mikleo cannot blame him; after all, it is a long journey, and Mikleo had not exactly been the most polite or welcoming person towards him. Why would Sorey wish to see someone again after that?

Well, I’m Sorey, and I do hope that we meet again.”

It makes no sense. That Mikleo, a boy who said barely anything in response and had been defensive during the whole time of their conversation, is still someone who Sorey had said he wants to meet again. Mikleo cannot work out why this would be.

Even if it is what Sorey wants to do, he is not here now. Mikleo grasps onto Juliet’s bridle, his other hand reaching for a handkerchief in order to sneeze into. He is beginning to feel a little cold in this rain, his clothes becoming damper as time passes on, and it shows no sign of stopping.

“Come on, girl,” he murmurs to Juliet. There really is no point in staying here.

Or that is what he thinks, until he hears footsteps a little in the distance, their feet splashing through the water on the ground. His head turns to them instantly, hope rising in his chest. He is not exactly disappointed over who he sees, but is instead confused.

“Edna?”

“So this is where you go.” As usual, she wears a black dress adorned with ribbons, with an equally dark parasol over her head. The only difference to her usual is that she is also wearing tights, likely to shield her legs from the rain. “Couldn’t have chosen a better day?”

He chuckles. “You know I like the rain. I was feeling spontaneous, anyway.” He lets out another sneeze, causing Edna to snort.

“You sound like a kitten when you do that. Come on, you should get out of this regardless of how much you like it.”

He nods in agreement – with her last statement, at least. However, there is a small hesitation before he steps forward with Juliet. Edna noticed where his eyes had shifted to; towards the forestry where Sorey had emerged last time.

“You’re waiting for him, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t say I was waiting for him. I just … I was hoping he might be here. That’s all.”

“It seems like he’s not. So let’s go.”

He follows her lead, feeling a little disheartened over his failure with seeing Sorey again. “Please don’t tell anyone about this.”

“God, will you just stop worrying all the time? I told you I’ll keep quiet about it.” There is a pause, Mikleo seeing that she is likely in thought when he glances at her. “But … there’s something I’ve got to speak to you about with this.”

“I knew you were hiding something from me.”

“Who says I was?” She smirks at the annoyed expression she receives. “All right, I kind of was. But I didn’t know how to say it to you.”

“Wow, were you actually being considerate of me?”

“Something like that.” There is another pause. “I met Sorey the day after you did.”

He stares at her. This is definitely not what he had expected to hear. “You did? Where?”

“In that merchant’s where I get your stuff for you.”

“Hold on, he came into the city?!”

“Yeah. Did you warn him that’s risky?”

“I did. Clearly, he ignored that.” Mikleo is unsure over whether he is annoyed over not being listened to or is admiring Sorey’s bravery. Reckless bravery, at that. “Why was he there? Getting souvenirs or something?”

“I’ve never heard you be so interested in someone before. Yeah, he was getting those, but that wasn’t the only reason. He was asking the worker there if she has ever seen a boy with white hair and violet eyes. Yup, that was my reaction, too.”

For Mikleo had began to stare at her with widened eyes. “So … so he really doesn’t know who I am?”

“Nope. If he is interested in you at all, it’s because of, well, you. Not because you’re the Prince.”

“Oh. W-Well, that’s got rid of one of my doubts.”

“Awh. You’re flattered, aren’t you?”

“No,” he retorts a little too quickly. He allows his expression to soften. “I just … I rarely get people who care for more than just my status.”

“Yeah, it’s nice and all, but you’ve got to realise how reckless it was of him to ask about that.”

“How so?”

“Ugh. I forget how sheltered you are. Sorry, I’m not blaming you,” she adds quickly when he appears offended. “But Mikleo, every vampire in Glenwood knows you by your appearance. You’re known as the Silver Prince, after all. So for him to question such an appearance, especially where you actually live …”

“That really does seem suspicious, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly. And honestly, it’s dangerous for you to be around someone like that. And … well, there’s more to it.”

“What do you mean?”

Edna opens her mouth to continue, yet there is a pause, as though she is contemplating whether or not she should continue. She must have decided against this, for she is soon closing her mouth again as she thinks over something different to say.

“I remembered something, that’s all. And I think it’s best for both of you if you stay away from each other. That’s what I told him, too.”

“It’s no wonder I’ve not seen him, then,” Mikleo says, chuckling humourlessly. “You probably scared him away.”

“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just … I wanted to look out for you. I swear. The two of you secretly meeting like that again could cause all sorts of problems. I only want to stop that.”

“I understand. I’m sorry I got defensive. I just …”

“You’re lonely. I know.”

The two grow silent. Mikleo wishes he could deny this, that her company was enough, that he does not need much else. But he cannot say it. She, of all people, is one he wishes to lie to the least. It would be pointless to try anyway. She knows of how secluded he feels day after day, that he feels lonely even when in the presence of those he loves. Any lies he could tell would be seen through instantly.

The two head through the forest with Juliet walking besides them. The rain continues to pour, Mikleo knowing that he will have to sink into a bath of hot water once he is inside. The parasol is not big enough for both of them, after all. Yet as their walk continues, Mikleo notices that it is held further and further in his direction. He smiles to himself. She might try and hide it, but Edna cares about him in even the simplest of ways.

They soon return back to the palace’s grounds. Juliet is led back to her stables, her food refilled when Mikleo sees that it is not quite full enough. Then the two head inside the palace, both still dripping from the rain.

“Your mom would probably have a heart attack if she sees you,” Edna says as she walks with Mikleo. She is likely heading to the bathroom herself, one which is located on the same floor as Mikleo’s room. “Better go get yourself dried off before she does.”

He chuckles and nods in agreement. “Yeah, that’s true.”

And so, they head to the third floor. There, Mikleo faces a small surprise. A maid is exiting his bedroom, as they often do when they come to clean it. Yet he does not recognise her. She seems to sense the presence of Mikleo and Edna, for her eyes look up when she sees them. She gives a small bow when they head closer.

“Good morning, Prince. Would you like a bath running?”

“Yeah … yeah, that’d be great.”

She nods, brown eyes with a tint of red locking with his before she heads back into Mikleo’s room, dark purple ponytails bouncing with her steps. Mikleo turns to Edna, finding that she looks less surprised.

“New maid?” he asks. She nods; she would know about this sooner than him, being as it is her who tends to sort through applications.

“Yeah, her name is Symonne. Seemed very good for the job. I’m not actually sure if she’s half-blood or not, though. She didn’t want to specify.”

“I see,” he says, looking into the room she enters. “It’s kind of strange.”

“What is?”

“All maids seem to be scared of me, at least at first. But she spoke to me completely calmly.”

“Huh. Now you mention it, she did. Maybe she’s just gotten used to pure-bloods?”

“Maybe,” he agrees. He remembers that his conversation is leaving her standing here wet from the rain. “Ah, I won’t keep you any longer. You should go take a bath.”

“Yeah, I will. You too.”

They part ways, Edna heading further down the corridor, Mikleo into his bedroom. There, he finds that Symonne was preparing towels ready, the bath beginning to fill with hot water.

“I can sort out the rest, it’s all right,” Mikleo says. Rather than question it as most maids do, Symonne simply nods instead.

“All right, let me know if you need anything. Oh, and I’m Symonne. Nice to meet you, your highness.”

She gives another bow before she leaves. Mikleo stares after her for a moment before he starts preparing dry clothes to change into after his bath. Symonne is a strange person indeed, yet he has never been one to question the strange. In fact, it is rather refreshing to have someone like this be around him. He wonders if he will ever learn more about her.

A fair few interesting people sure are coming into his life at the moment.

 


 

The bath had been perfect to warm his body after the rain. After drying himself and putting on different clothes, he realises with a sense of relief that he feels calmer than he does usually. It is likely down to a number of reasons; heading out for a relaxing walk, seeing Edna, bathing and also knowing that he does not actually have much to do today. He’s not sure when the last day was where he had nothing specific planned. He doubts that he will take the day off fully, but it is at least relaxing to know that there is actually no pressure to do anything.

He sees that it is still morning after he has bathed and it is not too late to have breakfast. Such a simple thing seems to be going his way; Michael had woken earlier than his sister and had eaten already, whereas Muse had slept longer with her exhaustion, allowing her to eat with her son. It is rare that the two get to eat together alone, and he cherishes each moment of it, feeling grateful that her and Michael’s sleeping schedules had now properly changed and were more similar to his.

The morning continued to be fairly enjoyable even after this. It turns out that Muse is also choosing to have a more relaxed day, and when Mikleo said that he thinks he’s going to do some archery in order to have some fun, she offers to come with him. It is very rare that she does this. Like him, she does not hold any like at all for violence, but still finds relief in training and is also very skilled, more than one would expect of her.

“When was the last time we did this together?” Muse asks as they enter the room. Rain still patters against the window located inside, causing the room to be a little dull. She begins to light a couple of candles because of this as Mikleo replies.

“I’m not sure, actually. It’s been so long. Have you been practising at all despite not doing so with me?”

“Yes, not as much as before, but I need to train a little here and there so my skills don’t turn rusty. Unfortunately I used to do so at night when you’re sleeping, but now I sleep as early as you do, we should have more time to spend together.”

A smile reaches his face. “That’s good to know,” he says. “I miss you a lot, even though we live together.”

“I do as well. Sometimes I wish that Michael was appointed as the main ruler instead of me, just so I could spend more time being a mother.”

He can only look at her silently for a moment. He has never heard this confession before. “But you’re a wonderful Queen. I’m not saying that Michael would be a bad ruler, but …”

“I understand what you mean. And thank you, I’m glad that you think that way. I simply wish that I could have had the chance to be a wonderful parent for you rather than Queen.” She smiles a little sadly at the disbelief which is on his face. “Mikleo, you are my son, and a beautiful son at that. I would give up my kingdom if I had to choose between that and you.”

“But … but I’m just one vampire among the thousands which live here. And not a great one at that.”

“You underestimate yourself far too much. You’re a great person now, and you’re going to be an even greater ruler one day. I cannot wait to see it.”

“Thank you, mother,” he says softly, touched by her words. “And you’re still a wonderful parent, you know. Even if you do have to be Queen as well.”

“I do worry that with the absence of a father in your life, having me isn’t enough. But I’m glad that you think that way.”

“Of course. I give whoever that man is very little thought anyway. There’s no use in caring about someone who was not even around as I was born.” The words are true, too. There might be a lot of negativity in Mikleo’s life, but not having a father around was not the cause of any of it. His emotions all had an understandable, underlying cause; he does not see something so pointless to think about as a thing which should be an underlying cause as well.

His hands reach for a bow and arrow at last. He finds that he has a grin on his face when he turns back to face his mother. “You’ve not seen this for a while, have you?”

She shakes her head. From her straight posture and eyes which rarely blink, it is clear that she is attentive. “Archery has always been your strong suit. I’m looking forward to seeing where you’ve come.”

Confidence is brought to him by her words. He nods, beginning to fix an arrow in place in the string. This added confidence to his usual strength in this weapon causes him to start big; rather than aim for something close by, his focus lands on a target which is located in the distance. He breathes out, steady fingers taking the arrow carefully, before it lets go.

He is not surprised that it hits its target. But he is disappointed that it was far from the centre. Apparently, his mother does not think as negatively; a gasp had escaped her as it hit.

“A hit that far with no warming up?” she says, violet eyes widening. “That’s incredible.”

“I usually hit closer to the centre than that,” he responds, preparing another arrow against the string. “I think I just have a lot on my mind.”

Of course he does. The marriage, meeting Sorey, his usual responsibilities and pressure for the future – it is no wonder that it is hard to clear his mind. But he attempts to do so, taking more time to breathe before he releases an arrow again. His patience pays off when this arrow is the one which hits the centre.

“That’s better,” he says, smiling with satisfaction.

“Wow … you’ve always had a good aim, but never anything like that.” Muse walks over to obtain a bow and arrow for herself, grinning at Mikleo. “You’re making me feel competitive.”

He chuckles, watching as she sets herself in position just as he did. Her form is identical to his, her eyes even seeming to focus the same way. Of course, Mikleo cannot see this. But if he was able to witness both of them on the sidelines, he would see just how similar they truly are, even with this.

She sends an arrow flying to the same target. It smacks into it off the centre, but not that far. Mikleo does not even try to hide how impressed he is.

“And you said that I’m good at this.”

“I never said that I myself aren’t, though,” she says, giving him a wink which causes him to roll his eyes, an amused smile reaching his face.

“Oh God. Big-headedness doesn’t suit you.”

She laughs. “Maybe not.”

The two continue to train together. In fact, ‘train’ does not seem to be the correct word. Even though they make an effort to hit the targets accurately, arrow after arrow being sent to them, it is not to try and improve. Rather, it is to simply compete with each other, a game being played where they try and hit the targets better than each other.

They must be evenly matched, for neither can decide on a victor in the end. To Muse, however, this alone seems like somewhat of a loss for her.

“I’m older than I care to admit with years of experience on you,” she says, “and yet I still can’t beat you!”

“I don’t know, I’d say that was a victory for you if you’re apparently as rusty as you say. I do this at least every other day.”

“Still, I apparently need to improve. I can’t have my son beating me in another talent.”

“I never knew you could be so childish,” he says, chuckling.

The bows and arrows are stored away safely. Rather than leave the room right away, Muse walks over to a bench which is laid along a wall in the room, gesturing for Mikleo to sit with her. He follows and does so, both remaining silent for a moment as they listen to the rain which still patters against the window.

“This helps you, doesn’t it?” she asks eventually. “Having something to focus on so much.”

He nods. “I can’t ever really feel relaxed unless my mind is doing something. If it’s not … well, all I can focus on is things going on.”

“Like the marriage?”

He nods again, only this time, it is much slower and more hesitant. He goes to speak only to end up stopping himself. After all, what is there to say? He cannot exactly say how much he detests the thought of being married, not with how important it is.

But she speaks for him. “I know how much you dislike it. And if I could stop it, I would.” You can hear the sincerity in her voice, how it seems as though there is a pain in her throat, possibly from stopping tears. “But the Diphdas are very forward with their ideas, and considering Hyland is the capitol, ruled by both a king and queen …”

“It’s hard to argue against them.”

“Exactly. I want you to be able to fall in love naturally. To meet someone who makes your heart skip a beat, who you don’t have to love because it is expected of you. Someone like …”

He looks at her curiously. “Someone like …?”

“I … never mind. But I do mean all of this. I just want you to be like any other boy your age, not a prince who has all these expectations of him. I really am sorry, Mikleo.”

He goes to speak, to reassure her that it is not her who has to apologise, that she has done anything but make things harder for him. She is one of the few people who allow him to pull through, and it is her who makes him feel perfectly happy with one parent as opposed to two. Of course she does not have to apologise.

But her words have caused such emotions to arise that he finds it difficult to say anything at all. Muse, however, understands this completely. She brings him closer with an arm around his shoulder, his head resting on hers as fingers stroke gently on his upper arm. The hold makes him feel vulnerable, even younger, as though he is a child once again.

Just as he thinks that it may cause tears to fall, there is a knock on the door which startles them. They straighten up the moment a butler opens it, his eyes landing on them.

“Ah, Lord Michael said you may be here. You have guests, I’m not sure if they were expected …”

“They were not, but any guest is welcome.”

“They ask for Prince Mikleo too, your majesty.”

“In that case, shall we go?” says Muse, facing Mikleo. He nods, both of them rising up from the bench as they follow the butler out of the room. The foyer is not located far, which does not give either of them much time to think about who has come to visit them. It is possibly a merchant, one who specialises in the kind of products which help with Mikleo’s consumption of animal blood, or something for his health.

It is neither of those things. Instead, he finds himself frozen as he enters the foyer. He hears a laugh which somehow manages to sound familiar despite how he has never heard it before, sees the matching heads of brown hair which he realises he had been silly to think were not connected for sure.

And as his eyes meet with those vibrant green irises for the second time, he notices how the rain has finally stopped.

Chapter Text

To Selene and Sorey’s relief, Heldalf does not seem to be suspicious about where exactly they are heading off together and does not feel the need to travel with them. He does offer just in case they would like an escort, but when they say that it is fine and they were looking to just spend time together exploring, he does not ask again after this. This leaves them able to leave without coming up with any lies. And when it comes to lying, Selene is not much better than her son.

Whilst she is still at the peak of health, Selene’s age naturally makes it a little tougher for her to be as active as her son, as well as make her stamina lower. And so, they inform Heldalf that they will likely be home on Monday or Tuesday and choose to use a carriage service to cross the border into Hyland. Luckily, even if they use a public service, they should not find any problems if their race is found out due to Selene’s high position. Still, she chooses to pay quite a bit extra for a private service, just in case they find themselves being asked any awkward questions.

They prepare themselves in a similar way to Sorey during his travel alone, only unlike that time, they bring less items due to the trip being shorter, and also with how they are bound to grab food in Elysia. They bring enough for their journey, plenty of money for inn stays and emergencies, and also sleeping bags in case they need to stay somewhere outside of Elysia. All they bring in regards to weapons is a single knife each as a precaution. After all, bringing their hunting gear is likely not a smart move when they’re going to be travelling by carriage.

The expenses are fairly large, much more so than a public service. But Sorey agrees that this is the smoothest possibility. After all, it is not usually the carriage drivers who care for what species goes in their carriages – they are typically human, and humans are the least likely to judge said species. It would have mostly been any passengers which would cause issues for them.

It will take around a day to reach Hyland. This is without any long breaks, meaning that two drivers are needed so that they have chance to eat and sleep. This costs that extra amount, but it poses no problem. One issue that Alpha’s families never tend to face is a lack of money.

The journey is actually rather entertaining at first. The slow pace allows Sorey to stare out of the window at the scenery which passes them by. When he was running as a wolf, all of his focus had been on his consistent pace, as well as any dangers lurking nearby. He’d not had much chance to look at his surroundings instead. But now, the world was clear as opposed to a blur, and he was able to take in all of it.

“Your curiosity reminds me of how I was when I was younger,” says Selene as she takes a glance at her son. “I used to travel a lot with my dad like this, and you’re just like a clone of me.”

“You still get excited too,” says Sorey as he faces her with a grin. She chuckles and nods.

“Yeah, I do. But it’s not quite the same.” It is not with the same innocence as Sorey, who is still curious and interested in the world, not affected by its pain. She hopes that it will last for as long as possible for him.

“You do still enjoy travelling, don’t you?” Sorey asks.

“Of course I do! I guess it just doesn’t feel as special when most of it is on business. Now … well, this is definitely much more exciting. It’s not a duty I’m doing, it’s simply spending time with my son.” Her hand reaches to his head to ruffle his hair. “Though someone has been taking leisure trips on his own! Are you looking forward to going back there?”

He nods. “Definitely, it’s amazing.” Though he does not say it aloud, he thinks, ‘I just wish I could see him again, too.’ But of course, he cannot tell even his mother about meeting Marlind’s Prince, and so cannot request for this meeting to occur. The thought is disappointing, but simultaneously, he is still very much looking forward to going to Elysia.

“Does Elysia really look like how it does in the books?” Sorey finds himself asking. He has looked at the photograph on those pages numerous times already.

“It definitely does. Actually, you can’t really capture it all that well in black and white.”

She proceeds to describe the beauty to him. The woods at the foot of the mountain, so vast and full of lush trees and many twist and turns that it is very easy to get lost in without a guide. The sun filters through those perfectly green leaves and bathes the area beyond in brightness. There are wild animals which feed on the brilliant grass which rustles gently in the breeze. The view is apparently spectacular, and Sorey finds himself restless in his seat thinking about it.

“Look at you,” Selene laughs, for this is visible. “We still have a long way to go, yet! If you get this excited now, you’re going to get impatient.”

“I’m impatient now. I just wanna get there already!”

“I can’t say I blame you, but I’m an old woman, you know. I can’t sprint across the whole of Glaivend Basin like you can.”

“Old woman? Mom, you’re only forty-two.”

“Exactly. Eight years away from fifty. Fifty. I’m wasting away already.”

He laughs. “Don’t be such a drama queen. Dad’s older than you are.”

“But he’s only gotten better looking with age. Every time I see a grey hair I want to cry.”

Her wink to Sorey tells him that she is joking. She gets to her feet momentarily to knock on the front of the carriage, causing the rider to bring it to a stop. Sorey looks at her with confusion, but his questioning is soon answered. She makes her way off the carriage to go speak with the humans in charge of it.

“Is anything the matter?” one asks.

“Is there any chance of us going a little bit faster?”

“For some time, yes. But the journey gets quite bumpy. Is that all right?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it!”

She heads back inside after her request, giving Sorey a thumb’s up. “There we go! Just so you’re not dying from the wait too much.”

“Thanks for that! So now it’ll take …?”

“Not sure. Possibly only a couple of hours less.”

“Darn it.”

There is a small jolt as the carriage moves again. The man had been correct in saying that the journey will now become bumpier, but it is not uncomfortable for either of them. It is impossible to even notice it properly with their minds focused on where they were heading.

The beauty of Elysia. Sorey can hardly wait to see it.

 


 

What began as a rather fun and relaxing journey turns dull and boring before long. For the first few hours, they were able to preoccupy themselves well with numerous things. Chatting to each other, eating their food when they became peckish, watch the scenery, read the Celestial Record Sorey has naturally brought with him … but even with such a thick book to read and an endless amount of things the two can discuss, when you find yourself waiting to arrive somewhere, it can be hard to think about anything but that.

Being sat down in a carriage does not help, either. Part of Sorey wants to stop more often than every few hours in order to stretch his legs, but at the same time, this will only make the journey longer. It is already long enough already. Selene is growing impatient too, starting to wish she had brought something like a pack of cards along with her.

Relief washes over them as night begins to fall, however. As it does so, this marks a moment for a slightly longer break for both drivers and passengers to bring back a proper circulation in their body, and to eat under the orange sunset. This is possibly the best part of the journey despite making no progress.

“So, I didn’t want to pry, but uh … are you the Shepherds?”

The question is asked by one of the drivers; the shorter of the two, with ginger hair and freckles. Selene nods, responding with, “That’s right! I’m Selene, he’s Sorey. You’ve heard of us?”

“Oh, yes. We live in Pendrago and we often hear werewolves talking about you. Any reason you’re heading to Hyland?”

“We plan to make a trip to Elysia,” says Sorey. The question has brought back his excitement, causing him to answer himself.

“Really?” says the other driver. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a customer want to go all the way out there. Want us to take you straight to the base of the mountain rather than just to Hyland?”

“You’d do that?” Selene questions. “But we only paid you for the trip to Hyland.”

“Count it on us for being such great customers.”

It is an offer which neither can refuse. They thank the two men gratefully, happy to receive their kindness. It is a little sad to know that it would have most likely not been given if they were vampires, but at the same time, it is heart-warming to know that there are humans as accepting and kind as these two.

A few hours later, drowsiness overcomes Sorey and Selene, and they decide that it is likely time for them to sleep. Others might have struggled quite a lot trying to sleep in a carriage which moves and jolts like this, yet the two are not exactly unfamiliar with sleeping in rougher situations due to their wolf forms and also simply their general nature for being outside. And so, they find that they are able to fall into a slumber before too long.

The driver is replaced during Sorey and Selene’s sleep, allowing the journey to continue even during it. Despite how neither of them have done that much during the day due to the travelling, their excitement had still brought on enough exhaustion to sleep through. By the time that Sorey’s eyes are fluttering open, sunlight is falling down onto the landscape outside. He blinks and grins when he takes it in properly.

“Sorey …?” Selene grumbles, stirred from her son’s sudden movements to look out of the carriage’s window.

“We’re here!” he exclaims. “We’re in Hyland!”

The dry planes free of plantation have been replaced by the lush greens of the kingdom. The words are enough to perk Selene up a little. She sits up, following Sorey’s gaze out onto the landscape. Even with rain splattering down onto it, it still looks as lovely as ever.

“There we are, then,” she says, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. “Wasn’t so bad after all, was it?”

Sorey shook his head, eyes taking in all there is to see as he answers with, “Definitely not.” He finds himself looking at the city of Marlind far in the distance, yet as they move further away, his attention is brought back to the moment and he settles back in his seat.

They soon arrive at the foot of the mountain in which Elysia is situated. The two thank the drivers for their generosity, pay the rest of the price which has not been covered by the deposit and arrange for their pick up which would occur later this day. And then, what Sorey was looking forward to the much during their travelling; the hike through the woods and up to Elysia.

“Is no one coming to see us?” he asks when he glances around and sees that no one is there. “I thought you usually get escorted.”

“You do, but I know the way and they said I’m always welcome there, even if I bring you.”

“You better not make us get lost.”

She huffs and gives him a small shove which causes him to chuckle. “Enough of that cheek, you.”

Only there is a little truth in his words, for it turns out that even though she has a rough idea of where to go, she does not know the way as much as she acted after all. Luckily she at least knows when to turn back before they get too lost.

It is also not all that much of a bad thing, either. Sorey has naturally been in many types of forests, but never one like this. It almost seems as though it is enchanted. Due to the vast amount of trees, the sunlight filters through them in an unusual pattern, cloaking some of the plantation in a shadow which turns them a jade green. Alongside the tweeting of birds from above their heads and the shuffling of creatures around them, it gives him the kind of image that he would imagine when reading a book.

“It seems well looked after around here,” he says, taking note of how the pathways, despite twisting and turning to dead ends, still seem to have the grass around them trimmed, the ground even.

Selene nods. “It definitely is, but a lot of it is actually nature. This place and Elysia itself are known to be naturally beautiful.”

“Is there any reason for that?”

Unsure of the answer, she simply shrugs. “Who can say? Although I find it fascinating that the one place blessed like this is known as one of the most serene villages in the world. Who knows if the people are peaceful because of the nature, or the nature is somehow like this because of how they are peaceful.”

Sorey only thinks about this for a moment before deciding that something so magical does not need an explanation.

Despite Selene’s occasional misdirections, the two are soon emerging out of the forest. Sorey cannot hold in a gasp upon doing so. Because who knew that the sky could be so vast, such a brilliant blue, an endless amount of colour right above their heads? It is mostly clear apart from a few pure white clouds, despite how it is raining down in the kingdom itself. When your gaze drops, you are greeted by grass which seems just as bright and perfect. It lines all the way up to the side of the cliff, where the most spectacular view of all rests. For you are high above the world, enough to see the tips of smaller mountains, though larger ones rest in the distance. He has never once ever seen anything like this before.

“Come on, we can’t stare at this forever,” says Selene. He breaks his gaze despite not wanting to in order to follow her, yet is immediately glad that he has done so. For now his eyes have taken in a different sight that this place offers; a stone archway, and beyond it, small, unique houses made of the same stone. “That’s the entrance to Elysia,” Selene tells him, though he already knows this.

The two walk up to the archway. In an instant, Sorey feels a little uneasy, most likely because of the small worry about entering the villagers’ home when they might not want this. However, it turns out there is nothing to worry about. Upon arriving, they are almost instantly greeted.

“Selene! It’s great to see you.” It is a man with red hair, who is now shaking hands with Sorey’s mother.

“And you, of course. Sorey, this is Mason.”

“We’ve heard a lot about you, Sorey,” says Mason, now giving his hand to Sorey instead, who smiles as he takes it. “It’s great to meet you at last.”

“And you!”

Mason grins, shift diverting back to Selene. “He has your eyes, just as you said. Would you like him to meet the rest?”

“The rest?” Sorey questions. “Do you mean the villagers?”

“Ah, that’s probably not a bad idea, but …”

“What Mason means more specifically, the leaders of the Alliance.”

“The Alliance?”

“That’s right,” says Mason with a nod. The trio begin to walk into the village, which Sorey notices is just as natural as its surroundings, much different to the cities he is used to. “You see, we don’t just live here as villagers. Most people, as long as they are old enough and are capable, are part of what we call the Alliance. We’re all made up of werewolves, vampires and humans alike. We’re basically striving towards achievable goals, aiming for one thing at a time for equality.”

“Whoa. That’s really cool!” Sorey comments enthusiastically. He faces his mother. “Are you part of it too, mom?”

She shakes her head. “It’s only for villagers and for those with definite ideals. Of course, I live in Lastonbell, and you know already that I’m not one-hundred percent certain on anything.”

“Which we find perfectly fine,” says Mason. “And Selene still helps as much as she is able to. She just cannot do as much as an official member. Right, we’re coming up to Zenrus’ house now – he is the grand leader of the Alliance.”

“Wait, that’s who you said wanted to meet with me, wasn’t it?” Sorey asks Selene, who nods.

“That’s right. Looks like we’re going to kill two birds with one stone, here!”

They are soon stood outside Zenrus’ home. It is designed in a similar fashion to the others and is also not much larger. Mason’s hand rises to knock on the door twice. There is silence as they wait, before the door is open.

Sorey’s eyes have to drop down in order to have the small man in view. He is elderly, with a head of grey hair and a matching beard. He does not perhaps have quite the appearance that Sorey had been expecting, but then again, he does still try to not judge by appearances.

“You must be Sorey,” says the man, giving a bow of his head. In a small panic that he may have stared and seemed rude in the process, Sorey is quick to return the gesture.

“Uh, yes! That’s me. It’s nice to meet you.”

The man smiles, gesturing for them to enter. “Please, come in. Are you staying too, Mason?”

“Ah, I promised I’d go and see Natalie. But it was great to meet you, Sorey!”

He walks away as Selene and Sorey follow Zenrus into the home. He closes the door after them, gesturing where to hang their travelling cloaks. Sorey’s eyes drift around the room as he does so. It is a little more spacious than he would have thought when stood outside, yet is still much smaller than he is used to. It is likely this which adds to its homeliness. If Zenrus lives alone, Sorey can see why it is suitable for him.

Selene and Sorey are led to a back room. It is dimly lit by a fireplace, which gives it a relaxing touch. Somehow, despite how he had felt at peace ever since entering Elysia, Sorey finds that he is even more so here. He and Selene settle on a rug on the floor.

“So, Sorey,” says Zenrus. “Perhaps you would like to know a little more about me?”

“If that’s all right.”

“Certainly. As you know, my name is Zenrus. I’m a vampire who has lived for quite some time now. Long ago, this was a sanctuary for vampires alone, for those who wished to hide away from the chaos between our kinds. I suppose you know about that?”

Sorey nods slowly. “You were around for it?”

“Not for the worst, but yes, I saw some of that ordeal myself. They were dark, dark times, Sorey. We try very hard these days to never go back there. The two of us would have never sat here peacefully together like this, for we are of different kinds. Even if you are a pleasant boy now, if this moment was back all those years ago, it would be in your instincts to kill me right now.”

The thought causes Sorey to gulp. “And so this became a place for vampires to get away from that.”

“That is right. Mostly those who had very little chance of surviving in the war or were most at risk. Children, pregnant women, the ill and disabled – we also had a fair amount of half-bloods, being as they were not permitted in the army. In fact, considering they were treated like vermin during these times, most of the half-bloods of Glenwood resided here. Not many existed back in those days.”

“Wow,” says Sorey, feeling surprised. “You get quite a lot of people like that nowadays, so it’s weird to think that there were so few of them.”

“But of course. They may face the worst racism of all nowadays, but at least it is not acceptable to murder them. Centuries ago, you were to stay away from humans entirely to not create half-and-half offspring. And if you did, you were likely to kill your own child. For most, such a thing was an act of mercy, considering a quick death is naturally preferable to painful one for most.”

“That’s …”

“It’s terrible,” Selene finishes for him. “Yet you were one of the people who helped to overcome this, didn’t you?”

“That is correct. There were many people who created talks of peace in order to try to bring the war to a stop. Many were assassinated, or simply their words fell on deaf ears. But eventually, as the population of all species became increasingly lower, we won. I spent more time here, however, trying to slowly allow this village to become a place of sanctuary for more than just vampires.”

“You’ve done a lot for the world, then,” says Sorey, a smile returning to him as he begins to feel inspired. “That’s amazing.”

“I have done what I can. When it comes to progression of the future, however, others have done more than me. That includes one woman who I – oh, that must be her now.” For there was the distant sound of knocking in the distance. “Selene, would you be all right to go get her for me?”

“Most certainly!”

Selene rises to her feet, making her way back through the house. There is the sound of two women greeting each other and a little soft laughter, before footsteps draw nearer once again. Sorey turns to see who is accompanying his mother.

His eyes find a beautiful woman he has never seen before. She is a tall woman who is about an inch taller than Selene, donned in a beautifully decorated white dress and shoes which add to her height. Her eyes are a green tinted with aquamarine. They are gorgeous, but what stands out the most is the long, unbelievably well-maintained hair which drifts all the way down to her ankles.

“You have white hair too!” Sorey ends up blurting out, immediately feeling a little embarrassed as all three pairs of eyes fall on him. “S-Sorry, I’ve just … heard that the Prince of Marlind has white hair as well, so it surprised me.”

To his relief, the woman laughs – not to mock him, but rather in a friendly manner. “That’s quite all right. My name is Lailah.”

Sorey gets to his feet in order to shake her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Sorey.”

“Oh, I am well aware! I’d be barking mad to not know the son of an Alpha.”

“Here we are already with the puns,” Selene laughs, taking her previous seat on the rug. “Watch out for those, Sorey. It’s all you’ll ever hear from her.”

“It’s not all I say.” Lailah faces Sorey again with a smile. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you as well!” He would still very much like to know the answer to how her hair is of an unnatural colour, too. However, he knows that there are more important questions to be asked in this time than about Lailah and Mikleo’s hair and so decides to not question it further. He settles back down next to his mother. Meanwhile, Lailah remains standing to one side. “So you’re part of the Alliance, too?” he asks.

“Ah, you’ve been told about that? Yes, that’s right. I was entering adulthood towards the end of the war. I played a large part in gaining peace, and helped Zenrus when I could in regards to making Elysia a home for more than vampires.”

“Lailah was originally from Ladylake,” Zenrus explains. “Then as time passed and she wished to do more, she started swapping between Ladylake and Elysia frequently.”

Lailah nods. “Then I started to live here permanently about fifty years ago. Ladylake has some awful memories for me, and they became a little too horrid after so long.”

Sorey tries to not let surprise be expressed on his face. He has known for a long time that the lifespan of vampires lasts much longer than that of werewolves, yet hearing something like this aloud is a little different. For Zenrus, it was less so considering he appears to have aged a fair amount. Lailah, however, still looks very young.

“Now, I’ve been told that you share ideals similar to us, don’t you?” she continues. “Wishing for an equal world?”

“Yes, I do,” Sorey nods. “It’s what I hope to achieve when I become the Alpha.”

“Such a close goal, then. Are you aware of the struggles and hardships it will cause?”

“I’m still learning about that,” he admits. “I guess I haven’t taken everything into account yet.”

“That’s quite understandable,” says Zenrus. “If things were black and white, it would be much simpler. But a lot of people who do not want equality are not this way because they are discriminatory.”

“Fear, consequences, uncertainty … there are many different reasons,” says Lailah.

“And the Alliance takes that into account,” Selene tells Sorey. “Here, they’re not after dramatic change. That is left to those who wield royal power. No, they’re more like influencers who push towards small changes. It is the kind of work that I do.”

“We cannot hope for anything large at once,” says Zenrus. “After all, we risk starting war again. But we do what we can.”

Sorey nods. “I think I understand. Is it the kind of thing that I can do when I’m the Alpha?”

“Sorey, it’s what you can do now,” Selene corrects him with a chuckle. “Even you travelling is starting to help a small change. You see, when werewolves and humans see you, they realise that even you like to experience the world and go to different places. When vampires see you, they see that werewolves aren’t as bad as they think.”

“Those who are high in power can do a lot merely by existing,” Lailah adds. “It is what they decide to do with that existence which is what causes change, even if what they do is very little.”

Sorey’s mind wanders to the book he has with him in his bag, eyes shifting to Zenrus. “I guess that’s why you gave me the Celestial Record, then? So I can know more about the world and visit them like mom said?”

“Exactly.” A smile grows on Zenrus’ face. “Not to mention that I simply wanted you to have a gift from me. Selene has told me how much of a wonderful son you are.”

“Awh mom, that’s so sweet of you!”

“Nah, it’s the truth. There’s only so much I can do. But we all have high hopes for you.”

It is a wonderful feeling for all of them to have so much faith in him, as well as a little nerve-wrecking. He never realised just how much others were doing for the world all the time, including himself. Even if he cannot achieve the exact world he wants, it is at least comforting to know that he is already helping with progress.

The conversation soon drifts away from a serious topic to instead more casual conversation. Lailah remains here with them, and he cannot help continuing to take glances at her hair. Every time its lightness catches his eye, he begins to wonder how it is possible for it to be this way. The conversation does not turn up again, however, and it is not long before Selene is prompting for them to leave.

“We have another stop to get to,” she explains. “So we should probably get going now.”

“Ah, all right!” Sorey responds, assuming that she means they are visiting someone else in Elysia. Zenrus walks him, Selene and Lailah to the front door, once again bowing his head politely as they stand on his doorstep.

“Thank you for visiting us,” he says. “You are always welcome here, be it simply for the company, or in time of need.”

“Thank you,” says Sorey. “I’ll remember that. You can come to Lastonbell, too!”

“I doubt my back will let me get that far, but perhaps one day.”

“He’s joking,” says Lailah, grinning. “He’s very fit for his age. I’ll see you later, Zenrus!”

“And to you, Lailah.”

The door shuts as the trio begin to walk away from the house. Lailah turns to them both, still smiling with her eyes lit up joyfully.

“I have business to attend to now, but it really has been lovely meeting you, Sorey,” she says. “Take care, both of you.”

“And you!” says Sorey, watching as Selene took her into a hug. Something is whispered into Lailah’s ear. Sorey does not question it; after all, he does not want to invade their privacy. The way that Lailah’s smile grows, however, proves it is not negative.

“Let’s get out of here, then,” says Selene as Lailah walks away. Sorey looks at her with confusion.

“We’re not staying in Elysia?”

Selene shakes her head. “Listen … I forgot to mention something to Muse. The Queen of Marlind, I mean. I thought it might be nice for you to come with me.”

Sorey stares at her in surprise, his eyes wide. “But … but I’m not allowed there, am I?”

“You are with permission. And Muse has written her consent to me that the Shepherds have permission to visit there. I thought it would be nice for you to meet the Prince.”

“Meet … meet the Prince?” Sorey’s heart seems to soar and plummet in an instant after each other. “But I thought it was forbidden for people of our statuses to meet.”

“It used to be. Still sort of is if it’s for personal reasons or romance. But as I’m there on business, and it’s important for you to know of the world … well, it’s less personal and more of business for you, too. So it should be fine.”

Sorey is a little anxious over the word ‘should’, yet he cannot help excitement building. “I really could go there with you?”

“Yup! I’m welcome anytime, and I doubt that Muse would mind me bringing you. I think … I think you really do have the kind of presence which can make good things happen all on its own. So I’d like you to come.”

He isn’t surprised that it takes barely any time at all to decide. “Sure,” he grins at her. “I’d love to!”

“Brilliant. Even if the two of you can’t really become friends, you should at least be acquaintances.” Her eyes drift out onto the scenery before them, the sky stretched out for miles away from the cliff-side. “Heaven’s knows that boy needs them.”

Sorey’s eyes follow hers, and from what she has told him about Mikleo, he finds himself agreeing silently to himself.

 


 

He cannot believe it. As Mikleo stares right at those eyes, he has no idea what to say or think. Does Sorey not realise the problems that this can cause, the kind of risks he is taking? Did his mother not realise this as well? Why are the two here at all?

Hopefully, his stunned silence is not bringing an expression of recognition along with it, and he simply seems to be surprised over the unexpected visitor. Sorey does not seem to be ready to say much, either; he simply looks at Mikleo with the same inspection as he did last time, Mikleo not realising that it is because Sorey is still unsure of how a vampire can appear this pure.

“Selene!” The exclamation from his mother brings him relief. He is glad he does not have to speak just yet. “What a pleasant surprise. This must be …”

“Oh, I’m Sorey!” Green eyes shift from Muse to Mikeo. Sorey must have some kind of knowledge on how to treat those of a higher status, for he takes Muse’s hand up to his mouth to place a light kiss onto it. It is something Mikleo has only ever seen the Diphdas do. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, your majesty.”

“Simply Muse is fine,” says Muse with a smile. She places her hand on Mikleo’s shoulder. “It’s nice to meet you too. This is my son, Mikleo. Mikleo, this is Selene’s son, Sorey.”

“It’s, uh, nice to meet you as well,” says Sorey, clearly trying to act as though the two have not met already. Hopefully to the others it seems as though Sorey is simply acting a little awkwardly because of meeting someone his age, as opposed to badly lying. For one confusing moment which makes Mikleo almost laugh at himself, he thinks that Sorey would repeat the gesture he gave to Muse. Instead, his hand is taken into Sorey’s in order to shake it.

“Yes. A pleasure,” says Mikleo. Out of nerves, he holds on a little longer than he would have usually. It is released quickly, ignoring Sorey’s eyes and the amused smile which has grown there.

“What has brought you both here?” Muse asks. “You’re perfectly welcome, I just hadn’t expected you to arrive today.”

“Yeah, I realised that I forgot to mention something while I was last here,” says Selene, chuckling as she scratches the back of her head. “Silly, I know! But as Sorey and I were going to head out together anyway, I thought it’d be a good idea for him to come and meet your family. Best for him to be connected with the world, after all.”

“I certainly agree. Well, you are free to spend time with Mikleo and learn about us whilst …” Muse’s words drift off as she sees Michael walking over. “Oh dear.”

Despite the worries her and Mikleo immediately felt, however, Michael seems mostly curious and cautious at the same time. “I didn’t expect us to have visitors today,” he says. “It’s nice to see you again though, Selene. Who have you brought with you?”

“This is my son, Sorey.”

“Nice to meet you!” says Sorey. As he reaches to take Michael’s hand, his eyes are looked into – he assumes it’s because of him sharing the same eye colour as his mother. Looking back into Michael’s makes him realise that both he and Muse have the same colour as Mikleo, too. In fact, the only large difference between the two adults and Mikleo is how the latter has white hair instead of a mousse brown.

“And you. What brings you here today?”

“I’ll explain,” says Muse a little quickly, for she can see that Mikleo is growing uncomfortable. “Why don’t the three of us go to your study, Michael, and Mikleo can show Sorey around?”

Michael glances at Sorey a little warily, but nods his head nonetheless. “That seems like a good plan.”

“Have fun, you two!” Selene exclaims. She waves as the three begin to walk away, leaving Sorey and Mikleo in a silence only broken by the quiet whisper of staff nearby. It is obvious that they cannot show any sign of previously met here.

“So uh, where are we going to go first?” Sorey asks, realising this himself and likely preparing for Mikleo’s reaction.

“Well, it’s a big place, as you can tell. Maybe the library?”

Mikleo is a little taken aback by how much Sorey’s face lights up at this. “That would be amazing! I love books!”

“Really? Then you’ll love this place. Come on, it’s down this corridor.”

Mikleo gestures to his right, leading the way down towards the library. He notices how a few people give him surprised glances. He cannot blame them; after all, he cannot remember the last time he had spoken to a boy his age, or even if he had done so at all. Not to mention that it is not even with his own kind. Sorey, however, does not notice them as much; he is a little distracted by the interior, his eyes glancing around in wonder.

“It’s quite an old building, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. How did you know?”

“I like architecture! It’s pretty easily to tell that it’s not a modern place. It’s a bit older than where I live.”

“Is … is that so?” says Mikleo. He is a little frustrated over how the two are seeming to have a fair bit in common. It’d be much easier to stick to his previous words about the two not mixing if they were polar opposites with everything. Saying that, Sorey waltzing into his home out of the blue kind of stopped this as well. “You’re going to love the library, then.”

And love the library he does. An astonished gasp escapes Sorey as they enter the large room, Mikleo shutting the door gently behind them in order to not to interrupt Sorey’s moment of being in awe. The room is so beautiful and detailed that Sorey’s eyes do not know where to inspect first. His fingers run across the bindings of books on a shelf, his gaze elsewhere to take as much in as possible.

“Wow,” he says simply. It is like the room has took his breath away. “We have a library too, but it’s nothing like this.”

“Vampires often do a lot of studying. We’re much more that type than werewolves.” Mikleo has a small smile on his face as he watches Sorey inspect the shelves. “It works well, as I’ve loved books my whole life. I think I’ve spent more time in this room than any other.”

“Wait, really?” Sorey questions, turning back to Mikleo with a wide grin. “You love books as well?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?”

“Either is fine. It all depends for me.” Mikleo ends up shaking his head mentally when he realises he’s getting caught up in the conversation. “Enough of that. You!”

“U-Uh … me?”

“Yes, you.” Mikleo has placed his hands on his hips, his tone serious and firm. If he’s trying to look intimidating, he is not doing all that well in Sorey’s opinion. The fact that he looks cute when he is annoyed probably does not go well with the sense of wariness Sorey can sense from him. How can a fear of werewolves disappear overnight, after all? “What are you doing here?”

“Um, mom already explained –”

“No, that’s her explanation. I’m talking about yours.” Mikleo glances around, as though there could potentially be people listening in hidden among the shelves. His voice drops a little. “After what I had said to you, why did you think it was okay to come here? When you know full well that it’s a bad idea?”

Sorey rubs the back of his neck, no longer amused by the situation. “I … I just wanted to see you again.”

“Why though? You didn’t know who I was, so …” Mikleo looks at him suspiciously. “Hang on, when did you find out who I was?”

“When I arrived home after travelling here, my friend Rose told me about you,” Sorey explains. “As I, well, told her I met you.”

“So you really didn’t know I was a prince when we met …?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I see …” Another thought comes to Mikleo, and the accusing eyes have returned. “And what made you think it was a good idea to enter Marlind before you knew you could?”

“Oh no … I’ve been busted here, haven’t I?”

“Answer the question!”

“Okay, okay! Well, I knew it was risky, but I wanted to find out who you were or if I could even find you somewhere. I met someone who seemed really protective of you.”

“That would have been Edna,” says Mikleo. “She told me she met you.”

“Who is she?”

“… You can’t just go wandering into my home asking me questions about my life.”

“All right, I’m sorry!”

“But … but back to when we first met. If you didn’t know I was a prince back then, how are you acting the same now?”

The question confuses Sorey a little bit. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see me … differently, now?”

“No, why would I?”

Mikleo pauses for a moment as he takes in Sorey’s expression. He does not seem to be lying; the words had been spoken in genuine curiosity. “You’re weird.”

“How am I? You’ve not really treated me differently since finding out I’m the Alpha’s son, either.”

Now that Sorey has mentioned it, Mikleo does realise that he has not actually given this fact much thought. He had been so focused on Sorey turning up here out of the blue that he had not spared much thought for anything else, including this fact.

“That’s true, but … I don’t know. I guess I’m used to being treated a certain way from being who I am.”

Even if the words are spoken without a hint of sadness, Sorey feels a little pain stab his chest from those words, especially as he knows personally how it feels. As he goes to speak, he steps towards Mikleo, too; there is the sound of a heel clicking against the floor as Mikleo backs away out of instinct. Sorey lets out a sigh.

“Why are you still scared of me?”

“I’m not scared,” Mikleo snaps.

“Okay, why do you look as though you’re going to run half a mile if I did so much as bear my fangs?”

“Fangs?” Sorey realises he probably said the wrong thing as Mikleo’s eyes widen, more tension able to be sensed from him. “You have fangs?”

“Yeah, we can grow them when we’re in our human form. Temporary thing, like with vampires.”

“That’s so not fair. You can transform into something else entirely and have that when you’re not even transformed?”

“Says the one part of a species who can live for a ridiculous amount of time.”

“Says the one who can go out in the sun for a normal length of time and not get horrid sunstroke.”

“Says the one who has really cool red eyes.”

Mikleo looks at him in disbelief. “Red eyes. You’re not really giving us much credit, are you?”

“Hey, I can imagine it looks really cool.” A sudden thought pops into Sorey’s mind, causing his grin to return. “Can you make them become like that at will?”

“Uh … yeah, why?”

“Can you show me?!”

Mikleo rolls these said eyes. “No thanks. Come on, I think you’ve seen enough of the library. I’ll take you somewhere else.”

Sorey had almost forgotten what they are actually in the process of doing, or even that they were in the library to begin with. “Oh yeah, of course! Lead the way.”

Mikleo opens the door, Sorey staying by his side as they walk down the corridor. Somehow, among their bickering, Sorey can sense less wariness and anxiety coming from Mikleo. Even his shoulders were visibly more relaxed. Smiling to himself, Sorey proceeds to ask, “So how is your hair white?”

“My hair?” Mikleo must have not expected the random question. “Why do you ask?”

“I met someone who has white hair as well. I’m wondering how it happens.”

“You did?” He seems astonished by this fact, but focuses on answering the question. “I don’t drink human blood at all.”

“Is that … healthy?”

Mikleo shrugs. “It is if you’re careful. I drink animal blood instead anyway. But the less human blood you drink, the lighter your hair becomes. I’ve not drank a single drop as I even refused it as a baby, so that’s why it’s pure white. I think it’s probably what caused my skin to be a little paler than my mother, too.”

Sorey glances between the soft, white strands and the pale hand which is holding onto Mikleo’s folded arms. “I think it’s cool that it makes you not really look much like a vampire. It’s really pretty.”

Mikleo only stares at him for a moment, unsure of what to say, before he clears his throat and gestures vaguely in front of them. “There’s uh, a training room up ahead which I can show you. If you want.”

“Yeah, that’d be great!”

Mikleo nods. It seems a though he is trying to hide the fact that there is a faint pink tint to his cheeks, but it is a little bit of a failure considering Sorey has already seen it.

“Right, so this is it,” says Mikleo, opening the door into the training room. Sorey looks a little surprised as he peers inside. “Yeah, it’s different than the rest of the palace, isn’t it?”

“Definitely,” Sorey agrees, his eyes inspecting the stone walls and flooring, as well as the weapons lined up against the walls. “Do you train in here?”

“Yeah, I do,” Mikleo says. When he sees that Sorey looks interested, he is quick to shut the door again. He’s still feeling rather nervous, and he hardly doubts that if he tried to wield a weapon whilst like that, he’d make a fool of himself in front of Sorey. Something similar had occurred with Sergei, after all. “Vampires have increased strength than humans, sure, but we’re a bit different to you. You guys are part wolf, after all. So we’ve always had to train ourselves this way. Plus …”

“Plus what?”

“I … uh, never mind. So I don’t know what else is interesting on this floor. There’s just the lounge, dining room, kitchen … things like that.”

“I want to see it all!” Mikleo glances at Sorey, finding genuine excitement on his face. “I’ve never been somewhere like here before, after all.”

“Okay then. I guess we do have a lot of time to kill.”

And admittedly, perhaps the enthusiasm and interest is a joy to see, or talking to Sorey generally. Most of his conversations nowadays are tied in with important matters rather than anything which is purely for enjoyment. It makes them seem more of a chore and obligation as opposed to simply something pleasant to do. However, speaking here with Sorey is different. There are no expectations or any serious matters. They simply … speak. It’s a simple thing which Mikleo can never quite be granted with as much as the other.

“So after the dining room,” Mikleo says as he shuts this door some time later, “there’s only really the kitchen, and I don’t really want to disturb the staff.”

“That’s fine! What’s up the set of stairs, then?”

“Bedrooms, studies, that kind of thing.”

“Shall we go? Our moms aren’t finished yet, after all.”

Mikleo hesitates for only a moment before he nods. “Okay, sure.”

He leads the way up the stairs, Sorey close behind. To Mikleo, the interior of the palace has always been rather repetitive and has grown less impressive over the years, though to Sorey, every square inch is fascinating. It all seems so beautiful to him, after all, and he definitely is not used to being somewhere like here.

“You stand out a lot, you know,” he says suddenly during the process of Mikleo giving him a tour of the rooms.

“How do you mean?”

“Everything is pretty dark and everything, but then you’re …” Unsure of how to word himself, Sorey gestures to Mikleo, who glances down at himself. He can see what Sorey means. He really does have a hard time blending into the atmosphere of the palace with the brightness of his clothes.

“I’ve never really been one to be fond of fitting into how one expects a vampire to be.”

Sorey waits for Mikleo to go into more detail, but he does not end up doing so. Instead, he remains silent as he leads Sorey up to the last floor of the palace. They wander down a corridor which is empty aside from the two of them.

“Here,” Mikleo says, reaching to a door handle to his side. “This is my bedroom.”

Feeling a little honoured that he would be allowed into a private space, he thanks Mikleo as the door is held open. It is shut as Mikleo enters in after him, watching with a little cautiousness as Sorey scans the room.

“You play the piano?” is the first question that Sorey asks, walking over to the pure white instrument. Mikleo nods despite how Sorey is not looking at him.

“Since I was a child.”

“And the flute, too,” Sorey continues as he sees the instrument propped up nearby. “That’s really cool. I still remember you playing that.”

“Is that what made you come over to me?” Mikleo finds himself asking.

“Yeah, I wanted to see who could play like that. I’ve always loved music.”

“Your mother did say you play the violin.”

Sorey nods, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. “Yeah … not much nowadays, though. I feel bad about that.” His eyes shift to the sheer curtains covering the glass doors, curiosity flickering in them. He looks back at Mikleo momentarily in order to receive a nod of permission. Sorey then pushes the curtain aside, reaching for the door handle. He steps out onto the balcony, sun immediately blinding his eyes.

“Wow,” he says, staring out at the view which laid beyond the balcony. “This is beautiful.”

“It is,” Mikleo responds, joining Sorey outside. He keeps a little distance between them, yet like Sorey is now doing himself, leans onto the railing to take everything in. “Though I admit that I’ve grown tired of it.”

“How come?”

Mikleo avoids how Sorey tries to meet his eyes. “You can only see so much of the same view before you find yourself not wanting to look at it anymore.”

“I see … Maybe you need a break somewhere?

There is no answer, not even through a hum or a nod of Mikleo’s head. He seems to simply slump a little more against the railing, placing his chin down onto his arms. Sorey can tell he said the wrong thing and is just about to apologise before he hears a familiar voice behind them.

“Look, it’s Romeo and Juliet.”

“Edna,” says Mikleo, rising up immediately and turning around. “I didn’t realise you were still here.”

“Yeah, I was checking up on Symonne and such. And I thought I told him,” she gestures to Sorey, “that it would be better for both of you if he left you alone.”

“I’ve already mentioned that,” Mikleo says quietly.

“Yet you’re having a little moment on the balcony together.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m sorry, Edna,” Sorey speaks up, bringing her gaze back to him. “It was my mom’s suggestion and I went through with it. She was right about it being a good idea for me to know more vampires and to travel. But … but I can’t deny I just wanted to see Mikleo again, too.”

Mikleo glances at Sorey for a moment, before his gaze shifts to the floor by his feet. “That’s the problem,” he says. “We’re not really supposed to want to see each other. If we do, it’s only meant to be for business and everything.”

“I don’t get why, though. Who actually says that?”

“It’s never been said with actual words. But it’s obvious,” Edna tells him. “It’s rare for werewolves and vampires to be friends anyway. But if two of your positions are, it’s even worse. You could be plotting to overcome the system, you could be secretly in love or whatever. It’s just not meant to happen. People simply don’t think that you can be friends.”

“Well, I’m sorry that I’m not so blind that I would not want to be Mikleo’s friend despite that.”

Mikleo’s gaze falls on Sorey again, his eyes a little wide. Not only is this the most firm he has heard Sorey’s voice, but also … “Friend?” Mikleo echoes. “You want to be my … friend?”

“Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?” Sorey questions. Mikleo’s opens his mouth to speak, finding that he has no idea on what these words should be, or even what he thinks about this. Sorey’s statement is so unfamiliar with him, so unexpected that how can he even know how to react?

“You … you really don’t get how risky all of this is, do you?” Edna questions. “Do you want to end up causing problems for you? For him?”

“Of course I don’t! But nothing will change if we keep acting like others expect us to!” Sorey breathes in, sounding calmer as he speaks again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to raise my voice like that. I just …”

“I understand. I really do get it, you know. How hard it is to want to connect with someone who is different to you.” Mikleo inspects her; she sounds almost as though she is speaking from experience. “I just don’t want you two to do the wrong thing. That’s all.”

“Thank you, Edna,” Mikleo says. “I get that you’re just wanting to help.”

“Don’t thank me, I’m just saying the truth. But what about you, anyway? Do you want to be friends with him?”

Mikleo is hesitant to answer. “I … I don’t know. I mean, with everything you said, and Michael …”

“Michael?” says Sorey, looking a little confused. “Your uncle? What about him?”

It takes one glance at Mikleo’s upper teeth scraping his bottom lip and Edna’s face to know that this is not something he will have an explanation for. “I get that,” she says. “I guess the best thing to do now is just lay low. The staff in the kitchen seemed a bit … unsure of the situation themselves, and the two of you aren’t even friends yet.”

“All right,” says Sorey. “I understand.”

“Good. Right, I’ll get back down there, I just wanted to see if what I was hearing was true. I’ll see you later, Mikleo.”

A silence arrives as Edna leaves. Mikleo takes a glance at Sorey, before he finds that his eyes are staring at the world he can see from the balcony. He finds himself asking, “So you still want to be friends, despite all that she has said?”

“I really do.”

“I can’t help but find that amazing. Considering even if what she said wasn’t true, I don’t even know if I’d be sure of what I wanted then. I wish I had your confidence.”

“I’m not really that confident, am I?”

“You are, definitely. And the fact that you don’t realise that makes it all the more true.” Mikleo steps towards the glass doors, turning back to Sorey for a moment. “I think they’ll be done soon. Shall we wait in the foyer?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Mikleo continues walking away without another word, Sorey quick to follow. No matter how hard the latter tries, he simply cannot work out what is going through the other’s mind.

 


 

It is not long before Selene and Sorey have to leave. The first did have to come to the palace in order to discuss important matters, and now that has been done along with the presence of Michael, there is no reason for the two werewolves to stay. Then it would really seem as though they are here for leisure, which is questionable to say the least.

Sorey and Mikleo’s walk to the foyer had been silent. During it, both had the same question running through their minds. How does Mikleo truly feel about his and Sorey’s situation? The two have only recently met, with this merely their second meeting. Yet when they imagine their similarities, their bickering, how when they seem to forget what is around them and Mikleo forgets about Sorey’s race, it seems as though they do in fact have chemistry. There is definitely enough for them to be friends.

Yet Edna’s words replay themselves in both of their minds, reminding them that even in a world which is better than it was in the past, they would be walking on tightrope if they decide to indeed become friends. It seems the only way it would be possible if they keep everything a secret. Both are fully aware of the consequences such a thing could bring.

“Ah, there you both are!” Selene exclaims as the two walk into the foyer. They both try to regain their regular expressions as they do so. “How do you like the palace, Sorey? Great, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing!” Sorey replies, no longer having to fake a smile upon being asked this. “I never realised it’d be so huge, and the architecture is lovely.”

“Isn’t it?” says Michael. For a moment which causes Mikleo’s gaze to whip around to him, he sounded enthusiastic over a topic which he himself is passionate. But then he clears his throat, as though he has reminded himself of who he is speaking to. “Well, I’m glad everything has been sorted for you, Selene. Thank you for … uh, bringing your son along with you.”

It is perhaps a little clear that Michael does not approve of the spontaneous act which had been done without warning, and Sorey and Mikleo could not exactly argue against him thinking this way, either. Regardless of this, Selene still answers in her usual manner.

“It’s no problem! I know he can’t exactly come here all the time, but … well, I thought it’d be good for him to see this place. After all, it is good for our children to see the world, isn’t it?”

A little tension runs through the air. Sorey seems confused over it, yet Mikleo is left wondering to himself as he inspects Selene’s expression. However, there is not much chance to think over this before Selene speaks again.

“Anyway, we should get going, our carriage is waiting and it’s a long trip. I’ll see you another time?”

“Yes, of course. It was a pleasure, Selene.” The two women embrace each other with a hug, before Muse’s eyes look up at Sorey. “It was nice to meet you as well, Sorey. Do take care.”

“Same to you,” Sorey says, smiling at her and Michael, before he shifts his gaze to Mikleo. “It was great to meet you, Mikleo.”

Considering the words are spoken smoothly with no hint of awkwardness, Mikleo has a feeling that Sorey is not referring to the two seeing each other today, but rather their initial meeting by the river. For some reason, the thought brings Mikleo a little guilt, perhaps over how Sorey seems so enthusiastic about the two, whereas Mikleo is still fearful.

“Yeah, the same goes with you,” he finds himself answering with.

Sorey gives him a smile which only heightens his guilt. He and Selene then proceed to the front doors which are being held open for them by a butler and maid. A wave of loneliness falls back over the palace as soon as the doors are shut after them. It feels as though they just closed on a possible friendship, like they are the sign of an end. Mikleo is not the only one who thinks so either.

As Sorey enters the carriage with his mother, he says quietly to her, “Hey mom, can I ask you a question?”

“Anything, sweetheart.”

And within this carriage and the foyer of the palace where the small family still stands, both boys of the same age, with the same hopes which have not yet properly been shared between them, ask the same question.

“Will I get to see him again?”

Neither can receive a truthful answer, for they already know of the risk they have taken today, and who knows what more could bring for all of them. Both women know that whatever answer they give could either be a lie or bring them sadness.

And who wants to crush the hopes of an eighteen-year-old boy who is caught in the unwritten laws of the world?

Chapter Text

Sorey and Selene’s carriage ride home differs greatly from the one which took them to Hyland. With all of the sights not being new to them and without the excitement they had before, time passes fairly slower. The atmosphere in the carriage is also a lot different. There is a confusing array of emotions which causes Sorey to not be completely sure on how he should feel.

On one hand, he feels a lot of joy. He has been able to travel with his mother again at long last, be introduced to those in Elysia and see its beauty and, best of all, had received the opportunity to venture into Marlind once more. Only this time, he had entered with permission instead of without, and had been able to see Mikleo once again. Mikleo, who is someone that Sorey still has many unanswered questions about, yet is someone Sorey wants to get to know more and to definitely see again.

On the other hand, there is a sense of sadness. It is less about returning home, for he does like his home in Lastonbell a lot, but more about what he is leaving behind in Hyland. He is not sad about leaving behind the Alliance – after all, he knows that he will be able to see them again, be it with his mother or when he is alone. But this is not the same for Mikleo.

You … you really don’t get how risky all of this is, do you? Do you want to end up causing problems for you? For him?”

She is right. Even if the harshness in which she spoke in might not have been needed, she is more than definitely right. Sure, the two did have more opportunity than they would have in the past. But that does not mean that seeing each other would not cause any issues. They are already arising suspicion by those who live in the palace. And whilst Muse had seemed fine with Sorey being there, Michael had clearly been more sceptical.

And Sorey cannot dislike him for that. It is how everyone is raised, lectures and expectations which are drilled into them as a child. The only reason why Sorey turned out differently is because of his mother, who has always been able to influence his father at least a little. A vampire family would be different. Sorey could tell from simply looking at Mikleo that he has likely grown up with a lot more strictness.

Is this why he seems so solemn? Sure, he has borne Sorey the occasional smile and acted politely. But there is something in those eyes, in the way his eyebrows furrowed tightly at certain moments, which suggests to Sorey that the strict hierarchy he has heard of affects Mikleo too.

