- Sorcerer (Master) \ Quidel (Trainer) \ KM4 (Jetta), KM5 (Haul), KM8, KM9
- Kari \ Bahram \ Lenard
- Dugald \ Fulvio \ Taisto \ Ardal
- Rebels: Dana, Tarmo, Gareth
Previous Events Reminder:
- Helen was avoiding Sterling. Paloma told Helen to talk to Sterling, while Sorin told Sterling to talk to her. ( Ch. 28)
- Quidel (Trainer) sent KM9 and KM8 to watch over Hika. ( Ch. 29)
- Lenard and Taisto were investigating tracks separately to find the princess. They didn't know the other was after the princess. ( Ch. 28)
- The rebels in the village were trying to figure out what Lenard's group and Taisto's group wanted. ( Ch. 28)
Chapter 29: Isn't this what you wanted?
Sterling took a deep breath as he stepped out of the house. The fresh cool air that entered his system had helped clear his mind. Looking out from the porch, the view was hazy with morning mist covering the land. He was planning to visit Sorin at the cave that day. Walking down the steps, he saw Helen by the well, drawing water. He took one step toward her, but stopped himself immediately. She probably doesn't want me to help her, Sterling thought as he recalled what happened last time. Should I talk things over with her now? He took another step but stopped again. Maybe I should give her more time. He sighed and turned around, walking away.
Just then, someone tucked on his arm and pulled him to the side of the house, hiding from Helen's view. Sterling looked over and saw it was Paloma, who was holding a bunch of logs under her other arm. He asked, "What are you doing here?"
"I am getting tired of you two," Paloma said out of the blue, as she released his arm.
"What are you talking about?"
"You and Helen have been avoiding each other, haven't you?"
Sterling sighed, but didn't say anything. Is it that obvious?
"Helen told me everything. I urged her to talk things over with you, but I guess she wouldn't." Paloma demanded, "Why don't you talk to her then?"
"I don't want to force her. She probably needs more time to think. I'll wait till she's ready."
"This is ridiculous. How can you be this slow? If you keeps on like this, both of you will be old and wrinkly by the time you get together," Paloma shook her head disapprovingly. "I can't stand this anymore. You two are killing me with the way things are. You should go talk to her."
"No buts! Do you know why she rejected you?"
Sterling shook his head, "You know?"
"Helen's concerned about her status. Since she's a maid, she thinks that she's not a good match to you," Paloma explained.
"What?" Sterling widened his eyes astonished. I thought she was just surprised, and needed time to think. It never came across my mind that she would be troubled by this sort of things. I need to explain to her immediately. He walked off to Helen, forgetting Paloma was still standing there.
Helen was pulling up a bucket of water when Sterling came to her side. "Come with me," Sterling grabbed her arm and dragged her into the forest. There was no time for Helen to react. By the time she realized what was going on, she was already in the forest.
The air was a bit chilly. The morning mist hadn't completely cleared away yet, and the sun was not up on the sky. With the heavy foliage and the absence of sunlight, the forest was dark and gloomy.
Helen was standing right in front of Sterling with her hands held by his. Turning her head away from him, she asked softly, "Sir Sterling, What are you doing?"
If I beat around the bush, she'll just evade the question. In this case, I should ask her outright. With that thought in mind, Sterling asked, "Why did you reject me?"
Helen wasn't prepared for his directness. She stuttered, "I…I…"
Seeing that she was having difficulty finding her words, Sterling answered for her, "Because you are only a maid and I am a knight? You fear that if you are with me, others will talk behind your back and laugh at you? Saying that you don't know your position?"
"No! That's not it. I don't care about what others say about me." Helen pulled her hands away from his grasp and turned her back to him. She continued in a small voice, "But I do care what they say about you. If I'm with you, I would impede your career advancement, because others will look down on you."
"I don't care as long as I am with you," Sterling declared firmly.
Her back was still turned towards him, when she said, "I don't want to be your burden. I would only drag you down…"
"I said I don't care! So, you shouldn't concern yourself about it either." Sterling grabbed her shoulders and turned her around. How can I make you understand?
"Sir Sterling, I am merely a maid. I am not right for you," Helen persisted, as she looked up sadly at him. "How can someone so outstanding like you fall in love with someone so ordinary like me?"
