Chapter Twenty-Six: Release
"If you two are planning to take on a fairy, then you're a pair of dumbasses," Xavier stated.
"Thanks for the encouragement, Dad," Francesca deadpanned.
"We're well aware that we're dumbasses, Xavier," Seon added. "Do you have anything else to tell us?"
Everyone was sitting around the small table. Xavier was leaning over the wood with his brow furrowed in concentration. Anastasia had her hands folded neatly on the table as she stared at her husband. Wes sat between Seon and Francesca; because felt the need to hold their hands.
"You could hire the help of a hunter," Anastasia suggested. "A few of them actually hunt fairies."
Seon raised his eyebrows. "And they actually survive?"
"Yes! Only a handful of them, though."
"Why are you bringing up hunters, Ana?" Xavier asked.
"Because doesn't Kroc owe you a favor-"
"No," Xavier said firmly.
"But she's an excellent hunter-"
"Xavier, it may have been twenty years ago, but I'm sure she hasn't forgotten-"
"Ana, we're not bringing Kroc into this."
Seon held up a hand facing Xavier. This stunned him into silence long enough for the elf to ask "Who is Kroc?"
"Kroc's an expert hunter that we know that lives down in the Marshes," Anastasia explained. "She's hunted at least three rogue fairies before for the king, so I think she'd be perfect."
"And why doesn't he want us to... enlist her?"
"Because this fairy has a Stone of Life," Xavier said flatly. "Ordinary fairies are powerful enough. You'd need more firepower than just Kroc."
"It's worth a shot, Xavier!" Anastasia insisted.
"The risk is too high for this, they could die!"
Francesca slammed her hands onto the table. "Hey!" Francesca burst out.
Everyone fell silent and looked at her.
"I was one who got Victor out of his tower. I was the one who dragged him around everywhere to find him." She gestured at Seon. "I was the one who started all this. So I'll decide what's too risky or not. I'm going to the king to see if I can get any help from him. If I can't, then I'll go to Kroc. Got it?"
Xavier held a hard glare before he sighed in defeat. "Fine."
"You could've let me transport us here..." Francesca grumbled.
"After the last time? You must be joking," Seon said.
"Whose fault was that again, stalker?"
The two of them stiffly walked toward the gates of the castle. The same two guards stood before the entryway with rather bored looks. They raised their brows at the boiling air between the knight and the elf.
"Is this guy bothering you, Francesca?" one of the guards asked.
"Nope," she said through her teeth.
"Is there a problem, sirs?" Seon asked. The worn look on his face had vanished and he appeared much younger than he did at the house. "I just wanted to see if I could get some work here at the castle. She's just irritated because we ran into some trouble on the way here."
The guards looked Seon up and down before finally stepping aside. "You've been bringing in a lot of kids lately. Next time, try to see if you can somewhere else for them, alright?"
"Yeah," Francesca said dismissively.
Seon strolled past the guards with his head held high. Francesca trailed behind him; she could hear the guards whispering about 'that elf's amazing confidence.' She rolled her eyes then leaned closer to his ear.
"What was that?"
"Wasn't that the excuse you were going to use anyways?"
"Don't just walk in like you own the place afterward!"
Seon rolled his eyes. "Fine."
Francesca pushed the double doors open. Once again, the sea of rushed bodies was in constant motion around her. She looked to her side, expecting Seon to fall behind her, but he weaved through the crowd as if he were made of air.
"So that's how he managed to keep up with us," she mused quietly to herself.
It was after they left the entrance hall that Francesca finally had to grab the elf's arm. He gave her a vaguely irritated look that asked his question for him.
"The throne room is this way."
He pried her arm off of him. "I know. I was going to see Baudy."
"We have to go ask for backup, Baudouin isn't a priority right now."
His expression melted into a saddened watery-eyed puppy-dog stare that made Francesca see the resemblance between Seon and Victor. "Please! You saw how excited he was the last time we came here. He misses me. A-And I miss him. I'll be quick. I promise."
They held each other's gaze before Francesca sighed. She waved him off and he dashed down the hallways toward the cellar. Francesca turned around and made her way to the throne room.
"I'm afraid," the king said, "I cannot grant your request."
Francesca kept her bowed position before him but tightened her lips into a thin line. "Understood, Your Highness," she said evenly.
"Please don't be angry," he said. He looked apologetic.
"I'm not angry, sir."
"The thing is, if I were to personally send someone after a fairy, well... The fairies are powerful enemies that we can't afford to go to war with." He sighed. "One life is not worth uprooting hundreds."
Francesca bit back a sarcastic remark and nodded. "Alright, Your Highness."
"Was that all you wanted?"
Francesca stood up. "Yes, Your Highness. Thank you for your time." She turned away from him, finally letting every bit of sourness become apparent on her face.
"If it helps, I'll give you more time for your quest."
Francesca turned to him again, a smile forced into place. "Thank you, Your Highness. I'll be on my way now." She turned back around and walked out the door.
