Chapter 10 - The Prince
She was fuming as she stomped into my home, her boots making the wooden floor creak. I caught up to her and stopped her in her tracks.
“Hey, don’t mind her,” I started.
“Who the hell are you Shiki?” she hissed, trying to keep the rage out of her voice, failing miserably. “Or should I say, Prince Zoltar?” she spat.
I sighed, she had the right to be mad.
“Give me 10 minutes to get myself a shower and I’ll explain everything once I’m done, alright?” I asked, lowering my voice, surrendering.
She turned away and flopped down onto the floor. There was a chair just beside her, but she chose to sit down on the floor. I nudged her, pushing my head into her folded arms.
“Sit on the chair, it’s more comfortable,” I said softly, hoping my presence could calm her. Her fiery anger was making the temperature rise in the room.
She got up, sat down on the chair, crossed her legs and folded her arms again.
I checked on her one last time before heading to my room. I pushed open the door, a welcoming scent of sandalwood floated up to me. I nudged the wardrobe door open and there sat the green egg-shaped relic that I once hated. The relic that allowed me to revert to my human form sat on a golden paw-like base, I called it a green egg holder back when I was younger because I despised it. Guess I had no other choice but to use it now.
I touched my nose on it, and closed my eyes. Magic flowed through my body and I braced myself for the weird sensation that was about to come.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as unpleasant as I remembered, I guess I’m just not used to transformation yet. I cracked my neck and my fingers, trying to get used to my human body. It has been too long, and I felt really rusty.
I grabbed a towel, and entered my bathroom. How long has it been since I’ve had a shower? Do I smell really bad? Fuck, I hope I don’t.
I ran a hand through my hair and let the hot water run down my human body. I have a lot to explain to Seraphina.
I felt a little bad for her having to face Holly just now, she had always been an annoying little prick. I grew up thinking that my admirers were mere nuisances, nothing but women wanting fame and status. They seemed to be constantly hopeful that one day, I would choose to marry one of them. It was the main reason why I didn’t tell Seraphina about myself so much.
I didn’t want her to know. I was afraid she would be someone like that. My worry was extra, she had proven herself to be as much of a warrior as me. She has her own demons to fight, and no fame or status will help her win. She yearns for power, that’s what I like about her. She is constantly improving, and she will not stop until she has reached her goal. She is someone that will always remind you to strive for more, and she has empowered me in ways that she would have never noticed. The ways her eyes shine when I teach her something new, the way she tackles every single challenge I throw her way and the way she turns back to a small, vulnerable girl when she sleeps.
I couldn’t help but smile. My father almost cheered when Seraphina snapped back at Holly, that girl deserved it. She lit the fuse to the bomb when she pulled her parents into the argument.
“If you want to pick a fight, fight me in the ring and I will destroy you,” her words resounded in my mind.
Hell, would I love to see Seraphina destroy her.
“You’re in love with her aren’t you?” Darkrai teased.
I haven’t heard from my spirit weapon in a long time.
I scoffed as I twisted the tap off. I looked in the mirror to see my amber eyes staring back at me. As I rubbed my dark hair dry with my towel, I noticed that I had forgotten to remove my piercings from my ear.
Its obsidian, it probably doesn’t matter.
“I am, Darkrai, not going to lie,” I said softly as I went back to my room.
Dark grey shirt, underwear, trousers, and a belt. So much trouble.
I pulled all of them on hastily, and I noticed my contractual ring still on my right middle finger. Just where I left it the last time I transformed. The sleek black metal was warm from the hot water, the black diamond glistening under the orange light in my room. I closed my eyes for just a moment, regaining my calm composure, and ran a hand through my damp hair.
“Time for revenge.”
“Hey,” someone shook me gently.
Ah, did I fall asleep? How impolite of me.
My eyes fluttered opened to a pair of familiar eyes, but an unfamiliar face. I stared at the handsome man before me dreamily, still half asleep.
He had dark jet black locks that curled just above his thick eyebrows. He had a square, masculine face, a tall nose and high cheekbones. And his eyes, they were of a radiant amber gold, shining in what seemed to be like amusement.
I gently placed my hands on his face, touching his nose and lips. I’m not dreaming right? These eyes could only belong to Shiki.
