Chapter 1: A New Dawn
"We have no other choice, Mikleo. You are to marry General Sorey Ilorin. He will come for you within a fortnight. I am sorry, my precious grandson. I am at my wit's end."
The words were sharp against Mikleo's mind as his shoulders shook with suppressed sobs. He bowed his head, his untied hair covering all but the twin trail of tears sliding down his cheeks. He reached up and covered his mouth to muffle his sobs as the scratch of the pen continued, determined underneath his despair. The occupants of the room spared him no glance, their lips tight and their eyes dark with the task ahead of them-of the precious sacrifice they were tossing to literal wolves. It was their hope, however, that this precious one would be their last.
"Grandfather-" Mikleo lowered his hands and folded them across his waist to suppress the shivers that wracked his body-why couldn't he stop shaking? "Grandfather-"
"Be at ease, Mikleo." The rough rumble of the Earth Seraph Eizen forced him into silence. "You're going to make yourself sick-" he was cut off by another sudden harsh sob and it cracked even his hard heart. He turned, his blue eyes gleaming underneath the low light of the small home. "Zenrus."
The scratching of the pen stopped abruptly and Zenrus' aged face looked up and his eyes darkened as he took in the utter despair that was his grandson before he turned to back to the paper and the scratching of the pen resumed. "We must." Zenrus resumed, the pen almost breaking underneath Mikleo's harsh sobs as Lailah, the Prime Lord, and Fire Seraph, rose from her kneeled position and approached his grandson and pulled him into her arms, the limbs trembling at the sheer force of Mikleo's cries.
"You know we must, Lord Eizen." Zenrus raised his gaze and Eizen could hardly hold back his surprise when two tears slid down Zenrus' cheeks. "There is no other. Or," Zenrus turned to Edna who turned away. "Would you rather it be the Lady Edna? Or the Lady Lailah? Powerful Seraph's in their own right?"
Eizen said nothing, lowering his head and closing his eyes as the scratching of the pen resumed. His jaw clenched, and he barely moved when Edna's gloved hand reached over and placed itself on his tensed arm.
"We must," Edna intoned, repeated Zenrus' words with a dull causality. "We have lost enough and so have the humans. The sparks of war are emerging again, and this union must come to be. Even if breaks our hearts and shatters them among the skies, Eizen: We must."
"He's a child." Eizen murmured, lowering his now open gaze to Edna's who return it with the same solemnity. "Are we really giving him away to the humans? A babe among wolves."
"Mikleo is a smart one." Edna murmured, turning back to the growing set of papers – of the contract and conditions of the arranged marriage. "He will learn to blend in among the humans and what weapons to use when and if necessary. He will be fine."
Eizen's shoulders lowered in resignation, turning his gaze back to Mikleo, becoming quite relieved that the heart-shattering sobs had all but faded into a series of small hiccups that had Lilah reaching for a small cup of water, quietly urging the younger seraph to drink. It was times such as these that he wished that Velvet was still around. She would know what to do. How to solve the problem between Human and Seraph.
Human and Malakhim.
However, she was long gone. Asleep with Innominat. Sacrificing herself to break an eon cycle to see the world to a new era and as did Laphicet who watches the world as Maotelus. Watches a world become a bloodbath between both races. Watches as the world, once again, harms and misuse their people. Watches as they sacrifice an innocent seraph who wanted nothing more than to explore the world and read its past, present, and future.
The scratching of Zenrus' pen halted, descending the room into a deafening silence except for Mikleo's soft sniffing. Zenrus leans back, groaning when his back cracked before waving a hand over the contract to dry the ink. He lowered his and placed it on his knee before he turned to the older seraphs in the room.
"Leave us," Zenrus commanded in a low tone. "We will discuss the contents of the contract tomorrow morning. I am tired and wish to speak to my grandson alone."
Mikleo said nothing, watching as the Seraph Leaders rose and moved towards the door, shutting it firmly behind them and leaving them in a tense silence.
"I do not wish to hurt you." Zenrus murmured, his tone weary, speaking of the leader who had made countless decisions that were best for his people and not for him – never for him. "I wish for you to remain here within my gaze, but this war is a danger to both our races, Mikleo. I tire of the fighting and the loss that our people have endured." Zenrus moved closer and placed a hand on Mikleo's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "To enter into this contract would save both our races."
"How?" Mikleo uttered. "How would this prevent us from going to war again?"
"You entering an arranged marriage with the General Illorin will ensure our race's safety and him entering the marriage will ensure the safety of his race. With you two intertwined, our races will form a budding friendship. It will be the two of you at the forefront of this friendship and I pray that you will find happiness and eventually love within it."
"I am being sold and bartered." Mikleo uttered bitterly. "There will be no happiness that will stem from this, Grandfather."
Zenrus hummed but made no move to agree. "If you will not find love then perhaps kindness and friendship will find you instead. I have it on good word that General Illorin is a good and strong man."
"And on whose good word that you got that from?" Mikelo couldn't help but be curious. It wasn't often that his grandfather trusted humans let alone called them good and strong.
"Eizen has met the General a number of times and he is confident that you will be well taken care of in Ladylake."
"Ladylake? The Capital of Hyland?" Mikelo murmured. "I will not go to Rolance?"
"No," Zenrus responded with obvious relief. "Rolance offered no maiden or man in this alliance and it was General Illorin that offered himself when no one else would. He, too, longs for peace between human and seraph."
"That brings me no comfort, Grandfather," Mikleo whispered, once more, becoming shaken at the thought of leaving his home. "Was he not the one that struck down many of our people?"
"The Crimson General he was called once upon a time." Zenrus uttered, displeasure in his voice clear. "His sword was never without the blood of our people soaked on the steel."
"Yet, you send me to such a monster? You call him good and strong? Where was this goodness and kindness when he was slaughtering our people!"
"It was when he spared hundreds." Zenrus countered swiftly. "There was a number of seraphs who spoke of his mercy. He never killed if it wasn't necessary. He made sure his men did the same."
Mikleo scoffed at the statement. "He thinks that lowering his kill count makes him a decent person?"
Zenrus snorted, a bitter smile pulling at his lips. "It makes not a decent person, but an honorable one. One who swings his blade indiscriminately is a fool, but one who chooses when and where to swing it is a man of honor and discipline."
"It matters not." Mikelo rose, dusting off his clothing which, to his embarrassment, was only his night clothing. When one was being bartered like meat or vegetables in a market, it didn't matter what one was wearing. Then again, once he was married, it would matter what he wore, said, ate and the subjects that one spoke of. Everything would matter, and your feeble excuses wouldn't save you.
"Grandfather," Mikleo whispered, drawing Zenrus' attention back to him. "Was there no other? No Seraph-"
"No normal Seraph would have worked in this situation, Mikleo." Zenrus chided. "Your origins are unique, and you would blend in with humans more quickly than the others. Not to mention the fact that you are in the running to becoming the next Water Lord."
"A running in which I am no longer a part of?" Mikelo heart shuttered at the thought of no longer being considered a proposal. He longed to be part of the Water Trials. He had trained for six years and was finally considered just six months ago and thanks to this arranged marriage there was no way he would be considered. It would be unfair towards the other Water Seraph to have a Water Lord who lived among humans.
Zenrus said nothing, the smoke emerging from his pipe and drifting into the air was answer enough. No. He would no longer be considered for the title of Water Lord and he was excluded from the Trials.
"I will honor no man who has stripped everything from me, Grandfather." Mikleo's lips thinned as red, hot anger slid down his spine before settled down in the pit of his stomach. "I don't want this-"
"Enough." Zenrus rumbled, and in this distance a boom of thunder echoed, forcing Mikleo to still not in fright, but obedience. It was not the first time that Zenrus' thunder struck in anger and it wouldn't be the last.
"This is not about you." Zenrus began, a sad slump in his shoulders. "Our people along with the humans long for peace. Each of us has lost something precious and the hate that lingers from the war will destroy us all. Those with high resonance such as the King of Hyland and Princess Alisha are aware of the malevolence that continues to consume towns, villages, and cities that are below. Malevolence that are turning humans and Seraphs to wild beast that soldiers can barely contain. Our world is turning into a wasteland and we must act or there will be no need for Earth, Fire, Air or Water Lords. There will be no need for Queen or Kings nor Lord and Ladies. There will be nothing left but a land for the Lord of Calamity to consume and rule."
Mikelo said nothing, turning his eyes away and feeling a flush of shame rise to his cheeks. The shame, however, was quick to turn back to anger – an anger that he kept to himself. It wouldn't be his best option to anger Zenrus any further on the matter. It was settled. The contract was finished and due to be signed when this Lord Sorey arrived.
"You will forgive me." Zenrus uttered, a man at his wit's end with the situation placed before him. "In time you will understand."
It took all of Mikleo's will and strength not to scream in anguish. To make his grandfather feel the same desperate hopelessness that he was feeling, but he knew, deep down that Zenrus felt just as angry, and hopeless as he did. To give away his own grandson? To whom he watched prosper and grow into a proper Seraph? At the end of the day, Mikleo could scream to the rooftops and have an outright tantrum about how unfair his life was, but it was nothing compared how Zenrus was feeling and the actions he had to take to ensure that this treaty—how tentative it was-worked. So, what did Mikleo say instead?
"In time." He echoed with a soft, tight smile that he knew didn't reach his eyes and Zenrus bowed his head as if the weight of the situation finally became too much. And Mikleo, approached him, bowed and wrapped his arms around the smaller Seraph, ignoring the shuddering of the body in his arms, ignoring the tears that trailed down his cheeks. He pulled his grandfather closer and buried his face into the thin hair that he always loved and embraced the soft sobs that shook the elder man's body. In time, things would be better. In time, he would forgive his grandfather and the Lords for forcing such despair upon him.
In time, he would find forgiveness. In all its forms.
Chapter 2: The General and Consort
As sand itched through an hourglass so too did Mikleo's resignation to the fate that awaited him. However, he could not be dishonest and remark that his tears dried long before the ink on the contract. On the contrary, a night didn't pass where a tear or two fell down his cheeks as he laid his head down for a long night of fitful sleep wondering if the man called Sorey would cut him down the moment he was out of the reach of his grandfather's gaze. Wondering if the man would treat him like a pet or an indulgence? Mikleo wasn't deaf to the horror stories his fellow Seraph brought back from the land below. How the humans bound his people to simple objects in order to keep their land purified, Kept them bound to weapons to keep them powerful and endlessly sharp. The thought of Mikleo being used in such a horrid manner ran a deep shiver down his spine and bile to rise in his throat.
