Elora sat at the desk in her small bedroom in the smaller town of Paldrum. She stared out of the window and looked down upon the army assembled outside the walls, her heart heavy and mind whirling so fast it threatened to give her whiplash.
They had taken Orin from her. He sat in a dank little cell beneath her, so close and yet he might as well be a million miles away. Her Knight had bled for her, had fought for her and his reward for his courage and conviction was this. The Bond was to be removed, Elora was told. The Bond had to be taken away for her safety and the safety of the Kingdom.
Hatred simmered in the breast of the Princess of Venos as she stared at the moving sea of men, greatly diminished after the battle of Dunwellen in both spirit and numbers. Elora's mother had come up with a solution to her problems: she had decided to pin everything on her brave Knight. Queen Gida was afraid of Orin, that much was clear. Not of his combat prowess, nor who he was as a person, but his status as an 'Heir'. That was something that Elora herself still knew nothing about despite asking her parents about it almost to the point of exhaustion. The Princess refused to believe that a mere title was so dangerous that it demanded this kind of treatment, this kind of cruelty.
She had raged at her mother, but all her threats fell on deaf ears. Her mother believed that these feelings for Orin would disappear as soon as the Bond was gone. Her father had stood nearby, saying nothing and allowing the Queen to have her way. Elora knew he didn't want to do this, didn't want to punish the man who had saved not only his wife, but his daughter as well, yet there was nothing he could do. Since they had arrived in Paldrum, Elora had heard her parents arguing in the night, their rooms being close to her own. Her father had screamed at the Queen, begging her to see reason and yet she remained staunchly unmoved by his pleas. It had something to do with Orin's Element. The fact he was an Heir didn't even come up during their shouting matches, it was the Element that Gida feared the most. Orin being an Heir was being used as a convenient excuse to get her way.
The King could do little. In Myrin he held sway but so long as they were at war and in a state of alert then the Queen had the final say on everything. He had told her that when they had felt her signature outside of Dunwellen they had thought that she had been abducted, or taken, by someone from the Queen's past. Her father said no more on the matter, but he promised to keep trying to bring her mother round to his way of thinking. That had been four days ago and nothing had changed. There was still time. Word had not yet been sent to Myrin about Orin's 'betrayal'.
Elora opened the drawer on her desk, revealing a long and slim knife she had stolen when they had first arrived. Time was growing short now and the Princess didn't know what to do. Orin was languishing below. The thought of freeing him was foremost in her mind, but it was near impossible. She was under constant guard, with at least three Knights now a part of her retinue. They had only one job: To keep her away from Orin at all costs.
But would that stop him? Would that stop her Orin from saving her? No, not even close.
And he was hers. She had been a coward for too long, too scared of what she had seen in his Forge, of losing Cellus, of being Bound to him forever. She had felt a feeling of rightness when Rionna was Forged. It wasn't just the Bond, she didn't care what her parents said. Maybe it pushed them towards each other faster, but her feelings would not dissipate the moment it disappeared. She knew that completely and truly. He was hers, now and forever, and she was his. She had accepted that the moment she had Forged his Weapon. No, before even.
When she closed her eyes it was his face she saw. She dreamed of him at night. In some they walked hand in hand through the halls of the palace at Myrin. In those dreams Elora had never felt more safe, more at peace. In others he was taken from her, ripping from her grasping hands, and she would awaken with a cold sweat, a scream on her lips. She had never felt anything like this before and the fact that they stayed even after the Bond had been numbed for the Severance only reinforced her feelings.
Elora snatched the knife from the drawer and hid it inside the folds of her voluminous dress, thankful for wearing the silly thing for the first time in days. After being in battle and fighting alongside Orin, all the pageantry and politics of her life back in the palace seemed trivial and empty. She found herself wishing for one of the outfits that Tessa was so fond of wearing. It certainly wouldn't help in hiding her blade, but at least it would allow her to move without worrying about tripping.
She knew her heart and it was pointing her towards Orin, where that might lead she did not know. She just hoped that he knew that she hadn't given up on him, that she wouldn't leave him to his supposed fate because of her parents fears. She loved her Kingdom, loved the people that lived there, but the thought of returning to her old life without her Knight was something she couldn't and wouldn't envision.
He deserved better than her. Since they had met Orin had done everything he could to help her, to care for her. He never treated her like a Princess, he treated her as an equal, a partner. When she doubted if she could save her parents, he would be there with a word to show her different. When she had doubted how good she would be as a Smith, he smiled and said that he trusted her. His trust, his belief in her strength, it had led them here to his ruin and the end of their Bond.
But he wouldn't give up. Elora knew that even if an army stood between herself and Orin he would fight his way through with a smile on his face and a sword in his hand. He was her hero and so much more.
Elora's grip on the knife in her dress tightened and she forced a smile onto her face. She had memorised the layout of the building over the last few days under the guise of taking relaxing walks. The castle of Paldrum was rather small when compared to the palace at Myrin but still large enough to house a significant number of guards. Orin himself was being watched by a dozen Knights that changed shifts every twelve hours to remain fresh. It was amazing what one could learn from curious maids and bored ladies-in-waiting, a font of information that Elora had tapped regularly during her early years. She had watched outside of her window and took note of the patrols that made their way round the grounds. Every half hour or so a half dozen men would cross in front of the gates. That was easy to navigate but then she had to think about getting through the army itself. She wouldn't exactly blend in and Orin was most likely still injured from his battle with Craven and Jester and would be unable to Bond. She needed to be smart about this... what would Orin do?
A knock at her door caused Elora to jump and yanked her from her thoughts. She hurriedly checked to make sure that the knife was well hidden and smoothed down her dress. She checked herself in the mirror to make sure that she was presentable and looked back at the drawer. Inside was a piece of fabric, tightly wrapped. Elora hesitated for a second before she grabbing it as well. Best keep it close. It was for Orin, for when they managed to get out here.
The Princess made her way to the door and opened it, revealing a face that she was certainly not expecting. Duke Cellus of Sind stood awkwardly in the hall beyond, his hands clasped together at his front and a slightly embarrassed expression on his face.
He looked better than when the Princess had last seen him during the flight from the palace. The bags under his eyes were gone and his skin had returned to it's normal sheen. He was dressed immaculately in an officer's uniform, complete with shined boots and a ceremonial sabre which hung at his hip.
“Hello, Elora,” Cellus started, “The Queen sent me to fetch you. Before tonight.”
Elora smiled at her former betrothed weakly, just as caught out by him by this new tactic of her mother to get the two of them talking, “Thank you, Cellus. I'm ready now, if it pleases you?”
Cellus nodded, looking faintly relieved and stepped to the side, allowing Elora access to the corridor beyond.
As the Princess and Cellus began their walk towards the feasting hall where the King and Queen awaited them, Elora's significantly increased guard fell into step behind her. They counted no less than a dozen royal guards, all female and wearing the bright blue of Elora's standard. The Knights that were a part of her retinue walked to the back, already Bonded and eyes on the look out for trouble.
Spirit, it's not like Orin was going to jump out of the walls! No matter how much Elora wished it was so.
“I'm sorry we haven't been able to talk these last few days,” Cellus said stiltedly, “I'm afraid that my duties have kept me away.”
