I lurched, ducked and rolled. In my head, I played my own theme music. I peered down a hallway. The hallway separating me from danger and freedom. I counted to three and made a mad dash for the exit.
‘Asper Emma Bellavista!’ A girl practically shrieked in my face. I screamed, so did she.
‘What the fudge-nuggets!’ I threw my hands up at her and rubbed my ears. ‘Don’t jump out on me like that, Amber!’
‘Not until you tell me why you’re sneaking around the school like you planted a bomb in one of the trash bins.’ She huffed and folded her arms, a foot tapping the ground in impatience.
‘I-I’ I stuttered. How was I supposed to tell my mortal bestfriend that I come from a totally different realm because I somehow died, reincarnated on Earth instead and am currently running away from a high ranking officer from the neither world? ‘I’m ditching’ I said finally.
‘You’re WHAT?’ she screamed again and I flinched. Her habit of screaming really wasn’t doing my enhanced senses any good.
‘By Allura, you scream like a banshee.’ I muttered.
‘I heard that, Emma, and how many times have I warned you about your slang? People here say ‘God’, not ‘Allura’ like they come from freaking Mars or something.’ She was waving her index finger at me as if scolding a child. If only she knew how old I really was. ‘Anyway, I don’t know what in the world has gotten into you but you can’t ditch. Not today anyway.’
‘What do you mean I can’t ditch?!’ I exclaimed. ‘Just watch me!’ I pushed past her but she stepped back, blocking my path again. I glared up at her.
Amber was named after her hair. I’m ninety-nine percent sure of it. She had a mane of fiery red hair, with chocolate brown doe eyes and light freckles on her nose. Her voice was lower than mine, making people automatically think she was much older than she seemed. She also towered over me (just like anybody else). I barely reached her shoulder.
‘Emma.’ Amber started. ‘As the captain of the archery team, I order you not to ditch school and attend the club showcase this afternoon.’ Oh yeah, forgot to mention. She’s my team captain. I on the other hand, was the vice captain. In skill, she was no where near my standard (since I had fey blood in me and all), but she won over the votes as she was more social-able in the club and people liked her more. The guys at least. No hard feelings though, I was very contented with where I was. Besides, Amber had been my best friend since the day I started attending Casper International Collage.
‘You can’t be serious.’ I frowned. ‘I didn’t sign up for the showcase so you can count me out. I don’t even want to watch. It’s the same thing every year.’
‘But you take part in it every year!’
‘Well, I guess it’s time for a change.’ I feigned right and ducked under her arms but she quickly cause me by my backpack.
‘But everyone is going to be there! And news is that the new transfer students would be attending!’ Which was exactly what I was try to avoid.
‘Amber.’ I turned to fully face her. ‘ I really didn’t think you were the type that yearned to climb the social ladder.’ She groaned.
‘It’s not about the social ladder, Emma!’ I raised an eyebrow. ‘It’s just that, everyone is fighting to have a transfer student in their club and I want at least one of them…’
‘And this is not related to the social ladder because…?’
Her eyes darkened. ‘Fine.’ her smile quickly faded. ‘I’m just tired of being known as Amber the captain of the elves, okay? I’m already in my senior year. I want to be known for something I’m proud of. Like Amber the Captain of the Archery club. Or something decent. Anything but elves.’
‘I don’t know…’ my eyes lingered at the entrance. It beckoned me.
‘Please! I’ll owe you one. I’ll even buy you your favourite cinnabons!’ My ears perked up from under my thick wavy hair.
‘Cinnabons?’ my eyes must have glistened because Amber started to grin.
‘All you can eat.’ I gave the entrance one last glance and sighed.
‘Just this time, Amber.’ She squealed and hugged me.
‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’ She jumped at each word.
‘I love Cinnabons too.’ I nodded into her shoulder, careful not to let her bust my nose.