The wandering thoughts kept him from sleep causing not only his concentration to slip but his mouth to run afoul with his neighbors who had learned of his fate through speculation and watched him with pity. He didn't want to be pitied. He wanted nothing to do with such a useless emotion and-
"It's unlike you to have such a frightening look."
Mikleo's thoughts screeched to a halt and he turned on his heel to see Eizen standing behind him with a small, thoughtful frown. The sudden appearance of the Lord Earth Seraph caused him to gather his wits and bow his head in a flustering attempt at formality.
"Lord Eizen." Mikleo's cheeks flushed at the hushed whispers that gathered around him, but he continued, keeping his head lowered. "Welcome. How can I be of service?"
"I wanted to speak to you." Eizen's eyes scanned the area, settling on the small crowd that had gathered before turning to Mikleo's with that same thoughtful frown. "Privately."
"Of course." Mikleo's head rose and he held out an arm towards the fields that stretched westward. "Shall we?"
Eizen nodded, turning on his heel and leading the way, leaving Mikleo to stumble behind in a fumbling attempt to keep up and escape the increased whispers of his neighbors. He kept his head lowered until they reached the quiet field and it was only when Eizen stopped that he raised it and opened his mouth to inquire as to Eizen's sudden attention when a letter was thrust upon him and he fumbled to catch it before it fell to the ground.
"A letter." Eizen began with a small huff, turning his back to Mikleo's surprised face. "From General Sorey."
At the name, Mikleo stilled and his heart stopped. His lips trembled and his eyes stung with unshed tears and Mikleo suddenly realized the very mention of the man sent him into an uncontrollable fear. He dropped the letter as if it burnt him and he stepped away and folded his arms around his waist and sent Eizen's back a cold look.
"What does he have to say to me?" Mikleo questioned, ignoring the tremble in his voice. "What does such a man need to inquire from me?"
"He inquires about your well-being." Eizen turned, retrieved the letter from the ground, and held it out for Mikleo to take. "He wishes to know about this husband. To learn about him."
"I-I want nothing to do with him." Mikleo swallowed, making no motion to retrieve the piece of paper. "I don't wish for him to know about my well-being."
"Then kindly inform him of that fact." Eizen thrust the paper towards him again, lips twitching when Mikleo's flushed and all but snatched the paper before realizing who he snatched the paper from.
"I will!" Mikleo snarled, bowing and leaving Eizen alone in the fields despite the consequences and all but ignoring the soft chuckle that was aimed at his back. He stuffed the letter into the folds of his robes and continued back down the path, his cheeks burning when he realized the crowd that he and Eizen left hadn't moved a single inch, their eyes curious, but cautious as they watched Mikleo stomp into his home and slam the door shut behind him, causing a potted plant to fall and break on his doorstep- yet another mess that he would have to sort out.
Mikleo leaned against the door, the letter hanging loosely in his hand as the thought of that murderer sending him something caused another shiver to race down his spine and before he knew it, he was pacing around the house whilst worrying his bottom lip, wondering if he should read the letter or toss it into the fire. The idea sounded wonderful, but Mikleo had a nasty feeling that this Sorey would just continue sending letters until a correspondence arrived on his doorstep. He was known to be stubborn and wild on the battlefield and Mikleo assumed that him attending to personal and business matters would fare no different.
"Still," Mikleo uttered, finally holding the letter up with a twist of his lips. "What would this infamous General have to say to me?"
Mikleo hissed at the sight of his true name on paper and the fact that this Sorey knew it. Another consequence that his Grandfather would have to answer for.
"Hello. I figured the best way to catch your attention would be the use of your true name. I hope I succeeded. As I am sure that Lord Zenrus has informed you, we are to be wed, but I believe that we should start a short correspondence with one another before I come and retrieve you from the Blessed Lands of Elysia in no more than a fortnight's time. I have no intention of frightening you nor your people with my intrusion. Granted, I do not expect me nor my blade will be welcome. A fact that I have come to terms with since the ending of the war. I must admit that I'm at a loss as to what to say in such a situation. I never expected to be wed in such a manner and I'm sure that you feel the same. I know that my reputation is not a clean one and the fact that you are marrying a man that has slaughtered your people must make you feel frightened and disgusted and angered. If you could not bear the thought of placing your lips upon mine or laying beside me at night after our wedding then I will make sure to start arrangements in which we will have separate bedding. Although the thought leaves me uncomfortable, I will acquiesce if need be. Other arrangements can be made if you wish not to be in my presence during daylight hours or during Court. I am sure that Her Royal Highness Princess Alisha would be more than delighted to meet you. She has always been curious about the Seraph despite our dire circumstances and differing opinions towards one another.
You will have to forgive me if it seems that I am rambling. I find myself without thought, which is strange considering the lot the Gods have given me. I do not what to say or what to ask of you? Your favorite color or book? Your favorite food? Or perhaps I shall divulge in more personal matters such as the color of your skin or your eyes? The element in which you wield and hold like a lover? So many questions race through my mind that I find that I will not have enough paper to write them down upon. Tell me, Mikleo-if I may call you that?- What can I know of you? What do you desire to tell me? I will eagerly await your reply.
General Sorey Illorin of the House of Diphda.
Mikleo set the letter down, all too aware of the flush that decorated his cheeks. He didn't expect such a candid letter but then again, he shouldn't have been surprised. After all, a man like Sorey didn't get by in life by being timid. Hesitance didn't win wars. It only got you killed. What did surprise him was the fact that he did want to write Sorey. He did want to know about the man who was going to marry him in no less than two weeks. What didn't surprise him was sudden morbid curiosity that he had with Sorey. As a Seraph, he should have no desire to get to know the murderer of his people, but as a scholar? A man of learning? He was all too eager to learn about the man who was rumored to wield Seraphic Artes. Whose blade was said to be made of Mythril and the blood of the Seraph?
Mikleo bit his lips, wrapping his arms around his waist and pacing throughout his home, careful not to nudge the stack of books. What was he going to do? Should he write Sorey back? It would be the polite thing to do, correct? And he was sure that Eizen and Grandfather would be relieved that he was trying to get along with the man he was going to marry.
"What am I going to say?" Mikleo whispered, finally settling into the small desk that sat next to his bed. "What do you say to a man who I don't even know?" Mikleo picked up a pen, dipping it the pot of ink and setting it at the top of the paper, swiftly frustrated when he realized that he didn't know where to begin without sounding rude or evasive. He supposed that the basics would do, right?
"Right." Mikleo uttered, the pen moving smoothly against the paper. "Just the basics."
Hello, I wasn't expecting this correspondence from you so soon. I regret to inform you that this letter was most unwelcome after the announcement of our marriage and considering your reputation it is still somewhat unwelcome. However, I understand what a bond between us would mean during these uneasy times and I will do my best to uphold my duties towards you, my people and yours. It is simple to see that our feelings regarding this marriage will matter little, however, do know that I will never stray and remain faithful to you and in the eyes of the Court and King and Queen. In regards to your request, I find myself at a loss for what to write. You wish to know my desires? Of me? I regret to inform you that there is little to offer in that regard. I will tell you that I am a profound lover of history - Human and Seraph wise. The Tale of the First Shepherd and the Lord of Calamity is among my favorite considering Lord Eizen can always give me an accurate account of said events.
I love knowing about our world and what it was and what it will become. So much so that I find myself burying myself in my books and ignoring the world around me. A habit that I'm afraid that I will have to break considering that my attention will be diverted elsewhere for the foreseeable future. I'm afraid that I have no other hobbies other than my profound love for history. I never had the opportunity to leave the village and explore the world due to the length of the war and its effects on our people. So, I am hoping to correct that once we arrive in Ladylake. And speaking of arriving in Ladylake, I find that I must warn you that I know nothing of court life and what it offers. I fully expect to stumble and embarrass you and your House and for that, I must apologize in advance. I am hoping that if we become friends then we will teach other our way of life. Our life in which, I must confess, we will never love one another. It hurts to gaze upon you and think of what you have done. I know it is such a cruel thing to say, but I think it is best, to be honest, and forthright about our feelings now rather than later. I have no intention of falling in love you, merely being your companion in marriage and health. I hope you understand this, General Sorey, and the sooner that you do, the sooner the ache of it will pass. I hope this letter finds you in good health.
Mikleo - Water Seraph of Elysia.
Mikleo set the pen and blew his breath on the page in an impatient gesture to allow the ink to draw and blinked hard to stop the sting of tears. What a horrid letter. To have to tell someone that you would never love them? That there was no chance of doing so? It broke Mikleo's heart to write such a thing, but he would rather tell Sorey the truth than have him develop such feelings only to be hurt when he finally confessed. Sorey might have been a killer, but he was still a person who developed feelings and the letter he wrote seem so sincere that the thought of it caused the suppressed tears to finally roll down his cheeks. What a cruel thing that his Grandfather and the Royal Family of Hyland have done.
The creak of his front door that was followed by his grandfather calling out to him caused Mikleo to quickly wipe his tears away and rise from the chair to greet the elderly Seraph.
"Oh." Zenrus stepped into his bedroom, his pipe twitching in irritation. "There you are, Mikleo. I was wondering where you had wandered off to during this time of day." Zenrus made himself comfortable on the bed, his eyes spying the drying letter on the bed. "Ah. You responded?"
"Yes," Mikleo responded, a dull ache easing over his heart. "I figured that it would be best to get over these feelings-"
"Nonsense." Zenrus interrupted firmly. "The worst thing you can do repress these feelings of hatred. They create nothing but malevolence and I will not have my only grandson submit to becoming a creature of darkness. Despite what you think of me, Mikleo, I do love you, but I love our people as a whole even more. To quell this bloodshed, this is what must be done and I have no regrets other than sending you into a such a place of despair and wickedness."