“Lost your tongue?” he teased. His familiar deep voice erased any other possibility of this man being anyone else other than him.
“…Shiki?” I asked, still unable to fully grasp his sudden change.
Without warning, he slid an arm behind me and another under my legs. He lifted me off the chair with ease. “You could’ve just told me you were tired,” he said softly. His presence and warmth still felt the same.
He brought me into a room and placed me gently on a large bed. He proceeded to untie my boots, pulling them off my feet. The sweet aroma and dull lighting made me feel even sleepier, but when I heard the door close and I forced myself to sit up. I shouldn’t have let my guard down that easily.
The man before me was at least 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and muscled arms. He was wearing a simple grey shirt that complimented his muscular figure. He turned around and caught me staring. I quickly looked away embarrassed.
“Oh are you embarrassed?” he asked softly, his voice deep and sexy. I realized those were my exact words a few hours ago.
He strode to my side, moving with lethal grace.
“Get some rest if you want to,” he said softly, pulling off my hair tie gently. I felt my hair loosen as it fell like a curtain onto my shoulders. “Will you still allow me to accompany you when you can’t sleep now?” he asked, with a hint of amusement.
My heart raced, I’m in his room, on his bed, and he’s right next to me. Even his presence couldn’t calm me now. Why am I so tensed? He’s Shiki.
“You’re blushing,” his voice was very distracting.
I looked down on my hands, not knowing what to do. My face felt really hot. Of course I would be embarrassed in this situation! He made the biggest lie when he said he didn’t have the looks back when we were training. I thought it was a joke. But what made me nervous wasn’t his stunning looks. Being in a bedroom with him was.
His right arm slid around my waist and he pulled me down to him so I was laying with my back against his front. He tucked his nose into my hair and I could feel his warm breath on my ear. He smelt really nice too. “If you’re uncomfortable with this, please let me know, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable,” he said softly, making me shiver.
I finally mustered the courage to turn and face him, his dreamy amber eyes met my own. But before I could say anything, his lips were on mine.
He pressed his lips on mine gently, pulling my body closer to his. He started his kiss slowly, gently nipping my bottom lip, stopping for just a moment to peer into my eyes, afraid that I didn’t feel the same. When he saw that I wasn’t rejecting, he came for a second serving. His second kiss was more dominant, and full of desire.
He’s kissing me. I couldn’t think straight. Did he develop feelings for me? We had spent a lot time with each other, but he had always been in his hellhound form, so I’ve never thought of him as a human counterpart. I had always loved his presence and how he’s always so gentle to me. But it was confusing, seeing Shiki as a human.
“I am in love with you,” he said breathlessly when our lips parted. His eyes shone softly, yearning for my response. I snuggled into his embrace shyly to escape his eyes, and his muscular arms wrapped around me. He let the silence dwell between us, making sure I was calm and comfortable enough before making a decision.
“I… never thought…” I couldn’t find the right words.
He let out a low chuckle, running a hand through my long hair.
“I never thought I would be capable of love either,” he said softly, placing his forehead on mine and our noses touched. “And I owe you an explanation, don’t I?”
“I am from the Xantara heritage, you might know us as the strongest pack of hellhounds in the Fourth Region. My father – Zeno Xantara, is the current leader of the pack. It’s the reason why they call me a prince. But my father is no king, we prefer calling ourselves leaders, we lead our people, we don’t rule them. We fight together side by side, not sitting idly on a throne, so my family and I never liked to be called that way. That’s why you know me as Shiki. I wasn’t truthful about my background because I didn’t want to get unnecessary attention. It isn’t easy, you would never know who your real allies and friends are, so I stooped low and acted like a normal hound. Coincidentally, Land came and asked me for a favor to help you out. He told me your story and I was immediately entranced, the bringer of the rebellion, the girl of Fire, the descendant of the Eshban was here at last. I was curious of what you looked like and who you might be, so I agreed to help Land carry you to Mount Sigmora.”
“When I met you, I could see how conflicted and broken you were. I was surprised you could pick yourself up so fast, because I went through the same thing, and I spent so much more time to get over it compared to you,” his eyes softened. “You surprise me every day, handling my training at such a fast pace, and always yearning for improvement. You are strong and fierce, always straightforward and never hesitating to speak your mind. But back then, I had paws, not hands. I couldn’t hold your hand when I wanted to, I couldn’t do things that a human could do,” he scratched his head, seemingly embarrassed, a soft pink haze floating up on his face.
