Chapter 1: Death of A Lord
"MISS CHERIA?! MISS CHERIA?!"
I frantically rummaged through the supplies in my home, looking for all the possible medicines and remedies for the increasing fallen bodies just outside the door. As I searched, I could hear the blood-curdling screams of men, women and children, trying to evade the offensive Fendelian forces and locate a place of security.
"MISS CHERIA! MISS CHERIA, PLEASE HELP—"
The beating upon my door soon stopped and was replaced with more horrific cries of dread followed by the clanking of steel hitting armor and flesh. The search was futile, as none of my personal remedies would be enough to help the weakening forces on the exterior. With a quick adjust of my black hair ribbons, I started for my door, determined to do my part for my beloved home.
The outside was a hellish nightmare. What was once a beautiful, confined village has now erupted into a haven of war, fire and panic. With a swing of my arms, I dashed from my doorstep to the main streets below. As I suspected, the Lhant militia was in all-out skirmish against Fendel's forces right in the middle of our main square. Each side clad in seemingly impenetrable armor, the opposing forces battled head-to-head in a violent frenzy of firearms and blades. As I watched at the horror occurring around me, I felt a strong hand on my frail shoulder. I turned around and found it to be Bailey, clad in his usual suit of armor and equipped with a steel sword in his free hand.
"CHERIA, YOU NEED TO GET TO SAFETY NOW!" he demanded, he bright, forest-green eyes bearing a look of serious concern.
I tore from his grasp, shooting back at him an equally serious expression.
"This is my home too, Bailey, and I WILL protect it!"
Unbeknownst to Bailey, a Fendelian soldier was approaching behind him, attempting to strike a deadly blow. My expression went from serious to worry in a matter of seconds.
"Bear this name in judgment..." I began to recite, holding my hands close to my chest.
"Huh? Cheria?" Bailey looked at me rather puzzled.
A bolt of lightning ignited behind him, completely vaporizing the enemy soldier. Bailey looked behind him, just as the man started to fade away.
"Ch-Cheria, did you just—"
I had no time for his befuddlement. I ran past him and began to fight alongside my home forces, iron throwing knives at my immediate disposal. A Fendel soldier came rushing at me, flailing his saber from left to right in violent slashes. I took a few steps back in evasion, getting to a clear spot away from the mess. As soon as I felt relatively safe, I put my hands together once again,
"Carve out a ward in this name..." I began; the light radiating from my pale palms as I spoke.
A holy symbol emerged from the ground and within moments, several Fendelian troops dematerialized before me. I made a slight grin as I noticed Fendel's numbers decrease exponentially (whether it be from retreat or casualties, I did not know for sure). The remaining soldiers fought with their lives, violently attacking the Lhant militia with all their remaining strength. Their efforts were futile, however, as our men were able to wipe out the spare opponents with little effort.
A bittersweet victory was now upon us, but not all were in the position to be celebrating, I looked about the square, bodies of evil and good adorned most of the once-immaculate, concrete floor, the rest filled in with trails of blood, fire and smoke. I ran to the main deck below and fell to my knees just centimeters from a Lhant soldier. Outstretching my hands, I began to perform my new-found healing artes quickly. The man grimaced in excruciating pain, one of which I felt myself.
"Are you...healing me?" he asked in a choppy, raspy tone.
"Just hold still, sir." I replied, dripping with sweat as I tried extremely hard to concentrate on the healing enchantment.
The light that was being passed through the man soon ceased, as well as his expressions of pain. He sat up and rested his forearms on his kneecaps, breathing heavily, trying hard not to look at me, the woman who just saved him.
"T-thank you miss—" he muttered, taking off his iron helmet.
I nodded slightly and headed over to the other victims, both Lhant and Fendel alike. In a time such as this, disregard of the enemy was not an option for me. The incantations seemed to come quicker and healing seemed to produce better results as I went from person to person. I was really impressed that my power can do some good. But then, I heard the shouts of Lhant forces behind me. Upon successfully healing the last wounded man on the battlefield, I was approached by several high-ranking officials, who had been examining the work some civilians and I have been doing. The well-dressed men beckoned me over, with sorrowful expressions stained on their faces. I walked over to them and bowed slightly, acknowledging them with the highest regard.
"Are you Cheria Barnes?" asked one of the more elderly nobles.
I nodded again. I didn't want to say something incorrectly, so I spared my common words.