I can’t believe I finally caught sight of her. She was unmistakable. Those enchanting green cat eyes, translucent pale skin and that unnaturally dark, glossy hair. Asper Emma Bellavista. The girl who cheated death.
For years I had searched for her. Her hex on me only proved one thing. That she was still alive, somewhere out there. I had spent hundreds of years looking for her in our world, Iroria. I searched every faction for her whereabouts, ventured into forests that could kill even the toughest of immortals but there were no results.
Xavier, my king and best friend, had been slowly sinking into a quicksand of depression. He had always thought of Asper as just a witch he could control; another tool to rule to whole of Iroria. He never counted on her being his true mate. When she appeared, the castle was a buzz with talk of the Vemon king finally settling down. The castle celebrated. The existence of a queen meant their kingdom would finally be complete and the king would be able to rule with greater wisdom, leading his people to their golden age.
But Xavier was a young king, barely three hundred years old. He was arrogant and proud. The only things that could possible be redeeming in him was his looks and possibly his wit. Yes, Xavier was a smart man, but his arrogance eventually got the better of him and he lost Lady Asper.
You see, Xavier was greedy in his own ways. He was a man of touch and pleasure, keeping harems everywhere he went. A little before Lady Asper went missing or somehow faked her own death, he met the thunder demon princess, Eliza and was in awe of her beauty. Since he was part storm demon, he felt no loyalty to Lady Asper and proposed to Eliza instead. Seeing that the marriage would mean an alliance and a stronger demon kingdom, Eliza agreed. They were to wed on the 13th full moon of Iroria, a very auspicious date.
He took advantage of Lady Asper’s love. He counted on her being in love with him for the whole of eternity and never bothered to claim her in anyway. In other words, Lady Asper was simply a free bird with loyalty.
Though many servants and maids liked Lady Asper better, a marriage was a marriage all the same. A marriage would result in a queen, which meant a brighter future for them. Overnight, Lady Asper had lost all her power and authority in the castle. Maids didn’t stop to greet her anymore, she had to pump her own hot water and lug it up the steps herself. Sometimes, there wasn’t even food left for her to eat for supper.
Occupied by Princess Eliza, Xavier rarely visited her in her quarters. Lonely, Lady Asper would seek me out to talk or have midnight tea. She was indeed a lonely soul, not lonely in a way that she yearned from physical touch. She simply wanted someone to talk to; to tell them about her day. She wanted someone to listen and care. And I did.
Lady Asper was young, very young. The day I started meeting her at night was the day I found out she had just reached full immortality and was a mere 23 years old. That was very young as compared to myself and Xavier who were both at least 250 years old. Lady Asper was a gentle soul, nothing like what the sluts in Xavier’s harem said her be. Every night, she would tell me about her walkabouts in town or which flowers were blooming in the castle gardens. She’d jump around our tea table, reenacting a servant tripping over a rope she pulled as he walked by with Princess Eliza’s breakfast and divulge devious plans she’d want to put into action the day after.
In return of all the entertainment she provided me with, she’d ask how Xavier was. If he was feeling well or if he’d been in the sun too long again. I never had the heart to tell her that every night, the princess and him would engage in coitus and the whole quarters had to evacuate or buy enchanted earplugs. Instead, I told her stories of when he went to war. How he acquired his white shadow dragon and his accomplishments when he was younger. She would sit quietly by my legs as she listened and played with wild cat-tail fern. She would fall asleep to these stories and night after night, I would carry her up to her bed to tuck her in.
Then there was one night, Lady Asper didn’t come down to the courtyard.
Worried, I hurried up the spiraling stairway to her quarters and called for her. She answered her door and I was met with eyes, grey and cold as stone. I asked if she wanted to go for tea and she had silently agreed. That night I did most of the talking. I had asked what she did for the day and she had replied ‘Nothing much.’ I asked if she managed to pull the pranks she planned for the servants and she could only manage a weak ‘Yeah.’ I got off my stool and sat directly in front of her. Her eyes were swollen, droopy and her lips were pale.