“It's fine, Cellus. I understand.” In truth, Elora was thankful that she hadn't seen much of the Duke. Her feelings for Cellus were turbulent and not as solid as she had once thought them to be. She had told this to her mother but she had again reiterated how this was just a result of the Bond with Orin. Elora had thought about that, at length. Was all the feelings she had felt since Bonding with Orin a lie? The talks they shared, the laughter they exchanged and the cryptic looks. Elora's cheeks warmed as she thought of Orin staring at her after the battle with Craven. He looked so proud, so happy, to be there with her. No, it was worth more than that, she was sure of it. If that were true what did than mean for her mother and father's Bond? Was their love too built on a lie? As well as every other King and Queen of Venos going back to Gilderbrand? What she felt for Cellus wasn't anything like with Orin. The relationship she had with her Knight was based on respect and a mutual trust. She didn't see that with Cellus. From the time she was small she had thought she loved him and even when she had left the palace she decided to remain true to that vow. But looking back on their relationship had put some things into perspective. Cellus treated her much like everyone else: like she was breakable and fragile, a small and weak thing that couldn't survive on it's own. She cared for him deeply, she knew that. But she didn't feel for Cellus what she felt for Orin.
“I picked something up for you in Myrin,” Cellus said with a smile, reaching into his breast pocket and pulling out a small locket in the shape of two rings intertwined with one another. “It's from the Empire, or so the seller said. He claimed it represented the Bond.” Cellus laughed nervously and handed it to Elora who took it from his outstretched hand.
“You're a good man, Cellus. Thank you.” Elora whispered, holding the locket tightly in her hand as they continued to walk. She felt almost sick taking the present from him. He seemed to be doing so much better compared to when they last spoke during the royal council and she was glad for that. But how to tell him that his fears had been founded? How to tell him that Orin was more to her now, more than she ever thought possible. Despite all the time she had spent with Cellus, her feelings for her Knight felt more solid, more tangible, than the ones she felt for the Duke.
The two walked until they reached the doors to the reception hall, where Elora called for them all to stop. “May I have a moment with the Duke, please?”
The female royal guards all nodded as one and turned to stand a little ways down the corridors. The Knights remained where they were despite Elora sending a scathing glare in their direction. They didn't follow her orders they answered only to the King and Queen. At least they were far enough away to give the two of them some semblance of privacy.
“I have missed you, Elora,” Cellus said, moving forwards to hug her, “I thought after you left the palace I'd never see you again.”
“Cellus,” Elora took a step back, standing just out of reach of the Royal Protector, “Stop.”
The Duke froze, his joyous expression falling as his hands did the same. “H-have I done something wrong?”
Elora shook her head, her earrings shaped like little bells tinkling as she did so, “No, you haven't. It is I who have wronged you.”
“I don't understand?” Cellus replied, his face becoming troubled.
“I Forged Orin's Weapon, Cellus. I made a choice. I chose him.”
Cellus frowned, “But we can fix that. The Queen has already decided to end the Bond. Elora, we can be together again, we can live the life we have wanted since we were children.”
“That's just it, Cellus,” Elora replied, moisture touching at the edges of her eyes, “I don't want that any more. I made a choice. I chose Orin. I want Orin.”
“You want him? You don't care for me any more?” Cellus said quietly, a far cry from the way she thought he would react. Cellus just seemed defeated, broken.
“It's not like that, Cellus,” Elora replied quickly, “I still want you to be a part of my life. You are my greatest friend and have been since we were little. But I can't marry you. I can't Bond with you.”
Cellus looked about ready to cry as he leaned against the wall across from the walls, his head touching the stone as he took a deep breath before he chuckled. “I knew something like this would happen. From the moment the two of you Bonded, I knew. Do you love him?”
“I don't know,” Elora answered honestly, “But I know that I feel something for him. I know that I want him in my life and I know that the thought of him not being in it terrifies me.”
“That could be the Bond, Elora!” Cellus raised his voice, sounding strained, “You're not thinking straight.”
“The Bond. The supposed reason for everything I'm feeling. It's a nice excuse for mother to convince me to separate from Orin, but I know I won't change my mind. He is my Knight, Cellus. I've decided.”
“Decided? Elora, the Bond will be broken today and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Orin will be thrown across the border and you'll never see him again. It hurts now, I know, but in time you'll accept it.”
“No, I won't.” Elora said exasperated, “and why would you? You would still take me as a Smith knowing I feel something for him? Why? The only thing we've known is each other, Cellus. From the time we were children we were thrust together. Our feelings were born from proximity and according to the design of our parents. The few weeks I've spent with Orin has opened my eyes to what we've been missing.”
“I haven't missed anything. I love you, Elora.” Cellus said, his eyes growing wet.
“You don't! That's what I'm trying to say!” Elora said, hating herself for growing angry, but she needed the Duke to understand. “If our love was true then you wouldn't have acted the way you did after the wedding. You didn't trust. Instead you doubted and belittled me at every turn.”
“And he is so different?”
“Yes, he is. I am his friend, his partner and his Smith. He pushes me to improve, not to stagnate. He wants me to succeed even at the cost of his own self. I know for a fact that had Orin been in your place during the wedding then he would have given me the trust, the safety and the respect I needed.”
Cellus slid to the floor, leaning against the wall and his sword clattering on the ground. “So, Orin's the perfect man?”
Elora snorted before she could stop herself and was reminded of the looks Orin gave her when she had done so before, the little smile that meant he had noticed her unladylike behaviour. He would never mention it, but he noticed. Her cheeks flushed.
“He is far from perfect. He's an idiot, headstrong and he pushes himself too hard. Sometimes he can barely see what's right in front of him and he has all the subtlety of an ox. He cares too much for others and far too little for himself. He gets angry, frustrated and has made more than one mistake since I've known him. But for all his faults he is kind, he is good and he'd do anything for the people that he loves. The Bond may have pushed us together, Cellus, but it isn't why I want to stay.”
Silence followed her statement as Cellus watched her, his eyes wide and staring. He chuckled once again and leaned his head against the wall.
“You've never spoken about me like that,” The Duke mused, “I can hear it in your voice. I lost you the moment the two of you Bonded on stage.”
“But did you ever want me, Cellus?” Elora asked as she sat next to the Duke. The Princess of only a month before wouldn't have dreamed of sitting on the cold stone floor in such an elegant dress, but the Elora of today merely made sure her dagger was still in place. “We didn't get a choice in who we loved. Maybe it's time we changed that.”
“I-I don't know, Elora. Every word you say makes me realise more and more that I'm not sure what the word means any more,” Cellus laughed bitterly, “My entire life I've been told one thing. To protect you, to love you, to make you happy. My job as Royal Protector was you. When Orin came along I felt everything was slipping away.”
“Your entire life was defined by being Royal Protector, Cellus,” Elora replied softly and took the Duke's hand in hers. “I know how it feels to question your purpose, to question your very existence. I don't blame you for what happened after the wedding. I was frustrated and annoyed maybe...”
Cellus laughed and the Princess joined in, “I know. I was a bit of an ass, wasn't I?”
“A bit?” That caused the two to laugh even more until tears ran down both their faces.
“Even if I accept it,” The Duke said, after their laughter had died down “Even if I'm okay with letting you go. It changes nothing. The Queen wants to break the Bond.”
The Princess smiled forcefully, trying to keep some measure of cheer on her face. “I'll deal with mother. I just couldn't lie to you, Cellus.”
“I understand,” He replied, jumping to his feet and offering a hand to Elora, only to find that she was already standing next to him. He smiled genuinely. “You've changed, Elora. You're stronger than you were in Myrin. I barely recognise you.”
The Princess beamed at the young Duke, “I think I've become who I was meant to be.”
“Another result of Bonding with Orin?”
“That, and a few other things,” Elora thought of Tessa, the first person she had ever fought. She thought of escaping from the palace, of fighting with Orin in battle at Dunwellen. She thought of Craven, the first and only man she had killed. Each of these experiences had changed her. All of them had made her realise more about herself and deepened her understanding of the world around her. She felt more... present. She was no longer the quiet, demure and proper Princess she had been when she had first met her Knight. She was far more now.
“The Queen awaits, Princess,” Cellus smiled sadly, “Best not keep her waiting.”
