Chapter 11 - The Beginning
I laid on the bed, waiting patiently for Seraphina to finish her shower. She had insisted that I went first since I was drenched in sweat. Her scent had lingered on my bed. It was sweet and alluring. For some reason, it reminded me of apples and peaches. I couldn’t help recalling how shy she was when I embraced her for the first time.
She doesn’t seem to remember she was the one who snuggled up to me back on Mount Sigmora, I remembered her telling me she couldn’t sleep. It became a habit of hers to curl up beside me each night, she said my presence eased her.
I wonder if she would still do that now.
The bathroom door clicked and she stepped out in a mist of hot steam. Her dark red hair was still damp from the shower. There were water droplets on her collarbone and I was very tempted to kiss them away. She was wearing a white long-sleeved blouse and a black skirt.
Darkrai whistled in my mind.
Helia had very good taste, she had also been very careful in choosing clothing that fully concealed Seraphina’s Eshban mark that was imprinted on her chest. She probably chose to wear that because we had to attend the council meeting later.
I stood up and reached for the black leather coat on the hanger. It was my favorite piece of clothing. As I pulled it on, Seraphina eyed me with her scarlet eyes. I turned to her and she shrugged.
“It fits you, you look really good in that.”
“Thank you,” I said softly and smiled, “You look beautiful.”
She looked down, embarrassed. She shouldn’t be, I was only stating the obvious.
We walked out of the house and went towards the city square, dinner is served there as our people enjoy eating together. I took her hand in mine, they were so small I could grasp both of them in one hand. She was a very petite woman, only slightly taller than 5 feet. It was a wonder how so much power could exist within such a tiny vessel.
When we reached the city square, Seraphina seemed to be shocked that we ate outdoors. It was only normal since we were originally hellhounds after all. A bonfire sat in the middle, burning bright. A series of tables circled the fire, those were the tables for the council members and higher-ranking hounds. We use tables as they are mostly in their human forms. Our hounds feasted beyond the circle, some of our hounds preferred using bowls, some simply preferred tearing the meat off the carcasses on the ground. It was a welcoming sight, I could see deer and wild boars all over the place. My troops had definitely did a great job of keeping them happy while I was away.
I noticed a few maidens looking at me and I pulled Seraphina closer to my side. The daughters of the nobles were definitely beautiful, but none of them had ever caught my eye. I do not seek beauty, I seek a woman with a sense of freedom. I wanted a companion that would be able to inspire me to work harder, one that has the courage of a lion, yet as gentle as the morning light.
The fire girl had a very powerful aura despite her wearing Guren’s ring, though it had successfully diminished her fiery presence.
Seraphina tugged at my sleeve and I looked down at her. Her deep scarlet eyes weren’t as vivid since it was quite dark.
“Your parents are there,” she pointed towards one of the tables by the bonfire. My father was waving at me, hoping to catch my eye. I nodded and headed towards them with Seraphina beside me.
“Eat, eat!” he bellowed as he landed a heavy clap on my back. He nodded to Seraphina as we took our seats in front of them. My mother seemed to like her a lot, especially after what she had done to Holly. My parents were humble people, they appreciate honesty.
I stared down at the silver utensils and frowned. This was one of the reasons why I preferred being in my hound form, I could just gobble up all the food. There was a serving of prawns and chicken meat with rice. I munched through the chicken, but stared at the prawns in dismay.
Seraphina took them from me casually, and started peeling their shells off for me. She placed them back on my plate as swiftly as she took them away.
“You’re a life saver,” I whispered gratefully and I heard her chuckle softly.
“So my son, what do you have in mind?” my father asked, his warm golden eyes moving back and forth between me and Seraphina. “Spare me the misery.”
I laughed nervously and placed a second serving of chicken on his plate.
“You might as well hold the meeting here, most of our council members are just around us, and we’ve almost finished our meals,” my mother said softly to me.
I nodded. After making sure everyone was done eating, I glanced at Seraphina. She looked calm and collected, her eyes unwavering. I stood up slowly and the crowd turned to face our table.
I took a deep breath in, I haven’t done this in some time.
“A very good evening to all our respected council members,” I nodded to each table. “As most of you may know, I have been away for a month or so on a short journey with a friend from Gairon. I was lucky enough to get wind of a rumor that have only been passed around in hushed tones,” I paused to check if everyone was listening.
“Have all of you heard what happened to Suyoi?” I asked softly. The crowd rippled nervously, my soldiers rose to attention, their eyes narrowing at the mention of Suyoi. They’ve smelt the burning the night it happened and they were the first ones to scout. I was immediately called away by Land early that morning, and I knew something was terribly wrong. But I never knew I was meeting the Eshban girl myself.
“We heard rumors of Suyoi being burnt down by a fire mage,” Sir Oakley ran a hand through his aging beard as he answered from his seat.