‘What’s wrong?’ I cooed at her, trying to get her to open up to me again.
She looked up and stared at me for a few moments and whispered.
With her face angled towards the moonlight, I saw a hand print across the right side of her face. Her right eye was bruised blue and black while there were deep gashes on her cheek as if she had been clawed by an animal. My jaw clenched at the sight. Why would anyone hurt sweet Asper?
‘What’s all this?’ I lifted a hand to access the wounds but she flinched away. Shaking her head, she got up and dashed towards her quarters, not bothering to turn back as I shouted after her.
The next few weeks, Lady Asper didn’t even open her door to me. When I asked the maids and servants, some shuddered, saying she hasn’t been eating anything for the last few weeks and that she may very well be dead. Male servants swore they felt a sinister aura leaking from her room.
Two weeks before the wedding, she finally emerged. Or at least that was what I heard when Xavier came crashing into my chambers. Apparently Lady Asper hasn’t been responding to him at all.
‘Like talking to a block of stone.’ were his exact words. When I asked him what he did to her, he simply said he had decided to visit her, only to be treated coldly. I asked if he knew about her being hit by someone or if the wounds had at least healed up well.
He shrugged and said they were ‘just nifty’.
I saw red.
‘What the hell?’ I had all but screamed at him. ‘What’s your problem with her? What did she even do to deserve that?!’
‘By Oden, Cobalt. She’s just a witch. A cursed witch!’ He spat just as I threw a punch his way, catching him off guard. He blocked the next one and tripped me easily. He may have been a total bastard, but as much as I hate to admit, he had skills.
‘If’s she’s so important to you, then your punishment will be hers to bare.’ he said, words laced with venom.
The next day, I found out she had been thrown into the dungeons.
The first night I visited, I was met with a frail girl dressed in rags. Her wounds seemed to have opened again and gotten infected. Pus oozed from the torn skin. When she caught sight of me, she hid her face in her hair and tried to dematerialize into a corner. Her wrists were cuffed with enchanted bracelets, disabling her from using any form of magic. It must have been rusty too because it seemed to irritate her delicate pale skin and cause an angry rash that had started to spread up her elbows.
There she huddled. The very embodiment of my guilt.
As much as my duties allowed me to, since Xavier started being a total dick and piling work on my shoulders, I visited her. Every night I told her that if she lifted her spell, I’d make sure I’d steal her away and take care of her in secret. Every night, I promised her many things. I promised her a fluffy bed with satin sheets and laced drapes. I promised her a normal immortal life in the city so that she could find someone she liked and be happy. But somewhere among all the promises, I saw that in her eyes, she didn’t trust me anymore.
I was ready to do anything to have her trust me again.
Two nights before the wedding, I snuck into Xavier’s room. Shuffling through his piles of paperwork, I found it in a wooden box. The key to Lady Asper’s enchanted bracelets. I shoved it into my pocket, replaced it with a dummy key and placed the box where I found it. Sneaking out of his office, I was met with chaos.
Vampires. Vampires everywhere.
One of them lurched for me. I ducked, swiftly drawing my sword and beheading him as he passed. Before I could exhale, another vampire crossed swords with me.
‘Give us the witch.’ he snarled.
‘I’m tired of people referring to her like she’s an object.’ I hissed as I pushed him away and swiped his head clean off his shoulders.
At the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Xavier fending off two vampires with an arm around Eliza. I knew he was skilled but two vampires with the dexterity of one arm seemed a little far fetched. That was when I heard an explosion.
My head jerked to see Lady Asper’s quarters coming down in flames. I cursed under my breath as I dashed for the entrance of the dungeons.
When I reached her, she looked shocked. Like a deer caught in headlights. Her eyes were back to their beautiful green that seemed to glow in the dark. As I made my way down the steps, I lodged my sword into the rusty lock and twisted, reducing it to scrap. The gate creaked open but she made no move to run out or escape.