“You're not coming?” Elora asked, frowning at the young Duke.
“No. I think you're right, Elora. I fought for us because I believed I had to. I can't tell you that I'm not angry. At you, at Orin, at this whole sordid mess we find ourselves in. But I realise now that it might not be a bad thing. I need some time alone. To think.”
“I understand. I'm sorry, Cellus.” The Princess replied, her sorrow in her smile matching his own.
“So am I,” The Duke gave a bow and left, the sound of his steel toed boots clacking against the rough stone of castle Paldrum.
Elora watched him go with a bittersweet feeling rising within her chest. For a moment she wondered what could have been if she had just accepted all of this, had turned on Orin and married Cellus like she was supposed to. That was an empty life, filled with nothing at all. She believed she had made the right decision for both herself and Cellus. She just hoped that he managed to find some measure of happiness, as she had done. There was still more to talk about, more to discuss, but it would have to wait.
Elora turned to the large wooden doors bound in iron and took a deep breath as she prepared for her toughest trial yet. She just needed to keep calm and agree with everything that was being said, regardless of what lies her mother spat out. She would be allowed to retire to her rooms soon to prepare herself for the Severance. That was when she would have to make her move. Her rooms had windows and she would be able to drop down into the room beneath her if she was careful. She had already checked, the rooms in question were apparently empty. She just hoped that the Knights didn't check if her soul was still present too soon or all would be lost. From that point it would be a simple matter of finding the Dungeon and somehow freeing Orin. She could do it, she just had to keep smiling and keep going. She could save him!
The doors to the room opened up and revealed the vast hall that served as the 'throne room' of the local Lord. It was small compared to any she had seen in the palace and was made from intricately carved wood instead of stone or marble. The huge oak tables had been pushed to the side, leaving the large area near the centre clear of any obstructions. Elora could see all the Masters of Venos were in attendance, their murmurs echoing out into the hollow hall. Vera and Annabelle stood off to the side. The First Smith looked as unshakable as ever while Lady Vera seemed troubled and frustrated, her gaze softening slightly when she saw the Princess had come to attend this meeting of Masters.
Lastly, Elora turned to her parents who stood at the very back of the wall. The King and Queen of Venos sat in normal chairs instead of thrones, but the very fact that everyone was leaning towards them deferentially spoke to their authority. Elora's father, King Julian, smiled at his daughter as she approached, hands clasped in front of her. The Princess' father was a soft looking man and many had tried to take advantage of his perceived weakness, only to see him turn on them like a wild animal. As always, Julian exuded a quiet strength, his hair the same shade as Elora's and his deep blue eyes twinkled kindly in the natural light of the sun that spilled in through the windows. Elora had always seen him as a warm fire, a hearth to sit at whenever she was in need of warmth.
Her mother was the complete opposite. The water to her husband's fire. The darkness to his light.
Queen Gida of Venos was a stern looking woman, with pale skin and dark hair that was securely tied behind her head. The sight of her honey coloured eyes, almost gold in the sunlight, pinned Elora as she walked forwards. Her mother had always intimidated her, almost to the point of being unable to be around her for any significant length of time. She loved her, of course, as any daughter loves their parent. But it was a distant thing, as Gida never really had much time for Elora as a child. Even as she grew that really didn't change much. Cellus had always been closer to the Queen than the Princess had on account of being taught by her. Elora was reminded of what Cellus had said to her after he had picked up Delithia at the front gates of the palace. He had said that Orin was dangerous, that he reminded the young Duke of her mother. She could see something to that she supposed. More than once she had seen an intensity, a tenacity, in Orin that reminded her of the Queen of Venos. That, however was where the comparison ended.
“Welcome, daughter,” The Queen intoned, though her face revealed little in the way of warmth at Elora's appearance, “We have summoned you here today to prepare you for what is to come.”
Elora curtseyed before her mother and father, the pomp of the whole situation grating on her nerves. Her mother must have made sure the masters were here, to ensure the Princess didn't act out in defiance for their treatment of Orin. Her training as the heir to Venos was still very firmly ingrained after all. To openly question a monarch in front of their subjects simply wasn't done without consequence. “I have come as requested, Majesty.”
The Queen nodded once and indicated for Vera to step forwards. The First Knight hesitated for a moment, causing Gida's eyes to momentarily flare with anger, which pushed the Kingdom's greatest protector to clear her throat.
“As has been explained, Elora. Today we will be performing the Severance,” Vera began, sounding less sure than Elora had ever seen her before. “It is a ritual of the Hall and considered to be knowledge restricted to Masters and a few others trusted with it's secrets. You and Cellus are now counted among that number.”
“Where is my son-in-law? Does he tarry in the hall?” Gida asked, her eyes fixing on her daughter.
“The Duke of Sind had another matter to attend to, Majesty. I believe he will join us presently,” Elora lied. She had no doubt that Cellus did not wish to join now after their little talk, but hopefully it would stop the Queen from asking more questions.
Gida's eyebrow rose in consternation, “Truly? He wasn't summoned but I certainly expected him to want to be here for this. We expect you both to complete the Bond as soon as the Severance is complete.”
The King winced and looked at his wife sharply as Elora's hands turned into fists, digging her nails into her palms.
The Queen looked faintly amused, “Something to say, Daughter? I hope it's not more of the same empty threats and promises. Your father and I are quite tired of your childish objections.”
“Gida,” Julian said in warning, turning to look at his wife out of the corner of his eye.
The Queen of Venos sighed, “You are right, Julian. Now is not the time for such things. Please continue, First Knight.”
Vera nodded and returned her conflicted gaze to Elora, “The Severance itself is a simple ritual, requiring the combined power of the Masters gathered with us here. The first part of the ritual itself is already complete. Both you and Orin have had your ends of the Bond numbed to prevent pain and significant soul damage.”
“I have a question,” Elora interrupted, “If this ritual is so safe, why was it not considered when Orin and I first Bonded? You yourself told me, Lady Vera, that you don't expect there to be any long term effects with the Severance, but you also told me just after Orin and I Bonded that breaking the Bond the 'normal' way would be uncomfortable for us both.”
“You question the validity of the Severance, daughter?” The Queen asked, leaning back in her chair.
“No, mother. I simply seek clarification,” The Princess retorted. “Why is this ritual only being brought up now if it is noticeably better than the method Vera was going to use in the first place?”
“It is not better, Elora. Merely different,” Annabelle chimed in, a blank slate in the sea of emotion that surrounded her, “The Severance can pose great risk to both parties if utilised by those without experience. Plus, the increased risk of severing a Bond that has both a Forge and a Weapon cannot be ignored. Soul damage is expected and accounted for, something that would not be present in the simpler ritual Vera and I had planned to perform with the aid of your parents. Have no fear, we have taken all the necessary steps needed to break the Bond easily and quickly without doing any unnecessary damage.”
Something was wrong with what they said. Annabelle had sounded... off, there. In what way Elora could not yet determine. But her words, combined with Vera's almost forlorn expression, caused a sea of worry to roil in the Princess' gut.
“You will be allowed to see Orin for a few minutes before the ritual to put your mind at ease.” The Queen's eyes flickered over to Vera when the First Knight said that but did not comment. The feeling of unease in Elora grew.
“I will not be with him when the Bond is broken?” Elora asked, making sure to watch their reactions.
Vera smiled shakily, “No. It has been decided that it would be better for the both of you if this would be the last time you see each other. Better to not draw this out.”
“Well said, Vera,” Gida said, nodding approvingly. “The man has done a great service to his nation, but now he must be removed from his place at your side, daughter.”
“Thank you, mother. I'm sure Orin would enjoy the sentiment. Especially since he won't be allowed to return to Venos again.” Elora quipped, unable to stop herself from bringing up the obvious betrayal.