Mikleo said nothing, merely staring at the ground and wishing it swallow him whole. Anything to escape this political affair. He opened his mouth to respond but quietened when Zenrus reached over and placed his hand over Mikleo's, giving it a tight, warm squeeze.
"You will forgive this old man one day, won't you?" Zenrus rumbled, tightening his grip when his own eyes began to sting with tears. "You will forgive me for tossing you away as if you meant nothing when it couldn't be further from the truth?"
"Oh..." Mikleo breathed, swallowing down the lump in his throat as he laid his head on top of their joined hands. "Grandfather. I-I-"
"Hush," Zenrus commanded. "You don't have to say anything. This is enough."
Mikleo's jaw clenched as tears rolled down his eyes and on to their joined hands, grateful that his grandfather remained blissfully ignorant of his emotional display.
"Yes." Mikleo murmured, pushing the thought of letters, marriages, and forgiveness to the back of his mind. "It's enough." Mikleo rose up and stared into his grandfather's eyes with a weak smile. "I love you, Grandfather. I love you very much." Mikleo laid his head back on their joined hands and said nothing as he watched his grandfather shed his own tears. "I always will."
"My boy." Zenrus sniffed, his lips and jaw trembling. "My dear, sweet, Mikleo."
Mikleo said nothing, closing his eyes and allowed his body to rest against his Grandfather's. He was right, after all.
This would have to be enough. For now.
Chapter 3: Blood and Water
Mikleo wasn't expecting the second correspondence. His response to the first letter had been callous - an act that he had come to regret seeing as the peace of the current world depended on the success of their marriage. But, Mikleo couldn't find it within himself to manipulate Sorey's heart. He thought it would be best to shatter the Illusions of Grandeur now rather than later and give Sorey and himself time to adjust to the fact that this would be a marriage of companionship where Mikleo would remain faithful and he would allow Sorey to find his base pleasures with another if need be. A harsh fate, but one that Mikleo had accustomed to thinking about. It was, after all, a sacrifice that would eventually create a harmonious balance between Human and Seraph. It would be well worth the pain and suffering in the end, correct?
However, it would seem that despite Mikleo's callousness in the last letter, he was quite startled when a teal and white colored sylphjay landed on his window seat mid-afternoon, disturbing Mikleo from a light nap. He stared at the bird as it cooed and hopped from one taloned foot to the other before turning and pecking against the glass for permission to enter his home.
"Grandfather must be in a good mood." Mikleo murmured, approaching the window on light, bare feet, and pushing the window open. "He's not fond of messenger birds for they always bring ill omens to one's doorstep. Well?" Mikleo stepped aside, allowing the bird free reign. "Won't you come in, little one? Or," Mikleo reached down and gathered the sylphjay into his hands and carried it further inside. "Shall I take care of it?" Mikleo chuckled when the bird buried itself in his hands as he set it on the table and it was then that he noticed a small satchel on its back. "What's this?" Mikleo plucked the letter out of the satchel and was startled to find that General Illorin had written a second letter. A letter that was quite polite, if not firm in intention.
My Dearest Mikleo
I must ask that you lay your worries to rest about the matters of the court and our way of life as humans. From what Lord Eizen has spoken of you, I have no worries about you catching on to our way of life. I'm afraid it is I that will offend you for I know nothing of the Seraph and with horrid reason. Do I have a small hope that this can be corrected once we are wedded? If you have no desire to teach me about the ways of your people then we will set the matter aside. I am afraid that I find myself disappointed by the more intimate matters of our marriage. To be rejected quite soundly and early hurts, however, understand that I will not let this matter rest. I will not live the rest of my days in a loveless marriage. So, I ask, that you be prepared to be wooed and seduced once we are settled in our lives in the capital. I know that my hands are stained with the blood of your people and I know that you cannot stand the thought and sight of me, but I cannot stand the thought of my future husband withdrawing from my touch. I love the thought of becoming friends with you in the future, to have someone to stand beside as we mold a new future, but I do not want a mere friend - I want a husband and I will have a husband. I know that our journey will be difficult and we will have words on more than one occasion, but I know that we will come to the end of our journey with grasped hands and hearts. On a more light-hearted subject, I do believe we have something in common - our love of history. Tell me, is there any specific ruins that you wish to see on our way home? If we are brave enough, we can explore the Vivia Subterranean Aqueduct? or better yet, the Galahad Ruins that lie just outside the city? There are so many things and places and people that I want to introduce you to, Mikleo, but the path ahead will be treacherous - even more so if we cannot cooperate with one another, yes? I will eagerly await your reply.
General Sorey Illorin of the House of Diphda.
"He is not one to mince words." Mikleo murmured, before turning to the sylphjay with a small smile. "Thank you for delivering the message, little one, would you like to stay while I write a reply?"
Mikleo only received a coo as a reply as he sat down at his desk and gathered his supplies for the letter. His response was swift and appreciative of Sorey's firm and polite demeanor towards his marriage. He spoke of his own doubts towards their marriage and the supposed love that would come with it. A shiver raced down his spine at the thought of exploring the ruins in and outside of the city. Mikleo knew Sorey was a man that would still hold power not only as a General but as a Duke - a title, according to Lord Eizen, that the man had been awarded thanks to his efforts in the war- and that leaving the city for weeks to explore ruins would be but a simple task under the right excuse, but as Sorey stated, things of that nature could only happen if they could cooperate with one another - if peace could be obtained and roads could be opened. There was still the rising problem with Rolance and if the Hylands and Seraph were united, they could put up a proper front against Rolance. So many possibilities and roads could be opened if only their races could live in harmony.
Mikleo shook his head before sealing the letter and placing it on the sylphjay and carrying it back toward the window. "It's too bad I can't know your-"
"Her name is Martel." a deep, rough voice responded, startling and sending the slyphjay-Martel-flying and back towards Sorey in Ladylake and leaving Mikleo with a Wind Seraph. Mikleo turned to see Lord Zavied leering at him through the same window that Martel had flown through and it was with immense control that Mikleo didn't close the window in the Lord Seraph's face, but instead, merely waved the man inside with a tight smile.
"Lord Zavied." Mikleo greeted cordially. "Good Afternoon."
"Hello, Mikleo." Zavied purred roughly, jumping through the window with the usual grace that only a wind seraph could display. "I heard about the upcoming nuptials and I couldn't help-"
"You were curious, Lord Zavied, but if you were at the meeting where the contract was explained and signed with reluctance- then I wouldn't be answering questions."
Zavied huffed, a bitter smile pulling at his lips as he leaned forward and patted Mikleo on the head. "I already know about the contract and what it entails. What I came to inquire about was your well-being and how you were taking this whole affair. And from what Eizen told me, it's hasn't been the best of the transitions."
Mikleo said nothing for a long moment before he spoke again, his tone bitter. "I have no choice in the matter. This marriage will unite our people and for me to deny it would be selfish and it would dishonor Grandfather."
Zaveid tilted his head to the side at the response. "Would it? I'm sure Zenrus would understand if you bolted. I mean, he cares about your happiness as we all do, Mikleo."
Mikleo turned away at the statement, fighting down the urge to scream. How could anyone care about his happiness when no one was figuring out a different way to boaster peace between humans and seraphs? Was marriage really the answer?
"A normal peace treaty wouldn't work, would it?" Mikleo uttered, turning away before Zaveid could come up with a decent response. "If we tried a normal peace treaty then each party would want a set of conditions that the other wouldn't agree with and vice versa, but with a marriage, the conditions would be set by the agreeing parties i.e. Sorey and me." Mikleo waved a hand towards the letter still sitting at the desk. "General Sorey has taken upon himself to come up with his own rules for our marriage."
"Oh?" Zaveid moved towards the table and picked up the letter, raising an eyebrow at the contents. "I'm not surprised. General Sorey has always been a rather bold man."
"You know him?"
"Aye, I do, I met him on the battlefield a number of times." Zaveid grinned as if it was a hearty memory. "He's not an easy man to bargain with so you do have your trials ahead of you." Zaveid set the letter down and turned back to Mikleo, his expression solemn and it was much to Mikleo's surprise that he was met with a deep bow.
"I thank you." Zaveid murmured, his long bangs covering his eyes. "You don't know how much this means to us, foolish Lords. You don't know how much it hurt us to see our people killed before our eyes and how much a relief it was to see it come to an end. I am grateful for your sacrifice, Lord Mikleo."
"What-?" Mikleo narrowed his eyes at the title. "I'm not-"
"It was announced no more than three hours ago." Zavied swiftly cut in. "The Water Trails are concluded and the participants were honored by your sacrifice and decided to give you the title no matter how much Edna and Lilah protested." Zaveid chuckled. "Half-hearted protests, of course, but Lilah cried enough tears to drown Elysia and Edna had that smile on her face that she always denies. We're proud of you, Mikleo. Your sacrifice won't go unrecognized."
Mikleo swallowed back the sob that wanted to escape his throat. Of all the people who made him feel like this was worth it, he never expected it to be Lord Zaveid of the Wind. He never expected this perverted, good-hearted man, to be the one who gave him a little bit of confidence about the future that lied ahead. And to deliver such good news, but as the excitement rushed through his veins, so, too, did the doubts. What about the Seraphs who worked so hard to obtain the title of Water Lord? Surely, there was some bitterness at giving away such a prestigious title?
"I want to talk to them." Mikleo murmured, earning a raised eyebrow from Zaveid. "The participants. I want to talk to them-to thank them."
"I do." Mikleo cut in softly, pressing his lips together as they began trembling. "They didn't have to do what they did. It couldn't have been easy to give up the title that they trained years to try and obtain and to give it to someone-"
"That's not it, Mikleo." Zavied eyes clouded in thought. "Not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"Well." Zaveid began. "The Lords of Water, Fire, Earth and Wind Lords are merely Vassals of the Emperyan's correct? Should the Empyreans need a vessel to the mortal bound world, then we can give ourselves up for the task-"
"Well, of course," Mikleo stated as if it was obvious. "I know all that already and so did the participants-"
"What do you think the Hylians would do if they found out the Water Seraph, their precious General was marrying was the Vassal of Amonach?" Zavied finished smoothly.
