Joshua was separated from the rest of the passengers when escorted from the train. Everyone else walked up to the palace via the main street down the middle of the city, but Wes took Joshua up a side street. It was completely deserted, as everyone was partying up the entire length of the main street as the royal family and their friends paraded home.
Nick did not join Wes and Joshua. Instead, Joshua caught a short glimpse of him wearing formal robes and walking close behind Prince Percival. Wes then told Joshua that Nick was a newly proclaimed knight in the kingdom and mentioned now that they were within Kikan borders, it was no longer proper for Joshua to call Nick by his first name alone. From now on, Nick would have to be called 'Sir' or 'Lord'.
When Joshua asked if the same rules applied to Wes, Wes shook his head. "I am still studying, actually," Wes told him. "My education has fallen behind others because my focus turned to Cassidy and my family for a little while, but in two and a half years, I should be given knight status."
"That long?" Joshua asked.
"Yes, well, His Lordship graduated two years before me from the academy, and thus had a head start in the knight training."
An enormous shadow from the sky suddenly moved over their heads as they were walking up the lonely street. Looking up, Joshua found several beasts with massive wings circling above them. Wes seemed indifferent to their presence, but Joshua had never seem such beasts before. "What are they?" Joshua inquired as he watched three winged creatures dive toward their street in perfect formation.
"They are Half Birds," Wes said, raising his head to greet them as each one landed in front of their path. Transforming into humans, the great beasts wrapped their wings around their bodies before disappearing and leaving thick robes in their place. As humans, each of the three that now stood there were extremely tall with very bright brown hair. They smelled like the wind, and looked at Joshua with their bright yellow eyes like he was trash ready to be picked up.
"Good Afternoon," the only woman said to Wes in a very smooth, soft voice. "Welcome back, friend."
"Good Afternoon," Wes replied with a kind smile.
"Thank you." Wes' smile changed when his eyes turned to Joshua for introductions. Joshua wasn't quite sure what secret was being kept from him behind the eyes of all these men, nor could he figure out why the half birds looked at him with such disgust in their eyes. He figured it had to do with him being Witter, but Joshua hadn't realized birds involved themselves in the dog wars.
"This is Joshua," Wes said. "He's a stray we found in Zengrash."
The birds didn't seem too keen on giving Joshua any respect until the moment Joshua felt Wes' hand reach up and cup the back of his neck in an almost loving manner. "Be nice to him, eagles," he said while pulling Joshua closer to him. "My family is alive and safe because of him."
With that comment, the birds' attitudes suddenly changed quite drastically. They smiled, nodded respectfully to Joshua, and stepped aside to let them pass. "Welcome to Kikan," they said before flying away again.
"Don't mind the birds," Wes told Joshua. "They are all a bit snobby, especially to Witters."
"Because Witters hate the half bird breed, much like they hate Sloans, and the birds are bitter because of it."
"I see," Joshua sighed, running his fingers through his hair.
"Joshua, there's one more thing I need to talk to you about," Wes said. "Now that we're in Kikan, we are going to have to deal with you and the war we are in with Witter."
"What do you mean? I've lived in Zengrash my whole life. I don't have anything to do with your war."
"Yes, I know that, Joshua, but everyone else doesn't. No one knows the circumstanced under which you are able to run free in Kikan, and I'm afraid that most Kikans have grown accustomed to putting up their guard at the sight of a loose Witter in the area."
"Does that mean I'm not free?" Joshua asked, imagining himself able to roam only behind a fence of some sort.
"No, we don't want to do that to you. Instead, I'm going to offer you the choice of wearing a collar that shows the strangers you will come across that you are a friend, and not hostile."
"A collar?" Joshua asked, wrinkling his nose up at the idea. "I'm not going to wear a collar!" Catching the disapproving look on Wes' face, Joshua quickly lost the rude attitude in his voice.
"Some people where their collar with pride, Joshua," Wes sneered.
"You're not wearing a collar," Joshua noticed.
"Sometimes I wear it, sometimes I don't, but either way, everyone already knows who my masters are."