She walked down the hall for a bit before leaning against a wall. She let out a deep sigh and put her face into her hands.
She had somewhat expected this but she hadn't prepared a back up plan. Going to the Marshes would be their only option but Francesca had never been there. They would have to walk all the way to the southernmost border of the kingdom. Did they really have time for that?
Francesca stepped away from the wall and headed toward the cellars. She had to tell Seon the king couldn't help them. Maybe if she was lucky, Seon had been to the Marshes before and he could transport them there.
For some reason, as she grew closer to the cellar, she could hear more noise. It was a low buzz of voices until she got close enough to hear the actual chaotic barrage of shouting. Armored knights ran past her with shields in hand but not their swords. However, there were a dozen other knights running away from the cellars.
She tried to tap a fleeing knight on the shoulder. "Hey, what's going o..."
Suddenly she heard it. Loud and echoing footsteps charging down the hallways. It was steadily getting closer and closer to the exit of the cellars. Francesca cautiously drew her sword from her belt, bracing herself for whatever was approaching.
Whatever was coming made it to the stairs. It was slipping and crashing against the floor. Clawing its way up the marble steps and making deep animalistic grunts. A red claw finally reached the top of the stairs and right as Francesca started to register what it was, the rest of the body rushed up.
A red dragon was barreling toward her. He didn't look down at the guards telling him to stop. His head was held up high and his feet hit the floor in an unbreakable rhythm. Determination flashed in his eyes.
Just as Francesca thought he was going to pass her, everything seemed to slow down. Something on Baudouin's back caught her eyes and made her lower her sword.
A mass of black feathers was sitting on Baudouin's shoulder. The feathers were ruffled up, making it hard for Francesca to determine the figure's size. What might have been wings rested crookedly on their back, nearly blending in with the rest of the feathers. The only things she could pick out were clawed hands and a sharp beak.
The feathered feature swooped down and swept her off her feet. They held onto her with an arm wrapped around her back and claws clamped onto the fabric of her shirt. They kept their grip tight even when Francesca started struggling. They didn't even need to keep an eye on her.
"What the hell?!" she screamed at them. "Let us go, you bastard!"
They clicked their tongue at her in annoyance.
"Let the prince and I go, or... or...!" She raised her sword. The tip was wobbling violently with the movement of the running dragon. "Or else!"
They only jerked their head toward Baudouin. It was a wordless reminder that she was in a position to accidentally hurt the prince. She lowered her sword but continued to struggle.
Baudouin at last reached the entrance hall. The crowd that was still there dove out of the way of the escaping dragon. The grand double doors stood tall over them. Baudouin lowered his head and ran faster. The feathered figure shielded Francesca's head with their torso.
The front doors burst open. Baudouin stumbled for a bit before regaining his footing. His eyes were flicking from the clear blue sky to the knights that rushed to approach him.
He started flapping his wings. That made the knights, particularly the sorcerers, hurry faster. One of them started quickly whispering a spell beneath his breath. Before the sorcerer could finish, Baudouin had jumped.
His wings brought on great gusts of wind that blew dirt into everyone's faces. Francesca, who was only hanging on because of the stranger, got flipped onto Baudouin's back. The stranger was holding Baudouin's neck for their life, letting out a piercing bird-like screech. The higher and further away Baudouin got from the ground, no, from the castle; the faster he flapped.
"Your Highness!" Francesca pushed out of her breathless lungs. "Why...?"
"Tha... That's kind of my fault..." the stranger said. Their voice was vaguely familiar.
The feathers melted away and the beak gave way to a humanoid face. Soon the only thing left was a disgruntled Seon. He didn't look her in the eye and he was completely tense.
Francesca gritted her teeth. "Seon. What. The. Fuck." The scales beneath them shook as Baudouin growled at her. "Your Highness. With all due respect, I don't want to hear it. What the fuck were you two thinking?!"
"I knew King Dominique wouldn't give us any help," Seon answered. "Don't lie to me, I know he didn't. So I thought I would get someone I knew would help... And I thought it was about time Baudy got out of there."
"So you abducted the prince?" she asked incredulously.
"Is it really abduction if he went along with it?"
"Yes! That's still fucking abduction! He's the crown prince of Meria, Seon! Oh my god, we're going to be fugitives now because of you!"
"Look, I cursed myself to look like that for a reason," he said as he removed a stray feather from his clothes. "I made it look like I took you. And besides you knights, does anyone know what even happened to Baudouin?"
"Well, uh, no..." she said meekly.
"Exactly. God, I get us the fastest way to the Marshes and this is the thanks I get. Can you believe I'm getting scolded for freeing you, Baudy?"
"Oh, if you think this is scolding, just wait until we get to the ground again. Then I'll really let you have it.""Baudy, do me another favor and just take your sweet time flying, okay, buddy? Enjoy the air for a looong while."