Sterling's eyes looked straight into hers. His eyes were so full of emotions and so intense that Helen couldn't look away from them. While she was captivated by his eyes, she heard him said, "No matter whom you are, a beggar, a commoner, or a princess. I don't care. All I know is that I love you, Helen. It doesn't matter what status you have, what role you play in this society, you are you. I love you as a person, not your title."
His voice was so warm and his words were so sincere that Helen couldn't do anything but accept his emotions. She was moved to tears despite herself, as she whispered, "I love you too."
Upon hearing those words, Sterling embraced her small body tightly into his arms.
"Sir Sterling, I…"
"Call me Sterling," he said softly.
"Umm…," Helen smiled happily in his chest.
Sterling was also overwhelmed by happiness. He had never felt such elation in his life, such fullness in his heart. At this moment, he was willing to give up everything he had just to have her by his side. I will cherish you. I will do my best to make you happy. I promise you.
By the time they parted, the mist had cleared away and the sun was up. Streaks of sunlight shone onto them, as they smiled to each other. They happily acknowledged that it was a new beginning for both of them.
That day afternoon, Hika went out for a walk after getting Paloma's permission. Since her condition hadn't fully recovered yet, Paloma told her not to go too far away.
It was nice and sunny during the morning, but clouds had gradually gathered in the sky as the day went on. Hika lifted her head, closed her eyes, and took in some fresh air. She grinned as she recalled Sterling and Helen coming back in early morning, holding hands with an embarrass expression, Looks like those two are finally coming along. It's about time too.
Suddenly, Hika heard some rustling sounds from behind. When she swerved around, she saw a body descended to the ground from the tree branch above. The person standing in front of her was a tall, lean woman, wearing completely in black with a cape. Her long brown hair was tied at the nape of her neck and her face was covered entirely by a mask. That look! That outfit! It's the same as the woman who saved me in Dameiros, Hika realized as she continued to inspect the person. It must be her.
"Sorry if I scared you," the woman apologized as she took off her mask.
"Are you the person who saved me in Dameiros?" Hika asked, while she checked out her face.
"Yes," the woman replied warmly. Her beautiful blue eyes were set in a simple yet comely face. She carried an amiable expression with a grin that always seemed to be there.
Something's not right here. Hika was skeptical of the woman's friendliness. The person in Dameiros doesn't give off the same vibes as this woman. In my impression, she's way more emotionless.
"Is there something wrong?" The woman noticed her frowning.
"You are lying, aren't you? You can't be that person," Hika told her frankly.
The woman was dumbfounded by what she said and stared at her blankly for a moment. Then, she laughed, "Very perceptive of you. You're right. I'm not her." Turning around, she called out, "Hey, she discovered. Come on out."
Another woman flipped down from the trees and walked over to them. Wearing the same outfit, she had the same build as the other woman. Her long wavy hair with the shade of dark blue under the daylight spread loosely on her shoulders. She was taking off her mask, when the first woman introduced her, "She is Nine, and I am Eight."
Hika looked over to Nine, and asked, "So, you are the one who saved me in Dameiros?"
Nine nodded slightly to answer her question. Her attractiveness was quite different from Eight. Her face was pleasing to the eyes, but it was so devoid of emotions that would scare people away. Her deep brown eyes, matching her face, were cold to the bone. Her impassiveness was a great contrast to Eight's friendliness. From Nine's demeanor, Hika had no doubts about her.
"I didn't mean to lie to you. Nine was too shy, so I came to see you in her place," Eight said, as she playfully slapped on Nine's back. "But I guess you are too smart to deceive." She laughed, and then grabbed both of Hika's hand for a handshake. "You aren't mad, right? So, let's be friends."
"Yeah, okay," Hika was a bit taken aback by her outgoing behavior.
"Well, we were planning to meet you earlier, but you were always surrounded by people. We couldn't find a chance to meet you alone until now," Eight explained.
"Excuse me, but who are you really? And why did you save me?"
Eight hit her own forehead, and said, "Look at me. I am such an airhead, missing all the important details."