“I know my confession is sudden,” he said softly, his hand caressing the side of my face. “And I know it must be confusing for you to see this side of me, so it’s alright, please take your time.”
The way he looked at me made me melt like ice.
“I’m sorry I hid my family background from you, forgive me,” a hint of worry fleeted through his eyes.
“You have your reasons, it’s alright,” I replied softly. His hand went for mine and he held it tightly.
I closed my eyes and took some time to calm myself.
“I’m not sure about us…” I started hesitantly. “I’m a rebel at most, you’re a leader among your people. I am in no way compatible to you. I love how gentle you always are to me, and you had taken care of me in so many ways. But the rebellion is most likely going to be very bloody, and I don’t want you to get hurt. I’m sure your parent’s wouldn’t approve either…” my thoughts were a mess.
“You don’t want to lose another loved one do you?” Kakosh’s words struck me.
“Seraphina, the entire Xantara heritage are born warriors, we are familiar with bloody battles and sieges or all sorts. You’re not. Logically saying, you should be more worried of yourself getting hurt instead of me. Please don’t think that you’re in this rebellion alone, powerful warriors and mages across the globe have been waiting in the shadows for this very day. As one that awakened the powers of Drakath, how could I not help you in your journey?” Shiki dissected the situation for me calmly.
Now this was the strict, instructor side of him I knew.
“I’m sure you’d know what to do by now, you have to travel and see exactly how many people are willing to join the rebellion. You are powerful, but you won’t be able to win this war alone. You have no idea how many people around the world are willing to put all they have on the line for the rebellion. So many people have been waiting for your arrival, for a great leader to end the Sovereign’s reign, so please,” he pleaded softly.
“Allow us to fight alongside you.”
Shiki insisted on me taking a short nap.
When I woke up, I would guess it was already around 4 in the afternoon. Shiki was still fast asleep beside me, his hand still on mine. I ruffled his hair and he opened his eyes sleepily. “It’s late,” I said softly.
He opened his eyes, slightly dazed. “The council meeting will be after dinner, do you want to go for some training now?” he sat up and ran a hand through his dark messy locks.
“Sure, I don’t see why not,” I replied, reaching for my boots.
He was staring at a long coat on the coat rack by the door, hesitating whether to wear it or not. “It’s going to very warm, better not wear that,” I said, opening the door. He shrugged and followed.
His home had beautiful lush furniture that contrasted heavily with the simple appearance of the house itself. His living room had white walls that had a dash of lilac violet. It looked like a place inside a palace, I would have never expected such luxury from the outside. The table set in the middle was made of sleek obsidian of the finest craftsmanship. Before I could move on to the other details in the room, Shiki had pulled me out through the door.
His house had a significantly large distance between the neighboring houses so we did not attract much attention when we stepped out. I turned to look at him, the evening sun shone in his amber eyes, his black hair made them stand out even more. I only noticed how tall he really was now that I was standing next to him, I was slightly lower than his shoulder level and I had to tilt my head to speak to him. He ran a hand through his curly locks again. His tan skin shone with a healthy glow. He looked stunning under the sun.
As we walked towards their village’s training ground, we ran into a few hounds that saluted to him with their huge paws and he nodded back with a lazy smirk. The females that we bumped into would normally forget what they were supposed to do and stare rather impolitely at Shiki. I felt a pang of jealousy but well, I wouldn’t blame them, he really was good looking, not to mention the high prince of their pack, and a powerful warrior as well.
We reached the training ground and it was bustling with soldiers that were doing all sorts of training and exercises. Most of them were in their human forms, it was probably easier for them to train in human form. Those who noticed us would nod or salute and Shiki would do the same.
“The grounds you see now would be for physical exercise, we’ll head over to the duel ring and see if it’s vacant,” he led me deeper. The duel ring was a similar one to Mount Sigmora, but instead of marble orbs, it had round, smooth stones set in a circle. There were a few human soldiers there chit-chatting, but they all gave way when they saw Shiki.