‘Hurry! C’mon.’ I held my hand out to her but she didn’t take it. Instead, she turned on her heel, walked back to her corner and flopped down.
I remember how I stared at her. Bewildered.
‘Is it the bracelets?’ I motioned to them. She seemed to half nod and I crossed the cell towards her in a few strides. I pulled out the key I stole from Xavier, jammed it into the bracelets and popped them open. She flexed her wrists and examined them before showing them to me. Wondering what she was looking at and fearing it was another infection of some sort, I took her hands in mine and brought it up to eye level. They began to glow, brighter and brighter till it erupted and blew me across the cell.
‘What are you doing?!’ I roared at her. ‘I’m going to take you away!’
‘To what?’ She sneered. ‘So that I can breed with your king?!’
She ran up and tackled me. Managing to catch me by the neck, she pulled me down to eye level. I caught sight of her eyes. They shone brighter and the tips of her irises seemed to crackle with gold.
‘You will not speak about me to anyone. You will not let anyone know who I am.’ Her voice sounded like wind chimes ‘No one will know that I exist, till the day I die.’
A warm wave rushed through my body making me shudder. She let me go, using my weight to push herself away from me.
The entire cell shook and the wall behind me wobbled I looked up and saw that it was about to come crashing down on me. As if in slow motion, I watched her leap across the cell, hands glowing once more. She grabbed my collar and the glow started to spread across my body. With a soft smile, she whispered ‘Goodbye.’
The last image I had of her was of the wall collapsing on her, as I was pulled out into the darkness by some mysterious force. I woke up under the apple tree in the courtyard. Everything left of the castle were in ruins. Flattened to the ground.
‘Eliza is dead!’ A maid screamed hysterically as she stumbled past. ‘Save the prince! He’s gravely injured.’ I laughed bitterly. My sweet Asper was gone. Died, saving me.
A servant limped by and noticed me. ‘Cobalt lives! He is here!’ I ignored them as I slipped into darkness, hoping I wouldn’t wake again.
When I woke, I was bandaged up. I waved the servants away and they scrambled out of the room. I caught a maid by her wrist and twirled her around.
‘ Where is Xavier?’ I churned out. My throat was so dry. How long was I out?
‘H-he’s in his room, sir.’ she squirmed uncomfortably under my gaze. ‘He woke about a week ago.’
A week! I’ve been out for more than a week. I swung my legs across the bed and stood, almost falling. The maid rushed over with a crutch and I thanked her, asking if she would lead me to Xavier’s room.
After the fire, the entire castle residence was moved to the summer house. It wasn’t another castle, but the vampire raid had taken out at least a third of the residents in Salvator castle so the house was just about able to fit everyone.
I hobbled into Xavier’s room and shut the door. Xavier was sitting up in his bed staring blankly at what looked like photographs (which were equivalent to gifs on Earth).
‘You’re awake.’ Came his monotonous greeting.
‘My condolences for Princess Eliza.’ I answered in the same tone.
‘I couldn’t give a damn about her.’ He bit out and I raised an eyebrow.
‘That was faster than I thought.’ I moved across the room, finally getting the feel of my legs back.
‘I know you switched my key.’
‘Are you going to kill me now for stealing from a Prince?’
‘Did you manage to save her?’
‘Why do you care?’
‘I asked.’ His voice rose a little. ‘If you manage to save-her.’
‘No. She freaking died in front of me.’ He looked at me as if I was crazy.
‘What are you doing?’ he looked extremely confused. ‘Has the war finally gotten to you?’
‘What are you talking about?’ I was lost.
‘Why were you mouthing words at me?’ He mimicked what looked like a goldfish and I glared at him.
‘Don’t you bullshit me.’ I glowered at him. ‘I said. She’s dead.’
‘There. You’re doing it again.’ He lifted an arm at me and winced. The battle must have really gotten him good. ‘It’s like you’re censoring yourself.’