"I-what?" Mikleo brows furrowed in confusion. "I didn't think that the humans believed in the Empyerans-"
"They do," Zaveid reassured with a tight smile. "There are massive churches in Ladylake and in Pendragon dedicated to them all. Getting back on track, no harm would come to you so as long you bear the title of Water Lord of Amonach. We did this for our protection, Mikleo. So long as no harm comes to you then another war between the humans and seraph will never come to pass."
"I-I don't know what to say about this-about what all of you have done for me." Mikleo lowered his head, his bangs covering his shining eyes. With the title of Water Lord of Amonach in his grasp, that would mean he would have a position of power within the Court and Chruch with the Humans seeing even they recognized the Lords of Elements as Vassals to the Emperyans.
"No need to thank us, Mikleo." Zaveid approached him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "We look after our own. Now, the real reason I've come to collect you is that Grandfather wants to see you. He wants to have one last discussion with you before Sorey and Lady Diphda come to collect you."
"Oh? What is it?"
"He forgot about a little section in the contract." Zaveid gives him an amused smile that causes Mikelo's heart to sink to the bottom of his stomach. What he could Grandfather possibly have forgotten-
"He forgot to discuss children."
A small flutter of wings and a small coo drew General Sorey Illorin's attention away from the letter he was penning to the window. With a smile, he rose from his chair and approached the open window to welcome the bird into his office. And with gloved hands, he carried the precious cargo to his desk, setting her down amongst the mountains of paperwork that waited for his signature. Alas, the work of a Duke and General never ended even if the wars ceased.
"Welcome home, Martel." Sorey soothed, deep green eyes scanning the slyphjay for injuries. He had sent the bird directly to Mikleo this time and he wasn't sure how the Seraph would react to her appearance, but he was relieved that no harm came to the bird. After all, he was the one who raised her up from a chick. Martel was considered a messenger one day and a harbarginer of chaos next. Seeing her, meant that Sorey and his troops were hot on the heels of the enemy and seeing her vanish into the skies meant that his work was completed. However, now, seeing Martel merely meant that Sorey was busy and asked for a lack of disturbance.
"How was the journey to Elysia?" Sorey continued, gently prying the latest letter out of the small satchel, and smiling as he read its contents. This Water Seraph-Mikleo was one of a kind. He was nothing like the Seraph's he had met and killed on the battlefield. He was quick as a whip and polite and Sorey wondered just how much this kindness extended towards him.
"Not much." Sorey murmured, setting the letter down on the desk and reaching for a small morsel for Martel. She deserved it after traveling so far and with such haste. She was a good girl.
"What am I to do with him, darling?" Sorey fed a piece of dried meat that he kept in his office drawer during the later hours so as not to disturb the kitchen staff. "He honestly expects us to have a loveless marriage? He doesn't expect me to make love to him or cart him away to the fields for a picnic or wine and dine him as I please?" Sorey scoffed in an offense. "He must have a leave of senses. He expects nothing to happen between us? To be just friends-?"
Martel cooed, burying herself down in his paperwork and Sorey released a half-hearted sigh. "Don't say that. I'm not being unreasonable. I just think the thought of a loveless marriage is horrendous. We are not royalty. I see no reason for us not to embrace the thought of loving one another. I can't make him love me, but I can try, right?" Sorey swallowed the down the thought of living with someone-being married to someone-who couldn't stand the thought of him. But, he had agreed to the marriage in hopes of redeeming himself to the Seraphim. A hope that Sorey knew couldn't possibly come to fruition, but that didn't mean he couldn't try and find that redemption.
The War of Seraph and Humans had been harsh on both the people and the land. And Sorey, ever sensitive and highly resonate, could see the malovence creeping along the earth, air, water and fires that the world bore and it was thanks to his and Alicia's quick thinking that they were able to put an end to the war that stretched on longer than necessary. And now the war was concluded, the healing of the land had only just begun with the process of rebuilding, relocating and sewing the land back to its original state, an effort that would take time, gil, and the cooperation of the Seraph, who, on more than one occasion, we're happy to help with the outer lands that separated Rolance and Hyland. It was a mutual benefit to both races to continue the perseveration of the land, but that didn't mean that there wasn't visible tension with the humans and seraph. Which, of course, led to the separate camps while construction continued, and the sight broke Sorey's heart. He, as a General, knew it was necessary, but after all the bloodshed, he should have known that it wouldn't be easy for everything to click into place and Rose, his contact and leader of the Scattered Bones, told him as much.
"It won't be easy will it, Martel?" Sorey murmured, a bitter smile cracking his lips and his eyes darkening at the prospect of the days to come. Still, he didn't become General out of sheer luck. No, it was his tenacity that got him the promotion and later the title of Duke. He had power now within the Army and Court and he would use that to make his and Mikleo's lives easier. He would it use it to make all of their lives easier.
No matter what it took.
Chapter 4: To Bear and Acknowledge
Zenrus' chuckle resembled that of booming thunder as Mikleo paced back and forth with cheeks that were as deep and red and hot as Lady Lailah's fire. He watched with a wicked smile as Mikleo stopped, folded his arms and resumed his pacing, violet eyes thoughtful and conflicted. Zenrus could understand the confusion. After all, the thought of bearing children was always a conflicting situation and no one was ever prepared for having or raising a child.
"No one is asking you to bear a child, Mikleo." Zenrus soothed, smoke filtering out of his pipe and lifting into the air and clouding the air with a mixture of jasmine and sandalwood. "I merely forgot to discuss the subject with you, my child."
Mikleo stopped, faced his grandfather with still burning cheeks and nodded. His full lips thinned and he opened his mouth to respond but thought better of it, but Zenrus would not let the matter rest. Wars started and lingered because of words left unsaid, apologies rejected and hearts are broken, and he would not let the same despair linger within his adopted grandson.
"Speak the words that are clouding your heart, Mikleo," Zenrus demanded. "I'll not have us leave one another with words unsaid."
"I-" Mikleo began, looking unsure as to where to begin exactly. "I am the Lord of Water. I am the Vessel of Amonach. Am I not required to bear an heir for Her to use? One that bears to the power of the Empyrean should I not be able?"
"You are correct," Zenrus responded with clouded eyes. "However, you are not required to bear an heir for Amonach's use. You are, however, required to acknowledge one with the same resonance as your own. It will not be difficult to do so in this time and age. Water Seraphim are a dime and a dozen." Zenrus smiled. "Your resonance will not be too difficult to find."
"You're right, but you think it would be better if I bore a child?" Mikleo's stomach dropped when Zenrus dropped his head with a nod. In terms of knowledge and resonance, it would be better if he had a child with Sorey who was known among the Seraphim and Human communities to have a rather high resonance and a child that bore Human and Seraphim blood would be able to wield their Sacred Artes and have access to their knowledge and traditions that Sorey wouldn't be privy. Still, the thought of having a child with Sorey was nervewracking. The child's future would be in constant jeopardy as the son and daughter of a General and Lord Vassal, Mikleo couldn't bear the thought of them being in danger because of the choices that he and Sorey made of their lives. However, the child would have a difficult life despite their titles due to Sorey's noble title that of a Duke. The little one would be a Marquess in the making and Mikleo felt a swell of pride at the thought. A half Seraph and Human would make leaps and bounds within both races, but the journey towards such acceptance would be long and arduous.
"You look pleased with the thought of a babe." Zenrus rumbled with a smooth grin, the motion widening when Mikleo flushed at being caught. "You needn't worry about rejecting such a feeling. Water Seraph - as givers of life- are particularly known to find joy in the thought of giving life and continuing our life, though it's through unconventional means."
Mikleo reached down and placed a hand on his lower stomach, the flush still decorating his cheeks. The "unconventional means" was actual childbirth instead of a Seraph entering the world via earth pulse. It wasn't exactly rare for Seraph to give birth in such a manner, but it wasn't preferred either.
"You are still corresponding with General Illorin, correct?" Zenrus exhaled a puff of smoke through his nose. "Are you getting along?"
"It's..." Mikleo hesitated, knowing that his grandfather would be rather disappointed. "I told him how I felt about him and our marriage. I told him that I had no intention of loving him."
Zenrus brows furrowed, his mouth settling into a disapproving frown. This news, while not surprising, was still unwelcome to his ears. What a foolish child. "You know that makes this transgression harder for us all, correct?"
"I know, but I can't help the way I feel." Mikleo lowered his gaze, ashamed at having a risk this treaty for his own selfish desires. "I cannot bear the thought of his hands on me - at all." Mikleo swallowed back nausea at the very thought of Sorey's bloodstained hands touching and caressing him and he shuddered. "You must find a way-"
"Do you mean to punish him with a loveless marriage?" Zenrus cut in smoothly, a grim reminder that his grandfather was still in the room-still wearing that disapproving frown.
"He should be punished." Mikleo returned with a sour taste in his mouth. It didn't feel good. This vengeance that he felt running in his veins like flames. "Our people roam this realm as former shells of themselves and neither can return to the world because they're confused and grieving that their time ran so short. So, why should he deserve to have a fruitful marriage?"
"Why should those seraphim who burned villages filled with woman and children deserve to live for millennia when they cut their human counterparts lives so short?" Zenrus countered. "Their sins will be forgiven while humans have to face judgment."
Mikleo swallowed at the thought. Of course, his grandfather was right. Both sides had done unspeakable things and for him to sit here and defend his decisions based on one man's sins was wrong. Sorey had been following orders and defending his people just as the seraphim had done.
"We will have to face that same judgment." Mikleo finally spoke with a grim frown. "We will all have to answer for the things we have done in this realm and yet-" Mikleo swallowed. "I chose to punish him now."
"And for however long he lives?"
"Shouldn't I?" Mikleo's jaw clenched. "He should feel the same despair and pain that our people felt-"
"You will not." Zenrus cut his tirade off with a weary sigh that stung Mikleo's heart. "As much as you hate this man even you would not be so cruel, Mikleo. To deny a man companionship is the cruelest thing one can do."
"If you think that I can't do it then you don't know me at all, Grandfather." Mikleo rose up from his position and headed towards the door, done with this conversation and the sour taste in his mouth.