“General Zoltar,” a young man with dark brown hair nodded at him and smiled warmly at me. The others chimed in one by one. Shiki gave each of them a friendly punch on their shoulders. They were also looking at me curiously and it made me slightly anxious, but I know first impressions are important, so I put on my best smile on and nodded back at them politely.
“This is Seraphina,” Shiki introduced. “Don’t be too interested in her,” he warned, shaking a finger at them. His comrades laughed heartily in response.
“A woman that caught Z’s interest? Is Armageddon starting?” another guy in a singlet laughed out loud. I almost smirked at the question, Armageddon is starting very soon buddy.
“Sera, I was thinking if you would like to duel with my best soldiers,” Shiki said softly, looking down at me. His soldiers jumped to attention, falling silent immediately.
“You know I have a hard time not killing people right?” I grinned up at him. “I don’t mind, I also need to try out Guren actually.”
“Freddy, get the healers ready on the sidelines,” he ordered. The guy in the singlet ran off immediately. Glad to know I didn’t need to hold back too much.
“Aspen,” the man with dark hair saluted at the general’s call. “Would you mind dueling with Seraphina here?”
“Sure, though it’s going to be pretty hard for me to fight a pretty girl,” he smiled and I rolled my eyes.
I saw Freddy bring 3 people along to the sidelines, two young ladies and an older woman. They were probably the healers.
Shiki leaned down, his amber eyes meeting mine.
“Kick his ass,” he said softly, grinning as he tucked a strand of my loose hair behind my ear. “They still don’t know you’re of the Eshban, Helia chose just the right clothing for you to cover your mark, so don’t use your fire magic just yet.”
Aspen had already made his way to the other side of the ring. He had a lean structure, by my speculations, he probably wasn’t good in close combat. Shiki threw him a sword from the sidelines and he caught it with ease. Aspen’s brown eyes eyed me from afar, waiting for me to make the first move. He’s definitely a mage at the way he stood, legs half bent and arms by his sides. A protective stance.
I prowled around the ring and he mirrored my movements, both of us taking our time to analyze each other’s probable strengths and weaknesses. He made the first move, disappearing from my sight.
Shiki taught me that back on Mount Sigmora. It was a form of short teleportation. Vines sprouted below me but I stood my ground. He’s going to strike from above so he wants me to jump or dodge his vines, common tactic most long-ranged mages would use.
I summoned Guren the moment I saw him coming from above. His sword clashed with a huge clang on my blade and I saw his eyes widening in surprise. He probably didn’t expect a scythe to appear out of thin air. I didn’t wait for him to recover after I deflected his attack, disappearing from his line of sight, silently thanking Shiki for teaching me how to flash step.
He stood on guard, not knowing where I was. His vines were extending themselves over the entire ring like a spider’s web. I dashed in towards his back with Guren behind me, making sure I moved faster than his vines so they wouldn’t have the chance to trip me over or pull me down.
He managed to jump away from the swing of my scythe at the last second, but my attack wasn’t going to be that simple. Turning Guren blade down, I saw an opening for an attack while he was airborne, so I flashed to his approximate landing spot and swung my scythe from below. There was no way to move when you’re airborne and I had expected my blade to cut through him.
When I looked up, I saw Aspen frozen mid-air, my blade inches from him. Shiki’s darkness warped around him, forming a dark protective layer around the poor lad. A few shadowy hands had reached out from the dark layer to stop the motion of my scythe. It was a gruesome sight, seeing hands of darkness protruding from Aspen’s back, but the shadows had successfully stopped my attack before it hit him.
I got carried away, I should’ve just aimed for his legs. My attack just now would be enough to kill if Shiki had not stopped me in time.
“Woah there,” he shouted from the other side of the ring. I swung my blade away from Aspen and Shiki dropped him onto the ring of vines that have started to shrivel back into the ground. He landed with a loud thud.
“So sorry,” I apologized as I helped him up. “I got carried away.”
“You are so fast!” he exclaimed, the stunned look of fear on his face evaporated into a shy smile. “Thank you for the fight,” he extended a hand and I gave it a small squeeze. “I have so much more to improve, do guide me when you have the time.”