“Are you all right, Sorey?” Selene asks a few hours into their journey. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

Usually, he confesses what is on his mind to his mother immediately when she asks. But he feels as though this is not the right time or place and he may make her feel as though has made a mistake in bringing him here. And in his eyes, she hasn’t. But he does not want her to suspect this.

“I’m just thinking over some stuff,” he answers. “I’ll be okay.”

“Just talk to me if you need to, okay?”

He nods truthfully. He knows he can come to her if that is necessary. But for now, he simply wants to think to himself, and to think over the unanswered questions he has about Mikleo.

Due to their later start to a journey, they find themselves sleeping earlier than before. With all the thoughts running around his head, Sorey expects to find trouble with sleeping, but surprisingly falls asleep fairly quickly. Everything which had occurred that day must have brought exhaustion with it without him realising.

He will forget this not long after he has woken up, as people so often do with dreams. But during his slumber, he is haunted with images of a light figure standing on the balcony, pale hair gently blowing in the wind. And despite how he has never seen this boy cry, his brain is able to conjure a scene in which a single glistening tear trickles down his cheek.

 


 

Their slumber causes a lot of the journey to pass by, and before too long, they are in the outskirts of Lastonbell. They clamber out of the carriage and make their way to its front in order to speak to the drivers. The same two had stayed in Ladylake during Sorey and Selene’s time in Hyland in order to bring them home, and due to their friendliness, both are glad that different drivers did not take over.

“Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” says Selene, handing over a bag containing the gald for the return journey. “You provide a great service, it is much appreciated!”

“No, thank you for being great customers. We hope to work with you both again!”

“You can count on it!”

Sorey gives his own farewell, the two watching as the carriage left before they turn and begin to make their way into Lastonbell. After sleeping, Sorey finds he is troubled by his thoughts less than before. They still exist in the back of his mind, yet now he is more preoccupied with the thought of what he is going to tell Rose and Dezel when he sees them.

Only such a casual thought will be soon to vanish as the two venture further inside.

As usual, Selene has her usual reactions from the citizens. It causes their walk through the city to be more delayed than it would be usually, yet Sorey does not mind at all. His mother always seems to be in her element when she speaks to her people this way. Her laughter and welcoming voice brings a smile to his face, which is soon directed at those who are giving Sorey attention as well as his mother.

The two are just walking into the centre of the city when they hear shouting coming from up ahead. They exchange a glance, no words being spoken before they pick up their pace and run towards the noise. There, they find a crowd which causes difficulty in deciphering what is going on.

“Excuse me!” Selene calls. Her voice is recognisable even among the shouts and confused conversations, causing the crowd to part in front of her to allow her and Sorey to walk through. The latter’s eyes narrow when they land on the familiar thick head of hair, pulled into a tight ponytail. “You there, what’s going on?”

Lunarre merely shrugs, raising up his hands with a smirk on his face. In front of him is a woman who is looking at him furiously. Sorey recognises her as one of the pack’s doctors.

“This man was caught stealing my werewolf blood!”

Sorey’s eyes immediately fall back on Lunarre in shock. Like with humans being able to be given blood, the same goes for werewolves, only it is much more difficult to match. Like with vampire blood, it can even be used as a weapon, and that seems to be the only reason why one would go to the lengths of stealing such a thing.

Selene seems to be thinking such a thing, too. “And why would you do such a thing? To use it as a weapon, perhaps?”

“Goodness, you insult me, Mrs Shepherd!” says Lunarre, his tone mocking. “Who is to say I wasn’t – ah, simply borrowing this to use for some poor little pup outside of the city, perhaps?”

“The blood remains inside the city regardless.” Sorey’s eyes shoot to the person this voice belongs to – he had not noticed Dezel and Rose in the far right of the crowd, the first choosing to speak. “Even if you were stealing it for that reason, you would still be breaking two laws.”

“Awh, I’m receiving lectures from the blind mutt …”

Rose steps forward in fury, but Dezel’s arm in front of her stops her. “Come on, let me at him, just this once!” Sorey hears her say to him.

“This might just be the final straw with you,” says Selene with narrowed eyes. “Will you come willingly, or will you have to be restrained?”

“If you insist so strongly, I suppose I can come willingly.” For one who is currently being put under arrest, Lunarre certainly seems calm, Sorey notices. Eyes suddenly fall on his, a grin which sends a chill down his spine being given to him.

“Come with me, Sorey,” Selene instructs, still keeping her gaze on Lunarre. “We’ll take him to Heldalf. This matter goes beyond the police, with how much he’s been suspicious lately …”

“Ooh, how exciting, eh heh …”

Both Selene and Sorey choose to ignore him in order to not provoke him further. However, there is something about his relaxed state despite having been calm, the way that he does not seem concerned in the slightest that makes Sorey feel on edge. Either Lunarre has something which will prove his innocence, he does not care about whether or not he is in the pack or, quite simply, he is insane enough to not care about what will happen. Rose, who is mouthing the words ‘good luck’ to him as he passes by, would most likely choose the latter.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Lunarre comments as they venture further down the path, grinning as there is no answer. “Heh. Not one for conversation, are we?”

“Almost there,” says Selene, ignoring him and instead focusing on Sorey. “Heldalf didn’t say about heading off anywhere, did he?”

Sorey shakes his head. “No, I don’t think he did.”

This turns out to be true once the three werewolves are trekking down the paving towards the manor. Heldalf, looking somewhat dishevelled, is walking in the opposite direction. His eyes narrow the smallest amount when he sees the man who is walking with them, yet it it is only for a moment.

“So it is true, then,” Heldalf says once he is closer. His eyes remained fixed on Lunarre out of caution, despite how even he would know it would be foolish to try to escape or attack when the three Shepherds are right there. “I had a member of staff come tell me about a commotion?”

“That’s right,” Selene confirms with a nod. “Caused by him stealing werewolf blood.”

“You know, stealing is such a harsh word, don’t you agree? I’d prefer you to say I was simply borrowing the vials only to slip them back later.”

“And I’d prefer you to keep your mouth shut,” Selene snaps. This earns her a smirk and an impressed expression. She faces Heldalf. “We’re not certain of the reason behind his actions, yet there’s only one –”

“I wouldn’t think he would use it as a weapon against a vampire,” Heldalf interrupts. Both Sorey and Selene look at him in confusion.

“But why else would he steal it, dad?” Sorey questions. “And what’s stopping him?”

“That … that matter is between the two of us, one which has been requested to keep secret. However, this still does not prove that it would be used for illegal means, and the stealing itself is obviously an illegal act to begin with.”

“Didn’t I already tell you lot why I stole it?” Lunarre drawls, picking at a nail in an act of boredom.

Selene forces herself to remain at least partially calm. “You made a joke about how it is for some poor little pup, yes. We heard that.”

“Well, perhaps the ‘little’ was a joke, but I truly was fetching that for a mutt.”

“Don’t refer to your kind in that manner!”

“A werewolf, you mean?” Heldalf questions a little slowly. It is hard to have a proper conversation with Lunarre where he does not speak in riddles. “One which needs help?”

“That’s right.”

“But why does he not just come into the city?” Sorey asks.

“Simple answer there, boy – he’s a free wolf, and healthcare isn’t given to those outside of a pack, heh heh.” Lunarre’s seem to glisten over telling Sorey this information. “Sad, isn’t it? How packs have always worked so unfairly, even now? But yes … the mutt’s got hurt, needs some blood, and we’re in some kind of agreement where we – help each other, I think is the right word? So that’s why I’m here.”

“Why did you not just buy the blood?” says Selene. “Surely you could have obtained it on prescription?”

“My dear, I’m afraid that many people have grown rather fearful of me, and they might have thought I’d shove that blood down a poor vampire’s throat.”

“So stealing is a better way, apparently. Why does this not actually surprise me?”

“If it’s true, then we need to go help him, don’t we?” Sorey asks, worry filling his chest. “The wolf, I mean.”

“Sorey, we can’t tell if what he is saying is even the truth,” Selene responds. “And we … well, we do tend to stick to our own pack. With one as large as ours, it’s even more understandable.”

“But it’s just one wolf!”

“And like I said, who knows if he is saying the –”

“Oh, I am saying the truth,” Lunarre interrupts matter-of-factly. “If I’m wrong, you’re free to hang me.”

Selene grits her teeth in irritation. “We don’t hang criminals.” She turns to Heldalf, asking, “What do you think?”

“I believe that there could be truth in what he is saying, and that we shouldn’t look away from someone in need, even if they are a lone wolf. I don’t want to keep him without supervision, however.”

“Eh heh, it feels like I’m a pup again.”

“You guys can stay with him and question him and everything, and I can go help the wolf,” Sorey offers. Even before he has had this be confirmed as what they are going to do, he is already preparing to head off in a run.

“But what if it’s a trap, Sorey?” Selene asks. “I mean, with your position and everything …”

But Lunarre is chuckling. “Even I’m not stupid enough to lead the Alpha’s perfect son into a trap.”

“He’s right,” Heldalf agrees. “I think it’s the best plan.”

Selene seems hesitant, but regardless of this, she ends up nodding in agreement. “As long as you’re both sure. Then Lunarre, hand it over to him.”

The man does so without hesitation, the blood having not been taken from him during the distraction of commotion; Sorey watches as he takes out two vials of blood from inside his pocket and hands it to Sorey. “The guy is in the forest by Lastonbell’s exit,” Lunarre explains. “I kinda like the guy, ha ha. So make sure he drinks it.”

Sorey nods, pocketing the blood himself. “I’ll be off, then!” He proceeds to exclaim, jogging away from them. He turns back for only a moment by the gates to watch Lunarre be led to the manner, before Sorey’s focus is back on his speed. He increases it to run through the city, the citizens instinctively moving out of the way in time. It only slows to a stop when he sees Rose and Dezel, who are both looking at him with confusion.

“Where are you going, Sorey?” the first asks.

“No time to explain, I’m sorry! But I will later, I promise!”

After the brief words, he gives them both a wave before he is once again increasing his speed to a run. He has no idea how dire the lone wolf’s condition is, but with concern rising in his chest, he knows he would much rather be safe than sorry.

 


 

Minutes later, he is venturing into the forestry that Lunarre had described, finding that it is the forest in which he and his mother had hunted together in several days prior. Even though he trusts in what his father has said about him being certain that Lunarre is not lying, he still steps forward cautiously in case it is a trap. He has never trusted Lunarre. But after the day where he, Rose and Dezel saw him trading with that hooded figure weeks prior, his mistrust has grown stronger, and he knows he has to be wary around him.

As he searches through the forest, thoughts of that day return to his mind. Just what had Lunarre been doing that day? His father had not said anything about it. A lot of crime is confidential, so it could very well be that Heldalf does in fact know what happened, yet cannot tell Sorey. It can even be that the three of them might have jumped the gun on what Lunarre had been up to. It is doubtful, yet Sorey knows that he cannot put blame on someone without complete evidence.

Either way, he has to remove these thoughts from his mind soon enough, for with a twitch of his nose, he can smell something in the air. Blood. It cannot be a huge amount, or at least one which is deadly, but he can definitely tell it is that of a werewolf, and one that is nearby at that.

“Hello?” Sorey calls, increasing its pace. “Are you hurt? I’m here to –”

“Well well, if it isn’t the Alpha’s choirboy instead of foxface.”

It’s a man’s voice, coming from Sorey’s right. To his surprise, when he turns to face it, he finds not a figure injured on the ground like he had expected, but rather standing and leaning against a tree. A muscular arm is wrapped around his torso, however, which is all bare except for bandages wrapped around his waist. There is also not mistaking the beads of sweat which are trickling down his tanned forehead, this sweat causing strands of brown hair to dampen.

“I’ve got werewolf blood with me,” says Sorey, jogging over. “I can help you.”

“Yeah yeah, just hand it over.”

The man is very impolite in comparison to Sorey, but nonetheless, he hands over the two vials. They are taken from him and gulped down immediately, a sigh escaping the man’s lips as the blood enters his body.

“That’s better. I lost a fair bit wrestling with that thing.”

Sorey decides against asking exactly what the man is talking about before he knows anything about him. “I’m glad you feel better,” he says instant. “I’m Sorey, by the way! Sorey Shepherd.”

“Obviously I know who you are. I might not be part of that pack of yours, but even I know your name, as does any werewolf. Oh, and the name’s Zaveid. Nice to meet you, Sheps.” Zaveid proceeds to begin to unwrap the bandages around his waist, letting out a small whistle as he looks down at himself. “Damn, I swear it gets worse the more I look at it.”

Sorey’s eyes stare in horror at the wound which is inflicted there. He has no idea how Zaveid can speak so calmly. Not when there is a gash from what appears to be tremendous claws in his side, deeper than Sorey has ever seen. It almost seems like an injury from a werewolf in their wolf form, but they are usually not this deep at all. In fact, those injuries are rare anyway, especially on another werewolf.

“H-How did that …” Sorey splutters.

“How did what? How did it happen?” Zaveid questions, chuckling as Sorey gulps and nods. “Something that I’d rather not taint your pure, young mind with, Sheps. Nah, best you don’t hear about something like that. Besides,” Zaveid proceeds to wrap fresh bandages around himself, “it’s all part of my job. I’ve got more scars than women I’ve slept with, I can tell you that much.”

“Your … job?” Sorey repeats. He cannot think of what job there would be that would result in such a severe injury.

“Like I said, you don’t want to know. Tell Lunarre I said thanks, would ya?”

“What have you two got going on?” Sorey’s voice is suddenly a lot firmer. After all, he cannot picture any meet-ups with someone like Lunarre to be completely innocent.

“I guess tea parties wouldn’t be a believable answer?”

“Definitely not.”

“Thought as much. Well, let’s just say we both have some information that the other wants. He keeps me updated on what is going on in cities, I keep him updated on the state of affairs in … well, affairs that aren’t exactly out in the open, shall we say.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t have to tell you!” says Zaveid, raising his hands, a hint of a smirk on his face. “I’m a lone wolf, remember? Out here, we’re equal to each other, even if you are an Alpha’s son.” Zaveid straightens up and begins to walk away, his hand waving over his shoulder. “I’ve got some things to attend to. Have fun with your nice little duties.”

“That’s it?” Sorey calls after him. “You don’t need any medical attention?”

“Do I look like a weakling to you? I’ll be fine. You should just look at what is in front of you.”

The man leaves without another word, making his way through the trees which conceal him from Sorey’s view. This leaves him in a silence in which he feels confused. He would have preferred to be given the chance to have some of his questions answered, yet he doubts that even if the two meet again, he would not receive those answers.

Realising he probably should not be wasting time, Sorey accepts not having his confusion be cleared, ignoring it as he begins to make his way back into the city. Near its entrance, he is hardly surprised to see Rose and Dezel waiting for him. He lets out a small chuckle once he sees them.

“You really can’t wait to listen in on things, can you?” says Sorey.

“We wanted to know what’s going on with Lunarre,” Dezel responds. “Did he say what he stole the blood for?”

“Actually, yes. He was right in the plaza – or, well, sort of. He really was going to give it to someone who is injured.”

“Huh …” says Rose, seemingly surprised. “Fancy that. And is that what you just went off to do?”

“Yeah. I think he’s fine now.”

“But why would he even bother to help someone like that? I mean, he doesn’t exactly seem like the friendliest of folks.”

“Well, he was …” Sorey trails off. The word ‘friends’ does not suit them; after all, they hardly seemed friendly with each other if they only seem interested in sharing information. “He was his acquaintance. Guess it wouldn’t be good for either of them if they lost the other.”

“How nice. Sounds like Dezel with me.”

“Hey, I do care. I … I mean –”

Rose grins, slapping Dezel on the back. “Finally got him to admit it!”

“So is Lunarre in custody?” he questions, ignoring Rose’s statement.

Sorey nods. “Yeah, he is. I’m not sure what’s going to be happening with him yet. I was going to head home after to see if that has been sorted.”

“Don’t let us stop you! We have to get going for some work anyway.”

“Out of the city?” Sorey asks.

“Yup!”

“You sure have a lot of that at the moment.”

“Yeah, business has been really, really hectic. We’re gonna go meet with more of the Sparrowfeathers outside the city. Catch you later?”

“Yeah, of course! See ya!”

Sorey waves to them both, watching as their backs turn before he begins to make his way in the opposite direction. During this walk, he thinks about the man he has met, inwardly shuddering over the thought of the wound which had been inflicted on his torso. Sorey still has no idea what had caused that. Though as selfish as it may be and as much as Sorey wants to help as many people as possible, he cannot spare much time or thought for Zaveid in this moment, especially with the man not being a part of their pack.

With his thoughts distracted, however, Sorey finds himself home before he properly realises. He enters the manor, shutting the door after himself, and immediately hears voices coming from a room nearby. He walks over and peers inside to find that his parents were speaking with each other.

His mother holds out her hands as she says, “I just cannot figure out what kind of information that Lunarre would be able to receive from a lone wolf. Don’t they usually keep to themselves and not be informed of much at all?”

“That’s true, and I wish we could question more about it, but if the man is not actually part of our pack, we … oh, Sorey. You’re back.”

Selene follows her husband’s gaze to Sorey, who is now entering the room now he has been seen. “Lunarre told you about the kind of relationship he and Zaveid had, then?”

“Oh, he didn’t tell us his name,” says Selene. “But yes, that’s right.”

“Where is he now? Have you decided on what to do with him?”

“He is in custody for now,” Heldalf answers. “Because his only crime was in fact the stealing, which he has not had many offences of, his sentence is fairly short. His fine, however, isn’t so much.”

“I expected him to get mad at that, but he just kind of shrugged,” says Selene. “Weird guy.”

“But won’t it be bad once he’s free again? Doesn’t that mean he can commit more crime?”

“It does, which is why he will be under surveillance,” says Heldalf. “I can assure you that a closer eye will be kept on him now.”

Sorey nods, yet still cannot help feeling doubtful. “I still don’t really get how you can trust him, though,” he admits to voice this doubt. “I can tell you have a reason, but …”

“You’re right, I do have a reason.” Heldalf pauses. It is clear that he is thinking over his words and how to put them across. “Lunarre … once did a very good deed. Something that allows me to see that the man is not all he seems on the outside. Because of that, I’m hesitant to banish him from our pack and waste that potential. I’m sure you can understand that.”

“What did he …” Sorey stops himself. He can tell from his father’s expression that this is something secretive, something which he should not ask about unless it is said it is fine. “I understand. I guess not everything is black and white.”

“It’s definitely not. Do make sure to remember that, both of you.” Heldalf’s voice grows a little warmer, a smile reaching his face. “You two must be tired after your journey to only come home to this commotion.”

“Sorey there seems fine, but I’m not.” Selene slumps down in a chair, exhaling a loud breath. “I’m definitely not as young as he is!”

“You’re still young for a werewolf, no need to play it up,” Heldalf says, chuckling over his wife sticking her tongue out at him. “Are you fine, Sorey?” he continues, shifting his gaze to his son.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine! I think I’m going to get up to my room though, I think I need a bit of alone time after all the travelling.”

“I can hardly blame you. We’ll send someone when dinner is ready.”

“See you later, hun!” Selene says, waving as Sorey exits the room. His footsteps take him away from it and up the stairs, leading to his bedroom as he had said. He prepares himself to grab a book from his shelves and fall down onto his bed to read it, but his eyes fall down on something else instead, resting in the corner in the room.

Your mother did say you play the violin.”

Yeah … not much nowadays, though. I feel bad about that.”

Now he thinks about it, he realises that it really has been a fair few months since he last decided to play. With the busyness his position brings, as well as maintaining the social life he adores as much as possible, he finds it hard to fit in anything but reading and his explorations into his spare time. He is not even sure if his eyes have laid on the violin at all recently, never mind pick it up to play.

With a longing he did not realise he had, he walks over to the violin and bow to lift them. He simply looks at them for a moment, realising how pleasant it feels to have them in his hands. Then he raises the violin up towards him and places his chin on the chinrest. He is a little nervous as he places the bow’s hairs against the violin’s strings, but once he begins to draw out the tunes which have always eased his soul, he finds that these nerves vanish instantly.

The first notes are a little rusty from his lack of experience as of late, yet as he goes further into the song, the notes become clearer, louder; they are the upbeat notes that have always brought him cheerfulness regardless of how he feels. He smiles as he loses himself in them, closes his eyes as the speed is picked up, the range becomes larger. How he has missed hearing music that he himself plays.

Of course, the song does not last forever, and is soon brought to a stop. Yet rather than be sad over its end, Sorey finds himself still smiling. He is thankful. Thankful that he could meet someone who, despite how the two do not know each other very much at all, had been able to inspire him to once again pick up his own instrument to create melodies.

Sorey’s eyes involuntarily gaze out of the window as a wish comes to mind. He hopes that he can play with Mikleo one day.

 

 


 

 

Even after waking the following morning to Sorey’s visit, Mikleo still finds it in his mind. Not long after sitting in bed, letting out a yawn and brushing back ruffled hair, he thinks over what has happened.

He is still in disbelief. Of course, the visit had not been completely far-fetched – it is true that Selene had needed to return, and if she and Sorey were planning to travel to the country anyway, it makes sense that they stopped by here. But the fact that Sorey had stepped foot inside Mikleo’s palace at all was still an utter shock for him. Both know about the risks it takes, and Sorey had been told by both Mikleo and Edna about keeping away.

Yet he had not done so. He returned to Marlind, this time with the permission he had not been given previously, and went to see Mikleo inside his own home rather than forestry which goes past the city. It was so stupidly reckless, yet a part of Mikleo cannot help but admire that courage.

Friend? You want to be my … friend?”

Of course I do, why wouldn’t I?”

He is … strange, to say the least. Why does Sorey seem so determined to be friends with someone he does not know well at all, despite everything it could cause? Why did he say this so casually, as though it is a simple fact that anyone would know? Mikleo could not make sense of any of it.

“Idiot,” he mumbles to himself, removing the bed covers from himself to rise to his feet. He glances at himself in the mirror, de-tangling some of the knots in his hair with his fingertips. Really, what is it about him which has grabbed Sorey’s attention so much? He can see what makes Sorey special, even if he can barely admit it to himself, let alone others. But he cannot see why he would be special.

He finds himself wandering to the piano in the corner of the room, remembering what Sorey had said about him playing the violin. Admittedly, it would be nice to hear him play. But there is no way that such an ordinary thing could happen.

Absent-mindedly, Mikleo’s fingers pressed down onto the higher notes, playing a slow melody which he barely pays attention to. These fingers are removed when he hears a knock on the door, snapping himself out of his momentary daze. He calls, “Come in,” and watches as it opens.

His eyes widen and his mouth stretches into a smile as he sees the familiar jade eyes and head of blonde hair, even though he is surprised to see her. “Alisha,” he says, quickly walking over to her with the feeling that he has not seen her in a long time. She smiles back, pulling him into a hug once they are closer to each other.

“It’s so good to see you,” she says. “I’m sorry to be here when you’ve not long been out of bed.”

“It’s fine, I’m just surprised that you’re here so early.” Mikleo glances at the clock which hangs on a wall once the two part, eyes widening when he sees it is in fact a little under three hours later than it usually is when he wakes. “… Or not.”

Alisha giggles. “Yes, I thought you would already be up and about. Though Muse has told me that you’ve been a little under the weather as of late, so it is normal for you to sleep more. Are you any better now?”

“I’d say so. I’ve been more relaxed for a while, and I guess yesterday was … nice.”

“That’s good to hear. I do worry about you a lot.” Alisha’s eyes suddenly widen, her hands taking hold of Mikleo’s upper arms as she stares up at him. “That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you about!”

“H-Huh?” he says in surprise over her sudden exclamation. “What is it?”

“I heard the rumours as soon as I entered here. The son of Lastonbell’s Alpha was here yesterday? In the palace?”

“Oh … yes, that’s right.”

“He had permission to do that?”

“Obviously, he wouldn’t have just climbed through a window,” Mikleo chuckles, despite how in the back of his mind, he wonders if Sorey would actually go that far. “I didn’t get to tell you because I didn’t want our letters to be read by anyone. But Selene – his mother, I mean – has visited here already. My own mother gave permission for the Shepherds to be able to visit from then on.”

“Oh, I see … So that means you’ve finally met werewolves!”

“Y-Yeah, right …”

Alisha blinks at him, finally removing her hold. “I feel like you might not be telling me everything. Is anything the matter?”

“I … Let me close the door,” he says, walking over to it. He peers out into the corridor quickly to see if there is anyone eavesdropping on them, closing the door once he finds that this is not the case. He turns back around, and says after a moment of hesitation, “I had already met Sorey down by a river outside of Marlind.”

This is clearly not what Alisha had been expecting to hear. She can only stare at him for a moment in shock. Maybe he should be offended by this, but he is not. It is only normal for her to be stunned over this.

“You met him out there? But … but why would he be there alone? And you’re not …”

“Yeah, I know. It’s crazy, huh?”

“Definitely. I guess you both had to pretend you didn’t already know each other.”

He nods. “Definitely so.” He sits down onto the bed, Alisha joining him over a natural reaction. She watches as his eyes peer up at the canopy over them, as though he is trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m not sure what to do about any of this,” he eventually admits. “With Sorey, I mean.”

“What about him?” Alisha asks. “Your first meeting was a coincidence, right? And the second …”

“Because he visited with his mother, I know. But … but he said he wants to be friends, even though it’s unlikely it could work. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

Alisha lets out a sigh. Sadness is ridden in her eyes. “I was worried that something like this would happen. That once you’ve had freedom, something will make it harder.” She smiles, however, placing her hand over his. “Yet I’m here to support you. As much as I want you to be careful, I truly think that you should do whatever makes you happiest. If that involves being friends with someone like this, then so be it. I would do everything I can to make sure that it works out for you.”

Mikleo is silent for a moment, overcome with gratitude for the unyielding kindness she always has. “Thank you, Alisha,” he says. “I really am grateful for that. And the same goes back to you as well.”

“I know that. Thank you.”

“So … did you come here for any reason?” he ends up asking. He is dreading that she has not come around for a simple, meaningless visit, and it turns out that he is correct.

“Today is the day that we are supposed to start making a few of our wedding plans. Did you forget?”

“I must have done,” Mikleo answers with a frown, trying to rack his memory. He can somewhat remember this being told in passing now he concentrates, yet remembers being distracted at the time. “What kind of plans?”

“Surprisingly, we’re going over some simple stuff first. Food, our clothes, things like that. My parents seem to think that talking about those will help rise our interest about marrying each other,” she adds with a roll of her eyes.

“I don’t know about you, but eating some wedding cake isn’t quite enough to feel better about having a ring on my finger.”

Alisha manages to laugh despite why the words are being spoken. “Yes, you’re quite right. Still … they are only trivial matters, and the wedding should still be a while off. I guess we can amuse them for one day.” She gets up from the bed, looking down as she says, “I’ll let them know you’ll be there soon. Do take your time getting ready. Please.”

Now Mikleo is the one to laugh himself, relieved that the two can find humour in the situation. “I’ll do my best,” he answers. Alisha has soon left the room, leaving Mikleo to bathe and get himself ready to meet with the Diphdas.

He would much rather not do this at all, as to be expected. Yet the strange joy he feels over his conversations with Sorey the day before, the ones where he had been unguarded and forgot about their differences for a short time, seemed to be giving him the strength to face the day.

 


 

 

Once he has prepared himself, Mikleo heads downstairs to where Alisha and her family are supposed to be, as well as his own. He has been told that they are waiting for him in the lounge. He takes his time walking, considering he is in no particular rush to discuss any of this, regardless how trivial it will be. But of course, this can only use up so much time, and it is not long before he is stood outside the door.

In order to maintain manners, he knocks before entering. Inside, he finds that the Diphdas and Rulays are sat opposite each other on two sofas, with the smaller left for him and Alisha. She is already sat waiting for him, seeming a little relieved that he is here.

“Ah, there you are, Mikleo,” says the voice of a man he has also not seen for some time, aged a little more than his own mother and uncle. “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.”

“Yes, definitely,” says the woman sitting next to him. “Please do take a seat.”

He nods and begins to walk past them, feeling a little unsettled by their gaze. Perhaps it is how they rule a little stricter than his own mother, or simply how he has not seen them in a while; either way, he knows he would feel much more comfortable with simply his own family and Alisha here, or even with just Maltran, Alisha’s mentor, being here instead.

Unlike Mikleo mostly resembling his mother, Alisha appears to take after both of her parents, named Finuw and Amara Diphda. She has her mother’s shorter height and jade eyes, yet not her tanned skin or brunette hair, which is beginning to contain a few grey strands. She instead has her father’s slightly paler skin and sandy blond hair. Her personality is a trait which is truly her own. Mikleo has always admired how that is something which Alisha decided for herself.

Finuw, her father, is the only one of the two who has royal blood and has been a king for a couple of centuries. Amara, on the other hand, had been of a much lower status, and her being the woman to marry into the family after the passing of Finuw’s first wife had been questionable. Had Alisha been born sooner than she had, she would have likely not had any chance of claiming the throne herself one day. However, as time passed, Amara was recognised as Queen of Hyland, leaving Alisha to be popular herself by the time that she had been born.

Alisha gives Mikleo’s hand a quick squeeze once he settles down. It is likely not the best of ideas in front of her parents’ watchful gaze, who are determined to prove that the two do in fact love each other romantically. But at the same time, it does do well to give him a small amount of reassurance.

“Now, I’m not sure if Alisha has told you, but we’re going to be going through some of the details of your wedding today,” Finuw explains as he places a book on the coffee table situated in the centre of the three sofas. “We have already discussed details with designers and the chefs we will be hiring for the wedding, and they have given us permission to go through this with you.”

“None of this was discussed with Alisha and Mikleo themselves?” Michael pipes up, glancing up at the couple with a frown. If there is one thing that Michael is on Mikleo’s side with, it is how he does not exactly trust them, either.

“Do understand that these are the best staff we could hire, Michael,” Finuw responds. “I am sure that Alisha and Mikleo would have agreed if we had asked first.”

Michael opens his mouth to speak, but Mikleo is quick to interrupt. “It’s fine, really,” he says. “I don’t mind. Do you, Alisha?”

She shakes her head. “Not at all. I’m sure that your judgement is best, father.” Or, in translation, neither of the pair give any care at all for something so small about their wedding.

“Thank you, Alisha. All right, after that interruption,” says Finuw, Michael’s eyes narrowing for a brief moment, “we shall continue. Now, we’ve had a very talented designer come up with ideas for your dress, Alisha.” He nods to his wife in a prompt for her to open the book. She does so, flicking through to get to the right page.

“He has come up with a fair few designs and has been kind enough to create multiple sketches, free of charge,” says Amara, finger pressing lightly on the corner of a page. Alisha and Mikleo lean forward in order to take a closer look; even with the event in question not being to their liking, neither cannot be impressed by the sketches. The least extravagant of them is a cocktail dress with a laced bodice and trail leading to the floor; sleeveless, yet fairly modest with a collar and a chest adorned with the same see-through lace. The others are floor length; a tight-fitting number, which flares at the feet with an overlay which would trail behind her; a ballgown with the bottom adorned in lace, with sleeves falling off the shoulders; yet another one of a similar design, only with even more layers and lastly, a ruffled dress with a strapless bust, dipped a little in the middle and showing a small amount of cleavage. All are beautiful and perfectly fit for a princess.

“He has asked you which your favourites are,” Amara continues. “Then he will proceed to make up more detailed drawings of those in order for you to make a final decision.”

“Actually, I already think that I want this one,” says Alisha, pointing to the cocktail dress. Mikleo smiles; even if her current appearance now, with the elegant black dress she is expected to wear, would suggest otherwise, he knows that Alisha is bound to opt for the one which she can move in the most. The others would be much more uncomfortable for her, especially the tightly fitted one.

“Ah, well, that does make things easier,” Muse pipes up, bearing Alisha a smile. “It would very much suit you.”

“Yes – well, most certainly,” says Amara, who had clearly hoped for an even more feminine dress. “And he says he is fine if there are any change of plans.”

“I do not think that will be necessary,” says Alisha, trying to keep her tone polite. “But I will bear it in mind.”

“Excellent,” says Finuw. “As for the colour, we were, of course, thinking of the traditional colours of our kind. Either a nice black or deep red –”

“Actually, I was hoping for white.”

“You … you were?” says Amara slowly.

“Yes. Perhaps with a little pink detailing. Maybe on the underside?”

“Alisha, white is … the traditional colour of human weddings. Surely you’d rather go for the colours of our kind?”

“I thought white would suit me more,” Alisha continues calmly. “And I can imagine that Mikleo would be opting for lighter colours as well, won’t you?” she asks as she turns to him. With her presence, he has the confidence to nod immediately.

“Black makes me look ill with my pale skin and all,” he says. The Diphdas appear to be in shock, a few moments passing before Finuw goes to speak, yet Muse beats him to it.

“I have heard that a lot of humans are going away from tradition nowadays, as are werewolves,” she says politely. “I’m sure that no one would think anything of these two deciding to do the same.”

“I … I suppose that is true,” says Finuw a little reluctantly. “So you’ll both be opting for white?”

“Yes,” they say simultaneously. As this is noted down, they give each other a triumphant grin. The wedding itself is already out of their control, so they may as well make the most of these smaller details.

“What designs do you have for Mikleo?” Michael asks.

“Ah, we just have one for him, which is on the next page,” Amara answers, flipping over to the page in question. Mikleo finds himself becoming a little disappointed. Whilst it is not as plain as the suits that other men wear and is still clearly for royalty, it is still a little dull to him with an ordinary high collar and embroidery lining the jacket.

“Don’t you like it?” Alisha asks when she sees this in his face.

“Well, I guess I was hoping for something a bit similar to … what I usually wear.”

“Ah, we told the designer we could not have that,” says Finuw. “I mean, look at it.” He waves a hand in Mikleo’s direction. “A touch bit too … feminine, don’t you think? We do not exactly want this wedding to seem as though it is between two women …”

Mikleo grits his teeth, Alisha clenching her fists besides him. Muse and Michael do not look particularly happy with this statement either, the first choosing to address this.

“I beg your pardon?” she says. Her voice is still calm, yet firmer than previously.

“Ah, I did not mean to insult my dear boy here at all, Muse. I just think that we need to be a bit careful about how we choose to dress him, in order to make him seem more masculine and not – well, how he is now. I mean, just look at his face, and the fact that his hair is white certainly does not help … maybe a few drops of blood would not hurt before the wedding?”

“Father!” Alisha exclaims angrily. “You can’t just say that!”

“I’m only being honest, my dear! I mean, I think that I personally set the perfect example of how a king is supposed to look. Him on the other hand …”

“When you’re finished deciding on how to judge my looks right in front of me,” Mikleo says loudly, bringing all attention to him. “I’m fine with the suit. I don’t really care about what I dress in.”

“You could at least sound a little more interested in your part of the wedding,” Amara suggests. Mikleo is so infuriated by this stage that he does not care to stop himself from retorting.

“Wow, it’s almost as though I don’t actually want who I marry to be decided for me. Who knew?”

A highly tense silence falls over them from these words. He does not regret them. Should they have been said? No. But the Diphdas are already well aware that neither of them want this wedding, as are the Rulays. Mikleo and Alisha have said this time after time again. Yet in this moment, the statement seems more forceful, and Mikleo is blessed with this satisfaction for the length of the silence.

But it is broken, crushing this satisfaction before long. “Not play along like the good prince you are, and we will tell the whole damn kingdom about your little secret. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?” Amara questions warningly, her voice low and her husband smirking a little in agreement besides her. Mikleo opens his mouth to speak, yet closes it again, knowing he has lost this battle and must admit defeat. Muse, Michael and Alisha appear as though they are ready to lash out on his behalf, yet all three decide against this, knowing it will only worsen things.

“Shall we move on, then?” Finuw questions, as though his wife has not just threatened the fiancé of their daughter. “Now, we should also go into food. It is one of the best parts of weddings after all, and is the key enjoyment for many guests!”

“We have brought this book of recipes here,” continues Amara, flicking to a different section of the book, “which has the different possibilities that the chef could make. Of course, there is no harm in a little bit of everything; there will be many guests for such an important wedding, after all.”

“Appetisers first?” Muse asks. You can hear in her voice that she is still furious at the couple for their rudeness to her son, and she would currently do anything to be able to address this. Amara seems to acknowledge this; the corner of her mouth twitches, as though she is trying to stop herself from smirking.

“Yes, of course. As you can see, we have a fine selection here …”

Alisha and Mikleo lean forward in order to peer down at the options. Both are very much passionate about food, even if their appetite can be off at times, and if they were alone together, they would likely be enjoying this part very much. After all, even if they do not want to be married, that does not mean they cannot enjoy their time together in an enjoyable manner. But with their fury not yet diminished from the Diphdas cruel and threatening words, it is difficult to concentrate on the discussion at all.

For such a trivial matter which really does not have to be addressed with such detail, the conversation surely does take a long time. Time passes painfully slowly. Mikleo cannot help but feel each time he looks at the clock that this time they are wasting could be spent with him actually enjoying time with Alisha. Just when he thinks that he might genuinely be able to fall asleep from the boring drone of the Diphdas’ voices, their discussion comes to an end.

“So it does seem as though we will be going for a little bit of everything, then,” says Amara, proving that the discussion had been useless considering they went with her original idea in the first place. “Is there anything else we shall work out today?”

“I think this is fine,” Muse answers with a glance at the frustrated teenagers. “It is still a while before the wedding. We hardly have to do everything in one day.”

“You are quite right,” Finuw says. He gets up to his feet, holding out his hand to the Rulays. “It has been a pleasure. I can already tell that this is going to be a huge success.”

With reluctance, Muse and Michael take turns to shake it, Amara now getting to her feet by her husband. “And Mikleo darling, please do not take what we have said to heart,” she says to him as he rises up from his seat as well, Alisha joining him. “We only want to do everything possible to make this wedding a success.”

While belittling me and threatening me in the process,’ Mikleo thinks to himself, but he bites his tongue. He knows that even his one sarcastic comment from earlier was a mistake in itself, and it would do no good for him or Alisha if he continued to be impolite to them. “Yes, I understand,” he says instead, feigning a smile which he hopes does not look too fake. “It’s been nice having you.” The words probably seem like utter lies, but at least he managed to actually force them out of his mouth.

“Alisha, let us go,” says Finuw. “I’d rather us get home before nightfall.”

“Actually, can I stay here for the night?” she asks quickly, turning a little embarrassed when everyone looks at her in surprise. “I-I’m sorry, I should have asked you first. But really, for an engaged couple, Mikleo and I spend very little time together. I thought it would be a good idea to change that.”

Mikleo takes a glance at her, feeling warmth rise in his chest. He knows full well that she is not doing this because of their engagement. She simply wants to spend time with him as they truly are; two great friends.

“I certainly wouldn’t mind,” says Muse, smiling at Michael. “What about you?”

“Me neither, it would be a pleasure to have you stay.”

“Well, if it is fine with the two of you,” says Amara. “But you have none of your things.”

“We have plenty of spare clothes and other necessities here,” Muse responds.

“If that’s the case, I see no problem,” says Finuw, smiling at his daughter. “We’ll have a carriage come pick you up tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you, father.”

“Let us escort you to the door, then,” says Muse, bearing the two teenagers a smile before she, her brother and the two Diphdas leave the room, Mikleo and Alisha now standing alone. For a moment, they do not speak, simply appreciating this opportunity that they have been given. Before long, however, Alisha is bearing him a grin, a flash of determination flickering in her eyes.

“I don’t know about you, but I feel like a bit of fighting is just what I need after that,” she says. “What about you?”

He grins back and nods. “I couldn’t agree more.”

 


 

As it always does, wielding a weapon in his hand helps to fight against Mikleo’s built-up frustration. It has been so long since he felt it be this high, and he wonders how on Earth Alisha could possibly deal with them on a daily basis. Then he remembers that Alisha wanders around Ladylake very often and spends more time with her mentor. There are some days where she does not even see her parents at all if she chooses to eat in a place other than the dining hall.

The fighting does well for her, too. Alisha is incredible at concealing her emotions, yet even if her parents’ words had not been directed at her, they have still made her furious. After all, Mikleo is her best friend. She cannot stand to see him be insulted.

Though she begins with wielding her favourite weapon, the spear, against a dummy, Mikleo doing the same with his beloved bow and arrow, the two soon ditch their specialities in order to opt for swords against each other. The weapon is both of their second favourite, and so they are very evenly matched. Rather than focus on trying to win, the two simply use the weapons to have fun whilst venting their emotions, each clang of the sword seeming to release a trace of their anger. They continue for a long time before both a beckoned for dinner.

Time passes very quickly after that. Who knew that simply speaking could take up so much time? Before long, with a little disappointment, it is time for the pair to go to sleep. Alisha has also trained her body to sleep during the night, being able to accomplish more in typical human waking hours, and so it has grown rather late for both of them.

They are separated when it comes to where they sleep, despite how they are engaged. Even though the thought of doing so has, and never will, cross their minds, intercourse before marriage is forbidden for those in royalty, and suspicions would arise if they share the same room. Mikleo finds himself disappointed as he stares up at the ceiling. Nights are particularly lonely for him, and having Alisha besides him would help with that. If there is just one positive aspect that their marriage will bring, it is how he would no longer spend nights alone.

However, it turns out that he will not be spending this night alone after all. Some time into the night, where his eyes have already grown perfectly adjusted to the darkness of the room, there is a quiet creak as the door to his bedroom opens. He turns, smiling as he sees her stepping inside.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” he asks as she shuts the door behind her. She chuckles softly.

“I could say the same for you.”

He shuffles in bed so he is away from the middle, allowing her to slide under the duvet and lay next to him. It seems a little warmer for both of them all of a sudden; not just physically, but emotionally as well.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Mikleo asks. Alisha hums.

“I haven’t been able to sleep very well at all recently. It’s why I came in here.”

“Thought sleeping with another insomniac would maybe increase your chances?”

She smiles a little out of amusement. “Something like that.” There is silence for a few moments before she speaks again. “It’s nice to be away from home.”

“Are your parents always like this?” Mikleo asks. His fingers have began to play with a few strands of Alisha’s hair, which seems to soothe her.

“Usually. Mother, she … she can actually sometimes be worse than father. It seems as though when she went up in social status, it gave her an ego which nothing will shift.”

“I can see that. Honestly, I feel like I should be more grateful considering you go through this.”

Alisha shakes her head in disagreement. “Neither of us are in positions which should be envied. The life of a prince and princess … it seems wonderful, but I would take being a pauper over this any day.”

“Yeah. Same here.” Mikleo pauses, realising something that he has not yet expressed. “Sorey seems really happy.”

“The Alpha’s son?”

He nods. “Do you think it’s because of his kind? That werewolves are more free than us?”

“Most certainly. All this time, we’ve been taught to see them as the enemy. But maybe the enemy is our own families and ancestors.”

“Maybe that’s right,” Mikleo replies quietly, wondering for the first time if there really has been a mistake in who he was taught to not trust, if the fear he has had all of his life for the kind opposite to his own was pointless.

“Don’t mind me speaking about this now,” Alisha says apologetically. “Let’s go to sleep, all right?”

“Yeah … goodnight, Alisha.”

“Goodnight, Mikleo. Sweet dreams.”

Perhaps with her by his side, with her arms now bringing him into an embrace which helps to ease the tension in his body and the remainder of his negative emotions from the day, he really would be able to sleep pleasantly. It would be a miracle compared to the distorted images or horrid nightmares which have a tendency to haunt them both.

Chapter Text

The weekend had sure been hectic with the travels through Hyland and the issues with Lunarre when he returned. This busyness had made time flown during this weekend, causing the week to pass by a little slower. Yet of course, Sorey still has duties to attend to, and he has also been preparing himself for the upcoming full moon, during which he will be undergoing tests once again.

He realises that due to his travels, he has not actually trained all that much as of late and has not even transformed into his wolf form since his first trip to Hyland a little over three weeks prior. As he had said to his friends in the past, being able to transform at will is something he is not fully accustomed to yet, and so it still feels a little strange that he is not waiting for the full moon among most of the population.

Yet this does not mean he has not trained in other ways. His mother has told him, with his father in agreement, that just because he has not been throwing punches or biting through metal, it does not mean he has done nothing. During his travels he has been learning other skills, not only those which will be useful in his human form, but also in his wolf form; the hunting he has done will prove to be good for his senses in either form, honing their precision and the instincts in which Sorey will use them.

Of course, even if he has worked on these, it is not to say that he should not dedicate any time at all to other skills. And so, early in the afternoon, he can be found inside their gym alone, throwing well-timed and focused punches and kicks at the punching bag inside. He finds he is not rusty in the slightest. In fact, it is more the opposite; taking a break from this from some time has reminded him how good it feels to have this exercise. He may not be particularly stressed, yet he still notices how the hits are easing something inside him. Perhaps it is a little frustration that he did not realise he has.

Beads of sweat are trickling down his body further once he has proceeded to sets of sit-ups and push-ups. He can see the reason why his body temperature has risen so quickly. Sun is shining through the window, bringing with it the hope for warmer months. It is now almost April, after all, and the changes from winter are certainly seeming to show. The thought brings him excitement. As someone who spends as much time outdoors as possible, he has always preferred Spring and Summer to Autumn and Winter. The prospects of these seasons are even greater now with his ability to transform at will; he had only learned to do so towards the end of Autumn, after all, and the summer breeze always feels lovely through his fur.

He soon notices that these thoughts had caused his movements to stop temporarily. He tenses his arms as he continues his set of push-ups, muttering the numbers under his breath. “Seventy-five … seventy-six … sev-”

“Someone’s working hard.”

He almost falls flat on his face from being startled by his mother’s voice. He jumps to his feet and looks at her, feigning irritation despite the clear amusement on his face. “I was, until you interrupted.”

She chuckles, before standing in an offensive position with her fists raised. “Come on, this is a much better method than doing those things.”

Had this been in the past, he would have said no immediately with the fear of hurting his mother. But the two have done this plenty of times over the years, Selene proving each time that there really is nothing to fear. And so, he settles into a stance similar to hers. He locks eyes with a grin.

She is the first one to attack, jumping up to aim a kick to Sorey’s head. He blocks it with his arms and forces her back, countering with a kick of her own, which sweeps down behind her legs. She jumps, landing a punch which causes him to stumble, but only for a moment before he retorts. His fist is caught in her hand and is held for a moment as she winks. This tease caused her to react a moment too soon; he spins behind her with an elbow against her back.

Her stumble to the floor causes him to panic. “Are you okay, mom?” he asks, yelping as her leg sweeps Sorey off his feet, bringing him to the floor along with her. She gets up as he lands, smirking down at him with her hands on her hips.

“Shouldn’t let your guard down, even with your mom.”

He grins back at her, getting to his own feet and bringing his fists back up in front of his chest. “Lesson learned!”

The two continue to spar for quite some time. Selene was right; this is better than doing sets of push-ups. Each of his muscles burn in a way he has always liked, the sign that he has grown strong and will continue to become even stronger. The same must be said for her, too; she is smiling in a way that she has not smiled for a long time, wild with her hair tangled and her face flushed and sweaty.

The heat which has caused this becomes a little too much eventually. They slump to the floor breathlessly, Selene thanking Sorey as he passes her a spare bottle of water. They gulp it down simultaneously, letting out a huge breath of relief once they have finished swallowing.

“You sure make me feel young again!” Selene exclaims, leaning back on her hands. “I swear my heart is going to beat right out of my chest.”

“Have I gotten good?” he asks.

“Brilliant. You’d be a match for Heldalf, I can tell you that much. I think being out in the world has done you a lot of good. It’s opened your eyes more.”

“Then you’d hate knowing I took it a bit easy on you.”

She lets out a groan, head leaning back. “I knew it! I’m a good fighter and all, but that still went way too smoothly. I always tell you not to hold back, you know.”

“I just don’t want to hurt you. You’re not as built as dad is, after all.”

“Yeah, that’s true. Man, you guys are so lucky! I’d give anything to be even just an inch taller. But at least my muscles are good enough.” She flexes an arm, bearing him a grin as she did so, before she gestures to the open door. “Come on, let’s go grab some food, I’m starving.”

“Sure!” he exclaims, getting to his feet and realising how much his stomach is growling. He gives one last glance out of the window, where Spring’s sunshine is still shining through, before he follows his mother out of the room.

 


 

Meanwhile, a different type of training is taking place.

The girl inhales deeply as she focuses her mind. She is stood perfectly still on her feet, eyes closing as the sounds around her are emphasised, from the breathing of the man next to her to the warm breeze rustling the grass by her feet. Her nose twitches as she finds herself being able to also detect the scents around her with a greater skill than a human. Harnessing the senses of her wolf side. It is harder than one may expect, yet she is achieving that in this moment.

“Good, Rose, that’s it … okay, open your eyes.”

She does so slowly, the world coming back into focus. Her sight is not any clearer than it usually is, not when it is not a trait of the wolf to have keen eyesight. However, it feels as though the world is clearer through the enhancement of her senses of hearing and smell. It is strange how the world suddenly seems to be more alive through simply this.

“Look at your hand,” Dezel instructs her with, a small smile on his face. She lets out a small gasp as she raises it. Turning it over so the back of it faces her rather than the palm, she can see how her nails have grown and strengthened into claws. When she runs her tongue over her teeth, she feels that they have grown into the fangs of a canine.

“What you’ve achieved here is a stage between our human form and wolf form,” Dezel explains. “You have truly tapped into your wolf’s senses and strength without actually transforming into one. All who transform at will can do this and learn to do it first. It’s a huge step.”

“So it’s like an in between thing, huh?” she says, prodding the tip of one claw to see how sharp it is, doing so carefully to not accidentally scratch herself. “It’s like everything is enhanced, but still not as much as when I’m a wolf.”

“That’s because your body as a human isn’t designed the way a wolf’s is. But you can tap into the instincts of a wolf and its power. That includes with physical strength. Try hitting me.”

“You’re telling me to do that?” Rose says with a grin. “I can’t deny that offer!”

She brings her leg back and brings it up to Dezel’s chest. Even during the motions of this, she is astonished by how she can feel a larger amount of strength in her body. This is made clear with the kick’s impact; though Dezel uses his arms to block it, he still falls down onto the floor, something that Rose has never achieved with a single hit.

“Whoa,” she says as she settles back properly on her feet. “You didn’t fall on purpose, right?”

“What’s the point in that? That was all you.” Dezel brushes dirt off his trousers as he stands. “You’re doing pretty decently. In fact, I’m surprised you’re managing this well considering it’s hard to maintain this stage for long.”

“If it’s like that, then why do people usually do this first?”

“The transformation itself into this stage isn’t all that complicated and merely requires a lot of focus. However, maintaining it can take some practice when it does not come as a second nature to you. It only tends to become that once you can transform at will. With that, learning to transform is difficult, as you know. You have to fight the nature of the moon’s cycle, after all. But maintaining that form tends to be easier once you get the hang of it.”

“My head is spinning.”

Dezel smirks out of amusement. “All right, to put it in a way easier for your simple mind …”

“Hey!”

“… see this stage you’re in now as a stepping stone, but one which is hard to stay on, and one you have to use to get to the next stone. Then once you’ve reached that last part, everything becomes more balanced.”

“Oh … I think I get it. Man, I’m tired, though.”

“That’s because you’ve still got claws and fangs, there. Switch back.”

“Ah, right!” She closes her eyes again, holding her breath for a moment as she feels her senses return to how they are usually. When she opens them, she finds that the claws have reduced back to her regular nails. “That’s super weird.”

“It’s also a great skill to have once you can use it properly. A lot of werewolves used this when they fought in the war. Come on, you better sit down for a moment and drink something.”

She is happy to oblige. She slumps down onto the grass, feeling relief over being off her feet, and takes a bottle of water from Dezel to begin gulping it down. Once she has swallowed, she falls back on the grass with her arms behind her head, staring up at the clear sky above her.

“I’m happy I finally achieved something,” she admits. “I guess I was starting to worry that I don’t have the capability to do this after all.”

“How come?” Dezel asks, sitting down next to her. “I’ve always told you that you’ve had the talent for it. Even your willpower alone is a gift.”

“I know, I know. I guess seeing you and Sorey makes me feel like I’m not as talented as you guys. Sorey is only eighteen yet is already becoming one of the most powerful Alpha’s sons in a while, and then there’s you who has been able to do this for years …”

“There was … a lot of sacrifice for that, though.”

She blinks at him after turning her head around to look up at him. “Sacrifice? You’ve mentioned difficulties and hardships, but never sacrifice.”

He hesitates for a moment. “I guess I never really did tell you about that, huh?”

She sits up, attentive to his words. “Did something happen?”

“Well … when my parents were alive, they weren’t really the greatest of wolves. I mean, I’ve already told you that much. I’m glad we didn’t meet until after they died. I’d have hated you to have to deal with them, too.” His eyes continue to look at the distance, watching the water of a stream drift by gently. “They were always highly envious of the Shepherds for ruling for so long,” he continues. “So much so that even though they knew that they could never rule, they wanted me to somehow do so instead. And that caused them to start training me when I was only a young child.”

“Training … you don’t mean what we do now? What you’re doing with me?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

Rose is stunned. “But … but I’m seventeen. You said even that is pretty young.”

“It is. No child should have to go through the training and burdens that learning to transform at will brings. But my parents thought that if I could learn to train myself when I was young, I’d turn out to be an incredible wolf.”

“Well … I guess you are pretty incredible.”

The faintest of smiles reaches Dezel’s face, yet it is not long before it fades. “But that comes at a price. Those ordeals are awful on a pup’s body. Luckily, I was not affected in that many areas, but …”

“But what?”

“My eyes.” His voice has dropped in volume, almost as though he does not want to say this at all. He glances at her, colourless eyes peering through strands of brown hair. “I had so much pressure to harness the senses of a werewolf that my eyesight got worse over time. By the time they realised that they should give me chance to recover, that I really would lose my sight completely if I carried on the way I was, it was too late. I was blind by the time I was seven.”

“Oh God, Dezel,” Rose says quietly, eyes full of devastation and voice heavy with sympathy. “I’m so sorry.”

He merely shrugs. “It’s in the past now. No use dwelling on it.” Yet even with these words, Rose cannot help but feel as though there are missing pieces to the story, or he has at least not expressed how much this has affected him.

“I just … I never asked why you are blind, because I thought it wasn’t my place. I guess I always assumed that you were born blind, what with how great your hearing has always been …”

“I wish I had been. That way, at least I wouldn’t miss knowing what the world looks like.” He shakes his head, forcing his voice to return to normal. “But it’s fine. There’s no use getting sad over things which can’t be helped. All I care about is training you efficiently but safely so that nothing happens to you as well.”

“You know, Dezel, you really are kind deep down, aren’t you?”

“If that makes me kind, then your expectations of a decent person must be pretty low.”

Rose huffs, reaching over and giving him a small shove. “Just accept a compliment here and there, would you?”

He merely grins for a moment, before looking back out at the scenery. “Going back to you, anyway,” he says, clearly wishing to change the topic. “I don’t think it’ll be that long now before you’ve achieved it. Give it a few months and maybe you’ll be there well and truly.”

“Argh, I hope it’s by the summer!” she groans. “I wanna be able to enjoy the nights as wolves with you two!”

“It’s completely over exaggerated. Whatever Sorey tells you, trust me, it’s not as great as it seems. You get far too warm in that heat.”

“That’s still my goal regardless of what you say.”

“Well, it could be an achievable one, so feel free to have it. Just remember that not everything goes according to plan.”

“I know, I know.” She is silent for a moment, before adding, “Thank you, Dezel.”

“For what?”

“For all the help you’ve given me. I know we’ve been friends for ages and such, but you still didn’t have to do any of that. I could have just found a teacher like you did after your parents died. But I had the opportunity to train with one of my best friends instead, and that’s pretty awesome.”

“Things like these are always better with those you know you can trust. Of course I’d give you that if you could.” There is a pause before he smiles. “Still, you’re welcome. I’m glad that the help is appreciated.”

“Always is and always will be,” she grins. “Fancy staying here for a bit and leave work until tomorrow? We’ve been busy and quite frankly, I need a bit of a break.”

He chuckles. “I kind of agree with that,” he says, allowing himself to settle on his back on the grass, Rose soon following in his lead.

 


 

 

Over in Hyland, Mikleo finds himself in a similar predicament to Sorey. What with seeing the boy again and the discussions he and Alisha had with her parents, he felt as though things had been hectic as well, and now finds himself with time going by slowly for him, also. It is rather peaceful. Yet even if this is the case, he cannot help but not prefer it to before – or at least, when he was in the company of Sorey or Alisha, without anyone else.

He releases a small sigh, leaning back on his bed with a book without his eyes paying attention to the words. How he is missing he now she is not here. It had been such a long time since the two had spent so long together. But of course, she had to return home, reluctantly at that. It had been a wonderful night spent together, where both felt that little less lonely sleeping with another. But now, several days later, he finds that he longs for her to return again.

Or even Sorey. He feels ashamed to admit this to himself, but in this moment, he would even accept the company of someone who he should not really care for. ‘Accept isn’t the word,’ he finds himself thinking to himself. ‘That makes it feel like I’d be in his company reluctantly. But …’

He closes the book his eyes have not been reading, unsure of whether the anger he feels is directed at himself or the situation. Because who knows which it is, when the reasoning would be the same? By chance, the person he should not be friends with already seems to have similar interests to him, and is undeniably friendly and charismatic. Mikleo does not know if he is angry at this or how this is the opinion that he has grown.

It makes it difficult for him either way. If Sorey was unfriendly and rude, Mikleo would have dismissed him from his thoughts easily. But he isn’t. And now, Mikleo finds himself looking out of the window longingly once again, wondering if the upcoming weekend would be the day where he might once again see Sorey. He doubts that Selene and Sorey would visit the palace so soon; that really would arise suspicion. But maybe, just maybe, Sorey may just return to that river now he has said how he wants to be friends with Mikleo …

A knock on the door startles Mikleo out of his thoughts. He jumps, straightening up his body in a more welcoming fashion, before calling, “Come in!”

The door opens with a small creak. When it opens, he sees a small figure stepping inside; it is the young maid with her hair pulled into two ponytails. He smiles at her.

“Good afternoon. Symonne, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. I just have some clothes to be put away, if that’s all right with you.”

“Sure, go right ahead,” he says, gesturing to the walk-in wardrobe. Usually, he would tell maids and butlers to leave piles of clothing to one side, never minding to put them away himself. But he has never had much chance to see Symonne, and he wonders if this is a good moment to try and speak with her. She still intrigues him.

She is about to do so even more too, for when she opens the door to the wardrobe, she says, “If you want to ask me anything, feel free.”

Mikleo is stunned for a moment over how well she can read her. Yet he soon smiles despite how she cannot see it, getting to his feet in order to walk closer to her. She is now beginning to hang up one of his coats. He decides on simple honesty.

“Since you’ve started working here, I’ve been wondering about how you can seem so casual around me,” he says, watching as she reaches for another hanger. She looks at him for a moment, the corners of her mouth twitching into a small smile.

“You want me to treat you differently?” she asks, now hanging up a shirt. “Because I can start acting nervously like some of the others do if you’d rather that.”

“No – no, it’s great, actually. I’m just curious as to how you’re like that. I mean, everyone who starts working here is usually … well, afraid of me.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not exactly the frightening type.”

Rather than his previously small chuckle, he lets out a louder laugh. “No offence taken there. I agree. But you know how it is between workers for the royal family and their superiors, especially considering they’re …”

“Half-bloods? Yeah, I know. That kind of thing really doesn’t bother me. Besides,” she continues, stepping out of the wardrobe and shutting it closed after her, “you’re pretty similar to us, wouldn’t you say?”

His heart skips a beat, mostly because he is not used to anyone else seeing this but himself. “You haven’t been working here long, yet you still seem to know a fair bit about me.”

“I’m quite observant. Plus, I did do research before coming here.”

“Even for a maid position?”

“I wanted to know about who I was to work for. Families like yours interest me, anyway. I’ve researched the Lastonbell pack, too.” She gazes at him with a knowing look in her eye. “Perhaps you’d like to hear about that one of these days, what with how you seem to be getting along with the Alpha’s son and all.”

“W-Well, I guess we are. Maybe …”

She chuckles. “No need to be shy about that. You could say anything to me about him and I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. I mean, I’ve seen enough of you to know that you really could do with someone like him, even if he is a werewolf.”

“You’re definitely something.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” She begins to walk again, heading over to the door. “I should get going; I have other things to attend to. If you’ll excuse me, Prince.”

“Call me Mikleo, if you like,” he says. The words are the one thing which can cause her to hesitate for a moment. But she soon faces him, bearing him the largest and most genuine smile he has seen from her since the beginning of her time here.

“Mikleo it is, then. I’ll see you later.”

As he watches her open the door of his bedroom and leaves, he wonders to himself if this is the beginning of a friendship for them. Surprisingly enough, a friendship between a maid and a Prince would be much less shocking and far more acceptable than one with a werewolf. At least then he would seem humble rather than simply out of his mind.

 


 

Really, Mikleo has no idea what has come over him recently with a sense of rebellion. All he knows is that when the weekend approaches, he finds himself not trying to fake an excuse for being outside in his mind. It is not as though the excuses are not there. They always are, and always have been from the moment he first started wishing for freedom. But this time, he is not searching for those excuses, thinking over them repeatedly in his mind to convince himself that what he is doing is the best thing.

No. As he trots through the forest on Juliet, the sun just barely beginning to rise over Falkewin Hillside in the distance, it is because he simply wants to. He wonders what on Earth his family would say if they knew of this. They should possibly think about hiring more suspicious and careful security.

Still, he is glad that they have not. It is a much more pleasant morning than the one where he had last ventured out here, when Edna had been the one to find him. Though the early hour brings a chill along with it, the rising sun is already bringing hope of a bright day with its beautiful mixture of colours speckling the sky. A soft, warm glow is emitted on the world beneath it, and Mikleo finds himself truly feeling at peace when he reaches the clearing by the river.

It is a useful time for him. Vampires who dwell at night would likely be settling down to sleep by now or have already fallen into a slumber, whereas those who instead wander at daytime would still be sleeping. It is a quiet, undisturbed hour which gives him the confidence to guide Juliet to a cobblestone bridge leading over the river he visits each time. He does not plan to venture too far in case of travellers; his appearance is quite easy to spot, after all. But he can at least allow himself to venture this little bit further.

Doing so brings the award of finding nature he has not seen yet. His eyes follow where the river leads to, or rather, is flowing from; a gentle waterfall is located on this side of the river, falling over a set of hills surrounded by trees. By this body of water are a few bushes. Dots of colour can be spotted within the bushes leaves, and when Mikleo steps further, he inspects them. One bush has berries of a bright crimson, which to him look potentially dangerous. The other bushes, however, have what appear to be regular blackberries instead. He picks a handful and, to be certain, he raises it up to Juliet, who is watching from behind.

“Seem safe to you?” he questions, knowing that Juliet has the instincts between what food is dangerous and what is safe. She sniffs the berries before she immediately takes them from his hand with a snort, which causes him to laugh. “Safe it is, then.” Popping some of the berries into his own mouth, he sees that his thought of them being blackberries had indeed been correct.

This time, he has remembered to bring some blood with him. After Sorey’s unexpected visit with his mother, Mikleo has learned that something unexpected can always happen during his day, and it is best to avoid any moments like he had when the guests were at his home. A little reluctantly, he gulps down some of the blood before he eats some of the berries. It is a much pleasant way to have breakfast, he thinks. Part of him is wishing he had brought some bread with him as well.