"I know you." Zenrus rumbled behind him. "I raised you and cradled you in my arms as you drew your first birth. I watched as you launched your first seraphic arte and I will be there when you give yourself to Sorey and I will be there when you bear your first child with your hair and Sorey's famous green eyes." Zenrus chuckled, a sound often described as rumbling thunder. "I will be there when you whisper to me that you love that man with all that you have."
Mikleo said nothing, wrenching the door open with enough force to launch it off its hinges and held the wood tightly in his hands, almost willing it to splinter in his hand. As much as he hated his grandfather's words, they held a minute of truth within them - as they always did.
"I can't love him," Mikleo whispered, mournful of the future that lied ahead. "I can't allow himself to love him." Mikleo turned to his grandfather with a watered smile. "To do so would be disrespectful of the ones that died." Mikleo didn't allow his grandfather to get another word, shutting the door with a firm click that signaled not only the end of the conversation but the closing of Mikleo's heart.
"I can't imagine you married." swish of the cloth and a click of a window closing and a masked woman appeared, the metal of her mask gleaming in the candlelight. "I must admit, I was shocked when I heard the news."
Sorey said nothing, staring at the wine in the crystal glass that had been delivered an hour ago, long gone warm, but still as red as blood. "I can't remain a bachelor for the remainder of my life. I do have a title to pass on now."
"Duke Illorin of Ladylake, First of his Name." the woman rambled off with a dark chuckle. "A reward for the killing?"
"A reward for the killing, loyalty and mercy killing of my own men." Sorey tipped the glass, allowing the light to catch the liquid. "I prefer to think it was for outstanding performance on the battlefield." Sorey set the glass down on the desk and shot a smile towards the masked figure. "It helps me sleep at night."
"I thought Colonel Maltran was helping with the sleeping and other...things." the woman chuckled when Sorey shot her a rather venomous look. "What? Going through a dry spell?"
"I ended my relationship with Colonel Maltran after the treaty was announced." Sorey murmured, a bitter smile tracing his lips. "She understood, but it was a rather painful parting. We are fond of one another."
"Ah." the woman joined him at the desk, picking up the wine glass with a gloved hand. "Poison?"
"Indeed," Sorey responded with a deep chuckle that shook his chest. "The Pure-Blood Council decided to send me a bottle in congratulations." Sorey reached into his desk and retrieved a bottle of whiskey and two glasses and filled two fingers worth before passing one to the masked woman. "Their faith in me is astounding."
"I can believe it." the mask was removed to reveal a set of full lips that took a sip of the whiskey. "The usual method?"
At this, Sorey stilled, a thoughtful look overcoming his shadowed features. He twirled the crystal glass in his hand and itched to take another shot. It would be beneficial to take out certain members of the council, but the timing wasn't right.
"No?" the masked figured pried gently, setting the glass back on the desk to which Sorey was quick to fill up again. "I suppose it is the wrong time, isn't it?"
"Inconvenient." Sorey corrected quietly. "With the treaty and Mikleo's arrival, the blame would be placed solely upon him and it would put him and our budding relationship in danger."
"And the war would break out again." the figure finished softly. "I see that we're going to have to be careful about our targets until it cools down."
"I should have a full list for you and your people by the time the excitement of the treatment cools down." Sorey pours himself another shot, gulped it down, and continued, his tone subdued. "I'm afraid that you'll have to find yourself another client to fill those bellies, I'm afraid."
"No worries." the woman soothed with a smothered chuckle. "Our side business feeds us plenty."
"Ah. You have yet to let me try that Mabo curry bun." Sorey's lips twisted at the thought. He thought the idea crazy at first, but he had heard how good it was from his own men and was eager to try it. He could, of course, simply go purchase it from a tavern or have it brought, but food always tasted better when it was made by the creator themselves.
"I told you I would give you the recipe." the woman scolded. "You're not a handicap - I heard about the accolades of your cooking."
Sorey snorted, tilting his head as if the idea of him cooking was unheard of, but he didn't deny it when his companion let out a small huff of disbelief. Cooking certainly wasn't a favorite hobby, but he mastered so that he could survive in the wilds and see to it that his men did the same. He was grateful when the Crown awarded him with a title, a luxurious home, and servants to fill it. He would never cook again if he could help it. He had no time if he was to see to it that the relationship between human and seraph would be put to rights.
"As fun as this conversation is I'm afraid that I'm going to have to take my leave." Sorey's companion placed the glass on the table and turned to the window, smoothly slipping her mask back into place. "You know where you to find me."
"Of course." Sorey rose from his chair and joined her at the window. Outside, a noblewoman and man were taking a stroll in the gardens, their drunken laughter echoing across the silent night. "We'll meet again in two weeks? As per usual?"
"Yes." the woman huffed good-naturedly. "I assume that Lord Mikleo will have settled in by then? That you won't be sleeping in a cold bed?"
Sorey's lips curved at the barb but made no move to counter it. "I'm afraid that not even my seduction skills are that good-"
"Maltran will tell you otherwise." she teased softly, reaching out and tapping Sorey on the chin playfully. "You're worrying about it too much. He'll warm up to you soon enough. That, or he'll drown you in the bathtub."
"Be gone." Sorey deadpanned. "Or I'll cut your pay in half."
"And I'll slit your throat." the woman returned playfully before jumping out the window and leaving just as silent as she arrived. Huffing in amusement, Sorey closed the window and locked it with a flick of the wrist before returning to his desk and grabbing the bottle of red wine and tossing it into the bin.
He never liked Red. It reminded him too of the blood he split.
"You're out of shape." Sorey murmured fondly, reaching out with a gloved hand to caress his horse's flank. "I'm sure the journey to Elysia will whip you right back into shape, right?"
The horse neighed in response as Sorey heaved his pack on its back before tying it down and giving the horse on last pat. After a week of preparation, it was time to go and pick up his bride? groom? husband? wife?
Sorey frowned at the titles and briefly wondered if Mikleo would even like being called his husband? Judging from his letters Mikleo would insist on titles and nothing less. His shoulders slumped at the thought. What was he supposed to do with an errant husband? Was he destined to live the rest of his life in a miserable relationship?
"I suppose that if I earned a punishment then this would be it, right?" Sorey patted the horse on the neck, a sad smile pulling at his lips. The melancholy moment was broken when the door to the stable opened a slim woman slipped in, dressed in fine, but dull travel clothing. Ah. His companion.
"Your Highness." Sorey greeted formally, bowing his head with a quirk of his lips, his grim future pushed to the back of his mind in her presence. "Are you ready to depart?"
"I am." Alisha Diphda, Crown Princess of Hyland, responded with a tight smile. "And I thought I told you not to call me that-"
"And." Sorey murmured, stepping closer and watching with a sense of amusement as a blush dusted the young princess' cheeks. "I thought I told you not to call me Master Illorin?"
"You are my master." Alisha protested swiftly. "You taught me everything I knew about my spear along with the Lady Maltran. You two-" Alisha stopped, her lips thinning. "You two are more family to me than my actual-"
"Be silent, little one." Sorey chided, stepping back and giving them an appropriate distance. "You would do well to watch your words with a place full of ears. Now." Sorey stepped back. "Shall we start our journey?"
"Of course, but S-Sorey? Are you sure? We can find another way to broker peace between our races. We don't have to sacrifice you to-to marry."
"It's quite alright, Alicia." Sorey soothed. "I...actually look forward to meeting him and winning him and the seraphim over. What happened was a tragedy and I'm sorry that we couldn't resolve it more peacefully, but-" Sorey's eyes darkened and Alicia shivered at the sight of it. She never liked the man Sorey was on the battlefield: cold, deadly, precise, efficient.
"But," Sorey continued, unheeded to Alicia's fear. "I don't regret protecting my people from death. That, I will never regret. My duties to Hyland will and always come first. Of that, you have my assurance. My faith in the Crown and you will never waver."
"The thought never crossed my mind, Sorey." Alicia was quick to reassure, internally saddened at the thought that Sorey would never fully give his heart to another - not even his betrothed. She admired his loyalty - somewhat.
"Come." Sorey urged swiftly, climbing upon the horse and urging his student to do the same. "To Elysia."
"To Elysia." Alicia agreed. "And to Peace."
Chapter 5: The General and Seraph
Mikleo would be rather embarrassed to admit that the noise and the physical appearance of a horse startled him when he heard it just outside of his closed door in the light of the sunrise that was just peaking from behind the mountains that cloaked them from the outside world. He was wary as he peaked his head outside the window to see most of the villagers gathered by the entrance gate as two humans entered with expressions of awe and hesitance. Narrowing his eyes, Mikleo pulled the door open and peaked his head further out before those same eyes grew wide as saucers as their owner pulled the door closed with a firm click that seemed to echo throughout his home. It was them. It was the humans from Ladylake.
Sorey and his companion had arrived.
Mikleo swallowed as a sliver of fear raced down his spine as he slid down his door and pulled his knees close to his chest, burying his face into them with a small whimper escaping his lips. He couldn't believe that a fortnight had passed so quickly and now-and now-
He didn't want to go.
He didn't want Sorey and his companion to take him away from his grandfather or Mason or Zavied or Edna. He didn't want to go to a city filled with humans and corruption-
Another whimper escaped Mikleo's lips as he stood on clammy and shaky feet before he made his way to his closet where a small bag filled with clothing waited. It was his bag for the journey to Ladylake, but he could use it to get away from Elysia-
Away from Sorey.
Without a second thought, Mikleo grabbed the bag and his shoes before slipping out of the backdoor to his home and peaking around the corner only to meet a pair of inquisitive green eyes that forced his heart into overdrive. A squeak unwillingly escaped his throat and his cheeks burned when the man in question released a small, smooth chuckle that sent a shiver down his spine.
"Good morning, little one." the human greeted with a mild grin. "And where might you be off to this morning?"
Mikleo's jaw clenched at the amused tone and before he knew it, he was spitting venom in the man's direction. "I was planning on going on a morning excursion if you must know-?"
"Sorey." the man introduced himself, still bearing that mild grin that had turned sharper at Mikleo's confession. "My name is Sorey and you must be Mikleo?" Sorey leaned down, his eyes darkening with pleasure at the sight of his new husband - a trait that Mikleo had no intention of sharing. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mikleo."