A proper, much younger noble stepped forward.
"We need your assistance immediately," he demanded, "There has...been an accident."
My fingertips touched my lips slightly, covering not much of my petrified expression. Within moments, I was escorted to the down the square toward Lord Aston's manor, a domain I've been inside only a handful of times, none of which include days after Asbel's leave. I was starting to fear the worst. Why did they personally need ME? Was Grandpa alright? Lord Aston? Lady Kerri? Nobody was closer to the high-ranking household than me and my grandfather, and as I stepped closer and closer, the pain in my chest got worse.
I entered the structure alone, only to be immediately greeted by my grandfather. The pains in my chest were somewhat lifted.
"Cheria, I'm so glad you are alright." He said, tightly clutching my slim arms.
"Grandpa, what's going on?"
He released me and hung his head.
"Lord Aston was gravely wounded in the battle."
My hands rose to my mouth again, tears slowly coming down.
"He fought a great battle with a number of men right in front of the manor. Though he slew the enemies, it cost the lives of his soldiers and now...himself."
"Where is he?!"
"He is upstairs with Lady Kerri."
I took no time in heading to the master bedroom. Zooming past the maids, I banged on the lord's door. I heard a gentle "come in" from the other side and I barged in, making no effort to a proper entrance. I rushed over to the bedside.
"LORD ASTON, JUST HOLD ON!"
"Cheria..." he groaned, clutching his gauze-wrapped torso, which was growing increasingly red with blood as he fussed.
"Don't worry; you will be fine in no time!"
I was so scared. I outstretched my hands, quickly releasing the healing spell.
"Don't fuss too much...you'll aggravate the healing process."
He raised his arm and held one of my hands in his, stopping my projection of artes.
"I'm never going to recover, Cheria, don't waste your healing artes on me."
"My Lord, it's not a waste. I want you to live. You...you are important to us."
"You have done much for the people today, so I've heard. You...you are part of Lhant's future."
"Please, grant me one last favor. I need my...my son back. He has an obligation to rule and...and we need him. Please..."
"No, please don't talk like that..."
"Asbel is very important to you, and you to him...If anyone can bring him back, it's you."
"My Lord, I can't promise...he probably wouldn't pay me any mi—I just...I just..."
"Please...just try. Help him understand..."
Lady Kerri was sobbing. Her dear husband's life was slipping before her and she couldn't do a thing about it. Before long, Grandpa walked in, his hands folded together in distressed manner. Aston turned his head.
"Frederic, you have been so faithful to me and this house. I...I cannot thank you enough."
"Lord Aston...please...the pleasure is mine."
"You...and your granddaughter have had a great impact on our lives...beyond which...I cannot repay but my humble gratitude."
"You two may...inhabit the manor whenever you see fit. If there is anything you two need, don't hesitate to use my home as your aid."
"No, sir, a mere servant shouldn't have such an honor—"
"But you are NOT a servant, you are my...my family. Both of you..."
The dying lord let out a slight groan, one of which was saddening to witness. He turned to me and Lady Kerri again, tears of pain and sadness gushing from his bloodshot eyes.
"Kerri, when the time is right, you know what to do."
The blue-haired woman nodded, her makeup running down her face in a big, gloppy mess.
"Remember to...always...love the...flowers..."
With those final words, the good lord passed. His wife broke down at the table near her bed, sobbing uncontrollably.
I arose from the bedside with my hands gripped tightly on my chest. This was the fifth death I have witnessed in my life and like the other four, struck a terrible pain in her heart. Lord Aston has always been good to me and my family, and, in way, was like a third father to me, after my own and my grandpa.
My grandfather covered Lord Aston's lifeless body with a bed sheet and hung his head, the sight nearly unbearable for him as well. The pain in my body was increasing. The sorrowful expression stained on my grandfather's face and the overpowering wails from Lady Kerri, I couldn't stand to be there much longer. The butler walked over to me and rested a hand on my limp shoulder.
"I'm sorry I brought you here. I did not want this to happen. I—"
I couldn't bear my grandfather's words any longer. I jerked from his touch and left the room without a word. I flew passed the workers in the place, who were all hanging their heads after hearing the news. I trotted down the stairs, wiping the endless downfall of tears that streamed from my eyes.