"Yes, Joshua. I'm a pet of King Nassar, Queen Alina, Prince Percival, and Prince Ryan. Everyone is their pet."
"Is the collar required?" Joshua asked, grimacing.
"It's a choice," Wes sighed, already knowing Joshua would not wear it. "But that puts you in danger should you ever come across a Kikan who doesn't know who you are." "But can't any hostile Witter put on a collar as pretend?" Joshua asked.
"We have special collars made with magic that can't be duplicated or faked," Wes explained. "But you don't need to know those details unless you change your mind. ...You can change you mind at any time, Joshua."
Joshua nodded, but still cringed at the idea of putting a collar around his neck. The image reminded him too much of the feelings he had about his tattoos. The claiming of property. According to his tattoos, he was the slave of unworthy idiots, which made him feel even more stupid himself.
Up to the ten foot stone wall that separated the palace from the city, they stepped. A small entrance was opened for them: a back door, it seemed, and through the narrow dark passages they moved. After the forth turn, Joshua was already lost, until finally, they reemerged out into the sunlight again in a private garden surrounded by at least three stories of stone masses and windows. They passed through garden after garden, narrow, dark passage after wide, airy one, until Joshua started seeing bright red Kikan flags with a school symbol on them. Another wide field opened up to them, and down several stories from where they stood, on the grassy area, a large group of children were playing field sports.
Wes continued to show Joshua the way to his new residences and opened the door to his new room. "This is your new home," Wes smiled, extending his hand toward the naked bed. "Bed clothes and a new wardrobe are on their way here as we speak, and your roommate should return from class shortly."
"Roommate, huh?" Joshua mumbled.
"His name is Shane. He just turned eighteen last week."
Looking around Shane's side of the room, Joshua was amazed to see so many books. The entire wall was made of bookshelves that left no extra room. There were neatly kept piles of books atop Shane's dresser and desk as well. And taking a closer look, Joshua realized he didn't even recognize any of the titles as actual words of the language he knew. "What is all this?" Joshua finally had to ask.
"Shane is studying to become a doctor. He's very talented."
Joshua sat on his bed against the far wall. His closet was completely empty, and the furniture looked lonely. He was thankful things were coming to fill the space up.
"Cassidy has volunteered to be your tutor, Joshua," Wes then said.
"She was going to take a year off from her work as a teacher at the Academy, but said she'd like to be your tutor."
"Oh, okay," Joshua said, surprised to learn Cassidy was so eager to do that. He was happy he'd get to see her again, though. She reminded him of the maids he was raised by at the orphanage with their caring, motherly tendencies. Cassidy had their same smile, and she also had their same strict, tough attitude. He liked that.
"She'll meet with you for three hours every day, plus you'll have homework. You have full access to the library, cafeteria, and gymnasiums. I don't suggest you wander into the city unless you have Sloan company or a collar on. If you run into trouble, there are Kikan guards within a block radius from anywhere. They may arrest you, but either his Lordship or myself will come and get you out. Understood?"
Within the next five minutes, a knock at the door brought Joshua sheets and a blanket for his bed and an enormous collection of clothes that filled the dresser drawers perfectly, down to the very last sock. His new school uniform called for him to wear a dark red suit coat over his choice of gray, khaki, or black slacks. He was also given clean casual clothes, yet they were still more fancy than the things he was used to wearing. They were a little more preppy than his usual style, but Joshua would try and adapt as best he could.
As the servants were leaving, Joshua climbed his bed to open the curtains of the window there. His view was of a beautiful courtyard with carefully set flowers, a neatly trimmed yard, blossoming trees, and a white gazebo. One single girl sat within the open structure reading a book peacefully.
"Doesn't seem like this is a country at war with anyone," Joshua said. "Everyone seems so happy."
Wes smiled with a glimmer of pride in his eyes. "We are happy," he said. "Kikan is a peaceful country for the most part. His Majesty, King Nassar, has worked very hard ever since he took the thrown a decade ago to bring peace to our land and stabilize the society. Now, Kikan is like a brand new place. The country is healthy, beautiful, safe, and stronger than ever, and the battles have been pushed back to the border, away from our civilizations." Wes noticed a kind smile creep across Joshua's lips shyly. "Are you surprised?" he asked.
Joshua propped his elbow on the window sill and smudged half his face in his palm. "I shouldn't have expected anything less from Kikan."
Wes felt his happiness warm his entire body. His ego and pride in his country expanded after hearing Joshua's words, knowing deep down, Joshua was being completely honest. "Come here," Wes commanded with a quiet smile. Joshua moved to sit on his heals at the edge of the bed where Wes was standing directly in front of him, and without flinching, Joshua allowed Wes to reach up and pet his hair.
This time, nothing burned. Instead, Joshua was surprised to find himself enjoying the gesture so much. The massage nearly hypnotized him, and before he knew it, his entire body was relaxed and his head was resting on Wes' left shoulder. His ears transformed and up popped bright white, pointed ears on the top of his head between strands of soft black human hair.
"I think you will get along with Kikans just fine," Wes said softly. "You should take full advantage of everything we offer. Joshua, you have so much ...potential."
Joshua tried to think of the two different ways his time in Kikan could turn out to be. How good could it get? More ear massages like this? More praise for behaving himself?
...Or would he not be able to control his attraction to underworld and inevitably get himself in a ton of trouble? That would bring more painful bites, and who knew what other kinds of punishments the Kikans were capable of? One thing Joshua knew for sure was that he wanted to stay on Wes' and the other Sloans' good side for as long as possible.
Someone knocked at the door and opened it immediately. Joshua slowly turned his sleepy head around to find Nick stepping through the door way. "Getting settled in?" he asked with a smile as his eyes focused on Joshua still resting on Wes' shoulder while the man's fingers lightly moved away from his ears. Joshua was somewhat regretful he had to pull away, but his eyes had fallen upon a second body behind Nick in the doorway.
The boy was peering around Nick's frame at Joshua with curious eyes. From what Joshua could see, the boy was wearing the school uniform. Very clean. Very neat. His straight, chocolate hair was evenly trimmed perfectly at his chin.
"This is Shane," Nick said, escorting the boy around him to the middle of the room. "He's your roommate."
Shane refused to move his eyes from Joshua as he stood firmly in place with a binder in one hand. He seemed both fascinated and fearful of the presence of an unknown Witter in his room. Joshua felt Shane investigating him, the jury still out about his final judgement.
"Shane, this is Joshua," Nick said. "He's from Zengrash."
"Nice to meet you," Shane said. He was very soft spoken; his words were almost a whisper.
"Likewise," Joshua nodded. This mixture almost made Joshua want to laugh. This quiet nerd's new roommate was a gangster. How could they ever get along?
"Well, His Lordship and I must depart," Wes told the two boys. "Why don't you show Joshua where the cafeteria is and get some dinner together. It'll give you the chance to get to know each other a little better." Nick and Wes moved through the doorway. Joshua waved as the door shut behind them.
The silence was broken quickly, however. Shane's chest rose with a heavy sigh. The tension behind his eyes faded to a kind, curious expression. "So, is it true you saved Cassidy's and Lori's lives?" he asked to confirm the rumor.
"Kind of," Joshua shrugged. He wasn't sure if he liked being identified by that first acquaintance by everyone, but at least it was better than everyone assuming he had anything to do with Witter.
"Did you know ...Lori is my girlfriend?" Shane asked.
Joshua's ears popped upward again. "Really? No, I didn't know that."
"Yeah," Shane nodded, moving to his desk to put his binder down. "She's friends with Prince Ryan's girlfriend, Mira."
"Why couldn't you go to Zengrash with all of them?"
"Because I'm studying," Shane answered. "I can't take any vacations in the middle of my courses."
Joshua nodded. "Of course."
"Well, are you hungry? We can go get dinner if you want."
Shane led the way through the hallways, not giving Joshua the sense that he feared or disliked him anymore. The cafeteria was an enormous room with floor to ceiling windows lining the far wall. Joshua caught many curious eyes watching him from every direction, but he successfully ignored the awkwardness. Sitting at an empty table with their trays, Shane looked back up at Joshua, and his eyes fell upon the dark remains of Joshua's scar on his throat.
"Who was the one that bit you?" Shane asked, daring to mention it despite the possibility that it wasn't a comfortable topic.
"Wes," Joshua admitted.
"Really? Wes did?" Shane's green eyes had widened with astonishment. "I would have suspected it would be Lord Nick, but that bite is worse than I've seen his Lordship make. I've never seen Wes get mad before. He was always the nicer one of the two."
"Well, just don't stand in the way of him and his family," Joshua chuckled.
"Excuse me?" came a soft plea from a stranger coming up behind Shane. They both turned their eyes to rest upon the boy. Shane smiled immediately and moved over to make space for him to sit.
Joshua felt his heart jump with surprise, for he realized he was looking upon another Witter in Kikan. And from that moment on, Joshua found this boy nothing but weird. He had blond hair whiter than the sun itself, and dark, dark eyes that seemed to pierce right through Joshua's soul. A tiny, shy smile was formed on the boy's face when their eyes locked, as they understood that they were somewhat on the same boat here as foreigners in Kikan. He diverted his eyes downward to escape Joshua's gaze after a few seconds, though, becoming too shy and quiet.
And he paraded with two guards, one at each side of him, at all times, which made Joshua wonder if he was considered dangerous somehow. To Joshua, he was too small and weak to frighten him, and he also seemed much too submissive already. Had the Sloans made him that way? Could that possibly be his own fate?
"Good evening, Master," Shane smiled as he bowed respectfully. What was that, Joshua thought? Had he heard correctly? Was this Witter a MASTER among Sloans?
A small blush colored the blond Witter's cheeks, seemingly very uncomfortable with receiving that kind of attention. "Please, Shane," he pleaded in his quiet manner. "Call me Phelan."
"You know I can't do that," Shane said, his head still knelt. Phelan didn't argue further, always giving in to everyone's insistence of calling him by such a noble title.
Joshua leaned back. He'd be content to simply study this odd boy for hours, if given the chance. Every new second promised more peculiar surprises. Like now, when Phelan lifted a pile of papers, books, and notebooks upon the table next to their trays, Joshua saw black leather gloves covering his hands and extending far up his arms and disappearing under his long sleeves. It was a hot day, but Phelan was covered by clothing of some sort over every inch of his body except his face.
Joshua was surprised to find that he wasn't wearing one of the collars Wes was talking about before, though. He seemed like the perfect type of dog to wear a collar: submissive, meek, and unable to argue otherwise. But there was nothing but a loosened tie around Phelan's neck. Actually, he wore his entire wardrobe loose and dirty, like it had been days since he last changed. His hair wasn't brushed, and his eyes looked tired.
"I finished writing what I want you to read about a half an hour ago," Phelan said, handing over a thick, bound notebook. Shane took it in his hands carefully, marvelling it like it was the bible or something. "It would be best to read at least the first one hundred pages before the session tomorrow afternoon." Shane nodded, flipping through the pages one by one, each filled from top to bottom with hand written words.
Joshua scrunched up his eyebrows suddenly when something triggered the image of an old bar in Zengrash to flash inside his memory. Sitting across an old, cloaked man at a thick wooden table. Watching him inhale about a dozen beers throughout the course of the evening. Listening to him stumble through a story and description of his mortal enemy. He was the only Witter Joshua had ever crossed paths with in Zengrash.
"Did you say your name was Phelan?" Joshua finally asked.
He rose his eyes again to look upon Joshua, having to lower them every other moment, though. "Yes," he said. "And you are...?"
"Joshua." He extended his hand across the table, expecting to shake Phelan's black leather gloved hand, but Phelan just looked at it like Joshua would strike him if he gave Joshua such an opportunity. He was used to be treated as such in Zengrash, but for some reason, Phelan had caught him off guard, and it surprised him. For three very awkward seconds, Joshua looked at his own hand before curling his fingers back up and pulling it back to his side.
"I... I'm sorry," Phelan stuttered. "I didn't mean to offend..."
"There's no other reason for someone to leave another hanging," Joshua replied, stuffing food in his mouth quickly before he said any more.
"Joshua," Shane narrowed his eyes. "Don't be mad. Phelan is just uncomfortable touching other people."
Was that why he wore those gloves? Sighing, Joshua quickly got over his embarrassment and forgave that weird boy. "So, are you from Witter?" Joshua asked Phelan now.
"I am," Phelan nodded.
Tilting his head up to look upon the two very tall guards standing over their table, Joshua swallowed, realizing they were actually quite huge and very intimidating. "...um... I don't suppose you know a Witter by the name of Lowell, do you?"
One of the guards peered down at Joshua to investigate his interest in Phelan. "Lowell?" Phelan asked. His eyes widened, and he straightened up. "Do you know him?"
"Uh... I met him in Zengrash last year in a bar," Joshua said. "He was travelling through the country, and our paths crossed one night. I watched him get drunk and tell me tales of a Witter who had the same name as you." Joshua noticed the increasing fear in the boy's eyes. "Are you the one he was talking about?"
One of the guards leaned down to Phelan's ear. "Is there a problem, Phelan? Is everything okay?"
Phelan nodded. "Y... yeah, yeah," he stuttered some more, and Joshua smiled, knowing it truly was him that old fool was babbling about. "I'm fine, Sir. Thank you." Turning back to look upon Joshua now, Phelan could hardly blink. "And what was he saying?"
Joshua smiled and leaned his chin in his fist on the table, fully amused by this secret he stumbled on. "He was going on and on about how you were impossible to kill, actually."
Phelan nodded. "Yes, Lowell tried to kill me three times," Phelan admitted, surprising everyone who heard this.
Even Joshua didn't think Phelan would speak so candidly about nearly being killed multiple times. "You must be immortal, I suppose," Joshua shrugged. "Lowell went on about how you were the most horrible person to ever exist. The scum of the earth. The ugliest, most hideous monster that always got in his way... and so on, and so on..." Joshua fluttered his free hand around in the air. The way he remembered that strange conversation was mostly full of drunk rambling and a middle aged man's bitterness toward the world that didn't turn out the way he wanted.
"Who was that man?" Shane asked Phelan, completely astonished. "How could he say such things?"
"He... was a priest from the Witter palace when I was working there," Phelan said.
"A priest for Zeenon, right?" Joshua asked, remembering a few more bits and pieces of the conversation. "Yeah, he kept mentioning that dude too."
Shane tossed his nose up into the air. "No wonder he was so nasty," he said. "Zeenon is the Witter God of Death, and Phelan is dedicated to saving life."
"Oh, I see," Joshua nodded. "...but that doesn't explain why he was so determined to kill you, Phelan."
"Oh," Phelan sighed nervously. "That doesn't really matter."
Joshua smiled. It most certainly did matter, but unfortunately, he didn't have anything that might bring Phelan to confess whatever secret it was. Shrugging in defeat, knowing his curiosity would not be satisfied, Joshua simply smiled kindly to this odd boy. "Well, I don't suspect you have to worry about Lowell anymore. When I met him, he was on his way to nowhere in particular. He just said he had to get away from it all."
"I see," Phelan nodded in understanding. "You said you met him where?"
"Zengrash city. In a bar."
"What were you doing in Zengrash?"
"That's where I grew up."
"You mean ...you're not from Witter?"
Hadn't he known that? Joshua had assumed the rumors about him had already spread over the entire country. "Um ...no. I've never known anything about Witter or Kikan my whole life."
"Oh," Phelan looked completely stunned. "I... I'm sorry for my rudeness earlier. ...As you may have realized, I don't get along with Witters too well." Phelan then extended his own hand across the table, and Joshua looked at the black fitted leather reflecting the light from the windows. He smiled, comforted to find he may had found a friend, and gladly took Phelan's hand and shook it firmly.
Later that evening, walking back to the room alone with Shane, Joshua noticed Shane seemed a little distressed. "What's wrong?" Joshua asked.
"Joshua..." Shane said, thinking carefully of how he would word his question. "That man, Lowell, who you and my Master were talking about..."
