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The Swan Prince

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In the kingdom of Promare, there lived a king, Deus Prometh. He was a benevolent man, working to bring peace among two groups of people, the Humans and the Burnish. The Burnish are those who have innate magic within them, usually resembling a vibrant blaze of fire, hence their namesake. Each Burnish usually only had one special ability; some could heal, others destroy. But no matter what a Burnish could do, their human neighbors would always be wary of them.

 

As the king grew older and weaker, he started to worry about getting an heir to his throne. He thought that this child needed to be someone who could embody the future of his kingdom, someone to bring unity within the two discordant communities. Then, on one fateful night, Deus came across an orphaned child. The boy, no younger than 10, had a green aura around him that he had used to protect multiple people from a collapsing building. As Deus looked in awe of the child, he knew in that instant that he had found someone that could bring peace to the kingdom. 

 

A nervous crowd had gathered around as the king kneeled towards the ash covered child and asked for his name. 

 

The child spoke obediently, “Lio Fotia.”

 

“Well, Lio. How would you like to live in the palace?”

 


 

 

Lio wasn’t enjoying his life of luxury. Granted it was better than living in poverty, but Lio felt that he had left behind a true experience of being a Burnish child. In Promare, the Burnish were treated as lower class or criminals. Many worked low paying jobs, but had to keep their powers hidden so no one would discriminately fire them. Others worked with their abilities in secret, using their powers with good or bad intentions. But the most prominent Burnish were those of the terrorist group, Mad Burnish, those that had destroyed a huge part of the kingdom 30 years ago. The incident had destroyed homes, businesses and the lives of many people. And because of this, the Burnish people are no longer given much of a chance to redeem themselves.

 

Although Lio understood how the Mad Burnish were terrorists, he knew from his experience and from the people he lived with that most Burnish were kind, caring individuals who only wish to serve their kingdom. Living as an heir to the throne seemed wrong to him because it was like he was leaving his community and instead putting his safety over his kind’s. Because of these thoughts, his mind was mentally tortured by the choice he had made.

 

Once Lio entered the castle, though, his mind cleared momentarily. Deus introduced him to many of his compatriots: Advisor Kray, Commander Ignis and Researcher Heris. Once the vast castle was fully explored, the king led Lio into his new bedroom, which was five times a space than what Lio had usually lived in.

 

Deus notified the future prince-to-be, “If you need anything at all, don’t be afraid to ask me, Kray, or any of the servants here.”

 

Lio smiled at the king after he spoke, but once Deus made his exit, the child laid face first on the bed, his mind racing back to all his guilty thoughts. All he wanted was to bring the Burnish back with him.

 


 

As days rolled by and Lio adjusted to his new surroundings, Deus found the child spending a lot of time in the study, reading about different things: nature, mathematics, fairy tales. Every day was a new book and a different idea for the child to discover. No matter the story or subject, though, the boy still looked sad to the king.

 

One day, Deus sat by Lio who was reading a story called The Canary Prince. Deus offers, “You know, I could read you one of these stories, Lio. Or I could even tell you some of my own. I’ve got many tales to tell.”

 

Lio politely declined and continued reading his book. Deus spoke up again, “You know, this may be a bit impolite, but I wondered why you still look unhappy. Do you not like living here, Lio?”

 

The boy shook his head in silence. The king persisted, “Can you tell me why you’re unhappy?”

 

Lio remained silent. Deus paused for a couple seconds before turning around and walking back to the exiting door. “It’s alright. I don’t want to pressure you. Just know that you’ve made a bold decision, Lio. Someday, this kingdom will be yours. If you think you’ve abandoned the Burnish, don’t. Once you become prince, I’ll be sure you have the responsibility to bring support to your people.”

 

As the door shut, Lio couldn’t even read his book anymore. He shut the dusty pages and observed where Deus stood. He felt like he was still in a dream, he just couldn’t believe what the king told him. Lio was going to be a prince, and that he was going to be given the sole responsibility of creating laws and aide needed to help the Burnish. It was a scary thought, but Lio managed to think one thing only. That his goal from then on was to become the perfect princely figure Promare deserved.

 


 

 

Four years pass and Lio became more acquainted with his servants. He isn’t able to befriend most of them, though, as they were mainly way older than him. Deus notices this and decides Lio not only needs friends his age, but also friends that he can relate with. And so the palace began bringing in a couple new recruits: Meis and Gueira. Both kids were a year or two older than Lio, but each had a Burnish ability and could handle a fight. 

 

Once all three had met, they were inseparable. During breaks from classes or training, the group would sit, eat lunch, spar and just talk about their lives. Deus glanced at the group once as well and finally saw a smile appear on his adopted son’s face. He thought that the happiness would last a lot longer than it did. But then there was a new recruit.

 

Galo Thymos. He was about the same age as Lio when he entered the royal army, but as soon as their eyes locked, Lio felt the kid had some sort of animosity towards him. Around training times, Galo would heavily spar with Gueira and Meis, sometimes these fights became brutal. Then, one day, Lio spotted a match between Galo and Gueira. He saw how evenly matched they’d become, but Gueira started to lose form. Galo took an opportunity to strike at him, not in the chest, not in the arm, but in the face. The brunt of his sword had left a small bruise on Gueira’s cheek. The Burnish began to spit blood and immediately fell on the grass before him.

 

Lio dropped everything and ran to Gueira’s side along with Meis. The two just comforted the guard whilst Galo gave a cocky smile. The noble looked at this expression and decided this would not stand, asking Meis to give him a practice sword.

 

Galo was surprised once he saw Lio stand up, sword in hand, ready to fight. The arrogance stayed true, though, “What’s wrong, rich boy? Your friend just lost a match. It’s all fair and more importantly, over.”

 

Lio didn’t respond. He just closed his eyes, and remembered what he’d been taught by Ignis when he was younger. Broad shoulders, loose grip on the left hand, the hips should be directed with legs and, more importantly, the blade should point directly at your opponent’s chest. Galo shrugged at this sight and lazily set up his stance. After a moment of silence, Lio took a deep breath, counted backwards from three, and then, he ran towards his adversary.

 

Galo and Lio were neck and neck, their wooden swords constantly tapping, never being able to reach the other person. Galo became more aggressive with each attack, Lio remaining calm and steady to defend himself from these moves. Soon, Galo became sick of this even game and decided to head for the noble’s feet. Lio immediately saw through this move, and so he jumped backwards and within the time Galo crouched to make his strike, Lio use the brunt of his sword’s hilt to hit Galo over the back of the head. 

 

The guard found himself face first in the dirt at this point. He pulled himself up and rubbed the nape of his neck to try and relieve himself of his pain, but he still found himself hurt just from looking in Lio’s sights. Meis and Gueira were behind the nobleman, cheering his victory. Lio could barely hide his arrogant smirk from the public view.

 

Before Galo could complain, though, there was a grizzled voice in unbelievable shock. 

 

“What happened here? Lio, what are you doing?”

 

King Deus faced the noble child with disappointment and dread. Lio began to convert himself back into his sad cadence once he saw his adopted father confront him.

 

“This behavior will not stand. I thought you were taught to be better than this.”

 

The king laid out a commanding hand towards the future prince and told him that he was grounded for at least three months and forbidden from doing any sparring training until he was taught proper etiquette.

 

Before the noble child could leave completely, though, he managed to have a passing whisper between himself and Galo. Both spoke quiet enough to not get in trouble, but each statement was poisonous enough to place a pinch of venom in the two boy’s hearts for each other. 

 

“I hate you, Lio Fotia.”

 

“I don’t much care for you either, Galo Thymos.”

 


 

 

In another 4 years, the noble child grew up to be a talented and handsome individual. He was skilled at archery, fencing, horseback riding and speaking multiple languages. Lest people forget, though, Lio was a Burnish, and he managed to learn how to use this ability to protect parts of his body from harm or how to heal himself when he was injured or sick. Even though these powers were impressive, Lio still felt he hadn’t reached his full potential as he wanted to find a way to use this power in creating a shield: a barrier that he would plan to use to protect Promare from any attacks from neighboring kingdoms. But this plan would have to be put on hold; Lio’s Investiture was in a week and once he is given the title of Prince, his primary task will be to bring equality to the Burnish. That is what he worked so hard for.

 

He already felt that the kingdom was starting to reach that goal once Deus had brought Gueira and Meis to work as Lio’s bodyguards. Although the job was still a difficult one, it at least gave the two men a place in the castle to sleep at, along with proper meals and a decent wage. However, there was still a bit of discrimination being placed against them, particularly from the human servants, and even more specifically-

 

Knock, knock!

 

“I’m here, your highness.”

 

Speak of the devil: it was the spiky-haired soldier himself, ready to stand guard for Lio’s safety. Guards of the palace were given hourly shifts to stand guard at any room that contained the future prince and the king. The one who usually got the late shifts with the prince was Galo, which to both of them was the least enjoyable part of their nights. Lio noticed, however, that even though Galo had a shift tonight, the soldier had a cast on his left arm.

 

“Are you able to stand guard? Your arm looks severely broken.”

 

Galo shuffled his feet and began to yell accusingly, “Yeah, well, practice was just rough today. Commander Vulcan showed no mercy during our training…I’ll just have to try harder next time!”

 

Silence then passed awkwardly with time. Galo stayed near the doors of the study, whilst Lio continued reading a guide to different bird species. Before he could even turn to the page about swallows, though, Lio decided to break the thick tension with a sharp jab, “I’m surprised you haven’t made a complaint to Ignis yet about your shifts. Aren’t you getting tired of looking at my face?”

 

The guard pouted. “Don’t think I didn’t try getting shifts to guard the king! I wish I could be given that job, at least he wouldn’t have to spend most of his time in this boring library!”

 

Lio slammed his book in response to such an ignorant comment, “These books have more to say than that thick skull of yours. Maybe I should find you a picture book to read; that might get you to start thinking.”

 

Galo blushed, embarrassed. “I-I can think! I made the choice of becoming a soldier to my kingdom! I don’t need a Burnish to tell me otherwise.”

 

Lio rolled his eyes, “Oh yeah? And why’s that?”

 

Galo erupted into resentful anger.“Because I’m not some spoiled lottery child that only got here because of some atrocious ability! The king could have picked any Burnish; You just happen to be the one he saw first!” Galo was basically ranting at this point. “You’re people have caused our kingdom so much destruction and pain! All the Burnish have is the ability to bring destruction to Promare and that’s why I’m here, to keep that from ever happening again, to keep the Burnish from destroying the only home I’ve known and loved!”

 

 

Silence once again fell upon both the young prince and the young guard. Lio slowly placed the book onto the coffee table and then motioned with his finger for Galo to come forward. The thick-headed guard surely felt stupid now, thinking the future prince was going to fire him on the spot. Instead, Lio continued to motion the guard to sit next to him. Galo obeyed.

 

Lio pushed his bangs out of his eyes and looked at Galo with serious intent. “I understand your judgement on my people. There are some, especially the Mad Burnish, that I cannot forgive. But I need you to see that I’m not going to let my opportunity here go to waste.”

 

Galo didn’t know what to think about any of what Lio was saying. And he didn’t know what to do when Lio began to emit a small flame from his hand. But then that innate nature of running from said power kicked in and Galo leapt off the loveseat ready to escape the study. Lio gripped the guard’s wrist though, and so Galo stood still.

 

“It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”

 

The guard hesitated, but sighed before sitting back down to look closely at what Lio was showing him. The flame remained calm, maintaining a small, orb-like shape before Lio placed the fire onto Galo’s casted arm. As expected, Galo started to flinch, suspecting pain, but found instead a feeling of warmth. A heat that somehow didn’t burn him, but rather, comforted him. The fire then began to spread out of Galo’s palm all the way to his shoulder. The experience was surreal, but also extraordinary to him, like he was feeling a friendly embrace. An embrace of someone he could love. Someone to protect .

 

After a few moments, the flames began to dissipate from Galo’s arm. He looked back at Lio and before he could utter a word, he found that his injured arm felt surprisingly better than it was a few moments ago. In fact, he felt like the cast wasn’t even needed at this point.

 

Baffled, Galo spoke only in one syllable words. “How—Whu did—-I me-Huh?”

 

Lio warmly smirked at the reaction. “I told you, we Burnish aren’t always gifted with powers to destroy or harm. We can also protect and heal those around us. And that is all I plan to do.”

 

Galo was still stunned at what happened. Lio decided then that the guard was broken from the experience, and therefore didn’t want to put him through anymore shocking discoveries. He stood up, ready to call for another guard.

 

“Sir Lio, wait!” 

 

That is, until Galo spoke up.

 

“I’m...I’m sorry for what I said earlier. I shouldn’t have said those harsh things. I...I didn’t-“

 

Lio placed a finger upon the guards mouth to cease the babbling and just calmly replied, “It’s fine, Galo. I don’t mind at all. But we should probably stop speaking so casually, before we both get in trouble.” The prince-to-be winked and went towards the shelves to grab a new book to read. 

 

As Galo reached back to his post at the door, he couldn’t help but admire Lio from where he was, seeing from the haloing lights that this once bratty-looking, Burnish child was actually a handsome, kindhearted individual that only wished to help others. Galo couldn’t help but smile humbly at that, but when Lio turned back, the guard whistled suspiciously and just as quickly turned his glance, and thoughts, away.

Chapter Text

It was a week before his ceremony, and Lio was quite nervous. His schedule was booked for the next couple of days as the king, his advisors and the servants worked tirelessly to get the young sire prepared for the big day. This process involved getting proper attire, practicing his speech, remembering his lines before the crowning, and so on. As the green-blonde regal looked through his notes once again, a door opened behind him as a much more wrinkled and large bearded man appeared before Lio. Still recognizing the face of his adoptive father, Lio gave a kind smile and greeted him, “Good morning, King Deus.”

 

“Good morning Lio! Are you ready for our trip tonight?”

 

Lio calmly responded, “Of course! I’ve memorized my declaration and everything. I just need to go through my speech one more time…” The young adult fidgeted with his papers, his eyes darting back and forth on the pages.

 

Deus looked concerned as soon as the young man drifted out of conversation and into his anxiety, and so the king walked towards Lio and placed a loving hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok, Lio. The kingdom will accept you, I promise.”

 

Lio looked back at Deus with worry. “But…”

 

Deus continued, “I’ve worked hard to keep our people together as one community, but many of our diplomats and the public have worked to prevent true equality from reaching fruition. I know that your voice will bring a start to the change Promare needs. I’m very proud of you, son.”

 

Lio didn’t feel the tears well up in his eyes. All he could do was look towards his guardian and hold him; All whilst Advisor Kray looked through the doorway, smiling.

 


 

Galo was tapping his foot endlessly in the foyer, sporadically looking for Lio’s appearance. He was so caught up with finding the royal that the soldier failed to realize who was behind him.

 

“BOO!”

 

A yell of complete terror echoed the castle all the way to the buttresses. Gueira began to hold his stomach’s laughter while Meis gave a hidden snicker behind his long hair. Galo at this point let the moment get to him and yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING? I COULD’VE HURT YOU JUST NOW!”

 

Gueira paused between chuckles to give his reply, “How exactly, Peeping Tom? You seem a little bit busy trying to find Sir Lio!”

 

Meis was still hiding his face with his hair, trying his best to hold back his laughter. As this scene continued, Galo began to shout once again until-

 

“SOLDIERS! ON YOUR FEET!”

 

Shit! Vulcan ! That was all the three guards could think as they stopped their actions and immediately stood tall whilst their commander appeared before them. Vulcan’s sharp teeth remained gritted as the man kept a tall posture in his 6 foot suit of armor, marching before the king, his advisor and the future prince himself.

 

Galo caught a glance at the group, but immediately faltered once his eyes locked with Lio’s. The result caused him to lose grip on his shield and sword. 

 

CRASH!

 

Everyone stood still. Vulcan turned and stomped towards Galo. Galo thoughts were just begging for mercy.

 

“Do you need to be dismissed, Sir Galo?”

 

“NO SIR, NO!”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I MEAN NO COMMANDER!”

 

Vulcan snarled through his teeth, still keeping a sickly smile at his subordinate, “You better watch your back, thick-brain! The next time I see you act foolish in front of the king, I will remove you from this knighthood.” He then forcefully threw the sword and shield towards Galo and continued his march towards the gate.

 

Whilst Galo, Meis and Gueira remained painfully still, trying their best not to rattle or distract Vulcan from leaving the castle, Lio wanted to try and cheer them up before he completely left the castle. And so he tapped the king on the shoulder and asked if he could have a minute with his friends. Obviously, the King allowed it, but only for one minute.

 

Lio walked back into the foyer to see an embarrassed Galo being taunted by his two best friends. A cough from the future prince put everyone’s eyes back on him. Galo stood back in place while Gueira and Meis ran towards Lio like they weren’t even on duty.

 

Gueira spoke first, “I can’t believe you have to leave the kingdom to talk with a bunch of old guys about what’s literally happening here in a WEEK.”

 

Lio replied, “It’s only a couple of nights out of town. I won’t be gone long. Besides, this isn’t just about me, it’s supposedly a chance of uniting Promare with other kingdoms.”

 

Meis had to step in, “It’s a chance for the king to play matchmaker on you.” Galo’s eyes popped open once he heard those words. “Don’t you think that’s a little much? Your going to inherit the kingdom already, why would you need another in a time like this?”

 

Lio could only sigh. “Don’t think I don’t know that.” His eyes glanced over to Galo’s direction, which made the guard freeze and look away.

 

“Worried about me, tough guy?”

 

“N-not at all. I don’t think about you at all.”

 

Gueira gave a heavy pat on Galo’s shoulder. “Please. You’ve been giving a frumpy look all morning, Meis and I were thinking you wouldn’t be able to practice today.”

 

Galo gave a side eye to the Burnish guard, whilst Lio then came up with an idea.

 

“Well if your thinking about me that much, i guess it couldn’t hurt to try this.”

 

He took off his gloves off and placed his left palm onto Galo’s chest. Galo felt nothing happen and for the moment was confused. “Umm, what are you-“

 

And then a tiny spark emitted from the tips of Lio’s fingers onto Galo’s armor. Galo began feeling that familiar warmth he experienced at the study and within an instant, that feeling dissipated. Lio grabbed Galo’s left hand and showed the young guard the back of his own palm. Within the skin was a marking that looked as though it were burned onto Galo’s skin.

 

Lio concluded, “I recently learned how to do this, now you will know if I’m in danger. I doubt that will happen, though.”

 

As Galo looked upon closer inspection, he became awestruck at the flame insignia that was etched into his skin. It looked almost natural, like a birthmark. The two other guards interrupted this moment.

 

“Hey, Sire, why don’t we get one?”

 

“Wouldn’t it be better if we each could have one?”

 

Before Lio could even try, though, he then heard the king call out to him from the courtyard. “It’ll be fine,” He placed his focus onto Galo. The guard looked curiously back at Lio. “Galo, if anything happens to me, you let these two know first. Don’t do anything reckless and come looking for me though. Stay here and protect Promare.”

 

Once the guard processed all those statements, he gave an affirmative nod. “Yes, your Majesty.”

 

Lio gave a small smile as a response and walked back to his exit. Galo remained still and looked back at his hand, then slowly placed it onto his chest. As he closed his eyes, he tried his best to find where Lio’s fire could be within him. He wanted to find that familiar warmth once more and never lose the feel of it again.

 


 

 

The carriage ride felt like forever to Lio. He remained silent, watching the villages, forests and lakes pass by. King Deus in the meantime spoke to him along with Advisor Kray about the itinerary for the rest of the week.

 

Lio interrupted. “Is it really necessary for me to get married as soon as possible? Promare already needs to accept a Burnish leader, wouldn’t adding more to our kingdom create more tension?”

 

Kray gave his insight, “I understand the pressures you may be experiencing, Sire. But it’s important for us to keep in mind the peace of the other kingdoms.” He handed the young master a stack of papers containing suitable “options”.

 

Lio first glanced at a man named Simon, whose kingdom was originally underground, but grew to new heights thanks to the development of their drill technology. Simone was recently widowed after having to sacrifice his one love to save his kingdom from an invasion, so Lio knew that arranging another marriage would be too much.

 

The next candidate was Princess Matoi, who immediately intimidated Lio just by her portrait. She also wore very scantily clad clothes which made the young master uncomfortable. Although he respected how she usurped her mother from power after said Queen attempted to forcefully unify all kingdoms through Life Fibers, Lio could not find himself being with her. She just seemed too... aggressive.

 

After giving some time scuttling through these papers, Lio handed them back to Kray and gave a deep sigh. Deus felt that this was a signal for him to talk to his son.

 

“I…know this isn’t fun, Lio. You’re under so much pressure already, but try to think of how after next week, you’ll be crowned. And you’ll bring so much to this kingdom. I know you will.”

 

Lio kept those words in the back of his mind, his doubts still scurrying around. Before he could even respond to the king, though, he started to smell smoke outside. Not normal smoke, though. Burnish smoke.

 

He looked out the window to look for the cause. No forest fires were present, but when turned down towards the front of the car, a wave of panic fell over him. The carriage tires were melting into a puddle of rubber, causing the carriage to wobble and falter. Before he could get a word in to the others-- CRASH!

 


 

    Lio awoke to see the carriage had splintered apart and was still burning in flames. Amidst the rubble was the King and a guard, both face down, still. The young sire slowly pulled himself out of the wreckage and pulled himself up by his arms to reach his guardian. He shook the King’s body gently, his voice breaking, “F...father. You need… to get up… please…”

 

King Deus slowly moved his head, groaning in pain. Before the old man could look up to see his son one last time, though, his body was then set ablaze by a dark figure standing above him. The screams of agony coursed through Lio’s mind as he just laid there, unable to save the king, a worthless bystander of the moment.

 

Once the body was charred and lifeless, the dark figure stood closer, into the light of the fires and revealed the white clothes of the advisor himself: Kray Foresight.

 

Lio’s mind continued racing, the information overloading his emotions. Kray had Burnish powers, Kray set the carriage on fire, Kray killed Father . All three of these facts raced around Lio’s mind, his anger beginning to rise over his confusion. He would try to get up and kill Kray for what was happening, but his body remained still on the ground.

 

Kray took a moment to cool down his magic and gave a few biting words to Lio in the process. “Sorry, son. Looks like Daddy isn't waking up.”

 

The shaken sire desperately tried to speak… “Why… Kray…I won’t stand for this…”

 

Kray smirked. “Well it looks like you can’t stand at all based on your situation. Either way, the why part is easy.” His once kind expression turned more sinister. “I’m sick of playing caretaker to this kingdom. It’s time for a true man of prowess to finally have power in this world. And I won’t let a tired old coot or his lottery ticket offspring get in my way.”

 

Once Kray finished his small monologue, he cast his magic once again onto Lio. Lio struggled, but accepted that his thoughts would begin to vanish along with himself. But then, his body became warm, vibrant with the defensive flames he was familiar learning to use on himself. His whole body contained this aura that shielded him from Kray’s attack, so much so the advisor pulled back and began to angrily grumble. He had to think what to do next as a Plan B. Snap! A solution arose.

 

Kray looked straight through Lio with a vicious glare. “Well it looks like we’ll have to be a bit more… creative.

 

He snapped his fingers again. This time to signal someone else with him. A hand appeared from behind the flames of the wreckage and gave Kray what looked to be a small glass vial. The liquid within gave a greenish glow. Kray grasped the bottle with mighty force and smashed it into his fist until there was nothing left. The potion seeped into his veins and gave his magic both red and green flames. 

 

Lio couldn’t move at all, or even think, as Kray motioned his fiery energy back towards the young sire. The blast placed immense pain onto Lio, his body felt hot and agonizing. It was a though the flames were not only burning, but crushing his body. His head felt like it was being split open as he let out a massive yell. And then, after seeing nothing but a scorched white overlap his vision, all he could see was black.

 


 

Galo woke up from his nap with a twinge of pain in his chest. It was almost like a mini heart attack. But internally, it was more like his chest was scorched by a flame for a second. After a couple of sharp breaths, he looked back at his hand. The mark remained the same. He cleared his mind to the best of his ability, but still carried a sense of dread. But then the thoughts passed, and slumber appeared again.

 


 

Lio woke up to the sound of a waterfall and chirping crickets. His vision cleared to see the blur of blue on green become a bed of water under forested trees. In front of those trees though were two white figures. One an unfamiliar woman and the other…

 

“Kray Foresight.”

 

As if on cue, Kray turned around to the sound of his own name, and looked down upon Lio with a smug smirk. “I’m glad to see your awake, Lio. I hope your nap was peaceful.”

 

“You made a mistake in keeping me alive.”

 

Kray put his hand behind his ear and lowered himself towards Lio’s eye level. “What was that, you’ll have to speak more clearly… or at least in a human language, but that might be hard for you now, huh?”

 

Lio was confused. He grasped his head with his hand, but instead of finding the contact of skin, he felt the touch of feathers on his head. A light green, feathery wing, to be exact. Lio looked down at the water he laid upon, and saw in his reflection a birdlike figure. His mind thought about the books he looked at on birds and one word was all he could think. Swan . Lio was a swan.

 

As the former human looked at himself in horror, Kray began to snicker, which progressively transformed into maniacal laughter. The girl behind him shamefully just looked away.

 

Kray did his best to speak between his snickers, “Now since I know I can’t kill you with the same ability I used on King Deus, I figure another course of action would be best.” As Kray cleared his throat, along with his laughter, he motioned toward the girl behind him. From this cue, the girl revealed herself to be none other than the researcher at the palace, someone who was working with both science and magic for military or medical purposes. Kray continued his monologue as he reintroduced the woman to the bird. “Heris here helped in conducting a bit of an experiment with my magic. Her vials contain many different tricks up their sleeve and once they come in contact with my arm… well I won’t get too into the details! In short, you’ll be a swan, every day, for the rest of your miserable little life.”

 

Lio glared at Kray vehemently. He couldn’t believe all that has happened to him in the last couple of hours, but now one thing was certain, Lio despised Kray.

 

Heris felt she needed to interject and so she took a step forward into the light for just one second. “Now, Kray, there is a caveat to this ability. If Lio stands where the moonlight hits this lake, he can turn human again.”

 

Kray looked back at Heris with a violent look. The small woman jumped at the sight. She softly continued, “But of course the effect only lasts until the sun comes up…” 

 

The advisor rolled his eyes in frustration. “Well, so long as he doesn’t make it to the palace, we should be fine. Why don’t you change, Princey? I want to actually have a word with you…”

 

When the two villains were done discussing his curse, Lio looked behind him to see that he was sitting at the edge of said lake. His form, as if on command, swam towards the glistening white light that laid across the water. His wings hit the moonlight first, and immediately Lio felt a change happen to him within a matter of seconds. The water from the lake formed around him like a bubble, blurring his vision and causing him to jump up to try and prevent being completely encapsulated. When Lio opened his eyes, he found himself standing in the lake on two feet. He felt his face and saw that his wings were now hands again.

 

“Well, I guess we can talk again, so let me tell you what’s going to happen.” Lio looked back to find a menacing Kray tower over him. A strong grip pulled Lio’s shirt towards the threatening figure.

 

“I will be heading back to the palace tonight, confirming the deaths of King Deus and Lio Fotia. Once the Kingdom hears this, the people will decide who shall rule Promare. Obviously I will step in, say my piece, and the vote will unanimously go to me. That. Is. Final .”

 

Lio trembled from Kray’s statements, but managed to speak with veracity, “You’ll never rule Promare. I’ll make sure of it.”

 

Kray starts laughing again, “How exactly? You’re in an unknown forest, noone else knows your current whereabouts or if you’re even alive, and you’ll be living most of your days as a swan! Honestly kid, you are such a fool.”

 

As if the words themselves were heavy punches, Lio became bruised as Kray then threw him into the lakes rocks. The man stared at the defenseless Burnish with a new look of disgust and hatred. The advisor then dealt one final statement, “It’s only a matter of time before you vanish from the kingdom’s thoughts. I’ll look forward to watching you disappear.”

 

After one final glare, Kray turned his back on Lio whilst the once future prince kneeled in the water, frustrated and scared. He couldn’t get up, he was mentally and physically exhausted from all that happened. It wasn’t until he finally felt alone that Lio became unable to hold back his tears. As he hiccuped grunts of sadness and grief, the former heir to Promare promised himself to start finding a way out by morning. Tonight, though, he just needed to shed his despair.

 

Chapter Text

En garde.

 

Dodge. Guard. Left Jab.

 

Guard. Parry. Right Jab.

 

Dodge. Guard. Dodge. Parry.

 

Dodge. Parry. Riposte.

 

A cycle of terminology flooded Galo’s head as he worked his sword against his Commander’s attacks. Ignis continually created a new situation during each move, like playing through many permutations of a chess match. Unlike chess, though, Galo understood how to combat against his superior. Although many could gather and watch the display, impressed by this match of wits, Galo felt this was basic child’s play.

 

Training at the castle for about half a decade whilst also receiving swordsman training by his father at a young age, Galo’s goal has always been to work as a soldier for his kingdom. Protecting the people of Promare from both internal and external danger was what Galo wished to do ever since he was a child. He especially felt that Burnish were a wary threat to the kingdom ever since the Mad Burnish attacks. However, the conflicted points of a certain prince entered the soldier’s head. And he begins to have a headache.

 

Pting! Ignis caught Galo at that moment, in a stop hit. Although Galo tried to overcome it, his timing was incredibly off, and Ignis managed to pin him down.

 

“You got distracted, kid.”

 

Galo pulled himself back up. “I’m fine. Let’s continue.”

 

The same match repeated, and with it, Galo became more distracted and received more losses.

 

It was around the 50th loss that Ignis called for a break. Galo pulled himself off the ground once again and frustratedly walked towards the bench. Ignis followed after him, bringing a pail of water and two small bowl-like cups.

 

They both sat down and looked out at the field they were in, easily subdued by the vibrant plains. When their eyes were stopped upon where the castle’s acres end, Ignis looked back at Galo; a question needed to be asked. “You’ve become awfully distracted, Galo. Did you finally meet a girl?”

 

Galo began to feel the heat of embarrassment rush to his cheeks. “W-w...WHAT?! NO! NO! I HAVEN’T--”

 

Ignis began to smirk. “Kidding.” He took a sip from his cup of water. “It would be better if you share what is happening, but I won’t force you.”

 

Galo just looked down at his cup, seeing the reflection of his eyes. He looked pained. If he didn’t speak out now, he didn’t know when he would. “I’m… confused, Commander.”

 

Ignis just pulled himself closer to Galo. The soldier continued, “I’m confused about my feelings on the Burnish. I mean…Sir Lio keeps talking to me as if we haven’t been insulting and attacking each other for the past 5 years.”

 

“Do you want him to insult you?”

 

“NO! But…” Galo held onto his face in frustration, muffling frustrated moans. “I just… don’t know. I feel like thanks to him I understand the Burnish better. I don’t entirely blame them for our kingdom’s struggles.”

 

“That’s certainly a nuanced point of view I wouldn’t expect from you.” Galo looked confused and bitter at his superior. Ignis motioned for him to continue, though.

 

“My concern is… I don’t know… I’ve just been thinking about Lio’s words. About what he di-”

 

Galo held his mouth at that moment, as if to physically prevent speaking any further. No one but Gueira, Meis and him knew about what Lio placed unto him. And currently, he didn’t entirely understand, but he felt mentioning this spell to anyone outside of this group would be… shameful.

 

Ignis waited for Galo to continue, and so the soldier masked his previous statement. “All I mean is, Lio told me all this stuff and it’s just been confusing to me. Like somehow all these years of hate and rage have been ripped apart from some force… some…”

 

“Change?” Ignis finished Galo’s thought for him. Galo nodded hesitantly. Ignis sipped his cup once again. Now was the time for him to speak.

 

“I was in an incident with the Mad Burnish, kid.” Galo dropped his cup and look at Ignis with shocked intent. The commander did not stop speaking, “Back when I was your age, I was in a small unit called Burning Rescue. Our mission was simple, to defend and get the villagers to safety. I led the team, as a young soldier, inexperienced in being a commanding officer. But you learn kid, that war never waits for anything... or anyone.”

 

Ignis’s hands began to shake, the water from his cup spilling onto the grass. And yet, his expression remained stoic, his voice never faltering. “When the last hostage managed to escape, that was when he appeared. A figure cloaked in darkness, with eyes red with blood. I was a fool to let my arrogance get the better of me.” Ignis pinched the bridge of his nose, pausing to take a deep breath. “I told my squad to stand our ground; to seize this man at all costs. One by one… I watched them die. Their bodies became indistinguishable piles of ash.”

 

Galo took a breath, as if about to say something… but instead he pulled himself back.

 

“I don’t forgive myself for what happened. Those soldiers deserve to be alive right now. Instead, their names are engraved on the stone wall behind us.”

 

Galo looked back. He saw them. Remi Puguna - Varys Truss - Lucia Fex. Unfamiliar, unspoken heroes.

 

Ignis took another deep breath. “I need you to know, Galo, that even if the son of a bitch that killed them was Burnish, their vices are mine as well. And they don’t reflect the Burnish people of this kingdom one bit.”

 

The commander patted a hand onto Galo’s shoulder and leaned in. “I believe Deus picked Lio for that reason. And I trust him alongside young Lio’s judgement to bring this community together. That’s probably why Lio is getting closer to you.” Ignis pointed at Galo’s chest. “To make amends with your cold heart.”

 

Galo blushed once again, but this time he felt uneven and anxious. Did Ignis KNOW about the spell Lio put on him?! The soldier decided the best way to avoid this thought was to laugh it off, chuckling, “No way! That’s ridiculous. We’re always going to be at each other’s throats, Commander!!”

 

After a few moments of silence, Galo quietly thanked Ignis. Ignis just nodded. The two remained silent, sipping their water once more. Galo looked back at the wall behind them, looking at the engraved names. He opened his mouth, ready to tell Commander Ignis--

 

SLAM!!!

 

The back doors of the castle burst open before another utterance could be said. Galo and Ignis looked to their left in confusion, seeing a distraught and red eyed Gueira. The Burnish soldier violently searched the area, only to pinpoint his angry demeanor onto Galo. Galo just looked back in shocked confusion whilst the red head ran towards him, fist moving back for a strong punch.