I made my way out to the Lhant garden, which emitted an unexpected array of vibrant color despite the gloomy weather looming above me. As I reached the center of the yard, I fell to my knees, my heart aching uncontrollably. I couldn't save myself from sobbing uncontrollably. Little by little, everyone I knew and loved was slipping from my near-insignificant life. The good Lord Aston...my mother...my father...my dear grandmother...Asbel...Hubert...Sophie—they were all gone and I will never see them again.
My heart was hurting so bad.
"WHY? WHY? WHY?!"
I slammed my fists into the drying greenery around me, creating a small puddle in the soil with my heartbroken tears. All of the sudden, I felt a presence before me. I looked up and saw it to be Bailey. He outstretched his hand to me.
"Cheria, I'm so sorry for all this..."
I tilted my head, similar to how Sophie did whenever she was confused about something.
"You can't blame yourself, Bailey, I—"
"—I should have fought harder. I should have been stronger. Because of me, our lord is dead..."
He turned away from me, balling his gloved hands into tight fists and shaking them. I picked myself off the cold ground and brushed myself off. Pacing over to Bailey, I can see the tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Bailey, you can't beat yourself up about it. You could only do so much."
"Easy for you to say..."
That remark took me by surprise.
"What does THAT mean?"
"I basically sat back and watched you blow those guys down with your magic and your strength. I felt so...so weak compared to you, Cheria."
"Weak? Bailey, I literally discovered these powers not very long ago and you've serving the people for a while. I was a helpless weakling growing up. Now it's my turn to help. And plus, if it wasn't for my powers, you would have been seriously hurt. "
"See, there it is. Look Cheria, I don't like looking weak...especially in front of you."
"For years I sat back and watched you. Sad and alone, I didn't want to get in your way. You are such a special girl and...after he left...I didn't want you to hate me if I..."
"Bailey, you are not making sense..."
"Don't you get it, Cheria? I can never be him, and therefore, I can NEVER be happy!"
"Wait, Asbel? Why would you want to be a thoughtless brat who left everybody that loved him behind?"
"Cheria, I know how you feel about him. Deep down, you still really care about him."
"BAILEY, SHUT UP! I HATE ASBEL! HE BROKE MY HEART AND HE DIDN'T EVEN CARE!"
I started crying again, the memories of how he used to treat me came flooding back like nightmares. The way he left me out...the way he disregarded my feelings...the way he yelled at me the day before his departure. I hated that boy.
"Cheria, please...I'm sorry."
"No, it's not your fault. I just...I'm just so sad."
Before I knew it, I felt an icy embrace of cold iron surround my thin frame. I shot my brown eyes upward and met his beautiful emerald irises.
"Cheria, I been wanting this for the longest...you here in my arms. Cheria, I...I—"
Bailey released me and swung around to my hastening grandpa. My face turned crimson with embarrassment, as I would have if...if it was him.
"Pardon me for interrupting you two, but now that Lord Aston has passed, I feel it necessary to start preparations for his funeral," my grandfather spoke, the pain still evident in his voice.
"Yes, where is he to be buried?" replied Bailey, whose overall sturdiness was somewhat off-putting.
"The memorial shall be in the courtyard beyond the gates by the windmills."
"Perfect! I'll help with the arrangements the best I can."
"Actually, Bailey, I would request that you retrieve the casket for the lord as soon as possible. We had it custom-ordered in Gralesyde, so it should be ready in a matter of hours. Will you journey there and pick it up?"
"Of course, Mr. Barnes, I will make arrangements with the Turtlez to use a Transport."
And with that, the elderly butler made a bow and took his leave. I hung my head, unsure of these feelings inside me. In mere moments, I felt the soldier's grasp my hand, my bare skin intertwined with his metal grasp. He looked at me with a strong yet compassionate stare.
"Cheria, I would very much like to speak more with you."
"The trip to Gralesyde won't be a long one. Can we get together, say, tonight on the bridge?"
"The bridge? Oh, of course!"
Bailey bent forward and kissed the back of my hand. Despite his sturdy appearance, his lips across my hands were light as air. I couldn't help myself from turning red again; the gesture was...sweet.
"I'll see you tonight, Cheria."
And with that, he rushed out of the garden to the Turtlez on the side of the house. Within mere moments, he was out of view and his Transport was slowly leaving the village. Even though I knew he couldn't see me, I made a gentle wave at the reptilian coach.
"See you tonight, Bailey."