Gida clenched her teeth, “A service he has done. But his kidnapping of you, his obvious involvement in the disaster at a royal wedding and his failed rescue attempt which resulted in the deaths of many of my men cannot be ignored.”
Elora's nails dug into her hands all the deeper. It was almost like her mother was trying to pull her into an argument. She had tried to change the Queen's mind about her ridiculous accusations for days and it had all ended fruitlessly. Vera and Annabelle too had tried to dissuade Gida from this course of action but their attempts all ended in failure.
“Then if that is all, your Majesty. I will return to my rooms to prepare,” Her mother could not be dissuaded and so Elora was left with no other choice. She wouldn't allow Orin to be treated like this, not if she could do anything to help it.
“What is the rush, daughter? Do you perhaps have something else planned for young Orin? Something to do with the knife in your dress?” The Queen's words were cold and struck Elora like a slap across the face. “Did you think we wouldn't know? One of the guards on your detail reported her dagger had gone missing, not to mention the ladies-in-waiting and maids attending to you all reported you asking some rather strange questions. Why would that be, Elora?”
No, she had been careful. How could they have found out? Elora turned to face her mother and kept her face studiously blank, matching her golden eyes against the Queen's. “I don't know what you are talking about, mother.”
The Queen chuckled as her father's face looked worried, “Please, Elora. You have barely stepped foot outside the palace and already believe yourself smarter than your parents. Eyes are always on you, even in the supposed safety of your rooms. We believed that the Bond would affect your thinking and it seems we were right.”
Elora snarled, “It is not the Bond! It never was the Bond! Orin is my Knight and nothing is going to change that. I have already spoken to Cellus. I have explained that I won't marry him. Orin is my Knight and husband. He is heir to the crown of Venos.”
“He is no such thing!” Gida hissed, her hands gripping the arm rests of her throne fervently, “He is of common blood and will not be accepted by the Nobility. He came from nothing and will return to nothing. He will be banished from these lands and never again will he set foot in my Kingdom.”
“Yet he is an Heir,” Elora snapped, “Something that scares everyone here. I would think that would make you more amicable towards him instead of trying with all your might to make him your enemy!”
“You do not know what you speak of,” Gida replied, “You are an ignorant child. You do not realise the danger we are in. Every breath he takes is another nail in the coffin of our nation. If not for your incessant begging I would have removed the Bond and removed his head. Burned his body to ashes and scattered it to the winds.”
“Yet... Yet you do not,” Elora stopped, Gida's complaint causing an idea to form inside her mind. “You say he is a threat. You say his very existence means danger for all of us and yet you will just let him leave? Why, mother?”
The doors to the great hall bust open and in walked Cellus of Sind. He looked harried, his hair out of place and his breath coming fast. “Forgive me, your Majesty. But someone has just arrived insisting on speaking with you.”
“It can wait, Cellus,” The King replied, The Princess' father speaking for the first time since the meeting began, “We are in the middle of something.”
“Apologies, your Majesty, but this cannot wait. A member of Boldrin's Brigade has arrived at the gate. She is alone.”
“Ah, excellent,” The Queen smirked, “A little hero arriving to save their compatriot, how noble. Take her into custody. We will leave her at the border when we are done with the Princess' Knight.”
“I-I do not think that wise, my Queen,” Cellus said with a bow, “She asked me to give you this.”
Cellus walked up to the throne, nodding at Elora as he passed and handed a small, circular object to the King who examined it thoroughly. Elora watched as her father's jaw dropped and his face paled. The Queen snatched the object out of her husband's hands and looked down herself. Her reaction was not as strong as Julian's, but it did cause her to frown.
“She said she is a D'viritazi. She thought you would know the name.” Cellus said, causing both the King and Queen to look at the young man in shock, before sharing a worried glance with each other.
“S-send her in, Cellus,” The King said.
Elora was confused. A member of Boldrin's Brigade had put both of her parents into shock and not just them. The Master Knights and Smiths who stood in the hall looked just as off balance. Whatever a D'viritazi was, it must be important. Did this have something to do with Boldrin? With his secret purpose that even Orin himself didn't know about?
The hall was silent as everyone waited. Elora sneaked a glance at her mother and father but both of them were fixed on the doors, their attention utterly consumed by the carved wood. Every other person present were all wearing expressions of worry and concern, including Vera. Even Annabelle seemed more emotional than usual.
The doors of the hall swung open once again and in walked Cellus of Sind. Right behind him was Tessa.
She looked the same as she always had, wearing her tunic and breeches. Her daggers were absent from her hip but she didn't seem at all concerned for their loss. Her hair was still it's wild and self-cut self, her sharp eyes looking around the room with an almost bored expression on her face before they landed on Elora. They sharpened then but it was difficult for the Princess to puzzle out what was behind those grey orbs.
“My King, My Queen. I present Tessa of Boldrin's Brigade.” Cellus said before stepping to the side of the throne, near to where Vera and Annabelle stood. All attention was fixed on the sloppy mercenary, who made no attempt to bow before the King and Queen. Instead coming to stand to next to Elora.
“It is difficult to surprise me,” The Queen began after a moment of silence had filled the hall. “But this... well, this is indeed a surprise. You claim to be a D'viritazi, yet you look like a common thug. You carry the seal of the D'viritazi on your person and yet I can sense you are both not Bonded and not a Smith. I would like an explanation.”
Tessa's eyes stopped their wandering around the hall and fixed themselves on the Queen. “Here's what's going to happen, so listen close. As we speak, runners from the Brigade are standing by to journey to Ragora. Each of them is carrying two letters. One states that the King and Queen of Venos have discovered an Heir through an accidental Bonding to the Princess. It is a pledge for the two to attend training at the Hall of Tyra at the earliest opportunity.”
“And the other?” The King asked gravely, his expression strained.
Tessa grinned, “The second says that the King and Queen of Venos have performed an outlawed ritual on the Heir, causing his death. I think we both know what happens if that one reaches my father, don't we?”
Silence fell over the hall. What was she talking about, Elora thought, what in the Eastern Islands was so terrifying that it would cause the King and Queen to hesitate like this? Elora turned to look at the sharp-eyed mercenary. She and Tessa had not gotten along well during their time together in the band. Elora had always suspected there was more to her than met the eye. This had been confirmed when Forgress, Orin's friend, had said that she knew what an Heir was. Who was she really? Ragora was one of the three Eastern Islands and it's most powerful, but Elora had never heard of something called a D'viritazi. Was what she had said about the ritual also true? Illegal? Vera and her mother had made it sound like the best option, the only option.
Elora almost jumped when she felt a tap on her arm and suddenly turned to find Tessa staring at her.
“Don't worry and don't react. Queen won't let this go, you need to be strong for him now.” The mercenary whispered under her breath.
“I knew it,” The King muttered softly, but still loud enough to hear across the hall, “I knew he would be protected. This is foolishness.”
“It's a lie!” The Queen hissed at her husband, turning to Tessa again, “He's a mistake, an accident. He has no protection, be it from House D'viritazi or any other body. The Severance will continue. This is a desperate play from his mercenary friends. You are well informed, but that is all you are. This is far from convincing.”
“Truly? Is that the case?” Tessa replied mockingly, “I wonder if you told the Princess what really happens to Orin during the Severance? Did you try to convince her that it was all sunshine and rainbows? That she and Orin would feel a little pain and it would all be over?” Tessa turned to Elora with a grim look, “Did they tell you that you couldn't be together during the removal? Would you like to know why, Princess?”
“Silence!” The Queen snapped, “Vera, remove this infernal woman from my presence.”
“Stop, Vera!” The King yelled causing the First Knight to halt her advance, “You will not move!”