 

The impact left bloodied spit to stain the stone wall. Galo held onto his jaw and began to angrily respond to Gueira. “Why would you do th-?”

 

“SHUT UP!!”

 

Galo complied immediately. This was different. Guiera didn’t usually act this upset unless it was from a fight. Something was clearly wrong.

 

As the redhead soldier did his best to dry his eyes, he got ready to punch Galo once again. Meis ran towards him, though, before another strike could be made. Gueira tried to rustle himself from Meis’s grasp, kicking and screaming at Galo, “WHY DIDN’T YOU WARN US?! YOU USELESS SACK OF SHIT!! YOU COULD’VE TOLD US!!”

 

Galo and Ignis could barely speak, they just looked back at this scene; Meis quietly trying to resolve Gueira’s emotional response, all while Gueira refused and continued his curses onto Galo. Just what was going on here?

 

And then Advisor Kray crept out from the doors. He looked disheveled, his uniform torn up and singed from what looked like heavy flames. The blonde stumbled slowly towards the four royal soldiers, and started to speak very somberly. “I...I um...I regret to tell you both that King Deus and Young Master Lio have both...been found...deceased.”

 

Deceased….

 

...deceased…

 

De...ceased…

 

The word echoed a million times in Galo’s head, the thoughts on his injured jaw fading away. As if the fire within him had vanished completely, Galo felt his heart sink into a cold abyss of dread. His mind raced back to memories of the King and, more specifically, Lio. Their first meeting. Their first fight. Their bickering insults. Their moments of healing. Until the one image remained. Of Lio closing the palace doors before leaving for the carriage. The small smile the young master gave as he left. His words, I won’t be gone long , just incessantly playing over and over in Galo’s head. He couldn’t take anymore. He needed to be alone.

 

He ran towards the stables and took his horse, Matoi, outside. The mare galloped away from the castle and onto the fields toward Galo's home village. Galo's eyes burned from the endless stream of tears. His sadness searing into his expression.

 


 


Lio woke up a swan again, his eyes irritated from tears. He wiped them away and began to focus on where he was. The whole area was foreign to him. Below he sat upon a lake, behind him a small waterfall that led to a stream. In front of him was the forest where he saw Kray and Heris confront him. The very thought of Kray’s countenance made Lio grimace. He shook the thought away and looked towards his left. 

 

That was where he saw it, a castle unbeknownst to him. The structure looked unstable in appearance, almost like a stylized image in a storybook. But unlike those in fairy tales, this castle looked incredibly grim. It appeared as a very slim tower with dark stone walls. The doors and windows themselves looked to have mold within their wooden frames. Although it looked like a visual nightmare to enter into, Lio figured it would be best to enter in there and hopefully find a map of the area.

 

And so Lio attempted to fly… and failed miserably. He managed to get a couple inches off the ground, but his wings were too foreign to him, and so he fell flat on his face. The former heir groaned as he laid on the grass. He pulled himself up, ready to try again.

 

Rustling steps on grass prevented him to complete this action, though as he faced one of his captors once again. Heris appeared before him with a meal tray. Lio sneered at the girl, wondering if she and Kray were planning something. 

 

Heris gulped at the sight, but reluctantly stepped forward towards the animal and just as quickly placed the tray in front of him as she did moving a couple of feet away from him. Lio looked down to find a plate with slices of homemade bread along with a bowl filled with what looked to be common bird seed.

 

“Due to the potion’s nature, your appetite may be more keen towards a swan’s, so… I managed to get this from the palace for you.”

 

Lio felt insulted. He used the strength of his head to throw the tray off the ground. The food flew all over the place and the dishes scattered onto the dirt. Lio leaned toward Heris as she continued backing away from him. He knew she couldn’t understand him, but he couldn’t help but rant as he continued to run towards her, ready to bat her with his wings. “You expect me to trust you with such a disingenuous offer? You terrible woman! When I return to being human, I’ll make sure you and Kray are removed and exiled from Promare, you despicable, treacherous bitch!”

 

Heris remained nervous, but immediately turned and ran away from Lio into the forest. Lio began to gain momentum and started flying off the ground for about 30 feet before falling once again. And in that time, Heris managed to run into the depths of the forest; Lio heard a noise that almost sounded like a small explosion. But when he went forward to where Heris had ran off to, he could only see a small haze of smoke. She must’ve used magic to get here. Lio huffed at the thought and turned back to where he was.

 

As he walked back to the lake, he laid into the water, thinking how he was going to get home if he could not fly or find a map in time to get out. And then he thought about his father. The smiling man who told him that one day Lio will support the Burnish and bring so much prosperity and peace to his kingdom.

 

And then he thought about the moment when he saw that same man burned alive; screaming at him. While Kray watched, with murderous joy.

 

Lio teared up a little, then closed his eyes once again. He promised himself to rest a bit longer, then once he wakes up, he’ll practice flying once again.

 


 

Galo sat atop a hill overlooking his village. His stomach gurgled, but his grief overturned the hunger into guilt. He looked down at his hand that bore the Burnish marking. It remained dormant, still the same. He kept clutching his hand, shaking it even in a sad rage, thinking to himself: Why didn’t it warn me? But then it hit him. He was warned.

 

That prior evening, whilst he was napping, he felt something painful inside him, like a burning ache. A feeling of overwhelming heat that shortly collapsed before Galo was even cognizant to even understand what was happening. That moment felt like he was just imagining it, but maybe it was actually a warning that Galo failed to even notice. Thinking about it just made the grief harder to stomach. Galo swept his tears and began to aggressively rub his fingers on the mark, wishing that Lio had never placed that responsibility onto him in the first place. He and I were never meant to be friends. We weren’t meant to be alongside each other! So why the hell can’t I get this off of me?! Why, Lio?! Just let me GO!!

 

After a few minutes, Galo stopped. His palm was chafed and red from his action, but the mark remained. A few tears fell onto his hand as he began to break from the agonizing pain. He slowly held up his hands towards his face and continued to sob.

 

“G...Galo?”

 

The sobs ceased. Galo turned towards the surprised voice to find a woman in boyish clothing looking at him. He inspected her visage as he cleared his eyes of tears, noticing familiar pinkish-red hair draping her face, bright blue eyes that reflected back like water and an innocent  expression that reminded Galo of his childhood friend. Someone he hasn’t seen since the moment he was drafted to the palace.

 

“Aina…”

 


 

CRASH! CLANG! CLUNK!

 

Meis could barely think with all the noise Gueira was making in their room. The hot headed guard was making an angry ruckus, kicking and throwing all his shit around the room, just incredibly frustrated that the “Promare heir” was gone.

 

“I’m going to kill him, Meis. The next time I see Galo Thymos, I’m going to burn him alive in front of the whole kingdom, just you watch.”

 

Well now Gueira was projecting his flames, which Meis could assume would only make things worse from here on out. He quickly walked towards Guiera to promptly blow the flames out, by clapping Gueira’s hands together. 

 

As the flames ceased whilst smoke appeared in front of their faces, Gueira winced. “...Ow…”

 

Meis began his scolding. “That’s enough, Guiera. You heard what Advisor Kray said. The king and the prince are dead. All we can do is move forward.”

 

Gueira threw himself out of Meis’s grasp, looking in shocked disgust. “How can we move forward from this? From what Kray told us, the Mad Burnish could’ve killed them and that would just make our kingdom even more scared of us. I cannot wait any longer to be on the battlefield and prove them wrong.”

 

Out of rage, Gueira conjured a fireball into his hand and threw it at the wall. He managed to hit a rope hanger that held a painting of the two guards with Lio. Meis looked back at Gueira with a forceful glare and slowly walked toward the bits of broken glass and wood. He carefully picked up the image, remembering the moment as if it had just happened. 

 

It was created around a month after they had met. Lio had shown them around the palace. Gueira was snooping around places he shouldn’t have gone while Meis stayed beside Lio. The king took them to the dining room to get their portrait taken. As they all did their best to stay still, Gueira trembling and midway forgetting to smile, Meis couldn’t help but notice when Kray entered from a subtle, almost hidden door. As the advisor walked toward the group, he told the painter to take a break before taking a seat on one of the beautifully molded dining chairs.

 

“I need to speak with you King Deus. Privately.”

 

The king promptly told Lio and the guards to walk out of the room, but Kray stopped him mid-sentence. “Sire, it would be best if Lio stayed as well.”

 

Lio looked at the king with confusion, as the king looked on towards Kray with the same expression. Kray remained stoic and still in his countenance, waving a hand to shoo off the two young guards. Meis couldn’t help but take offense to that as he walked off. Before he left the room completely, though, he watched as Lio’s face changed from puzzled to sickened.

 

The two guards just waited. And waited.

 

And waited.

 

The creaking of the dining room door signaled for them that they could come back in. Meis’s focus though was placed on how Lio appeared. Fine would be what he described it, except his expression changed. Lio, usually smiling and full of light when with his friends, carried a somber face that one would think means that the teenager has heard some bad news.

 

Meis promptly asked, “Sir Lio, is everything ok?”

 

Lio half-smiled and gave a small nod. “I’m fine. But...the King will not be joining us for this portrait. Kray says that they need to discuss if my staying here is appropriate after today’s incident with the Mad Burnish.”

 

Meis reached out, but Lio just turned away and walked back towards the end of the dining room. The two guards walked with him, taking their seats once again, the artist sat in front of them, focused on finishing this piece.

 

“Alright, young children, Sir Lio, put yourself back into position, and keep hold until I say otherwise. Ready?”

 

Meis looked at Lio, the young noble’s expression changing back into his usual smile. It amazed him how the young prince could hide his anguish in under a second. He looked back at Gueira, both quite worried as well for their friend’s situation, then they looked toward the painter, and did their best to smile back.

 

Remembering that moment triggered something in Meis. A suspicion; an impression that Kray was not who he seemed. If the king and young master truly died, what happened to their bodies? If Mad Burnish got to them, they would at least been sent back to the kingdom as charred corpses or piles of ash. But instead they were met with only the advisor. Advisor Kray. Unharmed. 

 

Meis rolled up the painting and prepared a bag onto a desk. Gueira looked at him with confusion whilst he was packing some rope and dry foods from their closet. “What are you doing?”

 

“Leaving the castle.”

 

Gueira immediately lowered his voice and spoke quickly. “You can’t do that! We’re already seen terribly as Burnish! They could think we’re behind the murders! What if we get caught by Vulcan or end up found guilty of treason by Advisor Kray?”

 

Meis heaved his pack on to his back and swiftly turned towards his partner. “I don’t care. I’m getting out of here to find King Deus and Sir Lio.”

 

Gueira remained upset by what his friend was saying, and so his volume got louder as a result. “Are you crazy?! They’re gone, Meis!! If you did find them, they could be in the Mad Burnish’s lair!! How would you fight back?! You’ll just be another tick in their body count at that point!!”

 

Meis placed a hand over his friend’s mouth and listened for anyone nearby.

 

 

No one there.

 

Meis dropped his hand and promptly whispered. “I’m pretty sure something is very wrong here. Think, Gueira. Kray has been acting awfully weird lately. He returned with no injuries whatsoever. Usually, Mad Burnish attacks humans over other Burnish. Even if Lio is dead, Kray would’ve joined the death toll as well.”

 

Gueira thought about it, but remained a bit unconvinced. “Mad Burnish doesn’t care who dies. Kray probably just got lucky.”

 

Meis sighed. “Look, I don’t care if you don’t want to join me; I’ll work on finding the King and Sir Lio on my own if I have to.” He grabbed a map from behind the desk, and walked towards the window, checking first to make sure no one was around.

 

Gueira processed all that he could about this situation, but still remained short of what Meis somehow discovered. Even so, the thought of searching for Lio either way encouraged him to say the next thing. “I’ll join you.”

 

Meis looked back at Gueira. Gueira just as quickly grabbed his equipment, including his sword. Meis smiled and nodded, ready to jump outside and head for the horse stalls.

 

Both grabbed their steeds, Dallas and Miami, and hauled themselves out into where they last heard Lio and the King were headed. Towards the Enchanted Fire Forest.


The two guards were nervous, but they both remained calm and repeated a two word mantra in their thoughts.

 

No Fear

 

Chapter Text

Galo sat himself upon sacks of flour as Aina started wrapping his head with gauze. Sometimes he felt jolts of pain from the jaw, but Aina just told him to remain still as she finished wrapping.

 

Aina teased. “I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you’d be at the castle, training to be the best soldier Promare has ever seen! Or did you go back on your promise?” 

 

Galo rubbed his cheek and gave a half-smile. “I’m still working on that! Just you wait!” He pointed at Aina with vigor before pointing back at himself with similar energy. “I’ll be in my own history book before I retire from Promare’s knighthood.”

 

Aina blushed at Galo’s behavior. Galo remained his eager self for a few seconds before realizing he should probably stop gloating and continue his recovery. As he did so, a womanly voice musically chimed from across the home.

 

“Aina! Don’t forget about the rolls in the oven!”

 

“Okay, Mom!” Aina turned away hurriedly and grabbed the wooden peel leaning against a wall. She went around the counter of her kitchen and began to open the steel doors of her oven. The smell of butter and honey wheat flowed through the space as Aina reached with her peel to bring out a dozen rolls of baked bread. As the girl began to quickly place everything back where it was, Galo couldn’t help but ask.

 

“Do you enjoy making bread with your parents, Aina?”

 

Aina was surprised at such a question, but she answered. “Well… yeah. It’s a family business. Plus with Heris working at the palace all the time, it would be a shame for me to leave mom and dad alone.”

 

Galo continued to ponder. “Yeah, but do you enjoy being here?”

 

Aina was once again surprised at her friend’s pressing question. She moved her hair to the back of her ear whilst just repeating the same response. “Yeah… what’s not to like? I’m safe as long as I remain in this village. Heris and you will protect me, right?”

 

She gave a very small smile. Galo hesitated, but continued to press, “You don’t seem very happy being here is all. I remember… you use to have dreams of joining the guard with us. But after Heris left…”

 

“It’s fine.” Aina’s words stabbed through the air with serious intent. She wasn’t yelling, but she definitely was very curt and upset. She kept her head down, looking at her hands as they tugged her apron for comfort. “I’m fine... Galo. Let’s just change the subject, ok?”

 

As that conversation ended, silence overtook the warm kitchen once again. Aina continued to put away her tools and also started cleaning up the kitchen by wiping the counters. Galo just continued to look back at his hand again. The mark still there, a black fiery shaped etched into his mind.

 

“Aina. Did you think you could ever been friends with a Burnish before?”

 

Aina slowly stopped like a clock, mid-rotation of scrubbing one of the counters. She looked up at Galo in, once again, complete surprise. But she did her best to completely respond back. “Maybe. I’ve never really met one. This village doesn’t allow them, remember?”

 

Galo continued, “Well… do you think that a human could… fall in love with one?”

 

Aina just stopped cleaning altogether and headed back toward Galo. She thought to herself, Is this really Galo Thymos? Why would he think of being in love with a Burnish?

 

“I… don’t know...Honestly Galo, is anything else in your body broken? Do you want me to take you to a doctor?”

 

Galo just stopped Aina in her tracks before she did anything more. But as he motioned her to stop, Aina noticed his hand. And she immediately prodded him about it. “Where’d you get this mark?”

 

Embarrassed, Galo hid the hand from sight and tried his best to come up with an excuse. “Umm… from smoking? I tried it for the first time with some soldiers and accidently put the cigarette out with my hand.” He tried his best to chuckle about his fake stupidity, hoping Aina would believe him just this once.

 

She remained unphased, giving a deep sigh and heading towards the counter with the freshly baked rolls to break one off. As Aina handed the bread to Galo, she gave a suspicious eye before saying, “Seriously...If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. Just don’t get yourself into trouble, Kay?”

 

Galo took the food from her generous grasp and after thanking her, proceeded to take a hefty bite. CRUNCH! The sound of gritted teeth and cracked jaw pierced Galo internally as he gave a loud “OW!” at what he just placed upon himself. Aina remembered what she just did as well. Before giving a quick apology though, she was cut off by the sound of crackling fire.

 

A flame appeared on Galo’s mark and began to trail off his hand towards his broken jaw. The greenish fire centered on the area of pain, giving off a familiar heat that Galo remembered the first time Lio healed him. And within a couple of seconds, the flame just as quickly rushed back into Galo’s mark. Both him and Aina were in complete shock at what just happened.

 

But even more surprising to Galo… his jaw didn’t hurt anymore. He was pretty much completely healed once again. Aina gave a surprised look, ready to prod Galo on what they saw.

 

DONG!

 

 

DONG!

 

“Oh Crap! I need to head back to my quarters before sundown.” Galo removed his bandages, stuffed the bread into his mouth and just as quickly finished it, then grabbed his gear and ran off towards Matoi.

 

“Thanks for everything, Aina! I’ll visit you again, I promise, and explain everything!”

 

The horse and the thick-headed guard riding it diminished from Aina’s sight as she breathed a heavy sigh once again. She needed to process what had just occurred, but it just seemed way too crazy to figure out at this moment.

 

She looked back to the messy counters, still needing to be cleaned. As she continued back onto the one she was still wiping flour off of, she discovered something more detailed than the usual stone countertop. It was a small picture she drew of herself and her sister when she was little. The figures were very rudimentary, but the small markings of a white coat and scribbles of a short bob instantly recognized to her what she envisioned her sibling as. A genius, a protector, an honest friend and most importantly: a sister.

 


 

Heris studied her recent experiment of what she now written boldly in her notes as Animalia Exilir 09.25. She read through her materials repeatedly to understand what caused the mixture to only keep the victim in another form for a temporary time, and at trivial conditions at that. It then occurred to her what the problem was: one of her ingredients was an aphrodisiac, which could potentially affect Lio’s curse along with having a possible reversal of the spell that she didn’t allocate. As she scribbled these hypotheses and deductions into the parchment, Vulcan bursts into her chamber, nearly breaking the wooden door down. Heris remained locked in place, waiting nervously for what the Commander had to say.

 

“Two of our guards left their rooms and escaped the castle. The two Burnish ones at that. Best let Kray know, Heris.”

 

She gave a firm nod as Vulcan slowly closed the door with a metallic claw of armor. He grumbled to himself, “It’s a shame me and my team can’t eliminate the guards. But I guess it’s Kray’s Business.”

 

Once the man had vanished from sight, Heris quickly put together her new mixture sans the certain ingredient to create, hopefully, the elixir that would keep people in their animal state indefinitely. The mixture changed colors from vile green to a violent red as the researching mage bottled up the liquid, readying it for Kray’s next victim. She then grabbed some black chalky power from a small bowl and poured it into an open flame. She uttered, “Where are guards Gueira and Meis?”

 

The fire changed into the smoky black color then dispersed to create an image of the Enchanted Forest. The trees of the forest sped past as Heris locked her sights on the two missing guards riding their horses, heading towards where the broken carriage remained, five miles ahead of them. As the smoke began to dissipate, the woman ran out of the room, hurriedly putting on her white robe and grabbing the proper potions needed for this task, and dashed towards where she assumed Kray would be, the dining room.

 

As she haphazardly opened the door, purposefully vocalizing, “Advisor Kray, there’s an issue I need you to help resolve”, Heris failed to realize what she had just done. The room echoed her previous statement with great reverberation, as a group of village councilman sat still and astounded at what had just happened. Kray remained at the back of the table, staring with vicious daggers at his subordinate. His chair screeched with the ground as he slowly moved back, excused himself from his compatriots and more quickly walked towards the scared scientific mage with vexation.

 

As the doors of the dining room closed, Kray began to open his eyes and look down upon his lackey with intense disapproval. “May I ask why you decided to interrupt an important meeting in such an unprofessional manner?”

 

The researcher shuffled nervously, but did her best to remain collected and purposeful. “Vulcan discovered that the two Burnish Guards have left the castle.”

 

Kray gave a look of questionable disgust. “Why does it matter if they left, Heris? They could die in a ditch for all I care. This meeting is very paramount to Promare’s future. Do you not understand that?”

 

Heris flinched at Kray’s cold demeanor, but remained quietly composed. “I do sir, but I checked through the Location Dust. They are heading into Fire Forest, sir. Within the next hour they’ll be at the carriage.”

 

Kray began to look sickened in his expression. He was so busy planning his mission, he failed to think if there were people suspicious of him. His mind began to inflame with rage of making such an incredulous mistake, almost wanting to just burn the castle down to the ground. But he calmed himself. He breathed slowly. He remembered there were people waiting in the dining room to hear his thoughts on how to fix the kingdom’s issues. Only his thoughts. Not Deus’s. Not Lio’s. Just his.

 

Once again. It was time to be creative.

 

“Keep an eye on those two. If they find Lio’s location or anything against us, get ready to leave.”

 

Heris wasn’t sure if this was the best idea. “Are you sure we should wait this long?”

 

Kray’s fiercely pointed at the dining room doors with his eyes remaining locked on his persistent insubordinate; the red glare signaled to the girl that she spoke too much. “Promare’s future is currently at stake in that room, Heris. If I don’t speak now, it may take even longer to reach what we want for our people. Do you understand that?” His last statement was the venomous bite that petrified the girl still. “Do you want Aina to become another victim?”

 

Heris gave a small, disapproving nod. Kray continued. “Then quit wasting time! Go watch those two guards. If they find something they shouldn’t have, let me know!”

 

He promptly headed back into the dining room, his voice boomed eager charisma, apologizing to his guests about what he called a “false alarm”. Heris headed back towards her post, heading towards the warm embers once more. She grabbed an adequate of her Location Dust, the light, sandy substance shaking from her trembling hand. And as she sprinkled the material into the blaze she took a deep breath. And remembered what all this was for. Her family. Her sister. Aina.

 

“Keep Location on Gueira and Meis.”

 


 

The horses whinnied when the two guards reached 90 miles of ground. As they set foot on the dirt path, the two gazed at the disturbing sight before them. The carriage that they usually saw carrying the King and his son now broken apart. Wood chips sprinkled across the ground like confetti, the wheels now melded into the earth as four rubbery mounds. The spokes have splintered as well, like makeshift spikes. The sight sickened the two and gave them a more overwhelming sense of dread than they had when starting this trek.

 

They slowly stepped closer towards what was behind the carriage body as the smell of decay and burnt flesh infested their senses. It was the single image of black hands reaching out towards the sky that twisted Gueira’s face into immediate pain. Meis flinched, but remained observant in his efforts. He saw one body, that of one of the guards in their squadron. Someone who they rarely spoke to but knew was an earnest and kindhearted man. It was a shame he was burdened with such a fate.

 

Another body laid next to the guard; it’s corpse laid in very regal attire. Not much could be said about its appearance. The body was burned badly that it was more recognizable as a skeletal frame than that of a recently deceased individual. But the height of the figure and the remains of what looked like a beard instantly struck to Meis who it was.

 

“King Deus.”

 

Gueira muffled a yell through his hands. It was unbearable to have suspicion confirmed like this. But Meis did his best to calm him down and continued to look around the area.

 

There are only two bodies.

 

Two.

 

“Lio isn’t here, Gueira.”

 

Gueira started to calm his breathing. “Okay… that’s good to hear… but how can we find him?”

 

Meis kneeled down at where the bodies laid. He looked for specific clues, anything that could inch them closer to Lio’s location. And he found it… in the form of Lio’s glove. He picked it up and showed the item to Gueira. “We’ll find him with this.”

 

Gueira immediately knew what Meis meant and smirked. “I always forget what you can do, Meis. Glad to see it finally getting some use!”

 

Meis rolled his eyes at that comment and began to channel his energy with his breath. He blew a small flame onto the glove, allowing it to stick like glue. As he slowly stood back up, he then channeled his power into his open hand. He grabbed the flame once more and began turning around. He kept this motion going until the flame began to point like an arrow on a compass to a path within the depths of the woods. Once he found where to look, he put the glove in his pocket and underhandedly threw the fire into the forest. The result created a trail of the same bright blue blaze that chased deeper into what appeared to be an endless void of darkness.

 

“Looks like we’ll be riding for a while. Keep an eye out.”

 

Gueira nodded as they went back to Dallas and Miami. The two galloped as fast as they could, keeping the same mantra of No Fear at the back of their minds. But more importantly, they thought of one thing.

 

Please be Safe, Sir Lio.

 


 

Galo placed Matoi back in her stable and carefully entered the back of the castle to sneak into his bedroom. As quietly as he tried to be to reach his quarters, out of the corner of the hallway was Vulcan. Vigilant and violently tempered. A metal claw grasped Galo’s throat against the stone wall, as sharp teeth spoke bitterly to its victim.

 

“Where were you these past 8 hours, vermin? I’m not sure if you realize this, but as a knight, you are not allowed to leave unless instructed. Especially in such a dire time like this.” The grasp clutched closer to Galo’s neck, almost piercing his throat. “Perhaps you need to be made an example.”

 

Choking, writhing, desperately attempting to speak up, Galo was nearly losing his breath in this moment. But then a familiar man in white garb appeared from the shadows. “That’s enough, Commander Vulcan. We’ve all had a rough day. Let’s give this soldier some space.”

 

“Tch!” was all Vulcan could get out before dropping Galo from his chokehold and walking away with a scowl upon his face. The kind man offered a hand towards the soldier and Galo gladly accepted it. “Thank you, Advisor Kray. But I do have to apologize for leaving my post. The news… was a bit of a shock.”

 

Kray gave a kind smile and just nodded. “I understand. It’s been tough on all of us. Just be sure to warn your Commanders before performing such a leave again. Vulcan has been especially observant now that two of his men have left the castle and failed to return.”

 

Galo ears were burning. “You mean two other soldiers left as well?”

 

Kray gave a serious nod. “Yes, the Burnish guards that were drafted around the same time as you. I’m sure you know them.”

 

The statements immediately made Galo’s heart grow cold. He felt guilt stir up his spirit once more as he fell into sunken thoughts that just overlapped incessantly in his brain. Maybe they left to look for me. Is Gueira still upset? Are they going to kill me? Or maybe they’re plotting something even worse. I should’ve just stayed and sorted things out with them. I’m terrible. What have I done? I may have set the Burnish off. I can’t take anymore of this.

 

A hand on his shoulder stopped the thoughts almost immediately. He looked up to find Kray giving him a look of endearment. The advisor voiced concern, “It’s been a long day, Galo. Get some rest. And don’t think too much about where those soldiers are. We’ll find them and make sure they don’t do anything reckless.”

 

Galo paused as he looked up at Kray, processing his words and using them to cover up worry and fears. After taking a breath, he gave his thanks to his advisor. Kray smiled back and said his goodbyes to Galo. As the two parted ways, Galo remained warmly grinning; Kray’s face reverted back into a scowl. His red eyes piercing through the hall shadows.

 


 

The two guards were nearing the end of the trail to what they hoped would be the future prince. As they reached the last remnants of magic, both became immediately awestruck at the beautiful sight before them. It was a secluded area outside of the kingdom, where a small castle lay behind a beautiful lake and waterfall. The grass was a bright green and the lake shone like diamonds. What really interested the boys, though, was seeing a light green swan that was sleeping in the lake. 

 

Gueira was the first to run out from the trees. Meis sighed as he walked out as well to investigate. The flames he created to reach this destination vanished in sight as his concentration was thwarted by his partner’s stupidity.

 

“LIO? SIRE? ARE YOU HERE? CALL FOR HELP IF YOU’RE IN DANG—“

 

Meis placed his hands around Gueira’s mouth, then whispered, “Will you be quiet ? We don’t know whose castle this is or if anyone else is even listening , so just keep your mouth shut, for the prince’s safety.”

 

Gueira gave a thumbs up as Meis let go. “Sorry. But don’t you think this is suspicious? I mean… why is this castle even here? Someone must be scheming something towards our kingdom and I bet it has something to do with Lio’s disappearance.”

 

“Hmmm, You may be right.” Meis pondered on these thoughts whilst Gueira used this opportunity to mess with Mother Nature.

 

SPLASH!! The guard slams his feet into the water, and throws some from the lake on Meis’s face. The swan instinctively awakens and hisses at the man momentarily, but then stops after its glance, staring at the two guards, surprised.

 

Meis slaps Gueira at the back of the head, “Be careful, jackass. You shouldn't mess around in front of animals like that. Keep your focus on finding the prince rather than doing something so stupid."

 

“Oof...Sorry!”

 

Gueira trudged through the water and walked around it with Meis to go forth on their investigation. But then they began to hear volatile splashing behind them. When they turn back, they find the swan beginning to panic, flailing its wings around.

 

Meis questions, “Did you freak it out too much?”

 

“I hope not! I’d rather not have an angry bird chase us out when we’re so close to finding Sir Lio.”

 

Meis began to kneel down towards the creature, and suddenly the swan became calm. “Huh. He must like me.” Gueira rolled his eyes.

 

Meis continued, “Look buddy, I’m sorry about what my friend did to you, but if you could let us through without trouble, we’ll make sure never to disturb you again.”

 

The swan just stared at him.

 

The blue haired soldier sighed in disbelief, “Why am I talking to a swan? Let’s go, Gueira.”

 

“Roger!”

 

As Meis got back on his feet and turned around, ready to continue the investigation, he started to see a familiar… glow, coming from behind him. Meis remained still, turning back around. 

 

As his friend had stopped in his tracks, Gueira groaned, “Now what?”, only to also look back and become shocked upon the sight.

 

His eyes fell upon an image of bright green and pink flames, formed as wings. They hovered over the lake and remained still. It was breathtaking, angelic. But also familiar.

 

Meis observed and brought himself back towards the lake. He kneeled back down; his eyes looked deeply towards the bird’s, seeing that the creature is looking at him earnestly, as if hoping the man has figured out what it was. Then, in a blink, the flames absorbed back into the swan and its eyes brightly lit up in an uncommon color. Purple .

 

Like the Prince’s Eyes.

 

“Prince Lio...”

 

Gueira looked at Meis with confusion. “Excuse me?”

 

Although confirmed, Meis could not believe what he saw. “There’s no way… I mean how would…”

 

Silence pierced the lake for a couple moments. The moon began to rise. Meis put his thoughts into action and grabbed the swan from the lake. Lio immediately started to violently move away from Meis’s grasp.

 

“What. Are. You. Doing, Sire? We need to get you back to the palace. Maybe there is a Burnish in the kingdom that has the power to change you back. We just have to speak to--”

 

“Soldiers, what are you doing here?”

 

The voice echoed loudly and placed the two guards still. Lio, however, flew out of Meis’s arms and blocked the two with his tiny form. He began to hiss at the man who entered from the shadows of the forest. Kray.

 

Meis stared at Kray with bewilderment. Why was Kray here? This place was incredibly far from the palace. Unless he… followed us. Meis’s thoughts processed these statements carefully and soon a certain one entered his mind. He might be behind Lio’s disappearance. Under pressure of answering, the soldier cleared his throat and spoke to act casually. “We, umm, are looking for Lio and thought we found a trail leading to him here.”

 

Gueira encouraged the answer, “Yeah, that’s right! We followed the trail from the carriage to this area! That’s how we got here.”

 

Kray remained stoic, “I see. Well, I’m afraid you need to head back to the palace. Commander Vulcan is waiting for you. I know you’ve made some impressive developments so far, but don’t worry, I’ll take care of it from here.”

 

The two soldiers gulped for air but didn't want to leave Lio alone. So both stayed still and stood their ground.

 

Meis responded first. “I’m sorry, Advisor Kray, but we can’t leave our future Highness in jeopardy like this. We can join you if you allow it.”

 

Gueira curtly replied, “Yeah! We aren’t leaving without Lio.”

 

Kray started getting annoyed, initiating his second warning, “I understand you both have a bond with the young prince, but it’s best if you two went back to the kingdom and helped serve the royal guard. That’s an order.”

 

The two guards remained in place. All they could think were if they don’t do something now, they could be in complete trouble by the end of Kray’s next statement. They both looked at Lio and then each other with a familiarity; They remembered their days practicing at the training grounds with the prince, sparring and imaging scenarios of how to utilize their abilities. Meis and Gueira gave themselves a look of pure confidence, then nodded at each other. It was time to use that experience in the real world.

 

Gueira channeled his power to his sword, swinging in the air and instantly blasting two bright orange bolts towards Kray’s head. The advisor instinctively ducked whilst Meis grabbed Lio once again. Both guards followed to the best of their abilities back to where the abandoned carriage was. Meis ran through the instructions in his head. Sharp left. Lead Straight. Make a right at the stone pillars. Head north until you reach the road. But the road never appeared. Just the lake. And the castle once more.

 

What? ...Ok try again. Sharp left. Lead Straight.  Right at the stone pillars. North until you reach the road.

 

WHOOSH!

 

The lake appeared again.

 

Left. Straight. Make a right at the stone pillars. Head north unti-

 

WHOOSH!

 

The lake was there once more.

 

Both guards were out of breath when they reached back to their starting point for a third time. Meis’s eyes were wide and held such concern. “I...I thought I knew the way...what’s going on?”

 

“You two really don’t know anything.”

 

Kray reentered the guard’s field of vision as the two guards felt their bodies become weakened by what they could’ve sworn was Burnish magic. But who else but the Burnish could contain such power? Their answer was in the form of an angered advisor.

 

“You two really shouldn’t have crept your nose into my business. Heris?”

 

The pink haired woman in robes entered from the forest’s darkness and handed the advisor a vial, which the man thusly smashed into his hand. Amidst the broken glass emerged a flare of red hot fire that coursed through Kray’s hand and coiled its way towards Meis and Gueira.

 

Meis dropped Lio from his hold. Although the two guards tried their best to duck from the attack, the flames eventually made contact with their skin. And so the lost prince was forced to watch the two guards be dealt a terrible fate, their two figures screaming in agony. Their forms became transmogrified into smaller creatures with rounded ears, small tails and tiny little paws. When the magic finally thinned out, Lio looked beyond the smoke to find two passed out mice, one with a long blue coat and the other with fringed, fluffy red fur. Kray grabbed a rag from Heris to rub off any remaining drops from the vial off his hand.

 

“Now their curse doesn’t have any...  conditions , does it Heris?”

 

The woman shook her head meekly, “No sir, they’ll remain mice.”

 

“Good to hear.” He handed her the cloth and then marched forward towards the cursed creatures. 

 

He grabbed the two mice from Lio’s sight and with a wide arm, chucked their despondent bodies into the lake. Lio was shaken by the shock and began frantically waddling towards his friends. Kray just laughed at the silly thought of seeing this bird desperately trying to reach...  drowned vermin.