Due to arriving here earlier than his usual, he can take his time to continue eating the berries, watching the stream as it drifts by, as well as the sky above him. Now they are truly in Spring, the morning sun rises much earlier, allowing him chance to watch each step of the sunrise. Feeling more relaxed than he has done so in some time, he allows himself to lean back on the grass, watching with a smile as Juliet laps up the water.

This smile is soon to fade, however, when Juliet rises her head suddenly. He can sense when she has become defensive. In a manner which is now similar to hers, he rises to his feet, listening out for what must have caught her attention. That is when he hears it; footsteps which can only belong to an animal are somewhere nearby, rustling the grass inside the forestry. Whatever the animal is, it must be huge.

He has never realised there are any potentially large predators in Hyland. Swallowing, his hand slowly reaches underneath the layering of his coat towards the belt hidden there. His fingers glide over the handle of a knife, ready to take it into his hand and defend himself. With the same intentions, Juliet has walked closer to him protectively, waiting for whatever the creature is to come bounding out of the forestry.

Yet nothing emerged. Puzzled, Mikleo does not allow himself to come out of his stance, yet he can feel his shoulders relax slightly when he finds he can no longer hear any footsteps. Or at least, this is the case for a few moments. New footsteps can be heard again, this time from a pair of boots. This does not make Mikleo any less defensive.

Though he almost lets out a groan when this person ends up walking out of the forest, looking a little surprised to see Mikleo there. “What are you doing here, Sorey?”

“Holiday weekend! Thought I’d come heading down this way again.” Yes, it is quite clear that he has. He is once again donned in his traveller’s cloak, with a bag thrown over his shoulder. Mikleo guesses that he has been staying somewhere nearby in the woods once again. Which reminds him …

“Well, you might want to be careful. I just heard something; maybe you startled it.” Mikleo’s eyes glance around. “Did you see anything?”

Sorey seems a little confused. “See what?”

“Like … an animal. It sounded pretty large.”

“Oh, that was probably me, sorry.”

Y-You?!” Mikleo had almost forgotten the same confusion he had felt in their first meeting. “But its not even nighttime, and the full moon isn’t for another couple of days, is it?”

“I’m guessing you don’t know about some of us, huh?” Sorey asks with a little amusement. He is now by Mikleo properly, who is looking at him with a mixture of wariness and curiosity. Mikleo shakes his head. “Well, some wolves are able to train themselves to transform at will. I’ve been able to do so for a few months.”

“So you can become a wolf … whenever you like?”

“That’s right!”

“You must be huge, from those footsteps I heard.”

Sorey laughs and scratches the back of his head, thinking it is perhaps best if he under-exaggerates the size rather than be truthful about how he is a third times the size of a regular wolf. “Yeah, it’s uh, pretty big.”

“I don’t get it, though. Don’t you guys get controlled by the moon? How can you fight against that?” Mikleo asks. He seems to realise moments later that his curiousness is showing through, and he clears his throat, shifting his eyes away for a moment. “I-I mean, I need to know more about you just so I know you’re not a threat.”

“Sure, sure,” Sorey grins, laughing at the pout which forms on Mikleo’s face from the obvious sarcasm. “All right, let’s sit down. We’ve got time to talk, haven’t we?”

“Um, yeah. But …” He does not know how to say it, but he’s actually a little anxious over the prospect. At least at Mikleo’s palace, he could have the excuse that Sorey was a guest exploring his home to back up their conversations. Here, there is nothing from him mounting Juliet – who is peering at Sorey with caution – and walking away. He has no reason to stay.

Yet Sorey settles himself on the grass by the river regardless, glancing up and asking, “What is there to lose?”

On one hand, there is everything when it comes to the long run. However, on the other, there is nothing in this moment. And so, though he acts as though he is doing so reluctantly, he settles down by Sorey, choosing to reach over to the blackberry bush to avoid eye contact for a moment.

“For a moment, I thought you were going to go for the Hyland Bittersweet berries.”

“The what?”

“These.” Sorey reaches past Mikleo to take hold of a branch of the bush filled with red berries. “Bright red berries like these are native everywhere. They’re called Bittersweet berries because apparently, they’re meant to taste nice, but they’d also make you drop dead instantly.”

“Well, I took it by the colour that they weren’t exactly safe. I’ll stick to these.” Mikleo pops one of the blackberries into his mouth. “So anyway, you’ve not explained about that transformation thing yet. How can you do that at will?”

“Ah, it’s kind of hard to explain when you don’t know much about us,” says Sorey. “But basically, the moon is very important to wolves. We swear on it, we use it in wedding vows; it holds a symbolism like … blood would for you, I guess? Most wolves can’t resist the pull of a full moon when its in the sky. And by most, I mean anyone who hasn’t trained themselves otherwise. That stage of the moon brings out our wolf side, causing those who can’t resist it to transform. It’s … pretty painful for a lot of people, but for others, it’s pretty normal.”

“And you’re someone who can resist it?”

Sorey nods. “It takes a lot of training with strength, focus and willpower. Not everyone can do it. Those who can transform at will basically control the moon by letting it control them. They can use it regardless of the lunar cycle, being able to use its power to transform at any time.”

“Sounds like you’re special, then.”

With a laugh, Sorey shakes his head. “Nah, not really. I did get the grasp of it easier than some others can, but that’s only because I have quite a bit of power due to the Alpha blood I have. I’d have struggled a lot more if I didn’t have that.” Sorey glances down at an extra few berries in Mikleo’s hand. “Is that all you’ve had to eat?”

“Huh?” Mikleo simply says for a moment, having not expected the sudden question. “Oh, yeah, it is.”

“Ah, that’s not much. Hold on …”

Mikleo watches as Sorey brings his bag closer to him. Moments later, he is pulling out a wrapped loaf of bread, which has already been sliced. One half is held out to Mikleo with a smile. “Here, take it. It’s home-made.”

Despite how this is just what he had been longing for before Sorey arrived, he is hesitant to take it. “Are you sure? You need food for your travels, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but I can hunt as well. I eat more meat than anything else because of being a werewolf and all.”

Mikleo is still a little hesitant, yet takes the slice eventually with mumbled gratitude. He takes a small bite of it, eyebrows rising as he chews and swallows. “It’s good.”

“Right?” says Sorey, smiling as Mikleo takes a larger bite. “I have a great baker at my home, I’ll have to get more for you one day. Anyway, I’m sorry if I ended up startling you when I was in my wolf form.”

“It’s fine,” Mikleo responds after swallowing a mouthful of bread. He glances at Sorey’s clothes. “Though I’m wondering how you look normal despite being a wolf not long ago. Or why you were transformed at all.”

“First answer is that we transform back to how we originally were before we were a wolf unless its for a prolonged time. The second is that I wanted to do some hunting, but then heard someone nearby.”

“Oh, I see …” Mikleo still has a few questions, but he would rather not bombard Sorey with them all at once, despite how he would not mind this at all. When Sorey realises that Mikleo will not be asking anything else, his eyes end up shifting to Juliet, who is leaning down to chew grass whilst also keeping an eye on Sorey.

“It doesn’t like me, does it?”

“I’m sure it’s not like that. She’s just protective of me.”

“What’s her name?”

“Juliet.” The horse’s ears twitch at the sound of her master saying her name, which both notice. This encourages Mikleo to call her over. “Come here, it’s all right.” She seems to understand the gesture of Mikleo’s hand, hooves sinking into the ground as he comes to closer to them both. Mikleo raises up his hand to stroke her head when she lowers it.

“You two seem really close.”

Mikleo glances at him. He is pleasantly surprised to see Sorey’s smile, for not everyone can understand the bonds between humans and animals. But Sorey does. Finding himself smiling back, Mikleo’s eyes fall back on Juliet. “We are. I was given her a few years ago for my birthday.”

Sorey watches as Juliet nudges Mikleo fondly with her head, as though she is rubbing against him affectionately. “That’s lovely. Hopefully she stops seeming so suspicious of me soon.”

“Well, I still feel a bit suspicious over you, so that might take a while.”

“Why are you still feeling that way about me?” Sorey asks. He is not hurt or the like by Mikleo feeling this way, or even disappointed. He simply finds himself wanting to whatever he has to in order to make Mikleo feel more comfortable around him.

Mikleo himself has to work out this answer. “Well, I’ve never really had someone say up front that they want to be friends with me. So to have a werewolf do that … I don’t know. I guess I’m not sure what to make of that.”

Sorey finds sadness washing over him as he remembers what his mother said about how she believes Mikleo must be very lonely. Sorey himself can see that the more he speaks to Mikleo. “All I can say really is that I really don’t have any other intentions,” he says. “Honest. I just want to be friends.”

For a moment, Mikleo’s teeth graze lightly over his bottom lip as he contemplates this. He is conflicted, telling himself that it would do more harm than good, that really, he and Sorey should stop seeing each other and that Mikleo should stop heading over this way in hopes of seeing him. But then there’s the conflicting emotions of how he wants to keep seeing him. Alisha brings him joy, and even Edna despite how he would never admit it, but Sorey brings something a little different. Hope, perhaps, that there truly is someone else who seems to share ideals similar to those that Mikleo has, yet is too afraid to say them aloud.

Mikleo decides on honesty. “I don’t know what I should do about that,” he admits. “Honestly, I never expected to meet a werewolf in my life. Yet here we are, meeting again without any plans to. I don’t know what to do about that.”

“What if I was a vampire, and we had arranged to meet here today?” Sorey questions, Mikleo looking at him out of the corner of his eye. “Would you be less confused about it then?”

“Of course I would.”

“Then I think you’ve answered it yourself. I mean … I know there’s risks to even just being acquaintances, but that’s only really because no one will do anything different. Maybe if we became friends, it’d send a different message across.” Sorey smiles at Mikleo, who is know looking at him properly. “You know, I’ve always wanted equality between the races. Even if things are better now than it used to be, I still don’t like how divided we are and how racist the world can still be. I want to do everything I can to change that.”

The words clearly leave Mikleo surprised. It is his own thoughts put into the words that he has never dared to say himself. That the world, despite its improvements, is still hugely flawed. And here, he has found someone who shares his views, his dreams. And Sorey is about to see that this is the same for him.

“I want that too,” Mikleo replies. “Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted everyone to be equal. It’s just been difficult because of … because of circumstances, and how I was raised to fear werewolves. But even with that I’ve wanted things to be different.”

Sorey’s eyes, which always seem to shine brightly, seem to do so even more from these words. He too is clearly surprised over meeting someone the same as him. “Then – then we can do something together!” he says excitedly, caught up in the joy that this has brought. “Imagine what two people of our position could do together.”

“It’s … it’s not that simple. At least not for me.”

“But how come?” Sorey asks. He sees Mikleo tense up from the question, causing Sorey to realise that this is likely a personal subject matter. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to do anything, I just got excited as … well, I’ve never met someone who has the exact same ideals as me. I guess I got hopeful from that.”

The words were not said to make Mikleo feel guilty, yet they bring guilt regardless of their intentions, as though he has brought up Sorey’s hopes only to bring them down again. He does not want to do that to Sorey. The two may not know each other well, but Mikleo can already see how the last thing he wants to do is upset the other, and it is clearly the same the other way around.

He realises that this brings him to a conclusion. He is afraid to come to it and to say it aloud, but somehow, he still manages to bring himself to say, “Even if I can’t do that, I … I think I do want to be friends.”

Sorey’s face lights up again, a grin quick to grow on his face. Even so, he still makes sure to ask, “You’re not just saying that because you don’t want to upset me or anything?”

Mikleo shakes his head. “No, I think we do get along. I just need to keep it a secret.”

“That’s fine with me. I was starting to think I was being pushy and you wouldn’t want to be friends at all.”

“Maybe you’ve been a bit pushy. But the last part isn’t true.”

Sorey laughs lightly, which causes a smile to return to Mikleo’s face. “Well, that’s good to hear, then. My dad has started letting me take trips like this when all my chores are done, so we can see each other fairly often if that’s what you’d want.”

“Yeah, it is,” Mikleo replies. “I’ll see what I can do.” He peers up at Juliet, who is watching Sorey. “Treat him nicely, okay?”

Sorey laughs. “I hope she does eventually.” His laughter is soon replaced with a sigh, his eyes inspecting the sky to see the positioning of the sun. “Though I do have to get going now. I’m supposed to be heading off to Elysia, and it’s quite the walk from here.”

“Elysia?” says Mikleo, his voice hinting to Sorey that he does in fact know about the serene village.

To confirm this, Sorey asks, “You know about it?”

Mikleo nods. “Vaguely. My friends have told me about it.”

“I’ll have to tell you more one day, and take you there if there’s any chance. It’s a great place, you’d love it.” Sorey gets to his feet, Mikleo doing the same and looking up at Sorey once he is standing. “I’ll see you again soon?”

“I hope so,” Mikleo says. Feeling a pang of sadness over this being the end of their third meeting, Mikleo returns the last smile Sorey gives him before both part on their separate ways. They turn when the distance between them is larger, giving each other a wave before they continue on. Neither had expected to obtain this friendship today, but it is definitely something that neither would complain about, either.

 


 

The journey to Elysia is one which will give Sorey more chance of bumping into people than he would in Glaivend Basin. Because of this, he decides that he will cross half the distance in his wolf form, then the rest as a human when he is in more populated areas. With how long it’ll take to not only get over the grassland, but also through the forestry and up the mountain too, it will take a fair amount of time even at a brisk walking pace. But at least the weather is in his favour. The sun is shining, bringing warmth to his body, yet there is also a breeze which will stop this heat from becoming stifling.

It is not as though there is nothing to keep his mind occupied, either. He cannot stop himself from smiling. He can tell that Mikleo’s acceptance with being friends is hardly anything large, yet; the two are not close, and the label of ‘friends’ seems to be more of a possibility that is to come rather than something they are now. But it is a start, and it’s certainly something greater than those few weeks ago, where Mikleo was afraid of the very presence of Sorey.

Sorey cannot help but wonder how Mikleo changed and what was the cause of it. Perhaps rather than having some sort of deep meaning, it is simply because the more they have been together, the less that Sorey appears as a threat. The two did end up spending hours together the day that Sorey visited Marlind’s palace. That alone is something which can help bring down walls.

And maybe if he was a little older, he too would be more afraid of the possibility of friendship. But Sorey is young, just barely an adult; Mikleo seems the same, and also appears to be more wary than old enough to truly understand the dangers. Both are mature, yet not in the sense of experience with the world. A secret friendship excites Sorey more than it does frighten him. Which, he may realise someday, is not a positive thing.

Unbeknownst to this, Sorey remains cheerful as he treks through Hyland. A fair bit of time had passed whilst he was with Mikleo, and it is now an acceptable hour for carriages to pass by, as well as the odd other traveller by foot, appearing to heading from Ladylake to Marlind, or vice versa. Though Sorey hesitates a little once he is outside Ladylake, curious about if the capitol is as marvellous on the inside than it is out here, he still passes by with Elysia now replacing the thought of Mikleo in his mind.

He is not heading there for any particular reason. Though he has been told he is always welcome there, he has also not been given a specific invitation for today. However, considering he had wanted to travel over to Hyland anyway, he thought that he might as well take some time to head up to Elysia. He needs to return home by tomorrow, but as long as he gets up early the next day, he’ll be home on time.

After some time, he reaches the foot of the mountain in which Elysia is situation. There is no one there to guide him. However, one thing he can definitely pride himself in is having a keen memory when it comes to visiting places. He gives credit to his travels over the years for that.

Even with this, he faces a little trouble with tackling the twists of turns of the forest. But there is luckily one thing that is able to make him think back fairly easily; the jokes between him and his mother, the latter acting as though she had known the place perfectly yet got them lost. Focusing hard enough, he can vaguely remember the directions they took after getting lost like this, and is able to navigate his way through the forest eventually.

A sigh of relief escapes him as the forest becomes brighter. A couple of minutes later, he emerges from its trees, the sun cast down on him from the sky which is as clear as it had been last time he was here. Even though he has seen it once before, the scenery does not fail to once again captivate him, and he is filled with awe as he walks by it towards the village’s gates.

As he walks this way, he ends up spotting a figure, who is bent over a shape on the ground. When Sorey gets closer, a smile breaks out on his face. He recognises the red hair even after only seeing it once. The sun highlights the strands, tinting them pink, and the man’s shadow casts on a deceased wild boar Sorey guesses he has hunted.

“Hey, Mason!” Sorey calls to him. He looks up, grinning once he meets Sorey’s eyes and gives him a wave.

“What a nice surprise! I didn’t expect you to come out here.” Mason scoops up the body of the animal underneath his arm, straining a little from its weight. “I’m just about to head back into the village and get this ready for a bunch of kids.”

“Want me to help you carry it?” Sorey asks as the two begin to walk, noticing how Mason’s voice is becoming a little breathless, as well as a pink tint reaching his face. Mason declines the offer, however.

“Nah, I’ve carried worst. Keeps me young, I bet. So what brings you out here?”

“I wanted to come visit Hyland again, so I thought it’d be nice to drop by here, too.”

“Ah, great! Might be a good day to introduce you to more of the Alliance, then. Did Zenrus explain all that to you?”

“Yeah, he did!”

“I thought as much. It’s a lot to take in, but there’s no harm in learning things over time. I can already tell we’re going to see great things from you.”

The two are soon heading into Elysia. They make a brief stop by Mason’s house in order to drop off the wild boar; his partner, Natalie, offers to help to clean it and prepare it in order to give time for Mason to give Sorey more of a rundown about the village’s Alliance.

“Zenrus would probably be your best bet in learning more about it, but he’s away at the moment.”

“Oh, where is he?” Sorey asks.

“He’s taken a trip into Hyland in order to visit the Diphdas. He’s quite renowned, you see, even if he lives in such a small village. Thankfully the old man has the sense to actually use a carriage now to not strain himself too much … there’s Lailah though!”

Sorey can remember the woman’s long, flowing hair and gentle, welcoming voice. “She’s not gone with him?”

“Ah, no. Lailah doesn’t particularly … get along with the Diphdas anymore, after some conflict between them.”

His eyebrows raise over this mention of conflict, especially with how much of a good person Lailah appears to be. He decides it’s likely a personal question to ask, however, especially with how he has not known Lailah for long at all, and remains silent as the two continue to trek through the village.

Lailah’s house is located close to Zenrus’. Mason raises a fist to knock on the door, which is opened moments later by Lailah. She beams at them, most particularly Sorey, who she is clearly surprised to see.

“Oh, hello! I didn’t expect to see you today. Please, do come in.”

The interior of Lailah’s home is rather different to Zenrus’. It seems as though Lailah is very fond of warm colours; her carpets and furniture consist of many reds and oranges, only they are rather subtle, much like that of a sunset. It is definitely a small yet welcoming home.

“Can I get either of you anything?” she asks once they are inside, Mason and Sorey guided to two armchairs. Both shake their heads.

“I was wondering if you could give Sorey a bit more information on who exactly is in the Alliance,” Mason explains. “Being as you are much better at that than I.”

“Oh no, I’m not like that at all. But I’m more than happy to help. If you give me a second, I have the members documented …”

“Documented?” Sorey repeats once Lailah leaves the room. Mason nods.

“We don’t need to do it as much anymore. But during the time of war, we … well, we had to keep track because of so many deaths. I guess its kept in tradition to keep track of memories.”

“I see …” Sorey says, feeling crestfallen over this reasoning. Luckily, he is kept from dwelling on it for long; Lailah is soon returning to the room with a book in her hands. She places it down onto a coffee table and sits down onto the third armchair, turning the book around to face the other two.

“This is basically a record of each person,” Lailah explains, pressing the tip of her finger down on the word ‘Vampires’. “Most of the villagers are in this book. Each race is split into different lists.”

“Is there any reason for that?” Sorey asks, Lailah nodding in response.

“When there were less of us, it was easier to keep track of those who were … well, who passed away. Nowadays it helps us to know who can focus on what. After all, it is normal that a vampire is best for coming up for solutions in regards to their own kind, for example.”

“Ah, I get that,” says Sorey. He turns over the page when he sees that the names continue, though for not much further. His eyes have fell on the last remaining list.

 

Humans

Edward Black

Mason Gastrell

Kyme Nhesu

Leonardo Reid

Michelle Reid

Margaret White

 

“Wait, why are there so little humans?” Sorey asks, peering up from the book. “There’s around a hundred villagers, isn’t there?”

“That’s right,” Lailah nods. “But unfortunately, not many humans have the confidence to live in a place which has a higher population of werewolves and vampires. We, after all, were the ones who created this village.”

“But Pendrago … that’s a place where many humans live, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but only because the city’s population itself is high, thus the percentage of humans being higher too. Humans are not given the same kind of gifts as we have. They only tend to feel safe when there is many of them.”

“I see …” Sorey looks back down at the tiny list of human names. “I guess these must be brave, then.”

Lailah nods, her smile returned. “Yes, definitely. The Reids in particular have been a great help to us, and bless Margaret, she’s only a child.”

“Where are her parents?”

“They’ve passed away,” says Mason when Lailah hesitates, both looking pained. “Margaret was bullied a lot for being an orphan. We were more than happy to take her in.”

“Poor thing,” Sorey responds sadly. “I could never imagine growing up without my parents.”

“She’s a very strong child, and she copes very well. Michelle and Leonardo, however, are trying for a baby, so I hope that those two will get along well.” He raises his head, as do Sorey and Lailah, as there is a knock on the door. “Were you expecting anyone, Lailah?”

“It must be Zenrus. He left to see the King and Queen very early considering they tend to dwell at night more.” Lailah gets to her feet, reaching for the front door to open it. There stands the man she expected. Sorey is a little surprised by the tone he is soon speaking in; he was greatly calm and gentle during their last meeting, after all.

“Good morning, Lailah. May I come in?”

“Of course, of course … did something happen?”

“Those two Diphdas … I swear that no two like those should be –” Zenrus speech stops abruptly when he notices that Sorey is there. A smile reaches his face regardless of his frustration. “Sorey, what a pleasant surprise.”

“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting anything,” he says, hurrying to get out of his seat in order to offer it to Zenrus.

“Thank you, my back’s fairly sore after that ride … and no, do not apologise, this is something that I don’t mind you hearing. And good morning to you, Mason.”

“Morning. Glad you accepted that you’re an old man and took a carriage.”

Zenrus ignores this statement. “I have no idea where the Diphdas minds are,” he says, letting out a sigh. “I thought that Amara may have lead Finuw in the right direction, what with her background. But he has seemed to influence her.”

“What is wrong with them?” asks Sorey.

“Many things, Sorey. There are many great things about them too, do not misunderstand me. But there is no denying that their position gets a little … to their heads, I would say. It seems as though they’re pressuring their daughter a lot, too. The poor girl seems to be in such a stressed state.”

“Young Alisha Diphda?” says Lailah, sounding worried. “Oh dear … I was wondering when being the princess would bring her down eventually.”

Sorey’s mind goes to Mikleo before he can stop it. “Is being in this position as a vampire really so awful?”

“Unfortunately so,” says Mason. “It’s much more similar to humans than werewolves, only even worse because of the power they hold. A lot of families are very strict, throwing lots of responsibilities on their children while they’re still young.”

“One of the most upsetting parts is that it’s not always the parents’ fault,” Lailah continues. “It is simply how the royal families are accustomed to living. They lived with harshness, and so expect their children to do the same … it’s an ongoing cycle with no end. Royal vampires among families are the one thing which needs progression.”

Zenrus nods in agreement. “It is one thing we would love to help, but we do not have that kind of power. I swear that the Diphdas are only fine to see me because of my reputation; they would rather not hear any lectures off me. I tried to mention that marrying off their daughter at age eighteen is far too soon –”

“She’s expected to get married?” Sorey blurts out before he can stop himself. Zenrus does not seem to mind, however, and likely expected it. This news seems new to Mason and Lailah, too.

“How come we haven’t heard of this?” the latter questions.

“It seems as though they are keeping it quiet until closer to the day. I did not even hear who she is supposed to be marrying. Probably a Prince from another continent. It’s no wonder she is so stressed.”

“I could never imagine being in that position,” says Sorey. “I mean, I know that mom and dad want me to get married, but they’d never force it on me like this.”

“That’s because werewolves belong in packs, not in kingdoms,” says Mason. “All of you are family regardless of blood or those signed certificates. Vampires, on the other hand … Well, you might not even see those of the same blood as you as family.”

A silence falls after these words. Sorey spends this time thinking of the girl and her distress, wondering how on Earth she can cope, how strong she must be for still standing. And Mikleo … does he face a similar fate to this? Is that why there is always sadness hiding deep in those violet eyes? If only Sorey could know this. That way, he would not feel as powerless as he does sitting here right now, speaking of dreadful matters yet being unable to do anything about them.

Lailah, however, is soon to break this silence with a smile on her face. “Let’s leave this aside during Sorey’s visit, he can’t be here for long. Tea, anyone?”

The others agree, but even as the delicious liquid is brought up to Sorey’s lips minutes later, the thoughts of what he wants to do has not left his mind. The truth about the lives of others is something he will never forget about. And that, if he wants to truly change the world like his dreams express, is something he definitely does not want to be forgetting.

Chapter Text

With panted breaths, Mikleo grips onto the sword in between his hands tighter, the tip of its blade pressed against the concrete floor of the training room. He brings his body up straighter, his eyes meeting the green hue of Sergei’s, who is positioning himself ready for another strike.

One hand releases from the handle of Mikleo’s sword in order to wipe beads of sweat away from his forehead. The instant that he has done so, he leaps forward; the movement is done so swiftly that even one as skilled as Sergei is a little late in guarding the attack, causing him to stumble as he defends with his sword. He corrects himself by stepping backwards, sword posed to strike with a grin on his face and pride for his student expressed through his eyes.

With his speed being his greatest weapon in combat up close like this, Mikleo has been working hard in order to use this to his advantage as much as possible. This advice had been given to him by Sergei. Whilst his physical strength is not poor, there is no denying that one with a build similar to Sergei could easily overpower Mikleo in regards to it. And so, even if all aspects of a fight should be trained, their main focus is to improve Mikleo’s best qualities further.

He stands lightly on the balls of his feet as he sidesteps around Sergei. His blade slashes towards him, cautiously in case there is any chance of hurting him, but this is Sergei; the man can only match Mikleo’s speed by turning his body, but it is enough to hold his sword diagonally in front of him and block the incoming attack.

His instincts are another quality which Mikleo is looking to improve, too. Rather than panic over the attack being blocked, his brain instead reacts by immediately thinking of his next move. His leg swings out by Sergei’s legs to bring him to the floor.

A surge of excitement goes through Mikleo as he thinks that perhaps this would be the day in which he has victory. Yet Sergei’s own instincts are not to be taken lightly, either; as Mikleo tenses his arms and is about to attack, Sergei rolls out of the way of the blade and brings himself up so that his shoulder digs into Mikleo’s stomach. Winded, Mikleo gasps for air and cannot stop an arm from reaching to his stomach. By then, the blade of Sergei’s sword is swung down to the back of his neck, stopping short of it with ease.

“You were closer today!” Sergei exclaims enthusiastically, bringing his sword away from Mikleo and into the holster resting on his hip. “You wouldn’t be able to guess that I wasn’t training a soldier for the army.”

“I still have yet to beat you,” Mikleo responds, his voice still a little slow and breathless from when Sergei had winded him. “One day, right?”

“Right! You’ve improved drastically over the course of a few months. I can even see improvement from two weeks ago.”

A fortnight. The last time the two had met for one of these sessions, before Sergei had to take a week off for himself after his heavy workload. That day had also been the giver of another event; the blossoming of a friendship, or at very least the possibility, of that with Sorey.

“Sometimes I do feel like I’m not making much progress,” Mikleo admits, taking his thoughts back to the present. “So that’s a huge relief to hear. Thank you.”

“It’s hard to see progression considering its not right in front of your eyes. But I’ve been training people long enough to see it for myself, and surely you can also look back and see the difference in yourself?”

Mikleo thinks of the times his stamina had let him down much faster than it does nowadays, the ways his muscles used to ache quicker and not to mention the very first times of training, in which he had rather embarrassed himself and prefers not to think of it. The fact that he is thinking back like this must show on his face, for Sergei is giving him a knowing smile.

“See? As much as I hope that the day you wield that sword for real never comes, it is a huge privilege as a knight to see such incredible improvement, especially as you started with no knowledge of that.”

“It really is thanks to you that I was able to come this far. You’ve been a wonderful mentor.”

“And you’ve been a wonderful student. Not all of the credit goes to me! Most of that belongs to you.” Sergei gestures over his shoulder to the seating in the room. “Come, sit down for a while. I can tell that this has exhausted you.”

Mikleo nods, deciding against denying this statement. He and Sergei take a seat next to each other, Mikleo thanking the other when a glass of water is handed to him. Suddenly parched, he gulps it down fairly quickly, appreciating how wonderful it feels to have the coldness easing the heightened temperature of his body. He places the empty glass down by his side once he has finished.

“Don’t you have to be heading back to Rolance soon?” he asks when he notices the time, seeing that Sergei has been here for a few hours already.

“Before long, yes. But luckily it’s not all that hectic there at the moment. I’m surprised considering I just had a week off, I thought everything would be in chaos!”

Mikleo smiles. He knows how busy Sergei’s life can be, so any sign that life is treating him with that little bit more ease is a relief. “That’s great to hear. Did you do anything whilst you were taking a break?”

“Mostly just relaxing, if I’m honest, as my work does tend to take me everywhere … Took some time to spend some time with my brother, which was great!”

“I never knew you had a brother,” says Mikleo, a little surprised. “What’s his name?”

“Boris. He’s my younger twin brother. I might only be minutes older than him, but let me tell you, I definitely use that to my advantage.”

Mikleo laughs. “I can’t say I’m surprised at that.”

“We do get along very well, though. Our duties often get in the way of us spending time together leisurely, so last week was a gift for us both.” Sergei is quiet for a moment as he smiles over the memories, before his eyes widen a little, as though a thought has just arrived to him. “Oh, what is this I’ve heard about you and young Sorey Shepherd?”

Unsure of whether to panic or not, Mikleo asks slowly, “You’ve … heard of this?”

“No more than anyone else in Pendrago has. Don’t worry, there is no bad news or anything!” he adds hurriedly when Mikleo’s eyes widen. “There’s just been word that he has visited your palace along with his mother. I think it has been on everyone’s mind that the two of you met.”

“Oh, I see,” says Mikleo, feeling immediate relief. It is natural that something like this would happen, with concern mostly arriving over the thought of how someone might have somehow learned about their secret meetings. Feeling a little silly over this panic, he continues with, “Yes, his mother had business to attend to with mine, and he came along with her as both were in the area.”

“The two of you did meet, then?”

Mikleo nods slowly. “Only as, uh, acquaintances and the like.”

To his surprise, Sergei looks a little disappointed. “Ah … I’ve met Sorey as well, and with his personality, I thought the two of you would have made rather good friends. I suppose that’s more difficult with your races, though.”

Mikleo thinks about Sergei’s own race, how humans are strangely the most accepting of the three and are much more likely to become friends with those who are not their own kind. Being in between the races of werewolves and vampires seems to have its benefits, and it has clearly given Sergei the hope that Mikleo and Sorey could potentially have this bond as well.

Just as Mikleo begins to both admire this hope and feel a little upset from it, his mind goes to another thing that Sergei had said. “Wait, you’ve met Sorey, too?”

Sergei seems surprised to be asked this, as though the answer is clear. “Why, of course I have! I’ve visited Lastonbell a few times and goodness, that boy does sure get around Rolance. We’ve crossed paths a few times. I’ve even given him a quick few sessions with a sword.”

“Is he any good with that?” Mikleo finds himself asking.

“I’d say. He seems to have as much natural inclination to that as you do with a bow and arrow.”

A strange feeling of competitiveness arises in Mikleo. “He didn’t mention that to me, so I guess I didn’t have any clue.”

“Well, it’s not as common for werewolves to wield weapons as us humans and vampires anyway. They have their wolf side, don’t they? And it gives them a fair bit of power. Only some know how to properly access it, though.”

Mikleo thinks back to what Sorey said about being able to transform at will, wondering if that came into this. There are many, many questions that he wants to ask Sorey, yet with already two weeks passing with not as much of a single word exchanged between the two of them, he is not sure how he will find any time at all to ask. He’s not even sure if he should be asking when he is still not one-hundred percent certain about whether or not the two will be friends.

“You seem to know a fair bit about werewolves,” Mikleo says eventually. Sergei smiles and nods.

“It’s a normal thing for residents in equal cities, but I personally do a lot of research into vampires and werewolves even with that. I like to be knowledgeable about those around me.” Sergei’s eyes flicker to the clock on the wall, and he lets out a rather deep sigh. “It’s been a while since we chatted normally like this, hasn’t it? But it’s a long journey back, especially as I need to stop by Ladylake …”

“Oh, you’re dropping by there?”

“Yes, I have some questions for Lady Maltran about whether or not she may want to assist me in some spear wielding lessons. She’s a great fighter, after all!” Mikleo certainly agrees with this; though Alisha’s talent was gained through her hard work and determination, much of the credit is also due for Maltran, who taught Alisha everything she knows. “So I’d best be going, then,” Sergei continues, getting to his feet and offering a hand to Mikleo to help him get to his feet. “I’ll be seeing you next week, though!”

Mikleo leads Sergei to the foyer of the palace. As soon as the man has left, loneliness is quick to creep back. Perhaps it might have not been so awful if he’s given a better idea on when he might hear from Sorey again, but this uncertainty is making him wonder when he may find that joy again.

He shakes his head mentally, turning around in order to return back to the training room, where he hopes to fit in more practice. ‘I need to stop thinking of him like that’, he thinks to himself as he walks, ashamed at himself for letting his thoughts turn to Sorey this frequently. ‘Saying about possible friendship is one thing, but to actually miss him …’

The only person he ever recalls truly missing is Alisha. Edna visits the palace daily and he usually sees his mother everyday as well. But Alisha is understandable; she is his childhood friend, the one who has been with him through everything. To start missing someone he has only known for a little over a month is another thing entirely, and something he does not understand at all.

“Idiot,” he mutters under his breath as he opens the door to the training room, as though the blame is on Sorey himself for making Mikleo be this way. If he simply wasn’t so wonderfully cheerful all the time, maybe Mikleo would care a lot less about whether or not they see each other.

He finds himself caring soon after, however. As soon as he steps into the training room, he turns at the sound of someone behind him. His eyes fall down on Edna, donned in her usual black, girlish attire, who is looking a little irritated.

“Look at this,” she says bluntly, holding out a piece of paper to him.

“Nice to see you, too.” However, as his eyes look down at the paper and widen, he can see why she has been so blunt.

 

I couldn’t chance this being sent to ‘him’ directly. I think the mail might be intervened if I did.

^ Is what my idiot of a friend told me to put. He told me he wants uh, YOUR friend to go meet him in the second weekend of April at you-know-where. His words.

 

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.” Edna’s voice drops. “Clearly, your new friend used one of his friends to sent a letter to me in hopes it would reach you.”

Mikleo cannot help it. He bursts into a fit of laughter which causes Edna to stare at him in surprise. This is the first time she has heard him laugh so genuinely for as long as she can remember, and to say that it has taken her aback would be an understatement.

“How did they even know where to send it?” he manages to say once he has gotten his breath back.

“I work with a lot of people, so it doesn’t take much to find out one of the addresses I’m at. But that’s not the question here – you’ve reached the point of contacting each other?”

“This … this is the first time. And would be our, uh, fourth time seeing each other.”

“Fourth … but that would mean …” Edna lets out a sigh. “Mikleo, I hope you’re not being stupid with this.”

“I’m not! We’re not even properly friends, I don’t think. Maybe. I just …”

“Well, he must at least see you as such if he’s going through such lengths to see you again. And you must be in denial, because I’ve not seen you like this in a long time. Or, well, ever.”

“I’m not in denial about anything,” he mutters. “It’s just nice seeing someone … someone like him. I guess.”

Edna rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Do what makes you happy. But just know that doing something like this in secret can backfire on both of you like crazy.”

Even with these words, once Edna has walked away, Mikleo finds himself looking down at the note once again with a smile on his face. The uncertainty he had felt just a little while ago suddenly feels as though it has long been forgotten.

 


 

 

The weekend cannot arrive fast enough. Much to his annoyance, Mikleo had been given the letter early on in the week, so has a fair few days of waiting. He dislikes himself for allowing excitement to build in this time considering he should not be excited over seeing Sorey, but at the same time, he cannot lie to himself that he is feeling this way.

He had momentarily been thinking about how Sorey had not specified which day on the weekend he wants Mikleo to meet him. But he soon came to the conclusion that Sorey might be travelling for the entirety of the weekend and so will be there on both days. Of course, because he has no reason to give himself an extra day to wait, he decides to head out as early as last time on Saturday morning in hopes of catching Sorey by the river.

Deep down, he is as concerned as Edna in regards to these meetings. Leaving without permission only to meet with a werewolf is the last thing he would have ever expected himself to do. But if this is the one thing that can cause him possible happiness, the one thing which can drive away the loneliness that engulfs him, then so be it.

Or at least, that’s what the bravest part of him says. The rest of him is still thinking all of the this is the worst idea he has ever come up with.

Even if it is, he begins to quietly head through the palace on early Saturday morning, more grateful than ever that his parents not only sleep in a room which is not next to his, but also changed their sleeping schedules so they are not awake at this time. In fact, when he is awake this early, the only people he is likely to come across is the odd servant or one of the palace’s guards. The latter are used to Mikleo’s restrictions as well as his hobbies, so only give him a curt nod when they see him rather than believe he is on his way to sneak out of the grounds.

Honestly,’ he thinks to himself once he is outside. The sky is still dark, yet is now fading into blue rather than a jet black. ‘You’d think that they’d have guards all around the palace, not just the gates.’

Yet with no events they know of with Mikleo sneaking out without permission or people sneaking in, they feel no need to guard anywhere around here. Mikleo is easily able to head over to the stables without being seen. As though she has almost been waiting for him, Juliet is already awake and is drinking water. He smiles at her, taking time to stroke her head before equipping her with riding gear.

Journeying through the forest at this time is wonderfully peaceful. Due to this and leaving early, he finds himself riding slower than usual to appreciate his surroundings and the sky above him. It has lightened further with the steady arrival of morning sunshine, and Mikleo’s eyes drop once he takes this in. A smile reaches his face on his face upon doing so. For without even realising, he has reached the clearing, and sees an unmistakeable figure crouched down by the river in order to gather water.

The sound of Juliet’s hooves causes him to turn his head around, a smile immediately being given back. Rather than the friendly greeting that Mikleo expected, however, Sorey instead says, “I’m surprised you can get on her at all.”

Mikleo huffs as he dismounts her, patting her neck after doing so. “Carry on like that and I’m heading straight back.”

Sorey laughs, now getting to his feet. “All right, I’m sorry. It’s good to see you. Did you get the note, or was this another ‘fate somehow keeps bringing us together’ moment?”

“I got it, yes. It was … unexpected.”

“And let me guess, a stupid idea?”

“Yes.”

“Well … I thought you might have gotten worried about not seeing or hearing from me, even though I was just busy. So I got my friend Rose to send that to you.”

“You’re unbelievable. But still …”

Sorey’s smile turns into something more tantamount to a smirk. “It made you happy to see it, right?”

Mikleo rolls his eyes and chooses not to answer. Instead, he inspects Sorey’s appearance properly. He is wearing his usual attire of a tartan shirt, baggy trousers, boots and the traveller’s cloak thrown over his shoulders. But there is one difference this time around; a bow is resting against his back with its string pressed against his torso.

“Why do you have that with you?” Mikleo asks curiously.

“Oh, this?” says Sorey, pointing to the bow. “I decided to bring something different to hunt with for once.” His eyes light up with the sign of an idea coming to him. “Hey, I’ve not had breakfast yet. Want me to teach you how to hunt?”

“Who says I don’t know how to already do it? You know I can wield weapons already.”

“Yes, but something tells me that elegantly dressed princes don’t tend to go into the woods to hunt for their meals,” Sorey responds, a slight hint of teasing in his tone.

“And someone equivalent in my position of power does?”

“Uh-huh, at least a few times a week.”

“Even though you probably live in a manor or something?”

“Look, nothing beats fresh food, especially for us werewolves! Come on, pleeease?”

Mikleo sighs over the pleading look in Sorey’s eyes and the hopeful grin on his face. “Oh, fine. But you better not get blood on my clothes.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Will Juliet be fine?”

Mikleo faces her, watching as she continues to happily lap up the fresh water of the lake, and nods his head. “She’ll be able to find me if she needs to. So where are we going?”

“Into the forest. Rabbits are everywhere as long as you listen out for it. Have you ever had it?”

“In a stew a few times.”

“Then let’s go find them!”

Sorey’s usual way of walking maintains up until they are in the forest. As soon as they are inside, Mikleo is a little taken aback over how quickly his stance changes, with his back hunched over and his knees bent. Sorey’s footsteps are usually heavier than Mikleo’s, but now the latter is completely aware that the clicking of his heels is even more obvious than Sorey’s when he is in this stance. Mikleo is soon to mimic it, however, his steps becoming much quieter.

“Hear that?” Sorey questions a minute later. Mikleo shakes his head, only able to hear the gentle rustling of leaves above their heads.

“No.”

“Must be my heightened hearing, then. You’ll hear it in a minute.”

Thoroughly impressed but not stating this aloud, Mikleo remains silent as he follows Sorey. Eventually, he both hears and sees what Sorey had spotted; a rabbit chewing on some grass all on its own, unaware of the two people watching it.

“You want to shoot them through the eye,” says Sorey, reaching carefully for his bow and steadily placing an arrow into it. “It’s an instant death for them and is the cleanest way to do it. Watch.”

Mikleo does so in fascination, eyes averting between the intense, focused expression on Sorey’s face and the unaware rabbit. He jumps a little when the arrow is suddenly released. Like Sorey had said, the arrow shoots the rabbit straight in the eye, making it drop to the floor instantly.

“There. Best to get it like that! Now, that won’t be big enough for the two of us, so …” Sorey holds out the bow and an arrow to Mikleo with a grin. “Here, you get the next one.”

Mikleo hesitates only slightly when taking them into his hands. As he takes a moment to feel the difference between the bow and his own, as well as inspect the arrow he has also been given, Sorey removes the other arrow from the rabbit and hides it away inside a pouch. Mikleo is fairly glad he did not see the rabbit up close whilst deceased.

“Right, that wasn’t too loud, but we should still head that way just in case,” says Sorey as he returns to Mikleo’s side, who nods. This time, however, Mikleo is given the lead with Sorey guiding him with his hearing. They trek for a minute until a hand on Mikleo’s shoulder from behind brings him to a stop. Sorey’s finger gestures to their left, Mikleo immediately heading in this direction.

His eyes soon land on another rabbit. It seems a little more alert than the last, yet is still unaware of the pair and is a little far from them.

“Right, remember to aim for the eye,” Sorey says, Mikleo getting an arrow to place into the string. He sounds a little excited even in his quiet voice as Mikleo does this. “You can definitely tell you’ve practised with one of these.”

“I’ll take it as a compliment.” Mikleo brings up the bow, eyes focusing as he aims it towards the rabbit. He breathes out to calm the nerves of having someone less familiar watching him. He would much prefer to not mess this up in front of him, even though he would be bound to understand.

Just imagine you’re in the training room with Sergei,’ he thinks to himself. The thought does well to make him feel more relaxed, yet there is another problem which is causing him to hesitate. Sorey looks at him curiously, unsure of what is causing this.

“Is everything okay? Why aren’t you shooting?” Mikleo mumbles something which Sorey cannot quite pick up. “Sorry, what was that?”

“I said it’s cute,” Mikleo repeats, managing to somehow snap in a quiet voice. He glares as Sorey has to stifle his laughter behind his hands. “Well, I’m so sorry for not wanting to murder a poor rabbit.”

“You’d be hopeless in the times where you would have to do this for survival.”

“I mean, it’d obviously be different back then. But I don’t have to kill it now, so I’m hesitating.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I just think hunting’s a useful skill to have. You never know when you might need it.”

As someone who feels like a prisoner in his own home, Mikleo cannot possibly come up with a scenario in which he would have to hunt in order to survive. But regardless of this, he can also see truth within Sorey’s words. It also seems somewhat of a shame to confine his polished skills with archery to merely some targets indoors. Here, he has the chance to test them out for real.

“No, I’m doing it,” Mikleo says eventually. He brings the arrow up a little higher, focusing his sight on the rabbit’s head, more specifically its eye as soon as its head has turned, ears catching the sound of something in the distance. With his mind thinking nothing of this target, he releases the arrow, surprising even himself as the arrow meets the rabbit’s eye perfectly. Sorey gives a whoop and claps Mikleo on the shoulder.

“Wow! You wouldn’t expect that was your first time!”

“Well, technically it isn’t if you count shooting itself. But yeah, that’s the first time I’ve hunted an animal.” He looks at it a little guiltily. “That … that would have killed it straight away, right?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about that. You’re such a sweet soul, you know.”

“H-Hardly,” Mikleo mutters, turning his head away. “Go pick it up. I’m not doing that part.”

Sorey lets out a laugh. “I think we can tell who the prince is, here,” he says, his grin growing as Mikleo once again glares at him. He goes over to pick up the rabbit and hide it away, his grin softening into a smile as he turns once again and asks, “Shall we go cook this, then?”

Mikleo agrees, and together, the two head back through the forest towards the clearing by the river, where Juliet is likely wondering where the two have gotten to.

 


 

 

The sunrise has properly arrived by the time the two are settling down in front of a fire. Mikleo had watched in astonishment as Sorey showed him how to set a fire with merely keys. Sorey chuckled fondly when Mikleo could not quite grasp being able to set off a spark himself, explaining that it does take a lot of practice, and even with it, some people just cannot get the hang of it.

The guilt over killing the rabbit washes away once the meat is being cooked thoroughly. Though his kind is not as carnivorous as werewolves, due to his diet consisting of animal blood rather than humans’, its normal for him to feel a pull towards animals and their meat. Had Mikleo been a human, he would likely not eat meat at all.

It is satisfying to cook food this way. Mikleo has never quite cooked much himself, mostly sticking to baking when he has spare time and is in the mood for it. Sorey smiles as he sees Mikleo watching his movements closely, the way he turns the rabbits over the fire on two sticks. Occasionally, Mikleo’s eyes shift to Sorey’s face, but look away as soon as eye contact is made. It’s a little difficult being as there is something unusually captivating by the way the glow of the fire is reflected on Sorey’s face. Much against his awareness, Sorey feels similar to Mikleo as well, yet puts his focus on cooking their food properly.

“I hope that you’re not going to give me food poisoning,” Mikleo says as he takes one of the sticks away from Sorey.

“Nah, I’ve done this loads of times!”

“And I just eat it off this?” Mikleo asks as he inspects the stick with a small frown. Sorey tries to hold back a chuckle; whilst Mikleo may not always have it be clear that he’s of royalty, the way he has been brought up is definitely obvious in moments like these.

“Yeah. Don’t worry, I rinsed them off in the river.”

“Doesn’t get rid of bacteria.”

“Well, I’ve done this loads of times. Do I look dead to you?”

“All right, fair point.” Sorey waits before starting to eat himself, instead watching as Mikleo takes a hesitant bite. Much like with the bread, Mikleo’s eyes widen a little in clear surprise as he swallows. “Whoa.”

Sorey grins. “Tastes great, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. Better than what I’ve had before.” He takes another bite, soon chuckling after he swallows it. “If you told me a while ago that I would be eating like this, I’d think you were mad. I guess I’ve changed more than I thought, recently.”

“What’s brought that on?” Sorey asks curiously, taking a bite of his own rabbit. Mikleo hesitates, because for a moment, he had been on his way to saying “You”. But even if this was not a lie, he realises that it’s not this alone. His taste of freedom, the events in regards to his engagement that have made him dislike his lifestyle even more – rather than one solid reason, there are many which come together and have brought him to this moment.

“Just … a lot of stuff,” Mikleo says instead. Sorey swallows, and though he is not smiling for once, there is a gentleness to his voice.

“You know, I’m always here to talk to about things if you need it.”

Mikleo blinks at him, feeling surprised. After all, the two hardly know each other, yet he is still being offered this. He actually cannot remember the last time he has heard it. Of course, he has Alisha and Edna to confide in without any worries, and yet they felt no need to offer this when he already knows. The words are very unfamiliar, and Mikleo finds his heart growing warm, even though he knows that he cannot possibly tell Sorey the things which are on his mind.

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” he instead says honestly. A smile returns to Sorey, grateful that Mikleo trusts him at least enough to appreciate his words this way.

“It’s no problem.” For a moment, Sorey’s eyes linger for a moment on Mikleo as he continues to bite into the rabbit in small amounts, Sorey unsure about whether this is to savour the food or because his mind has wandered. It certainly seems like the latter from the way his eyes have grown a little blank. Sorey holds in a sigh, forcing his gaze away has he continues to eat his own food. He always wants to know what it is that is going through the mind of the other.

But he has already offered to lend his ear, has given Mikleo the knowledge that he is there, and so he knows not to push it further. Instead, he eats silently until both are finished, then says to Mikleo, “I suppose you’ll be getting back soon?”

Mikleo nods slowly, clearly disappointed. “I’m sorry, with all the effort you make getting down here …”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Sorey says reassuringly. “I mean, I didn’t travel the first time with the prediction that I would be meeting you. I have other things to do when I’m down here.”

Not wandering into Marlind without permission, I hope.”

“Hey, I do actually have permission now! But no, I won’t be going there. I think it might seem weird if people start recognising who I am.” Sorey lets out a sigh, his hand rubbing the back of his neck. “Wouldn’t it be simpler if we both lived in Pendrago or something?”

“Right? Instead we live across the border from each other. I don’t know what was going through my mind when I agreed for us to be friends.”

Sorey’s eyes light up. “So you really mean that?” he questions. “You seemed unsure, like you just wanted to see what happens.”

“Well … I still kind of am. But I guess there’s no use denying we’re friends if we’re doing stuff like this,” Mikleo admits. His eyes flicker to the water flowing by, releasing a small chuckle. “I must be going crazy.”

“Yeah, maybe I am too. But I wouldn’t change it at all.”

He is glad that his voice is as genuine as he feels. Never has he felt a friendship quite like this. He’s not sure of what is causing it, but there is something which is encouraging him to take risks, to travel this far despite the dangers it can bring. Even if he does not know what this is, and nor does Mikleo, he is glad that it exists at all and keeps bringing them together.

Of course, it cannot last forever. They are soon getting to their feet, Mikleo’s taking him over to Juliet, who had been munching on some plants. Once she has risen her head and he strokes it, he mounts her, watching as Sorey wanders over as well. Very cautiously, he reaches to pat her neck. She does not seem too happy about this, though she does not move away, either.

“I reckon she’s starting to get used to me,” he says with a grin. His eyes rise to Mikleo instead, elegantly sat with his back straight and hands holding the reins. A prince through and through. “Thanks for coming out to meet me today,” Sorey tells him.

“And thank you for dropping by. Have a safe journey back.”

“You as well!”

“Well, if there are any dangers between here and the palace, the shock itself would kill me.”

Sorey laughs, and is soon waving to Mikleo as he and Juliet head back into the forest, accelerating into a canter once inside. As there always seems to be when the two part like this, both are hit with a sense of disappointment, yet also with hope that this meeting will not be their last.

 


 

 

Sorey wakes the following morning in Elysia. It had not been his plans to stay there, yet after visiting there during the day and being offered a stay before his journey home the following day, he could not decline.

As much as the village’s goals and ideals naturally grab his interest, he had been a little relieved that the stay had been more focused on simply that itself. He has not yet truly explored the mountain as much as he would like – in fact, he has realised without thinking about it that such an exploration is one he wants to share with Mikleo, if possible. Yet he did explore that he has already seen, as well as go hunting with Mason for dinner, which was a fun experience, especially with how Sorey’s hunts are usually much smaller creatures.

Now it is Sunday, he plans to head home well in time. Part of him wishes to go and see Mikleo again before he leaves, yet he knows that two consecutive days is pushing it, and Mikleo likely thinks the same. And so, Sorey is instead heading towards Glaivend Basin, currently in his human form. He will transform once he is closer.

The sun is radiating a fair amount of heat on his back. All essence of winter have seemed to be left in the past, and Sorey knows – or at least, he hopes – that the fur of his wolf form will begin to thin out before long so he is not sweltering in the upcoming summer months. As he transforms further along the path, concealed by bushes resting on the side, he finds that the heat is still rather bearable, though he will likely need to make a few more stops to drink water than usual.

This weather also means that he needs to remain to the side more. It seems as though people have chosen this improvement in the cold as a chance to go travelling, causing a few more carriages – and even those walking on foot – to pass him by. ‘Must be humans,’ Sorey thinks to himself as he runs by them in the distance, eyes taking a glance up at the clear sky and bright sunshine. ‘There’s no way that vampires would stand to walk in this sunlight for so long.

Sorey ends up wondering to himself if this is the reason why Mikleo always seems to head out of his home early in the morning, when the sun is less strong. Is he particularly sensitive to heat stroke, as Sorey has learned some vampires can be like? Or is he simply a morning person? He does not know how it would be a sensitive thing to ask about, yet he still feels as though it could be, and decides that he will wait to see if Mikleo brings it up himself.

The journey definitely feels longer than it has done in the past. For the second time, he has transformed into a human in order to take out his bottle of water. He is generous with the amount he drinks in this moment; even though he currently feels fine, he knows that multiple transformations after one another can be strenuous on the body and that he should give a longer break between this transformation and his next.

He breathes out deeply after finishing his gulp of water, certain it will be enough for the time being. He pops the bottle back into his rucksack and is about to place it down onto the floor in order to transform, but a high-pitched noise stops him. It is a sound which makes him feel chilled despite the sun’s heat, causing the hairs on his skin to stand up on end.

The echoing, terrified sound of a woman’s scream.

His reaction is immediate. He dashes over to the source of the noise, honing his hearing in order to see where it is coming from; the lands of Glaivend Basin and the little plantation that grows there allows him to see immediately that the sound has come from a carriage in the distance, the driver jumping from his seat and hurrying to the side that Sorey cannot see.

Sorey’s sprint does not slow at all until he reaches the carriage, dirt and sand brushed away by his feet as he skids to a stop. He finds a sight which causes his heart to skip a beat; the driver now reaching for a shotgun but failing to have even his fingers touch it, whilst his other hand is doing all it can to push away a figure who is on top of him.

“Hey!” Sorey yells, causing the figure’s head to snap around at what must be an unnatural speed. Something lurches in Sorey’s stomach. Their eyes are red and wild, their hair a tangled mess on their head and their clothes are ripped, torn and dirty. From the way they are hovering, they seem more like an animal as opposed to a person.

The distraction is luckily enough for the driver to react before Sorey. He brings his legs up into the abdomen of the creature, forcing it away as he takes the shotgun into his hands. Previously paralysed, Sorey is now able to force his legs forward. The fangs of a canine grow in his mouth, his nails transforming into claws, as he pins the arms of the creature down onto the ground with as much strength as he can muster without breaking any bones. Thrashing, it lets out the most awful sounds that Sorey has ever heard, growls which do not seem to belong to a person nor animal alike.

“What is this thing?” Sorey asks the driver, eyes taking in what he is doing. They widen when they realise why exactly the man has a gun in one hand. His other is fumbling to put a bullet inside, the process a little slow due to his trembling. “You’re not going to kill them?!”

“No choice,” the man gasps breathlessly, now aiming the shotgun at the creature. “No other way to deal with the Deranged. They’ll be like this forever.”

The name is one which both strikes fear in Sorey and also brings him to an understanding. He glances down at the face of the creature, who is looking at him with eyes filled with malice and the need to kill, still thrashing against Sorey’s hold. With a bang that causes a tremendous ringing to form in Sorey’s ears and makes his head spin, the creature is silenced and its struggles halted. Only Sorey can see that it is still alive with the wound in its stomach, which causes him to feel like he is going to be sick.

“They can barely feel pain,” says the driver. “No need to feel sorry for it. Only one proper way to finish this off …”

Sorey watches as the man takes a small vial of water out of his pocket, with a cross decorated on the front of the glass. He pours some onto another bullet to place into his gun.

“Holy water,” he explains. “Lethal to werewolves and vampires alike, and the easiest way to deal with these. This one will kill it for sure.”

And it does. At last, the creature’s head slumps to the side lifelessly, all evidence of its struggles gone. Still in shock, Sorey releases the arms at last. The palms of his hands have grown red from having to hold down so tightly.

“They’re … they’re real?” he questions, looking up at the man. “I thought the Deranged were only a myth.”

The man shakes his head. “Only way I know that they aren’t is because I’ve been in contact with a lot of your kind. Vampires, too. Ones which have been around long enough to see it.”

For a moment, Sorey wonders how the man knows about Sorey’s race, before realising the transformation of his fangs and claws. They return to normal, a million thoughts running through his mind at once as he takes another glance down at the creature.

The Deranged. A creature beneath even half-bloods, and very understandably so. Children are brought up with the story which often causes nightmares, but one which Sorey now know holds immense truth, and is used to teach children to not follow this path. To not use their fangs to create what is nothing more than a monster; one which had once been a human, yet has been transformed by a werewolf or vampire.

They are mindless, out of control and, the most upsetting detail about them, are often normal to begin with before they turn to bringers of chaos instead. As you do not hear stories of them nowadays, Sorey had not even been certain they existed.

“They’re not common anymore,” says the driver, seeing this on Sorey’s face. “This one has likely been around for a couple of centuries, finally straying out in the open. Probably created for the war.”

That is another tale that Sorey has heard of them, as any other children have growing up. Those in the armies used to create these creatures on purpose in order to fight in the war. Sorey had always hoped it was nothing more than a fictional tale. Now this hope has been destroyed, he is not sure what to say or think.

“You’re looking pretty pale, there. Want me to give you a ride to Rolance? There’s extra space in my carriage.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’d be great,” Sorey said slowly, getting to his feet. His senses are now returning to him, causing him to add, “Oh, but I don’t have enough money with me.”

The driver brushes this off with a wave of his hand. “I don’t need money. You saved my life, same with the people in there,” the man gestures to the carriage, “so money is the last thing I expect off you. I’ll go sort out the body, mind telling them that it’s all taken care of?”

Sorey nods. Now that his heart has began to calm down, he feels able to calm another person, too. He makes his way to the carriage and opens the door. Inside is a mother and two sons, who are clinging to her in fright. All three are trembling violently. The paleness that had arisen in Sorey’s own face cannot compare to the chalk white of these three.

“It’s all right, now,” Sorey says. “We’ve taken care of it.”

“That thing could have killed us!” the mother screeches, clearly driven to be rude by the traumatic experience. “I would have expected better from the carriage service!”

“It was out of his control, he –”

“My children were almost frightened to death, and frankly, so was I.” She brings her children closer to her, who are looking at Sorey warily. Their eyes are still filled with tears.

“I truly am sorry,” he says. The genuine tone of his voice seems to help calm the woman’s rage at least a small amount, causing her to think more rationally and realise that Sorey is not at fault here.

“Who are you?” she asks.

“I’m … no one special, really. I was just passing by and I heard you scream, so I came to help.”

“I … well, thank you, then. I truly did think that was the end for us.”

Sorey gives her a strained smile, looking out of the window of the carriage to see that the driver is making his way back. Sorey’s mind cannot bring itself away from the creature. Its growling is still echoing in his ears, he can still feel its thrashing, smell the awful scent which can only be similar to a decaying corpse, see the fangs and claws which could have very well killed those citizens, had he not saved them …

He sits up straighter, eyebrows rising as a memory comes to mind. A wound which he had not been certain what could have possibly caused it, yet now it makes sense completely.

How did it happen? Something that I’d rather not taint your pure, young mind with, Sheps. Nah, best you don’t hear about something like that.”

Zaveid. The attack on him seemed like that of a monster. There is no other answer that Sorey can think of to explain that gash across his stomach, but he is not all too happy to know of it.

After all, Zaveid had told Sorey it is part of his job. If this is true, then the world is filled with more horrors than Sorey ever realised. Horrors which he fears will grow greater than his hopes.

 


 

 

It turns out that the rest of the journey takes between three and four hours, causing Sorey to realise how much land he had covered himself before finding the carriage. He is glad that he is now riding in it. In the shaken state he had been in those hours before, he is certain that he would not have been able to run very well at all.

By now, he is feeling fairly better, as are the family who have starting chatting to him and help pass the time. He chooses to stay in order to keep talking to them and keep them calm. He also knows that it would seem strange to leave the carriage randomly; he is unsure of the family’s race and much prefers the thought of not potentially frightening them by jumping out and transforming into a wolf.

Even if the thumping of his heart has settled and he no longer feels fear, this does not mean to say that the thought of the creature is not still weighing heavily on his mind. He even finds that he is feeling angry. Part of it is from the thought of what such a monster had once been used for, but most of this anger is aimed to the present; why had he never had the tales of these monsters be confirmed?

His parents are very open with him. The only matters which are not given to him are those which are confidential matters between one, or both, of his parents and another wolf. But there, it is understandable. They even have to keep things from each other at times. But this? Surely as someone who is meant to be in such a powerful position would have everything be made clear for him. Surely he at least deserved honesty …

Fury is rarely an emotion he feels towards his parents. It surprises him a little, yet at the same time, he can see exactly why it feels that way.

The desire to question them about this soon causes the journey to drag on for what feels like an endless time. However, it of course cannot last forever, and to his relief, they are soon pulling up in Lastonbell. He thanks the driver graciously for giving him the free ride, asking if he wants to wait there whilst he go fetches gald to pay him, but the offer is shrugged off.

“Again, you saved my life and theirs,” the driver says with a smile. “It’s the least I can do.”

The mother, who is still in the carriage with the plans to be taken to Pendrago, says to Sorey through the open door, “I apologise for how rude I was to you at first. We’re truly in your debt.”

The bolder of the son agrees, exclaiming, “Thank you, sir!” whilst the other remains silent, sitting behind his mother so she conceals him, yet smiling at Sorey nonetheless. The kindness causes Sorey’s thoughts to be cast aside for a moment as he smiles back, yet once the carriage’s door closes and they are back on their way, these thoughts return almost instantly.

He is fairly glad that he manages to reach the manor without being approached much, worrying that he may accidentally be rude to someone in his frustration. He enters the building just as a maid is cleaning inside the room, who stands up straighter as she sees Sorey.

“Ah, you’re home, sir! Welcome back!” she greets. “Would you like me to inform your parents?”

“If that’s possible. Can you ask them to meet me in the lounge?”

“Oh, I think they’re already there, sir …”

“Ah, that’s great. Thank you.”

Typically, he tries to not rush conversations so much with the staff, even with the nerves that they show. Yet Sorey is feeling too restless and impatient to speak to his parents. He makes his way through the corridors to where the lounge is located. Outside the door, he can hear his parents speak to each other. This conversation pauses as Sorey enters.

“Sorey!” Selene exclaims, getting to her feet at once to bring him into a hug. “Welcome back. Did you have a good trip?”

“Yeah, I did, thank you.”

