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Though his eyes were burning and tearing-up again, he couldn’t help smile when Black nudged him gently on the chest, lowering his head to obviously ask for some petting. Complying with its silent request, Snow blinked and looked around. The Fortress was deadly quiet, compared to the bustling movement of the day before. MenTar was strapping some bags to another horse’s saddle while ZenTar was showing the monster a large sheet of paper.

They were standing outside, in front of the Fortress’ main entrance, its large wooden doors now closed and locked, guarded by two men that, by the looks of it, were staying behind.

Still, even though the bright daylight stung his eyes, he didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. He was wearing the softest and warmest clothes he’d ever touched in his entire life. Sure, he had had to roll up his brown pants and the sleeves of his equally brown tunic were so long that covered both his hands, but he’d never point out those small things as defects. His boots too, were warm and soft, and above all didn’t have any holes in them, not even on their soles. And the dark-gray cloak strapped around his neck, though a bit heavy on his shoulders, reached all the way to his ankles promising to keep the cold at bay. Above all he was dressed, decently dressed for a change. And that mere fact brought him a reassuring sense of safety.

“We’re ready, Calzai,” said another voice and Snow blinked again, turning to see two other men exiting the stables, each one guiding his own horse.

Instinctively stepping closer to Black, he wondered if they were going to make him ride his own horse as well. It was true he wasn’t as afraid of them as he’d been before and, after the monster’s indications, he more or less had understood the basics of ridding. But he was far from feeling confident enough to ride one on his own, especially after the monster had told him more than once that he would tie him to his saddle if he fell down.

“Let’s do this, then,” ZenTar sighed, folding his sheet of paper, and the next thing he knew the monster was standing right beside him, shadowing him from the bright sunlight.

Without a word, he grabbed Snow’s arm, pulling him to one side, and then easily lifted him up like before, placing him on top of Black. Snow immediately held on to the saddle but, looking down, he didn’t feel as scared as before.

Black shook its head, its soft hair brushing against his hands, and Snow gently caressed its warm neck. And then the dark monster was grabbing the saddle as well and, in one swift movement, straddled it behind him.

Snow went immediately rigid at the feeling of something pressed against his back, waves of darkness surrounding him on each side. He hated the feeling of being this close to other people, and the fact that someone was sitting behind him, where he could not see him, made things even worse. However, if the monster noticed his discomfort, he clearly chose to ignore it.

The hood of his cloak was pulled over his head, making him flinch.

“If the light hurts your eyes wear it up,” came a voice from behind him, echoing strangely against his back, and before he could say or do anything else, the monster grabbed Black’s reins, making it turn around, and they were on their way.

Even though he felt tense and slightly distressed with his present situation, all that quickly melted away the moment they finished making their way up the hill. Ridding in the front, his view completely unobstructed, his eyes now protected by the shadow of his hood, he couldn’t help gape in awe and amazement at the scenery that suddenly unfolded before him.

In front of him opened a long extension of green fields flecked with the most amazing colors, patches of bright flowers slowly dancing in the breeze. And the air that reached his nose smelled fresh and sweet. In the horizon huge, tall mountains looked like an impenetrable wall of gray stone crowned with white. And between them a narrow blue river glistened under the sun, its waters looking like molten silver here and there.

Raising his head, he blinked when the sun hit his eyes but he still forced them open to look at the tall, open, blue sky. He had never felt the world was this big, this vast, this bright, and it all made his heart beat faster, a lump of happiness mixed with sadness squeezing his throat.

By the time they stopped for a short rest late that morning, however, his excitement and amazement had started to be tempered by an aching back. And when they sopped again, a bit after midday, his bottom and legs had joined his back in protest against the long ride. When the monster finally pulled him off the saddle and settled him down on the ground his knees shook and he couldn’t hide the grimace that twisted his face. The heat was also in its peak and, although it was far from being as hot as a summer day, it was enough to leave him sweating, annoying droplets of sweat sliding down his back.

“Hey Snow! Wanna come and help me refill our flasks?” an excited voice asked him and the minute he raised his head he was immediately faced with MenTar’s open smile. “There’s a small stream of fresh water just up ahead,” he went on, pointing towards the intended direction, and Snow took a peak at the monster that had already joined ZenTar in some kind of discussion. “Come, come! You can always freshen up a bit!” MenTar went on, completely ignoring his indecisiveness and, juggling a bunch of skin flasks in one arm, grabbed his wrist with the other and pulled him with him.

Snow tripped and had to hasten his step to keep up with him. Looking over his shoulder he took another peek at the monster but, if he had noticed that he was being dragged away, he completely ignored it.

“Are you sure that that’s all right?” ZenTar asked with a disapproving expression on his face as he watched his brother drag the stumbling boy away.

“I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t irk me a bit, but it is manageable,” ZaiWin replied, obviously choosing not to look back, as if that could attenuate his inner annoyance.

“Because the last time I even tried to touch the kid you almost bit my head off,” he pointed out in a complain and ZaiWin sighed.

“I told you I was unbalanced, back then. I’ve been trying to work around it and I’m getting used to this irritating sensation I can’t describe. Besides it does piss me off more when you get close to him.”

“What the heck?! You really believe I’d do anything to harm that brat? Knowing that it could put your life in danger?” ZenTar demanded in disbelief and ZaiWin sighed again.

“I know you won’t hurt him. But this has nothing to do with what I know, and that’s what makes it so damn annoying. I think it has to do with the fact that your daitai are stronger than your brother’s, stronger than anyone else’s around here.”

“Except you,” ZenTar added.

“That is debatable and you know it.”

“Hum, so what you mean is that the stronger the other person is the more threatened you feel when they’re around the kid?” ZenTar tried to clarify, clearly ignoring his last comment, and ZaiWin frowned, visibly annoyed.

“I guess …” he grumbled and ZenTar couldn’t help laugh out loud.

“Damn! You’re like a jealous husband that can’t stand it when another handsome man winks at his woman! If they’re ugly you’re fine with it. But if they’re as manly as you, you immediately go into a fit of jealous rage!”

“Shut it!”

Still laughing, ZenTar clapped his shoulder a few times in a fake consolation.

“Don’t worry. I promise I won’t steal your woman.”

Slapping his hand hard, Nox turned around and walked away, his angry, fuming footsteps fueling ZenTar’s laughter.

 

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A note from Sophia Carpersanti

Language:

MenTar: Literally men (lake) + tar (wind)

ZenTar: Literally zen (silent) + tar (wind).

Calzai: Literally cal (bright) + zai (blade), or Blade of Light. It can be translated in common language as General, one of military leaders of the Empire. Each Province has it’s own Calzai.

ZaiWin: Literally zai (blade) + win (chaos).

Daitai: Literally dai (light) + tai (mark), or Holly Markings, considered Heavenly Blessings. They’re the source of power.

Nox: Literally nox (night). Nox is the name of the Clan (family name), also the name of a Province. ZaiWin uses it because he is the Governor of Nox.


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About the author

Sophia Carpersanti

Bio: Sophia CarPerSanti was born with her mind lost in another world. Not too strangely, writing is her only passion since childhood, and so there's not much one can do to correct what was weird right from the start. Once deprived of writing total mental breakdown follows and yeah, nothing good comes out of it. And so there are a lot of books and manuscripts inside boxes and drawers just waiting for an opportunity to see the light of day. I hope you enjoy my beloved ones as much as I enjoyed creating them ♥

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