Chapter 2: Midnight Rendezvous
Cheria's POV (still)
The afternoon seemed to fly by, as it usually did during the days of gray, and night came it what seemed like no time at all. I wasn't fussed, as I eagerly awaited the return of Bailey. I sat in my house, the stone walls illuminating from the burning lanterns and candles aglow about the space. I got up and began to pace about my dining area, thoughts of the noontime events spiraling through my mind.
The hours had passed and in no more than an hour maximum, the clock would read midnight. I sat at the side of my well-kept bed, pondering the soldier's whereabouts. The man left no later than two that afternoon and now here we are, nine hours later and he still wasn't back yet.
My contemplation was broken upon hearing the sound of a Turtlez Transport making low roaring outside, followed by the sound of its rider cursing at it in his thick, native accent.
I ran over to the vanity near my bedside and primped myself a bit. With a quick adjust of my two hair ribbons and quick brush of my long, cerise-colored locks, I was ready to go. I exited my home to a dimmed square before me. Crossing the rather narrow bridge, the hefty Transport was bound for its loading station. Looking behind it, the soldier was nowhere to be found. Worried, I ran from my front door to the Transport, which was disappearing down the darkened road to the manor.
"Whoaz!" cried the Turtlez, pulling the carriage to a halt upon seeing me figure pass by.
"You are the Turtlez...that went to Gralesyde this afternoon, right?" I asked, my face still stained with the worried expression.
"Yeahz! What of itz, little lady?"
"You were carrying a soldier by the name of Bailey. I was supposed to meet him tonight, but there has been no sign of him. Do you know where he is?"
"Bailey? Grey hairz, green eyez and armor body, rightz?"
"That's him! Where is he?"
"Guy took me on a detourz all over the place!"
"I don't understand..."
"He'z fine. Dropz him off at the portz not too long ago. He'll be backz soon."
"How long ago?"
"Lookz, dollface, it was like fifteen-twenty minutez ago, he'll be backz, he sayz!"
"Oh, alright. Thank you, Mr. Turtlez!"
With that said, the merchant was off. The air was cold, and clad in a miniskirt, I was given no mercy against the calm but chilly winds. I headed towards the bridge, somewhat illuminated by the dimming lamps in the vendors' shops and the shimmering, opaque crescent moon peeking through the parting clouds. Making my way to the center, I rested my arms along the stone railing and laid my tired head atop them. Before long, I can hear heavy footsteps behind me. I tried to the best of my abilities to keep from turning. The steps sounded so...different...from his. I didn't want to be disappointed if it wasn't him, so I stayed put, rocking my weary head back and forth over my now-chilling hands.
"C-Cheria?" I heard a voice say behind me.
I turned around, a stunning force piercing through my body, waking me from my fatigued status. A figure emerged from the darkness behind the item shops.
I crossed the bridge towards the illuminated merchant stations to the spot where the strapping soldier was standing. The man was quite different on this fine evening. His face, eyes and hair stayed the same but now he was donning semi-formal garbs, similar to the informal attire I saw the late lord wear when he tended his garden. The air around him was fresh, smelling of sweet soap and masculine cologne—a scent I never before smelled on the likes of him. It was new. It was refreshing. It was...enticing. As I stopped before him, I noticed his bulging arms cached behind his back and his face flushed in deep crimson. What was he thinking?
"Bailey! Do you have any idea what time it is? I nearly collapsed on the bridge waiting for you...Un-BELIEVABLE!"
"I'm so sorry Cheria..."
"And what are you hiding behind your back?!"
Bailey released his arms from behind him to reveal a quaint bouquet of vibrant sopherias in bloom. The man held the flowers out to me with an innocent but bashful smile. I froze. Sopherias?! Why did it have to be sopherias?! That's the flower—that's the flower he gave me...
"Hmph...Oh I was wondering... what's with that flower you're holding, Asbel? How lovely. So did you bring this flower back...for me?"
"Actually... I um...uh, yeah. Something like that."
"Oh, Asbel! Well, since you were kind enough to bring me a flower, I guess I can forgive you just this once. This is a sopheria, isn't it? They don't normally bloom this time of year. I guess the stories about that place are true."
"Yeah, the hill had flowers blooming all over the place."
"Cheria? Cheria, are you alright?"
"Hmm? Oh yeah, sure, I'm fine..."
"You kinda zoned out there...are these flowers the ones you like? Oh no, they are ugly, aren't they?!"