I stared at him hard for a long, hard minute. Then it hit me. Lady Asper hexed me. She made sure that I’ll never be able to tell anyone about her till she died. So if I’m still hexed, that means.
I sat in this place they called a gym together with at least 200 other mortals. The only reason why I’m here was because the teacher said that everyone in the school would be here, which I seriously doubted.This morning I saw at least a thousand mortals. The amount here was barely half. I was forced to sit through humans dancing to strange music, being flung into the air, fighting each other and sword fighting with what looked like over sized needles.
‘And now, we have the captain and vice captain to showcase their club’s archery!’ the emcee squealed from the speakers. I noticed boys perk up from their seats and lean forward. Wondering what was going on, I did so as well. A fiery red head stepped out into the center of the gym, her hair pulled back with only a headband. Hiding behind her was what I’ve been looking for for so long.
Lady Asper. Her hair was pulled back to cover her ears in a fishtail braid. She stood beside the red head and both of them bowed. She took a step back and the red head raised her bow and arrow. A few tensed moments later, she released the arrow and it shot through the air, hitting the target right in the bulls eye. The crowd cheered and I clapped. Rather impressive for a mortal, but I was more interested with what Asper had to showcase. Her team mate had already scored a bulls eye. Won’t she already be stood up?
The red head bent down to whisper something into her ear. Asper sighed and I saw her mouth the words ‘Show off.’
She stood up, as tall as she could and pulled her bow strings. Taking a deep breath, she released the string and the arrow went flying. It seemed to travel in the exact path as the last arrow, hitting it head on and splitting the first arrow right through the center. There was a moment’s silence, before the crowd went wild. I noticed I was off my seat as well, cheering my lungs out. Spectacular. Lady Asper is simply spectacular.
She jumped at the sudden cheering and sighed. I raised an eyebrow. Seems like she has stage fright. She turned, her braid swishing around and walked out of the gym. Hurriedly, I got out of my seat and scrambled to get to the exit of the gym before her.
I made another perfect shot as usual. Sighing, I lowered my bow. Then I flinched. I sensed him. He was roaring. What the hell?
As calmly as possible I turned and left the stage. Inside, Amber enveloped me into a bear hug.
‘Beautiful! Only you can shoot like that. I can see the students flowing in already!’ She was starry eyed again and I hated to burst her bubble. Every year, we’d put up this same showcase, have at least a hundred club member applications at the beginning but make it out of the year barely holding on the a miserable four members. Most of the applicants were boys who just wanted to get into our pants.
‘You’re welcome.’ I shrugged off my club jacket that ironically read ‘FEY’ in bold. I’d like to deny, but it was my idea. I’d suggested it for fun and Amber took it seriously, saying that Feys were creatures of the lore that were extraordinary at archery. You got that right, sister.
‘Don’t forget the Cinnabons alright?’ I winked at her over my shoulder as I swung my bag over my shoulder.
‘So keen on ditching huh?’ Amber clucked her tongue. ‘Alright hon, don’t forget about the test tomorrow!’
‘Cinnabons!’ I emphasized.
‘Yes! And that!’ Amber laughed.
Turning the corner, I felt his presence once again. I would have turn around but I had already said my goodbyes to the club, plus there was no way to exit from there. I let out a long sigh. Cornered in the end.
Walking straight up, I predicted him popping out at every corner there was. Just when I took an inward bet that he wouldn’t be behind the next corner, he stepped out, resulting in me half squealing. Dammit, he gets me every time!
‘We need to talk.’ Cobalt started.
‘Do we have to?’ I whined. It used to get to him when I stayed at Salvator castle.
He closed his eyes and pinched his nose ridge. Something he always did when he was trying hard to be firm with me.
‘Yes, we do.’ he said finally and I felt my shoulders sag. ‘Please Lady Asper. It’s urgent.’