A group of hounds had found their way to the ring and were watching our fight. Freddy patted Aspen on the back as he jogged back to the sidelines. Shiki stalked towards me, his boots made almost no sound on the earth. His eyes were molten bronze under the setting sun.
“I’ve never seen that strategy before, learnt something new today. You merged a magician’s tactic with melee battle,” he looked really excited. “Good job, though that would have been very bloody. That stance would be enough to cut Aspen in half just now,” Shiki frowned and I apologized again. “You make me want to duel with you again,” his eyes shone playfully.
“Wow you’re really strong! Would you fight our general? It would be really nice to see someone defeat him, our general had never lost a duel before,” a guy with blonde hair came up to us and beamed at me. “Name’s Roscoe!”
Shiki gave him a friendly pat on the back and chuckled before he turned his eyes back on me.
“Shall we?” the tips of his lips curled up into a smirk. He looked. “We have time for one last battle before we head for dinner.”
“But isn’t it only fair if you fought at night?” I asked and he laughed.
“Just weapons, no magic,” he raised his hands and shrugged. Without warning, he flash stepped to the other side of the ring in a few seconds. I shuddered as he waved at me. The last time I fought with Shiki, he was still much faster than me. It is to be expected, he was a deadly assassin after all.
I swung Guren behind me with its blade down. Guren was supposed to be heavy according to what Helia had said, but they seemed weightless to me.
“You said your father had abnormal strength? There might be a chance that you have inherited his powers too,” Helia had told me before though I was still unsure.
“Fighting your man?” Kakosh teased, his voice pulling me back to reality.
“Let’s not hold back shall we?” Agatha chimed in.
Shiki nodded at me and I nodded back. The duel begins.
He disappeared immediately, as usual.
But this time, I wasn’t going to just stand there. I flash stepped away to his side of the ring, he will come from behind. He always comes from behind. I caught him from the corner of my eye and swung just in time to deflect his attack.
I caught a glimpse of his spirit weapon. A long sword seemingly extracted from darkness itself, its blade was of black steel, with smoke like substance trailing after it. I did not have the time to full analyze it as Shiki pushed himself away from me and disappeared again.
I had to find him first before he finds me. But I wasn’t sure if I could do it. It was like playing a deadly version of tag. I started flash stepping in an unrecognizable pattern. For once, I was not planning where I was going to land next. It may be able to confuse him, but not for long.
“He’s running in S shapes and Z shapes, he’ll be striking from 1 o’ clock next, be careful, catch him and attack straightaway, don’t wait for him to disappear.” Kakosh said in my mind.
I felt something blocking the breeze from my top right and I swung my scythe towards it. It was exactly how Kakosh had expected. I caught Shiki’s sword again as it smashed into the rib of Guren’s blade. But this time I knew I had to push on. He may be faster than me, but my strikes do more damage than his.
My eyes met his. The adrenaline in me was running in overdrive.
I released my force on Guren first, making him topple forward. Immediately, I flashed behind him with the intent of striking his spine. But he turned his body in time as he fell, holding his sword horizontally to sustain the blow and the full weight of my scythe. I pressed on with Guren on his blade, leaning my entire body weight against my weapon as he resisted with his back on the ground. He may be much stronger than me physically, but Guren’s weight was no joke.
I felt something curling on my feet and I jumped away before he could trip me. He somersaulted up to his feet with a huge grin on his face.
“I am so, fucking, in love with you,” he said, panting. His stupid grin had returned. My legs were shaking and I could see him wearing out fast. It was because we hadn’t warmed up properly and it was taking a toll on our bodies.
He ran his free hand through his dusty hair, looks like he’ll need another shower later. “I guess we can call it a tie for today, we have to go for dinner,” he shrugged like a sad puppy and his spirit weapon evaporated into thin air.
The crowd roared wildly on the sidelines. Both of us stared at them surprised. We had been too focused on our own fight to notice the huge audience that had gathered. I sighed as I absorbed Guren back into my hearth and Shiki pulled me into his embrace. I grunted in protest since he was sweating buckets, then I realized I wasn’t in much of a good state either. His amber eyes found mine and we held our gaze for a little while. He was smelly and he had dirt all over him, but he’s Shiki, so I don’t mind.
“You’re going to need another shower,” I gave him a small push. He groaned and we walked back home, both filthy and tired.