"Oh, Bailey. No, don't worry I—"
"That's why I was so late, I looking for these flowers everywhere. I was finally able to locate some in Barona and-and—"
The man seven years my senior was still very red. His awkwardness was rather, interesting, to me. He was such goof, trying so hard to please me. I inched closer to him and removed the lovely fuchsia blossoms from his grasp and pressed my soft lips delicately upon his cheek. Feeling the sopherias leave his hands, his bashful turmoil then ceased and was replaced with a cheesy smile.
"Cheria, it is freezing out here, are you sure you are okay?" he said, with a slight expression of concern.
I held the delicate flowers tight to me. My body was not phased from the low temperatures of the night.
"I'm actually not getting really cold, but—"
"—you should go back home then."
I turned to my domain, still brightly illuminating with a soft, warm glow of the wall candles.
"Follow me!" I said, beckoning the brooding soldier.
I hastened to my home, the chills of the midnight air sweeping from one side to the next. I wrapped my arms around to somewhat shield myself, but my efforts left my body temperature unaltered. As I let out a small shiver, I felt Bailey's strong arms around me once again. No longer bearing his iron suit, his touch felt so warm...so affectionate...so different from his embrace at the manor earlier that day.
"Cheria, I can't stand seeing you this chilly," he said, with a deeply concerned tone of voice.
Before I knew it the guard had swept me off feet and was now carrying me in a manner similar to how groom carries his newly-wedded wife.
"Bailey..." I spoke, only to be cut off.
"It's okay, Cheria," he said, with a gleaming, white smile.
Within the matter of a minute, the two of us were back at my home. The lights were much dimmer than when I left, giving me just enough light to see around me. I went to neatly-made bed, sitting ever-so-gently upon the surface to avoid ruining it. I looked over at the militiaman, whose eyes wandered aimlessly about my small cottage.
"So, Bailey what did you want to talk about?" I remembered suddenly, catching the older man by surprise.
"Hmm?" he responded, a bit lost as he gazed at me.
"You told me that you wanted to talk to me when you returned tonight. What's going on?"
He walked over to the bed and stood before me, his eyes a bit nervous and his body a bit tense. I patted the empty part of the small bed, inviting him to join me, which he did.
"Cheria, I have to ask you something..."
I looked upon him with my shimmering coffee-brown eyes, completely out of view with his down-turned emeralds.
"Have you...have you ever been in love with someone that you shouldn't be in love with?"
The question was quite confusing; I turned my attention to my dressed feet, pondering what he meant.
"Well, I think I have..." I muttered in response, clapping my sides of my shoes together.
I turned to him abruptly, shocked that he mentioned his name again. A sharp pain pierced my chest.
"I was a rather foolish child...hopelessly pining after a boy that could never return my feelings."
"How do you know he couldn't?"
"Come on, Bailey, he's a knight-in-training and the son of a beloved lord. What could he possibly want with me? I'm the granddaughter of their butler. I'm nothing to him—"
Bailey stopped me right there and took my hand that laid closest to him. With his other hand, he turned my saddened face to meet his own frowning spectacles.
"Don't ever say that again!" he demanded, his expression bearing much pain and sympathy for me.
"—NO, CHERIA! You are such a special woman. Everything about you is amazing! I love seeing your beautiful face every day. I love seeing how you care for Lhant's children. I love seeing how friendly and warm you are to everyone around you. You've gone through so much and you still have the power to fight and stay positive, even when all you want to do is cry your pain away. Don't even get me started on this morning; Cheria you...you are my angel."
I turned a deep red. The man was so genuine in his expression and in his words. I could help but smile.
"Bailey. You are making me so happy right now. Your words...they warm my shattered heart—my feelings. Bailey I—"
Before I could say another word, Bailey cupped my crimson face in his masculine hands and brought my lips to his. This was such a shock to me. The brave militiaman had fallen for me and I him. He broke the kiss and looked at me with enchanted eyes.
"I love you, Cheria. I've always loved you."
Those words made my heart flutter. Bailey loves me? Who would have thought? Never in my life did I think he of all people would love me. Lhant was a small town, consisting of very few civilians. Aside from Aidan and Ariel, I never saw anyone around my age about the town. My radiant heart flew from my chest and was then seized by this 25-year-old soldier.
It wasn't long before the lanterns in my house began to snuff out. One by one, I started to lose sight of the engaging being beside me. The man brought his lips to mine once again, just as the last lantern extinguished, leaving the abode in complete darkness.