Oakley was a senior council member and my father’s best friend. He used to fight alongside my father and was one of the strongest generals. He was also my teacher, having taught me to wield my earthly powers back when I was younger.
“We have sent some of our soldiers to check, it is true. Suyoi is gone,” Aspen spoke and Freddy nodded beside him in confirmation. The crowd rippled even more, the news was quite unsettling for them as Suyoi was our neighboring village. For it to be destroyed meant that we may also be in danger.
“But there are no fire mages in this era! There cannot be!” Lady Pomona said in disbelief, her bony hands tightly clasped. Her hair was completely white now though she had insisted on keeping it in a short bob, probably in hopes that she would look younger.
She was Holly Pamona’s mother, she had 3 daughters and were so protective of them that she seemed almost obsessive. My mother once told me she had never allowed her daughters to touch anything related to the battle field and wanted to raise them up as perfect women. It made a lot of the council members uncomfortable, it was as if she was preparing them to be married into the Sovereign.
“Suyoi is no doubt destroyed by a blazing inferno, the land was completely charred when we got there,” Aspen stood his ground despite the doubt in the people’s voices. “No natural fire source would be able to destroy the village within a night’s time. We had rushed to the site as soon as we could.”
“If a fire mage has risen, it could only mean one thing,” my father’s deep voice froze the crowd. “The Eshban legend has come to life.”
Some of the ladies gasped in shock, but the more experienced generals within the council had no sense of surprise in them. They lived through the generation where the Eshban spirit was the code-of-honor, they were trained their whole lives to battle like the fearless Eshban’s. And they were the generation that has pledged their entire existence to aiding the Eshban if any were to rise. Their eyes glistened with an intensity that I have not seen in a long while, they may have aged, but they certainly believed strongly in Valkan Eshban’s oath.
“Now for the important question,” I could feel Seraphina waiting in anticipation beside me. “Would we, the most powerful hellhounds of the Fourth Region, the prideful Xantara heritage, pledge ourselves to a rebellion?”
The senior generals roared courageously. But my father silenced them with a wave of a hand. I turned to look at him, his golden eyes narrowed dangerously.
“My son, we will pledge our alliance surely, to one of the Eshban, but,” he paused and placed his hands under his chin in deep thought. “We will need solid proof.”
The council members nodded in agreement.
“I agree. If the rebel is born an Eshban, the chances of toppling the Sovereign will be higher. There has been many rebels these few decades, none succeeded, and none bore the mark of the Eshban,” Sir Balfour, my father’s advisor said in his hoarse voice.
He was my mother’s older brother, and was also my uncle. I have been waiting for him to speak. He leaned on his walking stick, but his blue eyes weren’t on me or my father. He was watching Seraphina.
As sharp as ever, Balfour.
“It is also necessary as I am sure that all of us here will prefer that we suffer as less casualties as possible. War is bloody, and it would require a very capable leader. It also comes with a huge cost, we have lost quite a number of people back in the decades in those unprepared rebellions,” my mother said softly and my father nodded along to her every word.
“Then I have good news for all of you,” I said, a smirk creeping up my face.
Seraphina stood up slowly beside me and the crowd turned to her in surprise. Balfour and Oakley eyed her like eagles. They should have already realized by now that I was leading them towards a direction of thought. They know that I have proof and they wanted to have a look at it. They know me too well.
I could see Aspen and Freddy’s eyes widen in realization. They were among of the most powerful of my soldiers and both of them have experienced first-hand how powerful Seraphina was. And she hadn’t even released her flames yet. They would’ve already guessed that she wasn’t any normal person.
“Greetings,” Seraphina’s voice was calm. She turned her gaze to my parents, I could see the fire burning in her eyes.
“I hope you meant what you said, Lord Zeno,” she said softly and my father’s eyes widened. She then turned back to the council members. She took a deep breath in, her eyes scanning every single table.
Eyes on me.
Slowly, she pulled the front of her blouse lower, exposing the birthmark etched into her chest. The mark of the Eshban glowed like embers in a hot fire, shining pridefully. After a few seconds, she pulled the fabric back calmly.
The crowd seemed to be stunned into oblivion.
The senior generals were the first to react. One by one, they stood up and saluted to the Eshban before them, placing their left arms to their chests. Seraphina’s presence had changed into one I did not recognize. I stole a glance at her and noticed her eyes were radiating with intense heat. I saw a strong desire.
A desire for bloodshed.
I remembered what Land had said when he had first described Seraphina’s powers, because I was seeing what he had seen.
“All I felt was dread and fear when her eyes met mine. They were seemingly of a demon’s, one that has been asleep and who has now awakened to wreak havoc and blood shed across the land.”
“Is the Xantara heritage worthy enough to aid me in rebellion?” even her voice sounded different. “Will you aid me in burning down the Sovereign?” her voice was deeper and it sounded almost hypnotic.