 

The villain wiped a tear from his eye and concluded, “Their deaths were a little… excessive, but that’s what happens when you mess with destiny. Let’s go back, Heris. We’ve got some work to do.”

 

The advisor then saluted goodbye to the swan as he and his researcher walked out of the evening light and back into an inky portal. But as that happened, Lio just surged into the cold lake, onto a spot where the moonlight hits it exactly. The waters spun like whirlpools around him, transforming his body in the process. Feathers returned to fingers and Lio continued to swim the depths; his eyes locked onto his friends, reaching out as much as he could. The two rodents remained still and so the prince found it easy to hold them once he reached them, and proceeded move back towards the surface.

 

SPLASH! Silence was quickly thrashed with the sound of water and choked breathing by Lio. He treaded through the waters and softly laid the two rodents onto a hilly part of grass. As he managed to gasp some air, Lio desperately used his magic to get his companions to breathe again. He pressed two fingers onto each of their chests, each small spark glowing brightly, but quickly fading as well.

 

The worry began to bring incredible stress onto the prince. His eyes couldn’t bear to well up at the thought of failing to save his loved ones again. After a few attempts, Lio began to kneel in fetal position. He held himself in silence. And he nearly broke once more.

 

GASP! A pained choke of air awoken him from this state. He quickly turned back and saw that the blue mouse had begun to breathe for air. KUH! Followed by the red mouse turning towards his side, coughing up water from his throat.

 

After gaining a couple breaths, the two mice became conscious once more and suddenly aware of their new forms. They looked at their bodies in shock. Gueira more vocal about it than Meis. “WHERE ARE MY HANDS?! OI… KRAY! WHAT DID YOU TO US?! COME BACK AND SHOW YOURSELF! YOU BASTARD!!!”

 

Lio huffed and looked back at his friends whilst they were trying to comprehend how they were no longer human. He began to tear up, which caused the guards to look up and see their prince. Finally.

 

Their thoughts on themselves ceased and they began to run, or tried to run, towards their liege. Meis spoke first in relief, “Sire. You’re alright. Thank God.”

 

Lio continued his tears. Gueira spoke towards him as well, “Oi, Sire? You OK?”

 

Meis brought his thoughts up vocally, “Perhaps he can’t understand us when we’re animals. Much like we couldn’t when he was a swan.”

 

“No, I can.” Lio spoke through his tears, looking at his friends with sorrow. “I’m… I’m just sorry. I didn’t know what to do to warn you. I should’ve just stayed quiet, then you two wouldn’t be in an even bigger mess than me.”

 

Gueira squeaked. “Well I’m at least glad that we can finally understand each other.”

 

Meis chimed in, “You have nothing to apologize for, my liege. We wanted to find you, and we’ll do all we can to send you back home… with or without thumbs.”

 

Both guards bowed their heads towards their liege. Lio gave a surprised look, then smiled at the two rodent guards, as Gueira continued, “Umm… but if you could explain how we’re all animals and not dead, that would help a lot…”

 

Lio looked at his two guards, who remained confident in the future monarch, even if they were about the size of his index finger. Lio smiled and began to take a breath, ready to tell his story so far.

Chapter Text

Two days had passed since the curse reached Meis and Gueira, but in that time they managed to understand their current situation alongside Lio. The two mice scurried throughout the forest and found that within a 20 mile radius, they are warped back to the lake as if they had never left. It left Gueira a dizzy mess as they reached this conclusion, but nonetheless it was important information.

 

Meanwhile, Lio continued practicing flight, gradually learning how to gain altitude and balance himself while flying. At one point, Gueira asked if he could ride on Lio’s back… for observing from a higher ground. Lio smiled at this request and allowed both him and Meis to grab hold onto his back whilst they flew upwards, circling their current ‘home’. It was tragic for them to see the forest as their current ward, but they still couldn’t help but admire the beauty it holds. It was as if the landscape gave an omniscient hold on its observers, cascading their sight into nature’s bountiful exuberance.

 

When the sun set once more, and the moon came back into view, Lio made a slow and graceful landing on the lake’s waters. The water formed that familiar orb around his body and grew as he did, back into his human form. His shoulders held the two mice, each trailing down his arm into his hand. Lio placed them on the edge of the lake to rest just as he needed to.

 

Gueira broke the silence, “Man! That was one hell of a ride! Thanks, Sir Lio!” He burrowed himself in the grassy hill enough to where he was comfortable, and just as quickly dozed off.

 

Lio smiled at the sight, then proceeded to be lost in his thoughts. He sat on the edge alongside his companions, his ankles still soaked in the lake. Meis proceeded towards him and asked, “Are you ok, Sire?”

 

The noble placed his thoughts into words. “Heris's magic is the reason we’re trapped as we are. There needs to be a way for us to find her or some of her research to reverse some of these spells.”

 

Meis kept this thought in mind and looked back at the castle hovering over them. “Do you think there could be notes in that tower?”

 

Lio speculated, “Positive, but it could be dangerous to enter the place without warning. Heris can practically view us at anytime and just as instantly teleport to where we are. If there is something we can use to escape this purgatory, it would take a lot of planning to ensure she doesn’t know and warn Kray about it.”

 

The prince held his forehead in complete frustration. Meis ran towards the stressed teen and placed his paws on his thigh in consolation. “Gueira and I have a saying from our childhood that have always carried us once we were drafted. No Fear. It’s what prevents us from losing ourselves when moments become tense or terrifying to even think about. So for now, Sir Lio, rest up. We’ll plan for what’s ahead tomorrow.”

 

The small blue mammal looked up at Lio with determination, and so Lio affirmatively nodded back. As they both laid back and began drifting to sleep, Lio kept the motto at the back of his mind. No fear, huh? Such a simple phrase. But remarkable. 

 


 

Thwip!

 

Another arrow hit its mark on the target, inching closer to the bullseye. Galo pulled another from his quiver and took a steady breath. His hands still trembled but once he locked onto the red dot in the center, he became relaxed and let go of the arrow.

 

Thwip!

 

He was almost there, it was a little too far from the right. But before he could grab another arrow, a familiar charisma distracted him.

 

“Impressive, soldier.” Clapping boomed from white gloves as a proud Kray applauded Galo alone for his current training. “I must say, you’ve made incredible progress in the past couple of days. But I have to wonder if you’re still mentally fit for battle.”

 

Galo smiled back at the advisor, scratching his nose instinctively, “It’s nothing, Sir!” But then his thoughts went back to Kray’s previous statement, and so he became a bit more serious. “I’m feelin’ a lot better than I was before; positive! But I’ve also discovered something important that I think could really help our kingdom.”

 

Kray stretched in eyebrow. “Really? Tell me more.”

 

They sat at the bench as Galo pulled from his bag an old, leather-bound book. Etched into the material was, in calligraphic writing: “THE HISTORY OF MAD BURNISH”. Kray remained straight-faced as Galo opened the volume and searched for a particular page, explaining himself for why he had the book, “So I snuck into the study after our last talk and did some digging into what could’ve caused the incident. I know that was wrong of me and that this book shouldn’t really be in my hands, but after skimming through some of the pages, I think I know who the Mad Burnish was that killed the King and Prince and how we can find them.”

 

An index finger pointed to an image of a phoenix: a mythical being that haunted the very page it was illustrated in. Kray remained stoic and a bit confused at this development, “Are you saying it’s whoever projected this creature?”

 

Galo shook his head and continued to point at the image. “I’m saying the culprit is the bird himself.” He flipped back to another page very quickly and pointed to another image of a clawed hand. The inhuman hook was surrounded in flame, directing it’s violent pose towards illustrated images of three armored knights. “Several years ago, three soldiers were killed by what their Commander described as a figure shrouded in darkness with red eyes. The book says even more about it though. How the survivors of the incident saw bird claws, scales-- even horns.”

 

Kray looked up from the book towards Galo with semi-frustration. “So the person that attempted to kill me is a Burnish who can shapeshift into bizarre creatures of unknown appearance?”

 

Galo gave a naive nod, thinking Kray is taking him seriously. “Exactly! There are multiple examples in this book where people were attacked or killed by this beast. Many have tried to describe its appearance, but there is no clear answer. It could be anything… or anyone.”

 

Kray breathed out heavily, but began humoring Galo a bit more, “So if it’s shape can change into anything, then how do you know we can find this mysterious being?”

 

The soldier went back into his back to haphazardly unfold a map from his quarters. The wrinkled paper contained writings that scrawled across the page and were so incoherent, one would think a mad man had made them. Distinct from the chicken scratch, though, a gigantic circle scribbled around a certain quadrant drew eyes in. “We can look exactly where you were attacked: Fire Forest! It’s the only place I know of that can hold different animals and creatures, AND it’s the place where a majority of these attacks happened.”

 

Galo looked up at Kray, giving a confident smile as he concluded his explanation. “Therefore, I would like to make it my mission to go there and see if I can find anything that could lead me to the culprit!”

 

Kray remained silent for a bit before exhaling another breath and taking the book off the bench and placing it under his arm. “Galo, I am sorry for getting your hopes up… but I won’t allow this mission.”

 

The young soldier’s mouth opened in shock as he tried to defend his goal. “Advisor Kray, if you could provide information on what you saw, I will gladly go out there to find out about this being.” He gripped his quiver and bow with pride. “I believe more than ready to find and finish the Mad Burnish threat once and for all. Don’t you think so?”

 

Kray turned away and stood up from his seat, not even looking at Galo directly. “I’m not changing my answer. You are completely wrong about this. All I remember was a man in the shadows. Nothing more. No claws, wings, or horns. Just a human figure that ran from his crime.”

 

He continued his speech with an almost violent, yet concerned tone. “And more importantly, you cannot go there and get yourself killed! I FORBID IT!”

 

Galo held his left arm in comfort as Kray yelled out these words. He never experienced the Advisor speaking so aggressively. The silence diluted Kray’s tone, “I won’t speak to the Commanders about your transgressions… but you are to never leave this castle unless ordered to. Understand?”

 

The words cut deep, but Galo trusted them. “Yes, Advisor.”

 

Kray remained with his back turned against Galo, and gave a small nod. He walked back into the castle just as Galo stayed seated on the bench. 

 

The soldier pressed his hands against his face as the thoughts of Lio crept back in. He just couldn’t stop thinking about the noble and wondering about the mark that was placed on him. It healed him. He felt it. But did this mean anything or is the magic just… doing its job?

 

Lio . Galo thought to himself. I’m sorry. I don’t think I can avenge you. Or King Prometh. Not yet.

 

He breathed the sweet air around him, grabbing some semblance of calm once again, then rushed back up. Right! Back to Practice.

 


 

Heris gave a warm smile as she stared at the parchment she received from royal post. It smelled of baked bread and lilac, carrying an insignia of the Ardebit initials. Opening it brought Heris joy as she has patiently waited to hear from her sister for a couple of months. She read to herself as if Aina were sitting right in front of her:

 

      To My Best Sister Heris,

How’s your research job at the palace? Mom, Dad and I miss you so much. I’m still baking for them, but have also been working delivery across the villages. Traveling around them is so much fun. I wish I could go out and see the other kingdoms as well. Even visiting a Burnish community seems like an adventure!

Anyway, do you remember a boy named Galo Thymos? He’s currently serving Promare’s knighthood, but I wanted to know if he was doing alright. He doesn’t write often and I never know if he even receives my letters over there. If you could, please ask him for me what’s going on. Has he rec Nevermind…

Again, hope to hear from you soon! Love you, sis!

     - Aina

 

The message was a bit all over the place, but Heris still appreciated Aina’s sentiment. She placed the letter among the others she received over several years and then grabbed a piece of parchment on the other side of her along with some blue ink.

 

        Aina,

It’s always great to hear from you! My work is going great! Hopefully, with the new advancements I’m working on, our kingdom will be much more peaceful. 

I know you want to explore the world, but I would advise against it. Someday, though, once the violence ends and the kingdom’s under control, I promise to take you to the castle and guide you anywhere you wish. Just...wait until then, please.

As for Galo, I’m not entirely sure about him. I hardly have time to meet with anyone under the knighthood. I’ll do my best to send him your message, though. Just don’t get all flustered if he happens to send you a letter in return. I remember your little crush on him, after all.

Give Mom and Dad my love, Sis! Stay Safe.

       - Heris

 

She folded the paper and placed it into an envelope, adding the Promare insignia on it as a final touch, before heading out of her nook towards the postal service. But as she opened her door, a familiar figure loomed over her, giving a look of complete apathy upon her.

 

“I see your sister has sent you a message, Heris.” A white glove heavily placed itself upon Heris’s shoulder, startling the woman. The voice continued, in a more sinister tone, “Before you send your letter, though, may I have a quick word with you?”

 

Heris gulped air down her throat and proceeded to slowly nod before walking back to the center of the room. Kray walked with pride into the room as he unveiled from his arms a book that Heris never once saw before. Reading the words “MAD BURNISH”, though, instantly awakened her anxiety as the advisor tapped his fingers, one-by-one, on the leather cover. 

 

“There’s a lot going for you, Miss Heris, I know, but… if you could just burn this book immediately I would greatly appreciate it.”

 

Heris looked at Kray’s eyes, they remained closed with a look of fake sincerity, something she knew all too well. She took the book from Kray’s hands and gave an affirmative answer. “Yes, sir.”

 

Kray gave a smile before continuing, “After that, I need you to make sure that Lio’s location is completely concealed. If that’s not accomplished by the end of the day…” His eyelids opened, unable to contain his bloodlust, “Don’t worry about sending a letter to your sister.”

 

The woman remained still at those words. She gave another affirmative answer to Kray and so he left the room, trusting that his subordinate wouldn’t let him down. But once the door remained completely shut and the sound of footsteps wavered, Heris felt her knees buckle, falling to the floor. The weight of her arms gave in and so the book fell and slid away from her grasp. Her letter to Aina remained upon her lap, and she couldn’t help but worry. Her sister lived in a small village far from Burnish communities. But if Heris didn’t do her job properly or on Kray’s time, then who knows what he would do to poor Aina. Heris’s safety was secondary, Aina’s was always first.

 

And once again, she remembered that she had a job to do, and that she could not disappoint the advisor. Their goal was always clear in their minds; If erasing history and creating a couple of lies was the price for true peace, then so be it. So long as Aina was safe. That was all that mattered.

 

She went towards her cabinets to find a purple powder within a huge mortar. She grabbed a handful and headed towards the center of the room once again. With the book in hand and the dusty material in the other, Heris readied herself, holding her creation above her head before dropping it on top of her. Within the instant her eyes made contact with the powder, the location around her completely changed. She was completely transported from her larger alchemical study at the castle to her much smaller lab high above the Enchanted Lake. 

 

It was time to check on Lio Fotia.

 


 

In the morning, Lio awoke to see two mice looking absolutely desperate. There were slight flickers of blue and orange flames, but they just as quickly vanished into smoke.

 

Gueira started to get pissy, “I’m gonna kill Advisor Kray as soon as I’m back to normal. How are we going to infiltrate that tower without any offensive strategy?!”

 

Meis pondered, “We’ll just have to sneak in and do our best to remain undetected. Shouldn’t be too hard for us.” As the prince entered into frame, Meis looked up at him, “If it’s okay, Sire, Gueira and I can enter the tower to find what you need. Just act as lookout and distraction when the mage arrives.”

 

Lio liked this plan of action, remembering how Meis would always come up with crazy schemes when they were kids, mainly to just sneak out of the castle without anyone noticing. Lio held up a wing in salute, then flew himself towards the tower. He checked every window he saw, not noticing anything that could be where Heris contained her concoctions. But then, at the second to last window, he finally found a room that could be the answer. A small alchemical station that contained a table holding scrambles of paper and ingredients, a fireplace that was below a black cauldron that looked incredibly dirty, and a gigantic shelf that held vials and bowls of multiple colors, sizes and labels. This is it!

 

FWOOSH!

 

In an instant, a woman appeared out of thin air in the room. Lio instinctively fled from the window and headed back towards his two friends. As he made a steady landing, he huffed out, “The labs the second to last upper chamber of the castle. That’s where her vials are.”

 

Meis chimed in, “We better head out, then.” The two mice scurried off to their destination, remaining in the shadows as Heris entered the lake area.

 

The mage held out the usual food tray containing grain and seed along with a small notebook. She slowly walked towards Lio, expecting him to throw the food tray back and attempt to attack her again. But to her amazement, Lio just walked towards the tray, and began to peck at a bread roll. During her hesitating blink, curiosity took over immediately, and she began to take her notebook to start writing down what was happening.

 

Lio held back his embarrassment of behaving like a bird, just praying for his friend’s safe and quick return.

 


 

Gueira and Meis found an opening between broken pieces of cobblestone that they managed to slip through to get in the tower. Inside felt very disorienting to say the least. Most of the tower was spiraled upward with an occasional door to certain rooms that just oozes suspicion to its guests. But the only room the two mice wanted to discover was Heris’s lab. And so they began their trek up what felt like a million stairs.

 

Around the 4th flight of steps, they spotted it. A door that held a variety of scents, nearly overloading their other senses. They looked around for any possible entrances, only to find a convenient hole by the side of the door. Gueira pointed it out first and just as proudly forward for it. But Meis felt something was too fishy, yelling for his comrade to stay back. When that didn’t work, he rushed to grab the red rodent by his fur at the very last moment. A snapping sound awoke them from feelings of ease.

 

If not for the last moment of prevention, Gueira could’ve easily been impaled by a common mouse trap. 

 

Meis used a bit of time to at least conjure a small flicker of flame to check the hole for any more traps. The blue glint managed to capture that there were some more traps to avoid before reaching the other side of the wall. The two soldiers faces were under much stress from the momentary sight, but nonetheless, they both kept their mantra in mind and used the minimal strength of their power to overcome this difficult task.

 

For Sir Lio!

 


 

Heris continued scribbling in her book as Lio finished his meal of dry grist. When the last statement was written she fell out of her researcher persona. “Done already? Well, I suppose it’s best to head back, then.”

 

Lio instantly felt distress and soon enough, let out a quick trumpeting honk that stopped the mage in her tracks. She looked back at the mammal questioningly as Lio continued to make noise at the woman.

 

“You know you can’t communicate with me… so why…” A thought popped into her head. “...you haven’t had a check up in this state, have you?”

 

Lio stopped his hollering immediately and became still and silent. This’ll kill some time.

 

“I see… This may be good for my notes as well to see how the spell affects your health. Okay.” She held her arms out in a careful manner. “Just don’t do anything to hurt me and I promise to help you if you’re injured or sick in any way.”

 

The green swan just sighed. Guiera. Meis. Please hurry.

 


 

Several pants for breath were all that could be heard once Gueira and Meis made it past the mouse death trap. If they weren’t still conscious of human thought and logic, they would’ve easily bit the dust in that area. 

 

Once they managed to breathe calm, they observed there surroundings. A small room to a human being became a sky-scraping chamber to the two cursed mice. On their left was a stone fireplace where a gigantic cauldron hovered over cut logs. To their far front was a table that towered above them, papers and books overlapping the edge of the base. And to their right, a wooden shelf, holding an innumerable amount of containers.

 

The two mice looked in shock at the display, Gueira breaking their silence with what they both thought, “How the hell are we going to find what we’re looking for? There’s only so much time before ‘Little Miss Witch Academia’ comes back!”



Meis remained quiet and looked back at the table holding scatters of paper. “There’s got to be some notes on it. I’ll look for that, you climb up the shelf and just check the labels.”

 

They gave an affirming nod to each other and each scurried to their respective locations. Each climbed up the furniture’s legs and manage to reach the or A base of their object.

 

Meis spent his time searching through the papers for notes on the potions. He mostly found the word “FAILURE” and sentences being scribbled out, but managed to untangle the web of sheets to find a notebook titled: “Project Alpha Centauri - Potions”. Turning through the book he finds almost immediately the words: ‘Shield Spell’; among the details all the way at the bottom is the note: ‘Give Shield Reversal to Kray and I’.

 

“Gueira! Search for Shield Reversal!”

 

“Roger that!” The red rodent twisted between shelves and moved between bottles and bowls, wishing that at least this smart individual would have the decency to alphabetize her shit to make it easier on herself at least. But then he managed to find a small purple vial labeled ‘Shield Reversal’. In the excitement,  Gueira pushed the vial at the very front of the shelf, nearly dropping it before managing to pull it back with as much strength his small form could muster. “F-Found it!”

 

“Good work!” Meis yelled, then looked back on Heris’s notes to find any information on both how to use the potion and to see if any more viable details could be found and made useful to their mission. Once again the familiar keywords “FAILURE”, “RETIRED”, “NEEDS TESTING” were scrawled upon the pages of what Meis could guess were original ideas for what would’ve happened to Lio if he wasn’t turned into a bird. But then near two-thirds of the book before reaching blank pages, he found it. The research papers on Lio’s curse titled Animalia Exilir 09.25. 

 

He observed some of the writings, understanding from it that this potion was originally tested on three other subjects before the final mixture ended up being used on Lio. Near the end of the writing was more recent discoveries the researcher had made. And the words that mattered most drew Meis to them like gravity. 

 

Most recent mixture contained an aphrodisiac. Could potentially mean Lio’s curse is reversible if an act of lust is placed upon him. Will need to fix next batch if necessary.

 

An act of lust… Meis engrained those words to his mind, reminding himself almost a thousand times to tell Lio once they return. As he repeats the phrase to himself, Gueira manages to climb up there, leaving the vial at the bottom near the small hole they entered from. He asks, “Are you ready to leave yet, Meis? We don’t have much time! She could show up at any mo-”

 

His gaze set itself upon a leather bound book, containing the words “MAD BURNISH” on top. Gueira’s semi-calmness shifted back into rage and he spent his efforts into opening the book to find out what was inside.

 

Meis immediately shifted his mind back into reality once he saw this sight. “Gueira, what are you doing? We need to get out of here!”

 

Gueira grumbled, “You took way too long reading whatever you needed to read; now it’s my turn!”

 

Meis slapped his paw on top of his face. He knew Gueira’s attitude, and that the guard had no sense of stopping for anyone when he gets in a bad mood. And so Meis gave a small warning, “Just make sure to be off this table before the researcher heads back up here.”

 

Gueira didn’t even bother to respond. Meis rolled his eyes and headed back down to the floor, waiting for his friend to finish up. All while Gueira kept his eyes on the book, his expression in pained investment.

 


 

Lio could not take another second of observation. The way Heris plucked one of his feathers nearly made it the last straw, but he took a breath and just continued to wait.

 

Heris, however, stood back up and closed her notebook with a small thud. “Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re in any danger health-wise. I’ll be sure to check tomorrow though in case anything does happen. I appreciate you letting me be this close without trying to harm me. But for now, I need to head back to the palace.”

 

Lio didn’t like how quickly things seemed to end. He began to honk once more, and Heris’s face became a bit annoyed, “It looks like you’re fine, so I don’t think you need me anymore for this.” The swan began to peck at Heris’s book until it fell out of her grasp. As she picked it up, she gave a quick response. “I have enough research today, too. So whatever you’re trying to pull here, it isn’t going to work. Farewell, Lio.”

 

She began to walk faster towards the tower. Lio saw she was still near the edge of the lake and decided to do some quick thinking.

 

As he flew, he glided his wing upon the edge of the water, directing it to Heris’s clothes. She became soaked and incredibly frustrated. But she refused to speak any further, knowing the clock was ticking and Kray was waiting for her. So she remained headstrong in going back to the tower. But Lio remained positive; he knew it would still buy time for his two guards. I’ve done all that I can. Be safe, you two.

 


 

Gueira flipped through the pages, getting angrier at each passing one. The Mad Burnish were one thing to deal with, especially when you were a Burnish yourself. But humans were even more of a threat.

 

What he and Meis grew up with was pretty much what was written in this work.

 

“I’ve always been scared of them, even their children. I would never let my child go near a Burnish!”

 

“It’s not normal to control something so dangerous. They can’t work in the fields with such a power.”

 

“I got this scar because a Burnish nearly burned me alive. Even if it was an accident, I could never forgive them.”

 

Even if they were true, it just seemed like all the negative comments were being gathered and used against them. Gueira couldn’t take any more of this. He wished to just have his hands again so he could rip apart this book.

 

One page turn drew him to further rage, though.

 

An illustrated image of Kray Foresight bore itself into view. The man spoke in front of a crowd, shaking the hands of small village leaders, and giving the same sickening smile that made Gueira want to burn a hole into the paper. The particulars of this page were the more fascinating thing, though. It stated how, of course, Kray enacted into law the Burnish-Human Compromise, in which Burnish would be placed under lower class housing and are allowed equal rights so long as they never use their power in public lest they be arrested.

 

All Kray.

 

Kray. Fucking. Foresight.

 

This needed to be taken. As evidence. A stand against such vile acts of injustice. That was all Gueira could think of as he did his best to tear the page. The sound of rips triggered Meis to question his friend. 

 

“What are you doing, Gueira?”

 

“Taking evidence.”

 

“Is that as important as taking this vial?”

 

“It is.

 

The gritted emphasis just made Meis even more nervous. But then his heart shuddered when a sound occurred, indicating that time was up.

 

Creeeeee-aaak----Dom!

 

At the very bottom of the tower, a door was opened and shut. Small steps increasing in volume and speed meant only one thing- Heris was back.

 

Gueira was still mid-tear, pulling careful but quickly once he heard the same noise. Meis was getting tired of waiting and began to verbalize it, “Gueira, you need to let go and close the book, NOW!”

 

His friend wouldn’t give up, though, continuing to step back and pull the paper apart from its bindings. Meis was beginning to think through new plans in trying to save his friend and get the hell out of the castle without detection. The racing thoughts just never reaching a possible good conclusion each time and rewriting themselves over and over again in his mind--

 

Creeeee-ak---Do-Clink!

 

Another door was open and closed. Midway in the tower. They had some time left.

 

Meis spoke again, “Let’s go, Gueira! We can’t guarantee luck like this again!”

 

But the indomitable spirit remained within Gueira and he looked back at his friend with fiery eyes, “I’m not leaving until I get this page, so sit ba~ck!”

 

The page was nearly out of the book, but Gueira was also off the table. Stepping back whilst ripping the page managed to get him in a situation where he was hanging off of the desk, using the paper as his only lifeline. Meis was now truly worried and rather than plan ahead, went with true instinct. Dropping the vial once again, he dashed off to the table leg, and stood near the edge where Gueira was struggling. He reached a paw out and Gueira struggled desperately to grab it. But the page continued to rip and within an instant, it was off the book and onto the floor.

 

Before becoming a splatter of rodent guts, though, Gueira managed to grab Meis’s paw in the quarter of a second he was free falling. Meis pulled his partner with as much might a mouse could have before Gueira was completely back onto the table. A couple of panting breaths after, the blue maned mouse managed a word in, “Don’t ever scare me like that again… Prince Lio is counting on you…”

 

Gueira couldn’t help but chuckle, even after a near death situation. “I’ll always be there for you and Sir Lio. Don’t worry too much!”

 

A creaking door opened once again, signaling to the two mice to get the hell out. They scurried back to the floor: Meis heading back to the vial, Gueira heading towards the paper he ripped. After folding the page into a size easy to carry, the two mice gunned it towards the hole and peaked out of it prior to leaving. Once they saw Heris’s legs walk into the room they exited in, the two ran along the stairs until reaching their escape point.

 

As they both blurred into scenery like blue and red dots of a pointillist painting, they manage to reach their patient prince, ready to showcase their findings and plan their method of escape.

 


 

After leaving her robes out to dry, Heris climbed up another flight of stairs and opened the door to her lab with suspicion. It didn’t look like much had changed, but there was definitely something... odd about it. She first investigated her desk to find that most of her notes and papers were typically strewn about. But then she saw the book Kray requested her to burn. It had somehow been opened, specifically to where a page had been torn.

 

She looked out the window; it was shut. Something was clearly amiss if it wasn’t a breeze that blew this open. The mage looked back at her shelf of potions. Everything looked to be in order, nothing out of the ordinary. Until she remembered what Kray requested: to conceal Lio’s location. And that required experimenting with the Shield elixir. She moved vials around to find the Shield potion intact. But after a few minutes of frantically searching each shelf, Heris realized that the reversal of that spell was gone. And by deductive reasoning, it had to be because of one thing.

 

Lio Fotia.

 

She didn’t know how, but it’s suspected based on his behavior today. She had to warn Kray about this soon.

 

Heris looked back at the book that laid on her table. That can wait. This is an emergency.

 

She grabbed the powder that transported her before and prepared the same ability once again, her sight shifting back to her other lab at the Promare castle. Once she was fully transported, the researcher dashed out of her workshop and headed out into the foyer. Around the corner of a pillar, she saw Kray speaking to Commander Ignis.

 

When they noticed her sprinting towards them, Ignis looked with worry, whilst Kray looked on with disapproved surprise.

 

Heris stood tall, doing her best to remain calm as she spoke up, “Advisor Kray, I need to have a word with you.”

 

Kray questioned, “Can you give me a minute? I’m currently discussing something important with Commander Ignis-”

 

Ignis interrupted, “It’s alright, Kray. We can continue this talk tomorrow. Just be sure to let Vulcan know about it as well.”

 

Kray saluted the soldier before the man ran off, then proceeded to stare at Heris with vexation. “Proceed then, Heris. But don’t waste my time. What is it you need to tell me?”

 

Heris gulped a breath of air, knowing the news wasn’t going to be good for Kray to hear.

 


 

Galo laid back on his bed, looking up at the ceiling. He still couldn’t help thinking about King Deus and Sir Lio. How even if they were dead, their killer remained out there, searching for more victims. He reached his hand out, the same mark remained. It almost felt like it was taunting him: a clear message that Galo was stuck with.

 

You can’t save them. They’re gone forever. You’ll never understand what Lio struggled with. Why King Deus chose him. You’re just a soldier. A small speck compared to the big picture. The Burnish will always remain below you in your eyes. You’ll never live to see true peace, Galo Thymos.

 

The words were aching his head, he wanted to break them apart and release it all so he could have a normal, clear mind. But they never left. And so the best way to drown them out, according to him, was to leave his room right away and grab some water to cool his head.

 

As he walked through the hallways of the quarters to the door that led to the foyer, a bombastic voice he was all too familiar with echoed the empty floor.

 

“DAMN IT, HERIS! YOU CAN’T LOSE SOMETHING LIKE THIS! IT’S RIDICULOUS THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK OF HAVING THIS OUT IN THE OPEN!”

 

“I-I know sir, but unfortunately th-”

 

“That’s what the circumstances are? That’s what you’re going to say, isn’t it?”

 

“...”

 

Galo quivered a bit. He never heard the Advisor lose his temper so quickly and out in the open like this. Peering out to the scene a bit more, he saw a scared woman being towered by the man who pointed at her as if to mark her to death. Blue hair stepped into the Advisor’s vision, though, and so his attitude completely calmed down, or at least tried to.

 

“Let’s discuss this at another time tonight… Researcher Heris.”

 

The mage didn’t even break a word in before she left, leaving Galo to stare at a man that was desperately trying to hold his emotions away from the soldier.

 

Galo stepped closer. “Is something wrong, sir?”

 

Kray refused to look back. “Nothing you need to really know about, son. It’s fine.”

 

Galo continued to reach out. “Sir, as a soldier of Promare, it’s my duty to serve and help you in times of need. You can be honest with me, right?”

 

Kray remained with his back turned, but began to open up. “Heris managed to scrounge the site where the King and Sir Lio had died. But a vital piece of evidence specifically has been lost due to her ineptitude, unfortunately…”

 

Galo became invested. “Vital…evidence?”

 

Kray continued and began to turn toward the soldier, “Yes. A piece that could identify the killer easily. Something that you were right on the nose about when we last spoke." Kray spoke with regret, "I apologize for ever doubting you, soldier. If you’d take my forgiveness… I will gladly let you proceed with your mission.”

 

Galo’s lungs filled with excitement so much, it was almost like his heart was about to stop. But he proceeded to let the words spill out, “T-Thank you so much, sir! I will gladly do my mission and promise to find Mad Burnish even if it costs me my life.”

 

Kray just proceeded to smile as usual, “Let’s hope it never comes to that.”

 

Galo smiled back and then gave his own question. “So, what exactly is this piece of evidence?”

 

“...a single, light green feather…”

 

Chapter Text

Drip.

 

A drop of the shield’s reversal mixture fell above Lio’s head. Gueira stood atop as well and closed the bottle as best he could with his lack of thumbs. After sliding down Lio’s neck and falling back into the grass, the mouse affirmed to his friends, “We shouldn’t be trapped anymore. What should we do next, Sire?”

 

Lio pondered, “We need to head to the palace as soon as I become human. We can take one of your horses along… that is if we can find them.”

 

Gueira saluted the swan, “I’ll keep an eye out, Sire.” He scurried deep into the forest bush, the rustling of leaves being the only indicator of him as he disappeared into the deep green abyss.

 

Meis looked back at Lio, ready to give some important information, “Highness, I found something that could be important to breaking your spell.”

 

Lio looked at Meis incredulously before leaning closer, “Really? Tell me, Meis! What needs to be done?”

 

The mouse cleared his throat, a bit nervous to reveal this information but nonetheless knew it needed to be said. “Well, your curse was created using some kind of aphrodisiac as the ingredient, which according to Heris’s notes, could mean the way to break the spell is if someone performed an ‘act of lust’ upon you.”

 

In an instant, a puff of red smoke flushed the swan’s face. He leaned even closer, “What exactly do you mean by ‘act of lust’?”

 

Meis looked away from the prince, subtly blushing as well. “That’s… just what the notes said.”

 

Lio moved back from the mouse to stop creating more discomfort, but still the words just gave way to his chagrin. He didn’t know how to react to this, so he did his best to remain composed and asked another question. “Does this mean I have to kiss someone?”

 

Meis responded in a similar demeanor, “Could be. Maybe one of the royals from the other kingdoms could help you.”

 

The swan shook his head, “To be honest, Meis, I’ve never felt a romantic connection with any of them.”

 

“I see… well is there someone back home that you liked? Did you have any relationships with any nobles?”