"Good night, my darling," whispered Bailey as leaned me back so I was lying upon my pillow.
That night was a turning point for me. For once, I was...happy.
Chapter 3: Bittersweet Departure
A week passed since the great lord's death, and his widow was left hopelessly "running" the tranquil Windorian village to the best of her knowledge. Countless letters have been sent to the capital requesting the early dismissal of the sole heir to Aston's position, but not once has Lady Kerri received response. The azure-haired mother grieved over the loss of her husband and two sons, believing it was up to her to keep Lhant afloat.
Noontime passed over Lhant with a perpetual sun, gently soothing the skins of her peaceful citizens. Alone in the grand study of her late beloved, Kerri sat mildly upon her husband's throne, arms crossed, reading some important documents as well as preparing yet another letter begging for the return of her eldest son. Such a sight—a once-submissive woman ruling over a grand territory by her lonesome, was both peculiar and uneasy to the good people of the border town. Despite the town's reluctance, the noblewoman was determined to take command of her beloved home, even if it was temporary.
"Lady Kerri, you have summoned me?" entered the elderly butler in usual raspy vocals.
"Ah, Frederic, there you are," responded the woman, looking upon him with the same gentle eyes.
Frederic made his way to the head of the grand desk, a tad befuddled seeing the lady of the house where a man once sat was very intriguing to him but nonetheless, admired her determination to serve her people well.
"Frederic, I trust you know why I summoned you here?" she asked in a stern voice, sounding somewhat like a feminine version of Aston.
"Pardon me, My Lady, but I do not."
"As you know, I have sent numerous letters regarding the return of Asbel from Barona's Knight Academy."
"Indeed, Lady Kerri, have you received word from the capital?"
"Unfortunately, I have not. I am unsure if the academy rejects the reception of mail outside of the city, or if my son is deliberately refusing to read them."
"I'm sure there must be an oversight of some sort. Even Master Asbel would—"
"—Asbel has abandoned his family and home for seven full years. His cache of excuses has finally run out. At this point, I have no choice but to send someone down there to retrieve him."
"Your Ladyship, would you like me to travel to Barona and retrieve Master Asbel?"
"No, Frederic, I need you here at the manor..."
The azure-haired Lady of Lhant shut her eyes and dipped her head down slightly, pondering a more likely candidate to travel to Barona.
"I would like to request that Cheria be sent to the capital."
Frederic was rather shocked at this request.
"Cheria? Are you sure, My Lady?"
"But of course. After all, Cheria is Asbel's closest friend."
"I regret to inform you, but Cheria expresses deep heartache upon hearing the very name of the young master. I'm not sure if she would be up for such a task."
"Regardless, I feel he would actually listen if she was sent there. I don't mean to sound harsh, Frederic, but this of the utmost importance. Will you please summon her to meet me here?"
"Unfortunately, Lady Kerri, my granddaughter is having a romantic picnic on Lhant Hill with Lieutenant Bailey. She is rather unavailable at the moment."
Frederic expected the transformed noblewoman to snap at him, demanding the immediate termination of the young couple's rendezvous. The gall he had to even say such words put him in an apprehensive state. Surprisingly the woman did not stir and instead, tilted her head down again, keeping her composure despite her request taking some time to follow through. She looked at her butler again.
"When is she due back?" she asked, clutching tight to her quill pen.
"Not for another hour, Your Ladyship."
"Frederic, I cannot wait that long. I must ask for the engagement to be called off. I'm truly sorry."
Frederic bowed courteously at the widow, knowing full well that her request pained her to carry out, especially since it interrupted an intimate moment in young Cheria's life.
"As you wish, Lady Kerri."
The elderly man exited the study with haste, only to be obstructed by two militiamen, who saluted the kind butler out of respect.
"Guards, please retrieve my granddaughter from Lhant Hill, immediately!"
"YES SIR!" cried the men in unison, exiting the home without delay.
"Mmm Bailey, these peach gels are amazing!"
"Really? I trained with some Turtlez in the art of dualizing and they said I was 'no goodz' haha."
"Oh, Bailey, they are missing out!"
"I don't care. I'm not missing out on anything..."