She turned back slowly to my parents who were still awe-struck, and bowed her head slightly with a smile on her face.
The one of fire was waiting for an answer.
She took in another deep breath, and the intensity in her eyes faded slightly. The eerie smile fell from her face and I could see what she was trying to do. She was trying to regain her original self, she was not going to let the Eshban within her take control.
I know that feeling all too well.
Those who had awakened powers would have another form dwelling within them like a parasite. They were the other side of us, who reflected our deepest, darkest desires and bore our pain and suffering. They were our very own demons. Over the years I have managed to subdue the Drakath within me, and it hasn’t been easy.
“… Incredible,” my father managed, slowly regaining his composure. My mother had risen to her feet, the surprise in her eyes were replaced by a deadly focus.
“I shall pledge to the Eshban,” Sir Oakley nodded at Seraphina, knocking his fist on his chest, the determination shone through his gentle eyes.
Aspen and Freddy were the next to speak. “We pledge to your rebellion. We have much more to improve, and we sincerely hope that we can learn more from both you and our prince in the near future,”
I smiled at them proudly. They were my boys after all.
The other senior generals followed suit, but the noble ladies remained on their seats. It wasn’t surprising, not everyone would dare to stand up against a powerful ruling government no matter how bad they treated their people.
“I appreciate your courage, every single one of you,” Seraphina whispered, saluting back to each of them before turning her eyes back to my parents. “But I will need your leader’s confirmation before we move on with anything else. I fully understand the questions you have in mind, and I will answer them now.”
“I am sure the most of you would want to know what I want to do next,” Seraphina glanced at me, her deep scarlet eyes calmer now. “Your prince here had helped out tremendously with my training and upbringing. His importance made me chose you, the most powerful hellhound pack in the Fourth Region, to join my alliance. I chose you, as my first step in my rebellion.”
My people glowed with pride at what she said, some threw grateful nods my way.
“Your response reliefs me, it also empowers me to continue. I may be of the Eshban and I may wield much power, but I won’t be able to do this alone,” I stared at her like a goddess, she was speaking like a very experienced general. But how?
“Born leader,” Darkrai chuckled.
“I will be travelling to the other villages in the Fourth Region, including Ewanna, Delta and Gairon. I believe unity is power, together we are strong!”
The crowd roared, raising their fists up in the air.
“More plans will be made soon, but that is only if I manage to get at least 3 alliances in the Fourth Region. For now, we stay low, until the time is right,” her eyes shone wickedly.
Even my father looked impressed. This was how a leader should be.
“Lastly, you may wonder how much power we have,” she continued, turning her eyes to me again. I smirked, I understood what she wanted to convey, and the council members did too.
“Who dares, to stand againstthe Prince of Darkness and the Fire Queen!” Darkrai was getting a little too hyped up, he was making me excited too.
“Do I also need to pledge in such a formal manner?” I grunted. “Is it not obvious that I’m already yours?” I messed up her hair and she giggled.
“Since when were you this cheesy huh, what have love done to you, for fuck’s sake get a room!” Darkrai grimaced.
“Ah, father,” I turned to my dad, he was trying to process all the information in hand currently and he raised an eyebrow at me, asking me to continue.
“If we join the rebellion, I will accept the leadership offer. I will train the troops personally, I will join the council as you wish, and I will ensure this entire rebellion is well-thought out. All operations are to be agreed and approved of by all associates before we execute them.”
My father had always wanted me to be part of the council, over the years I have declined. He wanted my opinions as I was of the new generation, he understood that things were different from how they were before. I have rejected, I didn’t want to bear the responsibility of all the decisions happening in my village. But now, seeing Seraphina’s bold step, I might as well take up the offer. I will be able to help her more that way.
My father got to his feet slowly and eyeing me and Seraphina back and forth. His eyes were burning with an emotion I couldn’t place.
“The Xantara heritage pledges to the Eshban.”
The senior generals cheered in celebration and I could hear the sounds of beer mugs crashing against each other. I went for Seraphina’s hand, she was shaking.
In the midst of the crowd’s celebration, she turned her eyes to me and I could see a glimmer of fear under her relief. I pulled her into my embrace without a word and I could feel her entire body shivering. “You did it,” I whispered, stroking her hair.
“Now there’s no turning back,” she whispered back.
“I will be by your side, I promise,” I looked her in the eyes, running a thumb across her cheek.
A strong hand clasped down onto my left shoulder and I turned to face my father.
“Lead well, fire girl. Let my son help you in whatever you need,” he said softly to Seraphina and she nodded in gratitude.
“Without Shiki, I wouldn’t be here,” she told my father and he slapped my back. I winced at the pain, but it felt good to have my family siding me this time. He pulled me to a side, away from Seraphina and folded his arms.
“Treat her well, aid her, and make sure you don’t regret your decision.”