 

“No. I never fell in love with any of them, to be quite honest. Nobody wanted to even speak with me because of the fact that I was Burnish. I never even had my first kiss!” The confession of that last sentence made Lio hold his tongue a bit. The embarrassment caught up to him and he proceeded to look away from his friend as a result.

 

Meis crossed his arms at that note, doing his best to find a solution in resolving the Prince’s curse. “Are you interested in anyone at the kingdom, Sir Lio?”

 

There it was. The question Lio remembered hearing years ago by the same voice. Before any of this nonsense arose and the group of teens just worried about their duties to Promare. Lio back then refused to reveal his true emotions, arrogant and unwilling to accept how he felt. But now it was time to grow up and just face the truth.

 

“Sir Galo.”

 

Meis’s ears twitched. “Pardon?”

 

“I… like Sir Galo.”

 

“...for how long?”

 

“...a while…”

 

Meis had to lay out his concern. “He has a huge prejudice against the Burnish, though. Didn’t you say you’ll never fall for someone like that?”

 

Lio knew his words would bite him back someday, but he defended his feelings nonetheless, “I...I did, but now... he’s starting to see differently, Meis. When we first met, I did hate him. I thought he was ignorant, petty and cruel, but then we started to spend more time together and he’s… beginning to understand me better. And honestly, I wish to do the same for him.”

 

Meis sighed at his liege’s answer. He knew arguing would be unnecessary, especially in their current situation; he just hoped the prince doesn’t end up heartbroken. Or worse, dead from his affections.

 

“Well… if that’s how you feel, I won’t stop you. Just… be careful.”

 

Lio nodded. In almost no time, Gueira returned from his small trek, panting for breath. “I’ve ran as far as I can...but I haven’t seen our steeds at all…”

 

Meis and Lio nodded. The trio prepared for flight, the mice walking above Lio’s body and grabbing feather to stay together. Gradually, Lio lifted his feet, flapped his wings and set course; He hoped to find at least some transport he could use to be home, as his normal self, able to finally speak to the people of Promare. To reveal Kray’s crimes, to speak for the Burnish, to confess his love.

 

The thought of confessing, though, made his stomach turn and his heart beat irregular.

 

Can...can I really do it?

 


 

If it wasn’t made official before, it should be now: Galo was a complete idiot. He had made sure to go through the heavy forested area firsthand instead of going through the dirt path first, thinking cutting through that area would act as a shortcut to where Kray wanted him to be. Surprise! It didn’t work at all. Instead, he’s now trying to figure what patch of green he was in on the map or even where the hell his sense of direction went as the sun was beginning to set; the trees canopied the sky, though, it was like the forest itself had its own atmosphere.

 

Galo panicked, riding Matoi in circles, or more likely in a variety of oblong shapes, around the vacant yet crowded space. The environment blurring and blending together so much it sent the man into a dizzy delusion.

 

What am I going to do? I’ve been at this for hours. If I don’t find something new soon, it’ll be nightfall. Unbelievable... I’m about to tire myself and my horse… and I’ve made-NO PROGRESS!!!

 

Whinney!

 

Matoi heeled as if to stop that thought. Galo, without paying attention, let go of the reins and slid down the saddle, falling from atop his head onto the grass. After a couple of wobbly blinks, his focus shifted to what Matoi saw.  The ground contained nothing exciting, but a couple of cracked stone pillars, but above in the sky was something of interest.

 

A swan. Mint colored. Flying westward.

 

Amidst this information, Galo hastily went to the saddle that held his satchel and reached for his notebook. Scribbled was the note: A single, light-green feather .

 

“That has to be it, then!” Just as fast, Galo closed the book and the satchel, then proceeded to mount back on his horse, squeezing his calves among its barrel in order to head forward at full speed. Matoi complied, and ran far enough to be nearly 10 feet behind the beautiful avian.

 

He did as best he could to balance himself on the saddle as he reached from his quiver for his bow and an arrow. After some pauses for readjusting, he readied his aim, held the arrow steadily, then whispered.

 

“For King Deus and Prince Lio!”

 

Thwip! 

 

Bullseye.

 

His aim managed to reach the swan’s right wing, and soon enough it began to falter downward. But before Galo could celebrate this victory, he felt an all too familiar pain on his left arm. Looking at it, he saw the burnish mark upon his hand burn darker than before. The friendly warmth he usually felt from it changed into an uncomfortable searing sensation that clenched his heart and forced him to stop in his tracks momentarily.

 

But… the swan was still moving. Galo didn’t know how it could be so relentless, but did know that he needed to catch up and seize the creature before it escapes. If he could capture it, maybe he’ll finally gain some closure from all the grief he’s felt for the past week.

 

So he sucked his breath through his teeth, letting the pain become part of him, and just kept pushing forward to find his foe.

 


 

“It’s Galo, Sire! And he’s gaining on us really fast!”

 

Lio wasn’t panicking, but the pain of his injury forced him to find the strength to remain in the air. Meis and Gueira scrambled around his right wing, moving the uncooperative limb around for Lio in order to maintain their balance and direction. One wrongful bend, though, and Lio twinged his wing, nearly dropping the mice from his person. They both managed to recover by grappling onto the edge of the appendage before climbing back up and loudly proclaiming their worries, “What should we do now?”

 

Lio still kept calm, the pain subsiding on his wing as it freely stayed in a relaxed position. He looked back into his mind for information he learned about birds from his study and uncovered a fact that he remembered from a hunting book. Some birds have learned to  instinctively use the sun’s light to block your vision.

 

“Both of you, hold tight, NOW!”

 

Gueira and Meis grabbed a tuft of feather tightly in response as Lio held his breath, and flew above the forest canopy, toward the sunset. Once he reached a spot where the sun had completely blinded outsiders from his appearance, he looked back to find Galo scrunching his eyes and turning away for a moment to gain his vision back.

 

The mice climbed above the prince’s neck, keeping light footing on it, and each stood upon an area where Lio’s ears would be.

 

“What do we do next, Sire?”

 

“We can’t stay here forever.”

 

It was true. The evening light is nearly gone. Lio needed to head back to the lake somehow and heal himself. But Galo could gain another clear shot before then and once that happens, he’ll just be dead game. His book knowledge ran fast through his head, the creativity was starting to  wear thin.

But he looked beside him, knowing he at least has friends to support him. And he came up with an idea just from the one glance.

 


 

“AGH! Damn it!” was all Galo could say after being blinded by his prey. He rubbed his eyes ferociously, impatiently waiting for his vision to return before slightly seeing that the bird had vanished from the field.

 

“Where’d he go?!” Galo frantically searched, moving his bow around to prepare for a quick attack at any point. And then…

 

SWOOP!

 

The swan just ducked below his head and just as quickly flew off from sight. Galo readied his arrow to try and hit him when he returned, but then he felt something pull at a lock of his hair. Violently. Like, it really hurt.

 

“OW!”

 

And then he felt a pull by his ear. Then his eyelid. Until he saw it. A mouse, sitting atop his face, roughly prodding and pulling at Galo’s features. Another must’ve been joining the one he saw as he felt it crawl along his body, along his shoulder down to his arm, until it reached his hand. He felt a jolt of pain from his hand as tiny teeth punctured his skin. It was a minor injury, but one that hurt immensely. After reacting outlandishly to the pain, the two mice jumped off Galo’s form towards the ground. One of them looked like it was snickering before the two of them headed deep into the brush of the forest.

 

Galo took a second to breathe, allowing the Burnish flames within him to heal his small bites and bruises.  Once the small wounds were completely gone, Galo looked to where the mice had ran off to; It was the same direction the swan was in, and so thrusted his horse towards their direction. I’m running out of daylight! Enough distractions… it’s time to finally end this.

 

He just kept moving forward one direction, zagging through obstacles along the way. Beads of sweat rolled through and his breath became antsy. He was nearly about to collapse, but the determination kicked in like a second wind, keeping Galo focused on his unknown destination. Until he found it.

 

The field was expansive, a castle was erected in front of the incoming moon, and laid upon the bed of grass was a beautiful, glistening lake. Within the waters, was Galo’s target.

 

He readied himself once again, pointing the arrow towards the swan with hawklike focus whilst softly stepping towards it. Finally… stay still. I don’t want to have to kill you...

 

Moonlight flickered in his eyes as the sun did previously. His eyesight was blinded once again, albeit more momentarily than before, but it managed to interrupt his stance along with losing his attention on the swan. When he regained his vision, he looked back at the water to find something… unimaginable beginning to form.

 

The lake absorbed the bird from Galo’s vision, the creation of the blue orb around the mammal reminding the soldier of a water fountain displaying its artistic prowess. The orb soon began to uncover what was inside, revealing, like a magic trick, that the bird became…human.

 

A short, mint-haired, lilac-eyed man stood on the lake. He wore a ruffled shirt that was ripped at the sleeves, along with black pants and boots that were soaked at the ankle. One glove was missing its partner, remaining on the right hand. The clues fell into place as Galo slowly relaxed himself and dropped the bow from his grasp.

 

He rushed forward a couple of feet to just prove his eyesight wasn’t failing him, and his proof was validated. Lio was standing there, pained but able to put on a calm face towards the young man. Galo wanted to hug him- or kiss him- or… in all honesty, he wanted to do both, but then reality slammed him even further from doing anything at all. There was an arrow still stuck to Lio’s forearm. 

 

“I-I’m so sorry, Your Highness! I didn’t mean to-”

 

Lio gave a slight grimace, but calmed himself down, “It’s alright, Galo. I’ll be fine.” The prince placed a hand on his forearm, channeling his energy internally to incinerate the arrow and stop the bleeding. He gave into a coughing fit that didn’t seem to want to stop. Galo moved closer to the prince to make sure he didn’t drop dead from this act.

 

As Lio relaxed and finished coughing, he looked up to see a nearly kissing distance Galo rest his forehead upon his, holding his bangs in one hand. The momentarily stare they gave each other failed to cease as the two just became lost in the other’s optic aura. Then when Galo realized what he was doing, he shuffled back a couple of feet, frantically apologizing once again.

 

Midway through Galo’s constant babble, Lio interrupted with concern, “How did you find me?”

 

The soldier looked down at the grass, unable to look Lio in the eyes, “I was given permission to find the Mad Burnish member that killed you and the King. The evidence led me to finding you. Well... ‘swan you’.”

 

The prince gave an annoyed expression, knowing who exactly planned with Galo to do this. “Well I appreciate you trying to help, but as you should know, I have no means or the ability to kill. If you’re really looking for the murderer… go back to the palace.”

 

Lavender gems pierced through Galo as Lio gave such an unexpected statement at the soldier. Galo, finally looking back at Lio with a similar seriousness, leaned in to listen. “You know who it is? Tell me, Sir Lio! I'll arrest him forthwith!”

 

“It’s Advisor Kray, Galo.” The words were precise and sharp. “He’s behind all this.”

 

Galo took a step back, his face transferred back into confused shock. Crickets were all that could be heard from this news, until the soldiers trembled his own worry into speech, “N...no...No way…”

 

Then he stood still and held his ground, the denial transitioned into anger. “No… You must have it wrong…There’s no way in hell that it’s him!”

 

Lio just took it in, he knew the soldier wasn’t very bright at times, but he could at least take the time to calm his emotions. The prince remained so in his explanation. “It’s the truth. Think about it, Galo. Why would Kray send you here and say the killer had swan feathers? It’s to get rid of me.”

 

The soldier gritted his teeth, “I’m telling you there’s no way in hell that it’s Kray! He could never do something so…terrible.”

 

Lio became frustrated, “Enlighten me, then. What makes you so sure I’m in the wrong, Galo?”

 

The question triggered a burning rage inside of Galo. He wanted to scream, but there was more to be told just from words. At least from his personal perspective. So he rushed himself in removing his leather armor. Then his shirt. 

 

Lio’s face turned crimson by this action, nearly ready to ask the knight to stop...but then he saw Galo’s arm.

 

Throughout his time at the palace, Galo had always remained fully clothed, always covering himself up in long sleeved shirts that never showed anything above the wrist. But for the first time, Lio saw why that was the case: Galo’s left arm was completely scarred. Burnish marks shaped like crosses were embedded on his skin, in shades of red, purple and black that made the skin look raw and nearly cadaverous. 

 

Galo spoke loud from this shocking truth. “When I was a kid, before I joined the knighthood, my home was attacked by Mad Burnish. I was alone in my room when I saw the flames. They were outside of my door, grabbing and destroying all that we had. Along with that, I could hear screams coming from within another room: that of my parents. I rushed to their room, only to find nothing but a huge flame… and ashes. Soon enough, the flames seemed to have a mind of their own and began to move towards me. I did my best to escape from it, but whoever created that fire managed to trip me… and leave this awful reminder.”

 

He patted his arm, then grabbed his shirt to put it back on. Once his arm was covered again, he continued, “I was nearly on the brink of death at that point, suffocating from all the smoke that filled the room. I thought all hope was lost and that I was going to die then and there. Out of nowhere, though, was Advisor Kray.”

 

He looked back at Lio with earnest eyes, “He saved me that day… and I owe my life to him because of what happened. He managed to single handedly go through those flames and rescue me. His determination has given me the drive to save others! That is why I joined the knighthood in the first place! And you can’t just take that away from me!” 

 

The soldier pointed at the cursed prince with veracity and deep sadness, unable to accept Lio’s words. 

 

The prince took another breath, saddened by Galo’s story. Both by the tragedy of losing so much at an early age as well as knowing that what the prince was going to say next would just make the pain even more unbearable.

 

He held a hand towards the red mouse, which proceeded to give the cursed man a folded paper. Lio unfolded the material and handed it towards the soldier, maintaining a serious look at the knight. “If you won’t believe my words, at least look at this.”

 

Galo hesitantly grabbed the page. Looking down upon its materials dropped his heart even lower as he read all that Kray had done against the Burnish. The illustration of the advisor’s stoic demeanor overlapped with the same expressions he made in front of Galo. The same calm face, but under a different circumstance hurt him deeply.

 

“Where’d you get this?”

 

“It was in a book titled, “The History of Mad Burnish”. Gueira managed to grab this page before anything could be done to the text.”

 

“Gueira?”

 

Lio gave a small nod as a small red mouse crawled up his arm to his gloved hand. The prince presented the rodent like a relic as the creature proceeded to look at Galo, almost with human annoyance. The truth of this matter didn’t really affect Galo as he still couldn’t believe what he was holding in his hand.

 

Knowing it was in the same book that he was reading in just made the pain even worse. “Advisor Kray had the book in his hands when I saw it.”

 

Lio pointed behind him. “It was in that tower when Gueira grabbed that page.” The prince leaned towards Galo’s hands to turn the paper around. “And there’s more. Look.”

 

The page pictured such incredible atrocity. Illustrations of Burnish people, arrested and abused. People of various races, genders, ages. It didn’t even matter if you were just a child. Knights of Promare had placed them in cuffs and led them to the dungeons. All whilst Kray looked over them alongside Commander Vulcan, their figures more minimal in this image, but still easy to understand. They stood proud of this ‘accomplishment’ as the page would caption.

 

Galo’s hands started to twist, and Lio moved quick to grab the page away from the soldier before any damage could be done. It struck nerves, but it needed to be shown.

 

“I...I’m sorry, Galo. I need you to understand, though… Advisor Kray isn’t the same person that saved you before.”

 

Galo just looked at the ground, refusing to look at Lio. He didn’t have the opportunity to cry this time; his anger just overcame the sadness. So he just took a moment to absorb the information and looked back up at Lio with intensity.

 

“I need to hear this from Advisor Kray.”

 

The statement drove Lio back into his own frustration with Galo. “What are you talking about?”

 

“I need to hear why he would do such awful things first. Then you can arrest him if you need to. But before any of that, I want to hear the truth from the Advisor first before anything else. I deserve that much...”

 

Determination stared back at the annoyed prince. Lio just gave an exasperated sigh. Why did my savior have to be such an idiot? “Fine… but first we need to deal with how I am going to get back to the palace and reclaim the throne.”

 

Galo reverted back into an expression of confusion. “Couldn’t you just fly there?”

 

Lio remained irritated, “Yes, but that would mean I would return there as a swan. No one would understand me or know who I was if I returned in such a form.”

 

“But I would know.”

 

The prince chuckled, “People will just think you’re crazy if you tell them the prince is a swan.” Galo just gave Lio the same dumb look. “...Look, so long as I land on moonlight in this lake, I can return to human form. I'll take one of Gueira or Meis’s horses to head home and reveal everything.”

 

Galo remained concerned. “But what happens when you change back?”

 

Lio scowled at the thought, “I’ll ensure the truth is known before that happens…”

 

Squeaking noises interrupted the two from their conversation. Lio looked at the blue mouse that stood atop his hand and listened. Putting logic together, Galo assumed the creature was Meis, and the weirdness of the situation started to creep into him. When the mouse stopped speaking, Lio blushed and looked at Galo with embarrassment.

 

The prince whispered to the rodent, “I...I want to but… I’m worried it won’t work. What if…” That was all Galo could really hear from the conversation before Lio just nodded and placed the mouse back in the grass. The prince shuffled his legs and rubbed his hands nervously, constantly shifting his eyesight away from Galo.

 

The soldier just spoke up, “What were you talking about?”

 

“Well… there’s a way to reverse the spell I’m under.”

 

Galo’s eyes lit up when he heard that. He leaned closer to the prince, not realizing that what he did just made Lio even more nervous to speak. “Well, what is it, then? Whatever it is you need, I’ll find it.”

 

Lio turned his head and mustered the strength once more to answer Galo’s question. “In order to break the curse, I need to perform an…’act of lust’ with someone.”

 

 

Not another word was uttered as Lio just closed his eyes to hide his mortification. All the while, Galo’s face turned the same shade of red as the princes and moved a distance away from His Highness.

 

As Galo stumbled through his words, only speaking in jumbled syllables with varying degrees of volume, Lio managed to interrupt him, “It’s weird, I know, but that’s what Meis found out. It doesn’t seem to be too… graphic. A kiss can suffice.” The last sentence made the prince even more hot with embarrassment. He covered his mouth from the comment, yelling internally, Why can’t I calm down? It’s the truth.

 

Galo still couldn’t comprehend what he heard, but he left his stupor to try and rationalize the information. “Okay… but how exactly are you going to accomplish that, Your Highness? Do you have someone in mind to help perform such a task?”

 

Lio still couldn’t look at Galo, the blush remaining, “I...I do, but…”

 

That statement failed to finish, which clued Galo into realizing that the prince really didn’t want to confess who it was. He felt an itch on his left hand, cuing him to speak up, “You don’t have to tell me if it’s too much for you… but just know that tomorrow, Advisor Kray’s going to have a royal ball to replace your coronation.”

 

Lio looked at Galo in slight shock of the news. He knew that his ceremony would’ve been replaced, but with a ball of all things? Guess just having a funeral was too quiet for Kray’s incredible ego. Galo continued, “All the nobles outside of the kingdom are going to be there. Meet me at the training grounds before 8:00 and I’ll do what I can to help you find someone to turn you back to normal.”

 

The prince gazed at Galo, to find the man giving him a dedicated smile and serious focus of someone who has dedicated their life towards Lio. Although an honest confession remained within Lio’s throat, he refused to let it out. His fear of rejection barricading and instead replacing the words with an “I appreciate it.”

 

Galo nodded at the prince, holding back his own confession as well. Neither could manage to spill their true feelings for one another. Both kept this in the back of their minds, though, as the plan was finally in motion. Lio told Galo to head back to the palace immediately and not let Kray know about their meeting. The soldier complied, mounting himself back on Matoi to get ready to go home. Both left their parallel with small smiles of comfort before they turned from each other’s sights back into great expressions of worry.

 

A verdict was made in their thoughts, the two almost in silent agreement with each other.

 

I know I didn’t tell you… I was just too scared… but...

 

Tomorrow night, Galo…

 

Tomorrow, Sir Lio…

 

I promise I’ll confess to you. 

 


 

The image of Galo leaving Lio’s location, riding back into Promare was projected in front of Heris. She kept this image etched into her mind as the image laced with fire began to dissipate. She walked with purpose to the library to find Advisor Kray, reading under dim lights.

 

“It’s as you predicted, Advisor. He discovered Lio’s secret and is returning to the palace.”

 

CLAP! A book was snapped shut as Kray remained in his seat, smiling. “Of course. It was obvious an idiot like him wouldn’t complete such a simple job.”

 

He stood quickly, sliding the book on the coffee table before walking out of the room whilst asserting commands to Heris like she was some disobedient child. “The royal ball, the beginning of a new era, begins tomorrow, Heris. Why not prepare a nice outfit for yourself? Better yet, why don’t you prepare one for your sister?”

 

Heris’s pupils contracted, the fear beginning to fester. Kray leaned closer and kept their eyes in direct contact. His stare, though, was torturous to the researcher, and she felt she could barely stand any more. The voice continued in a loud whisper, “I invited her a couple of days ago. Thought it would be a nice surprise for you. Better set up a nice gift for her soon. It has been a while since you’ve seen her after all…”

 

She began to look at the floor, shuffling her feet to prevent them from buckling. From years of planning and design, Heris knew exactly what Kray wanted her to do, but involving her own sister into this just felt like cruel fate stabbing her in the back. The feeling foreign to her, but also familiar as she had done so to many people while working with Kray.

 

But orders were orders. So long as Aina didn’t physically get hurt, Heris obeyed. She knew the emotional torment would still remain, and for that, she would accept if Aina didn’t forgive her. The safety of her family is greater than her relationship with them. It was an unbearable thought, but it was her truth and she stuck by it.

 

“Thank you, Advisor Kray,” she stuttered through, hiding behind an obvious fake smile.

 

The blonde man smiled back with sickening kindness before walking out of the study. He headed towards the military quarters and found who he expected: Commander Vulcan, awaiting his own orders.

 

“I want you and your men to keep watch over Galo Thymos. I’ll be allowing him to join the festivities, but if he tries to do anything out of turn, do all that you can to stop him.”

Vulcan’s eyebrow lifted, his snarling breath speaking through a mouth of jagged teeth, “What a peculiar request. Tell me, does that include killing if necessary?”

 

Kray remained emotionless, “At a time like this, it may have to be a requirement.”

 

The commander chuckled, his armor clinking in rhythm. “Sounds like a plan! I’ve been looking forward to removing that eyesore for years.”

 

“Glad we’re on the same page, Commander. Now go ahead and get some rest. We have a big day ahead of us.”

 

They saluted each other before heading there separate ways. Both kept a foul grin on their face, but little did they know, their conversation was overheard by the opposing Commander. Knowing this information befuddled him as he spent his time Galo well and knew the soldier was a kind, albeit naive spirit. One thing was even more certain, though: Kray was not allowed to perform martial law on someone for make believe treason, and that gave the Commander all the more reason to come up with a plan of his own. 

 

The two parties had different schedules and strategies, but both knew that tomorrow morning, it would be time to wake the troops.

Chapter Text

The door to Heris’s chamber creaked open as a guard entered to tell her the news.

 

“Aina’s arriving, Ma’am.”

 

She exhaled, worry creeping under her skin. Even though she knew the moment would come, she prayed for at least some point where it would all be just a dream or some sick joke. That would be enough to remove the guilt like it was just a small spill of water on a countertop.

 

As she walked out to the gates of the castle, though, she saw Kray. And she knew, she was forever stained with guilt.


Clip-clop! Clip-clop! Clip-clop!

 

The sound of a horse’s gait increased as Heris was semi-forced into awaiting a carriage at the front of the castle. She stood anxious next to the proud figure of the advisor, who just looked forward and never directly towards her. But he still spoke to her in cut throat whispers.

 

“Smile, Heris. You’re seeing your sister for the first time in five years.”

 

She exhaled slowly before transitioning into a smile. It was incredibly fake. She wondered if she could hold this act any longer.

 

And then the carriage stopped. The coachman jumped off his horse and proceeded to open the side door. In one step, Heris recognized her. The hair had grown a little longer, the height too. Aina had looked entirely different to when her sister last saw her, when she went on a carriage ride, away from her family.

 

Silence. Everyone was still. The two sisters just stood a few feet apart, staring at each other. They took it all in, this very moment. Aina couldn’t wait any longer, though, and proceeded to run towards her sister for the most gigantic, loving hug.

 

Warmth. Human contact. A feeling Heris lost touch with for a long time. Aina didn’t notice her sisters hesitation; she just embraced her with familial longing. The moment almost felt like it would never end, but then Heris saw Kray, giving a pretend smile for bringing the two siblings together. And she knew this couldn’t last, so she ended the hug as best she could.

 

“It’s so great to see you, Aina.”

 

Aina smiled widely and replied with great enthusiasm, “I’m glad to see you too! I’ve missed you so much… Mom and Dad wished they could come, but I guess you only get one guest when you work at the palace. Can you help show me around? I want to see everything before I leave.”

 

Heris sighed as her sister went off on a tangent about visiting every room in the castle, meeting every servant, experiencing every detail. “There’s not a lot of time to explore right now. Why don’t I just show you where I work first and get ready for the ball? Tomorrow, though, I promise to give you a more complete tour.”

 

Aina pouted, but got over it quickly and was led by her sister toward her future ‘makeover’. 

 

Kray waved as they went inside. “Have fun, you two!”

 

Only one face smiled back, the other did its best to hide her emotions.

 


 

“WOW! Heris, I can’t believe it! You’ve made all these spells?”

 

The scientist nodded. Aina continued to wander around the small room, observing her sister’s experiments like she was a kid in a candy store. 

 

Heris decided she needed to have at least one more conversation with her sister. “So, how’s everyone doing back home? Are Mom and Dad alright?”

 

“Yeah! Everything’s pretty much the same. Only thing that really changes is the weather. What I would like to know more about is how you’re doing, sis! What’s it like working here all the time?”

 

The questions stung a little. Heris wanted to tell her sister everything and what her life is like, but the threats still linger and so all the scientist could say was, “It’s just busy.”

 

Aina continued to observe the varieties of colors and sizes of Heris’s collection, continuing to prod, “C’mon, sis! You basically created this job yourself! How can you not be proud to talk about your accomplishments?”

 

Heris couldn’t speak. The reasons as to why she couldn’t boast were more than just a sense of maturity. It was just another story about being led to a dark path she couldn’t escape from. And within it, there was a deep trauma that the researcher just couldn’t forget.

 


 

When she was a teenager, Heris wrote little notes about her studies in creating potions. It started small, as all experiments do. She surprised her sister with an elixir that painted her nails in various colors. Then her family was given a boost in business when she made an elixir that baked bread in an instant. It was all innocent fun, until Heris decided she wanted more than just to please her family; she wanted to protect them as well.

 

That’s when she met Kray.

 

It was about 5 years ago. Heris sat at a booth by herself, tapping her notebook with a pen as she waited for her thoughts to arrive. She was stuck. She has been mainly using her newfound expertise in the sciences to bring good business to her parents and brighten her sisters day. But more than anything, Heris wanted to bring a greater purpose to her work. She wanted her abilities to protect the family she cares about and serve as a tool for the kingdom of Promare. More than anything, she wanted to protect her sister from people like the Burnish.

 

Creak!

 

Heavy footsteps intruded the tavern. Footsteps that loudly drew attention. Heris looked up to find her opportunity for greater things in the unexpected visit of one Advisor Kray. He knocked on the bar table and politely asked for a cup of coffee.

 

Heris knew that this was her chance. To open the door to new opportunities and get closer to her true purpose. The intimidation of Kray’s figure didn’t matter to her as she knew of his kind and calm persona. She closed her notebook, led herself out of the booth and into a stool right next to the advisor. He looked surprised when he saw the figure of a short statured young woman looking up at him with extreme passion. Her voice never faltered either.

 

“Advisor Kray, my name is Heris Ardebit and I would like to work at castle Promare alongside you and King Deus.”

 

Kray took a second to blink before his coffee finally arrived, and his attention was focused on having his bitter drink. He spoke between sips, “Everyone wants to work at the castle, Miss Heris. But they don’t really have the ambition to do so.”

 

Heris interrupted that point with her own, opening up her notebook as reference, “I promise you, I have ambition. I’ve been studying potions and magic ever since my childhood and have examples of what my experiments have contributed to my town.”

 

Kray side-eyed the notebook. In between the scrawls of incoherent jottings were certificates granted by the mayor of Heris’s village, records of the proven successes she brought to the town, and a small picture impressively detailed of a smiling young girl in long pink hair. The last item he picked up to Heris’s surprise.

 

“Who’s this?”

 

Heris answered, “My sister. I recreated the image using-”

 

He interrupted by handing back the image, then asking with curiosity, “She seems quite lovely. Why would you wish to leave her for the castle?” 

 

Determination spoke first, “I want to research magic that can be used to protect our kingdom, and I can’t really do that under a baker’s budget.” She placed the photo of Aina back inside the notebook and closed it shut. “...What I really want to do is study Burnish magic and see how we can use it to help our society; defend us from them and other threats. That’s all.”

 

Kray scratched his chin before taking another swig of his coffee. Heris looked at him with nervous anticipation. But he took another drink. Gulp. gulp. Gulp. Until the cup was empty.

 

“I may have a proposition for you, then.”

 

Heris perked up at the statement, whilst Kray continued, “I will discuss what you’ve said to me with King Deus and within the week, can guarantee you a position as a Researcher at the castle. Finding Burnish flames won’t be too difficult either.”

 

Every word just brought great joy to Heris’s heart. She was excited to do something meaningful with her work. 

 

Kray pointed a glove finger up. “However, from then on, you’ll need to obey my orders. If I make a request, that has to be a top priority. Otherwise, the agreement is off.”

 

Heris knew that would be the case. She didn’t care. Orders are orders. So long as she’s creating something to bring protection to those she loves, nothing else mattered.

 

She spoke brightly through her nod, “I would be honored to take such a position.”

 

Kray gave a small smile, then placed a couple of coins on the table to pay for his coffee. He stood up, then headed for the exit. Before he left, though, he looked back at the woman, waiting for his next words.

 

“You’ll receive a carriage at your home in 7 days. Make sure to pack before then.”

 

As he left, the woman exhaled bated breath, trying to grasp reality by at least a string. She couldn’t believe she managed to convince the Advisor of Promare to give her a research position at the castle. It was almost too idyllic.

 

She couldn’t wait to tell her family the news. And Aina…

 

...

 

Aina…

 

She would have to spend more time with her before the seven days are up.

 

Remember, you’re doing this for her. For your sister. For Aina.

 


 

It was about a month into the job when her world shifted. She worked on a new elixir that Kray requested called Imperium , which is supposed to extract Burnish power. As she mixed a vial with the current solution, the disruptive bang of her door opened to reveal Commander Vulcan throwing a frail man across the floor.

 

The unknown man skidded on the stone tiles, his knees and hands bloodied as a result. Heris got a look at him, petrified by his very being there. He looked awful, malnourished, unshaven, dirtied. Why was he like this? Why was he here?

 

Flik!

 

Now she knows. A small flame appeared on the man’s thumb as he desperately tried to get up from the ground. The crippling crush of bone on metal from Vulcan’s boot removed all hope though. The commander just laughed and tsk'd at the man while Heris remained shocked and horrified.

 

“What is going on?!”

 

“Testing, Researcher Heris.”

 

The voice that once exuded complete reassurance walked inside. It stood in the shadows, but was visible enough to be identified as the advisor. His face remained stoic and serious as he presented a hand toward the powerless man before him.

 

“I believe it’s time to test the strength of that potion I requested, don’t you think?”

 

She hung onto the vial and spoke out against his wishes, “The current vial isn’t ready yet! I need at least another day to make sure it isn’t unstab-”

 

Kray stomped fast and grabbed Heris violently by the shoulder. His eyes opened to express a sneering demeanor as he hissed at the girl, “That is what testing is for, Heris. Trial and error is what it takes to advance in this world… or did you forget what your position is here in this castle?”

 

Fear. The anxiety brushed through Heris’s thoughts and she visibly began to tremble. The clanking of chains woke her from this state as she saw the Burnish man attempt to get up, crawling towards her and Kray. His lungs creaked words with little breath to support his voice.

 

“Please… help...me…”

 

His eyes looked through curtained hair, showcasing a window of pain and misery. Something Heris never wanted to look through. She protested, “This is wrong, Kray! I don’t want to experiment on unwilling people like this. I need to talk to King Deus about th-”

 

Kray moved from her shoulder to her neckline, tugging her face towards his and preparing to incinerate her at that very moment. But the threat spoke first, “Don’t call this man a person! He’s a traitor to our kingdom and the only way he’ll serve is through his death if necessary!”

 

He snarled, but calmed his breath when stating his next command, "The king is quite busy now, but even if he wasn't, you are under my command. And what I say... GOES."

 

Heris had no choice but to confront Kray’s eyes; the stare was blinding her with a raging red as the voice continued to command her with disrespect and temperament, “I won’t ask again… hand me the vial, Heris… or your job is forfeit.”

 

Her hand shook the vial nervously, but she managed to slowly give the elixir to Kray before he placed her back down and walked in front of the Burnish man.

 

Vulcan removed his grip on the ‘test subject’, which gave the man only a moment to move. He still begged for help, the efforts getting louder and panicky. Kray didn’t listen. He opened the corked container and splashed the Burnish man with the material.

 

The man was in sheer agony, the potion managed to immolate him, starting from his face. The fire grew and trailed down his shoulders onto his arms. That’s when Kray held onto the man’s hand, and the fire began to evaporate into his own. It was like a gust of wind blowing out a candle; Kray absorbed and removed all the Burnish flame as if he were the devil giving one of his sinners a handshake. The fate of his ‘subject’ might as well have been to Hell either way, as the aftermath of his experimentation had turned him into a pile of ash.

 

Kray flexed his fist, exhilarated by his new power. He glared back at Heris, though, who remained still and guilt-ridden. A hand on her shoulder once again, but this time, it was less intimidating, the advisor proclaimed, “There’s no need for sadness. You’ve done your job…”

 

Heris was still scared, but she understood. This was her job now. This was the only way to use Burnish magic. To protect her family. 

 

Kray continued as we readied himself to leave alongside Vulcan. “Tomorrow, let’s be sure to experiment with this newfound ability. Be sure to wake up early.” He looked back at the mess that remained. "Oh and don't worry. I'll be sure to bring one of the maids to clean this mess up."

 

SLAM!

 


 

“Heris? … HERIS?”