"Yeah? What about him?"
"Did he ask you to kill Phelan yourself?"
That was a weird question, Joshua thought. He had to think back to that night again, which was still quite blurry in his memory. "Um... yeah, I think he demanded it of me a few hundred times, actually," he laughed. "You know, in that drunken, repetitive way, he kept saying, 'if you ever find that son of a bitch, you gotta take him down. He's ruining my Lord's paradise.' ...or something like that, I think."
Shane stopped walking. Looking back, Joshua saw how upset his roommate had become. "You wouldn't try to... would you?"
Joshua swallowed awkwardly. "Man, I don't even know who either of them are. I don't take orders from some strange, drunken bastard in an old bar. I was just entertained by him and his stories, and I didn't even believe Phelan really existed until tonight. Relax, Shane. I'm not going to kill anybody."
"Sorry," Shane said, turning to face out the window. "I didn't mean to accuse you of anything."
"Phelan is just very special to Kikan."
"He is? Why?" Special, huh? Then those soldiers were probably bodyguards for his own protection, not the other way around.
"He's very gifted," Shane told him. "He's only our age, but he knows so much more than everyone."
"Yes. He's a doctor, and a very good one. That's why he is our teacher. And Kikan is indebted to him because ...he saved our Queen's life."
"Really? Wow!" Now that he thought about it, Joshua had heard of Queen Alina dying of some sort of incurable disease many months ago. He hadn't cared back then too much about foreign leaders, and it didn't hit him until now that, yes, she was still alive. She had survived, and it was all because of that odd Witter boy who couldn't have been any older than himself.
"Phelan is one of very few Witters who still worship Zeenon's counterpart, Mishka, the Goddess of Life. That's why most Witters, who still worship Zeenon, hate him."
"That makes sense," Joshua replied.
Entering their room, Shane placed Phelan's enormous notebook on his desk to read. "May I ask you something, Joshua?" Shane said, looking back over his shoulder.
"Of course. You can ask me whatever you want."
"Which God do you worship?"
Joshua's tossed his eyebrows up. "Um... none, I suppose. I was never taught nor cared to teach myself about any of the Gods. Why do you ask?"
Shane sighed. "I guess none is better than believing in Zeenon," he said.
"Is he really that bad?"
"He's the only reason why the war between Sloans and Witters continues."
Shane switched the main light in the room off and turned his desk light on. Joshua settled himself into his new bed, snuggling between the warm blanket and soft mattress. "Good night," Shane mumbled quietly.
Joshua smiled to himself. No time before did he ever feel this comfortable before falling asleep.
okay, so It's a little unfair for me to leave you guys wondering who that Phelan guy really is. He won't become a major character in Joshua's story; he's just here as a guest star. Phelan does not only worship Mishka, but he is also the single chosen being to host Mishka's powers of life, healing, and peace. When he was in Witter, he was beaten all the time because the majority (or at least those in power) worshiped Zeenon. So, they obviously hate Phelan. But the thing about Phelan is that he can NOT be killed by Zeenon, so all those silly Witters can't get rid of him. They bless their weapons in Zeenon's name; they kill for him too, but Phelan is untouchable by any of that. That's why he survives every time someone tries to kill him.
I won't go into too many details, unless you write me and tell me you want to know, but basically, Phelan is a doctor and has found cures for three diseases so far. That's more than any doctor in history could wish for in a lifetime, and my boy is only 19 years old. One of those diseases happened to be what Queen Alina was dying of a few months ago, and Phelan ever so coincidentally wandered into Kikan during that time and got the chance to save her, thus earning the love and respect of all Kikans.
Also, the gloves are to help him control his powers. It is dangerous for him to touch people because he can look into their soul. In order to respect people's privacy, he wears the gloves to protect others.
And gosh darn it! I just confessed almost all of Phelan's secrets, which would take me a story just as long, if not longer, than Joshua's story to expose. Phelan is so cool! He's the little messiah character of this universe. ^_^
so, besides that, this is the end of chapter 6. I hope you enjoyed it! Don't forget to leave a review in my little box, please!