“Enough of this! If you insist on going through with this madness then our daughter deserves to know the truth. I have sat by and done nothing but no longer!”
“But his Element-”
“To the underworld with his Element! Where do you think it comes from? Your fear of the past has poisoned your mind, Gida.” Julian turned to Tessa, “Tell her.”
“It's his screams,” Elora's heart fell into her stomach, “That's why they didn't want you in the same room. No doubt they'll use inscription to keep it contained. Never has there been a more painful way to break the Bond than this one. It's only true redeeming factor is that it allows the other person to feel no pain at all. Orin has to shoulder all of it. Even if they live, their mind breaks.”
“It's the only way.” Gida whispered, “Elora shouldn't have to suffer for one mistake.”
Elora turned to stare at her mother, numb and cold. Her body shook and her heart beat within her chest at speed. They would do that to Orin? To her Orin? The Bond was silent. In it's stupor it didn't realise what was about to happen. If it had, it would be raging against the chains that held it down. Anger filled Elora as she clenched her teeth and her small hands trembled at her sides.
“You would do that to my Knight?” Elora said, her hair falling in front of her eyes as she stared at her mother through the veil, a hand reaching for the dagger in her dress, “He would suffer more than he already has, more than he has any right to. Why? To protect me? I have chosen him, he is mine. I won't let you do this.”
Elora felt Tessa place her hand on her arm, stopping her from drawing her weapon, and shook her head.
“Be strong for him. Trust him. He's more powerful than you know.” Tessa whispered once again and gifted Elora with the smallest smile, “Make sure that you're in the room with Orin.”
Elora's eyes widened but before she could ask why Tessa had already released her arm and turned away.
The Queen glared at the whispering duo before settling down. The composure she lost a mere moment before returning as she leaned back in her chair. The King watched on, his lips tight and eyes narrowed.
“These letters you have supposedly sent,” Julian asked, “How do your men know which one to deliver?”
“I've a few days to let them know. They wait for my word.” Tessa said with a shrug.
“Then what is to stop us from just killing you and hunting down your comrades?” Gida asked, her cold and dark demeanour hiding her emotions once again.
Tessa laughed coldly, “I'm no fool, Queen of Venos. If my runners don't hear from me they will carry word to my father of your acts here. You can try and find them, but your men couldn't find the band when we were two hundred. These men are trained, the best at what they do, and without anything slowing them down they will reach Ragora. I would also avoid using torture. Don't know where they are.”
“We do not have to resort to such tactics.” The King replied.
“Yeah, but you'll resort to using an illegal ritual, forbidden by the Hall because they considered it barbaric. You can understand if I'm a little cautious.” Tessa stated sharply, causing the King to look away in disgust and shame.
“So what are your demands?” The Queen asked with a cold stare.
“The immediate release of Orin. I know you plan to use him as your scapegoat and I would ask you put an end to that as well.”
“That is all? How did you know we had even planned to use Severance in the first place?”
Tessa glared at the woman, “I am a D'viritazi. It wasn't hard to figure it out.”
“Gida. The threat is all the more real now. I was for it because it was best for Elora not to be Bound to an Heir. But if he is not an accident. If he is protected. We must consider an alternative.” Julian said to his Queen.
Gida narrowed her eyes at Tessa who met her gaze easily. “No... I cannot allow Elora to be Bound to him. I know where that will lead her. All that lies down that path is blood. Elora's not strong enough. I won't allow it.”
“It's my choice!” Elora chimed in, her voice blaring out into the hollow hall. “Mother, I don't know what an Heir is, I don't know where this path will lead me. But I know Orin. He is a good man. He would never hurt me, never use me, never lie to me. Even now the Bond is silent and still I choose him. Please, just for once, let me choose.”
Gida stared at her daughter with her golden eyes wide. The Queen of Venos looked tired. So very, very tired. For a moment, for a single second, Elora thought she had gotten through to her. Had made her see the mistakes and managed to break through her hard exterior. Then the hope faded.
“I'm sorry, child,” The Queen sighed, “But it's the only way. In time, when you become a Master, you will understand. Vera, fetch the boy and take him to the chamber.”
“No!” Elora cried out, Tessa's warning ringing in her ears, “If you're going to do this, mother, I want Orin to be here. I want to be with him. I know it will be painful to watch, but I must stand beside him.”
The Queen's stare intensified, “No, Elora. You shouldn't have to watch that.”
“I need to watch it, mother. I need to see what he is going through, what I'm putting him through. Please. If you won't stop this, at least let me be there for him.”
Gida gritted her teeth at the Princess, “Fine. If it will ease your conscious, then I will allow it. Vera, bring the boy. We'll perform the Severance here.”
“Gida, the Kingdom will-”
“I know, Julian,” Gida interrupted, looking at Tessa, “If what you say is true and you are a D'viritazi then you will understand better than most what it means to be bound to an Heir.”
Tessa clenched her teeth and nodded, “I do.”
“Then you must understand, even in part, why I must do this. Despite your threats.” The Queen insisted,
“I understand. You wanna end the Bond, do it.” Tessa replied, causing Elora to whirl around and stare at the mercenary with accusing eyes.
Tessa shrugged in response. She was trying to look unconcerned, but Elora could see that she wasn't half as composed as she pretended to be, “Can't stop her.”
Elora looked around desperately. The Masters were beginning to Bond, including Vera and Annabelle. Each of the Smiths disappearing in a flash of blinding light. What could she do? She still had her knife, maybe she could try and escape while they were distracted and make her way to the dungeon. But how would she free Orin?
“Stop,” muttered Tessa from the corner of her mouth, “Knew the plan wouldn't work, but I needed you to be in the room with Orin. It's all on him now.”
Elora turned to the young mercenary in desperation, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes, “W-what can I do? How can I help him?”
“Simple. Give him a reason to fight.”
* * *
“Orin, it's time.”
I blinked through bleary eyes at Vera. She stared at me intensely from the other side of the bars. It had only been a few hours since our last visit and the First Knight looked all the more haggard for it.
I sat up on my cot. I had stopped shedding tears a while ago and tried to sleep, but only nightmares awaited me in the world of dreams, spitting me out viciously at my every attempt to get even a little rest. I closed my eyes and I saw Elora. She was lost, alone, and there was nothing I could do to reach her. Nothing I could do to save her. Dread filled me as Vera's words finally reached my exhausted mind. This was it. The end.
I stood up slowly, wincing as the movement caused my barely healed wounds to scream in protest. I looked at the First Knight with dead eyes, an emptiness settling in my stomach as I stood before the entrance to the cell.
“I'm assuming you're gonna let me see Elora? To convince her that everything's alright?” I asked. I knew the answer. Vera wouldn't have come down here to explain things to me in the first place if that wasn't the case. It was smart. Elora and I would have a tearful farewell, all smiles and hugs, then I would be put somewhere else for the ritual to prevent my obvious pain from causing her distress.
Part of me wished I could just tell her the truth. All it would take was one word, our word, and she would do everything she could to try and help me. Despite what Vera said, my Princess wasn't stupid enough to believe that this new ritual would be without consequence. She certainly suspected, I just hoped that she didn't do anything stupid. I had given into my sorrow before and assumed that she wasn't coming to see me through choice, but I knew that wasn't the case. I knew Elora, knew she cared for me, but there was nothing she could do. Not here, not now. The only thing I could do for her was try to shield her for what was to come.
“No, Orin. There's been a chance of plans. A friend of yours showed up. Elora will be present for the separation, by her own request.” Vera replied, her face troubled and unsure.
“What friend? What are you talking about?” I asked, surprised. Why go through the trouble of telling me not to tell Elora the truth when we were just going to do it in front of her anyway?