Without waiting Eight to provide the answer, Nine said matter-of-factly, "We are agents from a secret group who serve Princess Kari. We know that Her Highness had switched places with you and went to the other world. Since you are the key to getting the princess back, we are here to protect you until Her Highness return."
"Hmm….I see. So you are Kari's people," Hika pondered on what she said. Just what I've expected.
"Yep, but no one knows about us, not even the princess's closest maid, Helen." Eight put one of her fingers to her mouth, winked at her, and warned, "So don't tell anyone about us, okay?"
"Sure. Are you going to stay around?"
"Yeah, of course. But you may not see us anywhere, because we'll be hiding ourselves just like before, right? Nine," Eight glanced over to her partner, and put her arm around her shoulder. This action didn't provoke any reaction from Nine at all.
Hika thought for a minute, and then inquired, "In this case, how do I contact you?"
Nine got out of Eight's arm, and walked over to the base of a tree. She stacked three stones together with the largest one at the bottom and the smallest one on the top. When she was done, she stood up and told Hika, "If you want to contact us in the future, you can stack the stones like this. It'll tell us that you want to meet with us."
"Where do I stack them?"
"At a place where you always hang around, since we'll be watching over you most of the time. Keep the stones like this for as long as possible without anyone noticing it before taking them down," Nine demonstrated to her by kicking the stack of stones apart. "Afterward, try to go somewhere alone. We'll come to see you when the time is right."
"Okay." Hika was about to ask them more questions when she heard someone calling her name far in the distance. She faced the direction of the voices, and said, "Someone is coming. You may want to leave if you don't…" She trailed off after turning back, because they were already gone. Shaking her head, she smiled and thought, They really are secretive.
Before long, the voices gradually approached her location, and two little girls appeared. They ran up to Hika and panted, "We've been looking all over the place for you."
"Bibi, Tia, aren't you still taking a nap?" Hika asked while stroking their hair.
"We woke up long ago," Tia said.
"Mom said it's about to rain and dinner is ready. She told us to bring you back," Bibi explained, still breathing heavily.
Hika looked up, and found that most of the sky was covered by clouds. The air had become misty, and wind was blowing strongly. Looks like a storm is coming, she predicted, as she held the girls' hands and ran back to the village.
Some trees away, high up on a branch, KM8 and KM9 were looking down at Hika and the girls' departing figures. KM8 commented, "Looks like she believed what we told her."
KM9 merely responded, "Umm…"
"Well, I was supposed to interact with her in your place, because I am better at dealing with people. But looks like I've underestimated her. We'll have to deal with her together," KM8 sighed.
Although KM9 wasn't very responsive, KM8 continued, "I shouldn't have taken my mask off. Then, she may think I am really you. But I thought she'll warm up to me better if she sees my face. Oh well. Can't help it now."
"Don't you feel great that we can take our masks off? We've to wear them all the time back in the headquarters, because we are not supposed to see each other's face until necessary. It was only recently that I finally know how you look like." KM8 stretched KM9's face with her hands and laughed, "You look better than I thought. But of course I am prettier."
"Stop…stretching…my face," KM9 uttered the words out with her stretched face calmly, while she took KM8's hands away.
"Finally got you speaking," KM8 grinned victoriously and pointed at her as if she had caught her doing something naughty. "And I thought I was talking to myself all along."
KM9 was about to say something, but KM8 already blurted out, "Oh, yeah. Don't you think I've lose to you this time. Hika found out I am not you all by herself, not because of what you've done. So you can't say you win this time. We tied, okay?"
"Don't you get bored competing with me all the time?" KM9 asked with a straight face. "You have been doing this ever since we were training together."
"Nope, never. In fact, it's the purpose of my life. I want to win you over and over until you bow down to my greatness," KM8 joked and laughed.
"Okay, whatever," KM9 ignored her. "We need to report to Master and Trainer now."
Captain Taisto was examining a track on the ground, when he heard Lieutenant Ardal moved beside him. The mere presence of Ardal annoyed Taisto, because the lieutenant kept on finding faults on him. Suppressing his frustration, Taisto said, "This track here is very clear. It should lead us to the princess."
"Better be. It's going to rain," Ardal glanced up to the sky. "If we don't find her soon, the tracks will be washed away and we'll never find her."
"All right. Let's keep moving," Taisto waved at the dozen men behind him, and led the way.
When they moved out of a small clearing onto the road, they saw a group of men approaching them from the front. As they got closer, Taisto noticed who the leading person was. He called out, "Lenard! Why are you here?"
The leader of the other group also exclaimed, "Taisto! You are following the tracks, looking for the princess as well?"
"What are you planning to do?" Ardal whispered to Taisto smugly. "Are you going to let them go?"
Taisto snorted, ignoring him.
At that instant, a lighting bolt suddenly struck down to the ground and it started to rain. Thinking that the rain will wash away the tracks, Taisto decided to get rid of the other group as soon as possible. He turned to his men and ordered, "Take them down!"
Taisto's group charged into Lenard's group and engaged in a fight. Everyone found their opponent, while Taisto fought against Lenard.
"Why are you always in my way?" Taisto shouted as he slashed his sword from right to left at his opponent.
Lenard blocked his attack with his own sword, and they held their swords against each other for the moment. Staring across the swords, Lenard said, "Power and fame is not everything. Wake up, Taisto! You can still turn back now. We can still be friends!"
"Shut up! Stop wasting your time. It's too late! I won't change my mind!" Taisto gave a push to Lenard's sword before jumping backward. Without waiting for another second, he quickly rammed his weapon toward Lenard's heart.
Evading the attack, Lenard slid to his opponent's side. In this position, Lenard could easily give Taisto a deadly blow that would be difficult to dodge. However, he hesitated and lost his chance, as Taisto had already turned around, ready to strike again. The situation had immediately changed sides, which went worst for Lenard. While his actions slowed down due to his earlier hesitation, Taisto took the opportunity to deliver several attacks in a roll at him. Lenard could barely hold up. At the end, Taisto was able to plunge his sword into Lenard's left shoulder. Feeling the pain, Lenard quickly jumped away, splashing blood onto the ground.
The rain had quickly turned into a downpour. Their clothing were soaking wet instantly. It became hard to see, as the rain kept hitting their eyes, but they didn't care. All they could see was each other. They didn't even notice that half of their men had already gone down from fighting one another.
Looking at Lenard's bleeding shoulder, Taisto asked, "What is it, Lenard? Is this all you've got? In this case, I'll take you down in no time."
"Fine! If you don't listen to me, I don't have to hold back either!" Lenard charged toward Taisto, as he slashed his sword at him. "I won't let you find the princess! Never! I will protect her from you!"
Taisto was about to move aside, but he slipped due to the wet muddy ground. Lenard's sword cut across his chest, leaving a long bloodline. Although the wound wasn't deep enough to take his life, it inflicted some serious blood loss. Knowing that he would be doomed if he delay for another second, Taisto swung his leg across, tripping his opponent to the ground.
Lenard quickly rolled away and got up with his body covered with mud and rain. His shoulder was still bleeding, but he ignored it. Seeing that Taisto was still struggling to get up, he saw his chance and started to run toward him, pointing his sword straight to his forehead.
Taisto was in a kneeling position when he noticed Lenard's sword was only a few inches away from his head. He closed his eyes and wait for the inevitable, as his childhood memories with Lenard flashed into mind. He finally understood how foolish he was to chase after power, and realized what was the most important to him. However, it was all too late, since the end for him was near.
Unexpectedly, nothing happened as Taisto kept on waiting. When he opened his eyes, a shocking scene came into view.
Lenard was standing right in front of him with his sword dropped to the ground. His body was frozen and his face was contorted in pain. The tip of a blade stuck out from the middle of his body. It had penetrated his torso from behind. When the blade was retrieved by its owner, blood spurted out of the wound onto Taisto's face, and Lenard's body dropped lifelessly onto the ground.
Taisto looked up in horror, and saw Lieutenant Ardal standing there. Shock quickly gave way to resentment, as he stared at him with rage and uttered in a shivering voice, "Why?"
"You should thank me for saving your life," Ardal said leisurely as he held his sword under the rain to wash the blood away. "Look around you. The tracks are gone. Everyone died, fighting one another. We could never find the princess. If not because I need someone to take the blame for this failure, I wouldn't have saved…" His voice was cut off abruptly, as he found his throat slit open. He stared at Taisto, the person who did this to him, but it was already too late, as he dropped down to the ground.
Throwing his sword away, Taisto knelt down and held up Lenard's upper body. "Lenard! Lenard!" He called out desperately.
Responding to his call, Lenard's eyes flickered and opened slightly. He reached up his hand weakly, and Taisto grasped it.
"To tell you the truth, I'm a bit relived that it's me who's dying. Because that means you don't have to die by my hands," Lenard said feebly. "I really was trying to kill you, but I'm glad that I didn't at the end."
"No! No! Don't die!" Taisto yelled as tears flowed down his cheeks.
Blood continued to gush out of his open wound, as Lenard asked, "Why are you crying? Isn't this what you wanted?"
"Yes! I wanted to get rid of you, but…I…I…," Taisto couldn't form another word, as sobs raised up his throats.
Lenard felt his consciousness gradually slipping away. He used his last strength to say, "You still have a long life ahead of you. Cherish it. Although I disapprove the path you choose, I still wish for your happiness. I'll pray for you in the other world." His voice slowly toned down, as he took his last breath and finally closed his eyes.
"NO!" Taisto called out from the bottom of his heart. He embraced Lenard's body, while the grief sank in. He shouted, "Why? Why? Why did this happen? Why did I choose power over you? Why? If I'd listened to you, this would never happen."
Taisto cried out his regrets as the heavy rain continued to pour down from the sky. When he finally calmed down, it was night and the rain had become a drizzle. He looked around him, and saw that he was alone. Everyone had died, including his men and Lenard's men. Taisto picked up Lenard's body and stood up. "I'll never forgive myself…but I'll be sure to make up to you," he muttered to Lenard's body as he walked away, leaving all the dead bodies behind.
"What did you say?" Dana exclaimed during the village secret meeting held inside the stone cabin.
A young man repeated what he just reported, "The two groups of soldiers that were snooping around Mannelivar were here to search for the princess. I overheard their conversation when they were fighting each other."
"That's great news! If we could get hold of the princess, we can use her against the government. Not only can we make her our hostage, we can also make her tell us their military secrets," the old man, Tarmo, commented, as he stroked his goatee. "So, what happened to those soldiers now?"
"All of them are dead, except one, who went away," the young man replied. "I don't understand why they would fight against each other if they all come from the court."
"I guess they belong to different power factions. They're struggling over power, instead of caring about their people. What a corrupted government!" Dana said in disgust.
The dozen villagers in the room nodded their heads in agreement.
"Don't you think it's a great coincidence that Hika's group comes to our village when this happens?" Tarmo thought out loud.
"Are you implying that they have something to do with the soldiers?" An elder asked.
"Perhaps the princess is one of them," Tarmo suggested.
"You're jumping to conclusions here," another middle-aged man argued, "There are three women in their group. Although they all have the looks of a princess, I don't see how they can be one. Paloma is too good as a healer to be a fake. Helen is too obedient and dependent. She acts more like a maid. As for Hika, she behaves too casually, and she doesn't carry the grace of a princess."
"Hmm…you may be right," Tarmo considered.
"It's too early to make a conclusion, but we shouldn't leave out any possibility," Dana said. "I'll try to find out more about them. But if they really are related to the princess, we'll take them in. We can't miss this opportunity." She scanned around to see if anyone objects. When her eyes reached Gareth at the corner of the room, she could see the disapproval in his expression. She wondered why he hadn't said anything during the entire meeting, since he had been suspecting Hika's group all along. Not understanding what's on his mind, Dana decided to ignore him for the moment, and continued to discuss other issues with the villagers.
To be continued….
A/N: Please leave a review before you go. Thanks.
This chapter may leave you emotionally exhausted, since so many things have happened. Sterling and Helen's situation has finally resolved. What do you think of their confessions scene? KM9 is back, and KM8 is introduced. What do you think of them? Taisto and Lenard's situation is also resolved. Did you expect how it turned out? What do you think of Lenard's death? This is the first time I kill off a character. Do you want to kill me for killing him? Haha…
Next chapter will be mostly on Kari's side. More actions from the spies. Please look forward to it.