He leaned in slowly and pecked my cheek with his soft lips. I smiled slightly, not knowing what to do or say at this point. Bailey and I have been together for a week and it feels great to be happy with him, but I still can't shake this feeling that there is...someone else. The soldier smiled wide at me, a sparkling, white smile to compliment his glittering, green eyes. He held up my chin and attempted to peck me on the lips but, I just couldn't do it, and I pulled away.
"Is something wrong, my angel?" he asked me, his curious head tilted in an innocent Sophie-esque manner.
"Bailey, I think...I think we need to talk." I responded, looking down as I grazed my palms across the vibrant flora around me.
His baffled face turned to a frown in an instant. His head still tilted like a sad puppy, I couldn't believe what I was about to do. I turned to him and spoke in a soft manner.
"Bailey, I'm so happy with you, you know that, right?"
His face returned to his puzzled state, a slight smile growing upon it.
"Of course, Cheria, and you mean the world to me too."
"I could imagine spending my life with you, getting married, having kids, living a life of normality just like I've always wanted."
The man clutched tightly into his pocket, a quadrilateral shape protruding from where hand had masked.
"Cheria, you really feel that way?"
"Yes, I do but—"
"Oh, Cheria, you don't know how happy that makes me. You are my world, my love, you are my EVERYTHING! I'm just so happy I can see you and feel your touch and—"
"—Bailey, please, let me finish..."
He paused mid-expression and slowly went back to his confused demeanor. This time, he knew what she was getting at. He slowly released the object in his pocket and placed his hand on the floral surface.
"There's...someone else, is there?" he asked, a sharp pain noticeable in his voice.
I turned my head again, refusing my want to sob and more so, to shield me from his hurt expression.
"I shouldn't have led you on...I like you Bailey, but you were right...it IS him..."
If I wasn't crazy, I felt the crumble of his heart with my own. I'm such a jerk. This man—the only man to ever show true compassion towards me...the one always there for me when nobody was...has fallen hard at the hands of me.
The man clutched his chest as he arose from the flowerbed. He moved quickly trying not to look at me in the process. I truly broke the poor soldier's heart.
"MISS BARNES! MISS BARNES!" a pair of oncoming militiamen called to me.
Bailey approached the men, each saluting respectively at each other. Upon the end of the salutation, Bailey continued to head towards home, leaving me behind with the two, masked soldiers. I arose from the bed of flowers and hastened to the guards.
"May I help you, gentlemen?" I asked politely with a slight bow.
"You have been summoned by Lady Kerri," replied one of the soldiers in a loud, military-like fashion.
"You are to report to Lhant Manor immediately!"
"Of course. Thank you, gentlemen."
I entered the manor quite anxiously, having not set foot in the stronghold since I saw the good lord pass. As expected, I was immediately greeted by my grandpa, who approached me with open arms.
"Cheria, thank you for coming here so quickly. I apologize for interrupting you date with Lieutenant Bailey."
"Oh, it's fine, Grandpa, really..."
"Lady Kerri is in the study. Go to her, quickly."
With that said, my grandfather returned to his post and I did as I was told. I entered the shimmering study, the sun shining brightly through the windows behind the desk, almost completely eradicating my vision. I walked over to the late lord's desk and curtseyed.
"Good afternoon, My Lady," I greeted.
"Oh, Cheria, no need to be so formal," she chuckled in a modest tone, "I summoned you here because I have an urgent request."
"Yes, of course! How may I help you?"
The blue-haired woman arose from the table and paced lightly behind me, walking about in a rather regal-like manner.
"As you know, my position as ruler of Lhant is but temporary."
"Yes, I've heard. It's quite ridiculous because you are doing an amazing job!"
"You are such a sweet girl, Cheria. No matter, Lhant is in need of its heir and after numerous failed attempts to reach him via letter, I believe it is time to retrieve Asbel in person."
The sharp pain in my chest made me cringe, a feature surprising picked up by a turned-away Lady Kerri.
"Your grandfather informed me of your uneasiness to reunite with him but as can see, there is NO other person he is more likely to respond to than you. I humbly request that you venture to Barona and get him, for the sake of Lhant."
"Oh, Lady Kerri, I will go...don't you worry. I'll make preparations and leave immediately."
"Excellent. Thank you, Cheria."
I bowed slightly and exited the room, and further, the manor. I went to the Turtlez Transport by the manor and paid my fees (lucky I was FINALLY old enough to ride one) and set off for Barona's port. The ride was uneasy; thoughts and emotions of what I did to poor Bailey were swirling throughout my head. I wasn't lying when I said I cared about him...but, this rejection—the way I led the man on to what he believed to be "true love", it was no better than what...what he did to me.