“As I said: Change of plans. The King and Queen await,” Vera opened the door to my cell and all it took for me was a glance to realise she was Bonded with Annabelle. She moved differently, more fluidly and sure in her body. My heart ached as I realised it was something Elora and I were never going to do again.
“You mean she figured it out? Course she did,” I grinned at the Knight as she allowed me to walk out of the cell. There was no need for manacles or any form of restraints. I couldn't escape from Vera even if I was Bonded with Elora.
Vera grimaced, “She did not. Your friend did and saw fit to tell her the truth. It doesn't matter, Orin. The Bond will be broken.”
“I know. Nothing to do for it now. But at least Elora sees you for what you really are, Vera. You, the King, the Queen, Annabelle. You're all the fucking same.” I sneered and began walking, ignoring the twinge of my wounds as I followed Vera down the corridor.
Vera whirled on me in an instant, a snarl on her lips. “We had no choice, Orin. All of us, including the King, tried to convince the Queen to stop this.”
“Yet you roll over at her word. I'm glad you tried so hard,” I replied bitterly.
“We had no choice before,” Vera reiterated, “But things... have changed, now.”
“Oh? Have you finally had an epiphany, Vera? Realised that this is wrong and that Elora wants me in her life?”
“No, the ritual goes ahead but for what reason I do not know. It seems you are protected, Orin. Performing the ritual now just means the Hall of Tyra is guaranteed to discover the deception. The Queen is pushing for it anyway.”
“What do you mean protected?” Confusion took the place of my anger.
“Your friend has apparently readied correspondence to send to Ragora should we fail to release you. The Queen believes the risk is worth the reward.”
“My friend?” I asked.
“Tessa showed up here a short while ago. She claims to be a member of house D'viritazi. Do you know what that means?”
“Tess?” I said, surprised. Was this what Forgress meant when he said Tessa had to be the one to tell me the truth? I knew she more involved than I thought but house D'viritazi? That sounded Noble. Ragora was in the Eastern Islands but I thought Tessa was from some place in the Empire. What the fuck was going on? “What does it mean?”
Vera frowned and kept walking, “If it's true it means you have some powerful friends, ones that could harm Venos.”
“Tessa? Bullshit, she's a commoner.”
“I hope so, Orin. For all our sakes. The Queen is going ahead with the ritual, despite pleas from the King and Elora. Her fear of you is greater than her reason.”
“Can't say I'm surprised by that,” I said with a smile, “Nobles don't think rationally at the best of times. I mean, look at your piss poor decision making so far.”
Vera came to a stop as they reached the top of a flight of stairs that led out of the dungeon. She knocked on the door once before turning to me hesitantly.
“She's a good woman, Orin. A great leader and a better Queen. She has steered Venos out of disaster after disaster, but her fear of you doesn't stem from wanting to protect the Kingdom. It's Elora she wants to protect, and she'll let Venos pay the price for it.”
“Not very patriotic of her,” I quipped, “Doesn't matter what you tell me, Vera. I won't forget what she's done to me. What any of you have done to me. You could tell me she saves starving children, heals the sick and cries at the death of every one of her subjects. I'd still tell you she's a cold-hearted bitch.”
Vera looked saddened by my words as the doors open and revealed the Knights who stood beyond There was at least a dozen that I could see and from the Weapons that were in their hands it seemed they expected a fight.
“Stand down. There is no need for that.”
“Aye, no need for that, folks. I'm just common trash. Wouldn't want to stain the stone with my blood,” I spoke over Vera's shoulder, smiling at each and every one of the Knights as they glared at me.
“Come on, Orin,” Vera said softly and led the way down the corridor, the Knights falling into step behind me as they all banished their Weapons to their souls once more.
It was the first time I had been up and into the castle proper. Paldrum was significantly lacking when compared to the palace but the last thing on my mind was the décor. I looked to the Bond within me as we walked and watched the lazy golden thread, drugged and without purpose. Elora was close now, I could feel it and the thought filled me with trepidation. How would she react when she saw me? Despite Vera's words and my own thoughts, I felt almost insecure at the thought of seeing my Smith. Would she rush to me as I thought she would? Or would she stand away and be detached, not sparing me a glance to spare both her and myself the pain of seeing one another again?
Vera and I reached the entrance to what I assumed was a large hall, the doors carved and bound in iron.
“Wait outside,” Vera said to the Knights and push the massive doors open with one hand, her strength great enough to do so with little effort. I followed behind her as she strode into the hall.
I looked around the room and saw a group of what I assumed to be Masters arranged at either side of the hall. King Julian and Queen Gida sat in chairs at the back, both their gazes fixed on me but both wore different expressions. The King's looked almost regretful and a little melancholic while the Queen looked merely expectant, a hint of hatred in her eyes as she stared at me. I stared right fucking back.
That was, I did, until I felt something collide with my chest. It caused my wounds to scream in pain but I ignored it entirely. I would recognise that head of blonde hair anywhere and I wrapped my arms around the Princess tightly as she did the same to me.
Elora looked beautiful. Dressed in an expensive looking dress with expensive looking jewellery, she looked more like herself than she had during the weeks we had spent with the band. But the happiness I had seen in her when we were on the road was absent now, replaced by a sorrow that tore my heart in half.
“Hey, Princess. Missed you,” I whispered and buried my face in her hair. I could feel the tears pricking at the edges of my eyes. I couldn't let them fall, not here, not in front of all these disgusting pieces of shit.
“Orin, I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I swear, I didn't” Elora wept openly into my chest, ignoring the smell of my more than pungent body, “I was going to free you. I stole a knife, I was going to break you out.”
I grinned at the top of her head and took her by the chin to move her head up so I could see her eyes, “Hush now. Thanks for trying. I'm sorry, Elora”
Elora suddenly looked furious, “You have nothing to be sorry for, Orin. You saved everyone here and they're still going to put you through this. Tell me what to do and I'll do it. Anything.”
My grin became a little sad and more than a little vindicated. “Can't stop it, Princess. Don't know what Tessa told your mother and father, but it let me be here with you. That's enough.”
“Orin of Myrin,” A shout came from the other side of the room and I turned my gaze upon the speaker. Gida, Queen of Venos. “Welcome. We will be performing the ritual soon. I suggest that my daughter moves away from you until it is completed.”
I looked to the right and saw Tessa standing there, her arms folded and her face troubled. I gave her a stare, asking for answers with my remaining eye but she merely shook her head, pointing at the Princess in my arms. I raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
“Give us a minute. Least you can do after all this. You're cold-hearted, but I'm sure you at least have one.” I shouted back at the Queen, my attention once again returning to the Princess. “What's going on with Tessa?”
Elora was quiet as she bit her lip, “I have no idea. She said her name was D'viritazi and that she's going to send letters to the the Hall if mother and father don't release you. Mother is not going to let you go.”
“I figured that. This something to do with being an Heir?” I asked as I ran the back of my finger down the Princess' cheek. Her skin was soft.
Elora's breath caught and her cheeks flushed even as she looked at me, “Y-yes. Orin, listen, she says you have to fight. She tried what she could but it's up to you now.”
I chuckled bitterly, “Fight what, Elora? This thing is going to rip the Bond off at the root. Everything's going to become inert and lost forever. I won't be the same after it's done.”
Elora glared at me, “Don't give up, Orin. Fight. For me, for us, for yourself. Show my mother who you are, who you can be.”
“Quiet!” The Princess said and grabbed my head with both hands, “Forget about everything else. Forget about being an Heir or a Knight. None of that matters. It matters who you are inside, what you want to be. Tessa told me to give you a reason to fight. Stay with me, Orin, and I promise I'll fight right alongside you. If I'm with you there's nothing that can stop us. I know it, I believe it. I'll show you just how much.”