“I didn’t expect you to be back until tomorrow morning,” says Heldalf, glancing at the clock which shows that it is a little past eight at night. “But it’s great to see you, Sorey.”

“I’m sorry if I interrupted anything.”

Selene shakes her head. “Not at all! We weren’t speaking about anything important.” She gestures to the sofas in the room. “Come and sit down. What did you get up to?”

Naturally avoiding the topic of meeting with Mikleo and venturing into Elysia, Sorey spins his usual tale about seeing some of the nature in both Rolance and Hyland, meeting strangers on his travels. Speaking about this is difficult when he has more serious matters on his mind, and before long, it is beginning to show greatly.

“Is anything bothering you, Sorey?” Heldalf questions. “You seem to be a little off.”

A strange sense of nerves comes to Sorey, despite how he is usually open to his parents about anything. Saying that, he rarely accuses them of something, which is exactly what he will be doing. Despite this, however, he is still fairly quick to say, “Something happened on the way home that I want to ask you about.”

“Anything, sweetheart,” says Selene, a little concern expressed through her eyes. Sorey inhales and begins, not leaving out even a few words of detail. He tells them the story of how he had heard the scream of who he will later see is a mother, the way that the figure’s head had snapped around, their growling and clearly inhumane form, what the driver had explained to him …

“He told me that there are still some Deranged who exist,” says Sorey. “And he also told be that some were created purposefully for the war. I never knew for sure it was actually real. You never told me that.”

A rather tense silence from his parents, which had fallen as soon as they realised what Sorey had seen, continues for some time. Usually one who can string words together flawlessly, even Heldalf is stumped on what to say. The couple are exchanging a couple of glances at each other. From how Sorey can sense guilt, he can see that both believe that they have made a mistake.

“We really are sorry, Sorey,” says Selene. “It’s just …”

“I thought that something this important wouldn’t be kept from me. I mean, what if I ever came across one alone when I was travelling?”

“We were certain that wouldn’t happen,” says Heldalf quickly. “The Deranged usually keep to ruined parts of the world. Abandoned villages, destroyed homes in the wilderness … definitely not somewhere you are likely to go. Like many people, we would never expect one to be out in broad daylight like that.”

“And yet there was,” Selene adds before Sorey can intersect. “And that proves we made a mistake, here. You’re different than others. We should have never spun it all like a tale and should have told you upfront. I’m sorry, Sorey.”

“I just … never expected it at all,” he says, his voice now a little quieter due to his rage beginning to subside.

“Of course you didn’t, and that’s our fault.” Selene pauses, thinking over her next words. “From the sounds of it, the one you saw had been a human which was turned into a vampire. The eyes would have been yellow if it was a werewolf.”

“But how does that even work? I thought vampires biting humans didn’t transform them?”

“Not if it is only a vampire drinking the blood of a human.”

“There is only one way to transform a human for each of our races,” Heldalf explains, continuing for his wife. “For vampires, it is a case of them drinking the blood of a human, and forcing the human to drink their own blood in return. This can be done at any time. For us, we only need to bite a human in our wolf form, but naturally, this means that most wolves could only transform a human at a certain part of the month.”

“Is that why wolves are kept away from humans during a full moon? And that we’re taught to never bite anyone?” Sorey asks, both nodding in return.

“Most wolves are tame when they transform and keep to themselves, with the thoughts they have in their human form,” says Selene. “But others struggle to do this well, or they’re young wolves who don’t know any better than playfully biting another whilst they’re transformed. So we have to take precautions so no one is bitten. It’s a tad easier for vampires, considering vampire children aren’t exactly going to want to do a blood exchange.”

“And then, if they do transform a human …”

“Yes, they will one day transform into the monster that you saw,” Heldalf responds. “To begin with, they may seem normal, which often gives people hope. But it’s always the same result regardless of what you do. Some keep their sanity longer than others, but either way, they will lose control.”

“That’s awful,” Sorey murmurs. His mind is picturing two scenarios almost simultaneously; one in which he himself has been transformed, failing to maintain control of his mind and one day, hurting those that he loves. The other is where he is watching someone else be transformed, seeing how they change gradually at first and then, seemingly all at once, have lost their mind. He cannot tell which is worse than the other. He mentally shakes his head, another question coming to him. “The man said that they were used in the war, too.”

Solemnly, Selene nods. “Yes, that’s right.”

“But where is the helpfulness in that if they don’t have control over themselves?”

“That’s the thing. They were never a useful tool for control and justice. They were simply unleashed to cause as much damage as possible and to strike fear in their enemies. Of course, the Deranged never cared about what side they hurt. Many people on their own side could get hurt from them. Humans really were such an awful weapon in the war.”

“One of the worst parts is that many were actually willing to be transformed into that monster,” Heldalf continues. “They would choose the side they think are likely to win, joining with the hopes that they could help to bring the war to an end sooner than before. It really is awful how willing they were to throw their lives away for the sake of chaos.”

Sorey feels a heavy amount of nausea again. He always knew how awful the war had been – everyone was raised knowing its severity after all, and how they should never go back to a time like that again. But Sorey has never known that it could be even darker than he thought.

“Luckily, there aren’t many left in the world and transformations now are completely illegal, with punishment able to be severe as death,” says Selene. “We have people know who take the task of hunting down the last remaining ones.”

“Like Zaveid,” Sorey ends up saying. “That’s the guy I helped,” he explains when he is looked at with a little confusion. “I realised when I was travelling home again that it was the only explanation for his injury and how he had mentioned he got it on the job.”

“It definitely is dangerous work,” Selene says with a sigh. “I swear that one of the reasons we never told you because we now how much chivalry you have. I started thinking that you might want to go do something similar.”

He stares at her. “Me? I don’t think I could ever kill anyone, even a monster like that …”

“I suppose you’re right. You just worry about everything when you’re a parent.” Selene reaches over to take Sorey’s hand, giving him a strained smile with her eyes bearing guilt. “I could never tell you how sorry I really am. We should have been more honest to you about this.”

“We will be from now on,” Heldalf adds. “You’re old enough now, after all. If you are at an age where you can train to rule a whole pack, then you are surely old enough to be able to know about the world.”

He agrees wholeheartedly. Glad that his questions have been answered and that his parents were willing to be honest with him, he finds that his previous anger has subsided, and that he has regained trust with them both.

But I can’t say I feel better now,’ he thinks to himself, eyes watching the dancing fire which is lit in the fireplace. How can he, when just as he thinks that he is ready to make a difference to the world, he is learning that the history of it is turning darker than he ever expected?

And who knows, he cannot help but wonder, if more is still being kept from him.

Chapter Text

For a city which is wonderfully bright, full of energy and bursting with the chatter of its civilians, the palace in Ladylake always has a dark, much less welcoming atmosphere. Though its interior is not all dark and light reflects through masses of windows, as soon as darkness calls and the palace is lit by mostly candles, it is enough to make almost anyone shiver. You can tell that it is the home of vampires who very much like to live traditionally.

Or at least, most of which do. Alisha Diphda is different. Much like her fiancé, Alisha cares little for the traditions that usual vampires are fond of. Perhaps not to the same degree – she will still choose to wear darker clothes at times after all, and unlike Mikleo, she does drink human blood. But aside from this, she is very much like a human.

It has always been clear that this is a concern to her parents. The Rulays may be fairly strict, but the Diphdas are even more so. This strictness arises in different forms. Some of which is expressed in a method which seems as though it is all for Alisha’s sake, even though it is clear that this is not the case at all.

It really would be better for you if you acted like how a princess within the Diphda family is expected to. You’ll find people listening to you more if you appeal to them this way.”

Perhaps there is a slither of truth in these words. But even so, it has always been clear that shaping their daughter into the perfect princess she is expected to be is not for her benefit. Of course it isn’t. They only truly care for the reputation of the Diphdas’ name, that their traditions and legacies will be maintained. That is not to say that they do not care for her at all. They would treat her much more awfully than they do if this was the case. But it does seem that most of the time, there are much more important matters than what makes their daughter happy.

It is not as though the citizens expect to see her in this way, either. Having humans live here in Hyland these days has caused the population of vampires to develop from their influence, and even if most still uphold some traditions, it is not at all like how it used to be. Alisha even thinks that one day in the far future, werewolves might begin to live in the main cities of Hyland, which is both a terrifying thought but also an exciting one. It seems to be mostly her family who are against moving on from traditions and evolving into something new.

Alisha reminisces over this as she places a book back onto a shelf. Like with Mikleo, it is vital for her to keep her knowledge updated and forever developing, which is definitely something she can understand. A small headache has formed from high amounts of concentration, yet she does not notice it much. Her mind is a little too distracted with the thoughts of what else she has to do today.

Ah. One of her tasks is to go to Ladylake’s Sanctuary, a building of worship, in order to discuss details for the wedding. Truth be told, she has no idea as to why they have to plans things so early. As far as she knows, the two will not be marrying for at least another year. But she supposes that with the greatness of a royal wedding, it does need a large amount of time to be figured out.

She cannot spot her parents anywhere when she is preparing to leave, and so simply informs a maid on her way out about where she is heading. When she is by the grand front doors, she is also sure to grab a hooded cloak and wrap it around herself, the hood pulled up over her head. It is normal that she receives a lot of attention as a princess. And nowadays, she would rather avoid this attention as much as possible.

It is a shame, because really, she would love to smile at the citizens she passes and to greet them. Not just out of the feeling that she has to, but simply because of how joyful they can look. It is almost as though the chatter brings forth cheerful music. Even with all of the hardships it brings, being a princess gives her at least one great thing: that she can rule over such wonderful people.

She hurries, however, enough so that no one recognises her and manages to reach the Sanctuary. Luckily, this meeting has been arranged in advance, so there is no chance of someone disturbing them. She grabs the circular handle of the double doors, taking a moment to glance up and take in the grand décor of high turrets and the pillars either side of her, before she steps inside. Quietness replaces the bustle of the streets. Lowering her hood, she feels a sense of calm come from inside the silent building, and her eyes take a moment to inspect the room in all its glory: the tapestry, bearing the crest of Hyland; the stained glass windows, telling the story of legends and the impressive high ceiling and polished floor underneath her feet. She might have been here a fair few times, but it never fails to impress her.

“Princess Alisha, it is an honour to see you.”

Alisha’s head lowers at the sound of the voice, and she gives its owner a smile. “Good afternoon, Uno,” she says, watching as the man walks over. She is flattered by his politeness; after all, he too is of a high status, what with being a rather powerful Lord in Ladylake, as well as the keeper of the Sanctuary. Unlike with humans, Priests do not exist among vampire kind – after all, they are a symbol of a human religion which had once been in favour of the killing of those unlike them, which is where the origin of holy water had began.

“You’re not looking all that well, your highness,” says Uno once he has made his way closer, frowning a little as he inspects her face. “Come, have a sit down before we begin. Have you been overworking yourself lately?”

“Admittedly so,” she says as she follows him towards the back door of the room, where further smaller rooms are located. “There has been so much on my mind lately that it is very difficult to not do so.”

“Still, you are young, and your health is important … I hope that your parents see to that.”

Judging by his voice and the way that he sounds disappointed, she can see that he is putting some of the blame on these said parents. And secretly, Alisha agrees. Uno leads her to one of the spare rooms, settling her down onto a sofa as he grabs a wine glass and a bottle of blood. Only it is not like the usual bottles that Alisha sees, which look like regular wine bottles; it has a much more detailed design stencilled into the glass, with a gold lid on top.

“This blood has been mixed with remedies which help with fatigue, headaches and other symptoms,” he explains when he sees her eyes inspecting it. He pours some of the mixture into a glass, handing it to her with a smile. “Here you go.”

She thanks him as she takes the glass into her hand. Though the blood appears like any other she has drank, she is quite surprised over the taste. Blood, especially that of a human, can have a rather harsh taste, especially with blood types less favoured by the drinker. But whatever else is in the liquid is helping to mellow the harshness that blood usually brings. It is sweeter, much more like the animal blood that Mikleo chooses to drink, and for once, she finds that she is enjoying it.

“This is wonderful,” she says after gulping some of it down. Though it might be her imagination, she swears that she can already feel it having some sort of positive effect on her body. “Where did this come from? Surely not from Ladylake?”

“No, this was imported from Elysia. There are many talented people there. Though I’d love to be able to make this myself … Anyway, do drink that before we start. It should help.”

“Thank you, Uno,” says Alisha with a smile. She is more than happy to drink the rest of the blood, definitely more so than she has ever been; if her body would allow it, she too would choose a diet similar to Mikleo’s, though unfortunately it is not for everyone. At the very least, human blood nowadays is not taken by force as it was centuries ago, but rather through donors who give their blood willingly. This thought allows Alisha to feel better about what she drinks.

Soon, the glass has been drained, and she can already feel herself become rejuvenated. She drinks the last drop with an appreciative sigh before giving the man a smile. “I may just have to order some of these to the palace.”

Uno chuckles and nods. “I’d be more than happy to get in contact with them for you. So … the wedding. It has been around a month since you and Prince Mikleo discussed some of the smaller matters, has it not?”

Alisha nods. She can remember the day all too well, and since then, she has been unable to hold back glares whenever her parents speak of Mikleo in a less than appropriate way. “Yes, that’s right.”

“I believe that the finalisation of those will come into play in another month or two. After all, they want each and every aspect to be perfect. As for me, I have to actually sort out the less … trivial matters. But luckily, that’s not for you to worry about as much.” He gives Alisha a smile, and for once, she can actually sense a fair amount of stress from him. And even though this wedding has been far from her choice, she feels a pang of guilt hitting her. “One thing I need to know from you is if there are any people outside of Ladylake, or even Hyland itself, who you may wish to invite.”

“Surely my parents would rather be in charge of this?” she questions, her eyes widening a little in surprise. He shakes his head.

“They will be in charge of most guests attending, yes. But they have allowed you to make a few of your own choices. You travel fairly often – surely you must have some idea?”

“Well …” she says, hesitating a little as she thinks. “I’m sure that Mikleo will want Edna Yulind to attend, and I would as well. Are you aware of her?”

“I think many of us somewhat older vampires are aware of her, yes,” Uno responds with a slight murmur, which is soon to be replaced by a slightly brighter voice. “She will definitely be able to attend, yes. Anyone else?”

“Sergei Strelka,” she says without any thought. She feels herself growing a little embarrassed when Uno looks at her due to the quick response. “I-I mean, I have spoken to him a fair few times, and he is Mikleo’s swordsmaster. I think he would be a wonderful addition.”

“Swordsmaster? Ah yes, he’s a part of Rolance’s Empire, isn’t he? Human?” She nods. “I’ll write his name down, then. Who is next?”

If Alisha is honest, she cannot properly come up with many friends she wishes to attend. Whilst she does come into contact with many people, much more so than Mikleo, she cannot say that she is close enough to any of them to want to invite them to her wedding, even if it is one she would rather not have. It is a fairly lonely life being the princess, which is only ever heightened by how she is rather unable to maintain close bonds with almost everyone.

Unless … they are not particularly strong bonds, but if …

“I suppose that … werewolves, will not be attending this wedding?” she asks, her voice a little more nervous than usual. Uno glances at her with surprise which he is clearly attempting to hide.

“… Werewolves, your highness?”

“Yes, I … I was just curious.”

“Well, whilst I would not have much issue with that, I cannot say the same for your parents. May I ask who you were thinking of?”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Alisha quietly. “It was just an idea.”

Even so, she cannot help but be disappointed. Though she has yet to truly discuss about it with Mikleo in detail, she is aware of how he and Sorey Shepherd have been forming some kind of bond as of late. Alisha has known Mikleo for long enough to know when he thinks of someone with nothing but respect. And from the way he had spoken of Sorey the night that he and Alisha were together, she can tell completely that he feels like this about Sorey. She thought that having a potential friend like this at the wedding would help to calm any anxieties.

But as much as Mikleo’s well-being is put before her own and how she is always thinking of anything she can do for him, admittedly, she would not say no to inviting a werewolf that she knows, either. She has met a fair amount of werewolves in her visits to Rolance, yet never one like the leader of the Sparrowfeathers. With her partners by her side, Rose Wilk had been in the height of her game as she made offers to traders flawlessly, her skills of negotiations quite unlike anything Alisha had ever seen before.

Right you are, Princess! Say, I’ve never seen you around here before. The name’s Rose, glad to meet you!”

No fear, no prejudice. Perhaps it had all been due to the fact that Rose was making business and had no time to spare to treat Alisha any differently than her other customers. But the other occasions in which the two would she each other had also been just as pleasant. So much so that even if Rose did not feel the same way, Alisha sees the two as friends, and would be more than happy to invite her.

But of course, Finuw and Amara Diphda would not feel quite as positive about doing this. And so, she watches as Uno writes a few more names she has given him with less enthusiasm than she had for Edna and Sergei. At least the latter can attend, what with him being human. A smile can return to her over the thought of how enthusiastic he will bound to be once an invitation has arrived to him.

As well as her own suggestions, Uno gives her a rundown of her parents’ own wishes of those to attend. Of course, it is mostly vampires of a high status, some even residing out of Glenwood. It is pretty clear that they are trying to impress as many people as possible with this wedding. Alisha could almost laugh; though she is hardly a vain person, even she can admit that even if they did not attend themselves, word about the wedding would spread out as quickly as a hellfire. In fact, everyone will be likely to know of the wedding months and months before it even arrives. Though Alisha guesses that being at the wedding to actually see it all in your own eyes is a different matter entirely.

To Alisha’s relief, even if she does very much like to be in Uno’s company, the discussion does not last for all too long due to both having other duties to attend to. However, before Alisha can say her farewell and leave, Uno motions for her to stay for a moment.

“As well as with your physical state, I cannot help but notice something may be wrong emotionally, too,” he says, his voice the softest it has been throughout this meeting. “Would you like to talk to me about anything?”

She opens her mouth as though to explain herself, yet is soon to shut it again quickly. Out of everyone she knows, she only truly feels comfortable in confiding with Mikleo, considering she knows that there is no chance of him telling her parents about anything she says. Uno seems to realise this, however, and gives her a reassuring smile.

“Whatever you say will be kept between us, I promise,” he says. She nods slowly, inhaling rather deeply.

“I don’t want this wedding,” she blurts out. Usually, she’d be embarrassed by such bluntness, but the words have already became a chain reaction to her saying what else is on her mind. “Neither Mikleo nor I have ever wanted it. We don’t love each other, Uno. Well … we do, but not in the way that everyone thinks that we do. But nowadays, that issue seems so trivial, considering the wedding is so close and we’ll both have to think about all the responsibilities we’ll have from then on. And I just … I just …”

Her words trail off on their own. She realises how difficult it is to put years’ worth of worries and disappointments into words, especially with how greatly they have heightened as of late. However, Uno understands completely. One hand is rested on Alisha’s shoulder. She is surprised by how much sympathy is expressed through those understanding blue eyes.

“I know how difficult it is for you. I’ve always wondered it,” he says. “If I’m honest, I have been thinking myself that this wedding has not been a good idea. Not only is it far too soon and the two of you are incredibly young to be thinking of this, but I also disagree with having your love lives decided for you. I understand they need you to marry the correct person, but surely it is something you can decide for yourself?”

Alisha nods, feeling a combination of relief from him understanding her, but also a heavy feeling on her chest, as though she may burst out with every negative feeling she has about her situation. “They say that we are the best match for each other. Maybe we are. But what I don’t understand is that technically, we’re not that perfect match. We cannot even …” she inhales sharply, remembering that she is speaking to someone who is not part of the few who know about her and Mikleo’s situation. “They only want us to marry because it is what everyone will see as a perfect marriage, and so that the royal families of Hyland are connected and grow more powerful. That’s all. And I just wish that he and I have our own choices.” She suddenly grows guilty, speaking quickly again before Uno has the chance. “I-I’m sorry, I know that I’m better off than Mikleo is and I should be grateful for that. I just –”

“Pain is not relative,” says Uno. “You deal with your own problems just as young Mikleo does. You both have different things which bring you down, and others which make you stronger. Though I do not know much about his life, perhaps in a sense, he may be worse off, as you say. But in his eyes, maybe that is you. We often undermine our own pain, after all. And it is normal for you to feel that pain with everything you have going on for you. Anyone would struggle in your position.”

“Thank you for saying that, Uno,” she says, finally able to bear him a smile as she feels reassured by his words. “I appreciate it greatly. It was good to get all that off my chest.”

“Anytime, your highness. I may not have the power to fix anything for you, but I am still here as a friend for you to confide in any time you may need that.”

Shortly after, Alisha is saying goodbye to Uno at the entrance to the Sanctuary, the hood of her cloak put back over her head once again. Perhaps not feeling all the much better emotionally yet still as though pressure has been lifted from her shoulders, she begins to hurry back to the palace, aware that her duties for this day are far from over.

 


 

 

Alisha thinks she may have actually gotten lucky when she returns home and realises that she does not have anything to do just yet. Dreamily, she imagines herself going into her room, maybe to do some sketching or even have a nap to catch up on sleep. Yes, both sound rather nice, even she only has time for one … or, she thinks she has this time, anyway. Because just as she is making her way through the corridors of the palace towards her room, she has to hold in a sigh as her name is called.

“Alisha!”

She turns at the sound of the familiar voice, forcing a smile to reach her face. Of course, she has no problems with Maltran at all, but it is likely that anyone in this moment would irritate her a little in her wishes to go to her room, except perhaps Mikleo. With a bow of her head, she asks, “Can I help you, Master?”

“I have a favour to ask of you. Walk with me? I’ve been cooped up in my room for a fair while and could do with stretching my legs.”

Despite how Alisha had been picturing herself flopping down onto her bed face first moments before, she nods and begins to walk alongside Maltran, peering up at her for a moment. Maltran Valkyrie is undoubtedly the most impressive woman that Alisha has ever seen. Tall and fierce, she has the vibes of someone you would never want to mess with, and these vibes are certainly true. Magenta hair which falls over one eye adds to this fierceness, her one unconcealed eye strangely matching. Though she dons the traditional dark colours of black and red that many vampires wear, she opts out of wearing dresses, which are also a normal tradition for vampire women. Instead, she wears a shirt with a high collar which emphasises her bust, which falls down over her leggings in layers.

Maltran is also undoubtedly talented. Despite being fairly young in terms of a vampire, she is still an incredible instructor for the military, and her skills with weapons are polished more than many men. Her favoured weapon, the spear, almost makes her invincible. On one hand, she seems to make the perfect vampire. But on the other, Alisha cannot help but wonder how incredible of a human she would be, considering humans tend to be more specialised in weapons more than anyone else due to their lack of a natural gift.

“Do you know how I have made a few travels to Rolance recently in order to assist Sergei Strelka with his spearing lessons?” Maltran questions as they continue to walk. As they do so, a few members of staff greet them a little anxiously, before hurrying on their way.

Alisha nods. “Of course. What about it?”

“There’s a fair amount of people in the class – two dozen, to be precise. Having one teacher per twelve students isn’t all that bad, but it can still get fairly hectic. I was wondering if you would like to assist us with the lessons.”

Surprised, Alisha blinks at her. “M-Me?”

“I know that you have a lot to attend to already, and the last thing you may want to do is to teach a group of humans to wield a spear –”

“No – no I’d love to, but –”

“But what?”

“Am I really the best person you should be asking?” Alisha questions. “I mean, not to try and sound self-deprecating, but surely there are others who are more suitable than me? I’m only eighteen after all, likely younger than the students …”

“Age does not correlate with talent. Or at least, it doesn’t directly.” Maltran bears Alisha a smile – it is one which is always radiant, holding pride and confidence. “You have been training with a spear since before you were even a teenager. Age does not matter; experience and hard work does, and you have had both for sure, more so than those I’m requesting that you teach.”

A faint blush rises to Alisha’s cheeks from the praise. “Well … if you know for certain that I will be suitable, then …”

“Of course I do. I head down there towards the end of the week if you are available?”

Alisha nods. “I plan on visiting Mikleo sometime too this week, but I’m sure I can fit in both.” A sudden thought arrives to her, one which makes her feel excitement and be unable to stop herself from asking before it’s too late. “Do you think that he might be able to attend to the class too? He’s been struggling with the spear, and I …” Her face falls and words grow silent over the sceptical expression that Maltran gives her.

“Mikleo is not permitted to go to Rolance,” she says with a raised eyebrow. “I doubt he would be allowed to this once for a spear class, when he has Sergei visiting him at least once a week.”

“Yes – yes of course, I just …” Alisha holds in a sigh, forcing her lips to stretch out into a strained smile. “I will look forward to it.”

At least, she had been moments ago. Now she’s been left fairly disappointed. She allows herself to sigh once she is out of Maltran’s way, realising that she now barely has enough time before she has to attend a meeting. Still, one would choose her busyness over Mikleo’s chains any day, all except for her, who would swap lives with Mikleo and give him the world if it was in her power.

 


 

 

To her relief, Alisha is able to visit Mikleo even with her planned trip with Maltran two days after. Nowadays, Alisha is lucky enough to not actually need to much of an excuse to see him, what with their engagement being pushed forward. Whilst both might hate this engagement greatly, it most certainly has its benefits. She cannot wait to see him for the first time in a fair few weeks.

Her plan is to arrive in the morning by carriage. She smiles as she peers out of the window at the sunshine streaming down on Hyland. It is now almost May, and the weather is perfectly in the middle with the warmth of the sun yet a breeze still brushing against her skin. The only issue is the pollen. A handkerchief is pulled out of her pocket so she can sneeze into it, eyes watery and itchy. She is gladder than ever that she no longer has quite as severe of an allergy as she used to.

The trip from Ladylake to Marlind does not take much time at all, and also does not cost her anything due to using a royal carriage. She thanks the driver and heads up towards the palace. Her eyes take in its appearance as she does so. It is smaller and less grand than the one in Ladylake, which is natural being as it is not the capitol. Alisha much prefers it. A smaller building is less overwhelming to look at, and not to mention that she feels as though it has a better atmosphere inside, though perhaps that is simply her imagination.

She enters the palace to find that Muse and Michael are not yet awake, yet is told that Mikleo should be so already. Thanking the maid who told her this, she heads up towards Mikleo’s room, raising a fist to knock onto his door. She smiles when he hears him calling her inside, and steps in to find his appearance a little surprising; he has just been changing into a spare set of clothes, the other set hung over a chair, and he is reaching for a brush in order to tame his tangled hair.

“Alisha,” he says in surprise, bearing her one of the largest smiles she has seen in recent times. “I wasn’t expecting you!”

“I have some time to spare, so I thought I’d head on over this week.” She shuts the door behind her, looking at Mikleo with curiosity. “Been riding?”

“I, uh, yeah, something like that …” he stammers, glancing behind Alisha to make sure that she closed the door properly. “I saw Sorey again this morning,” he says in a quieter voice. Her eyes widen.

“Again? How many times have you seen him?”

“This is the fifth time. He said he’d bring a fishing rod next time to teach me to fish.”

“Wait, the fifth …” Alisha stares at him in astonishment, unable to tell whether she should be fearful or impressed. “Mikleo, that’s …”

“Please don’t tell anyone,” he says hurriedly. He places the hairbrush down onto the cabinet, looking a little nervous when he faces her again. “I don’t sneak out that often, I promise. It’s just here and there to … to see him.”

“Are you both friends?” she asks, still taken aback by the news. Mikleo nods his head slowly.

“I’d … I’d say we are. As silly as that may seem.” He sits down onto his bed, Alisha doing the same as a natural response. A smile reaches Mikleo’s face once again. “It’s crazy, I know. And I’m still wondering if it’s the wrong thing to do and whether I should cut things off completely. But … but he is really a good person.”

“I can tell that. You wouldn’t take these kind of risks for anyone.” He averts his gaze to her, finding that she is smiling back at him, her eyes filled with encouragement. “As much as I do fear for where this may lead to, I can’t deny how happy it makes me to know that you’ve met him. You’ve never really had a friend your age aside from me, and it really warms my heart to know you have him, now.”

“Yeah … he really is a good guy.”

“Tell me about him,” Alisha prompts, leaning back on the bed on her hands, eyes full of interest.

A little taken aback by the question, Mikleo asks, “What is it you want to know?”

“Anything. There must be something good about him which is making you go through such lengths to just be friends. So what is it?”

He hesitates as he contemplates this, feeling embarrassed when he realises that he could truly answer with the word ‘everything’. After all, Sorey has been nothing but friendly ever since they met months ago. He has been patient, as well as supportive despite how he knows very little about Mikleo’s life. Really, there is not one negative thing he has to say about Sorey, aside from how he can be a little stupidly reckless.

“I’m not sure what I can even say. I mean, there’s nothing bad to say about him. He’s kind, he’s so full of energy, he’s passionate, we share similar interests … he even has similar dreams to mine, it seems. I mean, with all that alongside being attractive, the girls in Lastonbell probably all swoon over him.”

“I think it’s not just the girls who are swooning,” Alisha says, giggling over the stunned expression she receives, with Mikleo’s mouth hanging open.

“I’m not – he’s just – I didn’t mean it like that, okay?”

“I was only teasing. He sounds wonderful, really. I’m glad that you’ve met him. I doubt you would have ever thought that you’d be friends with a werewolf.”

“That’s true … honestly, we’re not all that close yet, and we still have a lot to learn about each other. But I’m glad that we’ve met.”

“And you say that you both have similar interests, too?” By now, Alisha is laid down on the bed with her elbow propped up on it and her hand cupping her cheek. Mikleo is glad that he can see her be so relaxed.

He nods. “We do. He likes books as well, and architecture … music, too. He plays the violin.” His eyes grow thoughtful. “I wonder if he likes history?”

“Sounds a bit like the nerdy type, so I’d say so.” She bears him a grin. “Then you’d have two friends who are obsessed with history, when you include me.”

He grins back at her. “I’m not going to say no to that.” Realising how much he had been rambling, he hurries to change the topic. “Didn’t you have wedding plans to go through earlier this week?”

With a nod, she brings herself back up to a sitting position. “Mostly just about guests. I requested for Edna to be invited, I’m sure you would both like that.”

“Oh, definitely. Thank you for that.”

Alisha’s smile grows for a moment, though she does not linger on the topic, knowing that it always brings them both down if they speak about it for too long. “I also got asked by Maltran if I could assist with teaching a spearing class. I’ll be doing that in two days.”

Mikleo’s eyes light up with happiness for her. “Alisha, that’s amazing! I didn’t even know they’d let someone your age teach like that – not that you’re not talented enough.”

“I understand what you mean. I was definitely shocked myself. It feels wonderful really, to have something I love to do grow strong enough for me to teach others … plus, I do enjoy being around humans.”

“And Sergei,” Mikleo adds, laughing as Alisha looks embarrassed.

“He’s a very brave knight and I can admire that, yes,” she says, clearing her throat. A little heat has risen to her cheeks. “Though to say I enjoy being around him is …”

“The truth.”

“Oh shush, you,” she says, but by now she is laughing. “All right, you have a point. But I only really enjoy being around him as he is so … unique. I haven’t ever quite met anyone with enthusiasm quite like Sergei’s.”

Mikleo nods in agreement. “I agree with that. I doubt I would have reached where I am with weaponry if it wasn’t for him.”

The conversation is interrupted by a knock on the door. It opens right after this knock, which confirms the entry of one person; Edna stands in the doorway, surprisingly still dressed in her nightwear, with slippers on her feet and a black dressing gown, which is a little too big on her, slipping down one shoulder. Her hair is still ruffled from sleep. Judging by its messiness, which causes a pang of worry to hit Mikleo’s chest, it seems as though she had been tossing and turning, be it whilst she was trying to sleep or during it.

“Alisha,” she says in surprise, having not expected to see her. “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to spare some time to see Mikleo. It’s been a long time, I’ve missed you!”

One of Edna’s rare, genuine smiles reaches her face. “I’ve missed you, too. Parents haven’t been putting too much on you, have they?”

“Well, they – a slight bit, maybe. But nothing I cannot handle.”

“As long as you’re sure.”

“And you? How have you been faring lately?”

“I’ve been … okay.” She turns to Mikleo, bringing attention away from herself. “Michael wants you to go and see him for a studying session after you’ve had breakfast.”

“Ah – right, of course.” He looks at Alisha guiltily. “I’m sorry, you’ve only just arrived …”

But Alisha shakes her head. “I understand, not to worry. Plus, I was hoping that Edna would let me accompany her for a while, if she lets me.”

Edna seems a little taken aback for a moment, before she shrugs. “Sure, why not?” The response may be casual, but it is rather obvious that she is rather thrilled about this. “Just let me get dressed first.”

“That’s absolutely fine.”

Moments later, both her and Mikleo have gotten up from the bed. The latter hovers by Edna before she leaves, taking a look at her eyes. Underneath them are dark circles which have not yet been covered by make-up. The eyes themselves look tired and a little pained, even if they have lit up a little since Alisha’s arrival.

“Are you all right?” he asks her. She shrugs, which only adds more to his concern for her. However, before he has the chance to ask her what is wrong, she has left, leaving him and Alisha to exchange a worried glance. It is rare that Edna chooses to use the silent treatment rather than snide remarks. Something is definitely wrong.

 


 

 

Splashing water on her face, Edna is glad to be away from them both. She peers up at her reflection in the mirror. How out of place she looks. The bathroom’s interior, like all of the palace, is elegant and has a clear air of wealth, with even the border of the mirror she is staring into engraved in a detailed pattern. She, on the other hand, really does look dull and unkempt.

I must have only had a couple of hours sleep,’ she thinks to herself as she runs the tip of her finger across the bags under her eyes. There’s very little she can do to fix it. It is not as though she is doing something before bed which would disturb her sleep, or stay up far too late. How can one control nightmares? She can have merely one and it will keep her up for the rest of the night. It’s nothing that can truly be fixed.

A shiver runs down her spine as a pair of eyes flash in her mind. She hurries to begin washing herself and to start applying make-up to her pale and tired face, forcing these memories away from her. After so many years, her slumber should really stop being so haunted. But trauma and emotions are not all that great at being rational.

Now presenting herself better even whilst still in her nightwear, she proceeds to the room which is given to her in the palace in order to dress herself. During all the time she has lived here, her wardrobe has actually been fairly scarce in comparison to how it had been in the last place she lived. Replacing her array of previous clothes are now the more girlish version of traditional clothing for vampires. Mostly black with hints of deep red, yet the style of the clothing itself still being rather innocent. She likes it. Dressing cutely yet elegantly brings her confidence, and she feels much better in darker colours than light these days.

Once she is dressed, she goes to find Alisha, who is waiting for her in the library. Alisha does not seem to notice the opening of the door to the library, despite how it creaks a fair amount. She is sat on one of the seats in the room, immersed in one of the thousands of books. There is a small smile on her face. Part of Edna wants to back out of the room and leave Alisha immersed in this book, completely oblivious to what is occurring around her. However, as though pulled out of a trance Alisha soon notices that Edna is here. She looks up and now wears a smile for Edna rather than the words she had been reading.

“Ah, I’m sorry, I think I got a bit too enthralled!” she exclaims, sliding the book back onto a shelf nearby. “You look lovely today, Edna. I always do adore what you wear.”

“The same goes to you. What were you reading?”

“A book on some of Marlind’s history. There always seems to be something I don’t know, and reading something new is always so fascinating. Even rereading what I do know is enjoyable … A-Ah, I went on a ramble there, didn’t I?”

Edna smiles in amusement. “Honestly, you’re just as much of a nerd as Mikleo. If he starts talking about history, he’d never stop.”

“Oh yes, we can talk about it for hours together. Though we haven’t done that for a fair while.” Now stood by Edna, Alisha glances at the shelves around them. “What kind of books do you like, Edna?”

“Me?” says Edna, hesitating due to not expecting to be asked this question. “I’m not really much of a reader. But I guess I like reading about plants and such.”

“Plants?”

She nods. “I was named after a flower. And my – someone I knew, I mean, kind of made me see how special they are.”

Alisha’s smile returns to her. “Ah, I see. That really is lovely. I’m sure there’s books like that here.”

“Yeah, there is. I’ve already read them. I sometimes come in here with Mikleo.”

“The two of you are very close, aren’t you?”

Edna rolls her eyes. “Close? Us two?”

“You two can pretend all you like that you hate each other,” says Alisha in a teasing voice. “But it’s as clear as day that you do like each other, really.”

“You wish.” Yet regardless of these words, Edna’s face softens a little. “I guess he is a bit like a brother to me. A younger one. And I’ve got to do what I can so he doesn’t go running off and get himself into trouble … even though he’s done that already.”

“Are you talking about … you know?”

“The S word? Yup, I am.” A frown reaches Edna’s face. “I’ve told them both that they’re taking far too many risks. Mikleo keeps acting like he’s unsure of what they have and if it is definitely friendship, but it’s obvious that they’re friends by now.”

“What’s wrong with that? I-I mean,” she adds hurriedly when Edna looks at her in irritation, “I know what is technically wrong with it. But … but if it makes Mikleo happy, shouldn’t we encourage it?”

“I’ve been thinking that myself, and trust me Alisha, I do want him to be happy. But I’m not sure if it’s worth the cost of them being caught. Plus …”

“Plus what?”

“Doesn’t it seem a bit … odd, to you? How Mikleo can go from being terrified of werewolves to meeting with one secretly?”

“I mean, I think it’s normal if Sorey is as friendly as he says.”

“I know he’s like that. But …” Edna hesitates, wondering if she should express what has been on her mind and if Alisha, of all people, is who she should be saying this to. “I don’t know. I just find it strange. It’s almost as though Mikleo might end up feeling differently about Sorey than anyone else he ever has before.”

“You don’t mean …?” Alisha’s words trail off, yet Edna knows what she had been about to say.

“I don’t know. It’s too early to tell; they’ve only known each other for a couple of months, after all. But I’m going to be keeping an eye out.” Remembering that she does not have all that much time to spare and should not be spending it talking about Mikleo in the library, Edna then says, “I have to get on with some stuff. You want to stick around?”

Alisha smiles and nods. She begins to follow Edna out of the room, pausing when she does outside of the door, in order for her to turn around and say, “And – well, please don’t tell Mikleo I talked to you about this. He has enough on his plate without me being so forward about him and Sorey. I’d only resort to that again in front of his face if I had to.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”

After receiving this response, Edna gives her temporary smile out of gratitude before she opens the door, their pause in front of it stopping them from noticing how a figure outside had been quick to move away before it had opened.

 


 

 

The hectic schedules in Alisha’s life often causes the days to pass by quickly. Because of this, the day in which she will be travelling to Rolance with Maltran soon arrives, and she’s practically bursting with excitement.

As well as how flattered she is to be asked to reach the spearing class, she is also joyful to be spending time with Maltran. She is a strict woman, yet at the same time, she has always seemed to care for Alisha deeply. Sometimes it feels like Maltran has played the role of a mother more to Alisha than Amara has. Or perhaps she is more like an aunt. Either way, their relationship of teacher and pupil goes deeper than it does for others, and it is another bond which Alisha wishes to protect.

The journey to Pendrago is a long one, causing them to leave in the late hours of the night with the plan to sleep in the carriage. When Alisha first started travelling this way, she found it very difficult to sleep at all and became deprived of it very easily, having to sleep once she arrived due to the build up of exhaustion. However, now she has done this a fair amount of times in order to visit numerous locations in Rolance, she has become much more used to it.

Pendrago is the city which she has visited the most. But it is by far her favourite in Rolance – she almost adores it as much as her own city. So every time she visits, she never feels boredom or frustration over being there again. And now she is going there for a different reason than her usual, she is even more excited.

The two arrive in Pendrago in the late afternoon. It is a rather cool day, which is preferable considering they’ll be able to do more without reaching too high of a temperature too soon. The carriage pulls up by the location in which they will be meeting Sergei, who goes out to greet them as they step out of the carriage.

“Lady Maltran and Princess Alisha!” he exclaims, giving them both a bow. “It is a pleasure as always to see you both.”

“As it is you, Mr Strelka,” says Maltran, lowering her head in return.

“Sergei is fine, as I told you! And Princess Alisha, thank you very much for accepting the request of helping us today.”

“O-Oh, it’s all right!” she answers. “I’m more than happy to lend a hand. I’ll do the best I can.”

Sergei smiles at her gratefully, before he begins to lead the two women to the training grounds. During the walk, he begins to give Alisha a rundown of the class she will be helping to teach.

“We like to have a variety of weapon holders in our army, as we believe it brings better protection,” he explains. “Some of the attendees of the class are people who have already mastered a different weapon and feel as though it will be beneficial for them to learn how to wield another one properly. Others – those are mostly the young ones – are starting out with the spear. They still have a long ways to go, but considering they’ve only been training for a few weeks, they sure have come a very long way already!”

Alisha finds herself smiling. Sergei’s voice is, as always, enthusiastic, but it also holds a lot of pride for his students which shows how genuine his words are. “How long will the class be going on for?”

“Our estimate is fifteen weeks before they start training independently without a teacher. However, I, and Maltran too when she is in the area or when people can travel to her, will be around to give private lessons if need be.”

Alisha nods in understanding. The three are now entering an area outside, accessed through a building; 24 students, just as Maltran had said, are stood there waiting, chatting in various small size groups. They are dressed in suits of light armour. With a glance down at herself, she is glad that she opted for the much preferred attire that she uses for training rather than the dresses she is supposed to wear.

Alongside the wall is a line of spears which they will be using. Alisha finds herself almost bouncing over to inspect them. They must have been made by a marksman in Pendrago; the structure of them are fairly different to those in Hyland.

“It’s Princess Alisha!” one of the students, a man who seems a little younger than most of the rest, ends up exclaiming. She feels a little embarrassed as the other students follow this gaze and whisper a little excitedly to each other. Yet she is also grateful and even surprised; considering these are all humans, she has been wondering if one or two may be fearful of her, but this does not seem to be the case at all. In fact, a couple seem a little surprised by her. She guesses it’s because of her fairly small height and feminine features.

“Yes yes, this is the Princess!” Sergei exclaims, clapping his hand on her shoulder. The touch gives her a little boost of confidence. “As you likely know already, despite her age, Alisha is very much talented with a spear. Maltran and I requested for her to join us today!”

A ripple of excitement once again surges through the students. Suddenly realising her lack of manners, she bows her head in a slightly flustered way, saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I hope that I do well to teach you.”

“You’ll do wonderfully, I’m sure!” Sergei’s voice lowers in volume in order for the students to not overhear, as he continues with, “These people care greatly about protecting not just Rolance, but the whole of Glenwood too. They won’t judge you at all, and I’m sure that everything you teach them will be most appreciated.”

Maltran, who is standing on Sergei’s other side, nods in agreement with a smile. Alisha smiles back, feeling herself rise in confidence through their expressions and Sergei’s words of encouragement. “I’ll do my best!” she exclaims, feeling her anxieties wash away.

And it turns out that Sergei is right. In fact, it feels even better than he had said it would be like. As well as not judge Alisha for her race, it seems as though they do not judge her or see her differently for her positioning in hierarchy, either. After their initial astonishment of her, they seem to now have gone back into focus, treating her with the same level of respect that they do to Sergei and Maltran.

It is wonderfully refreshing. She is so used to be seeing as a princess that she rarely has times where she is looked up to in this kind of way. Respect which is not given just because they feel as though it is mandatory. Expressed gratitude which is genuine, not given because they wish to get on good terms with her. In fact, she feels more equal with a group of people than she has ever done so before, and is enjoying every moment of it.

“All right, you’re all doing great!” she exclaims to the seven that she has been given. It consists of the younger students, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, who she has likely been given to make her feel more comfortable. “I think it’d be best to go into smaller pairs, now. As there are seven of you, one will have to go with me.” She takes a glance among the students, her eyes catching a young girl who seems to be a similar age to her, only maybe a year or two older. Though like the rest of the group she is lively, she seems to be a little shyer and guarded than the rest. Alisha bears this girl a smile. “Would you like to pair with me, Miss Spinnet?”

“Eh?” the girl says simply for a moment, blinking in surprise for a moment, before she’s quick to nod. Due to her hair being tied back into a ponytail, it does not hide how a faint pink has risen to her cheeks. “Oh, yes, that’d be lovely!”

The rest of the group settle into pairs as Alisha and Spinnet – she is not yet aware of the girl’s first name – settle into their own area. Seeing Spinnet’s nerves, Alisha makes sure to give a fair amount of space between the others, including the groups that Sergei and Maltran are teaching.

“Honestly, I am probably the last person you’d want to work with,” she admits, looking embarrassed. “Though I’m okay once I get into it, I struggle to even hold the spear properly at first …”

Alisha hums. “What way to do you handle it when doing so safely?”

“Point down like this, not braced against the back hand, an overhand grip …”

“Maybe an underhand grip would work better?” Alisha suggests. Spinnet nods and tries it, eyes lighting up a little.

“I think this is better!”

“I found that holding it that way helped me when I was nervous, too,” Alisha says, smiling. “Maybe it’s because I had a better view on how to balance it. Okay, so as you likely know, it is important to make full use of its length. It’s a unique weapon in regards to its size, and it’s best to make the most of what you have. And you must remember to change direction without bringing the point up.”

Spinnet nods. “Got it!”

“Have you done attacks before?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Try it on me. Aim on the sides.”

Despite the nerves that throwing attacks on a princess would naturally cause, Spinnet nods and tenses her legs as she drops into a stance. It is impressively calm and collected for someone with her level of anxiety. She brings the spear forward to Alisha’s sides. Her movements are quick, and Alisha cannot help but be impressed.

“Your footwork is amazing,” she comments, her heart beating a little fast. She’s never stood still like that before in order for them to practise attacks. “It’s just as important as keeping you balanced than it is with a sword. Remember that the attacks you place should be a side-on tap, or a thrust past the body to touch the opponent on the way back, rather than a stab – of course, if you are aiming to injure rather than kill, that is. And it should always be the spear’s head, not the shaft, which does this. Also, you seem as though you get rather tired with all this training?”

Seeming a little ashamed, Spinnet nods. “I’m used to using a bow and arrow, which feels a lot different to this.”

Alisha smiles. “Not to worry. My best friend himself is the same as you and struggles a lot with a spear. You’ll grow to not tire as much the more you practice. Keeping the point down is important with this too as your arms begin to tire. It’ll only tire you out more if its constantly lifted. Distance is important with your attacks, too. If they’re badly placed, it’s a good idea to step away and step in again as you place the blow. Remember that when you’re training this way, there is no reason to rush at all. Take your time to get used to the basics and the skills you need, rather than for perfect speed and timing just yet. Now …” Alisha grabs a sword from the side, pointing it in Spinnet’s direction. “Let’s teach you about attacking an armed opponent.”

Spinnet does well to understand what is needed for this; as a patient person, which is a trait that Alisha can already see that she has, she does well to remain calm as she keeps a distance, as well as when she should disengage. Her spear is constantly kept down, which is a relief to Alisha. It seems as though some of the students are forgetting this. Not only is it safe for others, but it also means that if your spear so happens to be knocked upwards, you know how to position it safely again before it is too late.

Time flies by during this training. Before long, they are eating a meal which has been prepared by a chef in the kitchens. It is a delicious beef stew in a very generous serving. Nervously so, Alisha also sips a glass of blood, for she and Maltran are bound to become fatigued if they keep up with all of this exertion without consuming any of it. A few glances, mostly curiosity, are given to them, but they are only brief and it is not questioned at all.

Alisha has already realised that if she could do all of this everyday instead of the tasks she is expected to do as a princess, she would do so in a heartbeat. She has never particularly enjoyed being a princess. She enjoys being able to look after her people, but as for her position itself … she cannot help but wonder if she would make more of a difference here than anywhere else.

And just like how struggles seemed jinxed to drag on for a lot of time, the fun that she has hear passes by all too quickly, and before she knows it, they have all gotten through their second session of training. Before her and Maltran leave once again at night to return home, they are sat with Sergei in order to have a few drinks. Well, Sergei and Maltran do, at least – not keen on alcohol, Alisha is instead sipping water.

“You were certainly a great help today!” Sergei exclaims, beaming at her. It seems as though he might not be able to handle his alcohol all that well, for Alisha notices how his face is already a little flushed. “You’re a natural at teaching.”

“Oh, that is surely wonderful to hear,” Alisha responds with a smile. “I basically just told them everything I’ve been told. With all the lessons I had, I think I had a good idea on what to do.”

“Still, not everyone can actually give out those lessons in such a polite and understanding way like you did,” Maltran adds. “You definitely have a natural talent for being able to help people and to do what is right for them. Perfect for a princess, though I suppose it is sad that you cannot do things like this as much as I can.”

“Yeah, I do get rather busy. I cannot imagine doing this every week,” she says, a little upset. But her eyes are soon to light up a little. “But if my schedule allows it, will I be able to do this again?”

“You’ll always be welcome here!” Sergei exclaims. Somehow, his voice seems even bolder when he is a little tipsy. “Be it for this or simply for leisure, you can always find yourself welcome in Rolance. Well, perhaps not Lastonbell so much, but here in Pendrago, it’s as much of a pleasure to have you here as in your own city.”

“Thank you, Sergei,” she says, inclining her head to him respectfully. “I will remember that.”

“And really, your help is needed as much as possible,” Maltran says. Suddenly, her voice seems a lot more strained to Alisha, her face even seeming a little older. It concerns Alisha, who tilts her head curiously.

“I … I’m not sure what you mean.”

“There’s always fear of uprisings and disagreements much like in the past to coming into play,” Maltran explains. “And … well, with numerous teenagers coming into age at once, it could either be a wonderful time for progression, or something which goes wrong. We need people prepared for all possibilities.”

“It’ll all be fine!” Sergei exclaims, letting out a small hiccup. “We need our defences, but I do think that no one will try to go back to how it was back then …”

“And I think that you’re having a bit too much to drink,” says Maltran, taking away a glass of beer away from him. Alisha laughs in response to this, yet she finds it a little forced.

Even though the predicaments of her life and the lives of others are not in her own hands, she cannot help but blame herself for these worries that Maltran has. That she may end up being the one to light a spark which will ignite a much bigger fire, perhaps through the wedding, or something else she is not aware of.

She can only help that what she, Mikleo and even Sorey are doing will be for the progression of every race, rather than a downfall. And suddenly, as she thinks about everything she has done which could have possibly be seen as a bad step, she finds herself feeling as though something much greater lies on each of their shoulders.

Chapter Text

Things have felt a little different to Sorey ever since he travelled home and encountered the Deranged.

Generally, everything is going well. During his last visit to see Mikleo, in which Sorey had continued to teach him how to hunt, he was able to forget about everything else completely. It is a wonderful thing about being in Mikleo’s presence. There is something about him which draws all attention to himself. It is as though worries are not there, that the world around them is silent. Yet somehow, it manages to also seem livelier. Sorey cannot quite put a finger on it and nor can he describe it. Yet whatever it is, it means that when Sorey is with Mikleo, he can forget all of his problems.

But then there are random incidents which he has not yet been able to stop. He will be doing nothing which reminds him of the journey home, yet somehow, those frightening red eyes will pop into his mind. Rather than feel scared over the creature itself, however, Sorey finds the story about it the most fearful of all. That creature had once been a regular human. It might have had a family it loved, perhaps a lover and cherished friends. It might have been a doctor, a teacher, anyone who helps the world. Yet for some reason, perhaps to be used in the war, he had it all taken from him to instead be turned into an uncontrollable monster.

Sorey finds himself often picturing what that must be like. It would be better if the human transformed instantly. Of course, the best ideal would be for the human to be left how they are. But at least if they became a beast the moment the blood of the vampire touches their lips in return, they would not have to suffer so greatly. They would not have to feel themselves lose their minds. Perhaps they lash out at those they love, even killing them, before their mind is truly lost …

With a shudder, Sorey tries to push the thought out of his mind. It’s all right now. The act of transforming a human has long been made illegal; ever since the war ended, it became a crime which can result in even capitol punishment dependent on the case and how many humans are transformed. All the remaining Deranged in the world are those who survived and scattered from civilization. But even so, just to know that such a thing can happen, and did happen, chills Sorey right down to the bone. And he had not even known until weeks prior.

Today, he has decided to go and speak to Rose and Dezel about it. The three have naturally spoken since the event, but not about this. Sorey would rather not strengthen the guilt of his parents to tell them how he feels. Even if he cannot deny that some frustration lingers from them not confirming their existence further, he understands their reasoning and would rather not make it drag on any longer than he has to.

There is at least one thing which brings a smile to his face as he heads outside. With the arrival of May, summer is on its way, and Sorey can look forward to the activities and events that Summer will bring regardless of how he feels now. He heads towards the Sparrowfeathers’ store with Spring’s sunshine falling down on the back of his head.

The store is not situated all that far from his manor, causing him to arrive there ten minutes later. It is filled with customers. Some are alone, others are in pairs or small groups admiring the items available. In one corner, sitting on two chairs, is a person Sorey recognises to be a Sparrowfeather conversing with a customer, seeming to be negotiating over items each are holding.

At the store’s desk is a tall man that Sorey knows for certain. Currently, he is leaned down over the surface of the counter to write on a piece of paper, one hand brushing back strands of brunet hair tinted with grey. With a smile, Sorey waits until he has finished before wandering over.

“Hey, Eguille!”

The man’s eyes fall on Sorey, bearing him a large smile. “Sorey! Good to see you, how’re you doing?”

“I’m doing all right, yourself?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty good. Just pretty busy with – ah, give us a moment.”

For a customer has just come up to the counter, holding what appears to be some sort of artefact. As soon as they have left, Eguille turns back to Sorey.

“See, we’re pretty busy these days. Got a lot on our plate. Though in comparison to you, I suppose we haven’t got all that much to do.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Sorey responds. “You guys always seem to be busy with something.”

“Well, I guess that’s true. Rose is even busier these days, what with her training with Dezel. We haven’t had one of our own lessons in a long time.”

Now Eguille has mentioned it, Sorey can recall how Rose had explained to him that Dezel had not always been her tutor. Sorey and Rose had become friends within the last couple of years during her training with Eguille. His, however, were less focused on the abilities of a werewolf. Unlike Dezel, he cannot transform at will, meaning that his training of Rose had all been down to the abilities she has as a human. Martial artes, wielding of blades – really, Sorey wonders how he had not exactly forgotten, but most certainly had not thought about for a while. Rose has simply been training with Dezel for quite some time now, and Eguille is so often travelling with other Sparrowfeathers that it is rare to see him.

“Y’know, now you’ve mentioned it, I don’t see you two together all that often anymore,” Sorey says. Eguille lets out a small sigh and nods.

“We are on occasion, but our work takes us everywhere. It’s a shame, as we really were close. I know that all werewolves in a pack are meant to see each other as family, but she really is … Oh, I’m sorry Miss, I didn’t see you there.” Eguille attends to another customer before he shifts the topic with Sorey. “Anyway, how come you’re here? Come to buy anything?”

“Ah, not today. I was wondering if Rose and Dezel are here.”

“They’re in the back, sorting through some stock we’re having difficulty settling on pricing for,” Eguille explains, gesturing over his shoulder. “I think that Rose is about to scream from all the maths, so now’s probably a good time to distract her from it.”

Sorey laughs. “Yeah, probably. Thanks Eguille, it was great to see you!”

“And you. Take care!”

The two give each other a wave as Sorey passes the counter. He heads to the door, decorated with a sign saying ‘STAFF ONLY’ and opens it. Almost immediately after doing so, he hears a groan coming from Rose.

“I have had it!”

“Good to see you too, Rose,” Sorey greeted, forcing himself not to laugh, even though his lips purse in an obvious way. She feigns a glare.

“Don’t you go teasing me,” she huffs, then as an afterthought, adds, “Hey there, Sorey.”

“What are you doing here?” Dezel says, placing down an object. He looks less frustrated than Rose, yet with how his hair his ruffled as though he has been running his fingers through it, Sorey is quite certain that he is also at his wit’s end.

His words remind Sorey of exactly what he came here to talk about. His mood, which has been lifted ever since speaking to Eguille, drops again. “I have something to tell you.”

“You’ve gotten Mikleo pregnant?” Rose questions.

“What?”

“Ah right, not that far yet. Seriously though, what’s up?”

His eyes glanced at the shut door. “No one would be listening, would they?”

“No,” says Dezel, eyeing Sorey with clear confusion.

“Right, that’s good. Well I, uh … It might take a bit to explain.”

“Sit down,” Rose offers. He nods and does so, breathing out a little deeply, and decides on getting straight to the point.

“On my way back from seeing Mikleo – second to last time, I mean – I heard this scream in Glaivend Basin. One of those Deranged was trying to attack the passengers inside a carriage.”

He is surprised by how unsurprised the pair seem. Sure, Rose’s eyes do widen and her eyebrows raise, whilst Dezel’s mouth has opened a little, but aside from that, you would think that Sorey had told them something much more casual.

“You guys … don’t seem all that shocked.”

“I mean, it’s rare, sure,” says Rose. “But there’s still a fair few around. At least several dozen.”

“I just – I thought it’d be more of a shock.”

“There’s been a few spottings in Glaivend Basin over time,” says Dezel. “Probably because of how scarce and dead it is, and how there’s still something in the air from when battles used to dwell there. A fair few have ventured out of ruins and ended up there instead.”

“How do you know all that?” Sorey questions.

“Merchants come across them from time to time. It’s kept hushed from the public to stop havoc, but as merchants are forever travelling all over, it’s more likely for us to come across one.”

“You’re speaking as though you have, too …”

“That’s because we have,” says Rose, raising an eyebrow as though this is to be expected. “Not that many times, but we’ve had to slay a few. Three together, and Dezel took one out before I was travelling and everything.”

“I … I never even realised,” Sorey responds slowly, his eyes wide. “I didn’t even know for sure they existed until the man driving the carriage told me what it was.”

This is what makes both of them look more surprised. In sync, they exchange a look at each other, before Dezel asks, “You didn’t know, even though you play such a strong role?”

“I mean, I don’t think my role has anything to do with it. I guess they just didn’t want to confirm it until they had to.”

“But you’re eighteen, and … well, you really should have known,” says Rose a little slowly. “Considering that Alphas and their families were often targeted. I’m not saying that they are now,” she adds much quicker when she sees his eyes widen, “but I guess I just thought with that history, they’d tell you.”

He shakes his head. “No, they never did. Even when I confronted them about it they didn’t tell me about the targeting thing.”

“Yeah, vampires tried to use them to attack werewolves, and vice versa,” Dezel explains.

The words bring a sudden bout of concern. “Vice versa? Then Mikleo –”

“Is safe,” Rose finishes for him. “Like I said, they don’t do that anymore.”

“But if they used to be used for that, then what if …?”

“They don’t have a mind of their own,” Dezel says. “They were never given orders to kill those in hierarchy. They were simply set loose. And there’s none of them in possession anymore, so that won’t happen.”

“Right … Right, of course.”

“From what you’ve told us about him, it sounds like he can take care of himself, anyway,” says Rose, trying to bring a little cheerfulness back to her voice. “So there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I know. I just don’t want him to get hurt, that’s all.”

“You two have grown quite the bond there, haven’t you?”

“I guess so?” says Sorey, scratching the back of his head. “I mean, I care about him like I would with my other friends.”

“That’s still a lot really, being as you haven’t known each other all that long.”

“You be careful with that,” Dezel warns, folding his arms. “Vampires can be pretty untrustworthy. You don’t want him to be secretly trying to smuggle anything out of you.”

“But anyone can be untrustworthy, not just vampires,” Sorey protests, but Dezel brushes this off.

“Yeah, that’s true. But it’s nature, not stereotype, which dictates that vampires are known be cunning. Though they are still stronger than humans, they don’t have the same strength as us, so they make up for that with high amounts of intelligence.”

“What Dezel is trying to say,” Rose continues, giving him a quick glare which expresses that she thinks he should have addressed this in a better way, “is that you haven’t known Mikleo all that long. Until you know for sure that his intentions are pure, be careful.”

“They are,” Sorey says immediately. “I know that he’s not manipulative or anything like that. But I’ll still be careful.”

Rose gives him a smile. “Then that’s fine.”

“That’s all we’re asking of you,” Dezel adds. He then looks down at the stock around them, rubbing the back of his neck. “We really should be getting back to this.”

Rose groans, yet she still agrees. “There’s a lot to do. Mind if we continue this later, Sorey?”

“No, not at all.”

“And remember, the Deranged really isn’t all that big of an issue anymore,” Dezel reminds him. “It’s just a matter of cleaning up what’s left. There’s some people who are trained to hunt them down specifically. It’ll be sorted out over time.”

“Right. That’s good to know. I’ll talk to you both later.”

“See ya!” Rose exclaims. Sorey forces a smile to them both before he exits the room, unable to hold in a sigh once he has left. He waves his farewell to Eguille before heading out of the shop, a million thoughts racing in his mind.

A lot of things are beginning to make sense. Of course, it would have been normal for Rose to learn self defence due to robbers and bandits they can encounter on the road. But she has always seemed too skilled for this, as though she is trained for something else. Sorey realises now that this ‘something else’ is likely her to be trained strongly enough deal with any Deranged that they encounter. That she, someone who smiles so brightly, has killed those –

Sorey quickly shakes his head mentally. No, neither she nor Dezel is a murderer. Even if those creatures were once human, that does not mean they are now. Disposing of such a monster can hardly be seen as murder. If anything, it is no more than self defence, for there seems to be no other way to fight off those creatures.

Yet even with these thoughts, he – who has never hurt someone seriously – finds himself struggling to imagine ever killing anything. ‘Though I did help,’ he ends up thinking, remembering how it had been him who had held down that monster for it to be brought to death. Even if it had been needed, there is no way that Sorey will ever truly feel a though it was the right thing to do.

 


 

 

“Look what I’ve brought!” With this exclamation, Sorey gestures to a fishing rod, violet eyes landing on it.

A week later has brought this meeting. Due to the mornings now turning light early, even though they have met at a similar time to normal, the sky is already almost completely blue. It is pleasantly warm and cool at the same time, the flowing of the water gentle from how the breeze is soft, yet also still noticeable.

Mikleo is attempting to contain some of his excitement as he looks at the rod. “This seems more complicated than hunting is.”

“That’s because you’ve never used one before. I couldn’t bring two with me, but I thought that we could take turns!”

With a smile, Mikleo nods. “Sounds good. I’ve read about it since you told me that you’ll be teaching me this, but I guess there’s nothing like experience first hand.”

“Definitely not! So, this is the bait.” Sorey shows Mikleo a bag with wriggling worms inside, Sorey chuckling at the disgusted expression that goes to the other’s face. “Not really that nice, are they?”

“Definitely not. They stink, too.”

“Think about how it must feel for me with a wolf’s nose and all. But the fish love them, so …” One of the worms is attached to the hook. “Honestly, it’s pretty simple. You cast this out into the water and wait until you feel a bite, then you reel it in. A bigger body of water is better, though …”

“The river leads to a lake down that way, in Lakehaven. Let’s go there.”

“Sure!”

Mikleo takes hold of Juliet’s bridle, interrupting her chewing of grass in order to guide her to follow them. After crossing a bridge and trekking across land, they soon reach a much larger body of water. Here, Sorey steps back, warning Mikleo to stay to the side.

“It’s pretty long and I wouldn’t want it to catch you,” Sorey explains, waiting for Mikleo to be out of the way before throwing it out into the water. Mikleo’s eyes widen a little – it was definitely longer than it seemed. The hook has now sunk below the surface. “And now,” Sorey continues as he settles down on the ground with his legs crossed, “we wait!”