Upon reaching the port, I decided to browse the shops around the harbor as I waited for my ferry to depart. One of the stores, a rare gems and accessories called Talia's, sparked my immediate interest. A quaint, door jingle sounded upon entry of the facility, giving a warm, fuzzy feeling of invitation. I looked around at all this precious items. A variety of crystallized anklets adorned the walls. A large number of expensive colognes, eye-wear and scabbards completed a "men's" section of the store. Before me, a small clothing section of hair ribbons and feminine scarves were available as well (ooo, and on sale too!). For such a small place, the merchant sure had a lot of rare, unique and/or customized items and garbs.
My browsing was soon halted when I noticed a familiar figure at the register. A tall, brawny, silver haired man clad in an armor suit...
I moved to a more disclosed location to avoid being seen. I was curious as to why he was here. Perhaps he was here to purchase some new cologne? I listened in as he talked to the store clerk.
"Bailey, you have returned so soon!" greeted Talia, with her own customer service-like charm.
"Yes...I-I did." He responded, the pain easily distinguished in his tone.
"Is something wrong, Bailey? You seem upset."
"I would, um, like to return this item."
"This custom-made ring?"
"Was the item the wrong size or something?"
"No...it's just...there is no reason to have it anymore."
The store woman gasped.
"Oh no, Bailey, I'm so sorry. Would you like to talk about it? No one ever comes in here so I have some free time."
"It's nothing worth talking about..."
"Bailey, I've known you for many years, I don't like seeing you this way. You are such a good man...any woman would be lucky to call you "hers".
"Talia, that's how I felt about Cheria. There was no other young woman like her. The girl battled chronic illness, has been through heartbreak and isolation, saved many lives in the main village last week and stole my heart. She was my world, my everything, my guardian angel..."
"I'm sorry Talia, but right now, you seem to be the only person I can trust with my life. I'll serve the people well, I'll protect my home but when peacetime returns, you are the first face I want to see."
"Oh, of course, Bailey! That is so sweet of you! Thank you so much!"
The woman examined the ring in its casing, the gem-like, red cryas stone was glimmering so bright (even from where I was hiding), the shine refracting off the ceiling and wall behind Bailey.
"Such as shame, are you sure you want to return this?"
Bailey put his iron-clad hand to his chin and pondered for a moment, and then he put his hand, asking for it back. Talia returned the item obediently but when dropping the item into his possession, he seized her hand gently. Bailey removed the ring from the box and slid the jewelry on her finger, much to my and Talia's surprise.
"Bailey..." she froze, "what does this mean?!"
"Think of it as a "promise ring". I've made one bad decision, I refuse to make another."
After those words, Bailey exited the store. Talia smiled and held the ring to her heart before making her way to the backrooms. To avoid any sort of confrontation. I let myself out.
The air seemed a bit cooler around me...but why? Bailey seemed to have some sort of happiness from Talia now, so why do I still hurt? I am very happy for him, but this pain hasn't ceased. What's wrong with—?
"ALL ABOARD! THE FERRY TO BARONA IS ABOUT TO DEPART!"
I snapped out of my dilemma and headed towards the boat. The voyage was quiet. Like it had been for seven years, I was once again...alone.
I arrived at the capital in little time (having made multiple visits to Barona before as a child, the trip there was no fuss to me). Upon my arrival, I got off the boat and hastened for the academy (Lady Kerri should NOT be kept waiting).
I arrived at the academy soon after. Not much had changed since I last saw it. Around me, students and professors alike were either entering or leaving the building, passing me awkward glances, giving me the notion that I didn't belong. I moved off to the side to avoid any further stares. I pondered what I should do. Seeing all these students come in and out, I was bound to encounter Asbel walking out. I stood quietly and waited.
A great deal of time had passed. Thirty minutes? An hour? I was unsure. All but a few students remained. Suddenly, I heard of two pairs of footsteps approaching behind me. I turned around to see a middle-aged, muscular blonde man accompanied by a younger man—a slender brunette student that looked just like...him! The boy turned when he saw me, staring wide-eyed with his large azure irises, in shock as they connected with my own coffee-toned ones.
"Oh my goodness...Could it be that...It's really you, Asbel?"