 

Heris woke from her stupor to see Aina giving a small questioning look.

 

“Are you… feeling alright?”

 

The researcher looked down. She was clenching her shirt like she was suffering a heart attack. Her breath clued her into it being more of a panic attack. Either way, it was over, and she needed to calm down or else things’ll be way worse than having mere anxiety.



Reality settled back in; it was time to do her job.

 

She exhaled and let go of her attire. “I’m fine, Aina. Let’s just… talk about this later, okay? How about we get you ready for the ball tonight?”

 

The worry nearly melted as Aina’s excitement nearly shouted out loud, “Oh, right! My first ball! What do I do? Do I need to get fitted for a gown? Who do I meet to do that? What about-”

 

“Actually, I have something for you that can be used for tonight.”

 

Heris pulled open a drawer from her desk. Inside was a necklace containing a dark amber gem shaped as Promare’s emblem: a small flame.

 

The gemstone gleaned like sunlight just as Aina’s eyes sparkled seeing it. Heris put on her fake smile as she explained, “This necklace can dress you in whatever way you wish. I was going to bring it to you on your birthday… but plans change.”

 

The necklace slipped slowly out of her hands on onto her sisters, Aina grasped it with emotion. She held back her tears and just looked back with sincere gratitude, “Thank you.”

 

“Of course. Here, let me help you put it on.”

 

Aina held her hair back as Heris pulled the metal chains around her sisters neck and connected the pretty clasp onto the other end. The gemstone glowed once it met skin; the light began to consume Aina before gradually dimming once the transformation was complete. Aina looked on in the mirror in excitement, whilst Heris forced herself to look away.

 

The changes simmered and Heris knew she had to face her betrayal soon. But it was just difficult, she was nearly in tears. A voice she was familiar with spoke up in her sister’s place.

 

“This is amazing, sis! What do you think of the outfit I chose? Do you like it?”

 

The researcher looked back at her results and confirmed her success. Aina saw herself in the mirror, but who Heris saw, was the prince.

 

Every detail was confirmed to appear per Kray’s request. The outfit was what Heris had programmed into the necklace, very regal attire for the occasion. The voice was Lio’s, even though it spoke like her sister. The eyes were Lio’s, even though they lit at Heris with familial adoration.

 

The praise she received felt bittersweet and almost repulsive, as the researcher just breathed in and spoke out, “I love it. You look so beautiful, just like I thought you would… Prince Lio.”

 

Aina didn’t notice the words. She just continued to smile and then look back at herself in the mirror; her sister roughly bit her lip and clawed at her arms. Yet another confirmed success for Researcher Heris: her sister could hear Lio’s name as her own.

Chapter Text

It was a peaceful afternoon by the lake. Last night, Lio managed to find Meis’s horse and tie him to the tree in preparation for tonight’s plan. He mainly slept the whole morning to recover from Galo’s visit. His wing felt surprisingly sore, even though he healed it several hours before. It was a phantom pain that Lio was bothered by, but his emotional pain was even more unbearable.

 

It didn’t help that one of his friends directed dagger eyes toward him as he tried to rest.

 

“Why didn’t you tell him last night?”

 

“I...I just couldn’t.”

 

“What held you back?”

 

“Inexperience? Anxiety? The fact that he shot me in the arm? Take your pick.”

 

Lio shot daggers back at Meis, unaware of how snooty he appeared. The mouse backed off a bit; Gueira, however, spoke out in bitter honesty.

 

“Hey! Don’t lash out at him. He just wants to understand how to get you to open up to Galo. So quit acting like a baby and tell us the truth!”

 

The prince sighed. Exasperated by his feelings, his cold shell broke as he swam toward the edge where his friends were sitting.

 

“You’re right. I’m sorry, that was rude. It’s just… I can’t speak clearly when I see him. Like somehow, I get lost in him and have a hard time finding my way out through my words.”

 

“Wow…you ever thought about doing poetry when we get back home?”

 

Lio glared once again. Gueira snickered. “I’m kidding!”

 

“...still… if you feel like he’s your choice, you need to stick with it. Don’t falter from it. He’s your destiny and you need to make sure he knows that. So when you see him again, close your eyes and just tell him you love him!”

 

A red paw pointed seriously at the swan as he just took the advice like gospel. Gueira’s tenacity was what made him such a great knight and an even greater friend.

 

“You’re absolutely right. Thanks…”

 

Gueira made a smug noise as he crossed his arms in pride. Meis shook his head, but still carried a smile. Lio kept the advice in mind and heart as he prepared himself for the rest of the day, affirming that he would force a confession out of his throat no matter what.

 

Drip! Drip-drip! Plik!

 

As they waited patiently for nightfall, a light amount of rainfall appeared midday, acting as an omen unbeknownst to the trio.

 


 

When Galo woke up, he was in his room. As if the past 15 hours never happened. But he remembered almost immediately.

 

I should’ve just kissed him there. Then this could’ve all been over.

 

But that was in the past. Their plan needed to start now. And that included investigating more into Kray’s mindset. So Galo got dressed in his usual attire and opened the door.

 

Only to find Kray standing in front of him.

 

“Good morning, Galo!”

 

“Ah! ...Morning.”

 

The Advisor ducked his head as he entered from the doorway, a clawed hand also entering into frame. Commander Vulcan entered into view as well, but he refused to go into the room. As Galo’s brows furrowed by Vulcan’s behavior, Kray looked out the window into the fields.

 

“Did you find anything about the assailant?”

 

Galo turned, a bit fearful. But remained calm in his ‘response’.

 

“No, sir. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find him at all.”

 

Kray’s head dipped, Galo thinking because of disappointment or anger. But when they were face to face, the Advisor just smiled.

 

“That’s okay. I wasn’t expecting you to find him overnight. Why don’t we continue the search tomorrow with Commander Vulcan’s team, sound good?”

 

Galo looked back to see the said Commander not even looking his way, his sharp teeth gritted. He was becoming a bit suspicious, but also relieved that Kray didn’t yell at him like he did with Heris. He nodded to the arrangement. Kray clapped his hands as he came to a realization.

 

“That’s right! I came here to tell you something exciting! Tonight, you know, is when all the local nobles and royals outside of the kingdom will gather to mourn the King and Prince's death. Well, I figured since you’ve overworked yourself the past week, I’d extend the invitation to you.”

 

“Huh?!”

 

“You haven’t been taking care of yourself, son. I know you want to avenge those two. Hell, you’ve made it clear you’re persistent in it. That kind of spirit is admirable, but it’s also exhausting. So will you just take this night off, and enjoy it?”

 

Kray placed his hand on Galo’s shoulder. When the soldier looked up, he was reminded by the visage he saw when he was a kid. The hero of his story. A savior who rescued him from his parent’s fate and shaped him into becoming the person he desires to be: kind, just, loving.

 

“Okay. I’ll do it.”

 

“Glad to hear. I’ll send a maid to get you some clothes for the occasion.”

 

And so Kray left the room alongside Vulcan. When the door was shut, Galo decided to keep it as such. He wanted another moment with his thoughts.

 

Kray’s behavior wasn’t abnormal and it wasn’t like Galo was just going to completely distrust him all from Lio’s evidence. From what it looked like, Kray was still a valiant and good-natured man. 

 

But the conflict in Galo’s mind lingered; he looked back at his hand. The mark still there. He wished it wasn’t.

 

He looked out the window and cleared his mind. When he turns away from the glass, he prayed it was because Lio would be on the other side. Then he could be sure that something is amiss with Kray.

 

Plat! A drop of water fell upon the pane. And outside, the sounds of thunder could be heard from afar.

 

On the opposite side of Galo’s room, Kray walked alongside Vulcan back to the foyer. The Commander was next to another person, though instructing her as they exited the hallway.

 

“You’re job is to find this bird and exterminate it like the grouse it is, sound simple?”

 

The woman remained face forward, expressionless. Her tone was robotic when she spoke, “If that is what you and Advisor Kray want, I will gladly accomplish it.”

 

Vulcan smirked and laughed at the response. “I knew there was something great about you, Biar!”

 

Kray didn’t respond or act in any way. His own thoughts keeping him occupied. He was jovial to know that his plan has been put into motion. But he couldn’t wait for the ball to begin when the true scheme would begin.

 


 

Raindrops rippled throughout the lake as the thundering clouds omnisciently overshadowed it from above. It had been five till eight and although the moon was supposed to appear thirty minutes ago, it never had a chance due to the rain.

 

The cursed trio was becoming more impatient and worried by the second.

 

“JUST HURRY UP AND LEAVE YOU DAMN CLOUDS!! OF ALL DAYS, YOU DECIDE TO SHOW UP NOW?!”

 

“Sire, time is running short. We should come up with another plan of action before its too late…”

 

Lio knew Meis was right, but he remained still and just prayed some entity would be on his side to just clear the skies so he could have the chance to walk again. To feel the breeze on his skin. To have his face, his hands, his voice again for this one opportunity.

 

Just one chance that would never be given.

 

“You’re right. We’ll need to head there now or Galo won’t be able to reach us. Climb on!”

 

The two mice complied, as the prince took to the skies with one clear goal in mind.

 

Even if I have to write in the mud, I will confess to you Galo. So please… wait for me.

 


 

Adjusting himself, Galo saw his reflection for the first time in a while. The young soldier was adorned in regal attire, with subtle hints of red and gold made in part by the stitching and accents of his suit. He felt overdressed, but as this was a formal occasion, he didn’t really have much of a choice.

 

He sighed, then looked out his window. The rain kept pouring for nearly the entire day, and it didn’t seem like it would stop. There was no sign of any person anywhere. Even at least seeing a swan would put Galo’s worry to rest. But the field remained bare, and it was fifteen minutes past eight. The ball had already begun.

 

His door creaked as a familiar figure in white appeared, smiling upon the soldier with pride. “Are you ready, Sir Galo?”

 

Galo looked back at the window, concerned. The thought of leaving his promise behind was worrying, but then he thought to himself, ...I can’t stay here all night…sorry Lio... He pushed his feelings aside and turned toward the door. “I am. Let’s go.”

 

They left the dark room aside for the dimly lit hallway connecting the quarters to the castle itself. The two stood side-by-side along with the guards who stood in front of them. The sound of their steps was all that could be heard as they headed towards the exit. Kray spoke midway as he looked down at Galo’s appearance.

 

“I’m impressed, son. You managed to put yourself together quite nicely with the outfit I gave you. Do you feel any different from it?”

 

Galo was caught a bit off guard by the compliment, but he managed to speak a bit from the heart. “Yeah, to be honest, wearing this kind of thing isn’t comfortable to me. It’s like wearing someone else’s skin.”

 

“Hmm… I think I understand what you mean. The thought of wearing anything but my uniform doesn’t seem right anymore.”

 

Galo looked at the Advisor with confusion. Kray continued as he placed a hand on his sash. “I have stayed true to this kingdom for the last fifteen years, with little chance to take a break for myself. But, it’s a badge I refuse to take off.”

 

He looks back at the soldier, “Protecting this kingdom will always be my priority. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else than sticking to my ideals and bringing Promare one step closer to peace...you’re a reminder of that.”

 

The last statement threw Galo for a bit of a loop, but he looked at Kray and perceived the man’s expression as real sincerity. It just placed Galo under more confusion, How could this man be so cruel? But that thought passed, and instead was replaced with the same admiration that was felt before anything else. “It’s an honor to work by your side, Sir. I won’t ever forget what you did for me.”

 

Kray smiled and the two looked forward as they reached the end of the hallway. The doors open, and the lights consume their vision. When their eyes adjust, Galo was met with an impressive display.

 

The castle foyer was met with many guests of various communities. Only the mayors and governors of each village appeared to be present for the various towns of Promare. Aside from them, there were also nobles of different kingdoms represented by the more flashy and regal attire they wore with grace. Guards lined the walls, at the bottom and top steps of the stairs, all the way to the ballroom, its welcoming doors open to all that enter it.

 

 The cacophony of conversation and intimidating atmosphere did not put Galo off guard. What did was the same mark that remained on his hand. Lio could still be heading here. Why don’t you turn back and find him?

 

But his decision was final. He covered the mark with his sleeve and refused to look at it until he was left alone.

 

I can’t run out now or Kray’ll get suspicious. When he gets here, Lio can figure out a way to get in. The guards will recognize him easily.

 

That’s it! A guard can just let him in. I’ll see him inside after that. And then…

 

Then I’ll...

 

Everyone around him looked concerned as they saw that Galo was beet red and posed like the most awkward statue ever sculpted. When he snapped out of it, the soldier moved towards the wall and vigilantly watched for anything… odd.

 

Just calm down. And wait. He’ll be here, Galo.

 

He’ll be here.

 


 

The winds heavily weighed on Lio’s wings; Gueira and Meis were having great difficulty carrying on. But all three worked through it, and managed to make it halfway in under twenty minutes.

 

“We’ve got a couple of miles to go! When we get there, you two find a way inside and reach Galo!”

 

“YES SIRE!”

 

Lio looked passed the rain, the lightning, the winds. He remained determined by his goal to see his dumb crush and tell him everything held within his thoughts.

 

Galo. Please wait for me. If you do, I promise to rank you as Commander and speak to you in the highest authority. I’ll house your friends and relatives in the nicest homes and do all I can to heal that horrible wound on your arm. Even if you still hold a bit of resentment and deny my confession, I’ll just take a peck on the cheek and deal with the rejection on my own.

 

All I ask is for one simple kiss, and then it’s over. So please… just wait for me.

 


 

“Hm.”

 

Kray preyed his eyes upon Galo, who was just standing impatient. He was expecting something, someone. But that special thing was not predestined to show just yet. That was what Kray planned, at least.

 

He walked forward to the soldier, bringing forward that familiar charisma.

 

“Why are you standing here, Galo? The party has started without you at this point.”

 

The young man quickly transitioned from careful observation to nervousness in a millisecond. He instinctively rubbed the back of his head and cautiously worded his excuse, “Uh-I’m just not that great at conversation, that’s all!”

 

He chuckled as Kray silently smirked. “Well, why hold yourself back? There’s no good time as any to have a friendly chat. Although many of these people are of noble background, they don’t all act as snarky as you might expect…”

 

Galo interjected, “That’s not what I mean…”

 

Kray prodded, “What is it, then?”

 

“I...just don’t know if I can meet new people right now. Just being here is difficult enough as is…”

 

The Advisor turned away, frowned, “You still haven’t really coped, have you?”


Galo didn’t say anything.

 

Kray sighs, “It hasn’t been that long since it happened, so it’s understandable. But Galo, I invited you here so you could at least... have a break.”

 

The advisor nudged the knight by his hip, “Lighten up a little; enjoy the night while it’s young! If I were your age, I would be dancing it away with one of the ladies. So why don’t we give it a chance?”

 

“Advisor Kray!”

 

The moment was stopped by the loud words of Researcher Heris. A call so momentous, that as everyone looked to see who said it, they ended up astonished by what their eyes perceived. And that especially included Galo.

 

“Hate to interrupt, but I felt this was of much importance.”

 

The woman was arm in arm with someone. A young man wearing an incredibly regal outfit, stitched with pink and blue. The Promare insignia was sewn with those same colors of thread. The coat the young man wore looked as though its tails were made of pure flame. And to complete the look, there was a necklace containing what looked to be a fire agate gemstone, usually rare and found in the mining areas of Promare’s volcanoes.

 

Glossy lips, Green hair, Lavender eyes, the stare that would put Galo’s soul ablaze.

 

“L-Lio?!”

 

Everyone gasped. They began to rush the group as soon as those words were uttered. The knights of Promare moved faster though, as they blocked even the nobles from interrupting such an intimate moment.

 

Lio tucked one of his side strands behind his ear, visibly flustered. “Hi Galo…”


The prince let go of Heris’s arm, the woman stepping back with a half-smile leaving her farewell to the couple. Kray pushed Galo forward as well, encouraging him with vigor. The knight didn’t know what to think anymore, What is happening?! Why is Lio here? Last I checked he was injured and in tattered clothes at the lake, but now he’s here unscathed?! Something isn’t right.

 

“Galo, would you like to dance with me?”

 

He saw a hand reaching toward him, gracefully hovering for its partner. The soldier hesitated, but then thought, I need to get some questions answered. If time runs short, I’ll just confess. It won’t hurt me to try…

 

“Sure.”

 

Galo gave his hand to him, and was then pulled into a waltz, where only the two of them danced. An orchestra on the other end played a ballad that soothed the crowd from their abrupt excitement. The soldier did his best not to step on Lio’s toes, whilst beginning to ask one of his many questions.

 

“So...when did you get here?”

 

“Just yesterday. Kray was the one who called me here.”

 

“So Kray wasn’t the one who hurt you?”

 

“Why would Kray hurt me? He’s the Advisor to the kingdom.”

 

Then was the Lio I was talking to before just an illusion? ...No, maybe he’s just covering up to prevent suspicion. I should probably do the same and just act natural…

 

“Well, I’m glad to see you either way! There’s um-something I have to tell you…” Galo swallowed a gulp of air. Time was of the essence. But was this really going to work?

 

Lio just smiled as the two proceeded to twirl. Unexpectedly, Galo found himself falling backwards, only to be caught by the grasp of one hand and the other catching his hip. The pose looked graceful, as if intended. Lio smiled, he looked at Galo lovingly, “Well...what is it? I’m all ears.”

 

Galo was painted pink, once again hesitating to find the words. Never in his life did he expect to be in such a position. He mumbled, unable to just spit out his feelings. But then his conscience kicked into gear and basically screamed at him. C’mon idiot! There’s no more time left! Just say the words so he can hear it! If he rejects you, that’s fine! It’ll hurt, but he needs to hear it NOW or you’ll never get another chance again! So stop being a stuttering dumbass and just SPIT IT OUT!!

 

“L...Li…”  

 


 

The cursed trio were relieved to find the castle after dealing with such inclement weather. After almost an hour of dodging lightning strikes and fighting against the high winds, Lio hid behind the safety of the castle’s walls, planting his friends firmly on the ground.

 

“Be careful, you two. Try not to get stepped on.”

 

Gueira snidely replied, “We’re knights, Lio. Defense is our innate ability at this point.”

 

As the two mice rushed around the exterior to find their ticket inside, Lio headed back upward to look through the stained glass windows. From his perspective, the crowds of people were dispersed in a circle. In the center were two men, both young in age. They were stepping to the rhythm of the gentle music that could be heard from outside the walls. Looking closer, Lio saw the familiar strands of blue hair that stood up on one man’s head. And seeing who he was dancing with, Lio saw an even more familiar green bob.

 

The two were smiling at one another. Both awkward to the other, but still they smiled. Lio wasn’t. He wanted to scream.

 

He pecked at the glass pane with his beak, then proceeded to fly across all the other windows in the hopes that one was open or was weak enough to break through. Nothing was feeble enough to reach out and stop this unknown betrayal. Lio took a breath after flying to the opposite end of the castle to try and break his fifteenth window. Out of the corner of his vision, he saw him.

 

Kray Foresight. The man who started this complete mess. Smirking to himself. And in one glance, found Lio at the window. When he did, the man’s gross leering expression grew even more foul. His hands laid out to present what would happen next.

 

Lio knew immediately… and he couldn’t take it. His emotional side got the better of him, and he continued to peck and scream. “GALO! DON’T DO IT! THAT’S NOT ME! PLEASE LOOK OVER HERE!”

 

And as he panicked, the swan failed to notice that out from within the shrubbery, there was a gun aimed straight at him.

 


 

“Lio!”

 

The dance stopped, and the prince looked back at his dancing partner with confusion. Galo squirmed, but continued what he started.

 

“I… need you to know that I’m sorry… for everything.”

 

Lio was still puzzled by Galo’s words. Galo faced himself away from the prince, blushing and biting his lip for saying such stupid shit.

 

What am I doing?! was all he could think. C’mon, dumbass! If this works and he returns these feelings, Lio could turn back to normal, so just spit it out already!!

 

“Where did this suddenly come from? I never thought you would be more humble.”

 

The soldier turned to find Lio smugly smiling at him, as if their animosity towards each other never happened, and they somehow were always friends.

 

He gulped. Time was running short. There was no other alternative to take this conversation. It was now or never.

 

“Look Lio, I know we’ve got off on the wrong foot a lot of the time, but I’ve learned now that we are not so different. Your strong desire to protect and care for the people you share a strong fate to... that’s admirable.”

 

Lio’s vision sparkled in awe. Galo continued as he began to transition his gaze onto those very eyes.

 

“It may seem like this is going too fast, but… I want you to know that I’ve fallen for you. And even if you reject me, I’ll still be by your side no matter what. Your determined spirit is magnificent, and I will always fight for its integrity!”

 

He gently held Lio’s hand, admiring his beloved’s countenance to find the same expression place upon it. His Highness was astonished, mouth agape, eyes shimmering, his face flustered at what just happened. The crowd gathered round them also looked amazed, but in the sense that they thought this soldier was being incredibly foolish in his statements.

 

Galo quivered a little as the wait for a response lingered. He shut his eyes from the embarrassment. Crap! Maybe I shouldn’t have said all that. He could still be harboring a grudge after all…

 

“I love you, too.”

 

His stare opened once again to Lio’s direction, the words catching him off guard. He needed confirmation. “R-really?”

 

A small smile warmly affirmed, “Of course. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I’ve always liked you. Even when we fought, I always knew you were a kind spirit in the end.”

 

Their hands embraced, fingers intertwined and firmly grasped as the two began to get lost in the other’s eyes. It was a moment of bliss for the two. But Galo remembered, there needed to be more than just words and handholding in order for the ‘spell’ to wear.

 

So he leaned in, his face eclipsing Lio’s, and he gave into his true desire. Lips touched, tenderly. Their arms wrapped around the other in a graceful embrace.

 

It felt beautiful. It seemed perfect. The crowd looked on at the scene, astonished by the romance.

 

Kray just smirked. And turned upward to the stain-glass windows. When his eyes met with the image of a swan, he saw what he expected.

 

Agony. Despair. Pure pain. It nearly made the man chuckle.

 

It was inevitable. How could you put your trust into someone so inept? No matter, your time has passed. I win.

 

Goodbye, dear Prince.

 


 

N...no....Unbelievable.

 

 That was all Lio could think when he saw Galo kissing his doppelganger. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Could barely breathe. His emotions were just falling apart. And as a result, he couldn’t fly fast enough to dodge the bullet that entered his chest. 

 

The shot remained wedged into his skin, his heart badly torn and broken. His body fell immediately and his vision gradually faded. The raindrops spread the blood onto the stone path, the same one Biar stepped toward when she emerged from the shadows. She nudged her foot on Lio’s lifeless form. The wings twitched a little in response, but the bird remained still.

 

There were no words spoken. Just thoughts. As Biar headed back with Lio’s body in hand, she planned in her head what she would tell Advisor Kray and Commander Vulcan.

 

All Lio could think before he fell unconscious was about his father. His friends. Galo. Promare.

 

The Burnish.

 

Kray’s going to kill them!

 

I need to save them or else...

 

Dammit! I can’t give in.

 

Not yet!

 

I... have to talk to Galo.

 

I...need to see that idiot...

 

So he can save… me...

 


 

As the kiss continued, Galo felt a familiar warmth emanate within his heart. He thought, This must be good! I’m healing Lio just as he’s done for me! Finally, this can end…

 

But the heat became more difficult to endure. Unlike before, where the pain seared into his heart, Galo felt the flames grow across his body. It was as though he was being cooked alive, the fire paralyzing him. The soldier pulled himself from the kiss and dropped to his knees as the pain continued to consume him. Lio looked on with concern as this happened, asking, “Galo, what’s wrong?”

 

The pain didn’t stop him from realizing, as slowly cocked his head upward, that something was definitely wrong. “Ngh! Nevermind me, a-AHre you hurt at all?”

 

“I don’t know what you mean, I’m completely fine.”

 

“What do you mean you’re fine? Wasn’t the spell you put on me supposed to connect... me to your pain?!”

 

“What spell?”

 

What spell? Galo felt suspicion crawl down his back. The unease was now pissing him off; he wanted the truth, NOW.

 

“W-wh… Who are you?!”

 

The prince was put on the spot as the crowd turned from Galo’s dilemma back to Lio.

 

“What do you mean, Galo? I’m Li-” His face turned to shock as he stuttered on his name. The young noble cleared his throat and tried again.

 

“Lio. Lio! Lio Fotia! My name is Lio Fotia!” Shock remained and became more fearful for what it's visage was saying. The prince held his throat as the panic set in.

 

“What’s happening? Why can’t I say my own name?! Sis…”

 

The prince looked back at Heris, unsure of what was happening. Heris didn't respond, she just adjusted her glasses and turned aside. Galo was becoming even more confused, thinking to himself, S-sis? I don’t recall Heris having other siblings...unless…

 

“A-Aina?”

 

'Lio' turned back in response. The soldier’s eyes grew wide from the realization. The frustration turned into distress as the situation combined with his pain weighed heavily on Galo’s back. And as expected, when you carry such awful burdens for so long, they began to break him down.

 

“What the hell is going on here?!” 

 

The crowd remained silent, watching the man scream from his throat for an answer. Swirls of faces dizzy the poor guy as he frantically searched for someone to speak up.

 

“Someone. Please. Answer ME!!”

 

Clap.

 

Clap.

 

Clap. Clap.

 

Galo slowly craned his head towards the sound of clapping hands to find what he never wanted to be true. Kray stood atop the stairs, the only one applauding this moment as everyone around him just looked on in confusion to what exactly is happening.

 

When the man decided to stop, the Advisor looked down on Galo with purpose once more. His first words both complimenting and insulting to say the least.

 

“Bravo, Galo Thymos! You managed to do exactly what I wanted without me even asking! As expected from someone as dull-minded as you.”

 

The soldier couldn’t move, his eyes holding incredible pain.

 

Kray ignored the soldier and focused his attention back onto the crowd, exclaiming from the top of his lungs, an introduction of sorts. Something he planned to say ever since his first day as an Advisor.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, What happened here tonight was no performance! I present to you all the demise of the Prometh/Fotia era...and the beginning of the Foresight Dynasty!”

Chapter Text

Kray stood triumphant above his crowd; Galo was near tears, kneeling in pain.

 

“Agh! Advisor Kray...what are you doing?”

 

Kray glared at the obstacle with the relief that he was finally going to be out of his way. He spoke the words he rehearsed for this moment. “Silence! I’ve had enough hearing your yappy voice try to guilt me into being your father figure! The truth is you’re a traitor to this kingdom, Galo! And you’ll be treated as such!”

 

Galo went immediately into panic mode. “Wha-traitor?! NO! I wouldn’t betray Promare, I would risk my life for it!”

 

The crowd’s murmurs grew louder as this scene went into effect. Kray smirked as he knew how he would play this out. It was time to reveal the truth.

 

“That so? Well, how about you tell everyone here about your latest adventure...in Fire Forest?”

 

Galo made a look of betrayed puzzlement. “I already told you… I found nothing…”

 

“Well...that’s not what Heris found.”

 

Kray snapped, and the researcher responded by walking out of the shadows, into the center near Galo. With a flick of one of her usual ‘spells’, a fiery mirror emerged from the floor, presenting an exact image of Galo talking to Prince Lio. But as the events from that night were projected, Galo felt there was something…off about them.

 

“I appreciate you trying to help kill Advisor Kray.”

 

GASP! The crowd simultaneously choked on their breath from that one line.

 

The words spilled naturally from Lio’s tongue. Galo turned pale at what was happening. Not only did Kray spy on their conversation, knew Lio was alive and is trying to frame them as traitors- No...

 

It was that Lio was right all along. That Kray has become...or was always...a nefarious man that had at least planned on murdering Lio. The dialogue continued.

 

“That is why I joined the knighthood in the first place! Tomorrow, Advisor Kray is going to have a royal ball… Meet me at the training grounds before 8:00 and I’ll do what I can to help.”

 

“I appreciate it.”

 

The moment disappeared in smoke after that. The crowd looked at Galo and ‘Lio’ with disgust as the former crawled a couple steps toward Kray and yelled through his pain, “That’s NOT what we said, Kray and you KNOW IT!”

 

Kray just smiled as he revealed his next statement, “My, my...you seem to be very hostile towards me. Does the taste of treachery not bode well for you... get used to it .”

 

“W...what’s that supposed to mean…”

 

“Well, seeing as how you AND Prince Lio were going to kill me...I figured the extra precaution would be to have at least the soldiers I could trust find and capture Lio...while Heris and I created bait for you to swiftly take instead.”

 

Galo turned to the ‘prince’, who was paralyzed in fear of what she experienced. Before they could do anything though, Heris unhooked their necklace from behind and in a bright light that overtook the foyer crowd, a girl in commoner clothing appeared before them.

 

“Aina…”

 

The two had a fearful look, one more serious than the other.

 

“That’s right, Galo. And she did such a good job fooling you into thinking she was Sir Lio, isn’t that right Ms. Ardebit?”

 

She couldn’t take anymore embarrassment and betrayal, so she ran toward the crowd. Heris attempted to stop and console her, but Aina threw her aside as she left. Heris tried to chase her sister, but Kray’s voice halted her actions.

 

“Heris! Get up here and prepare the crowd for our next presentation! NOW!”

 

She obeyed and slowly walked up the steps, all while Galo began to writhe in his pain, nearly in fetal position. “...then where’s Prince Lio, Kray?”

 

The man clapped, excited to reveal that information to the crowd. “I’m glad you said that, Galo, because as it turns out, the rainstorm outside gave us a bit of luck it seems. It was so cloudy, I presume it was enough to prevent Lio from becoming human. Even so, one of Vulcan’s soldiers had a little fun... hunting ‘game’.”

 

No…

 

The words shook Galo’s soul. And the sound of creaking doors mixed with the heavy rainfall outside made the feeling even worse. He slowly turned, anticipating nothing to appear.

 

But instead, his eyes met the lifeless body of a pale-green swan, being held in Biar’s arms like some prize she won. She then proceeded to throw the prince like trash; Galo managed to exert some strength he held to slide on the floor and grab Lio. From this hold, it was evident that the prince was still alive, but he was barely breathing. There was a deep wound in his chest, carrying a bullet that was buried between skin and muscle tissue. The sight of such a nasty display angered Galo, and gave him the willpower to stand right back up.

 

“Why...WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO HIM?! HOW COULD YOU-”

 

“Vulcan.”

 

“Now we’re talking! CIRCLE HIM, MEN!”

 

Galo ran as best he could to get to Biar, but was thwarted when Vulcan’s men circled him and one proceeded to knock him back. He kneeled once more, now keeping Lio as close to his chest as possible. Kray continued his orders.

 

“Take them to the dungeon. I’m done wasting my time.”

 

The coldness of his tone further cemented Galo’s image of Kray as a cruel man with no respect for anyone but himself. And that gave him his third wind.

 

He stood up and ran toward the guard closest to Kray. With as much force he could muster, he pulled his head back then slammed it across the soldier’s, knocking him to the ground. Two guards from each side moved forward, their swords lunging toward Galo, but at the last second before impact, Galo managed to sidestep away, then leaned down to perform a leg sweep that managed to throw both guards on the floor.

 

He spent no more time on fighting soldiers. Galo continued to run towards the steps as the crowd fearfully pulled back; Kray remained still and gave the man an awful patronizing glare. 

 

Why would you do this, Kray?

 

I thought you cared about Promare. Of its people.

 

I could understand if you held judgments against the Burnish...I’m just as guilty for that…

 

...but...how could you take them away from their homes...

 

Hurt them...hurt Lio…

 

What gives you the right to do such awful things?

 

Was the respect I had for you just some joke?!”

 

The anger that fueled Galo’s spirit grew louder and placed him towards Kray in each step he took, but once he reached halfway across the stairs, his vision suddenly began to fade. Like his body gave up at the last second, and he found himself falling off some of the steps, back towards Vulcan and his guards.

 

When he looked at the Commander, he saw his sharp teeth grinning at him like a predator towards its meal. The burly man took his sheathed sword over his head, and then--

 

SMACK!

 


 

Galo woke up in pain. His body ached and it was a bit difficult for him to move around. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness around him, he saw in the harsh blue light that he was sitting on cold, wet stone. The area around him was covered in stone. Some of the most dirty, mold-ridden stone he’d seen actually.

 

In front of him were iron bars, though, and beyond that was a hallway with a wall holding two small torches that barely gave off any light. Galo tried to move forward to examine things more closely, but as he did so he fell back toward the wall. He looked up and saw that his hands were wrapped into a single shackle that was chained to the wall.

 

He really did lock me up.

 

Galo’s thoughts then ran to the next worry in his mind. Lio. Where is he?

 

He looked to the right of him, then left to find that Lio was still with him. But he was far from Galo’s reach, if he even had a chance to reach him. Galo sighed at this development, but even more so, he realized from within him that something was wrong. His body still hurt, but it wasn’t as bad as before. In fact the heat he felt within him seemed to grow dimmer... colder .

 

Wha...what does that mean?

 

Galo then noticed through the quiet that Lio’s breaths were becoming slower. And that clued him in on what was happening.

 

Lio’s dying...Oh God this is bad…

 

“Lio! Wake up, please!”

 

He tried to pull at the shackle with his strength as he called out to Lio, but each time he did, it just pulled him back to the wall. Hope began to falter from Galo’s thoughts. His driven determination waning after all he had been through this one day: knowing now Kray was a monster, being framed for attempted murder, betraying Aina, and now...losing Lio.

 

God...I really am an idiot...

 

And then he just laid back, dejected. No tears were even necessary. He just gave in to his fate right then and awaited the fire inside his heart to finally die out.

 

 

….

 

... pit pat pit pat pit pat…

 

Pit pat pit pat pit pat…

 

Galo looked up and found two small black shadows scurrying across the stone. They revealed themselves in the moonlight to be in colors of blue and red respectfully. And suddenly, Galo remembered what that meant.

 

“Gueira...Meis…”

 

The two mice looked up in response, one more polite-looking than the other. Gueira ran towards Lio’s body and appeared grief-stricken, looking back at Galo with disdain. The two mice then proceeded to run back out of the cell towards the hallway before Galo could even form another sentence.