"I-" Mikleo's lips thinned as he fought back the insult that was on the tip of his tongue. It would be wise not to anger the man who was known for his indiscriminate slaughter. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Sorey."
At his words, Sorey's smiled dimmed and his eyes darkened. "I think it's best that we work on your lying, Mikleo. You're going to need a straighter face than that, my love."
"I'm not your love." Mikleo hissed, his cheeks flushed when Sorey's smiled thinned at the counter. "Nor do I need to work on my lying. Rest assured, I will hide nothing from the likes of you nor your acquaintances."
The smile that Sorey bore vanished when Mikleo fell silent. "If that's the case then it would be wise to have a taste tester at your side during our meals."
Sorey stepped closer, forcing Mikleo to fall back against the wall. "Humans are nothing like Seraph - we are not people that call out one another for the sake of honor. We are people that slip poison into your wine and watch you choke on the vomit that incites. We watch as the entire kingdom speculates on the who and the why of your death and triumph at the fact that we will never get caught. So, I suggest you work on your lies and suppress your tongue while it is needed."
Mikleo shuddered when Sorey stepped back, the morose frown that he wore was replaced by a solemn smile that forced Mikleo to look to the ground in defeat. It was obvious that Sorey knew what he was talking about, but that didn't erase the fact that Mikleo still had no intention of being delicate with the people around him. If anything, the speech made him even more determined.
"Mikleo," Sorey called out, reached out and lifting Mikleo's face to meet his own. "I'm supposed to meet with Elder Zenrus. I think it would be best if you were to come with me? That way, we can show the people that we can at least stand within two feet of one another." Sorey held out his arm that Mikleo reluctantly took. Mikleo's lips thinned and a shudder ran down his spine when Sorey pressed closer to him as he was led up the small hill that held his grandfather's home and he wasn't stupid enough to miss the surprised looks that their appearance garnered, which, Sorey was quick to comment on with a touch of amusement coloring his tone.
"I can't tell if they're surprised that we're holding hands or about my appearance." Sorey looked around, his face softening awe at the mountains that seem to stretch into the heavens and the fields that seem to go on for eternity. "This is really a place away from the world, isn't it?"
Mikleo's lips quirked at Sorey's curiosity. "They're looking at you - not me and for Elysia, well, we Seraph weren't treated with the best of intentions when we appeared in the world some thousands of years ago."
"No." Sorey murmured, tugging Mikelo a might closer at the confession. "You weren't treated with the due diligence that you deserved."
Mikleo said nothing, lowering his head as they approached his grandfather's door and stepped inside and he couldn't help but feel relieved at the smell of incense that filled the small home - he could take comfort in the smaller things, he supposed.
"Lord Zenrus." Sorey greeted, bowing his head in reverence. "I thank you for inviting Her Royal Highness Alicia Diphda and I, General Sorey Illorin to Elysia. I thank you for agreeing to the contract between your people and ours. Thank you for blessing us with this second chance."
Zenrus said nothing, huffing out a cloud of smoke before silently urging Sorey and Mikleo to sit. "Thank you, General Illorin, for coming all this way to greet us on our grounds. I trust you realize why we couldn't do so?"
"You do not think it is wise to send your grandson to unblessed lands." Sorey supplied, tightening his grip on Mikleo's hand at the thought. "I will not lie, the malevolence is at a disagreeable level."
"And what, exactly, do the King and Princess plan to do about this malevolence? Surely, you do not expect me to send Mikleo down there?"
"It is enough for him to survive." Sorey was firm in this statement. "We will find a Lord of the Land-"
"I-" Mikleo bit his lip when both man and seraph turned to him in question. "I am the Vessel of Amenoch. I can and will stand against the malevolence. You-both needn't worry about my wellbeing."
"I find it ridiculous that you don't expect me to worry about you, Mikleo." Sorey cut in with a mild grin. "You are indeed the Vessel of Amenoch, but that doesn't stop the power of malevolence." Sorey reached up and pressed a hand against his heart. "Even I with the high resonance I was born with have trouble adjusting to it." Sorey showed him his hand with a ring on the index finger. "This ring is used to ease the malevolence around me, but it won't work if it's overloaded." Sorey lowered his hand and grasped it with Mikleo's. "As I've said before, we will find a Lord of the Land and receive the blessing for Ladylake and all of Hyland so that Mikleo and all those that wish to visit our land are safe and remain uncorrupted."
Zenrus' chest rumbled with laughter as Mikleo's cheeks flamed at the proclamation. "Are you sure you are not the King of Hyland instead of its General, Sorey?"
"I am loyal to King and Land." Sorey murmured, a sharp grin pulling at his lips. "Even moreso, I am steadfast and protective of my people. I am a soldier first and a man second."
Zenrus' gaze shifted from Sorey to Mikleo. "And what of your duties as a husband? When, exactly, will they come into play?"
At the question, Sorey's expression softened before staring the elder Seraph in the eyes. "You misunderstood me, Lord Zenrus. My duties as a husband will never stop. I defend the lands for him. I defend him in Court and from King and Princess if need be. I will strike down those that will see him harmed. I am his husband with and without the armor and blade."
"And what if the enemy is Mikleo's people?" Zenrus pressed lightly drawing a sharp breath from both parties. "What will you do then, General? Will strike them down as you did in the war?"
The answer drew a sharp breath from Mikleo's breath and he turned and was faced with Sorey's solemn gaze. "You-would murder again?"
"If it meant protecting you, then, yes, I would strike the Seraph down a second time." Sorey's eyes darkened in shame, but his head was held high. "The horrors of the war between humans and seraphs should never be experienced again and should human or seraph interfere with the tentative peace that we have obtained, then I will not hesitate to strike them down. We-we've worked too hard to arrive at this moment."
"Indeed we have, General." Zenrus drew deep from his pipe before blowing out a cloud of smoke. "The rumors that I have heard from the brethren do you no justice. You are an honorable man despite your deeds and atrocities against my people. Yet, I trust you with my most precious child. I believe that your marriage will light the way for our people and allow them to join hands and walk towards a future that will be bright for us all."
"It is all I wish for, Lord Zenrus." Sorey bowed his head, his hair covering the joy in his emerald eyes. "I thank you for the blessing between Mikleo and me."
"And I thank you both for your sacrifice." Zenrus rose from his bowed position before pushing over a package in Mikleo's direction. "For you, Mikleo."
"What is it?"
"Your wedding robes." Zenrus chuckled at the heated flush at his response. "Made with the finest silks and velvets courteous of Lady Lilah. She and the other Lords are looking forward to the union."
Mikleo gathered the bundle in his arms and bowed in an unsuccessful attempt to hide his red face. "Thank you, Grandfather."
"You're welcome. I think this is a good time to show Sorey around the village, yes? You will not return until the matter of the wedding is settled and I would like to show Sorey and Princess Alisha how warm our hospitality is to visitors."
"If it is alright then I would like to explore the ruins you have outside of the village?" Sorey requested with what Mikleo could describe as a suppressed excitement. "I have longed to see what's inside."
"Of course." Zenrus shot Mikleo a gentle but encouraging smile. "Mikleo has a profound love for ruins as well and he knows the ruins like the back of his hand. I'm sure that he would love to give you a tour of it. However, I must ask that you be careful? The ruins are not as stable as they once were when I was a young seraph."
"I understand." Sorey rose from his seated position and held out his hand to Mikleo. "Shall we?"
For a moment, Mikleo stared at the hand, wondering if Sorey still saw the blood of his people on it. Still wondered how long it took to wash off. Wondered if he saw that same blood when he stared at Mikleo and other Seraph.
Just as Sorey was about to lower his hand, Mikleo rushed forward and grasped his hand in his own. If Sorey was willing to light a path of their people then Mikleo wanted to do the same, despite how he felt.
"Of course." Mikleo murmured, squeezing Sorey's hand tightly. "I'll lead the way."
Chapter 6: The Legend of the Shepherd
"Lord Zenrus wasn't joking when he said these ruins had seen better days." Sorey looked around with an awed smile. "What is the name of this place?"
"Mt. Mabinogo," Mikleo responded, the hairs on the back of his neck standing at the thought of human trespassing on such sacred ground. "It's older than me."
"I think we're all older than you, sweetling." Sorey murmured, watching in fascination as Mikleo's cheeks flushed at the endearment. "You are quite young for a Seraphim-"
"I am older than-"
"You are eighteen summers." Sorey continued swiftly. "You are just a babe compared to the Lords Zavied and Eizen, but I was led to believe that Seraphim are not born as babes, but rather, as a set age-"
"You were fed lies, Lord Illorin." Mikleo bit out, his heart racing at the thought of Sorey finding out-finding out about Michael and Muse-and. "All Seraphim are different."
"Of course," Sorey responded, dropping the subject - for now. "What is so special about these ruins?" Sorey reached out, holding out an arm for Mikleo to take, and smiling in triumph when it was taken after a moment's hesitation. 'Do they have a legend? A story?"
"I trust that you've heard of the Legend of the Shepherd?"
Sorey stilled at the question, a rush of curiosity filling his veins. Historians - those that are worth their gald - knew about the Legend of the Shepherd, but what wasn't known was that Sorey was a descendant of Eleanor Hume, one of the most powerful Shepherds on record and the eventual protectors to the Village of Camelann and Throne of Maotelus. It was a secret that Sorey would have taken to his grave, but if love and fate allowed it, he and Mikleo would have children, and those precious little ones would need to know about their heritage and how they could see all spirits beside the seraphim.
"I have and those who hold the Celestial Record know of the extensive history of the Shepherds." Sorey bent down and gave Mikelo a sharp grin that forced the smaller one back an inch. "You want to know a secret?"
"...a secret?" Mikelo repeated, a cautious look directed at his intended. "What kind of secret?"
Sorey blinked once before a smirk lifted his lips and he was pulling away and towards the mural on the wall depicting the legend. "The First Shepherd was a rampaging murderer."
"I-" Mikelo stopped short at the confession and stared at Sorey in shock. "W-what?"
"Oh?" Sorey looked down at what Mikleo would describe as a mock surprise. "You didn't know about Shepherd Artorius? The Scarlet Moon? Innomiant?" Sorey tilted his head before releasing a small hum of consideration. "I suppose that you wouldn't know the complete history of it considering that you're just a babe."
"I am not a babe." Mikelo snatched his arm away and moved towards the mural with a thunderous frown. "I have more knowledge than some-some idiot human whose resonance helped him-"
"You would be wise not to finish that sentence, darling." Sorey shot him a sharp look. "You know nothing about me and how my resonance came to be, so, wouldn't it be wise not to judge me based on what you heard?"
"How can I not judge you?" Mikleo shot back, his cheeks flushed at the tongue lashing. "Would you not judge a person who massacred your people?"
"I am a defender of my land and my people." Sorey began, pacing and reminding Mikleo of a caged lion ready to pounce. "You judge me for protecting them?"
Mikleo turned away, flustered and at a loss of words. How could he judge Sorey for protecting his people when the situation called for it? Was it his fault that the war started among humans and Seraph? No, of course not. Just as Sorey had protected his people, Mikleo would protect his own.
"No," Mikleo whispered, feelings of guilt rising up and settling at the bottom of his stomach. "I don't judge you, Sorey. I did, once upon a time, and part of me still does when I look at you or think about that terrible war. You cannot blame me and I cannot blame you for our actions and how we feel." Mikleo found the courage to stare his betrothed in the eyes as his lips pulled into a small, sad smile. "May I ask you something?"
"Why did you accept this proposal?" Mikleo stepped closer, careful not to escape Sorey's sight. "What did you have to benefit from this union other than a tentative peace?"
"I long for a relationship between the Seraph and Human," Sorey responded, a soft smile on his lips. "I long for peace between us both and if this is the way, the first step towards that goal, then I will gladly place myself on this sacrificial altar." Sorey held up a hand to stop Mikleo's protest. "Not that marrying you is a hardship, of course."
"Of course," Mikleo agreed, his lips twitching. "As much as I despise how this whole proposal came about, I can understand the logic behind it. However, I would ask that you don't expect any emotional attachment during our marriage."
"Ah." Sorey murmured, eyes lowering in thought. "You mentioned that in your previous letter and I think it's best that we discuss that before we jump the proverbial broom?" Sorey stepped closer, leaning down to stare into Mikleo's shocked gaze. "Do you really expect me not to touch you? To embrace you as my husband?"
"I expect you to keep a respectable distance," Mikleo stated with a swift smile. "I trust that's not very hard for a seasoned soldier such as yourself, correct? You are disciplined."
"I am." Sorey agreed, eyes darkening as he took in Mikleo's smile and longed to kiss it off - just to teach the tease a lesson. "However, I intend to slip into your bed sooner or later so I ask that you prepare yourself in the meanwhile, yes?"
Sorey watched, enraptured, as a flush settled across Mikleo's cheeks. It was endearing, but would also cause Mikleo in trouble in the Court if he wasn't careful.
"Come." Mikleo urged, done with the conversation. "We have a long to-" Mikleo yelped as the ground underneath him crumbled underneath and fortunately, Sorey was always quick on his feet, reaching out to grab the back of his fiance's tunic.
"Are you alright?" Sorey didn't wait for a reply, starting to pull Mikleo up when he heard the creaking of the ground underneath his own feet before the rock crumbled sending them both plummeting into the darkness. The air escaped Sorey's throat as he watched Mikleo fall and felt a surge of helplessness overwhelm him and he could nothing but reaching for him and try to muffle the fall with his body when he saw a bright blue bright emerge from his betrothed body.
"Surging currents - Twin Flow."
The strong stream of water forced Sorey to the right and into a pool of water, breaking his fall. He snarled as his butt hit the stone and he watched as Mikleo landed on his feet.
"Are you alright?" Mikleo rushed towards him, lowering himself to his knee and checking Sorey for injuries. When he found none, he gave a sigh of relief. "That didn't go quite how I planned it, but not to shabby right? I guess this makes us even." Mikleo stood to his feet, his eyes searching the area. "Unbelievable! I didn't know there were ruins underground."
"Good thing we fell down here," Sorey grunted, as Mikleo helped him to his feet. "...I think I'm done exploring for the day if that's alright? Who knew that exploring could be so dangerous?"
"I told you that these ruins were dangerous, but you wanted to explore." Mikleo was careful with him as he was led down a long pathway and he wasn't surprised to see thick spider webs covering the doors.
"Here," Sorey murmured, stepping away and unsheathing his blade and Mikleo was taken aback at the look and the style. It was simple, yet, elaborate, as if it was a-
"You use ceremonial swords?"
"I do." Sorey slashed the cobwebs away, his face scrunching up in mild disgust. "The broader swords are heavier to swing and decrease my speed." Sorey shrugged, sheathing the sword. "And this was a gift from my mother."
"Your mother?" Mikleo couldn't help the surge of curiosity. While famous, no one knew about Sorey's past or what village he hailed from. The only rumors were circulating was the fact that Rolance razed his village when he was but a child and that was the reason why he had such an intense hatred for the opposite country.
"Yes," Sorey smiled, but Mikleo was no fool to see the sadness that lied within. "Her name was Selene and she was a very kind and gentle woman, but Rolance sought fit to raid the village and kill everyone within it."
"Ah, I'm sorry." Mikleo swallowed back his own sadness, pushing back the thought of seeing such innocent people brought to slaughter all in the name of war and triumph. Of how Sorey must have felt seeing his mother die for nothing. Before he knew what he was doing, Mikleo was reaching out, wrapping his arms around Sorey's broader shoulders and burying his face into his chest.
"I'm sorry that you had suffered so much at such a young age." Mikleo didn't dare look his future husband in the eye. "That you still continue to suffer."
"Thank you." Sorey returned the gesture, pulling Mikleo closer and tensing when the air shifted, his eyes narrowing when a spider-like beast dropped from the ceiling. "Excuse me, Mikleo."
"What-?" Mikleo jumped at the sight of the beast, calling out his staff and swallowing when he saw the black aura around it. "Malovence! Sorey! You-" Mikloe had no time to finish his warning when a burst of blue flame erupted from Sorey's blade, turning the spider-like beast into a burst of flame and ash. Mikleo's heart stopped and he took a step back as the realization of what happened and what he saw conflicted with one another.
"You can purify malevolence?" Mikleo uttered, not knowing how to feel about it. "How is that possible?"
"It's complicated." Sorey looked conflicted at his own words. "If I sat and told you then you wouldn't understand-" Sorey looked away, a bitter smile tracing his lips. "I think it's another story for another time, I'm afraid. We still have to return to Elysia." Sorey brushed past Mikleo, entering another room that had a rather massive drop but that wasn't what forced Sorey to halt his steps.
"What is it?" Mikleo glanced over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes at the sight below. "Who is that?"
"Alicia." Sorey murmured in a soft tone that drew a shiver of fear down Mikleo's spine and he was forced to meet a pair of dark green eyes that held nothing. "What happened?"
"I don't know-" Mikleo shook his head, at a loss as to why Alicia would be on the ground, unconscious. He shook his head, pushing back the fear that was laced in his heart. Pushing back the thought of what kind of repercussions this would lead to if his people were responsible. "We need to get down and see if she's-" Mikleo swallowed when Sorey shot him a dangerous look, but he pressed on, not wanting to give the man false hope. "If she's still alive."
Sorey turned on his heel, urging Mikleo along with a soft, hurried command. "I hope she's alive for both our sakes. If not, we'll have another war on our hands, won't we?"
Mikleo stopped, staring at Sorey's retreating back and for the first time, saw the man from the fearful whispers of his fellow Seraph. This-this was General Sorey Illorin of Hyland, a man to be feared and respected. A man who wouldn't hesitate to cut someone down, even his future husband.
"I pray that we won't have another war," Mikleo spoke to Sorey's back, knowing that the man could hear him. "Or all of this would be for naught."
Chapter 7: The Raging Storm
It took a little maneuvering between fighting off malevolent beasts and crossing an ice bridge that appeared out of thin air, but Sorey, with Mikleo in tow, managed to find their way to an unconscious Alicia who was frazzled and a touch embarrassed.
"Are you alright?" Sorey helped her to her feet, his jaw clenched as he took in the Princess' appearance. She seemed fine with a little dirt here and there, but Sorey wasn't worried about the clothing, or the fact that she was embarrassed. "What happened? How did you get down here?"
"...I don't know," Alicia admitted, lips thinning into a white line. "I remember being around the entrance to the ruins. I was going to go look for you and tell you that Lord Zenrus had gathered the Lords and Ladies for a meeting and he needed you and Mikleo for attendance and then the next thing I know, I'm here with you."
"Did you see the person before you blacked out?" Mikleo inquired, heart racing against his chest at the thought of one his people attacking the heir to the throne. With such tentative peace between humans and seraphs, something as little as tripping over a rock could spark the flames of war again.
"No, I'm afraid I didn't, but I heard his voice and he said something about finding a meal...?"
"A meal?" Sorey repeated, folding his arms and adopting a thoughtful look. "And he sounded human?" The thought of someone trying to eat his student sent a shiver of anger down his spine. He knew that it wasn't the seraphim who tried to harm Alisha considering they had so much at stake, but who would be stupid enough to attack the Princess of Hyland?
"He didn't actually," Alisha responded, shaky at the thought. "He sounded monstrous, desperate, and manic." Alisha looked frustrated at how useless her description and how caught off guard she was when the attack happened. "I'm sorry, but I can't give you more than that, Sorey."
"It's fine," Sorey reassured, still looking thoughtful and Mikleo wondered if he knew or had some idea about the attacker. "Let's return to the surface and report to Lord Zenrus. He might have an idea about our unwanted visitor."
As they made their way up the stairs and towards the surface, Mikleo noticed how protective Sorey was of Alicia, making sure to stick close to her, comforting her in a low, soothing tone that, for some reason, got underneath his skin. Why didn't Sorey comfort him like that-
Mikleo stopped, watching as Alicia and Sorey continued to make their way upwards, praying that neither turned around and saw the blush that was dusting across his cheeks. He couldn't believe that he was getting jealous over Alisha when the woman had been nothing but respectful towards him and his people.