“How long does it usually take?” Mikleo asks as he sits down next to Sorey, making note that he will likely have to change his clothes as usual when he gets home. Grass and dirt do not exactly mix well with white trousers, after all.

“It varies, really. Sometimes I can get a bite really quickly, other times it can take ages.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to use a bow and arrow, then? I mean, you mentioned that you and your mother do that sometimes.”

“Yeah, we do, but it only really works well for rivers. Lakes and oceans are different. Plus, it’s pretty relaxing, don’t you think?”

Mikleo takes a moment to contemplate his surroundings. The city of Ladylake in the distance, far enough to not cause any noise. The sounds of birds tweeting in the trees, as well as the feet of small critters somewhere nearby. Even the scent that Mikleo can smell is rather pleasant, simply from being outdoors. And then, what is likely best of all, the water in front of him, calm and peaceful as it shines under the rays of the sun.

“I suppose it is fairly relaxing.”

“Right? Plus, when you’re with someone else, it really does give you a good time to talk.” Sorey leans back with his hands still holding onto the rod, a smile on his face. “My mom and I do this a lot together.”

“Are you two close?” Mikleo asks.

“Definitely! I sometimes have times where I don’t see her for a while because of her travels, but I’m still as close to her now as when I was younger. Plus, she’s started going away for shorter periods of time.”

“I thought you would be. You two are pretty similar.”

“As are you and your mom! I take it you’re both close as well?”

Mikleo nods. “Yeah, definitely. I’m closer to her than Michael, that’s for sure. I think it probably helps with my father not being around.”

Sorey is a little taken aback; he has been certain that Mikleo knows that Sorey is aware of this fact, what with it turning out to be common knowledge about the royal family. But Sorey would not have expected Mikleo to actually say this himself.

“Do you know much about your dad?” Sorey finds himself asking before he can stop himself. He worries that it might be too personal of a question, though Mikleo soon answers.

“Only a bit. He’s called Luzrov and he left whilst my mum was pregnant with me. Apparently, he demanded for him to take me from her.”

“But … but why would he do that?”

Mikleo merely shrugs. However, despite how this gesture suggests that Mikleo is unsure, there is something on his face which tells Sorey that he might not be quite as clueless as he is making himself out to be.

“They worried at first that he might come back and try and take me or something,” says Mikleo. He rests his chin on his knees, frowning slightly. “I can’t ever remember a time when they weren’t protective of me because of that.”

“He didn’t though, right?”

Mikleo shakes his head. “That’s all I’ve heard of him. He’s never made an appearance since. I don’t even know what he looks like at all considering I take so much after my mother.” He plays with a strand of hair thoughtfully. “Though for all we know, I could have the same hair colour if I drank blood regularly. Who knows?”

“I mean, that’s true,” Sorey chuckles softly, before looking at Mikleo a little guiltily. “I’m sorry if I went into anything personal there. I got carried away.”

“No, it’s fine. We’ve known each other for a little while now, so I don’t mind speaking about some stuff.” Suddenly, Mikleo sits up a little straighter, his eyes growing wide. “I think you have a bite.”

“O-Oh!” Sorey exclaims, noticing the tug on his fishing rod. He grins, carefully getting to his feet. “All right, here we go!”

He begins to reel in the thread, Mikleo’s eyes averting between Sorey’s hands and the water. Moments later, a fish is pulled out of the water out of the water; up close, both can see that it is a salmon – the tastiest one imaginable, for it is rarer to get them at this time of year. “It’s a great size, but maybe it’s not enough for the two of us. Want to get another one while I sort this out?”

Feeling as though it looks fairly easy, Mikleo nods. “Sure. But, uh, you put that worm on the end. I’m not touching that.”

Sorey laughs. “All right, Prince, I’ve got you.”

Several minutes later, Sorey has the fish ready to be prepared and the bait attached to the rod. He hands it to Mikleo, taking a moment to position the boy’s hands properly on the rod – which, for some reason that Mikleo scolds himself for mentally, causes his heart to seem like it stopped for a moment. Unaware, Sorey settles to the side with a grin.

“Okay, just throw it in!”

Mikleo does so – it does not reach quite as far as Sorey’s had, yet still lands in the water with a satisfying splash. He sits down onto the ground next to Sorey, who has began to prepare the salmon. It makes Mikleo feel a little sick to his stomach.

“How can you even do that?” he questions, unable to tear his gaze away from Sorey’s knife despite wanting to do so.

“Do what? This? Well, I guess I stopped being squeamish after doing it a fair few times. You get used to it eventually.”

“I’d rather not have to get used to it at all.”

Sorey chuckles. “Then you can do the cooking part once they’re properly prepared. You did pretty well with that last time.”

He is referring to their last hunt, in which after seeing Sorey doing the task the previous time, Mikleo cooked their caught rabbits for them both. It was probably a mental thing, but for some reason, it seemed even tastier when he himself had cooked it.

“Sounds like a plan,” Mikleo answers. He looks back out at the water, taking in the sky, which was now a brilliant blue littered with a few clouds. “The view sure looks better here than in my room.”

“Yeah, it’s really nice. I can imagine you go and see quite a bit of Hyland, huh? What with how pretty it is.”

Unmistakeable tension, much like the time they had spent on the balcony together, falls immediately over them both. Sorey looks up from what he is doing to look at Mikleo. Yes, there’s no doubt about it; even if Mikleo is trying to act normally, there is no mistaking his tense shoulders and furrowed eyebrows, not to mention how he has ignored Sorey’s words.

And suddenly, the reason why this may be washes over Sorey, as though someone as just poured water over him. Instantly, though he does not want to, he understands. This must have flickered in his eyes, for Mikleo is changing the subject a little hurriedly.

“How’s that coming along?” he asks, referring to the fish that Sorey had stopped attending to.

“Oh, it’s … it’s fine. Only a bit more now.”

Mikleo nods. He appears as though he wants to say something more, bringing the rod closer to himself and holding onto it tighter. Sorey too wants to continue speaking and Mikleo can see this easily. Yet neither choose to say anything at all for this moment in time. They can neither decide what to say nor know for sure if they should say anything at all.

And so, they remain in silence until Mikleo gets a bite. This moment breaks the tension momentarily, Sorey shouting encouragement as the fish is reeled in; hanging off the hook is another salmon, and both feel a sense of victory.

“Want to prepare that one, too?” Mikleo asks, his voice fairly back to normal. Sorey chuckles and takes the rod off him.

“One day, I’ll teach you to do this yourself.”

“I’d rather pass on that, thanks.”

It does not take long to prepare the second fish, and Mikleo is soon turning them around on a stick above a fireplace. He watches as the flames crackle and disperse. It feels odd to have such intense heat be near them in this weather, yet Mikleo imagines what this must be like at night, where the blaze would illuminate the darkness around them.

“They’re done,” he says before long, after poking a knife into the flesh to check it is hot throughout. Instantly ravenous, the two begin to eat their breakfast as they stare out at the lake once more. The sky is now completely bright, and with a sense of loneliness and disappointment, Mikleo knows that he has to hurry the meal he would otherwise take his time with, in fear of returning home late.

Sorey does not fail to notice this. Watching as Mikleo finishes his food, he cannot help but ask, “Need to hurry?”

“Yeah, I should get back.” A minute later, both are on their feet. Mikleo begins to walk over to Juliet, holding in a sigh as does so. He prepares to mount her, yet a tug on his sleeve stops his movements. He turns to see that Sorey is holding onto it, seeming conflicted.

“Mikleo, do …” he says, his words drifting off for a moment. He inhales deeply, and with an apparent burst of determination, asks gently, “Do you only ever get out of that palace to see me?”

Even Mikleo’s expression alone confirms this is right. His eyes blink and widen, his mouth open as though to say something, yet for several moments, he does not say anything at all. Even when he does choose to respond, it is not through words, but rather one, simple nod.

“But … but why? Why don’t you …”

“The first time you saw me was the first time I’ve ever left the palace’s grounds.”

The words are spoken quietly yet quickly, as though Mikleo does not want to say this at all, yet feels as though he must. He is looking down so he does not meet Sorey’s eyes, fringe falling over his face so his expression cannot be read. Everything is beginning to make sense now. The way Mikleo is always alone when Sorey goes to see him, how lonely he seems, how hurriedly he has always left once the sun has risen properly in the sky …

“That’s … that’s a whole eighteen years without seeing anything. Anything at all.”

“I bet that’s laughable, compared to you,” Mikleo mutters, sounding defensive, as though he feels like Sorey will judge him. “You, who has been all over, fitting travelling into your schedule, seeing the world like any person should. And then there’s me, scared to even walk twenty minutes away from home. It’s pathetic.”

“It’s not pathetic at all,” Sorey says immediately. Mikleo flinches a little as Sorey places a hand on his shoulder, yet does not move any more than this, including the way his eyes are fixed downwards. “And I’m not laughing. If anything I’m … I’m just mad that they’ve confined you like that. Why have they? Is it because of the worries of your father?”

“That’s part of it.”

“Then what –”

But Mikleo shakes his head. “I can’t say. It’s not just protectiveness. I can’t blame them for what they do. But … but all my life, I’ve just wanted to be free of it all. I’m a prince, aren’t I? Aren’t I supposed to have experience with the world? Yet I …” he breathes in deeply, and finally, he looks up at Sorey, who is startled to see that whilst no tears have fell, they are certainly welling up. “Sorry. I shouldn’t vent to you like this.”

“It’s okay, really. I just want to help you.”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. Maybe once I’m a bit older, they’ll let me, but …”

“But how older is that ‘bit’, if you’re already eighteen? Have … have you even been around Marlind?” Sorey inhales sharply when Mikleo gives a small shake of his head. “I can’t … I can’t begin to imagine how awful that is, Mikleo. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. It’s what I’m used to. But being out for the first time felt amazing, and it’s like I’ve grown addicted since then. And you … you’re the reason I kept finding reason to leave, really. So I suppose I should thank you.”

“It’s nothing, I never even knew, I just wanted us to continue seeing each other. Though now I want to help you …” Sorey’s teeth graze over his lips. It’s more than him simply ‘wanting’ to, he realises. He has to. Before, he would want to grant Mikleo happiness anyway. But now …

Sorey’s eyes glance in the distance across the lake, making out the buildings of Ladylake. A place which is so close to home, yet for whatever reason that Mikleo’s family and even Mikleo himself seems reasonable, has still not been taken in by those violet eyes. For one of the rare times in his life, Sorey is once again angry. Angry that someone who is so interested in the world and its history, who could surely brighten anyone’s day with his loveable personality and charms, is confined to a single land.

It is this which brings a completely sudden, perhaps stupid but also ingenious plan. Sorey’s other hand grabs Mikleo’s right shoulder so that his hands are now leaning on them both. Mikleo starts, blinking up at Sorey over the sudden motion.

“Mikleo, people in Ladylake wouldn’t have met you, would they?”

“Huh?” he says simply, caught off guard. “Uh, some would if they’ve visited the palace. But it’s mostly Marlind civilians who do that. Why?”

“Why don’t we go there together?”

Mikleo looks at him as though he is mad. “You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Sorey, look at me. You might have been clueless, but the second someone sees even the top of my head, they’d freak out.”

“Then we’ll get you a wig, get different clothes, put a cloak on you. They won’t pay much attention then, right?”

“W-Well, maybe, but –”

“But what? It’s a large city, isn’t it? I doubt anyone would see a thing!”

“But the family know me. The Diphdas, I mean.”

“And they happen to be in every inch of Ladylake all the time?”

“Obviously not, but …” With a sigh, Mikleo gently pushes Sorey away from him. “Sorey, it’s just a bad idea. I already take enough risk by coming out here to see you like this. To go all the way there is …”

“I know it probably seems really stupid –”

“Not probably, it is stupid.”

“– but you can’t spend your whole life trapped forever. Please, Mikleo, just try it at least this once?”

Clearly faltering slightly, Mikleo bites his bottom lip. “I don’t know.”

“I’d be with you for every second of it, I promise. If anything happened, I’d …”

“You’d what? Protect me?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Mikleo had meant it as a joke, yet even so, Sorey’s reply had seemed genuine, spoken instantly and without a hint of amusement. Mikleo inspects Sorey’s eyes to see if there’s any sign of it there, and when he finds the same determination that Sorey has been speaking with, he sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. “Okay. Let’s just say I did go – completely hypothetically, of course. How would it even work? We’d likely walk the way there which will take a while, and all I’ve ever chanced myself with is a few hours in the morning. How will we even have enough time to get there and everything?”

The realism causes Sorey’s heart to sink for a moment. But this soon lifts, for he is not one to give up so easily. “Is there any chance of being able to leave earlier at all? Like in the early hours of the morning?”

“I mean – well, there’s people around at that time. But not my mother or uncle.”

“Would those people believe you if you said you couldn’t sleep and was going to go ride Juliet for a while to pass the time?”

“I … I guess they would, yeah. I’ve been out riding for hours on the ground before, and I doubt that they’d suspect me of something like this …”

“Then we could spend that extra time getting to Ladylake. It won’t seem weird, we’d just seem like vampires who dwell at night.”

“I … you do realise this is utterly crazy, right?”

“Yup, I know. But I really want you to have at least some chance of seeing somewhere. And … well, to be honest,” Sorey bears Mikleo the kind of radiant smile which is able to break his walls, “I kinda want to do more than just hunt with you and watch rivers flow by.”

Mikleo cannot help but smile back. It fades, however, as he begins to think over this in his mind. Edna’s face is quick to pop into his mind. He can hear her voice almost clearly as he would if she was by his side, telling him that he’s stupid, that for all he knows, this could be some kind of plan in which Sorey will betray him. And even if that is not the case, that Sorey genuinely does want to give Mikleo this opportunity, what if everything went wrong? What if they were caught, and Sorey got into trouble for not only trespassing, but for luring Mikleo there?

But another side of Mikleo is betraying him. It is pulling him towards the thought of finally being around others in a normal environment, not one in which he is being ogled at for being the Prince. He would be able to see what it is like in the city, see it in colour as opposed to the photographs he has seen, hear the cheerful chatter around him and the clanking of glasses in pubs, the scraping of cutlery as people eat their food … The streetlights, civilians wandering, perhaps even street performers … They are all simple things which normal people would not give a second thought or glance. But to Mikleo, it would be something new, something wonderful, and he’d be able to experience it with the boy who seems to be granting him all sorts of happiness as of late.

“All right,” he ends up saying, surprising even himself. “It’s stupid, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but … As long as you’re sure it really will be fine, I’ll go with you.”

If possible, the smile on Sorey’s face manages to grow even larger and brighter. “You really will?” he asks excitedly, causing Mikleo’s own smile to grow.

“As long as you don’t leave me lost anywhere.”

“Well, considering I don’t know my way around there either, we’d get lost together. Don’t worry, I’ll get a map!” he adds hurriedly when seeing Mikleo’s expression, letting out a laugh. His expression softens as he says, “Thank you, Mikleo.”

“For what? I should be the one thanking you.”

“You’re being really brave to do this. Honestly, I thought you would have said no. I really am proud that you didn’t.”

“Proud of me breaking rules? What a great influence you are.” Despite these words, there is no mistaking how complimented he feels by this. “I must be out of my mind. But I’ve been thinking that ever since the day we met.”

Upon seeing the cheeky grin which Sorey gives him over this, his hand held into a peace sign, he realises that despite all aspects of better judgement, he is much preferring being out of his mind in this way as opposed to be being driven mad by isolation and loneliness.

 


 

 

The week the two have of waiting are filled with both nerves and excitement. Even Sorey, who is generally much more optimistic than Mikleo, is still aware of what can possibly happen. He is hopeful, not stupid. Yet they are not nerves which cannot be pushed aside. In his eyes, it is worth all the risks for Mikleo to have this time away from home. It is the least that Sorey can give to him.

Sorey still cannot believe what he has been told. It is such an unbelievable concept for him that he is hardly surprised that he had not realised this sooner, despite how all the signs have been there. He himself has always been granted freedom. Even if he was a vampire, he doubts that things would be all that different. He cannot picture his life being similar to Mikleo’s. He realises now how much he had taken something that he has always seen as a simple aspect of life for granted, that really, he is in fact lucky to have the amount of opportunities that he does. It took seeing someone else not being quite as lucky as himself to see this.

As for Mikleo, whilst he has always known that his confinement might perhaps not be the right way to go about everything, he has still accepted it and has never expected anything different. Like with Sorey, it has taken meeting the other to see it. The utter shock on Sorey’s face is an image that Mikleo is still thinking about. There had also been anger in those eyes. It is these emotions which have made him realise just how trapped he really is.

Neither he nor Sorey have told anyone about this meeting. Not only do both believe those they know will try to stop them, even if they would keep it a secret, but there is also too much risk of being overheard and their plans being discovered. There has been that worry all along, but this is different. Sorey venturing into a city he is not supposed to be in, Mikleo going much further away from home when he is not allowed, how the two will be breaking rules together rather than on theeir own … This time, the consequences of being caught are much greater, and both have to do everything they can to limit that.

Sorey has it much easier. He will simply have to travel down to Hyland as he usually does, sleep earlier and then wake in order to meet Mikleo within the forest. Mikleo, however, has had to come up with a little plan with Sorey’s assistance; he has to pretend to his mother and uncle that he is not feeling that well and so wishes for an early night, hopefully in order to get some sleep as well before he has to meet Sorey, and then spin his tale about not being able to sleep if he is questioned over is wandering about at night by any passing staff.

Much like Sorey, he is not a particularly good liar and nor does he want to do so at all, especially to his own family. When the time comes for him to feign his early night to them, however, he finds that it is a little easier than he thought it would be. As his ever-increasing anxiety is making his stomach churn and nausea develop, he does not feel like he’s completely lying.

“I’m going to go and have an early night,” he informs the two of them, who are sat alone in the lounge. “I’m not feeling that great.”

“You are looking a little pale,” says Muse worriedly, wandering over to press the back of her hand against his forehead.

“Have you drank any blood today?” Michael asks.

“I have,” he says with a nod. As much as he appreciates their fuss over him, he really is beginning to feel impatient – with how long it can take him to fall asleep, especially whilst anxious, he will only get a couple of hours sleep at this rate. “I think I’ve just overworked myself a bit.”

“Then do get some rest,” says Muse, pulling him into a hug. “You have to look after yourself.”

“I will, don’t worry.”

After bidding the two goodnight, he finds himself lucky in not encountering anyone on the way to his bedroom, and even luckier that currently, Edna is in Rolance to attend to some business, for he knows that she is the one person he cannot lie to. With this lack of disturbances he is easily able to get himself dressed for bed and slide underneath the soft duvet. The sun is still setting at this hour.

Almost immediately after laying like this, he knows that he is in for a restless slumber. His anxiety has not settled one bit. If anything, it has increased, and the fact that he told his family that he is unwell is definitely no longer a lie.

Calm down,’ he thinks to himself, breathing out deeply. ‘Nothing good will come out of worrying.’

Yet worrying is what Mikleo does best, and it is this which manages to keep him up for what feels like – and probably is, too – hours on end. Thoughts of what if Sorey really does have some ulterior motives, if they will get caught, if he will cause hell for Sorey all because of his selfishness to be away from this palace … Is putting someone else at risk really worth all that?

It’s not. Look at all he’s done for you – you’re going to repay him by endangering him this way? He’s likely only doing this because he’d feel guilty otherwise,’ says one voice in Mikleo’s mind.

But another, one which does a much better job of calming his racing heart, retorts, ‘Sorey isn’t like that. He’s selfless, but because of how the other person feels, not himself. He just wants to help as he always does.’

Besides, why would Sorey even offer something so crazy if he truly did not want to do this? Mikleo had not hinted at this at all, it had been Sorey to bring up Mikleo’s entrapment in the palace, to suggest a way for him to get away from that. It had all been Sorey … who, as usual, seems to be the one thing which is bringing a little light to everything. And, like many other times, is the one thing which is causing himself to be calmed for the first time in hours, his eyelids beginning to droop …

And feeling as though he had not slept at all, Mikleo wakes with a start a couple of hours later, just as he had predicted. He is still exhausted and feeling rather nauseous – the only sign that he definitely has slept for sure is that he can vaguely recall his dreams. He looks down at the hand which he is convinced he had felt be enveloped by the warmth of another, before his eyes are trailing to the clock. Now adjusting to the dark, they can read the time; it is a little past two in the morning, and so an hour before he has to meet Sorey.

It is an hour too long. Nerves are building up again, and it is harder to be comforted by the thought of someone rather than their actual presence. It is likely this longing which is the cause of his confidence to get out of bed and go through with their plans after all. He knows that if he sits here waiting for more time to pass, it will only drag on endlessly, with his anxieties only rising higher. He might as well go now.

Sorey is going to be bringing a change of clothes for him due to not owning anything casual of his own. So for now, he simply dons one of his usual shirt and trousers, as well as a jacket to fight the night’s cold on the way there. To his relief, he is only stopped by a couple of guards on his way outside, both believing his story about not being able to sleep. In the past when his mother and uncle would sleep later, there would often be guests wandering around as well, but that has changed now, making it easier to get outside.

Juliet is one issue in this matter. If he does not take her, people will question his story if she is not absent from the stables. However, if he does take her, he would grab a lot more attention in Ladylake. But then he realises how much of a loyal horse she is. If Mikeo left her by his and Sorey’s usual spot, she is bound to wait for him, and would flee if anyone else but his family, Edna or Alisha approaches her.

“Come on,” he says quietly as he guides her out of the stable. Moments later, he is walking through the forest, knowing he does not have to hurry to see Sorey on time. It is a strange feeling to be out at this hour. It has been fairly dark on a couple of his trips away, but it has always been with a midnight blue and the sun ready to rise before long, whereas now, the jet-black sky littered with thousands of stars is there to stay for several hours yet.

A combination of his focus on getting out of the palace and also this view before him causes him to forget his anxiety for a moment. However, as soon as he and Juliet reach the clearing, it all comes flooding back. Feeling as though he may just fall off Juliet in this state, he is quick to dismount her and lead her over to the river. It reflects the sky above and looks more beautiful than ever upon doing so. Yet Mikleo can no longer properly appreciate night’s beauty with how his mind is racing.

A different worry has come to him now he is waiting. What if Sorey does not turn up at all? He doubts that all of this is a hoax, but perhaps he ran into trouble, or got so caught up in his own life that he simply had no time and his message to Mikleo has not yet arrived … Really, despite how the worries are caused by anxieties, it is not all that out there to think like this. He has never had a proper set-up with Sorey like this, after all, and it isn’t impossible for it to go wrong.

“Have I been an idiot?” he says quietly to Juliet, the only one there to listen, as her head leans down so his hand can stroke it. He notices that he is trembling a little. Probably because of this fear of rejection he had not quite known he has, and also because of the backlash he could very well receive from his and Sorey’s plan.

But at least some of his anxiety settles when moments later, when his shortage of breath warns of a possible panic attack, a voice says, “Ah, I thought I got here too early!”

“Sorey,” says Mikleo, turning around to face him with a smile. He is a little surprised by his appearance; obviously to seem more like a vampire, he has discarded his trademark traveller’s cloak and other items, instead replacing them with a dark red shirt, a trench coat and black trousers. It looks much different for him, yet Mikleo cannot help but think to himself how handsome it makes Sorey look. “I was wondering when you’d turn up,” he adds, trying to shift his thoughts elsewhere and failing a little.

“Worried that I wouldn’t turn up at all?” Sorey asks as he places a bag down and crouches next to it – Mikleo assumes it contains his change of clothes.

“W-Well …”

“Don’t worry, I’m not offended by that. I can understand you being that way.” He looks up as he opens the bag, smiling reassuringly. “I’m just glad you trusted me enough to turn up despite that. Right, so I ended up buying you a couple of things as my stuff would have swamped you.”

“I’m not that small,” Mikleo retorts automatically. With clothes folded over his arms and a wig placed on top, Sorey stands up, his amused grin making Mikleo realise that this is the first time that Sorey has witnessed his sensitivity to his height.

“Are you kidding? You’re tiny.”

“Just – just hand those over.”

His grin growing, he passes them to Mikleo, who proceeds to glance around him, wondering where he was going to get changed. For one horrid moment which reddens his face, he imagines having to do so in front of Sorey.

“I won’t look.” Sorey raises his hands when Mikleo looks at him sceptically. “Why are you looking at me like that? Of course I wouldn’t!”

“I’m going behind those trees anyway,” Mikleo says, doing just that. He had not exactly given this plan much thought – he shivers as the cold night air hits his bare skin, hurrying to fit into the clothes that Sorey had bought him; it turns out to be similar to Sorey’s clothes, though the shirt is a deep blue instead, and his coat is hooded to hide his face. They’re slightly loose, but not uncomfortably so, and this does well to further hide his face.

“All right, I’m done,” he says after placing his own clothes into the bag, walking back out onto the clearing as he pulls his sleeves up from his hands a little. He raises an eyebrow when he catches Sorey staring. “What is it?”

“I’ve just never seen you in dark colours. It’s strange … but anyway, the wig!”

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot about that.”

He begins to tuck white strands of hair into a wig cap which has come with the wig, which is coloured a medium brown. Once his hair is hidden away, he proceeds to place the wig on top; this is when Sorey walks over.

“Hang on a second,” he says, his tongue peeking at the corner of his mouth as he begins to style the strands so that they fall over one eye. “Sorry if that’s annoying. I just thought it’d help stop any chances of someone recognising your face.”

“That’s fine,” he says, the synthetic fibres tickling his face. “It’s itchy, though.”

Sorey chuckles. “Well, hopefully you get used to that. So … well, we really shouldn’t dawdle much longer, should we?”

Mikleo’s nerves, which had managed to go unnoticed for these minutes of Sorey being here, come back instantly. Yet he nods, walking over to Juliet. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” he says to her, stroking her forehead. “Stay safe, okay?”

“You’re not bringing her with us?” Sorey asks. Mikleo shakes his head.

“She’d bring way too much attention to us. Let’s go, then.”

The walk, according to Sorey, should take around half an hour. As soon as they have reached a further distance than Mikleo has ever gone before, his nerves grow, yet he finds that they’re mingled in with excitement. He gazes at the large lake they pass in awe, wondering how he had resisted the temptation to venture so far all of his life.

“You’ve never been this far, have you?”

“I haven’t. Our last meeting was the furthest I’ve ever been.”

“Then … well, as much as a bad influence it may make me, I’m glad that I encouraged you to do this.”

Smiling warmly, Mikleo answers, “So am I.”

The exhaustion from his lack of sleep seems to be off his mind completely as he takes in the landscape around him. Even in the darkness of night, it still manages to look much more colourful than in photographs and his imagination. He can see why Sorey has travelled here so many times over the last few months … though the landscapes, of course, had stopped being his sole reason for being here some time ago.

Sorey, though he does enjoy looking at the landscape himself, finds that his eyes keep landing on Mikleo. It brings him incredible joy to see Mikleo looking around him in such awe. It is like he has been given his sight for the very first time – in fact, it could be interpreted as such, when you imagine how many sights those eyes had been limited to all of his life. A little rage flares in Sorey again, yet it subsides immediately when he notices how Mikleo’s violet eyes strangely turn so blue during the night.

“Almost there now,” says Mikleo, startling Sorey as though he had been in a trance. Though Mikleo likely tried to hide it, there had been a clear shake in his voice.

“It’ll be okay,” Sorey says reassuringly. “I’m right here.”

Mikleo’s head inclines, seeming comforted by these words up until moments later, when they reach the bridge leading to Ladylake. There, two guards are stood, and they catch the sight of Sorey and Mikleo quickly.

“Who are you?” they question. Mikleo swallows, staying behind Sorey who steps forward, taking a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“We’re, uh,” he says a little awkwardly, handing the paper out to them. “We’re with the Sparrowfeathers. Vampire branch.”

One soldier takes the piece of paper. On there, Rose’s signature is scrawled at the bottom of the page, good enough evidence due to her being the leader of all branches. She gave this to Sorey some time ago, just in case he ever needed to enter a vampire dominated city and required an identity.

“All right, go on through,” the solider says, gesturing for them to enter. Sorey thanks him, Mikleo hurrying past, hand holding onto his hood.

“I guess that’s what capitols are like, huh?” Sorey says to Mikleo once they are crossing the bridge and are out of earshot.

“Yeah, they’re definitely a lot more guarded. It’s a good job you have that.” Mikleo looks up at the buildings ahead, many windows still lit due to the night-dwellers. “I can’t believe I’m actually here. If my family found out, or Alisha’s …”

The thought brings Mikleo to a stop, as though the anxiety has taken control of physically. He can feel his head begin to spin a little … how he can also feel that deprivation of sleep now he’s here. As much as there’s that voice screaming in his head about how much he needs to go there, how much he has dreamed about this for years, there’s also a large part of him who wishes he was sleeping in bed as normal, going through the same routine as always.

Moments later, his heart seems to skip a beat despite how fast it has been pounding – he glances down and then up as his hand is taken into Sorey’s and is given a small squeeze. Despite the coolness of the night, it is pleasantly warm … Warm like the hand he thinks he had felt within his dream.

“Trust me,” Sorey says simply. Mikleo glances down at their hands again as, without looking back up, he nods his head. Keeping hold of Mikleo’s hand, Sorey begins to walk forward, Mikleo’s legs now working perfectly fine. It is strange how a simple hold can make him feel so steady, and make Sorey feel like he has all the power to protect, even if what he is doing is a very small thing. Both feel a sense of loss when their hands release each other once they have reached the entrance to the city, for both agree silently that seeing two men holding hands is not what many citizens will think is right.

Yet now there is something else which is taking Mikleo’s mind away from his anxiety. The two are now walking inside the city, and Mikleo can see how much it strives at night. Even at this hour, there is the bustle of chatter in the streets, groups of more people than he has ever seen in his life … Street lamps light the dark streets, making them brighter and lighting up the laughing faces of the civilians. Even the buildings seem incredible … all are constructed with such wonderful architecture, and Mikleo, who has only ever seen a single building up close, stares at it in awe.

“Well?” Sorey questions, bearing Mikleo a grin. “What do you think?”

“It’s … it’s …” But Mikleo cannot quite put his finger at all on what word he can use to describe this place. Sorey seems to understand; rather than try to dig out a proper answer, he instead pulls out a map, placing the tip of his finger onto a location further into the city.

“I think we should try this place first,” Sorey suggests. “There’s some market stalls there, open twenty-four hours a day. I reckon you’d love it there.”

Mikleo can do no more than nod during his transfixion of the city. Really, he could be anywhere in this city and would still feel joy. His eyes widen a little as he notices the height of this emotion. It swells in his chest, almost too much to bear … he is finally here, among other people like he should be, and what makes it even better is that not one person stop to ogle at him. They hurry past as though he is no one special. As though he is as ordinary as them. And he adores it.

“There’s great waterworks here, too! I’ve been excited to see that, a wheel on them is actually in the Celestial record …”

“We’ll have to keep an eye out for that,” Mikleo says, finally finding his voice. He remains close to Sorey as they walk, not wanting to stray from him – after all, despite his joy, there is also a lot of fear over being out in the city for the first time. His eyes stray to the right, widening as he tugs on Sorey’s sleeve. “Over there!”

Sure enough, there was the stream reflecting the night’s sky, filtering through the waterworks. Taking care to not bump into anyone along the way, the two hurry over to the stone barricade, hands leaning on it as they stare in awe at the construction of it.

“It must date back centuries,” says Sorey, Mikleo nodding.

“One of the Diphdas’ ancestors had been the one to order for this to be built. I’ve read about it, but I’ve naturally never seen it in person …”

“Many of the buildings seem old, actually,” says Sorey, glancing around them. “But new at the same time.”

“They were renovated after the war in order to make the city appear how it once was. I’m glad they did, it really does suit the atmosphere here …”

“And the palace! You can see it in the distance over there, it looks amazing …”

Realising how much they have gone off into a ramble, the two glance at each other before letting out a laugh. Laughing like this makes Mikleo feel the most relaxed he has done all night, and though he still remains close to Sorey as they walk again, he finds himself less scared than before.

“It’s so strange to see everything be so lively at this hour,” Sorey says to Mikleo, looking around him in awe. He drops his voice as he says, “Considering there are no vampires in Lastonbell, it’s not like this at all. I wonder how people can even sleep …”

Mikleo wonders this himself for a moment, before realising that though the chatter around them is cheerful, no one is particularly shouting or anything of the sort.

“Did you hear that the Princess is meant to currently be in Rolance?”

“Spearing lessons, right? I never knew she would stay overnight in another country … they must feel jealous, not being ruled by someone so spectacular!”

“I knew that I’d end up hearing some gossip about her,” Mikleo says, amused. Sorey turns around to him again, his voice once again quiet so others do not pick it up.

“You know, I’ve never asked much about that. Are the two of you close?”

“Most definitely. Have been since we were children.”

Sorey smiles at this, feeling joyful to know that there has been at least someone around for so long. He does not say much more, however, in fear of being overheard. He also finds a distraction which stops his thoughts in his tracks; Mikleo edging a little closer to him suddenly, without any warning. Sorey looks down at him in concern.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” he replies hurriedly, despite edging around Sorey, as though using him as some sort of shield. Confused, Sorey follows his gaze. He can’t see anything there. The walkway, people making their way across it, two dogs barking at each other in greeting … Ah.

“You’re afraid of dogs?” Sorey questions, sounding amused.

“No.”

“You’re such a bad liar. What’s wrong with dogs?”

“What’s good about them?”

“They’re cute!”

“Debatable. I’ve disliked them ever since a visitor decided to bring her poodle with her to the palace’s gardens.”

“Huh. I feel personally offended.”

Offended?” Mikleo splutters. “I can’t help but see that as you insulting yourself, there.”

“Is that why you were so scared of me? Because you knew I was part canine?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you’re okay,” Mikleo huffs. “And the fact that you can transform like that has nothing … well, not much to do with it.”

“Okay, I’ll see if you’re still saying that once you see me as a wolf,” says Sorey, laughing at Mikleo’s expression. The two glance around them suddenly, realising that they had got carried away with themselves, though there does not seem to be anyone listening – after all, it is rather difficult to make out one conversation out of the many which fill the air.

Having been sidetracked, the two are now heading through the streets to get to the location that Sorey pointed out. He checks the map in order to ensure they are heading in the right direction. With a smile and nod, he leads the way. Despite their previous non-stop chatter, they are now silent, simply taking in the sights around them. It is normal, of course, for Mikleo to be in such great awe like this – having never been among civilisation like this, he cannot keep his eyes fixed on one thing. As for Sorey, he is fascinated by the way this city works, and going to a new place always feels incredible to him.

The two are soon making their way up flights of stairs to the market stalls that Sorey had previously described. They are lined in the square, with what appears to be a Sanctuary nearby. They are all lit beautifully in the night.

“Goodness,” Mikleo says, peering around them. “There’s a lot being sold, here. I didn’t think of bringing money.”

“Well, luckily I did!”

Mikleo’s response is immediate. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that. You already bought me these clothes.”

“Mikleo … we’re both pretty rich, you know.”

“I – well yeah, but still.”

“Come on, it’s our first time going out somewhere together like this! At least have some food, it must be hours since you had something …”

On cue, Mikleo can feel his stomach rumble. He sighs and nods because of this. “All right, if you say so.”

Sorey’s grin grows wide. “Excellent!”

Much against how Mikleo wants to pretend he’s very reluctant for Sorey to do this, his face betrays him as they start wandering past the stalls. The artefacts and souvenirs, as much as they interest him, do not quite catch his eye as much as they would if Alisha had not already given Mikleo similar items herself. However, he can definitely feel his hunger intensify when he looks across the stalls of food. Steam from pans containing noodles wafts into the air and disperses, meat is being placed into sandwiches, bowls of rice dishes being handed out, dozens of different types of cake, cookies and pastries …

“So?” Sorey questions, grin still remaining. “What’s catching your eye?”

“Well, I feel like I should have a proper meal, but those sweets …”

“Have a sweet tooth?”

“For sure.”

“That’s another thing we have in common! How about … hmm, we get one of the main courses and then one of the sweets for dessert!”

“But –” His protest stops as quickly as it started as he looks at Sorey’s face, instead choosing to smile. “All right, then. While you’re offering.”

And so, that is exactly what they do. They both end up selecting a noodle dish each, as well as two slices of cake, and sit on a bench away from the stalls in order to eat. Chopsticks in hand, they scoop up some of the noodles into their mouth, appreciative expressions breaking out on both of their faces.

“Good?” Sorey questions after he swallows.

“Excellent.”

“Right? You can tell it’s fresh, it’s almost like the food that I hunt for.”

“It’s strange eating like this, though,” Mikleo says, glancing around. “I’ve only ever eaten in the palace or with you, after all.”

“It’s weird to imagine that.” Absent-mindedly, Sorey’s chopsticks tap against the side of his bowl. “I mean, I’m always eating at different places like this. I think I eat outdoors more than I eat in the manor. I’m sorry, that’s probably insensitive to say,” he adds hurriedly, but Mikleo shakes his head.

“It’s fine. Honestly, even if my family weren’t all that restrictive, I’d probably still choose to eat indoors anyway. Different natures and all that, I suppose.” After eating another mouthful of noodles, he says, “But this does make a nice change. I never imagined doing this.”

Sorey smiles. “Then I’m glad that I could bring you out here.”

They finish off their noodles, not wanting them to cool down from the temperature of the night, before they proceed to their dessert. Sorey is delighted to see Mikleo’s true appreciation for what he is eating – though he had clearly enjoyed the noodles, it is just as clear that Mikleo loves this even more so.

“You weren’t kidding when you say you have a sweet tooth,” Sorey grins. Mikleo has to swallow a mouthful of cake to answer.

“Definitely not. I’ve always been like this. Alisha is always saying how jealous she is that I can eat stuff like this and still remain skinny. Though honestly, she’s the same with how much she gets up to.”

“I can imagine. Hadn’t those people we overheard been speaking about spearing lessons?”

“Yes, that’s right. She’s a master of the spear. All vampire royalty specialise in something, though. We have to make up for the strength that doesn’t quite match yours.” Mikleo’s eyes drift to the sky, letting out a sigh as he sees that its jet-black colour is fading to a dark blue. The sun will be rising before long. The city’s people also seem to be lowering in number, too, all of them heading inside to sleep. “I suppose we should get going shortly.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with that?”

“I’d stay here forever if I could,” he says, the words ‘with you’ being added in his mind, though he chooses not to say them. “But I’ve already risked a lot by staying here for so long already. I should be careful.”

“We’ll have to come again, though. Right?”

Mikleo hesitates, but after realising that he has already broken the rules by coming here once, who is to say that doing this again would hurt? “All right. But I’ll have to leave it for a while first. I doubt that the same story will be believable if I use it again so soon.”

“That’s true. Whatever’s comfortable!” Sorey sits up a little straighter, however, looking into the distance. “I hear something.”

Once again impressed by how incredible the hearing of a werewolf is, Mikleo asks, “What is it?”

Yet Sorey only smiles and, after they throw away their disposable packaging and chopsticks, he begins to guide Mikleo back where they came. Still curious, Mikleo listens out for whatever Sorey is leading him too. His eyes widen a little when he realises what this. Music.

“This way,” Sorey says, the two walking down the street a little further. There, away from residential homes, is the cause of the music; a female singer, and a man behind her playing the violin. They have a small crowd around them already. Sorey and Mikleo walk forward to join them; the latter’s eyes fix on the performers in front of them, the former’s on Mikleo’s. His face has lightened up beautifully.

“It’s wonderful,” Mikleo says softly. “We have performers in the palace, but …”

“It’s not like this?”

Mikleo shakes his head. Deciding that they have time to at least listen to one song, the two remain within the crowd, the beautiful melody soothing their souls and hearts. All stand silently to listen to this beauty. Once the song ends, they break out in applause, a few people stepping forward to drop some coins into a pot. One of these is Sorey, who is rather generous with his contribution. He returns to Mikleo to find that the boy had just finished wiping at one eye with his finger.

Pretending he had not noticed, Sorey asks, “Have you enjoyed this?”

One of the brightest smiles Mikleo has ever given Sorey grows on his face, and he nods. “It’s the best day of my life.”

The two head back through the city, disappointment weighing over them heavily. Neither want to go so soon. They have never spent so long together, and it seems such a waste to let it go now. Who knows when they can be reunited again like this? And then, it will likely only be a few hours. Now they know how it feels to be with each other for longer, the scrap of time they usually have together suddenly seems so tiny in comparison.

They soon have a distraction, however; Sorey’s body straightens up a bit, which causes Mikleo to look at him curiously. “What is it this time?”

“I heard Alisha’s name again. It didn’t seem to be in such a good context, though.”

“Where from?”

“Round the corner, I think – wait!” For with the name of his beloved friend, Mikleo had been ready to peer down where Sorey had stated. “There’s a few there, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.”

Mikleo nods in agreement, both continuing their walk. He chanced glancing down the alleyway that Sorey had gestured to, though all he saw were figures hard to make out in the darkness.

“I think they were talking about some kind of wedding, and the name Bartlow … Is she getting married?”

“That’s right,” Mikleo said, voice growing cold. “And Bartlow isn’t the kind of guy you want to be on the wrong side of. He’s probably thinking of how he can make money off the wedding.”

“That’s awful … and isn’t she the same age as you? That’s a bit young to be getting married, isn’t it?”

“I’d say it is,” says Mikleo, wanting to leave it there. After all, he does not want to ruin his wonderful time with Sorey with thoughts of the wedding. Luckily, they do not linger for once; he is soon distracted by their walk out of the city. “I’m going to miss it here.”

“Yeah, same here. Well, mostly you, honestly. It was nice to spend time together like that, wasn’t it?”

Mikleo smiles and nods. “It was. You know, I still wonder how the hell I even have the confidence to do any of this. But I guess I’m just accepting it as it comes.”

“That’s a good way to go about it! Right, I’ll walk you back to Marlind. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

The walk back is rather silent, yet comfortably so. Both are thinking back to their time together, remembering the happiness they felt and how welcome they had felt in the city. It feels as though their time had been much too short despite being together longer than usual. Even this walk home seems to be going much faster than either of them want, with the sun now beginning to peak in the distance.

Much to their relief, Juliet is safe and sound in the spot where they left her. Mikleo smiles and walks up to her to stroke her, turning back to Sorey. “Mind waiting a moment whilst I get changed?”

“Not at all, take your time!”

Returning to the spot he had changed in previously, Mikleo finds it a little more comfortable to do so now that the coolness of night is settling. He puts the clothes back in Sorey’s bag almost with a sense of loss. This bag is handed to Sorey once Mikleo steps back out into the clearing. And for a moment, neither say nor do anything. They know that doing so will confirm that their night together is over already.

“Thank you for all of this, Sorey,” says Mikleo eventually. “I still can’t believe you’d go to such lengths for me.”

“I just had to. I couldn’t stand the thought of you being shut away like that. If there’s anything I can ever do for you, let me know, okay?”

Mikleo nods. “I will.”

The two say their farewells, Sorey heading in the direction of Glaivend Basin, Mikleo to his palace with Juliet’s reigns in one hand. He looks back over his shoulder even though he can no longer see Sorey’s figure. Smiling to himself, he turns back around, a feeling unlike he has ever had before settling in his chest and causing it to grow warm. It is like he is nervous, yet it’s strangely pleasant at the same time.

He has no idea what it could be, yet still finds himself wanting to hold onto it, alongside the hope that he will be by Sorey’s side again as soon as possible.

Chapter Text

Even as the weeks go by and Sorey and Mikleo continue to meet each other when they can, strangely enough, there is still a sense of longing.

Naturally, they are not able to take as much of a risk as they did with their visit to Ladylake on a regular basis. In fact, Mikleo feels that the palace has become more secure as of late, likely because they’re preparing for the height of protection desired for the future wedding. Seeing each other away from a trip as special as that had been is, of course, still wonderful. But there is only so much the two boys can appreciate when within the same area.

Sorey wants to take Mikleo so much further. He’d love to go to the world above them; the beauty of Elysia, with those who share common goals as the two teenagers. He would also love to bring Mikleo to his own home, or even just to Rolance itself.

But it is not that easy. Even simply a trip out to Ladylake had been filled with risk. To go even further than that, be it to the mountaintops or to a whole other country, would be impossible. And each time that Sorey thinks of this, he grows frustrated over many things. Not understanding why Mikleo is so trapped, how Mikleo seems to accept that it is his fate, how Sorey can do very little to help … He has always been a caring person with a great wish to help others. Yet he finds that this is greater when it comes to Mikleo.

It is also frustrating that even though he has been permitted to travel more often, he cannot always use this freedom to head down to Hyland whenever he likes. Time is one issue; sometimes, he simply cannot venture out of Rolance, especially if he finds himself needing to go elsewhere for duties. The other is his father. Even if Heldalf does not always mind Sorey heading to Hyland, it would seem incredibly suspicious if that is the only place Sorey goes to.

Sorey knows that Mikleo understands this. Yet despite that, Sorey cannot help but imagine how disappointing it must be for Mikleo when he ventures out to that clearing during the rise of the sun, gazing around him with hopes of seeing Sorey, only to not see him at all …

With a sigh, Sorey rests his chin on the palm of his hand, which jolts here and there from the movement of the carriage he is in, on course for Pendrago. He has never felt like this before. He usually has the capability to see someone whenever he likes, aside from his mother, what with her occasional trips away. At least with her, he is not filled with uncertainty each time they are together, wondering if this will be the last.

He has to take his mind away from this matter, however, what with a busy day ahead of him; Sergei Strelka, leader of the Platinum Knights, has requested for his presence after having already spoken to his parents previously. He is fairly curious about what this could be about. He is not usually called elsewhere alone. Still, he is also excited, considering that Pendrago, with its mixture of races, has always fascinated him.

The carriage is soon to enter the city. Paying the driver and thanking him, Sorey drops down onto the floor below, finding himself smiling as he looks out around him. He has arrived early, and so decides to venture around for a short while first.

I wish Mikleo were here,’ he thinks to himself as he wanders, glancing around at the liveliness around him. Yes, Mikleo surely would love this place. It has an atmosphere which is somewhat similar to Ladylake’s, but the main difference is how you can look around yourself without any clue at all about the race of anyone there. Sorey cannot know for sure if all these people conversing are different to one another, yet even simply seeing a place in which people live in harmony together despite their differences brings him hope.

“Would you look at that! Fancy seeing you here.”

Sorey turns, finding the voice familiar yet having not heard it enough yet, is not completely certain about who it is. His eyes land on the unmistakeable tall build of Zaveid, who to Sorey’s surprise, is shirtless once again with his darker skin gleaming in the sunlight. Only now, there is an absence of bandages, though the area in which the wound had been inflicted has unsurprisingly formed into a scar. Sorey finds himself shuddering over the memory of it.

“Your name is Zaveid, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” says Zaveid as he walks closer, one of his eyebrows raising. “Hey, I can sense something different from you. Like the naive boy has matured a bit since then.”

Sorey forces a smile. “Well, I guess I’ve seen some things.” His eyes glance down at Zaveid’s scar; he tries to take his gaze away almost as soon as it had landed, though Zaveid noticed this. After a moment of silence, Zaveid’s thumb gestures to a building to his right.

“Come and have a drink?”

“Uh, I guess …”

Zaveid claps his shoulder. He leads the other into the pub, ordering them both a pint of lager after they sit down on two stools. Sorey sips at it, finding that it does not taste quite as badly as it did the last time he tried it, when he had spluttered it out and caused his mother to laugh and bang her fist on the table.

“You’ve seen one, haven’t you?” Zaveid says suddenly, making Sorey realise why he had suddenly requested for the two to go get drinks together. Sorey nods slowly.

“I did. In Glaivend Basin.”

“Yeah, you’re bound to get one there. Most of my jobs have taken place there, as well as in Volgran Forest from time to time.”

“So you specialise in … hunting those things?”

“That’s right. Not really that great of a job, but I guess money’s money.” He takes a very large gulp of the lager, letting out an appreciative noise as he settles it down. “They’ve been a bit more frequent in the last decade or two.”

“Frequent?” Sorey repeats with widened eyes. After all, he had been under the knowledge that numbers have lessened, if anything.

“That’s right. Not to say that it means there’s more around, mind you. They’re just coming out of hiding from time to time, probably restless from being stuck in ruins all this time. Still, we better keep an eye out in case someone’s deciding to make those things illegally.”

“You seem … more serious about this than anything else.”

“Of course. I haven’t had the best experience with those monsters. The more I can dispose of, the better.” Zaveid takes another gulp of his drink, empting the glass after doing so. “But enough of all that depressing talk, what brings your Shepherdness here?”

“Oh, I’m just meeting with someone. I drop by quite often.”

“Eh, do you now? I’m surprised I haven’t seen you that much. This place is great for lone wolves like me.”

Have you ever been in a pack?” Sorey ends up asking curiously. He is half expecting the answer to be no, but to his surprise, Zaveid lets out a low chuckle and nods.

“You bet I have. But that life ain’t for me anymore, and I’d much rather be on my own doing what I do best. Shame though, considering packs tend to be taking over everywhere these days – in no offence to you and your paps, obviously.”

Sorey grins. “No offence taken. But you’re right … it’s actually almost scary with how much packs are growing. I never really realised until now considering I’ve lived in the largest pack in the continent all my life.”

“So it became the norm, huh? Yeah, I can get that. You really are turning out to be a wise one. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when you’re the Alpha.”

Opening his mouth to speak, Sorey finds himself pausing instead – his eyes catch the head of red hair bobbing into the shop, lighting up as they see her.

“Oh, it’s Rose and Dezel! I knew they were working here today!” He waves them over as they make eye contact, cheerful as always to see them, as Zaveid follows his gaze curiously.

“Friends of yours? I’ll leave it to you guys, then. See you around!”

Zaveid leaves without another word, Sorey noticing how Dezel watches the man out of the corner of his eye. He remains standing as Rose slides onto a stool next to Sorey, bearing him a large smile. He can tell from simply a single glance that the pair’s sales must be doing well today.

“We saw you walk in with that guy,” she explains. “Thought we’d drop by and say hello!”

“How do you know that wolf, Sorey?” Dezel asks, glancing over at the door in which Zaveid had just exited through.

“He was the one I said that Lunarre was helping out that time. Do you know him?”

“Vaguely,” Dezel says, leaving it at simply this as he settles down onto one of the other stools, trying to grab a bartender’s attention. The woman gives Rose a sceptical look, but when she realises that she will not be purchasing anything, she gives her attention to Dezel.

“You’re meeting with Sergei today, right?” Rose asks.

“That’s right. I haven’t seen him for a while, so I’m pretty excited!”

“If you’re lucky, you might be able to meet Princess Alisha, too.”

“Princess Alisha?” Sorey questions in surprise. “What’s she doing all the way over here?”

“She’s started coming down weekly to assist Sergei with some stuff. Great place for her to be in Rolance, being as people mostly look up to her.”

“Emphasis on ‘mostly’,” says Dezel, turning his attention to them now he has received his drink and has taken a sip of it. “Werewolves in Pendrago, they … well, they’re definitely better than other werewolves out there. But having the princess of a vampire-dominated land naturally makes them feel a bit uneasy.”

“But they live with vampires here, so why would they feel uneasy over her?” Sorey asks.

“Because some think that because of where she lives, she naturally has a vendetta against werewolves. I don’t think it helps that we’ve had assassinations here before. Still, she seems safe for now.”

“She better remain safe, she’s one of our best customers!” Rose exclaims, giving Sorey a wink when he looks at her to show that she is joking. Sorey smiles with amusement and, with his eyes landing back on his drink before it is taken in his hand, his mind drifts away as he imagines what Sergei could be wishing to see him about, and whether there is that chance of seeing Alisha Diphda.

 


 

Around a couple of hours later, it is time for Sorey to meet with Sergei. He is now heading over to the building which he had been instructed to meet Sergei in. On the way, his eyes catch sight of a few other knights, their uniforms different to the one which Sergei wears; knowing that there has been conflict at times between the two, Sorey finds himself glancing at them a little warily, though his mind is soon focused on where he is heading.

He raises a fist to knock on a door, smiling when he sees the familiar, welcoming face of Sergei. “Hey there, Sergei!”

“Sorey, what a pleasure to see you!” the man exclaims, his voice as enthusiastic as ever. He steps to the side, gesturing for Sorey to enter. “Please, do come in.”

Sorey shuts the door after himself. Inside the building is numerous round tables, members of the Platinum Knights sat around them, drinking together and munching on food. They wave to Sorey as he passes them, Sorey waving back, his eyes falling on the direction they’re heading in. They widen a little upon seeing a man who looks rather similar to Sergei; it does not take him long to realise that this is Boris, Sergei’s brother.

“Ah, there you are,” he says with a smile. “Nice to meet you. I’m Boris Strelka.”

“It’s nice to meet you too! I’m Sorey Shepherd.”

“Of course I know who you are. Gained quite a bit of popularity, haven’t you?”

Sorey grins sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. “I guess so.”

“Take a seat and make yourself at home, Sorey!” Sergei exclaims. Sorey does just that, taking a seat besides the two brothers. “Now, I suppose you are wondering what I called you here for today.”

“It’s been on my mind, definitely.”

“Well, to put it simply, times are changing here in Rolance, and especially in Pendrago. This country, though inhabited by werewolves and humans most of all, is certainly very progressive. However, there’s been a bit of trouble in regards to who should be running this country. We of course have our government, though after the assassinations by the Scattered Bones …”

“Of the old Emperor and his son, right?” Sorey questions, recalling the incident which had occurred merely a year prior.

“That is right. As you know, that family was the most powerful human family known to exist. Humans are seen as the in between race of us all, and so was recommended to rule over here. But …”

“They weren’t exactly given no reason to be assassinated, shall we say,” Boris continues for his brother. “Prince Conan in particular was dreadful. The most innocent of his crimes was playing with the hearts of women, the most severe being his alliance with the church in order to create large batches of holy water. He seemed focused on removing the existence of werewolves and vampires, especially here in the capital.”

“It is still a shame on us knights, that all this time, we were protecting someone so evil,” Sergei says, visibly shuddering over the thought. “We are, at least, in charge of protecting the government as of late, and are forming an alliance with the church after questioning them, being as members there had been at fault as well.”

“So what has this to do with my visit here?” Sorey questions, adding hurriedly, “Ah, I’m sorry if that seemed rude. I was just wondering where I come into this.”

“Not to worry! Your confusion is quite understandable. If you just wait for a moment, I think it’s best for her to return before we continue.”

Sorey is not left to question who Sergei means for too long; confirming the possibility that Rose had previously come up with, he is soon watching as a blonde girl, who entered the room from a door on the side, begins to make her way over to them. Previously, Sorey knew nothing about the royalty in Hyland, but after feeling rather foolish over not being aware of Mikleo’s identity and also befriending a prince himself, he has done his research. That combination of blonde hair and jade eyes can only belong to a certain individual.

“Sorey Shepherd,” she says, bowing her head in a formal greeting. She is as beautiful as they say, yet her eyes are burdened with dark circles and tiredness, her voice also a little strained even if she is trying to hide it. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last. I am Alisha Diphda, princess of the capital in Hyland.”

“It’s a pleasure for me too, Princess!”

She smiles pleasantly. “Just Alisha is fine, I assure you.” She faces Sergei, asking, “Have you filled him in on the basics?”

“Yes, I had just finished now!”

Nodding in understanding, she takes her own seat, diverting her gaze back to Sorey. “So, as you have heard, the roles of those who live here have been developing as quickly as they can ever in light of recent events. The line of churches who committed those crimes along with the imperial family still exist, as we do not want to strip humans of their beliefs, even if they differ to you and I. However, the citizens in Rolance, including humans, believe that the church should not be in charge of the country. It causes inbalance and hatred towards those of a different belief.”

“So as well as, of course, being ready to elect a new Emperor from potential candidates, we are trying to further establish our current government, in order to bring all of our races together,” Boris explains. “And of course, with the capital already being diverse, this will be situated here.”

“As the captain, I have already been given a role within the government,” Sergei explains. “Alisha, though she cannot be part of this herself, is assisting with potential vampires who can work with us as well. Then there is you, Sorey. Your pack is incredibly outstanding. It may be run by your father, but you yourself have caused it to grow. Who knew that a pack could become so large? It is astonishing! And so, that is where you come in. Once it is time for you to come into power, we think you would be a great addition to those who will lead Rolance.”

“Lead … lead Rolance?” Sorey echoes, his eyes wide. “I mean, it’s a wonderful offer, but … Well, I’ve only ever pictured myself playing a part in leading Lastonbell.”

“It’s a very large task, I understand that,” says Alisha. “Though do know that you will not be alone, for you will be working alongside others for the Emperor, and your decisions will be made on the account of werewolves. It would likely cause your pack to expand further across Rolance, most especially to Pendrago.”

Though these words were likely said as a positive to this situation, Sorey cannot help but think that this is not the case. After all, ever since he visited the Alliance in Elysia, he has been concerned over the size of his pack to begin with. It has already grown large enough to not be considered a true pack; they are meant to be family, yet with all of the residents across the land, Sorey does not even know all of their names … If that was to increase further …

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he admits, knowing it is best to say the truth. “I believe in us all being equal, but I think that residents will grow fearful over the thought of their own pack expanding. If I did end up playing a part in this, would it be possible to stop the growth of my pack, still?”

“In some ways, yes,” Sergei says. “There is still much to think about. We were simply wondering if you would like to bring your leadership to more than just your current land.”

Sorey thinks over this with a sense of panic. There is already enough stress over the thought of taking over his father in a single city, but to be part of the leadership of a whole country … “I’ll … I’ll have to think about it, I’m sorry.”

“That’s quite all right! There’s still a long time to go before votes are cast and we truly bring this together.”

Sorey smiles and nods. “Thanks for understanding. It really does sound great, you bringing people together like this.”

“It may only be able to truly come to life here in Pendrago, but if we can truly bring equality to these lands, it would be wonderful,” says Alisha with a smile. “I think that is enough for today, before we fry poor Sorey’s brain with all this information.”

He chuckles, shaking his head. “I’m good, really. But thank you for your concern.”

“Of course. I may not have seen you before, but you do seem lovely. I’m afraid I’ll have to go for now though, it is a long way back to Hyland and I …”

Sorey rises to his feet quickly as he watches Alisha, who has just gotten up herself, has began to sway. A hand has risen to her forehead, her eyes looking a little dazed. Sergei rushes to his feet also. His hands grab her arms protectively, looking at her with concern.

“Alisha, are you all right?” he says. By now, all three men are circled around her, watching as she nods slowly, which seems to be a non-verbal lie.

“Y-Yes … yes, I’m fine, I just …”

“Boris, can you fetch Miss Valkyrie for me?” Sergei asks, Boris nodding immediately as he heads out of the room in a hurry. Whilst he leaves, Sergei guides Alisha back to her seat. Other knights are beginning to look over in concern.

“Are you ill?” Sorey asks.

“I must be … Ah, Uno did warn me about this, Mikleo too …”

“She seems to be fairly dazed,” says Sergei, frowning. “Been pushing herself a lot lately, must be taking its toll on her … Argh, I do hope Boris hurries!”

“Take this,” says the bartender, handing over a damp piece of cloth to Sergei. He thanks them, placing the cloth over Alisha’s forehead, which is burning up a great amount.

“Alisha?”

Sorey looks to the side, finding a tall, mature looking woman jogging over. She leans down with her hand on Alisha’s shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. It is strange to see someone who appears so dignified to be this worried.

“You musn’t overwork yourself so much,” Maltran murmurs, Alisha smiling at her shakily.

“Yes, I suppose so … there’s just so much to be done, and I …”

“I need a word with your parents, this is getting far too out of hand. Sergei,” she says, facing him, “can you please get in touch with the Diphdas for me? The Rulays should be notified of this too, young Mikleo should be aware of what’s happening.”

The name instantly attracts Sorey’s attention for a moment, yet knowing that there are more important things than losing himself in thoughts of Mikleo, he pulls his attention back to Alisha. Her exhausted eyes are now looking at Sorey guiltily.

“I do apologise Sorey, this is the first time that you have met with me and I am like this. I must be giving you a rather awful impression …”

“No – no, not at all!” he exclaims hurriedly. “Please, don’t apologise for that. You can’t help being ill.”

She smiles gratefully. A small bead of sweat trickles down her forehead. “Thank you for being so understanding, Sorey. You … you really are a kind …”

Sorey lets out a gasp as her head lolls to the side, yet Maltran immediately catches her. “She’s just fainted,” she tells the three men. “She is ill, exhausted … it’s no wonder. Sergei, are there any rooms available?”

“Yes, of course! I’ll take you there.” As Maltran scoops the limp body of Alisha into her arms, Sergei turns to Sorey and smiles apologetically. “I apologise too, bringing you all the way out here to burden you with such information.”

“It’s all right, really! Just take care of Alisha, okay?”

He nods. “Of course.” And with those words, he gestures to Maltran for her to follow him and carry Alisha out of the room, away from the continuous stares of the knights. Sorey too watches them leave, wishing he had been able to do more, though his attention is soon brought to Boris when he speaks.

“It’s been great seeing you,” says Boris, holding out a hand for him to shake. “You’re truly as great as your father says.”

“Thanks, Boris!” Sorey exclaims, shaking the man’s hand. “I hope we meet again soon.”

“As do I,” he grins, before he walks away in order to follow Maltran and Sergei in their footsteps. Sorey looks at the door they exited from for a short while, hoping for Alisha’s recovery, before he decides that it is best for him to leave.

As he does so, the sun beaming down onto his face, he wonders just how far royal families will go in order to push their children.

 


 

It is a relaxing morning, with sun streaming through the see through curtains falling over the glass doors, and with the gentle sound of a flute playing in the room. As he creates this melody, he stands close to these doors so he can feel the relaxing breeze blow gently on his face. Across the room is Edna, who sits on his bed with her legs swinging slowly as she listens to it.

For once, she is remaining silent without any remarks to Mikleo. His music always seems to relax her. It does so in a different way than it does with Alisha, who seems to lose herself and all thoughts. Edna always appears to drift off into her thoughts instead, as though the music carries her away to a dream or a memory.

After he finishes his solemn song, Mikleo brings the flute down from his lips and smiles at Edna. “What do you think?”

“Pretty decent.”

Mikleo laughs, shaking his head. “I suppose that’s the best compliment I’ll ever get from you.” He places down the flute to one side, wandering back over to Edna. “I’ve been working on that song for a while. I’ve never been as natural at creating music as I am simply learning it.”

“You invented that?”

He nods. “I started doing so when I first heard the news of Alisha and I’s engagement being pushed forward. I guess it was one good thing about it, that I could feel so inspired. But I had a hard time finishing it.”

“How come?”

“Well, I started seeing Sorey,” Mikleo says with a small smile. “And I guess I’ve found myself a bit less depressed since that.”

A silence falls momentarily, before Edna says, “You know, when you say things like that, I find it hard to continue opposing it.”

“Um … thanks, I guess?”

“It’s not really something to thank me for. I don’t even know if it’s a good or bad thing. I mean, we both know you two seeing each other isn’t a good idea, yet it’s clearly making you happy. So I find it hard to tell you how to think. Plus … well, I guess I’d be hypocritical if I tried to stop you.”

“Hypocritical?” Mikleo asks with confusion.

“Let’s just say that I’ve had my fair share of meeting with someone who I probably shouldn’t have.”

Mikleo goes to question this further, yet has no chance before there is a knock on the door. It opens, revealing Symonne carrying a pile of clothes. She inclines her head upon seeing them both.

“Good morning. These have just finished drying.”

“Ah, thank you,” Mikleo answers. “You can just place them down if you want, I’ll put them away later.”

She nods, placing down the pile on the end of his bed. Rather than leave straight away, she faces Mikleo. “I heard you playing again. It really is lovely.”

“Thank you,” he smiles. “I’ve been playing for a while.”

“It reminds me of my mother. She used to play, too.” She glances at the flute for a moment, before heading back to the door. “I have other duties to attend to, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Of course. See you later, Symonne.”

She smiles at him and nods her head to Edna before leaving the room and shutting the door behind her. As it closes, Edna gets to her feet herself, eyes glancing at the clock.

“Come on, you haven’t drank any blood yet, have you?”

“Oh, no – no, I haven’t. Sorry.”

She chuckles. “You’re too caught up with the thoughts of a certain werewolf. I understand.”

“I’m not thinking about him.”

“Please, you always are.”

“Shut it.”

Edna smirks at him before leading him out of the room. Minutes later, they are sat together in the lounge, a glass of animal blood resting in Mikleo’s hand. He swirls the liquid inside for a few moments rather than drink it, for his mind has wandered to his curiosity over what Edna’s previous words had meant. But considering she herself had not gone any further into her explanation, Mikleo decides against prying and instead waiting until she tells him if she so wishes.

The two proceed to leave the room before long, Edna planning on watching over a training session, but they never get the chance. They are instead distracted by what is going on in the foyer; his mother, uncle, Alisha’s parents and a woman he does not know all stand there, looking rather grave.

“You should have known better than to push her too hard,” says Muse, clearly showing no will to hide her emotions. She looks the angriest Mikleo has seen her for a while – possibly since they had been discussing his and Alisha’s wedding plans.

“I swear we really did have no idea it was going this far,” Finuw answers. Mikleo cannot tell whether or not his words are sincere. “If we did, we would have stopped her.”

“What’s going on?”

The adults turn to face Mikleo as he asks this question. For a moment, his eyes linger on the woman he has never met, remembering how Sorey had mentioned how he had met a person with hair similar to Mikleo’s, but he has no time to dwell on this.

“Alisha has had a collapse,” Michael explains. He seems to be as infuriated as his sister. “She’ll be fine, but she’ll have to stay in Pendrago for at least a few days. She’s incredibly ill.”

Both sympathy and guilt wash over Mikleo, the latter caused by how he wonders if he could have done more. “She really has been overworking herself too much,” he says with a pained expression.

“Definitely so,” says Amara. “We do think that this –”

“Not now, Amara,” says Muse firmly. “Let us focus on Alisha for now. Mikleo, we will have Michael, Finuw and Lailah here go to Pendrago in order to assist her.”

“It’s a pleasure, Mikleo, even if I wish we met from better circumstances,” says Lailah, bowing her head to him. “I am a trained medic in Elysia and make many remedies there, including replenishments of blood. I’ve been asked to assist with this visit to see if I can be of any help.”

“Thank you for that, I really do appreciate it.” Mikleo pauses for a moment, saying something which he usually does not have the courage to mutter even a word of. “And me?”

“You? Why, you are to stay here, of course,” says Amara, her voice overly sweet. “We can’t have you running off out there, now can we? We’re going to go to the carriage now, please do hurry. I wish for Finuw to be with our daughter as soon as possible.”

Her and Finuw leave the foyer without another word, silence falling once the double doors close shut and release an echo. Irritation runs through Mikleo which soon transforms into determination, and somewhere inside himself, likely sparked by his visit to Ladylake, he finds the courage to turn to his mother and uncle and say, “I want to go with you.”

Another silence falls; even Edna, who is usually quick with her words, has been stunned into saying nothing. It is Michael who speaks first, though it sounds as though he is unsure of how to react.

“Mikleo, as much as you know I respect your wishes, you know that you’re not allowed to leave here.”

“Yes, somehow I did manage to get the memo after all these years,” says Mikleo through gritted teeth, though knowing that Michael has only said this out of duty, Mikleo exhales deeply and forces himself to calm down. “This isn’t about me wanting to leave here or anything like that,” he continues in a quieter voice. “Alisha means a lot to me. I want to see her, see if there’s anything I can do for her. It’s not like Alisha to fall ill like this and I’m worried.”

Michael appears to be very conflicted. “I … I know what you are trying to say, I really do. But I …”

“Uncle,” Mikleo says, softly yet firmly. His hands, out of determination rather than anger, have clenched into loose fists, as he stares into the conflicted eyes of his uncle. “I know why you keep me here, I really do. And I’m not asking of this to try to rebel against you or anything. But what good can I be if I can’t even see Alisha when she is like this? How is that going to come across to others?”

“I … I suppose that’s right, but …”

“Michael,” Muse says softly, causing him to face her. “Perhaps … perhaps this really is the time where we should give Mikleo more freedom. Not only are they engaged, but they are also childhood friends. I think it’s important to let him go, even just this once.”

Mikleo bears her a grateful smile, though before he can say anything, Edna has beaten him to it.

“You know that I’m trained in combat,” she says. “I can travel with him and defend him if needed. Not like he needs it, though.”

“I think that seeing someone she adores so would be of use to Alisha, too,” Lailah pipes up, which surprises Mikleo, considering the two do not know each other. Michael glances between them, contemplating their words and, much to Mikleo’s relief and surprise, gives a slow nod.

“All right. Just this once. We will have to take a few guards though, just in case. The journey to Pendrago is a long one, and we’ll have to go across Glaivend Basin and through Volgran Forest, both of which are in danger of bandits and sometimes even the Deranged …”

“There’s no need to worry,” says Muse reassuringly. “I’m sure that there will be a fair few knights able to assist you, and I know that all of you are trained in self defence.”

Still in disbelief over this answer, Mikleo says, “So I … so I really can go?”

Michael nods. “Not to waltz around the cities, mind you. We’re going straight to Alisha.”

“I know that. It’s fine.” After all, Mikleo had hardly expected a trip tantamount to the one he had experienced with Sorey. He had been well aware that this time around, it will not be for enjoyment. That is not the reason he wants to leave. Yet even so, he cannot denied how joyed he is over being given permission to do this for the first time in his life.

 


 

Mikleo can see instantly during their journey why Sorey cannot come down to Hyland all that much. The rocky and deserted terrain of Glaivend Basin stretches on for hours. What started as a rather enjoyable journey, during which Mikleo took the opportunity to stare in awe at Falkewin Hillside, became tedious before all too long. The fact that he has never been to this area did mean that his first hour of being there had been interesting. But when he realised that all he can see here is a wasteland, the most interesting aspect being the birds which fly above them, all the enjoyment seemed to seep out of the journey.

But he does not mind this at all. He had been truthful in his words about not going on this journey for fun. Even if that had been his intention, it would be hard to find any fun at all when Michael keeps giving him concerned glances before peering out of the window in search for enemies, or Mikleo notices the guards which rode with them.

He knows why the precautions are needed, yet also cannot help but feel, as usual, a little trapped from them. It is a completely different atmosphere to when he is alone with Sorey. Rather than dwell on this, however, his mind soon drifts to the thought of Alisha instead as he wishes that she is safe.

Getting to her is going to take some time. After many long hours dragged by, occupied by reading books and playing a game of cards with Edna, night finally falls, accompanied by a suggestion from Lailah that the group get some sleep. She and Finuw seem to manage to fall asleep first, Michael delayed yet managing this also. Mikleo and Edna are the two who seem to not get any sleep at all.

A long, surprisingly cold night passes by even slower now that most occupants in the carriage are in a slumber. But soon, alongside the arrival of the morning sun, they reach a point which causes Mikleo to sigh out of relief. The carriage is now entering a forest. Mikleo knows that it is the one which connects Lastonbell and Glaivend Basin.

Lailah is soon to wake, stretching out her arms and yawning. She smiles over at Mikleo, who is currently gazing out of the window in awe.

“You’ve never been anywhere like this, have you?” she asks quietly, Mikleo shaking his head. It is true despite Edna’s sceptical glance shot his way; after all, the small amounts of forestry which surround the palace cannot compare to these depths. Soon, another pair of eyes matching his own have joined him; Michael has just woken himself, his fingers running through strands of brown hair poking up from his head.

“Sleep okay, Mikleo?” he asks. Unlike Lailah, he does not bother to keep his voice down now that Finuw is the only one asleep, and Mikleo has to stop himself from smirking.

“Honestly, I don’t think I slept at all. Maybe I dozed here and there, that’s about it.”

“Well, I can’t say I blame you. This is your first carriage ride, after all.” Michael glances around the area, his eyes narrowing a little. “Something feels off here. Hopefully we get through without any trouble.”

“You worry too much,” Finuw grumbles, now awakened from his slumber. He sits up and lets out a loud yawn, Mikleo rather amused from seeing this uncharacteristic side to him. “It’ll be all right, we have knights all around us.”

“Still, much unlike others, I actually care for the safety of my family.”

“Is that meant to be a remark aimed at me, Rulay?” Finuw snaps, though Michael merely shrugs.

“I did not mean for that to be aimed at anyone, but if you suspect that it could have been you, then I think that does say a lot.”

“Now now, boys,” Lailah pipes up. “No need to argue.”

“Oh, shut up,” Finuw says to her coldly. “I care very little about what you have to say.”

A glare, something Mikleo would not have expected from someone with Lailah’s appearance, is given to Finuw before she looks out of the window instead. Looking for an explanation, Mikleo averts his gaze to Edna, though she merely shrugs.

The journey through the forest is not meant to take long at all, but two thirds of the way through, the carriage comes to an abrupt stop. Michael is sitting up straight immediately, shifting to the window in which a knight is looking through. He seems unalarmed, yet attentive at the same time.

“Bandits, my Lord,” he explains. “We’re taking care of them now.”

Michael curses under his breath, turning around to Mikleo. “I’m going to go lend a hand. You’re not to leave this carriage, do you hear me?”

“But I can fight, I’m –”

“Mikleo, please.” The words are said so pleadingly that Mikleo does not argue. He nods, watching as Michael jumps out of the carriage. On the other side, Edna has done the same, a knife now held in her hand. Lailah remains with him, as does Finuw, who does not seem all that surprised.

“I have this all the time when I travel,” he says, folding his arms. “It’s what happens when bandits see a carriage which belongs to the royal family. It’ll be fine.”

“I do hope they are all right,” Lailah says, listening out for the sound of knives and swords clashing against each other.

“As long as the charming prince is safe, all is well, right?”

“I’d be fighting out there if I could,” Mikleo says through gritted teeth.

“Ah, yet you bend over backwards for those who order you around. I understand.”

How much Mikleo would love to mention that Finuw seems to be the one enjoying himself by lounging lazily in the carriage, as opposed to fight off the bandits himself. However, knowing that the relationship between he and the king is already very close to snapping, he bites his tongue. Luckily, the fighting does not last long at all. Michael and Edna are soon entering the carriage. Aside from slightly heavier breathing and their faces being a little redder, they show no sign of what just happened.

“There were only a few who were no match for the knights,” Michael explains, shutting the carriage door after him. “That should be the only disturbance.”

“Really, these guys are idiots,” says Edna, wiping blood off her knife with a handkerchief. “Did they really think that they could take on a whole hoard of knights?”

“Apparently so.”

“They are all right, aren’t they?” Mikleo asks, Michael nodding his head.

“We only injured them enough to take them down. They’ve been arrested now and put into our other carriage. Considering this is Rolance territory, we’ll leave them in the hands of those in Lastonbell.”

Mikleo nods, finding himself growing a little distracted by the mention of Lastonbell. The city where Sorey lives. Suddenly, despite how Mikleo knows that he will not be stepping out in there, he finds himself growing excited regardless, eyes staring longingly out of the window with the wish that they will arrive soon.

And they do so before too long. The quietness of the forest is soon to transform into the bustle and liveliness of the city. Mikleo is practically on the edge of his seat, ignoring the roll of Finuw’s eyes, as he takes in the sight of it all. Probably because it is the only other city he has been inside, it reminds him of Ladylake. Yet here in Lastonbell, it feels different. He can see immediately how it is a city well renowned for its trades.

Stalls can be spotted as far as the eyes can see. All around him, there are people talking excitedly to each other, negotiating with the traders, staring at the items they have in awe … In the distance he can see a rather large building with a sparrow on its frontal sign, Mikleo guessing that it is one of the Sparrowfeathers’ branches, and he can also spot multiple little cafés and restaurants.

If only he could be on the other side of the carriage’s door. He would do anything to be out there with the others. Images come into Mikleo’s mind in which he and Sorey talk animatedly about artefacts, where Mikleo is introduced to Sorey’s friends inside that Sparrowfeather building. Yet Mikleo soon pulls himself back into reality, feeling a little embarrassed as he settles back into his seat properly, even though Finuw is the only person who has scoffed at Mikleo’s wonder.

I can’t get caught up in this,’ he says, trying to make his eyes glance at the city rather than stare. ‘I have to think of Alisha.’

This does not become any easier once they leave Lastonbell and enter the Meadow of Triumph. The vast amount of land, stretching for what seems like eternity, is on a whole other scale than what Mikleo has seen before.

“We just have to travel across these plains and through Pearloats Pasture,” Michael explains. “It should only take a couple of hours.”

Mikleo nods. He feels guilty that despite the reason he is here, he is still allowing himself to get caught up in all of the beauty around him. But with all these stretches of grass, the bright blue sky, the towers in which Mikleo is dying to look up information of and to see up close … Really, as surprising as it is for his common state of depression, he cannot help but see the positives in what an awful situation has brought him.

 


 

There is very little time at all to take in the sights of Pendrago in a similar way. The carriage heads straight to the building where Alisha is situated, and Mikleo is to hurry inside as soon as they leave it, Michael peering around them warily. Mikleo cannot blame him; his white head of hair can be spotted from a while away. At least Lailah herself also grabs a fair amount of attention.

“Mr Strelka,” says Michael upon entering the building, eyes landing on the knight who is fetching a jug of water. He grins at Michael before his attention turns to Mikleo, in which his eyes grow wide in surprise.

“I hadn’t expected you to come, too!” he exclaims, before clearing his throat and giving his attention back to Michael. “Sorry about the rudeness, I have just never seen Mikleo outside of the palace.”

“Where is my daughter?” Finuw asks.

“She’s upstairs. We have a few rooms here and managed to spare one for Alisha, though things are rather cramped at the moment, I’m afraid.”

Sergei leads the group out of the main room and up the stairs. He takes them down a corridor which is much more brightly lit than Mikleo’s own home. In his usual transfixed state of being somewhere other than what he is used to, Mikleo cannot stop his eyes darting around at his surroundings, though his full attention is soon caught when Sergei gestures to a door on their left.

Behind the door is a rather small room, yet large enough to fit the party inside. Their eyes fall immediately on their bed, and to each of their relief, though she is very pale and clearly still ill, Alisha is awake and sat up with her back supported by pillows.

“Oh, there you are,” she says in greeting. “I was told that you …” Her words trail off as her eyes spot Mikleo, her surprised expression much greater than Sergei’s had been. “Mi-Mikleo? You’re here too?”

“They let me come to see how you are,” he explains, walking closer to the bed. “How are you? You’re awfully pale …”

“I can never recall being like this, that’s for sure. But I’m recovering well, and Maltran is looking after me. Bless, she even stayed up and has gone to catch up with sleep now …”

“How long do they think it’ll take for you to recover?” asks Finuw, settling himself into a chair.

“Oh, not all that long, it’s not as though it is serious … The doctor just wants me to have some bed rest to make sure. Will you be staying a while? Perhaps we should have some more chairs?”

“I’ll go bring some,” says Sergei.

Alisha smiles. “Thank you, Sergei,” she says, before turning her attention back to her visitors. “I’m very flattered that all of you would come so far for me.”

“Of course we would, Alisha,” says Finuw. “We care for you.”

“It’s not as though I had anything better to do,” Edna shrugs, which causes Alisha to laugh lightly.

“A privilege it is then, Edna. And Lailah,” Alisha continues as her gaze averts to the tall woman, “it has been a while since I’ve seen you!”

“I brought something which may help with your recovery.” Lailah reaches into a bag which is slung over her shoulder, handing a bottle of deep red liquid over to Alisha. “I think you’ve had this before?”

“Oh yes, this is what Uno had gave to me!” Alisha responds as she takes the bottle from Lailah. “So you are the creator of this remedy? It works wonders.”

“Lailah is very much skilled at creations like this,” says Michael, giving Lailah a smile. “Both her food and drink is wonderfully healthy to us vampires.”

“Oh, you all flatter me so!”

Moments later, Sergei arrives with a stack of chairs in his arms, his breathing a little heavy. Michael helps him to place the chairs on the ground, and soon, each guest is sitting down around Alisha. The company is seeming to be a benefit for her; she already looks much more lively than she had done when they first arrived.

“I still cannot believe you’re here, Mikleo,” she says after some time of them being there. Her eyes are lit up joyfully. “Not only am I grateful for you to take the time to do this when you’re busy, but … you know.”

“I was surprised to be able to come myself,” he admits. “But I’m glad. I didn’t want to stay in Marlind when I knew you were suffering like this.”

“He’s soft, is what he means,” Edna says, Mikleo shooting her a glare.

“I’m not! I just care for her.”

“Are too.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“Are not!”

“Either way,” Lailah interrupts, suppressing a giggle over their bickering, “it is very much lovely for Alisha to have so much company.”

“Yes, I am very grateful for you all.”

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid that gratitude does not count for everything,” says Finuw. His words immediately bring some tension to the air as everyone’s attention is drawn to him.

“What do you mean, father?” Alisha asks slowly, clearly bracing herself for a negative answer.

“If the two of you were sharing your duties already, then this could have been avoided. Instead, an incredible workload was put onto you, whilst Mikleo was left all relaxed and content in his palace.”

“Mikleo has his own fair share of duties!” Michael retorts, temper already rising as it so often does in Finuw’s presence. “The blame should not be on him.”

“Then who should it be on, if not him?”

“No one,” Alisha says quickly, for she knows what Michael’s answer would be. “Or if anyone, it should be me. I was not careful and this is what happened. It really is fine; I’ve learned my lesson and to look after myself more from now on.”

“It is not your fault either, dear,” says Finuw. “Really, it does make me laugh how you act as though this prince here is so busy, when he does not even travel for his duties as Alisha does –”

“You resort to saying that when it was your suggestion for us to confine him to the palace?!” Michael demands. “It’s funny how you pick and choose when something has your approval, now isn’t it?”

“It is funny how you’ve even dared to raise this boy knowing full well what a disgrace he is to the family!”

Mikleo, who has been listening silently by Michael’s side, jumps as the man’s chair is suddenly pushed back with a loud creak. It is this which brings Mikleo out of his pain-ridden trance to say, “It’s okay, I –”

But Michael does not want to be stopped. “You dare speak that way about my own nephew?” he hisses. At this threat, Finuw too rises to his feet; the gesture on his end is much more threatening due to the inches he has on Michael, yet the latter still stands unshaken and at his full height.

“I will speak of that boy in any way I damn well please!”

“Father, please,” Alisha pleads, taking a concerned glance at Mikleo and also Edna, who seems ready to lose her own temper any second. “Please just sit down.”

As she says these words, there is a knock on the door before it opens. Mikleo, happy for a reason to look at anything but Finuw, turns; he has to stop himself from gasping when he sees the figure of Sorey standing in the doorway.

“I’m sorry for interrupting,” he says apologetically. “I was allowed to come and see how Alisha was doing.”

Feeling immediately comforted by Sorey’s arrival, Mikleo cannot help but say, “Sorey,” quietly. He doubts that Sorey would have heard him, yet is pleasantly surprised when Sorey’s gaze shifts to him. For a moment, Sorey is taken aback, yet his lips soon stretch into a smile before he can stop himself.

“And who is this?” Finuw says, raising an eyebrow.

“This is Sorey, father,” says Alisha. “Sorey Shepherd.”

Father?’ Sorey repeats in his mind, staring at the man in front of him. ‘Then that means he is –’

“A werewolf?!” Finuw spits. “They allowed a werewolf in here?”

“It’s almost as though Rolance is full of them,” says Edna sarcastically.

“Father, Sorey was here when I collapsed,” Alisha says calmly. “It is polite for him to check on me like this – and I am very grateful, Sorey.”

“Oh, it’s no problem!” he says, smiling at her. Finuw lacks this enthusiasm. Yet despite this, he sits back down in his chair, Michael doing the same.

“As I was saying before I was interrupted,” says Finuw, now choosing to ignore Sorey. “Alisha has a lot on her plate and it really would be solved through their marriage.”

“But neither are ready for that,” Michael argues. “Muse and I agreed for the wedding to be pushed forward, yes. But that is not to say that we meant for them to get married next week!”

“I don’t mean that, either. But once the two are married, their duties will be shared. I think it should be held later this year, once Alisha turns nineteen, and a few months before Mikleo’s own birthday.”

“Married?” Sorey can say before he can stop himself. “Alisha is meant to be marrying … Mikleo?”

“That is what I said, is it not?” Finuw says in an almost bored voice. “Avoid speaking of it to anyone. Only a certain amount of people know of this.”

“I … I see,” says Sorey, his voice a little quieter than usual. “I didn’t know.”

Negative emotions are building in his chest. Among them is sympathy for both Alisha and Mikleo for having to marry so young, despite Sorey seeing from merely a glance that neither want this. But something else is in there, too. Disappointment. A sense of loss. Sorey has no idea why, but for some reason, this wedding is something that he does not want to occur at all costs.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” says Finuw. “You only met Mikleo once, he was very unlikely to tell you something so personal.”

“Yes … yes, of course.” Sorey’s eyes shift to Mikleo, yet the boy is avoiding his eyes, his body hunched over in a way which makes him seem painfully vulnerable.

“I think that we should not be discussing this here,” says Lailah, her voice gentle yet firm. “I doubt Alisha wants to think about this whilst she is sick.”

“Right, of course,” says Finuw. “Sorry, Alisha.”

“It’s quite all right,” she says, even though this is clearly not the case.

What had began as a moment in which Alisha was cheerful to have company now turned into a scene full of tension. Though they continue their chatter, it is clearly forced. Much to his relief, Sorey has not been kicked out, likely because Finuw seems to be the only one who is against him being there; Michael seems wary, yet is much less rude than Finuw; Alisha gives him smiles here and there, each just as grateful as the last; Lailah gives him a similar treatment, whilst Edna is ignoring everyone, seeming to try and bring down her anger.

As for Mikleo, though he forces a smile when the two accidentally meet eyes, he soon breaks this eye contact before long, which Sorey is unsure about. Does he want to act as though he’s unfamiliar with Sorey? Is he guilty that he did not confess about the engagement sooner? Sorey cannot understand the latter. After all, it seems like a subject that Mikleo does his best to avoid, and Sorey cannot blame him for that.

“It is getting fairly late,” Michael says eventually, peering out at the darkening sky outside. “I’d rather us not travel yet, not with how bandits seem more active at night in Volgran Forest …”

“I’m afraid that we have very little room here left to spare,” Sergei, who had entered again not long ago, says apologetically. “All our rooms are occupied by the knights who have travelled to work here, aside from this room and one waiting for his majesty … But there is always the inn?”

Michael seems uncertain. “I know we have our own knights, but I’d rather Mikleo not stay in a place which is unguarded. My knights will need to sleep before the journey as well, so there would be very little protection …”

“He is bound to also grab attention,” Lailah says sadly, eyes flicking to him. “Everyone knows that appearance.”

“There’s always my place,” Sorey blurts out. Embarrassment washes over him as all attention is on him at once. “I-I mean, Lastonbell isn’t all that far away, and my manor is a lot more guarded than a public inn. I think it’s the safest option.”

“I’m not sure,” Michael says, looking uncomfortable. “I’d rather Mikleo not be in a werewolf dominated land considering he fears them, and I doubt we’d be very welcome … In no offence to you of course, Sorey.”

He shakes his head. “No offence taken, it’s just how things are. But the only ones who will end up seeing Mikleo are those in the manor. It’s pretty far off from everything else.”

“I wouldn’t want to be a burden,” Mikleo murmurs. Despite the quietness of his voice, it still startles Sorey slightly; Mikleo had not uttered a single word for what must have been at least an hour.

“You’d never be a burden,” Sorey responds truthfully. This causes Mikleo to make proper eye contact with him at last, a small yet grateful smile appearing on his face.

“Then it’s been decided, then?” Lailah asks, clapping her hands together.

Michael hesitates. “W-Well, I suppose it is the best choice.”

“Can I go, too?” Edna asks. “Can’t leave him alone or anything.”

Sorey grins at her. “You sound like his secret bodyguard.”

“That’s because I am,” she says, shrugging as though this means nothing. “I work for the palace, sure. But I’m more specially trained than the knights in order to defend him if the need arises.”

“Oh … I never would have guessed.”

“Because she’s a midget?” Mikleo smirks, Edna rolling her eyes.

“You’ll be taking that back when you get yourself in a position where you need to be rescued.”

If that happened, you mean.”

“We should get going, then,” says Michael, rising to his feet. He forces himself to incline his head to Finuw, before giving a much more real gesture of a smile to Alisha. “Take care, Alisha. We all wish for a fast recovery.”

“Thank you very much, both for your kindness and your visit.”

They each bid their farewells before leaving the room one by one. Before Mikleo can get much further, however, there is a hand on his shoulder. He turns to find that it belongs to Finuw.

“A quick word before you go?”

Mikleo takes a glance at Sorey, who had left the room at the same time and is now watching with caution. Plastering a polite expression on his face, Mikleo turns back to Finuw and says, “Of course.”

Finuw forces a terribly fake smile in Sorey’s direction before guiding Mikleo into one of the rooms nearby, not yet occupied by its resident knight. The door is closed after them both, and Mikleo goes to turn and ask what Finuw wants to speak about, but his words are cut off almost immediately.

The back of Finuw hand slams hard into Mikleo’s face, the force causing him to stumble and grab onto a cabinet nearby; he winces, finding that the impact of the rings which litter Finuw’s fingers have cut open his bottom lip. Tasting blood, his hand rises to his mouth as he looks back at Finuw, not having chance to say anything at all before strands of his hair are taken into Finuw’s fist, Mikleo letting out a cry of pain.

“What is your relation to that mutt?” Finuw demands angrily, giving Mikleo a violent shake. “Tell me!”

“We’re just acquaintances, I swear!”

Acquaintances? When you look at him in no way you have ever looked at my daughter?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking abo –”

His words are cut off when Finuw’s grip tightens, causing him to wince terribly once again, yet he forces himself to not let out any other sound of pain. He is thrown to one side, Finuw’s grip releasing and bringing relief to Mikleo’s scalp along with it.

“I should have known that you were a faggot all this time,” Finuw spits. “You are even more of a disgrace to the royal family than I expected.”

“I don’t think of anything like that with Sorey.”

“Oh, really? Looks like you have no one fooled but yourself.” Finuw steps closer to Mikleo, whose instinct is to step back at once; a surge of panic goes through him as his back hits a wall. With a threatening finger pointed in front of him, Finuw continues. “If I hear that anything happens between you and that mutt, I will see to it that I most certainly have reason to dispose of you at last. Do you hear me?”

Mikleo murmurs his response, flinching when this causes Finuw’s voice to rise to a shout.

“I said, do you hear me?!”

“Yes,” Mikleo says immediately, cursing silently how there is a shake to his voice. “Yes, your majesty.”

“Then that’s settled.” Finuw brings himself away from Mikleo, his eyes still full of coldness. “A man is bad enough. But a werewolf too? You really do cause nothing but burdens for your family. My daughter deserves better than scum like you.”

Finuw heads towards the door without another word. Mikleo is slower, having to inhale deeply in order to calm himself, though such a simple gesture is of course not enough. He forces his legs, which suddenly feel weak, to move forward, following Finuw out of the door.

“There you are,” Sorey’s voice says as Mikleo steps out into the hallway. “I heard shouting, is everything … Wait, are you bleeding?”

Words like knives have made Mikleo forget the cut on his lip. His hand hurries to cover it, though he knows that by then, it is much too late. Sorey’s hands take each of Mikleo’s arms as he looks at Mikleo’s face, his eyes expressing how quick it is for him to put two and two together. He turns, eyes falling on Finuw’s retreating back.

“You hit him, didn’t you?” Sorey shouts after him. For the first time, though he finds himself unsurprised due to the boy’s race, Mikleo hears a hint of a growl in Sorey’s voice. “You did this!”

Finuw turns, an expression of mild surprise on his face, as though Sorey had previously been invisible to him.

“I do not deny it. Someone like him needs a bit of rough treatment here and there to keep him in line.”

“How dare you say such a thing?! He doesn’t –”

“Sorey, please,” Mikleo whispers to him, tugging on his sleeve. Sorey can feel that Mikleo’s body is trembling. “Leave it be. I’m fine.”

“You’re clearly not fine, and he –”

“Nothing good will come of it.” Though Mikleo’s voice is still quiet, Sorey can still hear that it is pleading. “Please.”

“Finally know what is best for you, do you?” Finuw questions, turning back around. “I’ll see you again, Mikleo. Be sure to see the error of your ways by then.”

The man leaves without another word. Sorey and Mikleo are left in a deafening silence. Now they are alone, Sorey turns back to Mikleo, leaning down with a hand on his shoulder.

“Let me see,” Sorey says gently, for Mikleo’s hand is still on his face. “Please?”

There is a moment of hesitation, yet Mikleo eventually nods slowly, bringing his hand away from his face. Sorey inhales sharply; there is blood trickling all the way down Mikleo’s chin, and what is clearly the beginning of a bruise is forming on his cheek.

“Oh, Mikleo,” Sorey murmurs, having very little else to say. He pulls out a clean tissue from his pocket, using it to wipe the blood away from Mikleo’s face. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”

“It’s okay, really. I’m used to it.”

“U-Used to it? Then –”

“Well, kind of. It doesn’t happen all the time, just on occasion. He hates me, you see. I’d fight back if there wouldn’t be consequences.”

Sorey hates how casually these words are spoken. These are not words that Mikleo is trained to say, or is even used to saying. They are what Mikleo thinks in this moment, the complete truth. A reality which Sorey would love to say is not real but can clearly not do so.

“Is … is there anything I can do?” Sorey asks desperately, though he already knows the answer.

“I appreciate you asking, but no, there is not. The Diphdas, aside from Alisha, hate werewolves. I’m afraid that anything you would say or do might just make it worse.” Mikleo turns away from Sorey, gesturing to the corridor. “Come on, they’re going to wonder where we are.”

Sorey is reluctant to follow, having wanted to comfort Mikleo for a touch bit longer. They head downstairs to the foyer where Michael and Edna are waiting. Both look up when Sorey and Mikleo walk over to them, Michael seeming like he is about to question where they have been, though his question is answered for him as he looks at Mikleo’s face.

“Finuw?” he asks, brushing strands of hair away from Mikleo’s face. Michael’s jaw clenches when his nephew gives him a nod. “I need to give that man a piece of my mind, he can’t just …”

But Michael’s words trail off, clearly thinking the same as Mikleo, who proceeds to say, “You know what would happen if you did that,” he says quietly. “You’d be putting yourself in trouble, too. It’s all right.”

Michael squeezes Mikleo shoulder with a pained expression, one which shows the troubles and conflict of an uncle who wants to protect his nephew, yet has no power to do so. He instead forces a smile at Sorey.

“Well, we best be going, then. Thank you for your offer for us to stay.”

“It really isn’t a problem, I’m happy to help.”

I just wish I could do so more,’ he adds silently in his mind, watching as Mikleo and Edna walk ahead. The latter takes Mikleo’s hand into her own, murmuring words of what Sorey suspect to be comfort. Despite everything, at the very least, Mikleo is clearly not alone.

 


 

The carriage journey to Lastonbell is far too silent. Mikleo, who had looked out of the window in complete awe in their previous journey, now simply sits in his seat silently, head bowed and his hands clasped in his lap. As Sorey looks at this form, he is filled with an overwhelming urge to take one of these hands into his own, simply to show Mikleo that he is there and to show even a little sign of comfort. But with Michael and Edna sitting opposite them, Sorey refrains himself from doing this.

Edna is as silent as the rest once again. Each time she takes a glance at Mikleo and so allows Sorey to see her face, her eyebrows are furrowed in thought. She always looks back out of the window without a word or a glance at Sorey.

Meanwhile, Michael has a book in his hands, yet it is clear that he is not reading it. His unfocused eyes stare at the pages which he does not flick through. On occasion, he too flickers his gaze to Mikleo, but also remains silent. This journey, though only a couple of hours long, almost feels as though it is stretching for as long as the journey to Hyland takes.

Eventually, they reach Lastonbell. A sky the colour of black ink rests above them. The streets are quiet now that the market stalls have closed, all but a few who offer a late night service.

The carriage takes them to the manor. With momentary panic, Sorey realises that he has not actually informed his family at all about the unexpected guests, and can only hope that his mother is currently home. Forcing this panic to not be on his face, for he wants Mikleo to not have any other reason to be anxious, Sorey gives the three a smile before he opens the front doors to his manor.

It is quiet inside, the sign that some workers have gone to bed. A maid still comes along, however, hurriedly bring herself into a curtsy upon seeing her master. She looks a little puzzled over the people he has brought with her.

“I had not realised you’d be bringing guests, sir,” she says.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, something came up. Is my mother home?”

“Yes, she’s back home for a few days. I’ll go fetch her.”

“Thank you.” Sorey turns to the three guests with a smile, who are peering around at the foyer. It is certainly a much brighter place than Mikleo’s own home, so he can see why they are fascinated. “I’ll just let my mom know about this and then I’ll find you some rooms.”

“A bit small, isn’t it?” Edna comments as she continues to look around. “Smaller than the palace, anyway.”

“Edna,” Mikleo says warningly, though Sorey merely laughs.

“It definitely is a bit small compared to your place. I like it here, though!”

“I do too,” says Mikleo, Sorey feeling unbelievably thankful that he seems to be comforted by being in this atmosphere. “It seems lovely around here, and the architecture …”

“Definitely a couple of centuries old, right?” Michael says, walking over to a pillar which rests nearby, his hand touching it lightly. “Very fine work, here.”

“You’re interested in this stuff, too?” Sorey asks, smiling as Michael nods rather enthusiastically.

“I’m the one who caused Mikleo’s own passion. We’re more similar than you may realise.”

“Sorey?” Selene’s voice suddenly calls. Sorey turns to her, bearing her a somewhat sheepish smile.

“Sorry for the, uh, short notice.”

“You didn’t give us any notice, never mind short notice,” she sighs, scratching the back of her head as she looks at the three guests. “You’re more than welcome, of course, but I’ll have to get around Heldalf.”

“I’m sorry, mom,” Sorey says guiltily. “They just needed somewhere safe for Mikleo to stay.”

Her face seems to soften over the mention of Mikleo’s name. “Don’t worry about that,” she says, smiling. “It definitely is lovely to see you again, Mikleo, as well as Michael – and you are …?”

“Edna. It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you,” Selene responds with a smile. “It’s getting late, so I think it’s a good idea to show you guys to your rooms. Sorey, want to take Mikleo?”

“Sure,” he answers in an instant, grateful to his mother for giving him that time alone with him. He smiles down at Mikleo, gesturing to a corridor. “Come on, I’ll bring you to the guest room close to mine.”

Mikleo nods, following in Sorey’s lead. His eyes wander around the manor as they walk, taking in each difference of the manor compared to his own home. It brings relief to Sorey’s chest. Though Mikleo is still clearly affected by the ordeal with Finuw, he at least seems somewhat calmer now.

“I really do like it here,” he says. “It feels homely. And it’s neater than I imagined.”

“What, you imagined there to be mess everywhere?”

“Pretty much,” Mikleo says, his tone showing that he is joking. “I get rather tired of the dark interior of my palace. It’s nice to be somewhere brighter.”

“I’m just glad you have the opportunity to be here,” says Sorey. “I never would have imagined you doing so.”

“Same here.”

Sorey is soon opening the handle to the room that Mikleo will be staying in. It is smaller than the main bedrooms, yet is still a rather decent size. Sorey walks over to the drawers which are in there, sighing when he sees that they’re empty.

“Must have not brought the clean laundry up yet, considering we don’t have overnight guests much … Hang on, I’ll go get you something.”

“Thank you,” says Mikleo, watching as Sorey opens the door and closes it after himself. Suddenly feeling vulnerable now he is alone, Mikleo pushes the emotion to one side as he wanders over the window. He draws back the curtains a little bit in order to look out of it. The view is something which is able to bring a smile to his face. It certainly is nice to be in a bedroom where the view is something different to what he is used to. He can see Volgran Forest from here, as well as mountains in the distance.

Shortly after, Sorey returns with a small pile of clothes in his arms. “I’m sorry, but I just ended up getting something of mine,” he apologises. “There’s a bathroom across the hall if you want to get dressed in there.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Mikleo takes the clothes from Sorey and proceeds to head to the bathroom that Sorey had mentioned. Rather than get changed as soon as he enters, his eyes instead land on his reflection in a mirror. His heart sinks upon seeing it. The cut on his lip is something he can live with, even if it causes pain to smile or speak. But the bruise inflicted on his cheek is impossible to hide and seems to be deepening in colour by the hour.

He forces his gaze away to change into the pyjamas that Sorey had given him, coloured a blue similar to that of the shirts Sorey usually wears. Both are pretty loose on Mikleo. The long sleeves reach over his hands, and he has to pull up the trousers high rather often to stop them from slipping down. One of the strange emotions he seems to so commonly feel these days runs through his chest. It is rather comforting to be wearing something of Sorey’s.

When Mikleo returns to the guest room, he finds that Sorey has not yet left it. The latter turns when he hears Mikleo enter, bearing him a smile and, though he tries to hide it, flickers his gaze down at Mikleo’s attire.

“I’m sorry, they’re bigger than I thought they’d be.” Sorey raises his hands when Mikleo glares. “What? I’m not trying to tease!”

Mikleo merely huffs. “Sure you’re not.”

“Well, maybe slightly, but it is pretty …”

“Pretty what?”

“I – uh, pretty cute, really.”

Mikleo looks at him a little stunned, before averting his gaze to the bed, clearing his throat awkwardly. “I, um, I should get to bed. Thank you for your help, I really do appreciate it.”

“It really isn’t a problem, I swear. You’re going to be okay?”

A tongue runs over Mikleo’s lips. He knows he is likely in for a night of insomnia, but would rather not say this aloud. “Yeah, I’ll be okay,” he forces himself to say, before sliding underneath the covers. “I hope you sleep well.”

“Yeah, same to you!” says Sorey, heading towards the door. “See you to …”

His words stop when much like in the knights’ building, a hand has grabbed onto his sleeve. He turns to see Mikleo leaning out of bed in order to reach for Sorey. Mikleo’s eyes widen over his actions and he immediately lets go, seeming embarrassed.

“I-I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” he says hurriedly. It only takes a moment to glance at Mikleo to see his insecurity, see that no matter what he says, it’s really not okay.

That is what causes Sorey to say, “Want me to stay here until you fall asleep?”

Mikleo seems shocked over the offer, facing some kind of internal conflict over whether or not this is a good idea. Then slowly, without meeting Sorey’s eyes, he nods slowly. Sorey smiles and sits down on the bed without a moment of hesitation, watching as Mikleo brings the duvet up higher.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly, head resting on its side on the pillow. “I really am being a liability for you, aren’t I?”

“What? No, not at all. You would never be like that, I promise.”

“You’ve just been doing so much for me, yet I never have anything to give you in return.”

“Yes you do. Your company is more than enough.” Sorey, feeling as though it is natural, reaches over to Mikleo to gently brush his fingers across his hair. Mikleo initially flinches over the touch, yet is soon to relax, his eyes fluttering closed.

“I’m surprised you can say that.”

“And I’m surprised that you can underestimate yourself so much. Don’t worry about anything right now, okay? Just sleep.”

Mikleo nods. Despite his fears of insomnia, he finds that his mind is slowing falling into a slumber, wondering in awe if this easiness to give into his persistent exhaustion is caused by the presence of Sorey. “Maybe Finuw was right,” he murmurs.

“Right about what?”

This time, Mikleo shakes his head. It does not take much longer for his body to become still, for his breathing to become heavier. Upon noticing them both, Sorey finally releases his hand from Mikleo, feeling a little lost now that he is not comforting him. His heart falls when he notices that tears have formed in the corners of Mikleo’s eyes.

“I’ll do everything I can for you,” Sorey says, his thumb gently rubbing away these tears. “I promise you that.”

It takes some time for Sorey to feel as though he can leave Mikleo alone in the room. He shuts the door quietly behind himself, letting out a sigh as he stands in the empty hallway.

He finally understands how painful caring for someone can be.

Chapter Text

All around him are the shouts and slurs of civilians disgusted with every aspect of his existence. He is not sure where he is, perhaps somewhere within Marlind, but it does not matter. The crowd, full of distorted faces of hatred, are where his prime focus lies.

He cannot completely make out anything amongst their harsh words. They overlap each other, creating a chaos of noise which rattles his bones, pierce through his ears and into his brain … yet he just stands there. He stands there because regardless of what he says, regardless of how much he would try to deny their statements, their harshness, he knows he cannot do so.

This is the reality of what would happen if people truly knew about him. If they were not given the simplified and glorified version, merely a selection of traits which fit into their ideals, and instead told the absolute truth. Finuw and Amara Diphda have reminded him of that. And to an extent, his own family, for he has always been warned to not speak against them, to remain hidden and safe, as much as it has torn away at him over the years.

Perhaps that is why these images hurt so much. Because they are not just a fabricated illusion. It is a possibility, a hatred which could one day be entirely plausible. It is the truth.

That is probably the reason he has woken up with tears streaming down his cheeks. Sunlight beams through the window and onto his face, which an arm raises to in order to cover his eyes. His body shakes with silent sobs. He is now noticing the pain which lingers from the backhanded slap across his face.

Calm down,’ he thinks, wondering what would happen if someone walked in on him now. He cannot remember the last time he had cried in the presence of another. ‘Just calm down.’

Yet it is much easier said than done. Really, the images of his nightmares are common, both in his sleep and also out of it, brought to him by anxious thoughts. But it is the presence and words of Finuw which had brought him to this. That no matter what he tries to do, he is always chained down by the knowledge of what would happen if people simply knew. And now with Finuw’s suspicions as well, he seems to have all the more reason to hide things about himself even more.

He sits up slowly in the bed, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. Sorey’s sleeve. He brings it down in front of him, wondering how mere material can make him feel so safe. Perhaps it is the scent and the knowledge that Sorey has worn these before.

Sorey. All the time, everything seems to come back to that one name. And now Finuw’s accusations seem to be bringing it to his mind even more so.

“Acquaintances? When you look at him in no way you have ever looked at my daughter?”

He has never realised that he looks in Sorey differently to how he looks at anyone else. Sure, looking at Sorey does seem to stir something in his chest, but is that not merely hope? Surely anyone would feel the same?

Then he realises the temporary realisation he’d had over Finuw’s words, that perhaps there is truth to them. Now, he denies it instead. He has to. There is no way at all that he can feel this way about Sorey. Even without his engagement, it would be impossible. It is silly and unrealistic to think that anything could happen.

It has likely all been in the moment anyway. Sorey has come into Mikleo’s life at just the right time. Upset and tremendously lonely, Mikleo so happened to be near Sorey, thus allowing the two to meet. That alone would cause Sorey to seem a little more special than others.

And since then, he has not once shown a bad side to him, constantly showering Mikleo in reassurance and kindness. Of course Mikleo would grow some sort of attachment. It is normal that someone in his circumstances would do so. That does not mean that what he feels towards Sorey is anything more than friendship. And yet …

It’s just a crush,’ he then admits to himself in his mind, not even able to deny that the way his heart pounds over even the slightest touches between them is not something which occurs from friendship. ‘Just a silly, temporary crush that all people have at some point. I’ve never met anyone who I ended up having a crush on before, so I’m just blowing it out of proportion.’

Somewhat reassured by these lies to himself, Mikleo exhales deeply and pays attention to his surroundings at last. The natural colours of the palace seem even warmer in natural lighting. The curtains have been drawn, giving the impression that someone has already been in here.

His eyes proceed to land on the end of the bed. There, he finds the clothes he was wearing yesterday folded up, with a slip of paper placed on top. Mikleo shuffles forward underneath the duvet to take this paper into his hand. Handwriting he has never seen before is on it, yet somehow, he knows it belongs to Sorey before he has even read the first sentence.

 

Good morning Mikleo, it’s Sorey.

You were fast asleep when I came in this morning, so I decided to leave you for now so you could rest. I had your clothes washed and dried for you. We’ll be downstairs in the dining room – just ask a maid if you can’t find your way there!

I hope you’re all right. Yesterday seemed tough.’

 

So he must have been sleeping for a fair while. It is rather strange how much sleep can vary for him. So many nights are filled with restless, awake hours in which he feels exhausted, yet not ready to sleep at all. Then he has others like this where slumber is his escape from all that is occurring. Or at least, it is until nightmares decide to plague his sleep instead, causing hopes of feeling properly replenished to drift away.

He begins to undress himself out of Sorey’s pyjamas and change into the washed clothes. Wondering temporarily where to put the former, he soon decides on simply leaving them folded on the bed for now, knowing that systems with the workers here are likely similar to those in his own palace.

After this, he begins to venture through the manor’s corridors. Perhaps it is because he’s so used to his own depressing home, but the air feels much lighter here, as though it is not clouded with tension. Even if it is figurative, he still finds himself able to breathe easier. He still cannot even believe that he is here in the first place.

It is not all that difficult to find the dining room. Once he is on the bottom floor, a butler gives him directions without even having to be prompted. Perhaps Sorey has asked the workers to not treat Mikleo differently because of his race; the butler smiles and acts completely normal to him. Feeling relieved, Mikleo thanks the man before heading in the direction he had been given. Merely minutes later, he is outside the double doors which lead to the dining room.

Inside are a fair few sitting at the dining table. His uncle, Edna, Sorey, Selene and a man Mikleo has never seen before. Judging by the atmosphere he gives off and how he can see some resemblance between him and Sorey, Mikleo assumes that this is Heldalf. Nervousness lurches in his stomach.

“Mikleo!” Sorey’s voice exclaims. Mikleo’s gaze drops on him, finding that he is temporarily getting out of his seat. His eyes glance at the bruise on Mikleo’s face, but this is only for a split second, obviously not wanting to bring the subject back up. He smiles warmly at Mikleo, saying, “It’s okay, dad was filled in last night. Come and sit down.”

He is guided over to the table, taking a seat in between Edna and Sorey, assuming that it is saved for him. His eyes find Heldalf, sitting in the chair at the end of the table, whose expression is a little difficult to read, though he does not seem against Mikleo being here.

“Good morning, Mikleo,” says Heldalf. His voice is rather powerful and intimidating in comparison to that of Michael. “My name is Heldalf Shepherd. I’m the Alpha of Lastonbell’s pack and Sorey’s father.”

“It’s a pleasure,” says Mikleo, inclining his head politely.

“Sorey and Selene told me what happened. It surely is a long journey from Hyland, especially if it is a journey you made for the first time.”

“Yes, though it … it wasn’t bad.”

Heldalf nods. “I am glad to hear of it.”

“We’ll be continuing our journey home today, Mikleo,” says Michael. He is sitting in a chair close to Selene. “Though it was definitely helpful to be able to stay here. I’m grateful to you all.”

“Don’t mention it!” Selene exclaims, brushing it off. “It was a surprise, sure, but what kind of people would we be to turn away those in need?”

“Exactly,” Sorey adds with a smile. “We’re more than happy to have you.”

Mikleo smiles back, first to Sorey and then to his parents. “Thank you. I’m very grateful for that.”

Even if his words are polite and he truly does seem grateful, Sorey still looks at him with a little sadness. He’s not sure if the others picked up on it, but there had been a moment in which Mikleo had winced from the cut on his lip. Anger which used to be so foreign in Sorey is beginning to creep its way back as he recalls what happened the night before.

Yet it soon fades as the group begin to eat together. Though there is a lot of awkwardness in the air, the food they are served does well to provide a distraction to this; Mikleo, Michael and Edna find that the food, despite how their own in Marlind’s palace is of good quality too, seems a little fresher than what they are used to.

“You guys tend to hunt your own food, right?” Edna asks. “Rather than rely on imports and businesses?”

Selene nods. “That’s right. It’s hugely common for werewolves to be able to hunt. Heldalf and I don’t always have time for it, but those who work in the manor often hunt for our kitchens!”

“It’s definitely something which differs between us,” Michael says after swallowing a mouthful of food. “I think I do like your way of going about this. It’s rather old-fashioned, but in a good way. It means your produce is better quality, not to mention that it saves on costs.”

“The funds we save tend to go towards saving abandoned werewolves and such,” says Sorey, gaze landing on his father. “Right, dad?”

“Yes, that is right. Werewolf packs are about unity and protecting each other. It’s only right that we do the same for others.”

“You do seem like very good people,” says Mikleo. He feels guilty that his mind is immediately turning to vampires. He knows that there are great figures within his kind, and that striving for independence and focusing on one’s self, rather than always putting others first, is not necessarily a bad thing. But due to being around rather questionable vampires all his life and being caught up in the strict hierarchy personally, he cannot help but feel like in this moment, the ideals of the kind he is expected to dislike are much better than that in his own kind.

“I do hear that you guys do your fair share of charity work, though!” says Selene. “Don’t you have a campaign to help the remaining half-bloods kept in illegal slavery?”

“Oh yes, we do,” Michael nods.

“The Rulays have always strived for better treatment of them,” Edna says as she cuts into a sausage. “Especially since I started working under them, being as I help to run it.”

“That’s amazing!” Sorey exclaims, his eyes lighting up brightly.

“It is,” Mikleo nods in agreement. “They do great work with it. It’s a very slow process, but …”

“We’re determined to get somewhere with it,” Michael finishes for him.

“It is definitely very admirable,” Heldalf comments. “I too have met half-bloods, and all are good people despite how the world vastly treats them.”

Sorey smiles at his father over these words. Even if he had vaguely known that these are the man’s views, Sorey does not always hear this aloud. It is definitely nice to hear a confirmation of it.

As they begin to finish their meal, all can notice how they are fairly more comfortable around each other. Admittedly, likely due to how both Heldalf and Michael can be sceptical about meeting those away from their kind, there is still a similar tension to that which had been in the air when Sorey had been in Marlind.

It is also soon to increase a little further, for after they have eaten, Selene asks, “So how come you’ve never been this way before, Mikleo, if you seem to like Rolance a lot?”

Sorey inhales sharply now he knows the reason. Used to this question, Mikleo does not seem to mind, though he does avoid her eyes. It is Michael who speaks, saying, “We, well … we find it best for Mikleo to stay away from Rolance.”

It is not a good thing to say in front of Heldalf. “Because of werewolves?” he asks a little quietly. Michael immediately shakes his head.

“As much as … as we have told him to be wary, that is not the reason. He …”

“The Rulays and Diphdas have quite the hold on him,” Edna says instead. “Him to go to another country is an insane suggestion.”

“But you love it here!” Selene exclaims. “You said yourself that you –”

“Mom, leave it,” Sorey says to her quickly, noticing how uncomfortable Mikleo is becoming. However, Heldalf is glancing in between Michael and Mikleo, seeming to put something together in his mind.

“He is not trapped, is he?” he asks. Michael seems to grow increasingly tense over the questions.

“He – I –”

“Because I have heard a fair amount about how the children of vampires can be mistreated. Though I have never particularly heard of a case where a vampire is confined.”

“I’m doing everything I can to make things easier for Mikleo,” Michael says desperately, and it is clear from even just his eyes that he is speaking the truth. “Really, I am. But … but there is only so much I can do, and I …”

His words drift off. Mikleo looks at him with a little surprise. Guilt is soon to form when he realises that even though he often puts blame on the uncle he has such a rocky relationship with, Michael seems to not want this for Mikleo after all.

These words quieten the scene for a moment, before Selene breaks it with, “I’m sorry. I understand that not everything is in your control.”

Heldalf nods in agreement. “I would like to apologise as well. I’m afraid I simply become fairly angry at the way your hierarchy is run.”

Michael forces a strained smile. “So do I,” he says simply.

Shortly after, with the temporarily heightened tension now settling once again, the guests are being guided to the front doors. Michael inclines his head to the werewolf family as he says, “Thank you again for letting us stay. It was very generous of you.”

“Don’t mention it!” Selene exclaims. “Have a safe journey back, all right?”

“We will if Meebo doesn’t turn the carriage over with how he runs to the window to look at things,” Edna says, smirking as Mikleo lets out a sigh.

“Please do stay safe,” says Sorey, his eyes finding Mikleo’s. This eye contact and the softness of Sorey’s voice suggest to Mikleo that he is not talking about the carriage journey. He gives a small nod of his head, smiling at Sorey. Moments later, the three have left, leaving silence in their wake.

“So that is the Prince of Hyland,” Heldalf says to break the silence. “I never knew he would be …”

“Would be what?” Sorey questions. Heldalf seems to question this himself for a moment, for perhaps he had started speaking before reaching his own conclusion.

“Be so vulnerable,” Heldalf eventually says. Sorey heart sinks over this conclusion, yet as he thinks about the clear distress in Mikleo’s eyes and the harsh colours of a bruise inflicted upon his cheek, Sorey can see exactly why Heldalf’s mind would come to this word.

And he despises that with every fibre of his being.

 


 

 

A few hours after the leaving of his guests, Sorey finds himself sitting in the library, much smaller than that of Mikleo’s palace. A book is open in front of him. His eyes are not reading the words. He cannot remove the thoughts of what has happened out of his mind. Now that Mikleo is gone, he is thinking back over everything properly, every statement that was made whilst he was there …

As guilty as it makes him for having his mind temporarily shift from the physical abuse he had witnessed, Sorey finds himself thinking about something else we he has not yet given much thought; the wedding. He has known for a few months now that Alisha is going to be married. But Mikleo … he had no clue at all that this was another thing resting on that boy’s shoulders.

Is the frustration and disappointment which builds up from this caused merely by the thought of how the two seem to not want this? Is it caused by the knowledge that they are being shoved further into their responsibilities far too soon? Of course, it must be to some degree. But it feels like there is so much more. In the back of his mind, he wonders if there is any jealousy, though he cannot be sure what causes it.

Or at least, he does not want to admit the possibility to himself, even though he is also sure it is rather too late for that.

He is startled moments later as the door opens. His eyes land on a maid standing there, who bows her head in a polite greeting.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. But your friends have come to visit.”

Sorey watches as Rose peeks her head from behind the maid and waves to him, Dezel standing a little away from the two women. Relief washes over Sorey as he smiles. Their company is just what he needs right now whilst he is being so carried away with his thoughts.

“I’m not busy,” he says, placing the book down to one side. “Come in!”

The two friends do so, the maid bowing her head again before shutting the door after them. The sound of Rose’s shoes is rather loud in the quietness as she jogs over.

“Do you happen to know why there was a royal carriage here?!” she asks immediately. Dezel, walking rather slower, raises his hand to Sorey in greeting.

“Hello,” he says, deciding that perhaps he, at least, should give Sorey a proper greeting. Sorey grins at him before his gaze drops back on Rose.

“Yeah, I do. Alisha – the princess, I mean – is ill and staying in Marlind, and her father came to visit. And, well, Mikleo and his uncle came too.”

“Mikleo?” Rose says in surprise. “But I thought he wasn’t permitted in Rolance?”

Though Sorey had decided against telling Rose and Dezel the full story due to not wanting to speak of Mikleo’s private matters, he had at least said this much which, considering neither of the two have seen Mikleo, is rather believable. How much Mikleo’s confinement gets under Sorey’s skin means that he had to unleash a bit of this frustration somehow, even with an incomplete story. That alone had been seen as a little controlling to Rose and Dezel.

Sorey shakes his head. “He’s not, no. But I’m guessing that he was allowed in this special case because of Alisha.”

“Ah, I guess they must be close,” says Dezel. “Considering they’re the prince and princess after all.”

Sorey hums in agreement, once again burdened with the whole truth. “So yeah, they’re all going back today. I’m guessing that Mikleo, Michael and Edna – you know, his friend – are meeting with the others on the way back.”

“How come they’re not going back together?” Rose asks.

“Oh, Mikleo, Michael and Edna stayed here for the night.”

What?!”

“Your father was okay with that?” Dezel says, colourless eyes widening behind his strands of hair.

Sorey rubs the back of his neck a little awkwardly. “Well, I think he might have been a bit annoyed that I brought them here without asking him first. But he didn’t seem to mind that much.”

“You’re being really reckless, you know,” says Rose, speaking quickly again as Sorey opens his mouth to retort. “Yeah yeah, I know, I can be too. But doing something like that without any warning … what if they start thinking that you and Mikleo are close?”

“I mean … I know why that’d be bad, but at the same time, couldn’t it also be good?” Sorey questions. “As long as we’re not with each other all the time and they don’t know about us secretly meeting, couldn’t the fact that we’re getting along show that vampires and werewolves can do so, even if they’re higher in power like we are?”

Rose cannot argue against this. “That’s true, yeah. I just worry.”

Sorey grins at her. “That’s a bit out of character for you. Feeling all right?”

She leans over and gives him a small shove. “A girl can’t care about one of her best friends now, can she? No but really, you do have a point. I guess it’s just hard to be so positive about it when we’ve grown up knowing certain things.”

“That’s true,” Sorey says, letting out a sigh. “The king seems to be one of those who are stuck in old-fashioned ways, honestly. He hates Mikleo.”

“Hates him?” Dezel echoes. “Even though he’s in the same hierarchy?”

“I know that hate’s a strong word, but … I don’t know how else to describe it.” Sorey’s back hunches over a little with his elbows resting on his knees, his mind replaying the loathing he had saw in the man’s brown eyes, the way he seemed to treat Mikleo as much of a burden as the boy is driven to think he is. Sorey has now just realised that it could very well be this man who drilled those beliefs into him. “I can’t stand how he’s treated. I wish I could do something.”

“You already do a lot,” Rose reassures him. “I think that anyone would be grateful to have someone be so determined to see them. I mean, look at all the risks, yet you still go down there and keep him company! I’m sure it means a lot to him.”

He smiles over these words, yet it is soon to fade. “I know I help him emotionally. I mean, he even seems a little happier generally ever since the first time we saw each other. But I want to do more for him than just that.”

“Like what?”

Sorey thinks over this for a moment, his eyes cast down onto his hands. “Like … truly make him see himself as wonderful as I see him. Be able to take him away from all he goes through and to protect him. I just want to improve his life a lot more, you know? Give him reasons to keep going and such.”

A silence, one which is thoughtful rather than tense, falls temporarily. As they so often do, Rose and Dezel give each other a glance in which, even with Dezel’s blindness, they seem to look into each other’s eyes and reach the same understanding and conclusion.

Soon, Rose’s gaze is instead falling on Sorey, as she says, “Can you answer us something truthfully, Sorey?”

He nods. “I’d never lie to you.”

“Do you have feelings for him?”

Even though it is likely the most obvious question that Sorey could have been asked, it has still taken him completely off guard. He stares at her, mouth open a little in surprise, yet he does not deny it yet. Instead, his mind is running wild with the thoughts he had been dwelling over before their arrival, and now he has been asked this question, he is not sure he can fabricate the truth to them like he has been doing to himself.

“I … well …” Sorey runs his tongue over his lips. His mind is screaming at him to say no, because he knows that saying yes is him admitting something that should not be true, something which he should have never dragged himself into. But his heart betrays him. He thinks of how it skips beats when Mikleo laughs, how beautiful the boy looks when he smiles, all that Sorey wants to do for him. Things which he realises go beyond friendship. “I’m not sure, but … I guess I do.”

He has seen in books how admitting something like this has brought the person instant relief. Perhaps it has done somewhere inside him. But it must only be a miniscule fraction of himself. Because mostly, he is frightened over this confession, even if it is only to himself and his two friends. He should not feel this way. Friendship is bad enough, but actually having feelings for someone …

“I thought so,” Rose says a little sadly.

“And I wouldn’t label it as a common crush,” Dezel adds. Sorey cannot help but nod in agreement.

“I think I’ve had those kind of crushes in school. I mean, basically everyone gets them, right? Where they don’t really mean anything? But … but this is different to all of that.” He lets out a groan, his head planting into his hands. “What do I even do? I never even questioned this before last night, when he was here. How does someone make something like this go away?”

“It’s not really something you can just get rid of, I’m afraid,” says Rose. Her voice is still ridden in sympathy. Strangely enough, Sorey is grateful for it – he’d rather that than Rose immediately saying how wrong it is. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever liked someone myself, but … well, I do kinda know about it. And you can’t just make yourself get over it overnight.”

“Then what should I do?”

“I guess you’d just have to live with it, as hard as it might get,” Dezel admits. “I’d like to say that getting some closure would help, but …”

“Maybe it’d make things worse if you told him,” Rose finishes for him. She pauses for a moment before she asks, “Do you know if Mikleo feels the same way?”

Sorey shrugs his shoulders. “I have no clue. He seems to get a bit flustered at times, but I guess I haven’t seen him around others enough to know if that’s just how he is.” He sits up a little straighter, his hand running through his hair. He lets out a humourless chuckle. “Honestly, I’d rather him not feel the same way. At least it’d be easier to move on that way. I just …”

“Just what?” Rose questions.

“I wish that things were different. That I could confess to him and potentially have something come of it. But instead, we …” His voice cracks, as though he is threatened with tears, yet none arrive. “Instead we’re apart like this, not even expected to be friends. It’s hard.”

“What will you do from now on, now you know you feel this way?” says Dezel. “Are you going to stop seeing him?”

Sorey stares at Dezel as though he said something completely mad. “Are you kidding? Of course not!”

“But … I guess I thought it’d be too much.”

“Not at all.” Some of Sorey’s usual cheerfulness has returned to his voice; even his lips have stretched into a small smile. “I mean … things are still the same, right? I might have had these feelings for a while without even noticing. I just know about it now. Besides, I’ve already told you what I want to do for him. Even if I can’t do all that for him, I still want to help him as much as I can. I can’t do that if I avoid him just because of this.”

Rose smiles back, the gesture lighting up her bright blue eyes. “You know, Sorey? I could learn a thing or two from you with how kind you are.”

“Selfless as ever,” Dezel agrees. Sorey laughs, scratching the back of his head.

“Maybe it is a bit, considering I’d happily put Mikleo first. But … but I don’t think it’s completely selfless.” His eyes grow thoughtful and his expression soft. “I think that Mikleo’s happiness makes me happy, too. When he smiles, I smile, and things like that. So I guess it isn’t really all that selfless if I’m benefited from it, too.”

The words, though they are probably intended to make them joyful, have the opposite effect. Rose’s heart grows heavy and her eyes bear sadness. “I wish things could be easier for you both,” she says softly. “Really.”

“I do too, but … well, I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.”

Even though he keeps his smile plastered on his face as he says this, his heart as sank just as deep as his friends’, if not even more so. It is hard to imagine that the world has the possibility of being even more unfair than it already is.