 

 

Time passed. Galo heard nothing until a gradual sound of jingling metal grew louder and louder. He saw at the left corner of his eye the mice once again, both pulling between them a set of keys. They headed back toward Galo with said keys and headed up the wall toward his wrist lock. While Gueira held the set with his teeth, Meis proceeded to turn the key in and unlock Galo’s hands from imprisonment. The only human in this bizarre group flexed his fist a little and turned back to say his thanks.

 

But no one had time for gratitude, the mice ran back towards Lio and motioned as best they could for Galo to head toward them. He complied and took both Lio’s body as well as the keys from his mice friends.

 

I’m so glad they showed up… or else my resolve would’ve completely vanished. Now then, how do we get back to the lake?

 

That was surely the next question as Galo moved toward his cell bars to examine the hallway. Currently all he could see was blank floor and two adjacent, empty cells next to him. After that, the dim light gave nothing more than just stone steps. He jiggled one of the keys in his grasp into the cell lock, but then the sound of footsteps appeared from his left side. Galo moved Lio back in place, then himself back on the shackles, hiding the keys behind his back alongside Gueira and Meis.

 

As the steps grew closer, Galo began to sweat, worried someone would look for missing keys in what could be the only unvacant cell in this area of the presumably large dungeon. Finally, they made it to the cell, and as Galo faced the man, his eyes couldn’t help but stare in surprise of a familiar face.

 

“So… they put you in here, kid. That seems cruel.”

 

“Commander Ignis!”

 

“Without much security too...guess Kray’s a bit stingy with ‘his’ men… or just thought you were too weak to even have one person’s attention.”

 

Galo smiled, relieved that at least one man among the knightdom was on his side.

 

Ignis pulled out his own set of dungeon keys and unlocked the cell immediately. He motioned Galo to come forward, and so Galo did after gathering Lio once more.

 

“I see you got your own set of keys. And...some new animal...friends…”

 

“It’s hard to explain, Commander…”

 

“I’ll leave it be, then…”

 

Ignis whistled to his right and out from the shadows came two of his men, awaiting his instruction.

 

“We’ll help lead you to an exit, son.”

 

“I’m thankful for the help, sir, but I thought you’d be on the Advisor’s side in all this!”

 

Ignis placed his hand on Galo’s shoulder and gave him a stern look. “Kid, I’ve sparred with you thousands of times. In the breaks between, I know that you’re no blood-thirsty sycophant. No… that title belongs more to Kray than you. I heard his plan...and I’ll make sure to undo you from it before it gets into action.”

 

The Commander moved his head back to signal Galo that they needed to escape now. But as they did so, Galo couldn’t help but ask. 

 

“What exactly is Kray’s plan…?”

 


 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m quite sorry for what you had to see back there. Rest assured, I’m no longer having any kind of stunt like that happen again.”

 

Kray chuckled to his compatriots as he stood front in the center of the ballroom, ready to “entertain” his ideas to the crowd.

 

“Now as most of us know, the Burnish have been a loud minority that has managed to plague Promare’s villages for...well, since the beginning of time I presume. BUT! Their scary abilities shouldn’t threaten us for much longer.”

 

Mutters from the crowd speculated Kray’s introductory statement.

 

“With the help of our kingdom’s research on Burnish abilities, I’ve discovered the technology to not only absorb these powers, but to use them for more...beneficial purposes in sustaining our kingdom.”

 

Speculation turned into curious doubt.

 

“Allow me to demonstrate, folks.”

 

Kray motioned Vulcan to come forward with the Burnish prisoner. This one was a young woman, tan skinned, possibly late twenties. She was pushed to the ground and quivered in fear as she looked above at the Advisor, unable to accept that she was basically about to die.

 

She managed to put a word in before her fate was sealed, asking the Advisor, “W-why would you do this…?” And then with a grip of her hand, the Burnish powers she held transferred to him, and she closed her eyes before the ashes engrossed her form. Kray took a step back from the dust as he signalled one of the maids to come clean it up.

 

Everyone grew fearful seeing now that the Advisor held a fist of Burnish flame almost intimidatingly in front of them. But he made sure to calm their nerves of the thought.

 

“It’s nothing to fear, everyone. That is just how the process works. Now, let me show you what the potential of this discovery. Miss Biar, please step forward.”

 

The woman did so, facing Kray as he placed his hand outward for a simple handshake. She hesitated for only a second, spending a single thought on if the action of touching Burnish flame would hurt her. But it passed, and she just did what she was told. The moment her hand met Kray’s, the flames transferred to her, she gasped for air. People in the crowd were beginning to look away, fearing that if they looked back, all they’ll see was another corpse and realized failure of placing Kray in charge of Promare.

 

But neither of those things happened. Biar was fine, she was just on fire. A fire that didn’t seem to immolate her. It was like a visual aura that entranced those that saw it. The flames turned from a vibrant orange-red to a more subtle dark purple, and once that change was complete, they shrunk down into Biar’s fist.

 

The sight of this ‘transformation’ was bizarre, unbelievable to the crowd. But Kray expected it, knowing his plan was already in motion. It was time to blow his audience away even further.

 

CLAP!

 

“Burnish flame can be controlled by those of strong will, selected by both me and Commander Vulcan. And these flames, under the right hands, can be used as a protection and a great defense against threats both human and inhuman.”

 

Snap!

 

Soldiers bring in another Burnish captured by Kray. This time an elderly man, unable to even stand on his own. His hands were unshackled and he thrown across the floor towards Biar and Kray. Even though he wasn’t near most of the crowd, many still took a step back and even planned to run if things got too dangerous.

 

The old man picked his torso up off the ground, and when he saw Kray, he became red with anger. His hand grew a powerful flame and he charged toward the advisor, yelling with the incoherence of someone who has grown senile, insane, or a mixture of both.

 

Biar stood as a roadblock, though. She pulled her hand back and charged it towards the man. Her flames formed into a ball and moved directly at the old Burnish, immediately immobilizing him, consuming his flesh, and then returning to smoke as his body returned to ashes.

 

The crowd went from fearful doubt to incredulous amazement. Some even beginning to cheer and clap at what transpired. Biar smiled at using such a miraculous power, while Kray grabbed her hand and raised it up in triumph.

 

“With this power, we can control it rather than fear it! Use it to our greatest advantages and bring prosperity among our kingdoms!”

 

The cheers grew louder. Many began to walk towards Kray in the hopes to discussing more about this ability. Meanwhile, a certain researcher stood in the back, unsurprised but still ashamed of what her research resulted in.

 

I knew the consequences of my work. How using the Burnish could benefit Kray, but kill them. But I never accepted that what I was doing was completely… unethical.

 

...And I hurt Aina so much...betrayed her trust...framed Galo…

 

And for what? The protection of my family...the recognition of my talents…

 

...Not true…

 

I did it for Kray…

 

She placed a hand on her chest and felt three vials clink amongst the pocket of her robes. Heris took a gulp of air at the thought of what she might do next. And what sealed her fate was out of the corner of the eye, she saw a soldier ran to Vulcan and whisper in the Commander’s ear something unpleasant. Something that made the Commander’s face turn rotten and head out of the ballroom, back into the front entrance.

 

Heris followed suit without Kray’s permission or attention . She grabbed one of the vials containing the same powder she used to transport to the lake, headed to another room away from the crowd, and prepared for her next destination.

 

She prepared for transport, but hesitated in one small breath. Her eyes shook at the thought that what would happen next could mean her end. But then she thought of Aina…

 

And that one image motivated her to do what she thought was right.

 


 

They made it to foyer, but they had to stick to the shadows as best they could. Ignis wanted them to leave through the front entrance, but obviously that would be too easy. Two of Vulcan’s guards stood outside those doors and two stood indoors.

 

They whispered to each other.

 

“We’re running low on options, Galo. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to sneak on the other side without me.”

 

“What are you planning on doing, Commander?”

 

“I’ll talk to the soldiers guarding the front door. You just stay between these two and don’t cause suspicion. Do you think you can do that?”

 

Galo grumbled. “...Sneaking really isn’t my strength, sir, but I’ll do it if it means saving Lio.”

 

Ignis nodded then walked away to initiate the plan. The two soldiers next to Galo, each burly enough to hide him in their silhouette, proceeded to walk subtly out of the shadows and into the chandelier light before them.

 

Galo couldn’t help but glance, though, at Ignis, impressed at how just the use of a conversation can pretty much act as camouflage for their plan. But when one of Vulcan’s guards glanced to see a blue spike of hair bouncing in motion, Galo forced himself back into place. Crap! Did he see me?

 

...

 

Moments and a couple steps passed. Seemed like it was a false alarm.

 

“Commander Ignis! Always a pleasure to see you!”

 

Nevermind. Vulcan was here.

 

“One of my guards saw you enter the foyer and called me immediately. Mind telling me why you’re helping an attempted murderer escape his imprisonment?!”

 

Everyone froze. Ignis casually turned around and walked toward Vulcan as if the scene wasn’t a serious matter.

 

“Because I know what you’re planning with Kray...and I refuse to participate in it. Does that sound right.”

 

“So, you’re just another traitor...”

 

Vulcan’s men circled Ignis, others running with swords in tow to apprehend Galo and the two soldiers beside him. But that wasn’t going to happen again, now was it?

 

Thwip!

 

Ignis’s sword unsheathed and in under a second, he managed to swipe the feet of Vulcan’s men, knocking a majority of them unconscious. Vulcan was stronger than that, though, and he had much more morale to bring into the fray.

 

Wheeew!

 

At the sound of his whistle, more men arrived to attack Ignis. But that was the least of his worries…

 

Ignis saw one of the unconscious guard’s swords drop on the floor, grabbed it as fast as he could, then threw towards Galo’s direction. Galo grabbed the sword as carefully as he could when he had three animals under his arms as well. He kept the item to the side as he looked up at Ignis, questioning if the Commander would give him more direction in this moment.

 

“Run now, kid! Just leave-”

 

Shing!

 

Ignis’s sword met with Vulcan’s, the two dueling each other while Vulcan’s soldiers circled in on the Commander like vultures.

 

Galo’s head spun passed Ignis, passed the soldiers defending him from Vulcan’s guards and towards the doors he needed to choose from. One in particular felt out of the ordinary. It was a door he recognized Aina’s sister enter many times. A door that possibly led to Heris’s lab, where potentially, he could find a way to quickly escape and even reach the lake in.

 

And instinctively, his feet moved just from that one thought.

 


 

Galo stormed inside the room, frantically heading directly towards the first set of furniture he could find to block the door. He managed to use the desk beside him along with the chair next to it to keep his opponents at bay. The slamming of metal on metal barraged, though, sending even the bravest of people into anxiety. Galo panted for breath, panicking once again into finding some way out of the castle. There were no windows in the room to speak of, no secret doors, no hidden compartments. It was only a simple room with a fire pit. The realization of that made Galo’s simple mind think all was lost.

 

“No…there has to be a way…Heris must have some way to move so quickly from place to place…”

 

“G-Galo?”

His heart sank, but then the immediate recognition of the voice brought him some comfort. He turned to the back corner, where he saw Aina curled up. Her tears managed to dry, but her face remained stricken with the familiar redness that came with the crying. “What’s going on?”

 

“I can’t explain right now, Aina! But do you know if you’re sister has anything we can use to transport out of here?”

 

Aina gave into some thought before replying, “I wouldn’t really know...she never really shared that information to me.” Thinking of her sister nearly made her fall apart again, but Aina replaced that sadness with rage, and it spoke out with her words. “I still can’t believe she used me like this. You didn’t know about it, did you?”

 

“Of course not!! If I did, I wouldn’t have kissed you!”

 

Those words hurt Aina deeply, Galo then realizing what he said. “...Sorry, I shouldn’t have worded it like that...but right now, I need to take the prince to Fire Forest before the sun rises or else he’ll die.” He kneeled towards the girl, holding her hands with sincerity. “Please Aina...I don’t need forgiveness. I need your help.”

 

There they were, the somber eyes that Aina fell in love with when she was a kid. Before, they were just these puppy dog eyes that showed young Galo’s curious and naive nature of the world, but now, they’ve matured into the eyes of a man that desired at least one hand he knew he could trust. As this happened, the door still boomed loudly with soldier yells and the smacking of swords. The pressure was imminent, and so Aina just smiled.

 

“Of course, Galo. We’re still friends, after all! I won’t abandon you just from a misunderstanding.”

 

They both stood back up and gave themselves some space. Aina still stuttered in her voice, but she remained serious in tone. “We don’t have a lot of time...the question is ...where do we start?”

 

Neither really knew. The collections of potions and powders overwhelmed their sight, appearing much more intimidating than it seemed. The amount of notebooks stacked in the bookshelves didn’t help either, as they had no idea where such a spell could be written.

 

BAM!

 

Wood splintered off the door as the bright chandelier lights peeped into frame. Galo could’ve swore he saw Vulcan’s eye peering through the hole, but he quickly turned away and just started scrounging the cabinet. 

 

Meis and Gueira scurry off one of his arms to help look while Aina began to flip through the notebooks on the opposite side. There has to be something here. Anything.

 

Flik!

 

“OW!!”

 

Aina stopped and looked at her right index. A small slit opened and blood began to seep from within. The sting wasn’t enough to stop her from continuing, but the voice that appeared to call her did.

 

“You have to be more careful, Sis.”

 

Aina froze as the person behind her grabbed the finger and dripped a blue-green liquid that seemed to quickly heal the appendage as if nothing happened. Out of the shadows, the visage appeared in the form of round glasses and a serious demeanor.

 

Aina jumped, causing the books on the shelf to shake, some even falling to the floor. Galo was just as surprised, but decided to run at the scientist instead of being fearful. As he made this reckless move, the researcher began to visibly pull something from her pocket, and so Galo redirected his run toward Aina, then fully stopped; his body blocked his good friend and Lio from getting hit by whatever concoction her sister managed to devise.

 

The two closed their eyes, believing they’d both either be animals, dead, or whatever else Heris and Kray mastermined. But seconds pass, and Galo opens his eyes to wonder what the hold up was, only to find a bottle of a powdery substance shoved in his face.

 

“Take it.”

 

Galo didn’t understand. Heris grew impatient and placed the bottle into Galo’s open palms. She spoke with purpose and refused to stop.

 

“Think about Fire Forest. Hold a pinch of this above the both of you and then drop it immediately. Once you reach the lake and save Lio, go into the castle behind it. I’ve left a lot of things you can use against Kray in that building, but the most important thing to look for is a potion labeled Incendium Salute. Find my instructions for it in this notebook.”

 

She placed the notebook into Aina’s hands. All of the information flew like time itself; Aina and Galo just looked at each other in confusion of all that was going on. 

 

“Someone will need to take the potion, but I trust that even you two have the willpower to handle it.”

 

She huffed for a breath of air, trying her best to calm her nerves.

 

Aina spoke up, unaware if she’ll have a chance to speak again. “Wait, Heris! Slow down! Why are you doing all this?”

 

She answered. “I-It’s been exhausting, working with Kray. I’m tired of waking up everyday, telling myself that I’m doing what’s right for my kingdom...and for my family.”

 

She placed a hand on Aina’s cheek. The caress was gentle, but still a bit cold. Her sister didn’t understand, but Heris refused to state the obvious. She just adjusted her glasses, then remembered she had another thing to give them.

 

“Right! Here, give a drop to each of the mice. They should return to normal after that.” She proceeded to give Galo another bottle containing a pink potion. The researcher turned her back and walked towards her desk, stacking up all her books and cleaning the area as if she was finishing another day of work. As he stirred the small elixir and looked through it closely, Aina still proceeded to ask Heris questions. 

 

“Won’t you get incriminated too? If we show this to everyone, you could be treated as a murderer!”

 

“I basically am one.”

 

“...Heris. You can’t mean that…”

 

“I’ve done a lot of harm than good, Aina. Even if I never see you or Mom and Dad again, I’ll at least feel better knowing I’ve put that cruel man behind bars with me.”

 

She dusted off the wooden seat, and as she did, the door became nearly halfway destroyed. Heris took her seat, the mice at the potion shelf now climbing up Galo’s leg to take rest near his arm. The group looked at the researcher one last time, Galo readying their transport, Aina still lost in her sister’s behavior.

 

“I’ll be right here, sis. Don’t be a stranger.”

 

She smiled with familiarity. A sweeter smile Aina never saw when she said hello to her that morning. It was beautiful, but the truth bitterly outweighed the evident lie. Vulcan began to open the door from the other side, and snidely snicker until he realized what was about to happen. Before he could stop their teleportation, Galo shut his eyes intensely and dropped the powder above them. Aina desperately attempted to leave, her arm reaching for Heris.

 

Instead, she grabbed air. She fell to the ground, her knees skinned from the rough soil. She heard crickets chirping and the sound of raindrops pattering into the lake. The moon taunted her with its presence; she felt her tears swallow her completely. All she wanted to do was go back and visit Heris again.

 

But unfortunately, that first palace visit would be the last time they saw each other.

 


 

“Where’d they go, Heris?”

 

“...”

 

“You didn’t help them, did you? That would be pretty careless of you if you did…”

 

Vulcan’s sword swept by Heris’s cheek, nearly slicing it. The sound of footsteps stopped the Commander from performing a feat. And soon, Kray stood against Heris, but his calm demeanor was replaced with subtle rage.

 

He spoke with a sharp cadence. “You...betrayed me?”

 

The researcher gulped her fear away, and spoke with the confidence of someone embracing their fate. “Yes.”

 

“What made you think that was such a smart move? Huh?”

 

His fist lit up red with fuming anger. His voice followed suit. “All our hard work...the research you’ve done, MY … work to bring Promare and the adjacent kingdoms toward a common goal...you just decided to up and RUIN IT?!

 

The fire in his palm blared, scaring the nearest soldiers, even Vulcan, away from its power. Heris barely budged from her seat. As the fire calmed from his hand, the researcher took a breath and said her piece.

 

“I refuse to participate in your ‘ambitions’ anymore. We’ve hurt so many people, Kray! And if you won’t atone for it, I will .”

 

That was enough. The Advisor couldn’t take any more blasphemy from this wretch’s mouth. The anger consumed him in this moment. The flames consumed his arm and directed towards Heris. Kray violently screamed his emotions as he directed a cruel blow at the woman. The flames consumed her, she didn’t even have a chance to react as when the fire died out, all that was left to see were ashes. The chair was scorched and fell to the floor, lifeless. The room was just an empty room. And that thought satisfied Kray’s irritance.

 

“Keep this area locked off.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“Vulcan!”

 

“Yes Advisor?”

 

“Send you and a couple soldiers off to guard the kingdom on the edge of Fire Forest. If anybody exits that area, you are advised to kill them at all costs.”

 

The shark tooth-like grin consumed Vulcan’s face. He could not be more overjoyed to do such a nasty job. “With absolute pleasure, sir.”

 

“Great. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go converse with our guests.”

 

They all proceeded to leave.

 

The smoke from the ashes vanishing like the life that was just taken.

Chapter Text

Aina couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t take how close she had come to being by her sister one last time. She tried to memorize that small smile that parted ways once she vanished from view. And as she remembered, the shock of that moment kept her from trying to do anything more than cry.

 

“Aina...could you give this to Gueira and Meis, please?”

 

She looked up, seeing Galo attempting to give her the pink elixir that Heris gave to him. Focusing on the vial, flashes of her sister’s face appeared before her. Out of emotional instinct, she slapped the glass from his hands.

 

“Hey! We need that to help-”

 

“I KNOW! I know what it’s for, Galo! But could you just spend one moment away from playing hero and read the atmosphere?!”

 

Her tears mixed with spit, venomously spat back at Galo with the hurt she previously held in. This whole day was just an awful nightmare and Aina just wanted to wake up back home with her family. With Heris.

 

“I’m...not...trying to ‘play hero’, Aina.”

 

Aina’s eyes met with Galo’s once more. The stare she saw was disciplined and serious. He opened her hand to once again give her the vial he had been trying to hand off.

 

“I’m here to be a hero, one that Heris worked so hard to save to bring peace to our kingdom! Your sister did all of this so she could protect you. She wants you to live free in this world… and the only way we can do it is if we defeat Kray. So please, bring them back to normal.” He waved a hand toward the two mice, who just looked up at Aina with worry.

 

Aina still felt like crying, but hearing Galo say something so sentimentally corny just brought her back to reality. Promare was in trouble, and she was one of the few that needed to save it.

 

“You’re right, Galo. I’m sorry for saying you were ‘playing hero’. I sometimes forget you really are becoming one.”

 

For a moment, the two smiled and chuckled to themselves, like they did once before as kids. 

 

Aina stayed on the grass, knelt to the ground, then prepared one drop for both mice as instructed. Instantaneously, two bright lights appeared on the two rodent’s forms and grew upon Aina’s vision, nearly blinding her. She covered her eyes at the sight and only opened them once she heard an unfamiliar voice speak up from the darkness.

 

“AH! It feels so much better to have normal hands again!”

 

“I’m just glad to be taller than you again, Gueira!”

 

“Hey! Watch it!”

 

Two unknown faces appeared in Aina’s view. Two human faces. Meaning the potion’s effects were a success. 

 

Splash! Splash!

 

Galo’s legs met with the lake water, distracting those around him to focus on him. Gueira’s face shifted from playful annoyance to sheer frustration as he saw the dumbass that possibly sealed the prince’s fate. He nearly stepped forward to start a fight with him if it weren’t for Meis’s interjection. 

 

Aina just looked on and saw Galo slowly tread through the waters, thinking to herself, So when he asked about falling in love with a Burnish, he was trying to ask if his feelings were valid. Huh. I guess I didn’t stand a chance...

 

Go save him, Hero!

 


 

His legs felt cold from the water, but deep in his heart, Galo felt the fire inside him becoming glacial. Lio’s breaths were more inconsistent and shaky. He moved faster, nearly tripping, but he managed to make it without dropping or losing the prince.

 

Galo kept hold of Lio while the moonlight shone. When his head touched the gleam, the magic instantly took hold like a trap that was set upon its prey. Galo was nearly caught up in the swirl of water, but the transformation acted like a cocoon upon the prince, never revealing its machinations. The only thing the soldier could notice was how much heavier Lio became in the process and how he had to readjust in order to carry Lio’s human form. The water calmed once the sequence was complete, and so Galo saw his prince in his true self, eyes closed. 

 

The fire inside still grew colder.

 

Galo was now terrified. 

 

He splashed and shook Lio around, begging him to wake up, but the prince remained still. His heart sank even lower, beginning to feel the freeze. The soldier looked back at his friends, who stood at the edge in anticipation for the prince to wake up. His head laid low, he was about ready to just give up. He looked at his left palm, the burnish mark fading away. A symbol of hope, vanishing before his eyes.

 

Wait…

 

He remembered. The fire inside me isn’t completely dead yet; that fire has always healed me since the beginning. It could maybe heal Lio’s wound. Save him from certain death. That has to be the answer!

 

But how could he give this power back to Lio. Could Galo just press a hand on the prince’s chest and imagine it transfers toward him? How does a Burnish just give such a thing away like that? AGH! There’s no time! I’ve got no choice but to do this!

 

This is embarrassing… but I really hope this works…

 

“Phew…”  With a life-giving breath at his throat, he pressed his lips against Lio’s. It was a tender exchange for Galo, as he gathered his thoughts of Lio. All his worries for him, the small bouts of animosity he held for him as a kid, the love he had for him; it all stacked together and acted under this one moment. Time felt immovable. Quiet consumed the forest. A small dot of light arose and gleaned off from Galo’s lips to Lio’s.

 

Galo moved his head back, still holding Lio, awaiting any moment for the man to wake up.

 

He remained floating in the water, peaceful and still.

 

“Lio...please…”

 


 

White. That was all Lio could see when he opened his eyes. The space he was in was completely empty and lifeless. The solitude left him scared.

 

“Hello?” he yelled.

 

No answer.

 

“HELLO?!”

 

Nothing.

 

“Please someone answer me! I need to get home!”

 

He was about to break. I’m...dead, aren’t I…?

 

NO! I can’t be. I haven’t actually lived my life yet. It was supposed to start when I became officially titled ‘Prince’. I...still need to save the Burnish from Kray’s fate. I can’t die! No!

 

“SOMEONE PLEASE! GET ME OUT OF HERE! MEIS! GUEIRA!”

 

“GALO!!”

 

 

There were no responses. Lio fell on his knees, the denial becoming just complete sadness. He cupped his mouth with hands, trying to prevent gasps of pain from shouting out. His eyes would’ve burned with tears if he could feel them. But in this realm, it appeared the prince couldn’t feel anything. Just his emotions.

 

And they seared his heart with a heavy weight that nearly dragged him to the floor. 

 

I’m alone.

 

This is what death is like…? Living with yourself...forever?

 

I can’t take it.

 

 

“Son, what are you doing here?”

 

His eyes opened wide. The same white shined brightly, but in the center of his vision, was a fuzzy form. The image became more focused when he crawled closer. Regal attire and the familiarity of a grey beard led Lio closer to the figure.

 

“Father!”

 

The image was even sharper now and evident to Lio’s eye. It was King Deus! The concept of the king being alive cause Lio to jump up from the floor and run to his surrogate father in a familial embrace.

 

“I missed you!”

 

“I...missed you, too Lio! But please tell me, why are you here?”

 

Lio left his hug and proceeded to bring his anger into rambles. “Kray, Father! Advisor Kray killed you and then tried to kill me! But that didn’t work, so he turned me into a swan thinking I’d be stuck as an animal forever, but when that wasn’t going according to his plan, he used a sniper to try and shoot me and-”

 

That last thought reminded Lio what happened. He tugged at his hair as the pieces fell into place. “Oh god...I did die, didn’t I?”

 

“...No son. You didn’t.”

 

Lio pulled his hair from his face, looking at the king in confusion.

 

“What do you mean? I’m here in this…’afterlife’ with you now, so doesn’t that mean I’m dead?”

 

The king pulled Lio to his side. “Son, this place you’re in right now is purgatory. It’s just a passageway into the next world. But I don’t believe you’ll be going with me today.”

 

“How can you be so sure?”

 

Deus cleared his throat, then swiped the air with his left hand. As he did, the floor below them changed from a blank white to a deep blue. There appeared another world before them. One with a forest, a lake and a familiar blue haired man living within it. 

 

“Someone’s waiting for you out there.”

 

Lio looked into view as he saw the man performing a kiss on his lifeless body. Looking closer, he could see the flame magic he embedded into the soldier was transferring itself back unto him. It was a kiss of life. Something Lio couldn’t believe would happen to him. By Galo Thymos of all people.

 

His father pulled him aside, giving enough to side glance but the focus at this point was on what the King had to say.

 

“Lio, I know I’ve pushed so much onto you. I was wrong for pressuring you into being this princely figure for the Burnish people. I just… saw so much potential in you, like my father did for me when I was your age. But I know now that you can’t just legislate and protect Promare alone: you have to do it with the people you truly trust.”

 

King Deus’s eyes gleamed at the boy with the same determination he once gave him when they first met that fateful day in the village. Lio held that hope in like a breath of fresh air, and nodded to his father, “I’m so glad I got to see you again, Father. I promise...I’ll work to bring down Kray and prevent him from forsaking your vision. And I’ll do it with my friends-”

 

Lio looked back at Galo, who was now just looking at his form, anticipating him to come back.

 

“And my future husband!”

 

Those words shook the King with surprise, he didn’t expect to hear that, that was for sure! He stroked his beard and chuckled at his son’s honest confession. “I see, well before I leave I guess I’ll have to give you my blessing.”

 

The King held his son with a powerful embrace. “I look forward to your successes, Sir Lio.”

 

Lio closed his eyes and just let this moment sink in. He could feel his father’s frame slip away as his vision suddenly faded from this dreamlike world. And soon, he started to feel the real world enclose around him. 

 

The cold water of the lake was the first sensation he noticed. But before his focus drifted from the ‘dream’ he had to the water surrounding him, Lio thought of one thing he needed to say to himself before waking up.

 

Goodbye, Father.

 


 

His eyes were half-lidded. Still sleepy. Lips parted. He blinked a couple times before finally looking outside to find the night sky canopying over him. And at his left side, was Galo. Slack-jawed in disbelief and nearly in tears.

 

“Galo?”

 

“Y-you’re awake! ...Welcome back!”

 

Lio was still in a daze. His memory was pretty fuzzy...last thing he remembered was getting shot in the chest, but when he slightly moved his head up to see it, there was just a hole in his shirt baring smooth skin. No tissue, scars or blood was shown alongside it. The soldier beside Lio sighed, then started to laugh. The prince looked at Galo in confusion as he laid his head back down in the waters to rest. The laughter just grew louder.

And then the tears came.

 

“I...I almost thought we were going to lose you there! If I didn’t realize how to use the power you gave me...to save you...I...well...That...that was just sheer luck...I mean I am just…”

 

As the soldier sobbed, Lio couldn’t take all the negativity anymore, and did the best thing he thought he could do.

 

He just pulled Galo’s head into his; Lio kissed the thoughtful fool for as long as he could. It was a powerful moment for the prince: to finally awaken the true passion within him and reveal his love for the man that saved his life. It was pure magic.

 

When he released Galo, the soldier pulled his head up and looked completely dumbfounded. Lio rolled his eyes jokingly.

 

“An idiot? Sure, but you’re the idiot who saved my life, Galo Thymos. Don’t ever forget that.”

 

“O...ok…”

 

Lio sat upwards in the water, regaining some of his strength once more. As he did this, however, two heavy frames immediately laid him back into the lake,  grappling him with warm hugs that he instantly recognized were from his closest friends.

 

“Sir Lio! It’s great to see you alive and well! We were worried that dumbass wouldn’t have been able to save you!”

 

“Hey! I don’t deserve to be called that by everyone!”

 

Lio just chuckled as he returned the hug in tandem. It felt good to finally hold his friends once more. As the people they always were. As human beings.

 

Meis let go, only keeping one hand on Lio’s shoulder. He looked at his liege with an earnest smile. “Welcome back, Sir. I know you’ve had a tough day, but do you think you’re able to kick Kray’s ass off your rightful throne?”

 

Lio smirked back. “I’ve been wanting to do that since the day he stole King Deus’s last breath.”

 

Chapter Text

Winding up the spiral steps, the group found the door to Heris’s alchemical study. Inside, it looked like a much more contained, smaller room compared to the lab she had in the castle. But this one was hidden off to the public, and secrets were bound to be discovered.

 

Aina pulled open the notebook, remembering what her sister had asked of them. To find the potion, Incidium Salute. Glued to the page were some of the ingredients Aina used to make it: bits of dark charcoal and sage laid analytically on the edge. Some of these ingredients, however, were unfamiliar to her and made her feel uneasy about anyone drinking such a substance. Ground Ivory, Goblin Oil, Dragon’s Eye. That last one nearly caused Aina to vomit, involuntarily thinking what exactly this concoction would even taste like. If it was even a potion to drink that is...

 

She pulled herself together, though, and looked at the illustration of what the finished product would appear as. It appeared to be a mix of red and orange, spiraling around the container, looking almost wild and unstable. Aina explained this to the others as they began their search. She looked back for these ‘instructions’ Heris wanted her to read.

 

The contents just made her more worried for the group.

 



Incidium Salute

 

Main Outcome: To Extinguish a Burnish’s flames if they become a danger to its people. 

 

Experiment One: Original plan to use elixir on Burnish flames has failed. The result nearly set my entire lab on fire, and would’ve given Kray an idea on what I was doing. Will need to make the potion usable on a person.

 

Experiment Two: I took a drop of potion and attempted to stop the Burnish flame in the fireplace. I only managed to make the fire about half its size before I ended up passed out on the floor. When I woke up this morning, King Deus had already requested that I be bedridden while having me tended. A medic stopped by to check on me and said to Deus that if I was not put to bedrest any sooner, I would’ve died.

 

Overall, I need to figure out what I’ll need to do in order to extinguish the flames without injuring myself. 

 

Experiment Three: I’ve added some ingredients to the latest mixture that I believe could make it less dangerous to my health when I take. I hypothesize that this will be much more potent as well, leading to effectively diminishing Burnish flames. Here goes nothing.

 

 

....

 

Aina turns the next page:

 

I’ve been sent to the medics once again. My right arm is paralyzed and I have trouble standing up. But I have enough strength to at least write what happened before all this.

 

I tested on myself again, but for a while, it didn’t drain me of my energy. When I took out half of the flames from my fireplace, it felt steady. But then I managed to absorb all of the fire and as a result...my arm caught on fire.

 

I felt that pained fatigue again as this happened, my body was preventing me from stopping my own self-destruction. I screamed for help at the last second before my vision faded once again.

 

This, unfortunately, will have to be my last experiment. Kray is starting to become more suspicious and if he finds out, then the current vial could be destroyed and I could lose everything.

 

To anyone who finds these notes, if I never come back to this again, please… take this with caution. I don’t want another life lost under my hand.

 

I just want peace.

 


 

Reading all this, Aina told the group concerning the nature of this potion. As she did, Lio pulls out from the far back of the shelf the vial in question. He inspected it. It’s red and orange hue spiraling around, nearly intimidating him after hearing these “instructions”.

 

“Heris said one of us will have to take it in order to stop Kray,” Galo stated obviously. But the growing concern leeched off the other’s backs. It was a risky decision to make. Galo decided for them instead, as he snatched the glass vial from Lio’s hands and spoke declaratively.

 

“If anyone has to take it… then it’ll have to be me!”

 

Everyone looked back at Galo with shock and worry. They expected him to volunteer, but it still didn’t feel right to hear those words. Especially for Lio. He didn’t like the idea of losing the one he loved to something that could potentially be a poison. He interjected, “Don’t rush into this, Galo. We don’t need you to sacrifice yourself so easily.”

 

Those words offended Galo. And his pain translated into his facial expressions as he bit back, “I’m not that stupid, Lio. I’ve paid enough attention to know the risks involved in this. It has to be me. I won’t allow anyone in this room to sacrifice themselves like this. Especially you.”

 

Lio moved back. He gave Galo’s words a thought as he stared back in his eyes to see no quiver or waiver of his pupils. Just complete confidence in what he stated. And Lio hatefully had to admit, the idiot was right. There was no clear idea on how the potion could work on Burnish. And given that Lio nearly died a couple of minutes ago, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that if he took it, the results could potentially kill him.

 

Aina spoke up, “What if I took it, Galo?”

 

Galo shook his head in response. “Aina you’ve been through too much. I’m not going to let you take this in my place.”