"Mikleo?" Sorey called out, forcing him out of his thoughts as his head snapped up, seeing Alisha and Sorey at the top of the stairs, shooting him looks of concern, his blush only deepened when Sorey made his way back down. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Mikleo rushed out, rushing up the stairs and past Sorey, who was quick enough to catch him by the wrist and pull him back. "Sorey-"
"What's going on?" Sorey demanded in a low tone that forced his fiance to still. "You just froze on the stairs as if you realized-"
All three heads turned towards the sound, panicked expressions lining their faces and when the cry of help repeated itself, the sound of the voice clicked in Mikleo's mind and he was racing towards it, despite Alisha and Sorey's protests.
Mikleo's heart raced against his chest as he raced towards the outer fields of his village, his staff materializing in his hand as he upon the sight of his friend being devoured.
"Mason!" Mikleo watched, horrified as the Fire Seraph was swallowed whole. He stood, frozen, as the last of his friend disappearing into the gaping hole of a mouth and the creature turned toward him, licking his lips as if eating a person was a normal occurrence.
"That was delicious." the creature murmured, eyes still locked on Mikleo's. "I decided to treat myself to a little spicy snack since no one else was around, but I think I'll cool off with you. What do you think?"
Mikleo snarled, sliding into a defensive position. "What are you? How did you get in here?"
The creature snorted, staring at him with distaste. "You don't look as helpless as the other one. Why he was quite...tame compared to you. So, I suppose I'll have to beat it out of you."
"Ah." Sorey interrupted swiftly forcing the creature's gaze from Mikleo to Sorey's. "I never thought it'll be the Stray. You're bold to attack the Seraphim, Lunarre, let alone eat one."
"Well, well, well," Lunarre purred, his thin mouth spreading out in a mild grin. "If it isn't General Sorey Illorin. It has been a while, hasn't it?"
"You two know each other?" Mikleo stared at Sorey at the corner of his eye, careful to keep an eye on this Lunarre. "I didn't think you kept such company."
"Oh?" Lunarre turned Mikleo with barred teeth. "You didn't know about our General's dealings with unsavory characters?" Lunarre nudged his head in Sorey's direction, a dark smile about his wide mouth. "You need to watch out for this one, eh? He's not the charming character he makes himself out to be."
"You're the one to talk considering that you just ate one the seraphim," Sorey remarked, shooting the man a dark look. "What happened to you, Lunarre? A touch of malevolence ruin your day?
"I've had a bit of a bad day, but as it turned out, a bad thing can be turned into quite a good thing, eh?" Lunarre licked his lips as he stared Mikleo down. "I heard about that sweet treaty that's going to unite the human and seraphim. It would be a shame if something were to happen to the better half of that contract."
"You breathe on him wrong and I'll end your life here." Sorey shifted, placing himself between Lunarre and Mikleo. "Why are you snooping around seraphim land?"
"Strange." Lunarre murmured, mouth stretching into a wide, unnatural grin. "It's odd that General Sorey Illorin doesn't know the ins and outs of the current battlefield. I'm sure he'll take delight in knowing such a thing, eh?"
"He?" Sorey pressed carefully, eyes narrowing as Lunarre shot him another manic grin. "Who is He? Who sent you?" Sorey edged closer, sword still raised. "Whose pulling at your strings?"
"So. Many. Questions." Lunarre hopped on one foot before switching to the other and in a fit of rage, Sorey swung his blade, snarling when Lunarre jumped back, letting loose a wild laugh. "You missed-" Lunarre let out a grunt as a large burst of water hit him on the side forcing Sorey to turn to see Mikleo staring down Lunarre with such rage that Sorey fell a little bit more in love.
"Move," Mikleo commanded, keeping his staff at Lunarre's fallen form and Sorey felt the air shift, turn cold before a number of large ice shards appeared. Sorey moved forward, swinging his blade and slamming it into Lunarre's stomach as it dodged Mikleo's attack and felt triumphant when Lunarre was flown backward and into a decaying piece of stone.
Sorey didn't have another chance to strike when Zenrus appeared in a burst of wind and smoke. He stood back, watching with his sword still raised as Zenrus turned to Lunarre with a deep frown.
"Leave." the Elder Seraph commanded. "You are not wanted here, Hellion."
"Or do you want to deal with all of us?"
Lunarre turned and narrowed his eyes when he noticed that a group of seraph approach before letting out an amused huff.
"I was here for the main course but I suppose that I'll just have to settle for an appetizer." Lunarre shot them a wicked grin before vanishing into thin air and leaving the Sorey, Mikleo, and Zenrus shook, angry and perturbed.
"Are you alright?" Sorey sheathed his sword and approached Mikleo with a look of concern. "Are you hurt, Mikleo?"
"No." Mikelo returned softly, allowing to Sorey to check over him for his and Sorey's comfort. "I'm fine. What about you?" Mikleo started to reach out, but pulled away - Sorey was more than capable of defending himself. He didn't need Mikleo's concern, but nonetheless - "Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine." Sorey turned to the spot where Lunarre vanished. "It seems that we had a friend follow us inside." Sorey turned to Zenrus and bowed deeply. "You have my deepest apologies, Lord Zenrus."
"Perish the thought, General." Zenrus brushed his apologies away under a cloud of smoke and amusement. "You had nothing to do with that, Hellion and his actions."
Mikleo turned to Alisha who stood still among the Seraph with a worried expression. He wanted to reassure her that the that...thing wouldn't be coming back when her earlier words flashed in his mind and he approached her with a cautious frown.
"Your Highness?" Mikleo began, hesitant to approach the subject and wanting to protect his people. "Do you think Lunarre was the one to attack you in the ruins?"
For a moment, Alisha looked shocked, her face scrunching up in thought. "I...didn't see his face but-" Alicia's expression turned thoughtful. "I remember his voice."
"And?" Mikleo pressed gently.
"I think he was one who knocked me out." Alisha shook her head, looking as unsure and Mikleo felt a rush of pity for the princess. To be attacked for what seemed no reason and have no clue as to who committed was sharing, to say the least. "I'm not sure - I'm sorry."
"It's alright. You have nothing to apologize for, Your Highness." Mikleo held out a hand towards Zenrus and Sorey. "If it wasn't for those two then I don't know what would have happened."
"Don't sell yourself short, Mikleo." Sorey chided with a grin. "I was impressed with those artes. I was worried that you hadn't been trained in self-defense, but seeing you in battle laid my worries to rest. The trip back to Ladylake won't be a problem."
The reminder that Mikleo was set to leave his village after such a vicious attack left a bad taste in his mouth, but he said nothing of it. No matter the small tragedy of Mason's passing, the contract and marriage were far from derailed and still their top priority.
"I do not like his sudden appearance." Zenrus continued, oblivious to Mikleo's degrading thoughts. "Elysia has been considering a sanctuary for the Seraphim and this Lunarre's appearance does not bode well." Zenrus returned his gaze to Sorey with a short smile. "I had every intention of allowing you and Princess Alicia to stay in our borders to rest and replenish your supplies, but I am afraid that I must hasten your departure."
"You want us to run?" Mikleo lowered his gaze when Sorey and Zenrus gazes landed on him - one laced with concern and the other steady with patience and understanding.
"I am positive that Lunarre is after all of us, Mikleo." Sorey stepped closer, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You and I - to stop the treaty and Alisha - to rid Hyland of its only legitimate heir. The further we are from the village the better. We aren't running from the situation, we are keeping Elysia safe from harm. This is our situation now, Mikleo, and I will see it solved, understand?"
Mikleo's lips thinned at his future husband's explanation, hating the fact that he found logic within it. He could do nothing but nod. The last thing he wanted to do was put his Grandfather and people in harm's way - the war was more than enough.
Sorey squeezed Mikleo's shoulder tighter before letting it slide away. "Come. I'll escort you home to gather your belongings."
"We won't leave without properly saying good-bye." Sorey continued, holding out his arm for Mikleo to take, shooting him a small, weary grin as Mikleo all but latched on with thinned lips and heated cheeks. "You're going to be fine - we're all going to be fine."
"You sound so sure," Mikelo uttered, displeased with the situation that sat at their feet. "How do you know that it's going to be alright?"
"I don't know," Sorey admitted softly, the grin that was once weary was now sad. "During the war, I never knew if I or my men were going to survive against the Seraphim. The only thing I did know was that I had to do all I could to help and save as many as men as I could but I was no fool. I knew that I would be burning many of them and returning those who were maimed beyond repair." Sorey lowered his gaze as if he couldn't bear to stare into Mikleo's shocked gaze. "What I do know is that I have to keep going to make our union between us and our people a reality. It won't be easy and we're going to hurt each other with our words and actions, but if we work at it, then I don't see why we can't have a loving marriage that'll even make Eizen and Zavied jealous."
A snort escaped Mikleo's throat at the comparison. Did the man not know the Lords of the Earth and Wind? Eizen couldn't care less about the relationships of others and Zavied was too busy trying to get into Consort Dezel's pants.
"You would be better comparing us to Lady Edna and Lilah." Mikelo couldn't hold back his laughter when Sorey let out a snort of his own. "But, you're right about us moving forward. It's all we can really do right now. How long will the journey be?"
"A fortnight by foot and about four on horseback. We ran the horse ragged so we'll have to go on foot until they're rested or trade them for new ones in one of the villages along the way." Sorey looked curious. "Have you ever ridden a horse?"
"No." Mikelo denied. "But, I've read about it. It can't be that hard, right?"
Sorey stared at him for one long moment before allowing a soft, indulgent chuckle that Mikleo found himself way too fond of so quickly.
It wasn't fair that Sorey was so handsome and charming.
"It's more difficult than it looks, I'm afraid, but we'll be fine. You can consider it one of your first lessons in humanity and as a reward, we can check out one of the ruins that's close to the capital."
"Really?" Mikleo gasped out, flushing to the roots of his hair at the squeak that escaped his throat. "I-I mean, that seems like an adequate reward, thank you."
"Of course." Sorey's smile was soft and indulgent as his laughter. "I have no trouble acquiescing to your requests, Mikleo. You don't seem to be very hard to please."
Mikleo, not know whether to take that as an insult or compliment, remained silent as they trudged along back to Mikleo's home.
He supposed that silence was the best response.
That, and he took it as a compliment and his pride refused to acknowledge it.