 


 

 

Weeks have passed since the journey down to Pendrago. Since then, life has been filled with continuous stress and conflict for Mikleo. Expectations and realities fall down on his aching shoulders with more intensity than ever before. He is constantly worried about the Diphdas, even if he has not seen them all that much as of late. Because now, considering there is no way that Finuw kept their ‘talk’ between themselves, Mikleo knows that both people have yet another thing to use against them, even if Mikleo had not confirmed any of Finuw’s words.

The date for the wedding between him and Alisha has finally been decided. October 31st, a traditional date for vampire weddings, so of course exactly what Finuw and Amara would like. It is far too soon for either teenager to be wed. But it could not be more clear that the two parents had been waiting for this moment, one in which they’d have an excuse to push the wedding forward. It sickens Mikleo that their own daughter’s collapse became said excuse.

Today, in one sunny and heated afternoon in early July, Mikleo is to go over to Ladylake in order to converse with the wedding planners and to try on his tailored suit. This is, at least, one development among all the harshness.

Somehow, after Muse and Michael themselves were convinced that it’d be fine, they managed to say to Finuw and Amara that Mikleo is very likely to be fine leaving his home as long as he is accompanied and protected. Of course, Muse and Michael would have not asked for permission at all from the Diphdas had the situation been different, but with how things are, every caution has to be taken so that Mikleo is not blackmailed or betrayed.

And what feels like a miracle had occurred. They said yes. Perhaps they realised that it did not do well to have the fiancé of their daughter be so unconnected with the world. This means that now, Mikleo can venture out into the city as long as he has guards, and to the nature nearby if he is simply with Edna.

He has only done the latter for now. The preparations for the former seem to be such a tedious process that he has not yet seen the point. He cannot really imagine enjoying the city all that much if he is so guarded. But if he is alone with Edna, then it feels less like he is trapped even whilst outside.

You … you’re letting me go outside?”

With permission and protection, yes. It’s something we should have sorted out a long time ago.”

The surprise of his widened eyes, the disbelief in his voice, the sad yet somehow simultaneously relieved smiles of his mother and uncle – he can still picture it all completely. It had been such a surprise to him that he could not smile or even feel any joy or excitement for some time. It is what he has been after for so long, and so to be handed that so suddenly still feels like an entirely new world to him.

He cannot help but thank Sorey, either. It feels as though being convinced to go to Ladylake with the other is the only reason why Mikleo is here now. Had Mikleo not taken that incredible risk and broken the rules in order to get there, he doubts he would have had the courage to speak up in regards to Alisha. And had he not been able to do that, he would not be standing here now …

Due to their busyness and how the trek to Hyland is that little tougher now the intense summer sun is high in the sky, he and Sorey have not actually seen each other since Mikleo was given this permission. But he cannot wait to tell him. Letters are risky, so Sorey does not yet know, and Mikleo would much rather talk to him face-to-face anyway. It feels strange that the next time he goes to see Sorey, as long as he has Edna in tow, it would be with permission.

But for now, his mind is on getting to Ladylake. Michael is staying at home in order to catch up with some work, whilst Muse, who her family had thoroughly convinced her that she should really be taking some time out herself, will be travelling with him. Edna is by his side too. Both her and Muse immediately hide under a parasol upon getting outside.

“Careful, Mikleo,” Muse says. “The sun is strong today, I wouldn’t want you falling ill from it.”

“You know that the sun doesn’t affect me that much,” he says, eyes darting up to the bright blue sky. And it is true; whilst this level of strength from the sun’s rays would likely cause heatstroke within an hour for an average vampire, he finds that for now at least, it is rather nice. He has never been one to be affected as badly from it as others.

“What a weirdo,” Edna says from underneath her black parasol, Mikleo giving her a smirk.

“Says the one wearing all black in the summer.”

She simply shrugs in response. “I like wearing black no matter the weather.”

“Even if it doesn’t help at all with this heat?”

“Yup. Even then.”

The three are soon settling inside the carriage, with guards mounting their horses in order to follow them. Even if the sun does not affect him as much as others, he does still feel relief from being in this shelter. ‘I wonder how werewolves cope in this heat when they transform,’ he thinks to himself as he gazes out of the window. The same thought had occurred to him the other night, for the full moon had been high in the sky, and Mikleo can no longer help but imagine Sorey’s kind whenever he sees it.

An hour passes and brings them to the bridge leading to Ladylake. Mikleo peers out of the window with a little excitement. It truly looks different in the daytime. As beautiful as this place looked at night, with thousands of stars reflected on the water’s surface and the lights from the city illuminating it even from a distance, Mikleo can take in everything a lot better when it is bathed in light. And how gorgeous everything is at this time.

Thanks to many vampires choosing the more common approach of humans nowadays, the streets are just as lively as they had been during his visit with Sorey. Muse and Edna watch Mikleo, both smiling over his fixation with what is going on around him.

“Of course you’d be in awe this much,” says Muse as she watches him. “You’ve never seen Ladylake, after all.”

Mikleo merely hums, knowing that if he spoke, the guilt he feels over lying to his mother would be incredibly obvious in his voice. Still, even if he has been here already, he can certainly see how one visit is not enough to take everything in.

Far too soon, the carriage is pulling up by Ladylake’s palace. His eyes grow wide in astonishment over finally being up close to it. It is much larger than his own – understandably so with how this is the capitol. It makes him feel rather intimidated, but at the same time, he is rather excited to see if the architecture is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.

The guards remain outside the palace, seeming to be planning to go grab some food together, whilst Muse, Mikleo and Edna head inside. It is certainly darker than his own home. Whilst the walls in his home are at least light, even the walls here are not this way at all. For a typical vampire, this is probably incredibly beautiful. To him, it is simply depressing.

“P-Prince Mikleo!” squeaks a maid who ends up running forward, lowering herself into a curtsy which almost causes her to fall over. “We meet you at last!”

“Um, yes. Hello,” he replies awkwardly – aside from the guests which visit his palace, he is not all that accustomed to this. He can see Edna trying to stop herself from sniggering. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The possibility of this seems to be a critical hit for the young maid who, seeming to be very infatuated with Mikleo, does not seem to know what to do next. A butler, however, comes to her rescue, lowering himself into a bow and saying, “The Queen, Princess and the outfit planner are waiting for you in the left wing. Shall I take you there, your highness?”

“Yes, please do so.”

“You will be accompanying him too, your majesty? And Miss Yurlind?”

After the two women confirm this, the butler inclines his head before guiding them towards the left wing. Not only is the general atmosphere of this palace a little stricter than his own alongside its dark colours, but the staff themselves are dressed rather more formally too, donning traditional attire; the men are rather similar to those in Marlind’s palace, yet the women are a lot different, all wearing the same floor length dress. In Marlind, they have a choice among a few to make them be comfortable; Symonne, as an example, wears a shorter, cuter variety.

With the exception of the first flustered maid, the staff also seem to be a touch more sophisticated and well trained, too. Unlike the staff in his own home and also Sorey’s, as he came to notice, none seem nervous about being in the presence of pure-bloods; if they are as such, they are not showing it at all. The way they move around almost seems robotic.

The butler knocks on a mahogany door eventually. He opens it when there is a response, head bowed as he says, “Good afternoon, Queen Amara and Princess Alisha. I have brought your guests.”

“Ah, wonderful!” they hear Alisha exclaim. “Do let them in.”

With one last bow, the butler shuts the door after the three guests. Whilst Amara merely inclines her head a little in greeting, Alisha rushes to her feet, excitement flickering in her eyes.

“I can’t believe you’re here at last, Mikleo!” she exclaims. “It is lovely to have you.”

“You seem to be doing a lot better,” Mikleo smiles, noticing how the skin underneath her eyes is now much lighter, and her general face seems healthier and livelier.

“Yes, definitely. I was given plenty of time to recover and Lailah’s remedies got me back on my feet in no time.”

“That is lovely to hear, Alisha,” says Muse. Alisha gives her a wide smile before wandering over to the guest that Mikleo has never met before.

“This person here,” she says as she gestures to the man, who is currently patting down the material of a suit jacket worn by a mannequin, “is Shaun Clemence. He is the designer for our wedding.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Mikleo says, taking the hand which is offered to him.

“As it is for me. Great to meet you all at last!” he greets, Mikleo immediately feeling rather relieved that this man is at least friendly. His gaze shifts to Muse with a smile. “I have also prepared a dress for you, your majesty. I thought it would be proper to have something prepared for the parents of the prince and princess – I shall prepare something for Lord Michael, too.”

“The costs will be split,” Amara pipes up. “I thought it would be more suitable for the wedding if all seem like we’re making an effort. I suppose that it’d be best for her,” her eyes flicker to Edna, “to wear something suitable, too.”

Shaun smiles, looking at Edna himself. “I am sure I can add something for her to the list, too.”

“She’s not a relative, so it would not be necessary –”

“But she’s also very close to the family,” Muse finishes for Amara with a sweet smile, “so I’ll be more than happy to take the costs for this one, too.”

Mikleo feels a swelling of pride for his mother. Edna herself seems unsure of how to react, for she is usually not given all that much attention. However, she still finds it in herself to smirk and say, “Well, I think that a wonderful lady like myself deserves to be given something nice to wear, too.”

All but Amara, who seems irritated by the casual attitude, laugh at her words. Both Alisha and Mikleo are fairly thankful for them; it is nice to listen to something like this during a rather tense situation.

Shaun proceeds to further prepare Mikleo’s suit for him to wear. He only sees glimpses to begin with, but to his relief, he finds that how it is indeed made in his preferred colour has taken away some of the masculine emphasis Finuw and Amara had been aiming for, allowing it to seem more like the mixture he tends to wear. He cannot wait to see Amara’s expression when he is wearing it.

“Behind here, your highness,” Shaun says, gesturing to paper screens set up in the corner of the room for privacy. Mikleo follows him there, finding that he is not very embarrassed to undress himself in front of someone else for the first time – after all, Shaun likely does this everyday. He is soon slipping Mikleo’s arms into a shirt made of midnight blue. He can imagine that Amara and Finuw wanted some part of the outfit to be darker, but he finds himself caring very little about it; it is, after all, the only traditional colour of vampires which he too is fond of.

Next is fitting his tie, followed by the suit jacket; Mikleo thought that perhaps the trousers would be something which is simple enough, but apparently every tiny fraction of his outfit needs to be perfect, including the sharp, immaculate crease which runs down the front of each leg.

“Right, there we are!” Shaun exclaims after what feels like far too long to put on an outfit. Wondering for a moment how long it will take for Alisha’s dress to be fitted on her, Mikleo is guided out from behind the screen, Alisha letting out a delighted sound.

“Oh, you do look lovely!” she says happily, putting her hands together. “Doesn’t he, mother?”

“I … suppose it is rather nice, yes,” Amara responds slowly, seeming to either be disappointed that she cannot think of something negative to say, or she knows that she should probably hold herself back when she has an important guest.

“Go take a look, idiot,” says Edna. She seems to be approving of the outfit too despite her words. Mikleo walks over to the full-length mirror which has been moved to the room, and even he, with amounts of anxiety which seem endless, can see why the others approve of this outfit.

There is no denying that the style itself lacks in the effeminate touches that his usual attire has. Like the sketch had shown, the suit is rather simple, accented with silver detailing and now has the sash of a prince folded over his body, coloured in a blue matching his shirt. However, he finds that the colours make up for something he usually would not be fond of. The absence of black from the outfit allows him to maintain the doll-like and even angelic appearance he usually has, and it also makes him feel as though he is wearing something more similar to what he usually wears.

Of course, it is not completely to his liking – Finuw and Amara’s wishes are clear, and he thinks that even if it was perfect, he still would not fully like it due to what it has been created for in the first place. However, for an occasion that he does not care for all too much and would rather not be in at all, it will most certainly do.

“What do you think?” Alisha asks. “Do you like it?”

“It’s … well, it suits me a lot more than I thought it would, honestly,” he says, peering around at himself. He is noticing now that the measurements do well to emphasise his waist which, to his amusement, he knows that is a part of it which Amara would also dislike. His fingers take hold of the turquoise tie and stroke down its material. “I’m surprised over the colour of this.”

“I had been told by her majesty that you are fond of turquoise,” Shaun explains, inclining his head to Muse. “So I thought it would be nice to include it somehow for you.”

“It looks wonderful, thank you.” He turns to face Alisha, asking, “Will I be seeing your dress at all?”

“Oh no,” she shakes her head. “I tried it on earlier today. It’s bad luck to see the bride in her wedding dress, so they say. But it was lovely!”

“I’m surprised that you didn’t know that,” Amara points out, clearly taking a quick opportunity to say something offensive to him.

However, he shoots her down with, “I’m not. I don’t really hear all that much about weddings when I’m to stay shut up in my bedroom, you see.”

He can see Edna smirk out of the corner of his eye. And with Shaun in the room, Amara can do very little but glare momentarily, before she clears her throat.

“Right, now that this is done, we have a few more guests to sort through.”

“May I borrow Miss Edna momentarily as you go?” asks Shaun. “I think it will save time to take her measurements and ask about her preferences while she’s here.”

“Yes, go right ahead,” Muse smiles. Edna walks over to the man and, as the others begin to walk out of the room, stretches out her arms when instructed to. The door closes on the pair, leaving Muse, Mikleo, Alisha and Amara to make their way through the corridors.

“I would ask Finuw to join us, but I’m afraid that he’s currently preoccupied with meeting with Chancellor Bartlow.”

“A shame for sure,” Muse responds, sounding a little like this is not a shame at all. “Chancellor Bartlow, you say?”

“Yes, he’d like to hear a little bit more about the wedding.”

Alisha and Mikleo catch a glance at each other. The Chancellor, very much known for his rudeness at best and much more corrupt and aggressive crimes at his worst, surely could not have anything good in mind if he wishes to learn of the wedding. However, the man soon exits the minds of the two teenagers as they continue through the palace, having difficulty in thinking of anything but all these plans ahead of them.

 


 

 

Turquoise eyes peer out of the window of a carriage, rattling as it is pulled by a chestnut horse. The woman these eyes belong to lets out a sigh, tucking a few strands of pale hair behind her ear as she settles properly back in her seat.

Lailah’s visit to see the King has been one which has long been due. And after witnessing his pure rudeness weeks prior in Pendrago and his unacceptable behaviour towards the boy who will one day be his son-in-law, Lailah knows that she cannot put off this visit any longer.

The carriage takes her to the entrance of the city. She thanks the woman riding it, handing her several coins, before she begins to trek through the city. As usual, eyes stare at her in wonder as she passes. Her hair is, unlike Mikleo’s, not quite as pure as snow – though seemingly white at a glance, there is a hint of blonde in it, evidence that unlike him, she has not been without blood forever. Though thanks to her giving up human blood two centuries ago, it has still made a large impact on her hair.

It is one of the many things which brings all this attention to her. She is aware that the length is likely the cause, too. And usually, she would acknowledge people’s attention as to not seem rude, but today, she cannot bear any time or thought for it.

“Miss Mioma,” says one of the guards positioned at the gates of the palace, standing up to attention and giving her a bow of his head. “What brings you to the palace?”

“I wish to speak to his majesty, the king,” she explains.

“I believe he is currently attending a meeting with Chancellor Bartlow, though I’m sure you will find pleasure in waiting within the palace?”

“Most certainly,” she responds, inclining her head to him. “Thank you, and do have a good day.”

She passes through with no problem. The path she walks on disconnects on either side towards the gorgeous and vast gardens, though she keeps going forward towards the palace. There, she finds that people are already stood by the door; once closer, she can see that outside is Muse, Mikleo and Edna, and on the inside, Alisha and her own mother. They seem to be saying farewell to one another rather than be greeting each other.

“Thank you for letting us visit,” says Muse politely. “I do think that this wedding is going along very smoothly.”

Amara nods. “Yes, it seems as such. I will let you know if there is anything else you …” Her words trail off as her eyes find Lailah, who slowed her pace as to not interrupt – or at least, not to so any sooner. Amara’s civil attitude fades away quickly as her jade eyes narrow into a cold glare. “Lailah. What, uh, pleasant reason has brought you here?”

“I have come to see your husband,” Lailah explains, nodding in acknowledgement when the others glance at her. “Though please, take your time finishing your farewells.”

“My husband is not available. He is with Bartlow.”

“Ah yes, I’m well aware,” Lailah says cheerfully. “And I do know that my presence really does get your blood boiling. But I’m afraid that due to all I’ve done for Ladylake, even if I am not the most welcome now, I still –”

“Yes yes, I get it,” Amara snaps, erasing any slight possibility of her responding in a polite attitude. “Fine. Give me a moment.” She turns to Muse, jaw clenched. “As I was saying, you’ll be informed of any changes. I recommend that Mikleo continues to train more regularly so that he is adept at protecting Alisha.”

“I’m quite certain that Mikleo is strong enough for such things, as to say that Alisha needs protecting at all,” Muse responds. “Right, we shall be going then. It was nice seeing you, Lailah. Do come to Marlind at any time you wish.”

“As to you with Elysia,” says Lailah, giving Muse a smile. She, Amara and Alisha watch as the three guests disappear down the path, before Lailah clears her throat lightly and turns around. “After that most warm welcome, may I please come in?”

Amara opens the door further without another word, still obviously furious at this arrangement. Alisha, however, bows her head politely and guides Lailah inside.

“We are not all that well acquainted, are we?” she asks, ignoring how her mother shuts the door with a little more force than what is likely necessary. “I must thank you graciously for all the help you have given through your remedies. It has inspired me to try and create medicine similar if I ever get the chance.”

Lailah beams at her. “Ah, that is so lovely to hear! I am very glad that I have inspired you.”

“As long as Alisha does not get too much on her plate, I don’t see why this cannot happen,” Amara says, before she gestures to the corridor on the right. “My husband and the Chancellor are in a room down this way, if you’d like to wait there.”

“I’ll take her there,” Alisha says immediately. Amara opens her mouth, perhaps to protest, before seeming to realise that she will gain very little by doing so.

“Very well. I’ll see you at dinner, Alisha.”

Without another word or even look to Lailah, Amara walks away. Alisha guides Lailah down the hallways, seeming to be rather relieved to be out of her mother’s presence.

“I had not expected to see you in Ladylake,” she says. “It is such a lovely surprise.”

“Yes, I had not been expecting to do so today either, but I’m glad I made the choice. I do miss being here.”

“Did you used to live here?” Alisha asks curiously, Lailah nodding in return.

“I did. Though the war changed that.” Lailah’s face lightens, her voice growing a little happier. “But I do love it in Elysia. Ladylake will always have a special place in my heart, but I have grown to feel most welcome in Elysia.”

Alisha smiles. “That is good to hear. Though you … mentioned not being as welcome here anymore? I cannot see why that would be when you’re so lovely.”

“You do flatter me, Alisha, thank you. I’m afraid it is rather complicated. It is best for me to simply keep at bay when it comes to the City of Water.”

Alisha stares at her for a moment before letting out a giggle. “All right, if you do say so. I’ve heard how beautiful Elysia is, anyway. I wish to go there, but my parents are not all too fond of the idea.”

“Is that so?” Lailah questions a little sadly. “Well, if you do ever find yourself ever able to go there, I do recommend taking the opportunity. It does not quite dampen the spirits as much as here does these days.”

Wondering how many water-related puns Lailah can say in a single minute, Alisha is quick to be distracted by a door opening ahead of them. Her eyes narrow a little out of instinct upon seeing the plump man who exits from the room. Following him is her father, who shuts the door behind them and looks at them rather surprised.

“Lailah,” he says in shock.

“Lailah, huh?” Bartlow says, his gaze following Finuw’s. “I heard something about you not being all that welcome here anymore.”

“You heard correctly, yes,” Lailah responds. “But at the same time there is no way I can be denied from entering my home city after all I have done for it.”

“Lailah wishes to speak with you, father,” says Alisha, having rather Bartlow not speak at all.

“Very well, then. Bartlow, if you could –”

“And then Alisha, my dear,” Bartlow interrupts him with. “I have heard tales that you have been conversing with werewolves as of late.”

“And what of it?” Alisha asks calmly, despite how a little rage is already brimming somewhere inside her.

“I just thought you ought to know that this is very well, how should I say it? Questionable to the citizens, at the very least. Half of them expect that we will one day be at war with them once again, yet the princess is off having cups of tea with them. You must see how that must look on you?”

“All I can see from this is that it will help convince those half otherwise, because I will not allow this country to go to war again,” Alisha states firmly. “I was a child born in a new generation, a generation of hope and the willpower to prevent what occurred to our ancestors, to our own living families, to happen again. And if my conversing with werewolves is helpful towards that, then you can expect me to continue.”

“Alisha,” says Finuw to interrupt. “Now is not the time or place. Bartlow, please do not think of me as rude when I say that I would rather you come back another day, for both my daughter and I have business to attend to.”

Bartlow bows his head. “But of course, your majesty.” He bears a smile to Alisha which causes her jaw to clench. “I am so looking forward to this wedding of yours, Princess. Hopefully we can speak about it one day.”

The man proceeds to leave down the corridor. Alisha lets out a sigh, nodding curtly to her father and Lailah. “Then if you’ll excuse me, too,” she says, heading in the opposite direction to Bartlow as Finuw and Lailah head into the room where the two men had previously been conversing.

“What brings you here then, Lailah?” Finuw asks after he has shut the door behind them. His voice is emotionless and his face blank. “It is unlike you to simply come around for a chat, after all.”

She gives him a strained smile. “I cannot deny it. All I am thinking about is how much you clearly loathed poor Mikleo when I saw you both together.”

“And what of it?”

“What of it? You cannot possibly be serious! This boy is going to be your son-in-law. Why even have Alisha marry him if you despise him so?”

“I have my reasons to despise him as I do. And he makes the most sense on a social standpoint for Alisha to marry.”

“Even though you clearly wish for him to not do so at all? You wish for Alisha to be part of a family you cannot even stand?”

“Oh no, you have that wrong, Lailah,” Finuw says with near amusement. “Alisha will not be marrying into his family. He will be taking her name, thus becoming a part of the Diphdas and bringing an end to the surname Rulay. The royal families will be brought together and conjoin under what you can likely agree is the most important name.”

“You wish to gain more power through having your family be solely in charge?” Lailah asks slowly, Finuw nodding his confirmation.

“That is right. Our family will gain an even better admiration from the public by gaining a member of the Rulays, a family which is also adored. If only Mikleo’s scum of a father had kept around, then perhaps the Rulays might have just been able to stay standing, but … well, a man like that would not exactly be fit to be in royalty.”

“I cannot believe that you would go to such lengths to get yourself power,” Lailah says quietly, her voice quickly becoming firmer. “Actually, that is incorrect. I can believe it. You used me, so I find it believable that you would use a young boy also. That is all you have ever done, gain the trust of others in order to use them.”

“That is what you have to do in life, my dear,” Finuw says coldly. “The strong survive and live off the weak. That is all. Mikleo is weak, yet at the same time, the power that merely his name holds is great. Imagine what I can do with that name, how much power it will bring me, and how I can use that naive child to gain whatever I desire.”

“And what do you desire? What could you possibly gain with more power?”

“Werewolves do not belong in this continent,” Finuw says quietly, a hint of a smile on his face. “The war between Hyland and Rolance should have ran out those monsters to a place where they are accepted. Instead, they stayed in Rolance, mixing with our kind and the humans. They do not belong there. I want them out of Glenwood even if it is by force.”

“Another war …” Lailah says, her eyes growing wide in horror. “You desire another war, even after surviving the last?!”

“If that’s what it takes! The conclusion was not enough, yet we lost too many to let it continue. But now … Why, with the attention that this wedding will bring, and the loyalty that the people will give because of it … they will kneel and accept anything I say. And if not me, then they would at least do so to their new King.”

“Mikleo would never lead the people into such chaos. You know that.”

“That boy may seem to have nothing, but that is only because everything he has is controlled by my own two hands. And even if he is stupid enough to not obey me, then Alisha is bound to. After all, even if she is not in love with him, she cares for Mikleo deeply. I can easily use that bond to my advantage.”

“You haven’t changed one bit,” Lailah whispers, feeling her hands trembled. “You haven’t changed in all this time. I thought I had been able to change you, but …”

“Perhaps you would have, if I had not been given a reason to divorce you and erase any detail of my first wife from history. But things changed. Your ideals differ too much from mine and I, even if I will never truly hate you, will never be able to be changed by you.” Finuw walks over to the door, resting his hand on the door handle. “I trust that you will not tell anyone of this,” he says quietly. “You know how many connections I have. Slip a word of this and break our agreement of protecting what we exchange between ourselves, then you know all too well how many I could hurt. I suggest you leave now that you have been given your answers.”

Yet Lailah remains in her spot. “It is these kind of ideals of yours which made you also lose your first daughter. Do you ever think of that?”

Finuw, so smooth with his words moments ago, hesitates for the first time. “That was a long time ago. It does not even concern you. I’m warning you now, Lailah. Leave, before I have you banished from Ladylake completely.”

Knowing he is serious, Lailah does so, avoiding his watchful gaze as she exits the room. Yet she does not venture further down the corridor, or at least not before saying, “Mikleo and Alisha are not as naive and controllable as you think. One day, they may just end up doing all they can to overthrow you. I hope you will be prepared for that day when it may so arrive.”

And with those impactful words, she leaves without saying anything more.

Chapter Text

It is a brightly lit Friday afternoon. July’s hot weather seems to be slowly bringing on a drought with no rain in sight. Yet until that happens, as long as one stays cool enough, the summer days are rather enjoyable for some people.

Just the other night, Sorey and Dezel stayed in their wolf forms to keep Rose company on her night of the full moon, settled on the grass with the refreshing cool breeze ruffling their fur. Rose has definitely been making tremendous progress. Soon, they are sure that she will not need to transform at all when the full moon is risen, but of course, the three friends will still not be stopping their enjoyable times together like this.

The heat is definitely a bit of a struggle at times, however. Sorey has been particularly busy as of late, finding that he has been given more duties to attend to whilst also considering the part that Rolance wants him to partake. The heat does not always go well with this. It is rather difficult to concentrate when your temperature is so high.

It is during a break from this, Sorey letting out an appreciative sigh after gulping down some cold water, in which his father knocks on the door of Sorey’s bedroom. He sits up straighter in surprise; Heldalf usually does not come in here, rather instead choosing to send a maid or butler for Sorey if he needs to speak to him.

“Hey, dad,” Sorey greets. “Is everything okay?”

Heldalf nods. “I was just wondering if it’d be all right to speak to you.”

“Oh, of course – you can sit down on my bed, if you want.”

“Thank you,” Heldalf responds. He takes a seat down on the mattress, which sinks under his weight. It does the same when Sorey decides to join him. “I thought you might want an explanation for why things have been so busy lately, especially after I gave you permission to travel more frequently.”

“I’ve been wondering that, yeah.”

“Do you remember the discussion you had with Sergei Strelka and Alisha Diphda?”

Sorey nods. “Of course I do.”

“We only really touched on that briefly, did we not? Likely because we just haven’t had much time … But yes, I think you would remember that they were looking for someone to be the new Emperor. Though they still wish for the Empire to be mostly government run, there of course needs someone to be above them to decide on finalities, and to give the people a clear view on who runs their country.”

“That’s true … Why are you mentioning it?” A sudden thought occurs to Sorey which causes him to blurt out, “They don’t want it to be me, do they?”

Heldalf chuckles and shakes his head. “No no, you are much too young. Rather, their current wish is for it to be me, if the public so agrees.”

Sorey stares at him with wide eyes, a grin breaking out on his face. “That’s – that’s amazing! You’ve done brilliantly to run Lastonbell, I’m sure the public would love for it to be you!”

“Thank you for the compliments, Sorey. It is, of course, not definite, and it will take some time before it happens. But you do know what this means, do you not?”

There is silence for a moment before Sorey asks, “Would this mean that you wouldn’t be able to be the pack’s Alpha anymore?”

“That is right. Of course, with an emperor ruling the country, leaders of packs do not hold the same expectations and responsibilities than they once did. But they still remain to help with their own areas, or if the Alpha of a smaller pack, to simply assist the wolves who reside in it. I am afraid that if I were to be the emperor of Rolance, I would simply not have the time or capacity to be the Alpha of Lastonbell to go with it.”

“Does that mean I’ll become the Alpha instead, then?”

“It does, yes. Not straight away, of course – no one wants you to be thrown in the deep end before you are ready. Your mother will be taking over to begin with, then several years down the line when you are ready, you will take over her.” Heldalf looks at Sorey a little apologetically. “This is rather sudden news, I understand.”

“It’s not!” Sorey reassures him with. “I mean, I didn’t realise you could end up being the emperor, but I knew that one of these years ahead, I’d end up being the Alpha. It’s just more solid now.”

“So you are ready for that?”

“I mean, if it were to happen within the next year, maybe not. But if it’s a few years down the line … Sure, why not?”

Heldalf smiles proudly. “You never do fail to make me realise what a great son I have, Sorey. You take everything head on and accept it for what it is. I worry sometimes that it may one day lead to you getting hurt, but … Well, it is most certainly a great quality of yours.”

“Geez dad, you’re gonna make me blush!”

With a chuckle, Heldalf pats Sorey’s shoulder. “It’s nothing you haven’t heard before. I trust you will do well with what is ahead of us. Now, I really had expected you becoming the Alpha to come from my retirement, but I guess that will change now.”

Sorey grins at him. “Come on, you’ve got decades left before you’ll have to retire and you know it. You’re gonna do great dad, I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you, Sorey. I also look forward to seeing how Selene will do when running the pack as a sole Alpha. Currently she has such a high ranking as me that you would expect that the title of Alpha is both of ours.”

“That’s true,” Sorey laughs. “Mom just can’t ever sit still. Where is she, by the way?”

“She’s in Pendrago to take care of some paperwork on my behalf. See what I mean? I swear the three of us never stop.” He gets up from the bed, giving one last smile to Sorey. “Speaking of which, do take a break sometime soon. You have worked hard lately and deserve one.”

“Take care of yourself, too. You need rest too at times!”

“Rest? I’ve forgotten what that is,” Heldalf jokes. Moments later, he has left the room, instead replaced by a butler who stands in the doorway and bows his head to Sorey.

“Good afternoon, sir,” he says. “Miss Wilk is here.”

“Ah, is she? I’ll be right there!”

Minutes later, Sorey has head down to the foyer. There he finds Rose, Dezel absent from her presence, and she looks rather amused. Sorey’s eyebrow raises a little upon seeing this.

“What are you finding so funny?” he asks. She merely shrugs her shoulders.

“Care to go to the library?”

Sorey finds the request a bit odd at first, considering Rose cannot be considered nerdy in the slightest and Sorey has no idea why she wants to go all of a sudden. But then he realises that she seems to be giving him a knowing look. In an instant, he can tell that she wants to tell him something.

“Sure, sounds good!” He cringes inwardly at how overly enthusiastic his voice sounds, yet does not dwell on this for long due to his curiosity about why she is here. He leads the way over to the library, shutting the door after them both and making sure that no one is inside. Rose is doing the same and, when both are certain that no one is around, Rose hands Sorey a slip of paper.

“It’s been a while since this has happened,” she says. Sorey glances down at the paper, assuming what will be there and finding that his heart grows warm when he is right. The handwriting is neater than his own, with such an elegant and italic touch that Sorey would almost think it belonged to Mikleo’s mother rather than Mikleo himself.

 

I decided to take a page out of your book and have Edna send this to Rose. Luckily, the addresses for the Sparrowfeathers are pretty easy to find.

Would you be able to head down to Hyland this weekend, most specifically Lakehaven Heights? Edna and I will be out both days in the late afternoon, when the sun is less strong for her. It affects her rather badly.

Hopefully I can see you. It’s been a while.

Regards, Mikleo

 

“Late afternoon?” Sorey says aloud. In his joy over receiving contact from Mikleo, he had almost forgotten this one crucial detail.

“What about it?”

“I just … I’ve only ever seen Mikleo in the morning, you see. It caught me off guard.” Though he naturally goes into detail aloud, he starts questioning this to himself – doesn’t Mikleo leave so early in the morning to avoid people seeing that he’s leaving the palace? Does leaving later, with another person no less, mean that …?

“You’re grinning from ear to ear,” Rose comments, looking amused again. “You really are quite smitten with him, aren’t you?”

Not able to say the truth behind his smile, he simply nods instead in agreement. “It’s been a while, and our last time spent together really wasn’t all that pleasant,” says Sorey, his eyes rereading the beautiful handwriting. “So I’m excited to see him again.”

“Do you have time to get down there, though?”

He nods. “Dad said that because I’ve been working so hard lately, I can take some time for travelling again if I wanted to.” He pockets the paper, smiling at Rose. “One day, you and Dezel should come down, too. I think Mikleo would love to meet you and it’s been ages since the three of us travelled together.”

“I want that too, but work is so hectic for all three of us that we can never be free at the same time,” she complains, sighing as she rubs the back of her neck. “Honestly, the day that all three of us can spend a decent amount of time together again will be a miracle!”

“Is that why Dezel isn’t here today? He’s busy?”

“Yeah, he has a job way far off. All the way over the Great Camelot Bridge.”

“Really?” Sorey says in shock. “That’s days away! You take jobs that far?”

“Sometimes, yeah. We kind of have to. I was going to take that one myself, but we decided that Dezel is better suited for it.”

“I see … You guys work too hard, you know. Make sure you have a rest sometime!”

Rose smiles gratefully, hiding this gratitude a little bit by softly punching Sorey’s arm. “Same goes back to you, with how much you do lately! Anyway, I’ll have to get going, Fridays are pretty hectic and Eguille will kill me if I get back late. You gonna start getting ready to head down to Hyland?”

“Yeah, I think I’ll probably end up packing and wake up earlier than usual. It was great seeing you, though!”

After seeing Rose to the door, with excitement further building up in his chest and his eyes unable to resist reading the note again when he was in the privacy of his bedroom. It feels like they have been apart for longer than just a matter of weeks, and Sorey, even with the struggle he has had as of late in regards to the romantic feelings he does not know what to do with, is excited for them to be reunited.

 


 

“Do you think he got my message?”

“Probably.”

“What if it ended up being read by someone –”

“I doubt it. The Sparrowfeathers’ letters are always confidential.”

“But –”

“Meebo, shut up.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Edna and Mikleo are currently venturing through Lakehaven Heights in order to pass the time. Since being granted his freedom, Mikleo has been thoroughly enjoying being able to explore the nature around Hyland without the constant worry of being found out, yet his mind is elsewhere today. This is the first time that Mikleo has contacted Sorey rather than the other way around, and as someone who is not particularly used to making arrangements like this, it is understandably very nerve-wrecking for him.

Though at least the nature around him puts his mind at ease at least a little more than it would be if he was not here. The two are now walking by a river which shines underneath the sunlight, streaming down from a large waterfall ahead. It is incredibly beautiful, but soon, Mikleo suggests that they go sit under the shelter of trees, for he is concerned that Edna may catch too much sunlight even with her parasol.

“Do you think he’ll be able to find us?” Mikleo asks once they settle down, feeling fairly cooler without the summer’s sun beaming down on them.

Edna rolls her eyes. “Would you stop worrying already? It’s driving me insane.”

“Can you blame me?”

“Well, I guess not to some degree. But this is Sorey we are talking about. I doubt he’d stand you up.” She lets out a little sigh over the way Mikleo’s eyes light up. “Not exactly easy to please, are you?”

“It’s not him not standing me up which makes me happy,” Mikleo says, his eyes drifting out onto the landscape before them. “It just made me think about how nice he is, that’s all.”

Edna contemplates both his words and expression before saying, “Do you know how differently you act about him compared to everyone else? Like Alisha and I?”

The way he grows silent and eyes cast to the ground suggest that this is the case. “I – I didn’t realise, but Finuw told me.”

Edna sits up a little straighter from this. “Finuw?”

He nods, leaning back against the tree as his eyes bring themselves up again, landing on Edna for a moment. “He thinks that … Well, to put it bluntly, he thinks I’m homosexual and attracted to Sorey.”

“And … you’re not?”

“No,” he says a little too quickly. “I’ve never thought about that kind of stuff.”

“I’ve never seen you really look at a girl like you’re attracted to her.”

“Well, I’ve never looked at a guy that way, either.”

“Yes you have.”

“I’ve not looked at Sorey like that, before you say it.”

“I wasn’t,” she states simply. “You probably wouldn’t remember or even notice what you were doing, but I remember catching you checking out a butler once or twice when you were younger. But the fact that you thought I meant Sorey means a lot.”

Mikleo lets out a groan, his head falling into his knees. “I can’t be like that at all. I’m marrying Alisha, a woman … I wonder what people would think if they knew the truth?”

“So you do admit it?”

“I-I didn’t … I just meant –”

“You’re so in denial that it’s almost unreal,” Edna states bluntly. “Not like I can blame you. But the sooner you accept it properly, the sooner you can accept that you can’t really act on it.”

Staying silent, Mikleo rises his head a little so his chin rests on his knees. He knows her words are correct. But this is something he has never admitted to himself. As soon as he thought about even a small possibility of him having feelings for Sorey, he suppressed it. Accepting it might bring him closure, but what joy comes from accepting something which you cannot act on? What’s the use of admitting anything to himself if all it will do is cause him disappointment and frustration over him being this way?

It may seem tiny in comparison to everything else which falls heavily on his shoulders, but even so, it is another thing which depresses him. He has to conceal enough about himself without doing the same with this.

“Love interest at 3 o’clock,” Edna suddenly pipes up. Mikleo’s eyes fall in this direction, feeling rather impressed that she noticed the brunet figure from so far away.

“Come on, let’s go meet him,” says Mikleo, getting to his feet. Edna is soon to follow, making sure to prepare her parasol before stepping out from underneath the shade. They walk across the bumpy plains, footsteps accelerating as they begin to slide down a slope. Just as they do so, Sorey’s ears must have picked up the sound, for he soon looks in their direction. His hand reaches into the air to wave.

“Hey there!” he calls as the gap between them becomes smaller. “I was wondering if I’d be able to find you.”

“Edna managed to spot you,” Mikleo says, gesturing to her. She is taking her time to walk down the slope, making sure not to drop her parasol. Mikleo smiles at Sorey, noticing how pleasant he looks in the sun. It seems rather fitting for him. “Good afternoon, Sorey. Or it’s almost evening now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty weird! I’m so used to seeing you in the morning.” The realisation that Sorey had came to the previous day returns, and the already existing grin on his face grows. “Does this mean that they’re letting you have more freedom now?”

Sorey is delighted to see Mikleo nod. “It’s still pretty controlling in the cities, as I have to have guards with me. Aside from going to Alisha’s palace, I haven’t really gone anywhere like that yet. But going out in nature like this, where there’s less people, is okay as long as Edna is with me.”

“I’d say this boy doesn’t need a bodyguard,” says Edna as she wanders closer, “but he is so unaccustomed to things that he’d probably get lost in a ditch somewhere, or get completely ripped off by a travelling merchant. I don’t think he’s ever actually bought anything in his life.”

“Edna,” he says quietly but firmly, embarrassed over Sorey hearing such a thing. But rather than see to find this fact strange or something to mock, Sorey instead looks saddened.

“I know I already knew all this, but whenever I hear something like that it still …”

“Sucks, right?” says Edna. “I mean, obviously it sucks the most for Mikleo, but it’s still bad for those around him.”

“Really guys, it’s fine,” Mikleo says. “I can do more now, right? And I’m sure I’ll get used to stuff eventually.”

“Wow. You’re the one comforting me for once. Quite the change of roles, isn’t it?”

Sorey laughs as Mikleo, with a small pout on his face, leans over and gives Edna a small shove. “Want to go have a walk around?” Sorey questions. “There’s still quite a bit of Lakehaven Heights I haven’t seen yet, considering I mostly pass through to get to Elysia.”

The other two agree, all three beginning to trek along the grass. There are more people around than there usually would be, mostly hikers making use of the warm and dry weather, but it is still pleasantly quiet. The trio make the most of this silence for some time before Mikleo speaks up.

“How was the journey?” he asks. “I can’t imagine it was easy travelling in this heat.”

“It was a bit rough, but I had plenty of water and everything. Plus, the fur on my wolf form has shed a lot by now, so that made it easier.” Sorey smiles as he gazes up for a moment at the brightly lit sky, a hand reaching up to shield his eyes. “There’s actually a cave which passes through from Volgran Forest to Falkewin Hillside if I needed shelter. But I’ve always liked the sun.”

“You look like it, too,” says Mikleo, peering at Sorey’s arm, which is fully uncovered due to the tank top he is wearing. Though Sorey’s skin has always been a fair bit more tanned than Mikleo’s, it is more so now. “Do you tan easily?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll probably be pretty brown by the time the summer is over!”

“Lucky,” Edna comments, bringing her parasol a little down. “Unless you’re born with naturally dark skin, there’s no way a vampire could tan. Even if they manage the sun okay, they’re still usually at risk with at least sunburn.”

“Oh, that’s reminded me!” Sorey says suddenly, bringing his attention to Mikleo. “Are you okay in the sun? You don’t have something to shield yourself with like Edna, after all.”

Mikleo nods. “I don’t get as affected by it as most vampires. I could do with taking a moment to be in shelter here and there, but the sun isn’t as strong at this time. I do still get sunburn, though; I had to lather on sunscreen before coming out.”

“Man, that must get pretty irksome,” says Sorey.

“Mostly for me,” Edna says with a frustrated sigh. “The heat and I hate each other.”

“Yet you still wear black,” Mikleo points out.

“That’s right.”

“She’s an idiot,” Mikleo says to Sorey, yelping as Edna lowers her parasol for a moment to jab him in the side. “Hey! Will you stop doing that?! It’s the third time today!”

Both he and Edna look at Sorey curiously as he begins to laugh at them. “I’m sorry,” he says a little breathlessly. “But you two are you like brother and sister, it’s hilarious.”

“We’re not,” they say simultaneously, which only proves Sorey’s point further.

The sun is still high in the sky as the trio begin to find a spot for them to eat, as neither have done so yet. However, the heat at least has cooled considerably, making them feel much less suffocated. It is a pleasing combination with how the land is still bathed in light.

They decide on settling down by the river, its sound relaxing on the ears. Though Sorey has not brought a fishing rod with him today (“Darn it!” he had exclaimed upon realising this), with a shallow and slow running stream of water like this, he is able to instead catch the fish with his knife instead. Before long, he has them spinning over a fire, Mikleo and Edna watching the process.

“So what do you know,” says the latter, her eyes following the motion of the fish. “This is what it’s like seeing a werewolf hunt in the wild.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty normal for us to be like this,” he responds with a smile. “Funnily enough, I’m not really as good cooking in a kitchen, even though I can manage. I think I’ve gotten so used to cooking outside that it’s more natural for me.”

“Huh. Bit different than Mikleo, then. He’s all fancy and has way too much baking equipment.”

“You bake?!” Sorey asks, eyes lighting up with interest. A little flustered by this enthusiasm, Mikleo nods.

“Kind of. It started off with mostly unbaked desserts, like ice cream and sorbet, because I wasn’t really good at making anything with heat. But I got better as time went on and can bake a lot of things now. I just don’t do it all that much these days.”

“How come? It seems a shame, you sounded really enthusiastic about it for a moment there.”

“I guess I just didn’t feel up to it.”

“He’s too depressed, basically,” Edna comments bluntly, Mikleo letting out a sigh.

“Maybe so, but do you really have to say it?”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Sorey says reassuringly, bringing both vampires’ gaze back to him. “I mean, you have a lot going on. I think it’d be normal for anyone to lose enjoyment out of things from that.”

“I’m glad you understand,” says Mikleo after a moment’s pause. He had not expected Sorey to say that. “I think with how cheerful you are, I find it hard to believe that you could understand something like that.”

“Maybe not personally, but I can imagine it. It really is a shame though. I’ve never baked, but I know it takes a lot of effort and thought, so I think it would be a good distraction for you.”

“That’s true. Maybe I should consider it,” Mikleo says thoughtfully.

“His soft serve is great,” says Edna. “I used to bully him into making it for me.”

Sorey lets out a laugh. “I’d love to try it one day.”

“What’s your favourite flavour?” Mikleo finds himself asking. “I’ll see if I can make some for you sometime. It’s the perfect weather for it.”

“Honestly, I love everything. But I’d say vanilla is my favourite!”

“Consider it done, then.”

Mikleo smiles warmly, a rare rush of excitement coursing through him. He is not sure of the last time he had made a treat for someone, and he is rather fond of the thought of doing so again. “I’d love to make the treats that Edna has ordered for me, too,” he says. “We get them from Lailah in Elysia, she’s a talented baker.”

“Oh, what does she make you?” Sorey asks. Mikleo reaches into the pocket of his white trousers, pulling out a transparent bag tied with blue ribbon. Inside are what appear to be biscuits with jam in the middle.

“As I don’t drink human blood, I have to be careful about my intake of animal blood and often need supplements, as drinking too much makes me sick,” he explains as he unties the ribbon. He pulls out one of the biscuits in between his index and middle finger. “So Lailah makes different types of snacks for me which use animal blood as a key ingredient, as a nicer way for me to consume more in a way which isn’t too heavy.”

“Whoa,” says Sorey as he looks at the biscuit, feeling thoroughly impressed. “That’s so creative!”

“It definitely is. So I’d love to be able to make it myself. I was thinking scones would be nice, or a Victoria sponge cake with blood instead of jam, or …” A faint blush rises to his cheeks. “I, uh, went on a bit of a ramble there, I’m sorry.”

Sorey shakes his head immediately. “Don’t apologise, I love hearing about this stuff! I never knew you had this passion too, and I like learning about your lifestyle.”

“Meebo has a fair amount of talents he juggles,” says Edna. “It’s no wonder people fawn over him. Yet he still somehow gets insecure about himself.”

“It’s not really like I’m an expert at anything though, having a lot of skills means I can’t really perfectly hone one …”

“Excuse me, but I’ve seen your shooting skills,” Sorey says in a slightly teasing tone. “So no need to give me that.”

“I – well, all right. Thanks.”

“You know, I’m starting to think I’m a third wheel here,” says Edna with amusement. “Maybe I should leave you both to it.”

“Are you kidding? I love having you with us!” Sorey exclaims.

“My mother and uncle would kill me if my bodyguard abandoned me.”

“Wow, thanks Meebo,” Edna says sarcastically. “Glad Sorey actually likes me rather than just tolerates my presence.”

Both Sorey and Mikleo laugh over her words. The latter’s laughter quietens, leaving him with a soft yet slightly sad smile on his face. He glances at the horizon, where the sun has now began the start of its slow descent.

“I don’t want this to end,” he says. “I can’t remember the last time I smiled like this. But I don’t want to stay out too long; they don’t like me being out a night because of bandits.”

“We still have a little time left,” says Sorey. “Plus, if you’ll be awake, I’m sure we could see each other for a little while before I go back to Rolance. How does that sound?”

Mikleo looks back at him, smiling as he responds with, “That’d be lovely.”

And with those words, the three of them continue to watch the sky make its steady change, more colours mixing into the bright blue as their precious time passes on.

 


 

 

Surprising even himself, Mikleo goes through with his plans as early as that evening, realising that he has not got any duties which would stop him from being able to spend some time in the kitchens. For once, he will be seeing Sorey two days in a row as opposed to merely one, so he wants to make the most of it, especially with how they’ve been struggling a little to see each other quite as often.

Due to no more meals being prepared, the kitchens are rather scarce except from a few members of staff. They seem thrilled about Mikleo being in there again at last. After asking him what he is planning on making, they help him locate the ingredients among the vast quantity that they have. He is soon getting to work by measuring each ingredient.

It does not take long at all for him to remember why exactly he enjoys this. Even though the process for his soft serve has always been very quick and easy, as he begins to mix everything together with a whisk, he finds himself enjoying himself rather quickly. He will definitely have to consider making something which takes up more time sometime soon to truly have a satisfying moment away from everything.

He is pouring in the vanilla extract, choosing to use a slightly more generous amount than usual upon remembering Sorey’s preference, when he hears footsteps coming over. He expects the person to be one of the members of staff, perhaps to ask if he is need of any assistance, but is pleasantly surprised to instead see his mother. His stirring continues as she walks over.

“Good evening, mother,” he smiles at her, eyes dropping back down on the bowl underneath his arm to check if there is any milk powder caught along the sides. “What are you doing down here?”

“A member of staff told me that you were down here. I think they thought it’d be lovely for me to see you back at this again.”

“And is it?”

Her smile grows as she nods. “Absolutely. I cannot remember the last time you were in here making something. Is it ice cream?”

“Yeah, I thought it’d be suitable for this weather – hey!”

For Muse had ran her finger over the edge and popped the mixture into her mouth, letting out an appreciative sound. “Sorry, I just couldn’t resist! It’s lovely, even if it’s not the right temperature yet. I suppose that your talent never lessens no matter how long it takes for you to make something again.”

“Yeah, I could remember all the measurements and such perfectly.” He further inspects the bowl and, satisfied, heads over to a freezer to place it inside. “I’ll let that freeze overnight and churn it tomorrow. Edna and I will be going for a walk, so I think it’d be nice to take some with us.”

“Remember to leave some for Michael and I,” she reminds him jokingly. The two begin to leave the kitchens together, Muse speaking again once they are out in the whole. “You know Mikleo, I do think that you’ve seemed a lot brighter lately,” she tells him. “I know that you still struggle and you are not as happy as I’d like you to be, but … there’s just a little more light in your eyes these days, and to even go back to making desserts like that shows a lot. It really does make me happy.”

Mikleo smiles warmly at her. “I’d say it only really became possible because of you and Michael allowing me to me able to leave the palace and such. The walks outside with Edna have done me wonders.”

Muse nods, her eyes now bearing guilt. “Yes, I had supposed that was one of the things which has helped you … You should have been let outside a long time ago, Mikleo. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, though. I mean, it was Finuw and Amara who suggested it.”

“But Michael and I accepted that suggestion. At the end of the day, we are the ones who have taken care of you, not them. I’m sure we could have argued for a better way. Instead …”

“Please don’t blame yourself,” says Mikleo. He too feels guilty now, because he can see what she means by her words and even partially agrees, but would rather not say anything of this aloud – most of his blame, anyway, falls on the Diphdas. “It’s okay now, right? I know it took a while, but at least things improved with it eventually. It’s better than it never doing so at all.”

“That’s true. Thank you, Mikleo.” Muse’s smile returns to her, which Mikleo is thankful for, and she is soon even giggling. “It’s a good job you can bake, you know. Even though you will naturally have servants, I think that at least either you or Alisha can be in a kitchen without causing complete disaster.”

He laughs and nods in agreement. “I really have tried giving her lessons before. She just can’t seem to get the hang of it at all.”

“I remember the first time you tried to introduce her to baking. It was only cupcakes, hardly anything too difficult. I didn’t expect to go to the bathroom and return two minutes later, finding that she had somehow toppled the whole mixture getting it into the cases, and had covered both of you in flour.”

“The staff were so conflicted. They didn’t know whether they should be worried about us or laughing.”

“And we all thought it might have been because Alisha was young, but then it simply turned out that she is simply rather the disaster in a kitchen.”

“To think that Finuw and Amara want us to fit perfectly into male and female roles despite her being like that. I bet I’ll have a fright with her every night because she’s brought a knife to bed.”

Muse laughs again, knowing how true this is. “Seems like how brother would be if he had a wife himself. Though he’s never been one to settle down.”

“Has he ever actually been in love?” Mikleo finds himself asking curiously. He cannot ever remember questioning this before; after all, Michael has always said how much he thinks romantic love can be fake.

“Once,” Muse says rather sadly, surprising Mikleo with this answer. “Though it was only one-sided. Perhaps with our lifespans, he will have time to move on and find someone new one day. But for now …”

“Maybe that’s one of the reasons he is so protective of you and I,” he says thoughtfully. “Because he saves all of his love for his family rather than a romantic partner.”

“I have never really thought of it this way, but perhaps you are right.”

The two walk a little further, now in silence as they reminisce over this conversation. Moments later, however, this quietness is replaced by a rather loud yawn from Muse, making Mikleo chuckle.

“Someone’s gotten far too used to my sleeping schedule,” he comments. “You should get to bed.”

“Yes, I agree. An early night might do me some good. Be sure to rest enough yourself, Mikleo.”

He nods. “I will. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Don’t forget to save some of the soft serve!” she calls from the further end of the corridor before entering her bedroom. Smiling in amusement to himself, Mikleo begins to venture to his own bedroom. By now, the sunset has been replaced with the night sky. He wanders onto the balcony to admire it for a moment, finding that the air is rather warm despite the hour.

He leans on the railing in front of him as he peers at the stars and horizon beyond the trees. The view he had began to grow so tired of is slowly becoming more welcoming again, what with how he now has the capability to be on that landscape, rather than simply be doomed to forever admire it from afar.

 


 

 

It is quite the relief when Sorey looks up at the sky the following morning and finds that, whilst the sun is shining, there are a few grey clouds which suggest that it may just rain soon. After being told about how the heat can affect vampires, he finds himself wishing for some darker, cooler days for them, especially after learning about how badly these effects are for Edna in particular.

This is yet another positive about now being acquainted with vampires. In the past, he only knew some of the basics about vampires. Speaking to them in person has allowed himself to gain more knowledge about them, as listening to personal experiences always does. He hopes that Mikleo feels this same way, too.

Sorey plans to head out later this morning and return home by night. He knows that he has enough time to spare in order to spend a little more time with Mikleo, and Edna too. She has been surprising him lately. Whilst initially rude to him, it seems that now she sees that Sorey and Mikleo are determined to be friends no matter what, she has become a lot more lenient about the situation. Sorey suspects that she has come to the conclusion that it is best for Mikleo’s happiness for him to see Sorey, and naturally, anything which is good for his mental well-being would appeal to Edna completely.

The positioning of the sun suggests it is around 10:00am when Mikleo and Edna meet him in Falkewin Hillside. It is another thing which Sorey feels grateful for; simply seeing Mikleo at different times of the day brings him hope.

“Sorry if we kept you waiting at all,” Mikleo apologises as they walk across the plains. “We thought it’d seem a bit weird for the two of us to leave together early in the morning. Plus, Edna is not a morning person.”

“I’m much better off as a night dweller,” she grumbles, looking rather irritated over being out of bed. “But I had to get used to sleeping early because of Meebo.”

“Does being up at night not work well for you?” Sorey asks him.

“Not so much, probably because I’m so used to sticking to a schedule more common for humans. I tend to prefer it when it’s brighter anyway.”

Now settling down in some shade, Sorey gives Mikleo a small smile. “You know, I’ve said this before, but you’re very … unvampire-like for a vampire.”

“Tell me about it,” Edna chips in. Her parasol remains above her head even whilst sat in the shade. “He dresses brightly, doesn’t drink human blood, prefers the daytime … He’s basically opposite of a stereotype.”

“I’ve just never much liked being a vampire. I’d rather have been born human.”

“But why?” Sorey asks, tilting his head in curiosity. “I understand the restraints you have from being royalty, but why is being a vampire itself bad?”

Mikleo merely shrugs. “A few things, I guess. Lifespans for one thing.”

“Oh yeah, you’re supposed to be longer than werewolves, aren’t they?”

Edna nods. “Very much so. Vampires aren’t properly immortal like legends say, but the average age for them is five hundred years.”

“That’s still such a long time …”

“It is. The dying process begins at around four hundred though, and many choose to commit suicide before they reach five hundred. You start becoming much more sensitive to light, need loads more blood to survive, can’t even bear the sun by a certain time … It’s pretty painful, so some don’t want to go through all that.”

“That’s awful,” Sorey says sadly. “I wish it wasn’t that difficult for you.”

“I mean, we get to live a long time before that, so I guess it’s not so bad if that is what you want,” says Mikleo. “What about with werewolves? How long do you tend to live for?”

“Tends to be about double that of a human, but those with Alpha blood can live up until two hundred and fifty.”

“Oh? That’s pretty long, I thought it wouldn’t be that different to humans. So you’re very young by terms of your kind, too.”

Sorey nods. “Eighteen is a really small number for us, isn’t it? How old are you, Edna?”

She huffs, making Sorey realise that this probably wasn’t a good question to ask. “I’m in my hundreds. Not telling you specifics.”

“Whoa, I wouldn’t expect that at all … by your appearance, at least. So that means you were around for the war.”

“That’s right. Sure was a Hell of a thing to get through. But I guess it’s been nice seeing the developments since then. And then, obviously, I started working more for the palace when Meebo here was born eighteen years ago.”

“You’ve been around him his whole life, then?” Sorey smiles. “That’s actually fairly sweet.”

“Ugh. Hardly sweet when he used to cry all the time. Though that’s not much different to him now.”

Mikleo simply sighs. “She sometimes teases me with the photographs,” he says, looking terribly pained over the thought. “There’s one in particular she likes where I’ve got ice cream all over me. Oh! Oh, that’s reminded me Sorey, here …”

He leans over to a bag which he had placed by his side, pulling out a rectangular container. Sorey peers down curiously, eyes lighting up when Mikleo removes the lid to reveal vanilla ice cream.

“I’m glad it hasn’t melted much,” he says with relief. “I almost forgot about it. But yeah, I made this last night before you left. I wanted you to try it, even though it’s pretty early to eat ice cream …”

“It’s never too early to eat ice cream!” Sorey exclaims immediately. “I’d love to try some!”

Mikleo smiles warmly. “Give me a second then, I brought a piping bag and cones with me too.”

“You’re going to be a great housewife for Alisha,” Edna comments, Mikleo choosing to ignore this as he begins to prepare the cones. Sorey feels a pang in his chest over said comment, yet is too distracted by Mikleo’s actions to properly pay attention. Soon, all three of them are holding a cone each in their hands. As soon as Sorey eats a generous amount of it, his expression becomes one of utter bliss.

“This is so tasty, Mikleo!” he exclaims, taking another large few licks. “It’s the best I’ve ever had!”

“You don’t have to play it up so much, you know,” Mikleo responds, flustered yet flattered. “But I’m glad you like it.”

“I’d reckon you’d be rich even if you weren’t royalty,” says Edna, her licks of the ice cream much smaller than Sorey’s, reminding them both of a cat licking cream. “You’d have a huge business with all sorts of desserts and such.”

Mikleo lets out a small sigh. “Sure sounds more appealing them being a prince. Where can I sign up?”

“You have visitors at the palace’s gardens, don’t you?” Sorey asks, receiving a curious nod in return. “You could always give them some free treats when they’re there.”

Mikleo considers this with a hum. “We do give them food from the kitchens, but I guess one day I could bake for them myself. I guess I just feel nervous replacing something that is professionally done with my own work.”

“Judging by this, I reckon that anything you’d bake would be just as professional. So you should consider it!”

With a warm smile, Mikleo nods. “I’ll do that. Thank you, Sorey. It means a lot.”

“Just saying the truth!”

The trio continues to enjoy the ice cream together, finding that time is passing rather quickly. Soon, Sorey says that he should likely begin his travel back, but much to Mikleo’s delight, also says that he thinks he’ll try going through the cave he has heard about to get to Volgran Forest, in order to avoid the heat of Glaivend Basin. This means that Mikleo and Edna can walk some of the way with him, having the time spare to do so.

And so, they begin to head through Bors Ruins, a rather quiet area where the only sounds evident is the slight wind rustling trees and bushes around them, as well as the odd bird or small rodent. It is definitely peaceful here. It is also a new area for Sorey and Mikleo alike, which makes it rather exciting, though the latter worries for Sorey’s safety in getting through the maze that is Lamorak. Though luckily, Edna is currently in the process of giving Sorey detailed instructions to get through, and Sorey, who has a rather keen memory, does not struggle to take everything in.

This conversation is soon to be interrupted, however, when they see something strange up ahead; from this distance, all they can make out is some sort of navy blue lump within the pathway. Exchanging a confused glance in between each other, the three speed up a little to find what this thing is.

It does not take long to figure out that the lump is actually a sleeping bag with a person inside. Upon walking around it, the three can see long, dark brown hair flowing out of it. Edna reacts before Sorey does.

“Zaveid?” she says, puzzled. “What’s he doing here?”

“You know him?” Sorey questions, turning to her.

“Unfortunately so.”

“Who is he?” Mikleo asks. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Probably because he’s a werewolf. He’s one of the people hired to take down the Deranged.” She walks closer to him and begins kicking his side with the tip of her slip-on shoe. “Oi. Wake up.”

Edna, that’s rude!” Mikleo says in a scolding tone, but she ignores him and continues her kicking. Eventually he begins to stir, seeming rather confused.

“What’s tha-?” he mumbles sleepily, sitting up in his sleeping bag and rubbing his eyes. Once they are taking in his surroundings, he seems to become awake suddenly, grinning at Edna. “Oh, if it isn’t you! Long time no see!”

“Which I am very thankful for,” Edna says rather coldly. This voice does not faze Zaveid, however, who is taking in who the other two members of the trio are, too.

“We meet again, Sheps,” he grins. “Good to see ya! And you,” his eyes fall on Mikleo, “must be the Silver Prince I’ve heard so much about.”

“Um, yeah. It’s a pleasure.”

Zaveid gives Mikleo a thumbs up before he gets up out of his sleeping bag. As he begins to pack it away, he asks, “So what’re you three doing all the way out here?”

“I’m heading back to Rolance through the caves,” Sorey explains. “These two walked with me here.”

“Ah, Lamorak, huh? Those are easy to get lost in. I’ll be heading through that way myself, so you’re free to tag along.”

“Oh, really? Thank you!”

“Beware if you do go with him,” Edna warns. “There’s much better company out there than him.”

“Touché, Edna, touché … still as cold as you are beautiful. I love a woman like that!”

“Ugh,” Edna scoffs simply, folding her arms. “And you’re as much of a terrible flirt as always.”

“I think you’re talking about the wrong guy, there!” Zaveid exclaims. He turns his attention to Sorey and Mikleo. “Listen, you two. If you ever need help with picking up chicks, just head on over to me! Though from what I’ve heard, little Mickey-Boy has already got himself hitched.”

Mikleo stares at him with both wariness and surprise. “You know about that? How?”

“Oh, not to worry, it ain’t common news. I just have some insider information from my connections, you know. Your secret’s safe with me. Y’know though, if you were a chick, I’d be pretty disappointed that you’re –”

“I don’t think Meebo wants to be on the end of your flirting either,” says Edna with a roll of her eyes. They suddenly narrow a little into a glare. “What about you, then? Why are you all the way out in Hyland?”

“I received word that there could be one of the Deranged in the caves,” Zaveid explains, lazily gesturing in their direction. “Turned out to be right and I took it down. But then it got pretty late, and it’s freezing to sleep in there, so I came out here instead.”

“They’re out here too?” Mikleo questions. “So close to civilisation?”

Zaveid chuckles. “Quite the naive prince, aren’t you? Those things are everywhere. Might even be being kept by the royal family, who knows?”

“Don’t speak of Mikleo’s family in that way,” Edna snaps. Mikleo’s head shoots around to her in surprise; firstly because of how quickly she came to his defence, even if he was not offended; secondly because of the use of his actual name.

“It’s fine, Edna,” he says. “He probably meant the Diphdas, and honestly, I could see that myself.”