 

She argued back, “But you shouldn’t have to either! You’ve been through just as much as I have!”

 

He looked confidently back at her, refusing to budge on his stance, “I’m a knight of Promare, Aina. It’s my job to put my life on the line. For the people of this kingdom: both human…”, he looked back at Lio, “...and Burnish.”

 

Quiet erupted amongst the room once more. No one could really find a better argument to fight Galo against, especially with someone as stubborn as him. The minutes were running thin, they had to act now.

 

Lio agreed first, “Fine. But you need to stay with me, then. And that means at all times when you take that.”

 

Galo was surprised by Lio’s agreement. One thought came to mind though as he presented his left palm to Lio. “But if I have this mark, won’t that be enough to protect me?”

 

“...Have you looked at your arm lately, Galo?”

 

Obviously not. The soldier looked at his palm himself to find that there was nothing there. No burn etched into his skin whatsoever. It confuddled the man for a minute as he questioned why it was gone. Lio had the answer.

 

“You healed me with my own flames, Galo. They transferred back to me now, meaning they can no longer protect you unless I make the mark again.”

 

“Okay, so let’s do it again.”

 

Galo walked toward Lio, but Lio stepped back, and shook his head. “One mark is not going to be enough for this fight, Galo. Kray has an army and Burnish power backing him. You won’t be able to go it alone, which is why I’m fighting beside you.”

 

Galo immediately protested. “Nuh-uh. No way. You just woke up. Risking your life again would be a horrible mistake!”

 

Lio angrily spoke back, “I’m not made of glass, Galo! Did you already forget that I can handle myself in a fight? That I’ve dueled with you plenty of times before?”

 

Galo added to the yelling, “That doesn’t matter!”

 

Lio spoke with just as much frustration. “Then why exactly can’t I go with you?!”

 

“Because I can’t see you die again, Lio!”

 

 

Lio didn’t know how to respond to that. He saw Galo remain confident in his despair, trying as best he could not show any anguish or worry towards the prince. Lio wanted to say what had already been said, that he was capable and strong willed to fight this battle, but knowing Galo’s stubbornness, it didn’t matter what he would say in the end.

 

Gueira and Meis, though, were glad to say it for him.

 

“Oi! Dumbass!” Gueira hit the back of Galo’s head abit roughly to catch his attention, “Did you not hear what Sir Lio said?! He can fight for himself easily. He sure handed your ass on a platter plenty of times. But even if he didn’t, he still has you to watch over his back, right?”

 

Meis rested his arm on Galo’s shoulder and pulled the hair covering his eye to the back of his ear. Both eyes were now visible as he spoke to the soldier with his personal wisdom, “The three of us do have a purpose to protect the prince, but Lio has just as much reason to be worried about us, Galo.”

 

Galo looked at the vial in his hands, rolling it around his palm. “But… if I lose him again, I don’t think I’ll have the strength to fight-”

 

Gueira rolled his eyes. He slapped the back of Galo’s head again, interrupting the soldier, “Did you forget that the prince was stuck as a bird for most of the week? Or that Meis and I were mice until twenty minutes ago? We didn’t really have the ability to fight then, but now we can. So stop worrying and just act impulsive and headstrong again! Your whining is starting to make me sick.”

 

The red-haired hothead grumbled as he walked back towards the table to look through the notes and books that were strewn about. Meis sighed while Galo did his best to process Gueira’s behavior towards him. “Forgive his attitude. He still hasn’t really come to terms with all that has happened and your role in...all this.”

 

Galo took a moment to realize what Meis meant. Gueira’s animosity towards him had only recently taken effect due to what happened to Lio and Galo’s part in these events. It was confused now that Lio had been recovered, but the slight frustration remained towards Galo for his actions. 

 

“I get it. But I’m surprised you two aren’t as worried as I am.”

 

“Of course we are! Why wouldn’t we be? Sir Lio’s been our greatest companion for several years now. His safety will always be our concern… but he’s also our leader.”

 

Meis leaned into Galo’s ear to make sure these words stuck with him. “We can’t force him to stay in the sidelines all the time. So trust in him as he does for you, Galo.”

 

Galo leaned his head back. Meis gave a small nod before walking towards Gueira to talk. That just left Galo to look at Lio, who in all this conversation, was still unable to speak. His greatest friends did most of the talking for him, so Lio just stood proud. Shorter than Galo to overwhelm him with confidence, but still standing strong with a stoic face to prove just by appearance, he was a capable and strong member of Promare’s royal family.

 

Didn’t matter if he was adopted either. Galo even knew that.

 

So Galo just answered, “As long as we have each other’s backs, we can win this. Just don’t tether yourself to me the whole time, okay?” He raised a closed fist towards Lio.

 

The prince was bit surprised, but he smirked back. “I won’t. So long as you don’t stray too far.”

 

He bumped his fist towards Galos, then turned away for a moment. And suddenly, things were calm.

 

 

Clink! SHLINK! P-tink!  

 

That is until a cavalcade of glass bottles being shoved around, bumping into each other, brought Lio and the others back to Galo’s attention. They see the guard scrounging the shelves, sharing looks that ranged from excited interest to apathetic disinterest. 

 

Aina asked first, “What are you doing, Galo?”

 

“Looking for anything that we could use aside from this!” He pointed to Incidium Salute, what Galo was initially hyped up for, but now felt after hearing about it he needed to find some resources to add a bit more… flair to the battle. “There’s bound to be some things in here we can use to defeat Kray!” Galo gave a side glance to Aina as he requested. “Skim through her book to see if there’s anything we can use for battle!”

 

Aina was perplexed at Galo’s behavior, but it wasn’t unexpected. He always was one to take a leadership role, even if he acted a bit too headstrong and had very broad plans. She hummed a small note of agreement before quickly swishing through her sister’s notebook. Galo commanded to Meis and Gueira as well. “You two, look through the older notebooks as well. Find anything that sounds dangerous or cool enough to defeat Kray!”

 

“Find what sounds dangerous or cool?”

 

“You’ve got to be joking...we don’t have much time left, Galo…”

 

“Well then, we’ll have to work fast!” Galo continued looking through the cabinet. He found a bottle that in his eyes looked sparkly and flashy to use. He kept it in his hand as he scrounged the shelves for more. Gueira and Meis shrugged at each other before joining in on the raid. Aina sighed as she saw this development, starting to turn through the notebook and skimming the materials to find anything meeting Galo’s criteria.

 

Lio joined in as well, standing alongside Galo to look through the shelves. After a couple of glances at the multitude of potions, not much seemed to catch Lio’s eye. But then he read the word, “Animalia” and automatically grabbed the bottle to see its contents.

 

The bottle isn’t familiar to Lio. The liquid inside looked more iridescent in its appearance, acting kaleidoscopic with its colors when he swirled the solution. Reading the rest of the label, Lio saw that the potion was actually called “Animalia Magnus” and in even smaller writing it read, “drinkable for Kray”.

 

The prince furrowed his brow at that last comment, wondering why Kray would drink something that would transform him into an animal. What would be the gain of doing such a thing? But Galo’s curiosity got the best of Lio, and so he placed the potion into his pocket, deciding that if there was a gain in using it, Lio would ensure he had the opportunity to do so.

 

“Alright! I think we have more than enough.” Galo said with enthusiastic confidence. “Let’s head out!”

 

Everyone simultaneously yelled a “Right!” as their response.

 

Time to stop Kray and save Promare!

 


 

They ran fast down the steps to reach the lake. Tied to the tree was one of the horses. The plan was to let Galo and Lio take Meis’s horse to the castle, stop Kray and crown Lio as king. Incredibly simple, but it was all they really had at the moment.

 

As Meis worked to untie the reigns, Lio reorganized the satchel with their new inventory and Gueira grabbed the sword from it sheath, Galo was left awkwardly alone to talk to his friend once more. Before, the goal of keeping Lio alive allowed him to stay serious in his words, but now he had to confront the truth: he led Aina on by accident.

 

“Aina, I want to apologize about what happened in the ballroom...”

 

The girl looked back at him questioningly, before understanding what he was trying to do and moving her hand back like she was trying to physically swat the apology away from her. “It’s fine, Galo. You didn’t know at all, I can’t blame you for that.”

 

Galo added, “Will you be okay, though?”

 

Aina sighed in response. She took a deep breath of the cool, pine air before speaking up again, “Probably not right now, no. But I’m strong enough to get past my feelings. It’ll just take some time.”

 

She looked at Lio, a bit jealous, but able to understand why Galo fell for him. She smiled, “You two’ll make a cute couple.”

 

Galo smiled back, his feelings in full display.

 

“Yeah.”

 

 

...stomp...stomp…

 

...Stomp...Stomp…

 

...STOMP...STOMP…

 

Everyone turned to hear the gradual stampede of hooves across ground. The darkness of the forest behind them failed to perceive the appearance of anything, until the gleam of metal upon moonlight gave a subtle hint of what was to come.



The next, more obvious hint, was hearing the loud deep laughs of a certain commander under an evil sharp grin.

 

“Well, well! Who'd've thought the Advisor and that little mage would keep such a tranquil place hidden under people’s noses? I’m a bit upset about this.”

 

More soldiers stepped forward, showing a massive half circle of knights surrounding the group. They all leapt off their horses and steadily walked towards the crew. Gueira was the only one armed, but seeing as some soldiers from Vulcan’s arsenal carried guns, it seemed that one sword would not be very helpful over such weaponry. Galo shared an angry stare with Vulcan, the commander marching toward the soldier with belligerence. The commander smashed his forehead against Galo’s, causing the soldier to fall back on the ground.

 

Lio called his love’s name, ready to pick him up, but a blade to his neck caused him to grit his teeth and forced himself to wait. Vulcan awwed at the couple, “How sweet. You brought your love back to life, huh Galo?”

 

Galo himself back up, but then the brunt of Vulcan’s armored boots stomped his head back into the ground, the weight nearly crushing his skull. Vulcan licked across his teeth with immense pleasure, “Too bad the person you fell in love with is Burnish scum! You thought you could get away with escaping custody like that. Oho~! You are dead wrong.

 

Lio spoke up, “How did you find this place?”

 

Vulcan removed his foot from his human pedestal, scratching his chin for effect. As he paced around his captured, Vulcan explained, “Hmm... Well we were supposed to just be watching the edge of the forest, but we decided to just perform a bit of a search party for you. And just my luck, we happened to find this place!” 

 

He waved his arms around, expressing the glory of being able to face the group once again and finally decimate them with his glorious troupe. His laughter broke out in great display at this revelation.

 

Meis, behind Vulcan and right next to Lio, scoffed at such a pompous attitude, but then noticed something on the back of Vulcan’s belt. A dagger.

 

The guard looked at Lio and jerked his head toward his objective. Lio immediately understood and gave a small nod away from the blade near his neck, signifying that they knew exactly what they needed to do. They had no time to waste here anymore. It was time for action.

 

Lio spoke against Vulcan, “It was stupid for you to come here.”

 

That triggered the commander easily. He leaned back into Lio’s face, his horrible breath nearly intoxicating the poor prince. But it was enough for Meis to silently take the dagger without any soldiers noticing. As soon as he grabbed it, he immediately hid the weapon behind his back and lighting it dimly with his Burnish flames. As he did so, Vulcan snidely reacted to Lio’s comment, “You should be careful about what you say, kid.”

 

Vulcan slowly pushed back his comrade’s sword from Lio’s neck before throwing a punch to the top of Lio’s head that planted him to the ground next to Galo. Meis bit his lip at the sight, but when he and Lio exchanged looks, they knew it would have to happen. Vulcan chuckled at his work, then proceeded to walk around to see his other captives. 

 

He threw a scowl at Meis, but still failed to see what was once on his person. Then he gave the same look to Gueira before finally giving a crude, malicious smile towards Aina. He held her by the chin, adding another sadistic comment, “You four will immediately be executed...but her. Hah! Well I guess we’ll just leave that for the courts to decide.”

 

Aina pushed Vulcan back, disgusted. The Commander just laughed at her reaction, then told his gunmen to get into position.

 

Blunderbusses were aimed at each member of the groups heads, sans Aina. Vulcan raised his hand up, his smile consuming his face with utter elation.

 

“Ready!”

 

The Burnish trio exchanged looks. Meis felt the flames on the dagger steer towards his index finger, pointing directly to where Vulcan stood.

 

“Aim!”

 

THWACK!

 

Lio kicked the guard in front of him before pulling Galo back up beside him and running past two guards to escape their grasp. 

 

Two voices screamed on top of the other. “NOW!”

 

Luckily, Meis was quicker than the many soldiers that aimed for his head. He threw the dagger behind one soldier’s feet before just as speedily grabbing his horse and kicking aside anyone that stood in his way. Gueira and Aina followed suit, Aina more so as she saw the fire Meis had thrown alongside the dagger had started to form a circle surrounding all groups.

 

In the last second, Aina and Gueira managed to get out of the ring of fire before it singed a single thread of their hairs. Though, much of Vulcan’s group could not say the same, some desperately trying to run out but end up chickening out when faced with the flames or ending up feeling a burn along the front of their body: not severe to scar, but enough to make the pain annoying enough to distract them, much like touching a hot stove.

 

Some soldiers, alongside Vulcan, did manage to roll away from the defensive attack, though. Meis then knew that Lio and Galo needed to leave now. And so when he was healed back up, Galo took the reigns, Lio sitting behind him. Meis was curt with his words before the two headed out.

 

“Gueira and I can hold our own here! We’ll head towards the castle once it’s over.”

 

Galo and Lio didn’t have a lot of time to respond back. Galo wanted to thank him for helping them out, while Lio remained cautious about leaving his two great friends behind. Gueira didn’t give them enough time, though, as before he slapped the horse to send them on their way, he said with great confidence, “No more moping, you two! We got this fight! Just be sure to save us some time to punch Vulcan’s smug face.”

 

Whinney!

 

Dallas took off. And never looked back. Unlike Lio, who didn’t like having to leave his friends behind so soon. But the expression of sadness blurred away the farther he went. Meis and Gueira sighed at the man’s composure. Then they looked at each other.

 

Gueira smiled. “No fear, right?”

 

Meis did the same. “No fear.”

 

The two of them grabbed nearby weapons as fast as they could. Gueira with a sword, Meis with a bow and a couple of arrows. With little ammunition, Meis had to make a pretty good use of it. Gueira on the other hand, prepared his flames onto the blade. They both grabbed Aina away from the open grounds, hiding her behind a heavy boulder amongst the brush of the forest. 

 

Aina protested at such a move, “I can hide on my own if I wanted to.”

 

Vulcan finally awoke from his stupor, seeing only two of his five captors still in sight. That pissed him off. He marched with his reduced crew to attack the Burnish soldiers.

 

Gueira snidely spoke back at the girl, trying his best to keep the opposing guards from hearing. “I’d feel better if we didn’t have any civilian casualties in this battle, so just stay hidden until one of us heads back here. Got it?”

 

Aina huffed, but she agreed. She was never really skilled at fighting nor was she a soldier to the kingdom, so she had no choice but to stay in the sidelines for the moment.

 

It still didn’t change that staying behind felt awful.

 

...

 

For a while, the two Burnish managed to hold their own against Vulcan and four of his guards, but their strength grew weaker as they became more tired and fatigued during each passing action. Aina saw this from behind her spot; the two Burnish were panting heavily while Vulcan and his team just continued to berate them automatically like lethal killing machines. At this rate, they’ll lose. Something needed to be done.

 

Plink.

 

Aina’s leg bumped into a vial from Heris’s study. She didn’t who dropped it, but she hoped that whatever was contained within it, it would stop Vulcan from causing any more harm. She quickly ran past bushes to find a spot where Vulcan and his guard’s backs were turned. Then as the group got closer and closer to Meis and Gueira, nearly ready to incapacitate them, Aina jumped out and threw the material indiscriminately at the group.

 

Splash!

 

“AGH!”

 

They all were hit successfully. In the heat of the moment, everyone stood still expecting something to happen. Maybe the material was acidic or poisonous upon contact with skin. 

 

 

 

Nothing. It did nothing.

 

Aina just stood slack jawed. Out of all the things she could get from her sister’s lab, it was a potion that did nothing. Vulcan looked back, smiling sinisterly at the girl. His anger was enough to stop him and his teammates from focusing on harming the two Burnish soldiers, but now he was back to Aina. His hand grabbing her by the collar.

 

“What exactly were you trying to do? You better pray my armor doesn’t rust kid.”

 

Aina tried her best to pry Vulcan’s armored hand from her dress, but nothing could be done. As Vulcan snickered at her actions, his team joined in with him. All sharing a hearty laugh.

 

“ACK!”

 

That is, until they remembered, there were Burnish still behind them. A bright orange projectile fired at one of the guard’s heads, knocking them unconscious. Vulcan turned to see the two soldier scum back on their feet. The two nodded, in synch with their own plan, as Meis headed out of harm’s way, while Gueira bolted towards Vulcan, jumping to reach his height before finally-

 

SMACK!

 

He used his head. Literally. He used his own skull on Vulcan’s to stun the man. It managed to release Aina from the guys grasp, allowing Gueira to grab her by the hand and start running. They got towards Meis, already saddled on one of the enemy’s horses. They hitched alongside him and took no time to haul their asses out of there. The uninjured guards tried to saddle themselves and run alongside them, but as they did, Aina turned to find something strange happening when they performed this action.

 

After a couple of meters, it was like they teleported back to the same spot by the lake, never reaching any farther than that. Like they were stuck in that location.

 

Maybe I did do something right.

 

“Great work! I’m surprised you had the guts to face such an intimidating team of people like that!”

 

Aina pouted, “He’s not that scary. I’ve babysat children more terrifying than him.”

 

“GWAAAAAAAAH!”

 

The sound of Vulcan’s screams clued them in that the Commander was not too happy on being stuck in the same spot. Gueira and Meis had a bit of catharsis from the reaction, though, sharing a smile with each other.

 

Aina kept her focus back onto Galo and Lio. Hoping that the two of them will make it to the castle on time. And stay safe.

 

And who knows? Maybe they’ll find Heris.

 

...Maybe. 

 


 

Ignis and his soldiers kneeled in front of a crowd of hundreds. Many of these people looked at them with disdain, others were lost as to why they were even there. Kray spoke up from behind Ignis’s back to explain.

 

“I’m so sorry everyone to have you witness treachery to this great kingdom. I, for one, did not expect one of our captains of the guard betraying us in such a vile move. But fear not, for I feel this is the best way for our soldiers to demonstrate how to handle such atrocious behavior.”

 

Commander Ignis rolled his eyes before sinking into the realization his fate. Kray just stood smug and proud, ordering his now Burnish boosted brigade to ready their abilities. The hands of these soldiers began to glow and the sound of a roaring blaze loudly pronounced itself across the room.

 

Ignis remained still, eyes closed. He accepted it. He was going to die. It was a long fought battle, but in the end, his age and wisdom were no match for Kray’s intimidation and manipulative schemes. The commander raised his head up high, refusing to hang his head in shame.

 

It’s rough, but a soldier’s life is more impermanent than anyone else. 

 

...See you three soon.

 

SLAM!

 

The doors to the ballroom open. The shock of such a loud sound caused many soldiers to drop their Burnish magic. Kray even was surprised by what happened. Which he should be.

 

Because as Ignis opened his eyes, he found out that Kray didn’t win just yet. The commander’s protege and the true heir to Promare’s throne stood in bold battle stances, ready to fight!

 

“Advisor Kray! Your plans end here and now! With Lio’s magic and my strength, we will defeat you and save the kingdom from your imminent destruction.”

 

“We.”

 

“Are.”

 

“Lio de Galon!!”

Chapter Text

“...Lio de Galon?”

 

Lio looked quizzically at his stupid crush, while Galo just blushed at hearing his words roll back to him.

 

“What? It’s like a team name. It sounded cool in my head, so I thought, why not say it during my monologue?”

 

“Monologue?! ...Are you really that stupid. This isn’t a stage play, Galo! We’re kind of about to start a fucking fight right now.”

 

“What’s wrong with having a monologue?! It cements how cool we’ll be when we fight our fire with HIS fire! Gets my soul burning, that’s for sure!”

 

Lio just couldn’t take it; their argument was going nowhere. “Ugh… just shut up and get ready to fight.”

 

Kray rubbed at his temples from the aneurysm that was experiencing Galo Thymos again, before yelling, “SOLDIERS! Hold your fire! Set your sights on those two. And...do your best not to hit our beloved guests, okay?”

 

The army complied, running across the room to attack the duo. Before one could get a good hit on Galo, Lio channeled his firepower to form into a small pinkish shield that he used to send the enemy away.

 

“You sure you wanna try that potion, Galo?”

 

“...We have no other choice.” And with those words, the knight popped the vial open and drank the entire concoction.

 

“Why would you guzzle it down like that?!” Lio asked, holding off guards as he did.

 

Galo didn’t really have a good answer, and he didn’t really feel great either. The potion’s effects definitely took control of him as he felt a bit faded, yet powerful. As he flexed his wrists, the soldier could’ve sworn he saw his veins become vibrantly red.

 

He pulled his hand away from him, aiming it like a weapon. And on command, a beam of energy emerged from his palm. One hit was all it took. And so, one guards Burnish power had now been taken, leaving the man unconscious and unpowered.

 

As the energy absorbed straight into Galo’s hand, the feeling felt… bizarre to say the least. It was like his palm created a barrier for the controlled implosion that would eradicate the Burnish powers. And once the removal process finished, Galo felt himself become a bit tired, like the potion took his own energy to remove the Burnish magic.

 

Strike that. That was exactly what was happening to Galo. It must be if Heris had just as much trouble before to the point of being hospitalized. Even so, only one guard was taken down now. Galo needed to stay strong as twenty more of these guards would soon be sent his and Lio’s way.

 

I need to stay strong. For Promare and for Lio.

 

One by one, like dominoes the guards felled. Each losing their power, each becoming another obstacle in their comrade’s path. Even Biar attempted to fight back, but the woman didn’t even come close to stopping the two of them.

 

Around two thirds of the battle, Lio became worried, though. He noticed how Galo slacked more in his fighting stance, how his hand shook when he absorbed the magic off an enemy. For one open second, the prince asked his love, “Do you need to stop? That poison in your body isn’t going to be a big help for much longer.”

 

Galo replied simply, “Don’t worry about me. This is nothing!”

 

Lio didn’t really agree with that. They both knew this stuff could kill Galo, but they had no choice but to fight forward. If the clock continued to tick, then they had to work fast!

 

“Everyone! Evacuate from the castle now! I’ll handle these lecherous beings myself.”

 

The crowd didn’t even need to hear those words, they just started running out so they didn’t have to be in the crossfire. Kray patiently waited for his guests to all be removed from the situation, and when they did, the boom of the entrance doors signaled to him that he no longer had to play nice.

 

Snap!

 

The sound of his fingers instigated a spark that grew and consumed the area around them. An explosion erupted, creating a ring of fire that violently overtook the walls. It encapsulated three of them, trapped them so they all knew that this fight was only for the three of them.

 

Galo and Lio placed their focus on the man of the hour, who was admiring his gloved hand.

 

“Impressive, right? This is only a tenth of what I can do with Burnish magic.”

 

Lio snidely commented, “Don’t act so mighty. You stole that power from an innocent Burnish!”

 

Kray leered at Lio after that statement. “ no, actually I didn’t. Maybe I failed to tell you before, or… Maybe I just didn’t care, but… this power is my own.”

 

A pin dropped. Lio and Galo’s eyes grew open when they heard that last statement.

 

“Shocking, I know. When I first found out, I probably made the same face you two have right now. Afterwards, though, I grew to hate it.”

 

Lio’s frustration only grew with that news. “Why did you kill all those people and take their powers away?”

 

Kray’s eyebrow twinged. He sent an explosive ball of fire that placed the prince and the soldier off their feet. He continued.

 

“Maybe you didn’t listen, allow me to say it again: I hate my powers . Burnish magic disgusts me. But it would be useless if it was just destroyed. It’s a curse that just need controlled. And I can’t imagine seeing someone other than those loyal to my cause controlling it.”

 

Lio didn’t like that answer, “What gives you the right to say who has control over the Burnish’s magic?”

 

“Simple, kid. I’m the new King of Promare.”

 

The embitterment between Lio and Kray only grew, and with it was also Lio’s rage. The prince wanted to run straight towards that condescending prick and hurl a fire at him so grand that his entire being would be nonexistent. But as he stepped forward, Galo placed a hand on his shoulder, and somehow, staring at that soldier’s eyes made everything calmer. So he held back.

 

And Galo stepped forward for him.

 

“Kray, please. Be compassionate for a second. The Burnish aren’t all potential criminals. If you give them a chance...give Lio a chance, you’ll understand that they have the ability to do things beyond just destruction. Just…listen.”

 

Galo’s eyes acted like mirroring ponds, staring at Kray with concern. Kray didn’t like looking back in the reflection, though. His own red eyes tormenting him as they did with many others that stood in his way.

 

His looked away and his voice started to get more agitated, “I can’t stand looking at you, Galo. Your face reminds me too much of my mistakes.”

 

He fired a shot straight at the soldiers head. Before it could touch skin, Lio grabbed Galo and rolled across the floor. They looked back to find a giant black mark on the floor where Galo’s corpse could have laid.

 

The soldier was now back to panicking, yelling at Kray, “What mistakes?! What did I do wrong?”

 

Kray cringed at each word, refusing to speak. This just made Galo even more upsetly curious.

 

“Answer me! What did I do wrong?!”

 

“...”

 

“Kray!”

 

“ENOUGH!”

 

The Advisor fired again at the duo, a similar shot that they managed to jump back from once again. But Kray didn’t expect to kill them yet. Not when he’s now all riled up with blind rage.

 

When Galo looked back at his once benevolent icon, he saw a whole new side that he would’ve never expected to see. Kray’s face contorted into an abstract expression of disgust, anger and regret. His hair had been completely disheveled, unlike the orderliness he usually had. And even more interesting was the fact that the hair looked as though it were… on fire.

 

How did…

 

“You want to know what you did wrong? You’re alive. You’re still alive. And you shouldn’t be. If I had a second chance at changing one of my actions, I wouldn’t have rescued you from that burning building all those years ago.”

 

Kray’s breath grew heated, panting like he just ran a marathon of conversation. Those words did enough damage to shut Galo up for the moment. Lio, though, was not as surprised, asking his own questions.

 

“So why did you? Hm? Why did you save Galo?”

 

Kray transitioned back into a serious manner, acting more covert and secretive than before. But Lio would not be left unanswered.

 

“Quit with the act already! We already know how you feel about the Burnish. Why would you treat Galo with the same contempt? I thought you held a higher value to humans than Burnish.”

 

The fire crackled for a while, before Kray finally let go of his ego. He exhaled. “You really want to know why I saved you, Galo? It’s simple…”

 

“... It’s because I needed an alibi .”

 


 

It was uncommon for humans to produce Burnish children, but there was always a possibility.

 

Kray was one of those possibilities. 

 

He discovered at the age of 10 that he could create flames through his fingertips. He showed his parents just this, and they grew scared almost immediately. His mother told him to never do it again and to head into his room. Inside the confined walls, he could still hear his parents screaming at each other. They both debated who gave their son such an abhorrent trait.

 

The thought of his parents fighting each other over his ‘mutation’ placed fear into the young man. A fear of his own abilities and people’s reactions to them. So for the next ten years, he never revealed his newfound powers to anyone else.

 

Although his parents still did their best to raise the boy, it was obvious they were still afraid of him. Their whole parental attitude changed. His father became aggressive and emotionally abusive when teaching his son responsibilities, while his mother barely spoke to Kray and would hardly console him at his most dire moments.

 

The young man learned then that those moments when he became angry or upset that his parents wouldn’t treat him with kindness or at least give the kid a hug, his powers became unstable and would react alongside him. To keep that from happening, Kray kept his emotions hidden from even himself, never lashing out at anyone, refusing to even be happy or fearful. For a while, he was just… expressionless. 

 

Many people his age thought because of his lack of emotion, he was standoffish and scary, so he didn’t have anyone by his side. No one would even take a chance to talk to him. Kray was alone.

 

And then, his first betrayal happened. When Kray turned eighteen, his parents refused to help him any longer. They kicked him out and told him to never come back. 

 

It was a devastating blow for Kray. 

 

He did his best to stay human. Be human. But even his own family saw him as some kind of monster. Afraid of their safety or their reputation. Or both.

 

All that Kray was doing wasn’t enough, apparently. And it wouldn’t have ever been enough. Suddenly, he felt the rage inside him materialize. A familiar spark emerged from his fingers as he stared at his childhood home. Where his parents used to welcome him in, now they refused to even open the door for him. That sudden realization became a snapping point for Kray. The sparks became full fledged flames. And when Kray finally calmed, those flames had finally burned down the house.

 

He thought he would feel shame from that moment. Instead, he felt serene, calm, like a giant weight was lifted off his back. For the first time in years, Kray Foresight felt proud of himself, and managed to crack a smile.

 


 

Five years passed.

 

Kray had finally found a new home with a group of terrifying elitists that used their abilities to steal and terrorize the villages of Promare: Mad Burnish.

 

One night changed this new group forever. The plan was to raid a neighboring houses one by one, stealing their valuables then burning the place to the ground before they left. The escape route would be in the back alleys behind these homes. To many, it was foolproof. To Kray, he was just glad to live and be with people who care for him.

 

At 8:00 pm, the group was in motion. They hit the first house with no issues. The couple who owned it were so elderly and feeble, they could barely find it to fend for themselves. The second home belonged to a family of three and a dog. The dad was difficult to stun, but once he was, the others were easy for the group to hold hostage. It was the third house, though, where things changed.

 

When they entered through the window, it looked quaint and simple. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Two people from the group went down the hall to check for anyone that was asleep. Kray on the other hand, observed the room for what he could manage to steal for the group. It seemed to be a light load in this house: only copper and silver coins were strewn across a countertop, no other valuables seemed to be made of similar material or even gold. It was a dead site. 

 

Before he could warn the others though, he heard something. The sound of heavy objects dropping on the floor. Unless a painting fell to the ground, Kray felt there the muffled noise could only mean one thing. And so he moved slowly across the wood floor, best attempting not to make it creak. When he reached the first doorway he found, Kray silently held his breath… and turned.

 

It was empty. Just a normal bedroom. Typical for whoever’s living room it was outside. But Kray still felt unsure. As he knew a man from his group did enter this very area. It would be unlikely that they left it. So he took another step in. Then another. Slowly, he crept inside, keeping his perception on high alert. The cold crisp air left goosebumps on his skin. The flow of curtains in the night breeze being the only sign of movement in the room aside from Kray.

 

He quickly turned to his right. There was a closet in front of him. Closed off. Darkened. Unknown to him. Kray grew curious the more he looked at it. It drew him closer by its ominous presence. By the time he thought about opening it, he was already grabbing the handle and turning it open to find inside…

 

There’s the hostage. But… where’s-

 

BLAM!

 

The sound of a wooden door dragging across the floor sent Kray back into unease. Metal meeting that same floor didn’t help either.

 

He looked back at the window. It was only open halfway, but that didn’t mean someone didn’t have the chance to go through it. He also suspected that the others wouldn’t be back in the living room. That meant one thing to him.

 

That he was betrayed once again. By even the Burnish brethren he was a part of.

 

Voices emerged from behind the room. “You two, check each of the rooms for hostages or Mad Burnish. Varys and I will work to stop the fires in the other houses.”

 

“Yes sir!”

 

“You got it!”

 

shit. Shit. SHIT!

 

Kray had to act fast now. He shut the closet as quietly as he could before looking around the room to find a place to hide. Escaping the window was no longer an option he could risk. Hiding under the bed wouldn’t work as it was too narrow for his hulking frame. The closet? Obviously not.

 

Unable to think of any other options to choose from, Kray thought of a new solution. One he had to do, primarily relying on his charisma. He prepared himself by tattering his clothes and giving himself fake burn marks to appear as though he were in a scuffle. Then he walked to the window beside him and smashed the glass in with his hands. The sounds instantly triggered the guards outside to run down the hallway to the commotion. Before they opened the door, though, Kray finally dropped to his knees behind that same doorway and prepared himself for his first of many ‘performances’.

 

“Thank god, you’re here! The Mad Burnish-They… They tried to kill me! One of them dashed through the window when you came in. If you leave now...you can probably get them before they leave the village. P-please...”

 

Kray hated this. He hated the idea of acting weak in front of anyone. But at this moment, he needed to do what he could to survive. And that meant portraying himself as something he most definitely wasn’t. A weak, insignificant human.

 

He looked back through crocodile tears to see a man with blue hair and spectacles look at him with worry. Next to him, a small woman, who appeared younger than her profession, her hair blonde with pink highlights tied back in a bun. She observed the room with interest while the man kneeled down to Kray’s level and said, “Stay calm, sir. We’ll be glad to help you out. Lucia, can you check out the window?”

 

“Aye, aye!”

 

Kray grew impatient, but did his best not to show that in his act. The woman soldier, Lucia, ran forward with her arms back towards the window and after a couple of moments, assured the other soldier, “There are no signs of Burnish flames here. Seems they didn’t want to finish what they started. What a bummer…”

 

With that in mind, the spectacled soldier nodded back before continuing to comfort Kray. “We’re sorry you had to experience this, sir. We’ll be sure to send officers tomorrow to guard your place in the meantime. Try to get a good night’s rest until then.”

 

Bump!

 

There was that noise again. Only it was clear this time it was within the closet door. It seems that the hostage had finally woken, which meant disaster for Kray’s plan.

 

“What was that?” Lucia asks.

 

“P-probably some of my books. They must’ve fallen off the shelf again. Damnit, now I have to fix it again.”

 

Bump. ba-bump.

 

 

CRASH!

 

“Seems to be more than just books, sir. Stay here.”

 

The teal-haired soldier pulled himself back up as he and Lucia headed to the opposite sides of the closet door. They both gave each other a silent nod before finally opening the doors to reveal the true ‘hostage’ inside. Both were instantly confused.

 

“Who the hell is this, Remi?”

 

“I don’t know. The folks in the other building said there was only one person living he-”

 

Remi immediately turned back to Kray, carefully pulled out his sword, and swiftly placed it behind the man’s back.