The Princess of Venos pulled my head down to her level and pressed her lips gently against mine. I was so surprised that I stood there for a second, frozen in place. The kiss sent lightning coursing through my body and my black flames, weakened and whimpering from my battles with Craven and Jester, suddenly roared within my chest. I tightened my hold on Elora and kissed her back, my eyes closing and for a second, a single moment, we were in our own little world. We floated in our soul space, souls intertwining and I felt strength run through my limbs. It was clumsy, it was quick, but it was ours and I wouldn't have traded it for all of Ouros.
Elora and I separated after a too brief moment. Her face was bright red, her embarrassment plain to see, but the grin on her face was infectious enough to cause me to sprout one on my own.
“Well, Princess. I didn't expect that,” I said, my smile so wide it threatened to consume my face entirely.
“I'm full of surprises,” Elora replied, her own smile just as great.
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“It means you're mine, I'm yours and nothing is going to change that. So, my Knight, do you believe now? Are we fated?” The Princess reached into the folds of her dress and pulled something free. It was a small bundle of soft fabric that Elora pressed into my hands.
I opened it to reveal something I had not seen in some time. It was a flower with blue petals and a large white centre. The stem was a pale green. It was so small in my large hands, so fragile. Yet it meant so much. I tucked the flower into my ruined tunic and took Elora's hands in mine.
“I think we might just be, Princess,” I smiled and kissed her forehead as she laughed, tears once again trickling down her cheeks. “I'll fight. If you still want me to?”
“Always,” Elora said and raised a hand to place it against my cheek.
“Enough of this,” The Queen snapped, her fury at Elora's gesture evident, “Elora, stand away from him.”
I felt my cheeks flush as I realised that everyone had been listening in on our conversation. I turned to Tessa to catch her look at me with a complicated expression on her face before she turned away. I also noticed that Cellus was standing at the King's shoulder but I avoided looking at him. I could only deal with one problem at a time and the pissed off Duke really wasn't my priority right now.
Elora stepped back of her own accord, her smile still shining and her happiness causing my own heart to leap within my chest. I had worried she didn't care, that she would have accepted the removal of our Bond. I had been an idiot. She cared for me in the same way I cared for her. I just hadn't seen it. I reached a hand up and patted the place where the flower sat and grinned at the Queen.
“Well, what are we waiting for? I haven't got all day!” I shouted and spread my arms wide.
At the Queen's nod, the Masters all moved to encircle me and then Elora. Armour formed along their limbs, Weapons were grasped in their hands and they stood at attention. I waited with bated breath, my eye found Elora's and she stared back at me with grim purpose. I could see it, her promise to fight as hard as she could. The promise that she would never leave me, that she would keep on going as long as I was beside her. I matched her look with one of my own. I didn't know what I could do to stop this. But I hadn't known what I was doing when I had attacked Craven or when I had left the palace. The only thing that those events had in common was that Elora and I were together. She was right. As one, there was nothing we couldn't achieve.
“Begin!” The Queen called.
“Fight!” Elora screamed,
Then all I felt was pain.
It smashed against my soul space and the cracks immediately began to show. The black void that surrounded my obsidian flames rippled and raged. What had once been a calm night sky had turned into a roiling ocean at midnight, the sounds of it's waves colliding against my black flames causing stabs of incredibly acute and mind cutting agony to sweep across my body. I fell to my knees and clenched my hands, immediately drawing blood as I began to grind my nails into the palms. I kept my eyes open and staring, holding Elora's gaze for as long as I was able. She wasn't crying, she was smiling and whispering at me. I couldn't hear the words but the sentiment was loud and as plain as day. She believed in me, she believed that I could win this fight.
Blood began to pour from my eyes and ears as the humming that emerged from the Knights that surrounded me reached a fervour pitch. The Bond was beginning to fracture. I could see the golden thread, could see the spider web like cracks that spread over it's tough surface. I had always assumed it be unbreakable, but now it reminded me of delicate glass. It felt like it was a mere breath away from snapping and falling away, leaving me alone and destitute. So alone. My eyes closed and I felt myself begin to slip away. It was too much and it was coming too fast. What am I to such power? A boy from an orphanage, a thief turned mercenary. A commoner. I'm no hero, no great leader of men. I'm just a kid who wanted to make his family happy.
“You are a fool, this I have always known, but you were always steadfast and, of all my sons, you are the bravest. I love you. Please come back in one piece,”
My eyes snapped open, the Sister's words like a war cry in my head and I screamed, the noise lost to the incessant buzz of the Knights voices. The pain doubled but I didn't care, I pushed against it with all my might, aiming to destroy their power. They were strong, yes, each of them were Masters of their craft. But this was my soul and I held the power here.
Another wave of power crashed into the Bond and the golden thread fractured once again. I hurriedly did what I could, wrapping my soul self around it and huddling down, snarling at the waves of energy that the Masters were sending my way.
I know what I seen, lad. That girl won't let go of you now and I don't think you'll let go of her either. You'll have a choice, Orin, after all this is over. I just hope you make the right one.”
Brin's voice echoed out within my soul space, giving me courage, giving me the strength to choose. I could give up and leave it all behind. All I had to do was let go and the Bond would be finished, Elora and I would be separated and I would never see her again. All I had to do was let go.
I roared and a wave of energy emanated from both of my bodies, spiritual and physical. The Masters and their power was rocked by the pure force of my shout, the rebellious nature of my spirit. I had never lived my life by the rules of others. If I faltered here, now, I would never forgive myself. Better to be dead than to live as a stepping stone for others.
The Masters redoubled their efforts, wanting to end this fast. Their attacks, which were once divided, now came to together as a storm that rolled over my soul space. My black flames, still injured and broken, spat sparks at the oncoming storm, defiant even in the face of such overwhelming power. I curled my soul self more tightly around the Bond, using my fingers to try and keep the cracks from fracturing further. I could do this. I could win!
The storm hit. The pain became something beyond anything I had ever felt before. Everything I was and everything I could be felt like it was on the edge of being destroyed. My black flames trembled and I followed suit. The cracks grew wider and my desperation grew to match. I could only watch as the Bond shattered into pieces.
“Spirit, damn it!” I shouted, throwing the too large sword to the ground in front of me, “Why can't I do this!? What am I doing wrong?”
I stood in the outskirts of the camp of Boldrin's Brigade. Today was the end of my first month with the Brigade and I was beginning to wonder why I had even joined them in the first place. They treated me like garbage, I couldn't even sleep in a tent! I had been happy when, yesterday, we had finally crossed into Andapa and the weather took a turn for the better, but even that was annoying. I woke up this morning to find my skin a bright red colour that hurt with every movement. I still wore my shirt, of course, despite the discomfort it caused me. I didn't want anyone to see my scars.
“Pick up that sword, kid. Don't make me ask twice.” The booming voice of Boldrin caused me to jump into the air. The old man had terrified me. He was a literal giant, twice the size of any man I had ever seen. His wicked looking axe and incredibly sharp sword only adding to the danger that exuded from him.
When I had first met Boldrin, that was what I wanted. That was why, even after he had hit me to the ground, I had got up, ready to fight him with everything I had. Didn't mean I wasn't afraid of him.
“Sorry, boss,” I grumbled and pried the sword from the soft earth. I had only been away from the city for a while. I had been fed well since I had joined the band but I hadn't grown any muscles like Boldrin yet. I needed to work on that.
The band leader was sitting on a large rock nearby, a pipe in his mouth as he blew puffs of smoke into the air. “So, you been copying what the others are doing, that right? Think you're ready to learn how to handle a blade.”
I perked up, “Yes, sir. I've been watching Dumas and Padma fight. They're so fast and strong. I don't know how they move so graceful like. I'm tryin to puzzle it out.”