“Don’t worry about it Mickey-Boy, Edna’s got the shortest temper when it comes to me, that’s all.” He places his hands on his hips, both his expression and voice growing much more serious all of a sudden. “You know Edna, if you were to let what happened with Eizen go, you’d feel much better in yourself.”

“Eizen?” Mikleo questions. “Who’s Eizen?”

“I’m fine,” Edna says, ignoring Mikleo’s question. She speaks through gritted teeth. “You’ve just been blowing things out of proportion since.”

“Have I? Why would you still be wearing clothes of mourning ever since it happened if you were fine?”

“It’s just what I like now. I’m not still mourning.”

“Mourning? Edna, what’s all this about?” Mikleo pushes, Sorey sharing the same concern in his eyes.

“Eizen is – or was, at least – Edna’s brother,” Zaveid tells them both. “And my old friend. I’m surprised you didn’t know.”

“Because he doesn’t have to!” Edna says in a sudden shout. She inhales and exhales deeply, trying to calm herself, before she adds, “It was a long time ago. No use dwelling on it.”

Sorey now tries to intervene himself. “Edna, if it’s really hurting you this much, then –”

“I’m fine. Zaveid is just making assumptions.” Edna turns on her heel so she faces back the way they came. “Meebo, we should get heading back before they get suspicious.”

“Oh … oh right, of course.” Mikleo turns to Sorey with a smile. “Thank you for today. And, well, yesterday. I hope we can see each other again soon.”

“Same here! Thanks for the ice cream, it was delicious.”

“No problem. I’ll see you later.” And with this, Mikleo speeds up into a jog in order to catch up to Edna, who has began to leave silently. Almost immediately after Mikleo is some distance from them, Zaveid’s arm is thrown around Sorey’s shoulders.

“So, you’re hooking up with Hyland’s Prince, eh?” he grins. “Didn’t realise the choirboy would be so interested in forbidden love, but hey, I guess this shows you shouldn’t judge by appearance.”

Had the situation been different and romance be possible between the two, Sorey might have grown embarrassed. Instead, he merely lets out a sigh, causing the hold on him to loosen and topaz eyes to look at him curiously.

“I wish that was the case,” Sorey says, eyes drifting to the direction of where Mikleo and Edna left. “But it’s not. I can’t hope for anything like that.”

“So you really do have feelings for him? Man, that sucks. I give you my condolences for that.”

“It’s fine,” Sorey says honestly, giving Zaveid a smile. With the arm now releasing him, Sorey and Zaveid begin to walk towards the caves. “We’re managing to be friends, at least. That’s good enough for me.”

Zaveid simply looks at him for a moment before giving Sorey a smile, one which is much more genuine than his usual grins. “You know something? I thought that some of what I’ve heard about you might have been exaggerated, but you really are a kind one. Tough, too. That combination isn’t all that common.”

“I definitely try. And I hope it’s enough.”

With these words, the two continue to walk in a momentary silence, clouds now concealing the sun above their heads.

 


 

 

The caves turn out to be rather beautiful. Though rather dark and dreary, beautiful crystals inside make up for this and reflect beautifully on the cave walls. There is even the odd plant which has somehow managed to grow without any sunlight.

It turns out that Zaveid is a werewolf who can transform at will, having learned to do so decades prior, and so the two transform in order to run through the cave together; Zaveid’s wolf form has fur matching that of his dark brown hair, and surprisingly enough, is not actually larger than Sorey’s own form. Sorey guesses that this is because of his Alpha’s blood. Dezel, after all, is smaller than him in this form, despite how in their human forms, Dezel is a few inches taller.

Due to the lower temperature within the caves, Sorey can tell that this was a good choice. The two settle down in order to eat and drink halfway through the journey, but the coolness allows them to not need all that much time to rest, and they pass through the caves faster than expected, emerging in Volgran Forest late afternoon.

“Thank you for helping me get around, there,” Sorey says as he follows Zaveid in leaping onto a rock within a stream, then jumping onto the bank across it. “Edna gave me directions, but I think I might have gotten lost without someone with me.”

“Can’t say I blame ya; I needed a map to get around there the first few times,” says Zaveid, stretching out his arms underneath the shade of the trees.

“Where are you heading off to, now?” Sorey asks curiously. Zaveid shrugs.

“I don’t have any assignments, so I guess I’ll just be wandering around for now. Oh, and I’ve gotta meet with Lunarre too. He asked to see me when I return to Rolance.”

“I almost forgot he was out of custody,” says Sorey. “I haven’t seen him in Lastonbell much. Or at all recently, now I think about it.”

“Well, who knows what that guy spends his time doing. But I owe him somewhat of a favour, so I’ll listen to what he wants to say. You’ll be heading back to Lastonbell, I guess?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I guess we’ll see each other again sometime?”

Zaveid nods. “Hopefully, yeah. I definitely like you, Sheps.” And with these parting words, the two men head off in their own separate directions; Sorey to Lastonbell, Zaveid to an abandoned hideout within the forest, which he believes is where Lunarre will be meeting him.

 

These days, Zaveid really only converses with Lunarre out of old habit. It is true that the two have been useful for each other in the past, for their differently lived lives often do bring information that the other does not know about. But simple sharing of information is not all that goes between them these days. It always seems like Lunarre is up to something and Zaveid, who usually keeps his nose out of such business, has found himself caring more about this as of late.

After some time of venturing through the forest, the ruined building soon comes into view. He is sure that in the past, this may have had a more cheerful atmosphere, but these days, it feels chilly enough to form goosebumps.

Seeing no one around him, Zaveid finds it safe enough to call, “Lunarre? You here?”

Silence greets him to begin with. But just as he thinks that he had been wrong in his guest, his ears pick up the sound of a rock being kicked across the ground. Upon walking a little further, he sees that it must have been caught by the tip of Lunarre’s boot, for the werewolf has jumped onto a wall to sit on top of it.

“There you are,” he greets. “I thought you’d be back in Rolance today. How was the hunt?”

“Successful. Put the poor bastard out of his misery pretty quickly.”

“Always one for fairness and salvation, aren’t you? Heh, sometimes I think you’d have more fun with your job if you played with them some more.”

“I used to,” Zaveid admits. “But then stuff happened, and I realised that I was playing with lives of people who used to be normal.”

“Ah, stuff … That friend of yours, right?”

“That’s right.”

“So easy to lose those close to you. It’s as quick as clicking your fingers. That’s why I remain alone.”

Zaveid chuckles. “Alone? You’re part of a pack. I think I’m the one who’s alone if anything, don’t ya think?”

“Oh, I’m a lone wolf too now, didn’t you know? I let dear old Heldalf know the other day that I was leaving.”

Having expected this to happen one day but not quite so soon, Zaveid blinks at him with surprise. “Wait, seriously? But why? I thought you liked to know what was going on in the city.”

“Yes, but I no longer need to actually be in the pack to know that. I’ve gained enough of his trust to know that I will be informed of anything important if so need be.”

“That sounds like you’re going to stab him in the back, if you ask me. Use him and then betray him afterwards.”

Lunarre merely grins. “Sorry you think so poorly of me. I just want to have fun, cause a bit of chaos, you know … and if I’m not part of a pack, that becomes much easier.”

“So what you doing now?”

Even though Lunarre hums, Zaveid has a feeling that he did not need to give this any thought. “I wonder if the Scattered Bones will let me back in,” he ponders aloud. “Now that was rather fun. I’d love to even be in the same faction as you are. But unfortunately, I left before the new leader came in, and that wolf does not particularly like me.”

“I wonder why. And you know all too well that the Scattered Bones are based off trust, not murder or ‘fun’ like you so say. They’re not gonna let you in.” A smirk grows on Zaveid’s face. “But if you wanna give it a go and show me the bruises you get from it, then by all means, go for it.”

Lunarre cackles, amused rather than threatened by Zaveid’s words. “That should put me off, but if anything it makes me more excited. I wonder if I could stir something up using them … argh, the possibilities are endless!”

“And you’re expecting me to just sit by and let this happen?” Zaveid questions, folding his arms. “I’ve tolerated you because I needed you. But that doesn’t give you a free pass to start fucking things up without me putting a stop to that.”

“Oh, but Zaveid, you don’t understand the connections I have,” Lunarre says, his eyes glinting malevolently. “In fact, I do have a very trusted friend in Hyland right this minute ready to stir things up with me. We’ve been meeting for a fair few months now, right under the noses of those in Lastonbell … well, I expect that the precious Alpha’s son and those friends of his knew I was up to something, but they have no idea what.”

“And what about this trusted friend?”

“Why, this friend of mine will be stirring up a little of the chaos I desire, and help speed up the inevitable … and oh, would you look at that, there seems to be your own beloved friend in Hyland too, right? The little sister you swore to protect? That’s the one.”

Zaveid steps forward instantly, his hand grasping the collar of Lunarre’s shirt. Rather than be fearful when Zaveid lifts him up and slams him against one of the breaking, ruined walls, Lunarre laughs.

“If you even touch Edna, I’d kill you,” Zaveid threatens, a growl in his voice and his fingernails growing into claws which dig into Lunarre’s skin and cause beads of blood to form. “Understand?”

“But would that be before Edna herself is harmed, I wonder? Oh, that surely would break the promise of your friend, wouldn’t it? No, best to keep quiet about me, it really is for the best.”

Zaveid snarls, yet still drops Lunarre onto the floor regardless. The only signs that this affected him is how he rubs his throat for a moment.

“You’re despicable,” Zaveid snaps. “You could have easily kept this to yourself. But no, you ain’t able to stop yourself from tormenting others, are ya?”

“I’m afraid not. I do like to gloat, you know that … Well, I have a lot of things to be getting on with, so I’ll leave now. I suspect it might be a while before see each other again.” Zavied does not stop Lunarre from walking around him, shoulder bumping into Zaveid’s, though Lunarre does stop for a moment and turns his head around slightly. “We villains are perfect at blackmail. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who chooses to use it during these times. And you … well, it looks like you got caught up in it too. I’d watch yourself from now on.”

With another blood-curdling cackle which causes Zaveid’s jaw to clench, Lunarre continues his walk away to the distance. For several moments, Zaveid remains still as he involuntarily replays Lunarre’s words in his mind. Then with a yell of anger, his fist slams into the wall next to him. It is painful and causes his knuckles to bleed. But within his fury, he can barely even feel it.

For it seems like the world he has worked so hard to protect cannot be protected forever, and somewhere along the way, he found himself in this predicament.

Chapter Text

An eerie silence spreads across the desert plains of Zaphgott Moor. A chilling temperature so different to that during the daytime falls over the land, causing those who are creeping quietly and carefully through it to shiver, feeling their joints grow stiff. But this does not stop their careful steps. In the distance, an owl can be heard; quiet, yet also strangely loud amongst the lack of other signs of life.

He is meant to be around here somewhere. The group’s target, a werewolf who has been terrorising humans and murdering half-bloods, must be put to rest. Out here, there is very little chance of word spreading. After all, all that is around for miles is deserted nature, all but for a broken down tower where terrified and desperate citizens await for salvation to come help them.

The man leading them is the second in command of their organisation. Perhaps one would rather a person without weakness caused by a lost sense to lead them, yet that is not the case with these members of the Scattered Bones, who have grown to trust this man and know how well he has harnessed his senses. His nose twitches and his ears remain focused to pick up anything around them.

“He’s meant to be setting up camp in the abandoned village, Horsa,” this man says to the others quietly. “He goes to Lohgrin in order to cause terror in the day.”

“How many will be with him?” a female voice asks him.

“He’s suspected to be in a group of around five. They too have committed similar crimes, so if we have to harm them to get to their leader, then do not hesitate.”

“Understood,” says the woman, the others nodding or murmuring their agreement.

Windswept sand blowing against their skin like tiny needles, they continue their trek across the planes. Soon, they see the broken down buildings ahead of them. Wafts of smoke drifting into the air and the distant sound of laughter show that the group are still awake, likely laughing unfairly at those who they are ruining the livelihoods of and planning what they are going to do tomorrow. The realisation causes spite to twist inside the stomachs of the assassins.

“The full moon isn’t for another two weeks, so I think a transformed wolf will be the last thing they would expect,” says the temporary leader slowly, explaining this whilst they are still a fair amount of metres away in order to not be heard by a werewolf’s keen hearing. “I’ll transform and do as much as I can like that. Werewolves, use your in between stage of transformations. Vampires, don’t be afraid of using your fangs, but be careful to not consume any of their blood. They’re all werewolves, so their blood would be like poison to you.”

The group once again voice their agreement. Seeing that they are all ready, they creep a little more forward before the leader raises a hand. With a deep breath, he begins to transform into his wolf form, standing at an impressive height. His silver eyes, much similar to the moon in the sky, he narrows these in instinct despite how he cannot see, and creeps along the ground, his group following.

They position themselves outside the ruined walls of the village. One of the transformed wolf’s ears prick up to hear what is being said inside, and just as he thought, he could hear the words, “There’s someone outside. Grab your weapons.”

The wolf glances at his companions, able to communicate despite his lack of voice, before he leaps over the wall. This action had clearly been unexpected; by the time that the people inside have let out surprised yells, two have already been knocked down by the unexpected wolf, with the other assassins quick to run inside as well.

“You can transform at will, can ya?” the man who they presume is the leader yells, pointing a shotgun at the wolf in question. “Can’t protect you from –”

But the man’s words delayed him far too much; the wolf sprints towards him and leaps, sinking his teeth into the barrel of the gun and denting it in the process. It is yanked out of the man’s hands and thrown to the side.

“Dezel, watch out!” a man yells, the wolf’s head turning around immediately; another member of the villain’s group is holding up a bow and arrow, ready to shoot one in his direction, but not before a vampire companion has sank her fangs into the neck of the armed man. He screams, dropping his weapon immediately, and the vampire backs away, wiping her mouth before she swallows any of his blood. He holds a hand to the wound on his neck – a vital mistake, for she has now swung her fist into his face, knocking him out cold.

The other criminals have also been either restrained or rendered unconscious; now all remains is the leader, who is now being pinned to the floor by large paws. This wolf transforms back into his human form, still hovering above the man who is now whimpering. The masked assassin reaches for his belt to pull out a sharpened knife.

“May these weary bones find peaceful rest,” says Dezel as he stares down at the man, moonlight catching the metal of the blade and causing it to gleam as it is raised into the air. Then, in one quick motion, it slices across the man’s neck in a blur, blood spurting out onto the floor. His body immediately grows lifeless.

“What about the others, Dezel?” another person asks, clearly accustomed to this kind of situation.

Dezel ponders this before answering, “We will have these be arrested. It’s this guy who was the one who did everything, after all. The other guys were just the ones who followed him.”

The other assassins nod in understanding. After these other men are restrained by rope and the assassinated leader has been buried underneath the ground, the group begin to make their way over to Lohgrin to deliver their good news.

And what good news it is. The starving humans who had once lost all hope, as well as the half-bloods who were waiting for their turn to be taken from this world, cheer over being told this news. That the werewolf who had been terrorising them has now been slain, that they will now live once again without being stolen from, being put to far too much work by a man who seemed to be well on his way to enslaving humans entirely.

A woman steps forward with a pouch in her hand. “Your payment, it took much to save for it, but –”

“Keep it,” says Dezel with a wave of his hand. “If you give us that, our work would have been pointless. Use it to rebuild.”

“But … but you were hired to do this.”

“We have enough money as it is. This time, we can live without it. What this man was doing is another thing which could bring back war, so this was justice for the world rather than just you. That kind of thing doesn’t need payment.”

The woman, as well as others around them, start babbling their gratitude, their eyes welling up with tears of gratefulness. Soon, the assassins are exiting the town, finding that the sun is now beginning to rise on the horizon far ahead.

“You’ve grown soft, Dezel,” one of his companions grins. “The boss is gonna kill you when she finds out you didn’t accept that.”

“She won’t. She knows as much as I do who is making all of us grow that bit less heartless.”

And with these words, the assassins begin their long trek back home, knowing that today, they made the right choice.

 


 

“Thank you all for visiting! I hope our gardens had turned out to be as impressive as you wished for.”

With these words from their beloved Queen, guests proceed to leave the gardens of Marlind’s palace, the royal family watching as they do so. This visit in particular had felt rather hectic today. After all, the wedding has now been announced after an official date for it has been decided, and Mikleo had been bombarded with a great deal of questions in regards to it.

These speculations bring forth the realisation of how soon the wedding actually is. Now it is the end of July, it is now only three months until the wedding day. With how quickly time has been drifting by now that Mikleo has been given more reasons to enjoy life, this time seems to be becoming shorter and shorter and, before he can even blink, he feels like he will be watching Alisha walk down that aisle.

His newly given freedom is not helping, too. Oblivious to the reasons as to why they had never seen their Prince outside of the palace before, they have grown to believe that when he has left it, he has simply remained undercover. But since he finally took the offer of visiting the city with his guards, finding that it was a little hard to truly take in the beauty of the wonderful nature when he felt so constricted, the people have seemed to take this as a sign that Mikleo will be stepping forward in life and is making himself more well known.

“Today was a rather busy day with this visit,” says Muse, turning to face Mikleo. “You were indeed questioned a lot about the wedding. Perhaps we should cancel the visits until later on …”

Mikleo shakes his head. “The citizens love them, don’t they? Plus, the funds go to the half-blood charities. I’d rather continue them.”

“I just hope you will not push yourself too hard.”

“The same should be said for yourself, Muse,” says Michael, pressing the back of his hand against the forehead of his younger sister. “You seem unwell again. Your immune system really hasn’t been the best as of late …”

She smiles at him reassuringly. “I’ll be fine, I promise. I think I’ve just been a little rundown lately.”

“Still, don’t rest enough and that could grow into something serious.”

“You do worry too much, Michael.”

“Yes, well, I care deeply for my family. Mikleo, make sure to drink some blood if you haven’t yet.”

“I will, thank you.”

Michael nods, before proceeding to be the first to re-enter the palace. Muse and Mikleo are the next to follow, finding a rather large amount of relief from being out of the sun and instead be in the shelter of the indoors.

“I recommend that you go take a little time for yourself before you leave,” Muse suggests, Mikleo holding in a sigh over these words.

“Yes, I think that’d be best. I’m not … particularly looking forward to it.”

Muse gives him a strained smile. These emotions are, after all, very much understandable. For the first time, Finuw and Amara Diphda have requested for Mikleo to come to the palace in order to simply have dinner, rather than go over the wedding plans which seem very much polished already. Mikleo is rather certain that the reasoning behind this dinner is not because they want to spend quality time with their future son-in-law, but rather simply want to make a good impression by acting as though they really do like him, whilst simultaneously wanting a moment where they can subtly insult him as much as possible.

Still, Mikleo has not declined, for he knows that doing so would cause more problems than it would not. Not only would those in either palaces question why Mikleo would decline such an offer, but Finuw and Amara themselves would likely be able to use this against him somehow. And so, he chooses the lesser of two evils by going, hoping that it will not be quite as bad as he fears.

He heads up the stairs towards his room, feeling curious when he sees that his door is slightly open. When pushing it all the way, a smile appears on his face when he sees that it is because Symonne has been given the task of cleaning Mikleo’s room.

“Good afternoon, Symonne,” he greets. Currently in the process of dusting a mantelpiece, she turns at the sound of his voice and smiles back.

“Hello there.”

“I haven’t seen you around as much lately,” says Mikleo, picking up a hairbrush from his nightstand in order to neaten his hair. “I guess we keep missing each other.”

“Yeah, you’ve been leaving the palace now, after all. How has it been finally having permission for it?”

Mikleo looks at her with a little surprise. “Wait, you know about that?”

“Well, everyone suspects it honestly. I just thought it was obvious that it was the truth.”

“I see … well, it’s been great. I haven’t been in the city much, but I’ve been able to spend time with Edna.”

“Not often apart, are you? You’re pretty close.”

“Yeah, Edna is like the sister I’ve never had,” he says, smiling warmly to himself, before he stutters, “I – uh, don’t tell anyone about that, though.”

Symonne chuckles softly. “I wouldn’t dream of it. So you two have been exploring the countryside, I’m guessing?”

“We have, yes. It’s so beautiful out there, I’m grateful to be able to see it.”

“Grateful being able to see werewolves, too?”

“I, uh – what?”

“I overheard Alisha and Edna in the library some time ago,” Symonne says, seeming slightly amused. She finishes polishing some ornaments before facing Mikleo, still smiling. “They mentioned your meetings with him. I’m not sure if they would have stopped by now, but … well, with how you’ve seemed brighter than the day I met you, I would be rather surprised if the two of you are not still seeing each other.”

“… You’re so observant that it’s almost scary.”

“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I have quite the habit of saying what’s on my mind, and I’m too curious for my own good.”

“No, it’s all right, I was just a little surprised.” He hesitates before deciding that she has likely guessed enough already for his lies to seem pointless, not to mention how he trusts her. “Yeah, we do see each other at times. Edna has been coming with me to see him, so I’m technically not breaking any rules, but …”

“You still would rather not have people find out that you’re friends with a werewolf?”

“Exactly.”

“It’s a shame how the world works this way. The races hating each other, both races hating half-bloods, who are beneath them … sometimes I wonder if it would be better if we were all a single race.”

“Same here,” Mikleo says, letting out a sigh. “It’d be a lot easier if we could just be the same and have no strife between us. Then again, our differences are important too, and if we could only accept those differences, things would be a lot better.”

“Exactly. Romance and such would not be so forbidden. But unfortunately, the world is unfair, and is constantly ran by people who think they are better than everyone else.” For a moment, Symonne’s voice had grown a little louder, but she soon calms herself. “Anyway, you are to go to the Diphdas, is that correct? I hope that it goes well. It must be horrid marrying someone you have no feelings for.”

“It is, but … well, at least it will be someone I love, even if not in the right context. It’s better that than me marrying someone I dislike.”

“You are strong to think that way. I’ll be off to the kitchens now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Symonne bows her head. It is only after she has left the room, shutting the door after herself, that Mikleo realises he cannot ever recall saying to Symonne that he does not have feelings for Alisha. Pushing this thought out of his mind, for he has other things to dwell on, he continues preparing himself for his visit to Ladylake’s palace, hoping once again that it will not be as awful as he fears.

 


 

The journey itself to Ladylake is rather nerve-wrecking. Mikleo has always travelled with his family and Edna, yet this time, he is merely travelling his his guards, for the Diphdas want him to attend alone. Muse and Michael were hesitant, for they wish Edna to be at his side at all times when he is away from home, before deciding that the guards would be enough for such a short journey.

He is soon being welcomed inside the palace. His nerves settle a little after Alisha gives him a hug in greeting, bearing him a welcoming smile. Her parents give curt nods instead.

“You’ve arrived just in time; dinner is about to be served,” Amara explains, and the four of them head towards the dining room. It is a room which Mikleo has not yet been inside, and he wonders how it is possible that it is even larger than the one inside his own home. It is darker, too, with the dining table a deep red wood, with a black chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Very depressing.

Finuw sits on the far end of the table, with his wife and daughter sitting in the seats closest to him. Mikleo immediately chooses the place next to Alisha.

“The journey was okay for you then, Mikleo?” Alisha asks, receiving a nod in return.

“The heat made it a bit stifling, but it was fine aside from that.”

“Yes, the heat really is rather awful … I’m very relieved that you’re not all that affected by it. Father in particular has been struggling in the sun as of late.”

“Comes from my age and blood heritage,” the man in question says, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “I’m looking forward to more rain to help ease this.”

Their food arrives moments later, interrupting their conversation. Mikleo cannot help but be impressed by how the food is presented. It is likely not much different than what he has at home, but perhaps being in a different environment to eat makes it feel more impressive, similar to how he had felt in Sorey’s home.

A selection of blood, water and also a bottle of wine are placed onto the table, before the members of staff bow and leave silently. Mikleo notices how they are barely acknowledged by Finuw and Amara. Alisha, however, thanks them graciously and bids them a good day.

“We always say that you don’t have to do that, Alisha,” says Amara, seeming slightly amused. “They are half-bloods working as servants, dear, they don’t expect manners at all …”

“I like them to know their work is appreciated,” Alisha answers.

“You really are always polite, Alisha, but do be careful,” Finuw pipes in, beginning to cut into a slice of steak. “You have to be careful with half-bloods – start treating them the same as us, and they’ll think they’re equal. It would cause all sorts of problems.”

“How is the food, Mikleo?” Alisha says loudly, clearly wanting to bring attention away from her father. Mikleo swallows and nods. He had barely been paying attention to what Finuw had been saying; his mind has a habit of switching itself off when he knows something racist is about to be said.

“It’s delicious, thank you,” he answers.

“Would either of you two be wanting some wine?” Amara says, gesturing to the bottle. Alisha hesitates, before she nods.

“Perhaps a little bit, I quite like this one.”

Mikleo, however, shakes his head. “I’ll stick to water, but thank you.”

“I hear that you had one of your garden visiting events today,” says Finuw as his wife begins to pour the drinks.

“Oh, yes, we host them at least once a month.”

“We were thinking of doing the same once you two are married. We think there would be quite the bit of attention if you were to host viewings within our gardens.”

“That’s quite a good idea,” says Alisha. “I reckon we could raise a lot of money from that.”

“Exactly, and there are always investments to make,” says Amara.

“Speaking of that, are the wedding costs going well on your end?” Mikleo questions. He is realising how well this conversation is going so far, feeling brave enough to contribute himself, which is likely better than staying silent until approached.

“Yes, everything is fine. We have quite a bit of money to spare these days. It will all be worth it too; the people are so excited for this wedding!”

Finuw nods in agreement. “It may not be the best choice behind the scenes, but it is definitely the best one to appeal to the public.”

The words are somehow able to make Alisha and Mikleo alike feel a little guilty. To know that this wedding is something that their beloved people yearn for this much, that the rings on the two teenagers’ fingers will bring them happiness and hopes, make both of them feel rather awful over how much they have been dreading the thought of marriage. With their role in the world, it is the people’s happiness which matters rather than their own.

Amara chooses to address this. “Yes, that is why I’m rather glad that the two of you have grown a little more … accepting, of our choices. You really did seem determined to make the wedding fall through somehow, so it is good that you are finally working with us. Even if the circumstances are not like how we would like.”

“Please don’t start like this with Mikleo,” Alisha says, her voice remaining calm even though her heart is beating a little faster. “Not now.”

“I’m not sweetheart, we’ve all grown to accept that Mikleo is what he is … the blame, anyway, should be on his mother rather than him, I’m beginning to realise, what with the way she threw her body to that –”

“Don’t speak about my mother like that,” Mikleo snaps out of instinct, almost regretting doing so when the others look at him instantly. “I … I mean … Sorry.”

“Protective of your mother, much like how Alisha is the same for hers,” Finuw comments. “I understand that. But I’d rather you not snap at my wife in that way either.”

“Right,” Mikleo responds simply, amazed at how Finuw can be so unfair, considering it was Amara herself who had started such rudeness. Trying to bring himself away from the topic, hoping that it would drop if he did so, he reaches for the glass of blood in front of him, which he knows had been brought specifically for him. A little light-headedness is reminding him that he has not drank any of it all day.

Though he is so caught up with hearing Amara continue from where she left off that he has not noticed the smell of the blood within the glass. It is not until the blood touches his lips, the scent truly filling his nostrils, that he realises that this is in fact the blood of a human.

Alisha jumps horribly when Mikleo drops the glass instantly. It smashes as it hits the tiled floor, shards of glass scattering across it, their sounds echoing within the room. Panicked, Mikleo wipes at his lips with his sleeve, only feeling a slight amount of relief when he realises that none of the blood entered his mouth.

“That … th-that was …” he stammers, feeling his breath shortening. “You know that I don’t …”

Alisha is able to decipher what Mikleo means. “You gave him human blood!” she exclaims loudly, looking outraged. “You know that he has only drank animal blood because of his circumstances!”

“It must have been a mistake,” Amara states calmly. “Easy mix-up, considering the three of us – ah, proper vampires, drink human blood rather than animal blood.”

“It is not a mix-up,” Alisha snaps, growing more furious the more she sees Mikleo’s face paling, his eyes staring at the broken glass on the floor in horror. “You’ve had other guests who have preferred animal blood due to dieting or wanting something lighter, and per their request, you always give them that. You’re using the most vile methods possible to make him become more like our stereotype!”

“We are just trying to create a suitable husband for you, Alisha,” Finuw responds. “As suitable as that can become for you, at least.”

Alisha does not jump this time over a loud noise resounding in the room, but does spiral her head around to Mikleo; this time, he has gotten to his feet so abruptly that his chair was knocked onto the floor behind him. Breathing heavily, his hands grip onto the table, and Alisha cannot be sure if these pants are caused by anger or panic.

“All you two ever do is try to find more and more ways to cause me misery,” he says quietly, his voice trembling. His head hangs low so neither of the others can see his face. “I always hoped that once the wedding became official, you’d move on. But it’s only getting worse. I’ve had enough.”

“Mikleo, it’s okay,” Alisha says desperately. She has noticed now how much his hands are shaking. “Please, I –”

“I’m leaving. I’m not dealing with you two anymore.”

“Mikleo, wait –”

But Mikleo has already began storming away from the table. He opens the double doors to the dining room and, like the three had expected, slams them after himself. An incredibly tense silence follows this. Though Alisha’s state of being paralysed vanishes before long, and she too is soon on her feet. She does not try to conceal her rage one bit.

“You just had to go and do that, didn’t you? Even after it was going well?” she demands. “His first dinner here and you treat him like scum. I cannot believe you.”

Alisha walks away herself. Amara jumps to her feet to catch up with her, Finuw remaining still and silent, apparently seeing that they might have gone too far.

“Alisha, stop,” Amara says, grasping onto her daughter’s wrist. “We’re sorry that we –”

“You’re not sorry at all! You constantly treat him like vermin!”

“Technically speaking, with everything considered, he –”

Her words are cut off by her own daughter’s hand slapping her cheek. Stunned, she brings a hand to the stinging skin, the sound of the slap echoing in her ears. Neither she nor Finuw can say anything from shock.

“Don’t you dare think about saying that,” Alisha whispers angrily, tears pricking in the corners of her eyes. “Just don’t. He deserves so much more than what you give him.”

She turns away from her mother and makes her way to the doors. As she places her hand on one of the handles, whilst not facing them, she says, “If you don’t start treating him in a fair way, you can find yourself a new princess. I’m not going to follow in your footsteps if it means I have to succumb to that kind of behaviour. You make me sick.”

And without waiting for a response, she leaves the room. As expected, there is no sign of Mikleo in the corridors, clearly driven to be as far from there as possible. And of course, Alisha cannot blame him.

 


 

Mikleo is not even sure where he is heading when he passes through the corridors of the dreary palace. All he knows is that he feels trapped, a pain flaring in his chest from his shortage of breath. He is filled with a hatred much more intense than he has ever felt before. What makes it even worse is that this hatred, though arisen from Finuw and Amara, may be more directed at himself than those two, for their words and clear opinions about him do not come from nowhere.

Never has he hated the thought of this marriage more than ever. The more time passes, the more that he sees that it is not so much because of the trivial reasons like never being able to find love, even if this still hurts. It is now becoming much more serious. How long will he have to remain strong under the relentless insults and blackmail of the Diphdas? Is this treatment all he will have to deal with, the unfair prejudice which leaves him wondering if he should have been born at all?

He is not sure if he has the emotional capability to cope with such a thing. Alisha often tells him how strong he is, for dealing with so much for so long. But this strength can only last so long. He can already feel it wearing away, as much as he thought it had increased upon meeting Sorey.

These thoughts take over his mind so much that he does not even realise that he has made it to the foyer. He must have been walking fast enough to not be stopped before, but now, he is face-to-face with the guards who brought him here. But they are not enough to stop his steps. He makes it to the doors, one hand on a door handle, when a hand has grabbed his arm firmly.

“My Prince, where are you –”

“Leave me be. I want to be alone.”

“But you cannot –”

“Let go!” Mikleo shouts, yanking his arm out of the grip, putting so much force into doing so that he falls back painfully against the door. He barely notices. Inhaling deeply, he says in a forcibly calm voice, “I need some fresh air. I’m just going out to the gardens.”

The guards exchange a glance between each other to communicate silently. One nods, saying, “As long as it is merely the gardens.”

“Thank you,” Mikleo responds, before hurrying outside and shutting the door behind him. There, rather than head to the gardens, he marches straight down the path. There are bound to be a couple of the Diphdas’ guards down there, but there is no way he can stay on this property, and all rational thinking about what could happen if he is alone has left him.

He decides that speed, yet also normal and unsuspicious, movements will be what will allow him to walk past the guards. And for a moment, it works; the normal behaviour causes the guards to merely nod at him, bidding him a good day, but then they realise what they have been told about the prince with white hair.

“Wait, hold on!” one calls, jogging forward to catch up to Mikleo, who knows what measures he has to take to get out of there. He breaks out into a run, which soon escalates to the fastest sprint he can manage whilst weaving in and out of the people walking by. This speed at least causes none to have time to take in his appearance properly, and he cannot slow yet; he can still hear the guard trying to catch up to him, clearly knowing the trouble they will be in for letting the prince wander out alone.

To try and lose him, Mikleo skids down an alleyway, dodging a woman walking by and racing down it. He knows that he will be caught up with eventually, for even if he has both great speed and stamina, it cannot match that of a fully trained guard. Thinking quickly, his eyes land on a pile of boxes. He slides down into a crouching position behind them, putting a hand over his mouth in order to silence his heavy breathing, and watches as the guard turns into this section of the alleyway. He looks around before racing up some steps to search for Mikleo elsewhere.

Mikleo pants once he removes his hand from his mouth. This hand reaches to hold the stitch in his side as his head leans back against the wall, a layer of sweat forming on his forehead. This is certainly not the type of weather to be doing such things in.

But he has to be alone, out of Ladylake, far from anyone else – he knows it is not rational, he knows of the consequences it will bring, yet he does not care anymore. He has been spending far too long living in the chains others put on him to obey now.

He gets to his feet once his breathing has become more steady and starts to briskly walk towards Ladylake’s exit, ignoring the hushed whispers of a few people passing by. There is only one person he would gladly have the company of now. In fact, he is supposed to be in Hyland this weekend … If luck is on his side, perhaps, just perhaps, Mikleo can try to find him.

There must be at least a little luck blessing him today, for he manages to make his way out to Lakehaven Heights without any incidents. Rather than take a left down towards Falkewin Hillside, he instead heads upwards, feeling as though nature may just be the best thing for him right now.

Though as he walks through it, even as he crouches down by a beautiful stream of water, he realises that something so simple cannot be a comfort to him. His breathing still remains heavy, but it is not because of his previous running. His chest is tight, his vision unfocused, anxiety reaching incredible heights – for a reason he cannot blame himself for, the dinner he has attended has well and truly done something to his mental state.

It is so terrible that he almost misses the rather patronising tone of a man behind him. “Well well, my eyes didn’t deceive me, after all. Your Marlind’s Prince.”

Mikleo rises to his feet, turning to who the voice belongs to. It turns out to be a stranger he does not know, same with the man and woman who stand with him. The already fast rate of his heart increases, yet as usual, he masks his true emotion.

“Wow, congratulations for realising.”

“Often don’t see you out alone. Or even out at all.” He turns to those behind him. “How much ransom do you reckon we could get for him? At least a million gald?”

Mikleo ends up letting out a laugh of disbelief, causing the man to face him again. “My first time of being out in Lakehaven Heights alone and I find myself in a kidnapping. I sure am lucky today.”

“Glad you know what’s going on. Jason, get hold of him.”

The second man steps forward to do just that, yet does not have a chance to before he is hit in the face by a roundhouse kick. He yells in pain and falls to the floor, a hand grasping his bloody nose. The other two stare down at their companion with wide, shocked eyes, the woman reacting first; Mikleo easily trips her with his other leg sweeping behind her calves, taking the distraction to reach down into his boot and take out a knife.

“Get back to wherever you came from,” he says, holding it out in front of himself. “I’m not in the mood for this today.”

“Tougher than you look, aren’t ya, pretty boy?” A surge of panic runs through Mikleo’s chest when the man too takes out a knife, his from underneath his shirt. “Come along now, so no one else gets –”

He lets out a cry of surprise as an arrow shoots right past his face, planting in the ground to their left. All, aside from the man still clutching his bloody face, turn to where it had been shot; their eyes land on Sorey, who is preparing another arrow in the string of his bow.

“Take one step closer to him and the next one won’t miss,” he says, pulling the arrow back and using it to gesture away from Mikleo. “Go on.”

Frozen in place, the man glances in between the knife in Mikleo’s hand and Sorey’s bow, before he is grasping Jason by the back of his collar and yanking him up to his feet. The three criminals then flee in the direction that Sorey had pointed at, shouting out something about how ‘this won’t happen next time’, hinting that they truly think that they will have this opportunity again.

“You okay?” Sorey asks, lowering the bow. “I heard yells so I came running this way.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for helping me out.”

Sorey smiles in response. He walks closer, eyes glancing around them curiously. Mikleo can tell what he is thinking before he even speaks. “Why are you out here alone? Where’s Edna?”

“I reckon she’s probably in a meeting with a business owner right now in Marlind.”

“But … but you’re all the way out in Lakehaven Heights.” Sorey’s eyes light up hopefully. “Have they given you even more freedom now?”

“I wish,” Mikleo answers, laughing humourlessly. This laughter is quick to fade, his head lowering. “You know, what they’ve been doing with me has backfired now, hasn’t it? If I was a regular sight in the cities, people would be less likely inclined to try and kidnap me. Figures.”

“Has this happened before?” Sorey asks. Mikleo shakes his head.

“Edna’s usually with me, after all, and I think I’m just unlucky today.”

Sorey notices the slight crack in his voice. He walks a little closer, Mikleo flinching only slightly when a hand is placed on his shoulder. “Has something happened?” he asks gently.

“I guess you could say so.”

Similar to when Mikleo had confessed about his confinement in the palace, he is avoiding Sorey’s eyes completely. Running a tongue over his lips, Sorey glances around and wonders what will be the best suggestion.

“Let’s sit down,” he says, gesturing to a patch of grass bathed a shadow cast by higher ground. Mikleo nods, following Sorey and sitting down next to him. “I have a little food with me if you need something to eat.”

Now that Sorey mentions it, Mikleo realises that thanks to the events which occurred at dinner, Mikleo had eaten very little of it. However, finding that his appetite is rather scarce and he lacks in motivation to eat anyway, he shakes his head.

“All right, that’s fine. Do you need to talk about what happened?”

“I don’t know,” Mikleo responds quietly, bringing his knees up to his chest as his chin settles on top of them. “I don’t really know what I want anymore. I’m always thinking things will get better, only for them to get worse again.”

“Do you mean with the king?” Sorey asks, thinking back to that one day back in Pendrago, the one where things have not felt the same since.

“He’s included. But there’s a lot that doesn’t just involve him.” Mikleo’s knees are brought a little closer to himself, his eyes still looking everywhere but at Sorey. “Though I’m scared to tell you those things. You’d hate me.”

“I could never hate you,” Sorey says automatically, truly meaning those words. “Really.”

“That’s what people say. But I can tell that they secretly do think differently towards me. I don’t want you to be like that as well.” Mikleo’s front teeth scrape against his bottom lip. “I just want to be normal.”

As much as Sorey wants to question what Mikleo believes does not make him ‘normal’, he knows that this is not the way to go. Instead, he takes a moment to think over what else he can say. It’s not as though he thinks that Mikleo is overly sensitive. He simply does not want to offend or pressure him, especially as he seems particularly fragile in this current moment.

“Is there a reason you’re all the way over here, and not just outside Marlind?” Sorey eventually decides to ask, thinking that it is less pressuring than all the other questions he has in mind.

“I was to attend dinner with the Diphdas. Yet as you can see, I’m not currently doing that.”

“Have you been there at all, or …?”

“I have, yes. But it did not particularly go so well, so here I am.”

Sorey’s eyes automatically shift to Mikleo’s face. There at least seems to be no physical mark there, but that does not mean to say that some kind of mark has not been left mentally.

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Mikleo ends up continuing quietly. “How I’m supposed to marry their daughter yet they treat me like this?”

It is rather surprising to hear these words come from Mikleo. Sorey is fairly sure that this is the first time he has heard Mikleo speak of his engagement. As guilty as he is for having such an emotion form in this moment, the foreign feeling of jealousy has curdled in Sorey’s stomach again, but he is quick to ignore it.

“I thought that myself, when I saw how Finuw was to you. Why are they even allowing this marriage to happen when they clearly have such … unfair feelings about you?”

“I used to think that myself. But then I started to learn how important this marriage is. It will join our families and make us grow stronger, it is what will please the public the most … and, what I believe, it is the best way for Finuw and Amara to keep an eye on me and use me how they please.”

“That’s – that’s like they’re treating you as an object,” Sorey says in disbelief, his hands clenching into fists. “It’s not right.”

Mikleo chuckles, a sad smile on his face. He is still not looking at Sorey. “Is that not all I am, when it comes to it? Just another pawn to put into place?”

“Of course you’re not like that!” Sorey exclaims, staring at Mikleo. “You have your own thoughts, your own dreams. Of course you’re more than just an object.”

“It’s not as though any of that matters, though. Not in the grand scheme of things.”

“It matters to me.”

“Unfortunately, what matters to those I care for have never been seen as what is important.”

Sorey is unsure of what to say. He has known all along that Mikleo was at the very least depressed – who could blame him for that, with everything going on? But this is different. It clearly runs deep, some kind of self loathing brought on by the actions and words of others, as well as whatever he is choosing to hide from Sorey.

“It breaks my heart to know that this is how you see yourself,” he eventually says quietly.

“It’s the only way I can be. It was written for me since the day I was born, and being forced into the marriage will only bring a tighter leash on me. I reckon it’ll only be so long before I stop caring entirely.” Mikleo’s eyes look up; not at Sorey, but rather the water which drifts to their side. “I remember Alisha saying something to me some time ago. That no matter what happens, she wants me to remain as I am. I’m starting to see what she means now, but at the same time, how can I remain as I am when I don’t even know who I am? How am I expected to, when I …”

Sorey’s head swivels to the side when he hears Mikleo’s voice crack again, this time much more evident than previously. He is hardly surprised to see that tears are now falling from wide eyes, a hand now hovering to Mikleo’s mouth, and yet it still causes pain to strike Sorey’s chest.

“Mikleo –”

“Why … why am I crying?” he says, his face turning away from Sorey as his arms wipe at his eyes. “I – I already know all this, so why –”

“It’s okay to cry. I’m surprised you haven’t done so yet,” Sorey says gently, trying to turn Mikleo around with a hand on his shoulder, yet he shifts away a little.

“Don’t. It’s okay, I just let it get to me. I shouldn’t.” Mikleo inhales deeply, though it does nothing against his tears. Now they have started, it seems impossible to stop them. “I don’t know when I last cried in front of someone else,” he whispers. “I usually do it alone.”

If anything could have caused Sorey’s heart to sink further, this is it. And there is one thing which his mind tells him to do before anything else. He reaches for Mikleo and pulls him into a hug. Mikleo’s eyes grow wide, his head leaning on its side on Sorey’s chest, and he is left having no idea how to react, or how to move.

“You don’t have to do that alone anymore, okay?” Sorey says, his fingers tracing circles on Mikleo’s back. “I’m right here.”

Mikleo shakes his head, even though he does not try to pull back. “You don’t have to be.”

“Well, I am, so you’ll have to deal with it.”

With a bite of his lip, Mikleo remains still, even as Sorey’s arms do not let go. He has to give in eventually. His face buries itself in Sorey’s shoulder, and at last, his arms bring themselves around Sorey’s neck in order to bring the two closer to each other. And there, he begins to sob harder, gripping on tightly with his tears dampening Sorey’s T-shirt.

Even though it hurts to hear those tears, it is also a relief that they are here at all, that Sorey can hold Mikleo like this. He smiles sadly as he brings a hand to Mikleo’s head, his fingers stroking through strands of white hair. It is strange how he has a natural response on how to comfort him.

“It’s okay,” Sorey’s says gently. “It’s going to be okay.”

“It’s not,” Mikleo gasps, muffled a little by Sorey’s shoulder. “It’s not, Sorey. Nothing has ever been okay, and it never will.”

“You don’t know that. None of us can tell the future.”

“It’s – it’s all that’s waiting for me. You don’t understand, it’s …”

Though Mikleo does not part away, Sorey can hear the way the boy’s breathing is becoming more rapid, the way his body increases in tension and its trembles. Yet Sorey does not let go; with one hand remaining on Mikleo’s lower back and the other on the back of his head, Sorey brings him that little bit closer.

“Take deep breaths,” he says softly. “In and out, okay?”

Mikleo nods, and though it is stifled by Sorey’s shoulder, Sorey can tell that Mikleo is doing just this. His body seems to relax ever-so-slightly, the grip around Sorey’s neck loosening. It is uncertain of how long they sat there together in this embrace; it somehow seems like it could have been both longer or shorter than it really was. either way, eventually Mikleo’s sobs cease, and though this arrives with his body growing limp, Sorey prefers it to the choked sounds from previously.

They slowly back away from each other, Mikleo seeming rather embarrassed. “I’m sorry about that. I ended up feeling panicked about it.”

“Do you get that a lot?” Sorey asks, reaching over to wipe the remainder of a tear from Mikleo’s cheek with his thumb. Mikleo nods slowly.

“Every time I get threatened with it, it’s worse than that as I just shut myself up in my room,” he admits. “I think that’s the first time I’ve let myself be comforted.”

“That’s a huge step, you know,” Sorey says, smiling. “It means you’re learning to open up more. Plus, I’m happy you trust me that much.”

“Of course I trust you. I can’t believe I was ever stupid enough not to trust you.” Mikleo breathes in and out deeply, clearly trying to find his next words. Eventually they arrive, and he says, “The reason I ended up feeling so awful is because they started insulting me over … well, what I’ve been keeping a secret from you. Then it turns out they were trying to trick me into drinking human blood.”

“They … they what?!”  Sorey reacts, horrified. He does not know the extent of why Mikleo chooses to drink animal blood instead, but much like a human choosing not to eat meat, he is certain that whatever the reasons are, they mean a lot to Mikleo. To almost force someone into doing such a thing is more awful than Sorey can imagine. “But … but why? Why would they do that?”

“They want me to grow stronger. Human blood gives vampires strength, you know. And I lack in that strength a fair bit.”

Sorey stares at Mikleo as though he said something completely odd. “I’ve seen you fight. It doesn’t look like you lack in strength to me.”

“It doesn’t when one is skilled with martial arts, which I admit I am. However, in terms of a vampire, I am weak – or that’s what they tell me, anyway. They’ve been trying to convince me to try and increase my base strength because of that.”

“But to force you to do something like that isn’t the way to go about it,” Sorey says angrily. “And you can clearly defend yourself – isn’t that enough?”

“Apparently not.” Mikleo chuckles lightly, fingers tugging on a few strands of his hair. “They also have some sort of dislike for my hair, too. Because it’s so pale, you know. They think it makes me look more feminine.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

Mikleo shrugs. “I guess because they have it drilled in their heads that the king needs to be this large, masculine man, and the queen much more delicate. As you can probably see, I don’t fit into that criteria. Alisha doesn’t fit into hers much, either.”

“That’s … really just dumb.”

“Honestly? I agree. That’s the one thing I assure you only gets on my nerves, rather than upset me.”

Sorey lets out a laugh. “Well, that’s good then.” He pauses for a moment to think of what to say. “I really am sorry they did something so awful,” he decides on eventually. “Taking your own personal choices into their hands like that isn’t right.”

“Perhaps not. But they don’t seem to care about what’s right.” Mikleo proceeds to frown, a hand reaching his forehead. “I think getting worked up and not having any blood yet is getting to me. I’m getting pretty dizzy.”

“Hey, now you mention it, you are looking paler than usual,” Sorey says, inspecting Mikleo’s face. “Do you have any blood with you, at all?”

Mikleo shakes his head. “I didn’t think I’d need it as I thought I’d, well, be served the type of blood I have.”

Sorey hums in thought, his eyes glancing over at the city in the far distance. “If you waited here, I could always head back and buy some for you.”

“I …” Mikleo says, hesitant to continue. He glances to the side, this time avoiding Sorey’s gaze out of embarrassment. “I want you to stay with me, if that’s all right. And I can’t exactly go back there myself.”

“You like my company that much?” Sorey cannot help but tease.

Mikleo huffs. “No. I just … I’ve calmed down from you being here. So I want you to stay.”

“I’ve gotcha,” Sorey says, earning a grumbled protest as he pats Mikleo’s head. “Well, the only food I have on me right now is bread and vegetables, as I haven’t gone hunting yet. Fish should have some essence of blood in it – would that help?”

Mikleo contemplates this for a moment before he nods. “Yeah, I think so. Even if it’s not that much blood, the meat itself should keep me going. I haven’t eaten properly for a while.”

“Then I’ll get right to it. You sit there for a bit longer to rest up, all right?”

He nods once more. As he watches Sorey get up from the ground, his bow and arrow in hand, he wonders how on Earth he had become lucky enough to meet this werewolf all those months ago.

 


 

Due to the clearness of the water and lack of wind, it only takes a few shots of Sorey’s arrow in order for one to plant itself inside one of the fish. Sorey rolls up his trousers in order to wade out into the water and take the fish, before giving Mikleo a thumbs up as he walks back onto land.

Settling himself down onto the ground, Sorey begins to skin the fish much like he has done so before. Mikleo still finds the process gruesome even though this is not the first time he has seen it. His nose wrinkles at the rather awful scent and he tries to tear his gaze away, but like always, it is strangely transfixing.

“You’re free to take over any time you like,” Sorey offers, laughing at how quickly Mikleo is to shake his head.

“Like always, I’ll pass. How long did it take you to be able to stomach doing something like that? I can imagine you learned to hunt before doing any of that stuff.”

Sorey nods. “You’re right about that. Honestly, I don’t think I was quite as squeamish as you are, considering we’ve been raised differently. But I still let my parents do it at first.”

“You’ve gone hunting with both of them before?”

“Oh yeah, lots of times. But we don’t do that much these days, considering we’re all so busy doing our own thing. Sometimes it’s even hard to just eat together.”

“It sounds rather sad.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” Sorey says reassuringly. “I just look forward to the times we do get together, and honestly, all the busyness is understandable. Quite a bit more has been going on as of late.”

“What like?” Mikleo questions curiously, before he immediately adds, “I’m sorry, if it’s to be kept a secret, you’re fine not to tell me.”

Sorey shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s really a secret. And, well, I trust you anyway, so it’d be fine. It’s nothing bad; my dad is likely to become Rolance’s new Emperor, and my mom is going to take his place as the Alpha of Lastonbell temporarily until I take over it myself. I’ll be helping out with the empire itself, too.”

“Whoa, seriously?” Mikleo questions, eyes growing wide as Sorey nods and grins. “That’s – that’s amazing.”

Sorey chuckles over this. “Well, you’re going to be ruling over a country yourself one day, so I’m surprised you’re so impressed.”

“Well yes, but Hyland is fairly smaller than Rolance. So I cannot help but be impressed. The last Emperor was assassinated, wasn’t he? By the Scattered Bones?”

“Yeah, that’s right. But don’t worry, my dad won’t get himself assassinated. He’s a good man.”

“I thought as much. So in some time, you really are going to become the Alpha, huh?”

Sorey nods. “It’s a little scary, but I’m excited for it at the same time. It’s what I’ve been waiting for all my life, after all.”

“Same here with me and becoming King. You know, now I think about it, it really was quite the coincidence that we met, wasn’t it?”

“Definitely! I just … I hope all this doesn’t get in the way. Of us seeing each other, I mean.”

Mikleo nods in agreement, eyes growing a little sad. “I think it’ll be harder once I’m married. I may very well end up moving to Ladylake.”

“When are you getting married?”

“On October the 31st,” he answers. “Halloween is a traditional day for vampires to get married on. It’s a myth that marriages will turn out strong and will not end if you have them on that day.”

“So three months away, huh?” says Sorey, feeling crestfallen. “That’s so close.”

“It is. At least we wouldn’t be expected to rule together right away, but still … I can imagine that life will get tougher from then on out. I’d much rather marry someone else.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. I’m sorry you have to go through this, Mikleo.”

“It’s fine, I’ve always known it will arrive one day. I just … I think it’s become more upsetting recently.”

“Because of it seeming more real as it gets closer?”

“That. But also …”

“Also what?”

“It – it doesn’t matter.” For how on Earth could Mikleo say that the very reason why he feels more trapped by this than ever is because he is certain he has feelings for the man in front of him, rather than his betrothed. To change the subject, his eyes now fall on the sky, which is beginning to be bathed in the calming colours of a sunset. “It’s already getting so late. I’m surprised they haven’t found me here, yet. I’m expecting the consequences to be dreadful.”

“I’ll walk you back to Marlind, if you like. After seeing those thugs try to attack you, I’m a bit worried about you walking around alone, especially without a cloak or something.”

Mikleo nods in agreement, yet is a lot more hesitant than Sorey to get to his feet. When he has does so, it is as though his legs are paralysed, unable to do any more than let him stand; only barely, for he finds that they are weak and trembling.

Sorey turns when he realises that Mikleo has not started walking himself. Rather than do this, Mikleo’s arms are wrapping around his torso, looking awfully small. Sorey heads back closer to him, trying to read his expression.

“I – I don’t want to go back, Sorey,” he whispers. “I’m scared to.”

“You’re worried about what they’re going to say to this?”

“That, and … and there’s only so much I can take of how they treat me anymore.”

Sorey bites his lip. On one hand, he knows that Mikleo wants to do anything but head back home, for even if his life in his own palace is not quite as horrid, he still has his future in-laws to worry about. But on the other, Sorey worries about how much more severe the consequences would be if Mikleo was to delay even further, drawing out the already limited time he currently has.

“We’ll start heading down there, out of sight away from the roads,” Sorey decides on eventually. “And if you find it’s too much, then we’ll think of something to do then. Does that sound okay?”

Mikleo contemplates over this before he nods slowly. He allows Sorey to take his hand and guide him down the slopes of Lakehaven Heights, yet his mind is on anything but his steps. After how much he has opened up to Sorey already, how the other did not even hesitate to tell Mikleo what is going on with his parents, even though they were likely private matters Sorey should tell no one about, especially not the vampire Prince of another country …

He cannot help but wonder if being so secretive is unfair. How can Sorey truly understand if he has not been told? How can any weight be lifted from Mikleo’s shoulders in the first place, if he does not make any effort to relieve it?

And so, he stops. This causes Sorey to turn back to Mikleo, noticing that the hand which still remains intertwined with his own is growing a little sweaty – be it nerves or fear, Sorey cannot say.

“I have something to tell you,” Mikleo says quietly, feeling the beating of his heart increase in what feels like every minute. “Something that explains why the Diphdas hate me so much, why I’ve always been confined … basically everything.”

Sorey stands a little straighter, feeling a little surprised. “You don’t have to say anything if it’s too uncomfortable. But I’m here to listen.”

Mikleo nods. He takes his hand out of Sorey’s to fold his arms, Sorey guessing that this allows Mikleo to feel a little more shielded. The boy is silent for a few moments, seeming to try and gather his thoughts, before he says, his voice shaking a little, “You can’t tell anyone about this. It’s not something small and it could very well have me killed, should certain people find out.”

“Of course I won’t tell anyone,” Sorey says. “You have my word.”

With a deep exhale, Mikleo nods once more. His tongue runs over his lips nervously, and for several moments which feel tantamount to hours, he says nothing, his head remaining lowered in the deafening silence.

Then slowly, his head rises, and Sorey sees that to be told Mikleo’s secret, he does not to be given any words at all. All he needs to do is stare with wide eyes at Mikleo’s face to have his questions be answered, and to have new questions, countless questions, form instead.

Because Mikleo is staring straight back at Sorey, only now, merely one eye remains the colour of an amethyst. The other glows a bright crimson. A sign that the prince before him, one who is expected to have the purest blood of all, has really been a half-blood all along.

Chapter Text

The crimson glow is strangely captivating. In comparison to the gentle violet of his other eye, this single red iris is bold and bright; it is the first time Sorey has ever seen the true eye colour of a vampire. Yet of course, it is usually not one, but two eyes, which glow in such a way. Sorey can tell what a single eye means even if he has never heard of this before.

After Mikleo blinks and looks away, the redness vanishes as quickly as it had appeared, as though ashamed to keep it this way for long. But the mere moments that this colour was on display has been enough.

Sorey’s mouth opens to speak, yet what words are there to say in this moment? He knows it is something which requires comfort, yet personally believes that it is not something which should be comforted; after all, he has never seen half-bloods any differently, and does not want to give sympathy to something which should not be seen as something to sympathise with.

But this is different. Entirely different. At least the half-bloods which work as servants have nothing else to their blood – no nobility, royalty, nothing. But before Sorey stands something which merely the concept of is forbidden, the fact that someone who should rule those of a certain race is not truly that race himself.

And how this has happened, how Mikleo has only half the blood of the kind he will once rule, Sorey has no idea. He swallows, feeling suffocated by the silence which neither seem sure of how to break.

“I – I don’t know what to say, I …”

Mikleo shakes his head. “You don’t have to say anything. Or at least – at least not here. I’m worried about people overhearing.”

The words suggest that Mikleo is fine to talk about this after all. Sorey thinks over this, trying to come up with a place where the two can discuss this without being overheard, and also where Mikleo’s knights or anyone else will not find him.

A thought suddenly arrives, then Sorey is burying his hand into the rucksack slung over his shoulder. It wraps around his copy of the Celestial Record.

“I’m pretty sure they’re some ruins nearby, there’s no way we’ll have anyone find us there.”

“Ruins?” Mikleo echoes. There seems to be a mixture of curiousness and worry in his voice. “The Deranged often stay in there, right?”

“Only deep inside them. We’ll be fine near the entrance, plus I can’t imagine there being any so close to the city.”

Mikleo nods, feeling comforted from this thought and also, even among everything else swirling around his head, feels a little excited for heading there. Soon, Sorey’s finger is pressing down onto a page, with Mikleo peering down to see where he is pointing too.

“There, just over the plains,” Sorey says, now using this finger to instead point to their left. “The Galahad Ruins. I don’t think you’ll be found there while we … yeah.”

Mikleo does nothing but nod. Soon, the two are making their way over the nature, summer’s heat radiating against their backs. Not one word is spoken between them. Sorey’s mind is filled with question after question, somehow even more so after he has had his biggest question answered already; why. Why Mikleo has been treated in such a way all because of his blood, why he has been confined away from the world … Likewise, Mikleo’s own mind is burdened with the answers to these questions, with no idea how on Earth he can start.

Still silent, the two are soon opening the entrance to the ruins. They are more well kept than one would expect. For a moment, Sorey and Mikleo forget their worries, replacing them with fascination for the walls around them. Sorey’s hand settles on the wall, feeling engravings which are etched into it. Mikleo’s eyes trace the ceiling, walls, floor – he can see that corridors lead from this room, and despite his previous fear of the Deranged potentially being here, curiosity grows strong with the urge to explore.

Yet as quickly as this relief from burdens arrives does it leave. Mikleo is soon leaning back against one of the walls, arms wrapped around his torso in a protective manner. Sorey, remembering too why they are here, watches Mikleo with a thousand potential words to say, yet with the inability to choose even a single one.

It turns out he does not have to. “My mother is a vampire, in case you’re wondering,” Mikleo begins. It feels like he has to force these words out completely, rather than be able to speak normally. “She’s well and truly a pure-blood. It is my father who is human.”

“But where … how …”

“I don’t know the full story myself. All I know is that somewhere on my mother’s travels, she fell for a human male. She is a young vampire, considered foolish compared to others – she chose her heart over the possibility of consequence and slept with him, thus conceiving me.”

“I … I had no idea, I didn’t …”

Mikleo chuckles humourlessly. “Who would? It’s not something that anyone could guess. Half-bloods have always been beneath everyone. It’s a seemingly impossible contradiction to have that lesser being be a part of something important.”

“You’re not a lesser being,” Sorey says immediately, out of instinct to stop Mikleo ever insulting himself. Yet he receives only a sad smile for this.

“I appreciate you saying so. But in the eyes of the world as a whole, it’s incorrect. I’ve been reminded of that many, many times.”

“By the Diphdas.”

Mikleo nods. His back slides down the wall he is leaning on, bringing himself down onto the floor with his legs bent in front of him. Sorey cannot help but see the movement as though it came from one who feels defeated. “My mother had to tell them. Abortions weren’t legal back then, she just had to go through with it, and how could she excuse the obvious signs of pregnancy? Of course, they saw it as a disgrace. They wanted to have me killed as a newborn, or at the very least, be taken by my father.”

“That’s why he wanted to take you away,” Sorey says, remembering instantly Mikleo’s description of his father months prior, and how the boy had seemed so certain even if he did not confess any of this back then. “So you wouldn’t have to live in royalty as a half-blood.”

“That’s what I suspect. It kind of shows that my father was actually a good guy. But things got in the way between us, and he, of course, could not marry my mother and take the name of Rulay. Keeping the child conceived from him is bad enough.”

“Do you really know nothing more about him? Not even where he could possibly be?”

Mikleo shakes his head. “I’ve never been told anything. I doubt anyone even knows. I … it sounds silly, but I’m not sure if I even want to know more. I sometimes feel hatred towards him, which is unfair, I know. Or I feel jealous.”

“Jealous?”

“I’ve always wanted to be human. It’d just be so much easier not having to deal with all of this. Look at Alisha; she has the purest blood of them all, and yet she isn’t happy at all, either.”

Sorey pictures the girl’s beautiful smile in his head, how bright and joyful her voice seemed. “She’s unhappy too, then,” he says quietly. “I never knew.”

“I think her parents take a lot of their frustration over me out on her. I mean, even though Alisha and I have been destined to marry ever since I was born, they still seemed to despise how much we got on. As though I’d contaminate her or something.”

“But that’s –”

“After all they’ve done, that is a surprise?”

Sorey stops, having to breathe in deeply. He hates how casually Mikleo speaks of this. It is as though he sees all of this as understandable, or normal. Sorey sits down next to Mikleo, both remaining in silence before Sorey finds his words.

“So why are you and Alisha marrying despite all this, if they dislike your blood status so much?”

“Lots of reasons,” Mikleo answers. “Social status, for one thing. No one outside of our families, aside from Edna, know about who I am. So of course, everyone hopes and expects for Alisha and I to be married, and we have to go through with what they want. I can imagine they want to keep a better eye on me too, and perhaps use me as some kind of influence.”

“Basically, it’s all a benefit for them, rather than you and Alisha.”

“Exactly. They came across one trouble; Alisha and I’s offspring. Half-bloods are infertile, you see, and even if we weren’t, there would be no way for our child to be fully pure-blood. But then they came up with two solutions; Alisha is impregnated by a pure-blood with an appearance bearing a little resemblance to mine, who is sworn to secrecy. Or the public is told the upsetting story of how the King and Queen have tried hopelessly for a baby time and time again to no avail, and they must adopt instead. I think the Diphdas prefer the latter; makes us seem better, you see.”

“They’d be deceiving the people either way,” Sorey says, his jaw clenching. “How can that seem right to any of you?”

“I mean, it’s not right, but I also can’t say I blame them. There would have to be a way to get around it if she were to marry me. At the very least, we would not be expected to have children for some time. Thou