 

“Don’t. Move.”

 

Kray had enough. 

 

The world kept acting against him for so long, he just wanted luck on his side once. So ignoring Remi’s demands, he stood up and he felt that rage form into the red hot flames in his hand once more.

 


 

Sounds of a brawl occurred outside of Ignis’s view. He told Varys they needed to head out immediately and when they did, they found the house they left Remi and Lucia to check was now part of the same chain of fires.

 

“Let’s go!”

 

Varys nodded at Ignis’s command. The two leapt in without warning to find their two comrades on the ground, coughing from the smoke inhalation. Ignis took no time to come to their aid, asking the two, “What happened?”

 

The answer was right in front of them. In the shadows.

 

Ignis wanted a win. He pulled his sword from its sheath and commanded with great authority that the four of them go after the assailant.

 

Kray became defensive. He didn’t want to be caught and taken away. He’s heard stories about what happens to Burnish criminals. For the most part, their stories always end in death.

 

Death was not what Kray wanted to be a part of yet.

 

Suddenly, as if destiny called to his fears, Kray felt a new power surge within him.

 

His body changed within the fires, something the knights outside could see occuring and were greatly unsure of. Ignis even was taken aback.

 

When the changes had finished, Kray no longer felt he was human. His hands became elongated to a winged shape. His feet seemed to claw at the floorboards.

 

It felt like he was reborn from these powers. And so, he looked at the soldiers attempting to subdue him, with murderous determination.

 

His eyes resembled the very bloodlust he held in his heart. 

 


 

Once the knights tasked to hunt Kray were taken care of, the man took an opportunity to run into the next home. He would only be a little further to his escape once he went through this place. Even so, the man couldn’t help but wonder what was happening to him.

 

He looked at what would be his hands, to find that instead the man had clawed talons. Previously, he assumed he had wings before that, but it looked as though they had reverted in form. And it would continue to do so as he saw the nails become less sharp. Time was being wasted with this ability. He needed to escape now and use his newfound power if anyone got in his way.

 

“Sweetheart, do you hear that? It sounds like the fire spread to our house!”

 

“Let’s head inside. Make sure Galo’s okay.”

 

Kray could hear it clearly. The couple of this house was heading back inside. He needed to make his escape now. But the only way out was the entrance the two would arrive in. How could he manage that in his uncontrolled state?

 

Hm. There is no other choice. If you’re in my way, your fate is sealed by my hand.

 

As the man of the home entered his room, the only thing he could see first-hand was the visual of flaming hands heading towards him.

 

SLAM!

 

The wife of said man cooed at her child who was still asleep, assured that he was okay. But when she heard her husband’s screams, she immediately ran to her room, and became ensnared in the same trap that took him in.

 

Like lobsters boiled alive, the two were killed with the same merciless nature. Kray didn’t even care. The incessant noise was almost calming to him. And soon enough, it would’ve been gone anyway; their bodies, now cremated. 

 

Kray thought it was all over, that he could finally exit this awful night. He spread his fiery wings to encapsulate the whole house before readying himself to take his leave. But as he did, another voice alerted him of another presence.

 

“Mom...Dad…”

 

It was a child. No older than five. Half-awake but aware of the fire. He moved closer to where his parents would’ve been, holding the ash and dropping it like sand. The kid started crying at the realization, but was unaware that the assailant behind this was right in front of him. Like camouflage, it seemed Kray’s flames held the man in secret. And it was this new skill that pushed Kray into doing what he thought was right for him.

 

Get in my way, and your fate is sealed.

 

He rushed the child, grabbing the kid by his left arm. The flames seared into the skin, scarring it with crosses as the man used his newfound talons to harm the boy. The kid screamed in agony, pulling himself with as much strength he could muster to remove himself from this unseen grasp. Kray remained unfeeling to the boy’s struggles. This was just a job for him to accomplish. And so he tried to grab the kid with his other taloned hand. However, at the most inopportune moment, Kray saw them revert back into regular hands. As a result, the man got careless and let go of the kid’s arm.

 

Kray got his head back into perspective. His hellish form was still incognito to the child and he had to get out sooner than later. Gladly, the kid wasn’t faster than he was. Kray managed to trip the child before he could head out of the house in time. That was Kray’s last action, though, before finally reverting back to his normal form.

 

This was it. Kray could just leave the child to die and run as far as he can away from this village. Lay low for awhile until another opportunity arises to steal. Or better yet, find the traitors that left him behind and kill them with his newfound abilities. But then, Kray thought of something even more...perfect.

 

He lifted the young boy on his shoulder and marched forward to his would-be exit. When he placed the child on the cold ground, he yelled to the knights outside for medical attention. No one even questioned it, the idiots. When they congratulated the ‘Good Samaritan’, a higher officer asked him if he wanted to meet King Deus.

 

“Why, how could I refuse such an offer?”

 

“The king would gladly commend you for this, Mister…”

 

“It’s Kray. My name is Kray Foresight.”

 


 

“You... you killed them?” Galo looked up at an emotionless Kray. The advisor kept his chin high as he revealed this information, believing that what he did lead to his greater self. And he refused to view the other perspective, the one Galo fearfully had to accept now.

 

“I didn’t have a choice.”

 

“Y-yes you did! You thought killing innocent people was your only option?”

 

“They saw my face! If I let them live, they would’ve told the knights about me. I would be wanted in the entire kingdom and I would’ve spent the rest of my life in bars for just trying to… exist!”

 

“You killed guards before that! Commander Ignis’s team!”

 

“You think those knights would’ve let me off easy if I just revealed my Burnish powers and surrendered?! Please… I’ve seen you of all people trash the Burnish like no other. They would’ve just let me rot in a cell if they had the chance.”

 

Galo grew even more upset being reminded of his previous attitude. Mixed with realizing Kray’s murderous intent on all that stood in his way, the soldier felt unsettled and just wished to erase his memory, or just one-shot Kray, or maybe even both! He wanted this sick, twisted night to just end.

 

...But, he still needed to be strong. Determined. If anything, the knowledge he gained from this day was meant to be a roadblock for the soldier to overcome. Galo knew that blind rage and revenge would be the improper tools to fight. The kid needed a clear head. For his sake, and for Lio’s.

 

So he stood back up, the prince beside him, and yelled honorably, “I’m not the same person I was five years ago, Kray! I know now, that everyone in this great kingdom deserves an equal chance!”

 

The soldier pointed aggressively towards Kray as he said with just as much confidence, “And I refuse to let you continue deciding people’s fate so easily! I will take your power away, and give the throne back to its rightful owner, Prince Lio Fotia!”

 

Kray didn’t even react to such a comment. He just replied, “Figured you would say something like that. So I guess I’ll have to make this quick.”

 

His arm caught fire, something Kray and the Burnish would be use to. But then the flames transmogrified the arm’s shape. It contorted into a winged structure and began trailing down to the opposite arm to repeat the same process. As it did it also immolated the rest of Kray’s body, transforming it as well as the man diabolically began to laugh at his metamorphosis.

 

Lio pulled Galo back, unsure of what would arise from this change. But then, in a bright flash, they heard the screeching sound of a bird lunging towards them. The two manage to catch feathers, but were sent high above the ground they were standing on. The creature holding them destroyed the mortar that held the ceiling together, sending them skyward. When Lio spotted the grounds of the rooftop, he pulled him and Galo quickly away from the bird so they could be dropped at a safe distance instead of thousands of feet in the air.

 

They pulled themselves off the stone ground to find what sent them flying in the first place. Something they never expected to see in the flesh.

 

Kray’s new form was that of a phoenix.

 

His voice erupted in the sky, “Impressive, huh? I can only hold this form for so long, but I should be able to destroy you wretched fools before that happens.”

 

Lio and Galo were speechless, but they needed to act fast. As the phoenix took a deep inhale, then proceeded to encapsulate the two of them in the same ring of fire they were in before.

 

Galo began coughing extensively, which only increased Lio’s worries. They needed to act now and get Kray’s Burnish powers or else they would die trying. But when Lio turned to find Kray, the rings of the flames only grew larger, concealing him from sight.

 

Lio frantically looked around, keeping Galo by his side, expecting Kray to show up at any moment. When his guard was down for a split second, that was when Kray swooped in from the flames, and nearly grabbed the two by their collars again.

 

“Galo, duck!”

 

They both fell back before Kray could have the advantage, though, and so the next round of attacks began. Lio kept a watchful eye again. He noticed before how the flames didn’t 100% conceal Kray once he took his chance to try and grab them. So he waited, until the last moment, telling Galo, “When I find him, you point your sword directly into where I’m looking.”

 

The soldier nodded, and so the two waited.

 

And waited.

 

 

And waited.

 

 

Until, out of the corner of Lio’s eyes, the sight of wings fluttering from his left side came into view.

 

He pointed in the very direction. “There, Galo!”

 

The soldier took no time at all to follow Lio’s orders. He dove straight for Lio’s target and when he did, flames sprung off the bird’s form like blood, dropping straight onto Galo’s uniform.

 

“OW! Hot, hot, hot!” He stopped, dropped and rolled on the ground.

 

A large, pained screech screamed into the night’s sky. Lio and Galo were caught off guard by such a noise. Kray saw this, and took it for advantage. He lunged back towards Galo’s form and with the force of his beak, stabbed the man’s side with great force. The gash left Galo by his knees, holding his wound in agony.

 

“Galo!”

 

The soldier seethed, but kept his bravest face. “I-I’m okay, Lio. It’s...It’s nothing compared to the pain I felt before.”

 

Lio reached out at the wound, his healing aura ready to patch it up. Galo slapped the hand away. “Wh- What are you doing? I need to heal this soon or Kray could injure you again.”

 

“I’ll be fine.”

 

“You are clearly not! Don’t fight me on this! Just let me-”

 

“Lio, stop!”

 

Galo grabbed Lio’s hand with force. His breath remained steady, if a little labored. But he still spoke without issue as he commanded the prince, “We don’t have enough time for this. He’ll do the exact same thing again and then what? It’ll all be over. But I know how we can fix this.”

 

He slowly rubbed his thumb against Lio’s palm to calm the prince’s nerves. It worked a little as his lavender eyes dialed back to listen carefully to Galo’s instructions.

 

“Be my eyes, Lio. You find where he is, and I’ll handle the rest. Trust me?”

 

It was vague, but if Galo was holding such information back for a reason, Lio had to just let the dumbass do what he can.

 

“Okay. Let’s do it.”

 

With the help of Lio’s hand, Galo got back up and stood by Lio’s side. They eyed around the circlet of fire like speedy clock hands. Both were impatient and unsteady in finding Kray, but did their best to remain vigilant in finding him. 

 

Suddenly, it happened again. Lio saw those same wings emerge to his right. It was time. But what was Galo’s plan now?

 

“Galo, it’s on our right!”

 

Ptink!

 

Lio looked to his left. Galo’s sword had dropped beside him. And to his right, he saw the same soldier running straight into the maw of the beast.

 

“GALO! What are you doing?!”

 

Galo reached out to the beast, a wave of light strongly emerging from his palm, he looked back at the prince he left behind.

 

“I’m going to grin and bear it. So long as you and the people of this kingdom are safe!”

 

He left a kind smile before finally jumping straight into Kray’s monstrous grasp!

 

“GALO! NO!”

 

Contact between the soldier and the phoenix were made. The power of Heris’s spell created a blinding light that grew and took Lio aback. From a far distance, the explosion it left looked like a bright star that collapsed above the castle.

 

It didn’t take too long before Lio woke up to see the aftermath. Rubble had flown everywhere, bits and pieces of stone were cracked and had fallen apart. And from a distance, he could see two figures passed out on the opposite edge of the rooftop.

 

One figure managed to get up with some issue, the other still despondent. Lio ran forward, expecting a familiar soldier’s face to welcome him again.

But that face was still planted on the ground, asleep or worse, dead. The man who stood up instead, was Kray.

 

The advisor tried to awaken his powers, but to no avail. He grew angry that he could no longer harness his abilities. And soon enough, that anger turned into panic, worry.

 

Lio stood before him now, and he had no way of attacking him. But that didn’t stop Kray from trying to have the upperhand.

 

He went straight for Galo’s unconscious form, holding it in front of him like a shield. His expression was unrelenting in anger; he looked like a disrespectful child refusing to give up his toy. Lio took one small step, but that was enough to put Kray on edge.

 

“Move again and we’ll both die!” Kray took a step back off the edge of the castle roof. Behind him, Lio knew, was two thousand feet of air before a bed of cobblestone that could act as the final resting place of the two if the prince wasn’t careful in his words.

 

Lio wasn’t going to take that threat. He stepped closer. “I’m not going to negotiate with you, Kray. You killed so many of our people, you think I’ll just let you leave without any repercussions?”

 

He stopped midway, still standing his ground but also still unsure of Kray’s actions. Lio spoke with the utmost sincerity he could muster to someone so malevolent. “If you don’t stop now, it’ll just get worse. I can sentence your imprisonment for 10 years, Kray. Once that time is up, you’ll be exiled from Promare, free to live anywhere else. That is all I will guarantee you.”

 

Lio looked back at Galo’s face. Unable to see this soldier suffer any longer, the venom of his hatred for Kray came back into conversation. “But if you don’t let go of Galo now, and you choose to drop or harm him, then I won’t show you any mercy.”

 

Booming thunder could be heard from behind them. It looked as though it was about to rain again.

 

The two were at a standoff. Kray still held Galo by his throat, Lio placed a hand into one of his pockets without the Advisor noticing.

 

A few moments passed, and suddenly it started raining again. Kray sighed. And started laughing to himself. It sounded ingenuine to the prince.

 

When the laughter stopped, Kray looked back at Lio, discontent with his situation.

 

He placed his foot off the ledge before departing his ‘final’ words, a vicious smile on his lips.

 

“I’d rather die now, than live without meaning.”

 

Like the weight of his decisions were now forfeit, Kray steps out of Lio’s view with Galo in his hands. Lio knew this would happen, though, and quickly pulled the vial from his pocket. The one with Kray's name on it. Lio didn't question what it was or what it could do. He just suspected it had to be the same stuff that could transform him like Kray. So much like Galo, Lio took a chance. And just drank every last drop without question.

 

Lio ran towards the ledge, praying that when he drops, the potion would take effect. The risks would be avoided, he would be transformed and able to save Galo in time before the worst happens. When he reached the end, Lio dived down like he was in the lake. He closed his eyes, expecting to open them once he transformed, or until death took him from this world.

 

Please work. Please work. Please work. Please work.

 

Unknown to his knowledge, Lio’s hand started to glimmer pink. And eventually the effect took over his whole body, metamorphosing him into another grand creature.

 

And soon enough, Lio could tell he had wings again, but they were much larger and... scaly in texture. No matter, he took this opportunity to look down and find Galo and Kray much smaller in view. Small enough for him to take under his new form to safety.

 

So with great speed and agility, the young prince moved fast to go under the two humans and placed them safely over his serpent-like body. Once the two were safe, Lio dove up once again, the clouds above silhouetting his draconic guise.

 


 

Meis and Gueira stopped their horse once they reached the bridge between a neighboring village and Castle Promare. They looked upon the horizon to see flames ablazing the back of the place, catching over the towers and rooftop of the building. It looked like an apocalyptic scene, which placed much worry over the two and even more so with Aina. Before they could head closer, though-

 

“DUCK!”

 

Gueira yelled and the other two followed with him as a large creature managed to fly over them. They turned back to find the same creature landing behind them. It was a dragon. One they’d seen in many stories when they were kids. But this one looked almost human in its countenance. 

 

When the creature finished landing, it picked up two humans on its back by grabbing their clothes with its teeth. With a careful touch, the two beings were laid on the stepping stones, one of which Aina instantly recognized by the hair, as Galo.

 

She jumped off the horse, running to see him, ignoring the fact that there was a real dragon beside them. Meis and Gueira, however, inspected the being from a distance. It was unreal, the creature had such a thin frame, almost like a snake. It’s scales were pink with a bit of a green shimmer under the moonlight. But the most important thing the two of them recognized was its eyes. They were lavender.

 

Like Sir Lio’s.

 

Gueira jokes, “Not again, goddammit! We just got him back to normal.”

 

As if on the command of his statement, the dragon’s form began to falter. And in a bright light, Lio’s human form came down angelically, like the creature before was an illusion Lio brought to life.

 

The two Burnish soldiers dropped from the horse, and like at the lake, they just went straight back to hugging their prince again. Happy to see him again.

Lio appreciated the sentiment for a moment, but then he pushed back. He looked at Galo’s motionless form, Aina watching over with him. Then he looked a Kray, who somehow, was still awake.

 

Though he couldn’t stand, the former Advisor could speak. “Heheheh… It was worth a shot. So what are you going to do now, kid? Kill me?”

 

Lio was done with this nonsense. He scoffed in his usual pretentious manner, as if he never left the castle. As if Kray never tried to kill him. Then he kicked Kray’s body with enough force to nearly crack a couple of bones before pulling the Advisor by his neckline to say, “I’m not like you, Kray. All people, human or Burnish, deserve to live. I did warn you I wouldn’t show mercy if you tried to harm Galo. So from now on, you’ll spend your life behind bars. Alone.”

 

He threw the advisor to the ground, knowing Kray wouldn’t have enough strength now to try to escape. It didn’t matter anymore. What mattered now was making sure Galo was still alive.

 


 

“Galo… Galo wake up! Please!”

 

Lio channeled as much power he could muster into his loved one’s chest. He kissed him again and again with the same energy Galo did for him at the lake. Nothing seemed to wake the soldier up. He grabbed Galo’s tunic and started shouting as a last resort.

 

“Don’t end it like this, dumbass. Don’t leave me alone without you by my side. I don’t think I could handle being King without you to keep me

level headed and happy. So wake up already, Galo Thymos! Wake up, you idiot!”

 

No response. Galo never opened his eyes.

 

Lio couldn’t keep his emotions away any longer. He felt the tears reach his chin, and turned his threatening grasp on Galo’s tunic into a loving embrace. One he would never want to let go of.

 

Gueira, Meis and Aina all just stood back, unable to speak. Aina felt her own tears falling down her face, thinking she had lost one of her greatest friends. Everyone refused to move from this moment, taking as much time Lio needed to say goodbye to the love of his life.

 

But that time shortened in a quick gasp.

 

“Ha...hah…”

 

Galo pushed Lio away from him, holding his chest to regain his strength. When he regained control of his breath, the soldier looked up to see his friends, all bewildered and distraught.

 

“Did we win?”

 

Those words ignited something in Lio. He weakly punched Galo in the neck enough to at least make the idiot soldier go, “Ow!”

 

“What was that for, Lio?”

 

Prince Lio refused to answer. He just punched Galo again and the same reaction occurred.

 

“Ow! Quit it!”

 

“No. No I won’t, you idiot. You should’ve woken up sooner.” Lio held Galo’s chest, burying himself within it so he could hide his reddened face from view.

 

“Oh, c’mon Lio. Don’t act like this. It’s not like I died or anything. I just woke up from this weird dream…”

 

That sparked interest in Lio immediately. He pulled himself back up, wiping the tears from his eyes. “What did you dream about?”

 

Galo rubbed the back of his head, trying to connect the dots. “It’s really fuzzy, but I remember being in this white space. And I saw King Deus, Heris and…”

 

His eyes opened wide before he could finish his sentence. Lio leaned closer. “Who else?”

 

“...my parents. And all they told me was how proud they are...of all of us.” He smiled at Lio when he said that. Lio couldn’t help but return the gesture in tandem, even through his tears.

 

Galo then added, “Oh! And King Deus mentioned how you planned on making me your ‘future husband’. Care to explain?”

 

Lio blushed, remembering his own ‘dream’ a couple of hours ago. He chuckled through his embarrassment before answering, “We can talk about that when we head back home.”

 

And so, with Kray apprehended, the group of five walked all the way back to the castle. Lio spent his thoughts on how he would explain to the nobles and the neighboring kingdoms about tonight, while Galo just focused on keeping the prince by his side forever. And never letting him go again.






Chapter Text

Months passed, and the kingdom of Promare gradually became more peaceful. Kray and his cronies were finally tried and jailed for their crimes, expected to be released by the time they are in their 70s. The castle was currently being renovated and restructured. Lio finally became celebrated, not as prince of Promare, but as King. And soon enough, wedding bells filled the noble’s head.

 

“Head to the flower boutique on Fry,” he requested one of his servants. Out of the corner of his eye, though, was the love that all this planning was for. And boy, was the fire in Lio’s eyes ready to set flame to that man.

 

“Galo, did you send out your invitations yet?”

 

“Yeah, no, I’m working on it, Lio.”

 

“Well, you have to hurry or else they won’t have enough time to RSVP.”

 

“I’ll get to it, Lio.”

 

The king chuckled. “Better write it down first before you make promises like that.”

 

Galo mocked his fiancé as he rushed to speak to another servant about the reception. After letting go of his annoyance, Galo headed outside to the training grounds. He found Commander Ignis kneeling beside the memorial of his fallen friends. The older knight laid out a nice arrangement of candles and flowers, then held his hands together in prayer for them.

 

“Mind if I join you?”

 

Ignis turned, and cocked a small smile at his compatriot. “Of course not.”

 

They both kneeled together in silence, respecting the fallen. Ignis spoke up again after giving his respects, “I’d never had a chance to thank you, kid. For stopping Kray. Without you, I guess… these three would never had closure for what happened.”

 

Galo for the first time, acted bashful for being appreciated. “Oh i-it’s nothing. It’s a soldier’s job to fight for what’s right.”

 

Ignis nodded. “True, but Lio didn’t promote you to Commander just for that, kid.”

 

Galo laughed. “...I guess not.”

 

SLAP!

 

A forceful hand hit the back of Galo’s head. Turning to chastise whoever did this, Galo was met with Gueira and Meis, two other newly appointed Commanders of the knightdom, along with a young woman that seemed to hide beside them.


Gueira, being the obvious culprit, spoke first. “Yo, Cap! I want you to meet the latest recruit in the Burnish division.” He nudged the girl closer. She carefully reached out her hand.

 

“Hi, my name is Thyma. It’s an honor to meet y-“

 

Suddenly, a burst of flames erupted from her hand and nearly set flame to Galo’s hair. Vigilant, the commander was able to avoid it, but the girl pulled her hand away and apologized.

 

“Sorry, sir. I’m...I’m still new to my abilities.”

 

She turned away, embarrassed by her inability to control her powers. But Galo just placed a hand on her shoulder and calmly replied, “It’s okay. That’s why these two are here. It’ll take time, but you’ll improve. Welcome to the team.”

 

Thyma shyly smiled before Meis and Gueira placed a hand over her shoulder. The former also mentioned, “By the way Galo, don’t you have to head to Aina’s village?”

 

His cool head turned hot red, realizing he had forgotten something. “Shit! I need to go! It was good seeing you, Thyma! You two, don’t be too difficult for her!”

 

And soon enough, the man was gone, taking his Matoi off into the sunset. Gueira and Meis just sighed.

 

Our King truly loves such a moron.

 


 

It was a somber evening in Aina’s village. Everyone gathered to mourn the loss of her respected sister. As funeral processions began, the young woman looked back at her parents. Her father held his wife’s shoulders for comfort as her mother kneeled by the coffin, sobbing uncontrollably. Unable to let go of her lost daughter. Aina bit her lip to hide her own pain. News didn’t travel about Heris’s crimes, and Aina requested specifically to Lio that they never did. It was a decision she may never forgive herself for, but she didn’t want her family to suffer from Heris’s actions. 

 

The best thing would be to have her sister just be remembered as a casualty to Kray’s cruelty.

 

Galo stood beside Aina throughout the proceedings, holding her close to provide some comfort. His grip on her arm felt nice, but she knew it was just a gesture of friendship. It took awhile for her to truly process her feelings, but she managed to let go of her crush on him. She accepted that no matter what, their friendship is what’s important.

 

Once the funeral finished up and many began to head back to their homes, Aina and Galo stayed, staring at Heris’s tombstone. Aina spoke up, “Hey, umm...thanks for visiting... and attending the funeral, Galo. It means a lot.”

 

Galo looked at Aina for a second, before looking back at the grave. “Of course. I wanted to at least give my respects. Who knows if I’d have time after this.”

 

Aina smirked at that statement. “Oh yeah! How are the wedding plans going?”

 

He proceeded to get annoyed, turning from calm into a ranting moron in a matter of microseconds. “EXHAUSTING! I swear Lio can’t choose between two sets of anything the planners ask of him. Flowers, musicians, who sits where-It gets infuriating sometimes!”

 

Aina giggled, seeing Galo be angrily enthusiastic about his husband-to-be. “You must really like him if you’re allowing him to make all these decisions for you.”

 

Galo replies, “Yeah, well I’m only letting him mess with everything else so long as I got two things in return. Reason number one-”, and he wildly extends his index finger in front of Aina before he explains, “catering is done by your family’s bakery AND Pop’s Pizza Place that we used to eat at as kids. I need Lio and his friends to try some Inferno Volcano Margherita Megamax at least once in their lives!”

 

Aina smiled through her laugh, ”True. It would be a crime if you didn’t give them that luxury.”

 

“And two-”

 

Aina looked as Galo extended his hand once more, this time with an invitation in hand. Addressed to her. She looked up to see him looking at her in a serious gaze. “If I could invite you and your family to the wedding… and maybe eventually, stay at our castle.”

 

It was a kind gesture, one that someone in Aina’s shoes would accept wholeheartedly. But still, this was her choice. She tugged at her pants fabric that covered her knees, looking away from Galo as she gave a disappointing answer, “My family will appreciate the business and opportunities you give them, Galo. But I’m afraid I can’t take them.”

 

Obviously, that was not what Galo expected. He let out a loud and baffled “HUH?!”, asking Aina, “You’re not even gonna come to the wedding?! Look, maybe I was being too forward on asking you to live near us, but if you could just visit-”

 

She interrupted, “I don’t mean to miss out. But, you have to understand Galo. I’ve lived under my sister’s shadow for so long. She’s spent her life telling me to stay within Promare’s walls, waiting until things got better. Now that they have, I want to do what I’ve always wanted.” Aina looked up at Galo, the sun shining behind her, leaving a halo around her vibrant face. “I want to explore this world and experience my own adventures! So I’m setting off to Gainax tomorrow. In a month, I’ll be in Triggar.”

 

Galo questioned, “That’s on the opposite side of the continent. How long do you plan on leaving the kingdom?”

 

“I won’t be gone for too long.”

 

Those words nearly set Galo off, he spoke through his anxiety, “I-I’d rather you stayed in the kingdom for a couple more days. At least so Lio and I can see you off.”

 

Aina saw through Galo’s emotions, and patted him on the shoulder. “I can handle myself fine, Galo. Don’t worry about it.” It still wasn’t enough to calm his nerves, she was sure of it. So she offered. “I’ll try and visit your wedding before I leave. I won’t guarantee staying for reception, but I’ll at least see you at the ceremony. Does that sound good?”

 

That immediately picked Galo’s mood back up, as he wagged and enthusiastically replied, “Thank you, Aina. It means a lot.”

 

She replied with a smile before taking another look at Heris’s grave. The silence came back to betray the once happy mood. Now solemn again, Aina couldn’t help but say out loud, “I still miss her. Even for all the crap she’s done, destroying people’s lives, I can’t help but still see her as my sister.”

 

Aina held the pit of her stomach closely. “I feel ill just saying that.”

 

Galo exhaled from his teeth. The slow breath was followed by kindred words, “I understand that completely. Kray was my hero for the longest time. Without his guidance, I wouldn’t have been the same person I am today.” He placed an arm around Aina,  holding her at his side in a friendly embrace.

 

Aina saw his determined stare back at her. He refused to give in to any other emotion as he spoke with confidence, “But the main difference between Kray and your sister is that she felt guilt for her actions. Sure, it doesn’t mean she’s absolved of her misdeeds, I’m sure Lio would have a few choice words for that, but she made an effort to stop Kray’s plans and worked to keep you safe. And in her last moments, she did just that, Aina.”

 

He slowly pulled Aina into his chest. Confused by this, she asked him, “What are you doing?”

 

“You never really had a chance to mourn at the funeral, Aina. And I don’t want you to return home, pretending to be okay. So, just stay here for a minute, and let it out.”

 

Aina understood, but she didn’t want to obey. She wanted to remain strong and not face her family in despair. If she cried now, she would be unable to face her parents, knowing the truth about Heris’s horrible experiments, that her sister’s final words were instructions to stop a crazed dictator, that at the last second Heris told Aina:

 

I’ll be right here, sis. Don’t be a stranger.

 

That was it. Just thinking about those words, Aina’s emotions betrayed her. Her grief just erupted, and so she complied with Galo’s request. She grabbed his tunic, staining the material with her tears. Her muffled cries were all that could be heard in the cemetery grounds. Galo remained calm, patting the girl on the back. His soft embrace was the comfort she needed most.

 

The sky burned into the colors of the sun before fading into a dark purple, and so the two parted ways. Aina heading back home to see her family, and Galo going to his Matoi, to see himself back at Castle Promare.

 


 

Time flew by before anyone realized it, and the wedding of the century was finally upon them.

 

The castle’s ballroom had completely transformed into a symphony of color. Bright blues, pinks streamed across the room over a black that completely immersed in the area. The windows prevented the decorations from completely setting the ceremony in complete darkness, spotlighting beams of bright sunlight from within it’s glass.

 

The officiant stood below a beautiful archway covered in morning glories and gladiolus flowers. A crowd of mainly servants, soldiers and important family members sat amongst an array of elegant white chairs. Music from the orchestra chimed all faces to peer back to the entrance of the ballroom to find Galo Thymos, confidently walking towards the altar, but with a bit of childlike giddiness in his expression.

 

Once he reached the altar, Galo stood at the officiant’s right, anticipating what came next. Of course, the groomsmen walked in first: Gueira and Meis who stood arm in arm with each other. When Gueira walked by Galos side he whispered half-teasingly, “I trust you will make Sir Lio happy. So don’t screw this up!” Galo just smiled back as assurance.

 

They looked on as Aina entered frame as the one and only bridesmaid. Her parents helped Galo in ensuring this would happen, much to the young woman’s chagrin. Since the last time she was at the castle, the girl didn’t feel comfortable around the public view. But she allowed herself to be bridesmaid anyway. Galo needed her the most at this time. And as soon as the ceremony finishes, she’ll at least be able to give her heartfelt goodbye to him before taking her leave from Promare. She took her spot beside Galo, both smiling at each other, enjoying their time together while it lasts.

 

And then, the moment finally arrived. Wedding March began. A single black heel stepped forward, marching toward the altar. When Galo faced his husband-to-be, he was enamored by Lio’s beauty. The king stood wearing an outfit adorned in dark purples and light blues. His hair was crowned with a silver circlet shaped to appear like a spiral of flames. For Galo, Lio looked picturesque. The glow of the afternoon’s light gleamed above him, the same light that Galo experienced when he began to understand Lio at the library long ago. He was a clear symbol of Promare’s future. A symbol of unity, pride. True peace. Galo looked a bit bashful as he smiled; Lio exchanged the same glance to him.

 

They both breathed easy as the officiant began his speech.

 


 

“King Lio and his groom will now exchange their vows!”

 

The officiant whispered to Galo as the groom worked to unravel his paper, “Go ahead.” Galo gulped as the pressure arrived on him immediately. But when he looked into the calm lavender of Lio’s eyes, all became clear. These words were for him.

 

“Lio, when we first met as kids, I saw you in a very negative light. Because you were Burnish, I thought you would be just…some bratty monster the King mischose… but that was long ago. Now that we’ve grown up together, I finally understand that the Burnish aren’t bad people, especially you. You’ve taught me how to be more insightful and less reckless, and you seem to always have my back during the times I get careless. More importantly, I now know that you are the best of me...and I wish to try and be the same for you, until the day I die.”

 

Galo grasped Lio’s hands as he said this. A familiar warmth was felt between their palms. Lio couldn’t keep his eyes off Galo’s devoted glance. As the groom’s piece was done, the officiant proceeded to ask the same for Lio. The King complied, but refused to let go of Galo’s hands. He just kept looking at his future husband, the words naturally coming to him.

 

“Galo, I’ve always felt something for you. Even after the first day we met and fought each other, I’ve felt this… attraction towards you. Of course, I didn’t think you were very smart at the time… and sometimes I still think you get a little too headstrong on occasion, but-“

 

Lio looked down at their enveloped hands, rubbing his thumb across Galo’s palm where his Burnish mark once laid. 

 

“Your determination to save others, no matter what, is the strongest value you’ve shown the world. When you saved me, at the lake, I saw your selfless, kind nature up close. And that is what I adore the most about you. You are a hero, Galo Thymos. Mine and Promare’s. And I promise that no matter what, I’ll always love and protect you with all my heart.”

 

He leaned close to his love, nearly kissing. Galo hid away his mouth, almost embarrassed by the smile his lips began to display. When the soldier looked back at the pews, he saw that he wasn’t alone in that sentiment. People were beginning to tear up, with tissues being passed around for the crowd’s convenience.

 

The priest requested the rings from Gueira and Meis. The two groomsmen did as asked, presenting on two pillows silver bands that contained inscriptions that translated under their language read: “May the Trails of Fire I Always Knew, Carry Me Back Home and Lead Me to You.” Galo grabbed Lio’s first, sliding the ring under his love’s slim finger. Lio did the same, but slowly. He wanted to hold onto this moment for as long as he possibly could.

 

“By the power vested in me and the Sacred Church of Promare, I pronounce you two partners for life. You may now kiss.”

 

The two didn’t even flinch, they just went for it, as the crowd and their friends clapped and cheered for their consummation. Lio ran his fingers through the scruffy part of Galo’s hair, while Galo just kept his arms around the small of Lio’s back. The two had their eyes closed, only keeping in mind these small sensations they felt. For they wanted to hold more than just the sights of their wedding; they wanted to remember the feelings they carried during the ceremony in detail.

 

When they opened their eyes again, ending their kiss strong, they looked out into the crowd of people applauding them. They stood side by side, arm-in-arm, Lio’s head resting on Galo’s shoulder. For the first time in a while, Lio felt true happiness and was looking forward to his future. Galo knew this as well, looking at Lio contently. 

 

And as they both marched down the aisle, they knew from today onward, they would be able to finally live happily ever after.