Boldrin chuckled, “Alright. Show me.”
I nodded with a grin and held the sword outstretched in my hands. My meagre amount of muscle strained to even keep the sword in my hands but I couldn't fail, not in front of Boldrin. This was the first time the band leader's given me any attention since I joined. I needed to impress him.
I swung the sword with a mighty bellow. Well, It sounded mighty in my head. When I swung the sword I immediately cursed, the weight of the descending blade almost causing me slice off my own foot.
Boldrin laughed, his great booming bellows echoing out amongst the foliage and causing a few members of the Brigade to look up and smile. “Good attempt, lad! Keep going like that and we might be able to do something with you in twenty years!”
“Damn it!” I shouted and threw the sword on the ground again, “I'm too weak! I can't even carry the thing around. How am I ever going to be a warrior!”
Boldrin was quiet for a second before he got off the rock and walked over to pick up my sword, stowing away his pipe as he did so. Boldrin swung the sword a few times in a few easy and practiced motions that I envied, almost drooling with jealously at how proficient he was as a fighter.
“That what you want, lad? You want to be a warrior?” Boldrin asked, the blade still swinging around him.
“Yes, sir. More than anything.” I replied firmly, watching as closely as I could, hoping to pick up something that I could use for my own use later own.
“It's all well and good to say it, Orin. But it takes a lot more than just a few words. You need a reason to fight.”
“A reason?” I blinked before realisation dawned, “I fight for the Sister and the kids back home. I want them to have a better life than I did.”
The sword came to a sudden stop, the blade hovering at Orin's throat. The young boy couldn't even comprehend how someone so big could move so fast.
“If all you fight for is other people, then you leave nothing for yourself,” Boldrin said, “You might as well be a slave, lad. That what you want?”
“N-no, sir,” I replied, gulping. “But I don't have a reason apart from that.”
“It's simple, Orin. You strive for better. A single sword can take you far in this world, if you're willing to shed blood, sweat and tears. You can be anyone you want to be. Anyone. You get me, son?”
“I do, old man,” I said. I was back to my old self, grown and scarred from battle, “But I don't know if that will be enough this time.”
Boldrin shrugged and swung the sword in his hand. It was Rionna now, her black blade bleeding into the light of day. “You'll never know that till you try, kid. You've got a lot more fights ahead of you, more life to live and more blood to shed. You gonna give up now? Give up on yourself, on the Princess, or are you gonna strive for a better future, one which you made with your own hands? Say it, Orin. Say it and mean it. From the depths of your heart and soul, tell the world how far you're willing to go, what you're willing to do!”
The whole world shook and trembled. I looked up at the sky to see that the sun was cracked and covered in black flames that flickered ominously as day turned to night in it's obsidian light.
I looked down and suddenly the camp and Boldrin were gone. But Rionna shone still, glowing in my hand as I raised her up into the air.
“THE SWORD LETS ME STRIVE FOR BETTER!”
I screamed and my eyes shot open. I saw Elora fading away, her face pale and sadness all encompassing. No, I would not lose. I refused to accept this. This is my life and I will decide my future!
“MINE!” I roared as another voice, dark and guttural, overlapped my own and filled me with renewed vigour and the primal need to fight. I reached out, both within and without, towards the Princess.
The black flames swelled within my soul space and grew. It wasn't long before they were twice the size they were before, then three times, then four. The damage that had been done to them during my battle with Craven was incinerated and large arms of cascading fire emerged from their depths. I reach out with my soul and grabbed the end of the Bond before it could fall away and disappear forever. She was mine. I would not let her go. A trail of flame rippled across the Bond and I felt the chains that kept Elora's end numb be incinerated in a heartbeat. The Princess screamed as her protection was removed and she shouldered some of the agony that I had been putting up with since the ritual began.
I looked at the Princess, concerned and afraid that I had hurt her too much, had pushed her too far. She just stared at me with gritted teeth and stubborn eyes. I nodded at her, smiling even as I pushed my hands towards my chest, as my soul did the same with the Bond in it's flaming hands.
Even as I watched the Bond sink into my black flames, becoming a part of me once more, Elora began to change. Her eyes turned black as night, her pupils were replaced by two silver stars that glowed with intense and consuming light. A crown formed upon her brow, obsidian and studded with those same stars. Rionna appeared in Elora's hand and she grasped my Weapon with everything she had, everything she could muster.
“MINE!” Elora roared and I felt the resonance across our Bond.
Silence descended. No one spoke, so enraptured were they by the sight of the Princess of Darkness. Then Elora and I both threw our arms back, our combined power begging to be released into the world. The Masters, the King, the Queen, Tessa, everyone was sent flying backwards and into the walls of the hall. The glass windows shattered and the whole castle shook.
Then nothing. The pain stopped. The ritual had ended. We had won!
I fell forwards, placing my hands against the ground, heaving as I struggled to breathe. What the fuck was that? Elora had been using Rionna, had held the sword without being Bonded with me. What did it mean?
“Orin,” I looked up to see Elora pushing herself to her feet painfully. She winced but ignored the aching of her body and struggled to walk over to me. She fell into my arms as I caught and pulled her into a hug, placing my chin on top of her head as she tucked herself into my chest. The Bond purred with the contact.
I looked inward and found my flames were fully healed. Not only that but they seemed to have shrunk to an even smaller size. Somehow that entire ordeal had counted as compression training. Huh, who knew?
I turned my attention to the Bond and grinned tiredly. It was reforged and looked to be thicker than it was before. A golden thread that glowed with vitality and happiness.
“You did it, Orin,” The Princess looked up at me with a smile. I was relieved to see that her eyes had reverted back to their honey coloured selves, “You did it.”
“We did it, Princess,” I smiled at Elora.
“No... that's not possible.” It was the Queen. She stood at the far end of the hall. It looked like she had fallen on a piece of glass as a wound had opened over her left eye. Her face was devoid of any colour.
“Not possible for a normal Knight,” Another voice emerged from the side and Tessa emerged, looking unharmed, “But an Heir is a different beast altogether. The ritual wouldn't work on him. You can't take the Bond from an Heir unless he himself wills it.”
The Queen looked at Tessa in shock, “How do you know these things? How do you know what even I do not?”
“Get over yourself,” Tessa grunted, “You are not all powerful, nor all knowing. I've been training for years for this purpose. I already told you, I'm a D'viritazi. Our lives are dedicated to the Heirs.”
“But... she is doomed,” Gida was crying, tears spilling down her cheeks as she stared at us with unseeing eyes, “An Heir's journey is always bathed in blood.”
“You're being dramatic,” Tess snapped, “If I could have talked you out of this, I would've. But your obsession with him and his 'danger' has only resulted in pushing your daughter away. You can't touch him now. Unless you'd like to try the Severance again? Elora awakened the Crown. No way the ritual works a second time.”
“I cannot let this stand... I can't-”
“Gida,” King Julian's hand touched his wife's arm, “It's over. You tried. You failed. We must accept this is what Elora wants.”
“No. I won't help you again and neither will the others here. Orin went through Severance and yet the Bond remains, stronger than ever. To do it again would be foolish,” Julian stated firmly and turned to me, looking me in the eye before bowing, “I am sorry, Orin of Myrin. My wife believes that you're presence in our daughter's life will bring only hardship and pain. We did not quite understand how strong the Bond between you was. Not only that, but your... emotional connection, as well. You are free to go where you wish-”
“Stop,” I said. My strength had returned a little and I jumped to my feet, taking Elora with me and holding her in my arms. “I don't need a reason to stay with the Princess. Nor do I need your permission to leave. I'm her Knight, she's my Smith. If anyone would like to argue the point, I'll kick the shit out of them and be on my way.”
“Orin,” