Fortress of the East

2. The Foreboding

Kai had looked like he had been rubbing course sand against his skin at the thought that he was no longer in the Eastern Border "What?"

"I said you're not in the Eastern Border," she repeated, and instinctively his hands were reaching for his sword from the restricted movements of his half-sat position. His fingers froze in midair when he realized his scabbard that was meant to be attached to his belt was missing, along with the bow he used to hunt the stag.

"I confiscated your weapons by the way," she said simply. The space within the tent swayed violently under Kai's livid scuffle. The golden-haired woman was calm at his reaction, even casually having one of her hands on her hip. The two women however, looked slightly exasperated at his tantrum.

"Careful," one of the two women said with a soft voice. Kai stopped moving, and stared at her with a deathly glare.

"Calm down," she said, noticing that the woman was cowering under his stare "Your friends are safe if you're asking,"

"Max? Vale?" he said, voice a little hopeful but his face said otherwise. The woman nodded and exited the tent, and Kai haphazardly followed suit. The stark contrast amid the mild darkness within the tent and broad daylight made him squint in slight pain as his hand rose above his eyes, fingers pried open slightly in between to observe his surroundings. He wiggled his toes, feeling the raw touch of his callous feet on the grass; his boots were taken off. The atmosphere was cool, with sprinkles of water marking little dots on his white chemise; in front of him is a waterfall trickling along the river up to a clear bluish lake. The place was serene, Kai's eyes softened at the touch of greenery and birds chirping above the conifer trees.

"Greetings," Kai turned, and sure enough, Vale sat at one of the logs surrounding firewood, leg crossed over the other. Max sat at the opposite end, legs spread with his elbows resting on his thighs.

"What...are you doing?" the Eastern prince was slow with his words, unable to comprehend their condition.

"They saved us from that flying abysmal of a creature," Vale answered, solemn. He turned to the dark golden-haired woman "Alright, he's awake. Now tell us why we're here,"

"Noted," she nodded, crossing her arms "Now that the Eastern prince is awake, we can proceed with why we took you here,"

"Took us where?" Kai asked.

"Here," she answered, as though it were obvious.

"Where?" he pestered.

"The Eastern forest," she answered again.

"We've already left the Eastern Border," he said, now entirely confused.

"No, the Eastern Border is the territory on which your father had acquired. Anything beyond that is a restricted area," Kai watched as sparks were emitting from her fingers. In a swift motion white, transparent vapour began encircling her palm, elongated until the vapour became opaque to a regal, thin blade, carved with an ancient writing. Vale and Max jumped at the display, their initial unmasked look they had worn before faded with mouths hanged wide open ready to welcome hundreds of mosquitoes. She tapped the blade lightly against the ground "We are within a restricted area,"

She waited for a response, none came when they sat frozen in their spots "What? Good grief, you girls looked as though you've never seen a sword come out of nowhere,"

Vale was narrowing his eyes, head slanted, mouths still hanged loose, wondering whether the woman was truly in her right mind.

"S-s-s-pirit using?" Max stuttered, slightly flabbergasted. The woman merely nodded. Vale linked his fingers from behind his head and lowered his gaze to the ground, elbows resting on his thighs as he looked like he was contemplating on his choices in life. Kai, on the other hand, was just as surprised, but was determined to voice his opinion.

"T-t-that is ludicrous!" he said, managing to forward his words beyond stuttering "You cannot expect us to not be horrified by what you just did! That witchcraft is forbidden in the Spectrum Continent,"

"You shouldn't. It is your destiny to become Spirit Warriors one day,"

"What?" Kai and Vale spoke at the same time. Max was silent, still not recovering from the previous sight.

"Sit down, prince," she gestured her blade on the log, motioning him to sit.

"No," was his immediate response.

"Don't be a prick,"

"It is your highness," Kai replied with as much venom and emphasis.

"Sorry. Don't be a prick, your highness," the woman replied with equal measure, smiling a sarcastic smile.

"Just sit, Kai," Max uttered amidst their squabble.

Kai ignored him "You really think a commoner like you has the right to talk to me in such a manner?"

"Not unless we're of the same status," she replied "I am also a princess of the Angini Kingdom,"

His eyebrows knitted in response "An Angini princess?"

"That's right," she said with a smirk "Now sit down, unless you wish to deal with my witchcraft or what else you think my people does,"

A hand caught on his sleeves before Kai was able to reproach her. His gaze met Vale's, emerald eyes pleading him to calm down lest they think they were to cause them further harm. Kai took a sharp intake of breath, slowly rotating around the log to sit beside the Western prince, gingerly adjusting his comfort on the rough surface. The woman nodded in satisfaction, her hand on her chest for self-introductory "I am Princess Kikyo, youngest daughter of six other sisters from the Angini Kingdom. And these," she turned, rotating her sword to their direction. Kai finally noticed their presence; the same two women in the tent "Are my associates, Anna. A legendary swordswoman in the Angini's Knight Division,"

Anna, dark opaque eyes, batting her short, black hair curled at the tip. She was noticeably older than the two, perhaps already in her thirties, dressed in a frilly white blouse tucked in tight, black pants. Kikyo then motioned her sword to the other woman.

"Arreis," a petite, auburn-haired woman nodded slightly, eyes a shade of topaz in a simply green frock, with a matching bodice "A fellow healer and protector in the Angini's Knight Division,"

"Forgive us if we were too forward," she said apologetically, one palm placing on top of the other in front "But as of now urgency is a must, and the future is foreboding,"

"Foreboding?" Max wondered "What's happening?"

"Goodness, men, have you no interest in the issues of your kingdom?" Kikyo started "Surely you were not a little suspicious of the administrations?"

"I doubt we have any say in the matter until our coronation," Vale said testily.

"It's not exactly their fault," Anna assured her "I doubt this is something the Parliament would indulge in complete outsiders such as them,"

The three men continued to be confused by their conversation, which prompted Vale to ask "What are you on about?"

"That bird that attacked you," Kikyo explained "Is a very dangerous beast that was temporarily released from his sleep. Errois,"

Max widened his eyes, a mix of child-like demeanour present in his expression "Errois?"

Vale turned to him "You know this, Max?"

The young Count gave a careful nod. He was always readily eager to share his own knowledge of the matter "I read he was a creature that roamed alongside other Great Beasts at the time, including the Demon Dragon and two other legendary phoenixes. But the creature was meant to be a fossil by now,"

"Beasts can turn into spirits," Anna explained "And spirits can be used by spirit users,"

"We are not interested in your witchcraft," Kai muttered, crossing his arms.

Kikyo batted her hand in dismissal, earning a distressed growl from the young Eastern prince "Believe what you want. If it were me, I needn't to rely on your help. However you are the heirs to the Four Beasts, the Spirit Warriors and we need you to help us seal Errois,"

They were silent. The cooling ambience no longer merited the serenity they felt before. They were oddly in thought, mulling over what they had heard, processing the idea. Kai, deep within his core, knew that something that wrong with his kingdom, judging from the incident with his deceased family member, Rail. However, so much was happening, knowledge chucked and overlapping that he was unable to throw away the foundations that have shaped the Great Nation today.

A mental jab suddenly pricked into his head. He winced at the headache, rubbing his temples. He was unaware that Kikyo was silently observing his movements "I..." he paused, abruptly standing up as Vale and Max looked at him in alarm "I can't. I can't do this. You will have to find someone else to help you,"

Kikyo closed her eyes "We can't find anyone else, you are the sole heirs to the Spirit Warriors,"

"Then find some other Spirit Warriors, not us," Kai retorted.

"If we have the choice we would not even approach you fools," her voice began to rise, growing increasingly impatient as time passes by despite her initial composure.

"I also cannot, Milady," Vale agreed, standing up. He was less expressive in his objection, but was indifferent to it nevertheless "Forgive me as I am not to dismiss a lady's distress, however I can't afford a risk at the expense that my time as ruler will bring forth a dark premise if I were to agree. I must decline,"

Max watched the two men, and slowly followed as well, giving an apologetic head bow to Arreis, who was nearest to him. Arreis gave a similar bow in return, but her eyes were downcast. Kai had already worn on his boots and procured their weapons, pulling the reins to his stallion as the beast neighs in response. Vale, giving his beast a gentle pat to the side of his face, was already on its back, pulling the saddles so that they were in the direction of the exit. Just when they about to depart, Kikyo spoke up "Has it occurred to you that your system is flawed?"

Kai stopped moving, turning back to the princess and staring at him in bewilderment "Excuse me?"

"Have you considered why it was illegal in the first place? To prevent you from ever knowing of this information," the sword in her hand dissipated as she said this "The Spirit Warriors have existed for generations. Your ancestors have done it, because they realize the responsibility and now it is passed on to you. But clearly you have defined your roots as the Great Nation Royal. A land rich in shallow glory but refusing a kingdom in need at your own benefits,"

"Milady," Vale ushered. He was very gracious for their hospitality, but now was cautious of their presence and Kai's temper.

"And you clearly are at a loss at our reason," Kai replied, voice clearly at the edge of anger after being patient for so long "The law clearly forbade the use of spirit using alongside staunched grounds that it is an extremely dangerous practice,"

"Your kingdom only forbade it because it allowed you to keep yourselves outside of these borders," Kikyo shot back "You may think you are a free man once you become king but you are as confined a slave is to his master,"

"Are you trying to patronize me by saying that for a hundred years the Great Nation has no reason banning a practice that is a blatant risk to the human soul?" Kai began closing the distance between them in great speed. By instinct, Anna moved forward, and the only thing that was preventing him from strangling the young princess was a sword Anna had readily drawn. The blood firing through his being dwindled, but he was staring at Kikyo though gritted teeth "Let me repeat it again. You are asking for something unimaginable. You are asking for suicide. And you are asking for the impossible,"

They glared at each other, long and hard. Kikyo looked neither unfazed nor intimidated by what he said, though she was unusually quiet. Kai was surprised that instead of throwing in a argument, the princess turned about and sat on the log, her eyes gazing unblinkingly to the worn fireplace.

"Sometimes spirit using is not a choice," she said after in deep thought "For years, my ancestors have helped in sealing the Great Beasts. Because we did not have the same mark as the Spirit Warriors, our people used a great amount of power. Many people were successful, however," she closed her eyes, as though blocking an unbearable pain "They died in the process,"

The air around them became silent. Anna looked sideways and Arreis made no effort to show her sorrow. Max watched this, mouth parted slightly while Vale looked sympathetic, but was determined to mask it with indifference.

"You talk as though your people have been suffering from this practice for a long time. After the war the Great Nation ended their ties with us. And we had to fend from the Beasts because we knew the demise if we don't continue. You might have lost hundreds of soldiers, but we lost thousands of innocent lives and counting,"

Kikyo snapped out of her dazed train of thought "Go if you want," she retorted, batting her hand to him "Errois will be dealt the usual way,"

"Forgive us," Max mumbled, but was lost on deaf ears.

When Kai was about to turn, fire shot out of the worn fireplace, red flames prancing in life. Kai flinched in surprise, but cursed and continued to his beast, knowing that the princess had probably done that to scare him. He failed to see the shock in her face however as they exited the open field.


Silence continued between them. After the intense disputes they were tired, exhausted beyond compare that days had probably passed without them realizing. They never asked how long they had been on the camping grounds considering that it's still broad daylight. Max was noticeably behind the two, gaze straight at the two's hunched back, thought he was staring at nothing in particular. He mumbled "They have lost many of their people,"

"Spirit using is dangerous, Max," Vale answered "It inhibits your free will as a result of the spirit within you,"

The count shook his head in disagreement "But this is ridiculous, Vale,"


"Forgive me, Vale," Max cut him off. He dismounted off his horse as Vale slowed his pace, back still turned to him "But I shan't accept the idea of letting many innocent lives be taken away out of our own selfish conduct. If we have the ability to help then perhaps-"

"Perhaps what, Max?" Vale turned his beast about, dismounting as well and shortening the distance between them "What if we died? Who will take care of the kingdom? We," he pointed at himself and Kai behind him, who was oddly quiet "Are the future leaders of the Great Nation. This plight is not our concern. I may be behaving with a selfish conduct, but if they have settled on an approach that is obsolete then it's best we not interfere,"

Max threw his hands in the air and grunted in frustration, and Vale only managed to run through a vexed look. He had never seen Max worked up over any subject "They have used that approach for many years yet why are they asking for our help now? There is something they have not informed us about the beast. That same beast was about to kill us, Vale. If that beast was sealed within their territory then how did it manage to travel from across the seas to the Spectrum Continent?"

Vale had already turned his back on him before he could say further on the issue. He creased his eyebrows. Kai's black stallion was around; but the owner was nowhere to be seen.

"Kai?" the knight mumbled, and Max, who was a mouthful prior to this discovery, had incited a fear that Vale had dared not uttered.

"I believe someone is trying to kill us,"

A tree behind them shook. The sound of leaves rustling alerted Vale to a possible danger, and it in his body's hasty swirl he reached for the sword near his hip. Max turned his body sideways, dazed by the sound, unsure whether he should back away from Vale's pointy grasp or stay in his place in case of paranoia.

"Vale," Max said, voice quiet but unmistakably shaking.

Vale placed one index finger on his lips to silence him, and returned to his hilt's grasp. He moved forward, and Max stepped sideways. The rustling stopped, but Vale remained alert, until a smack to the head caught him by surprise.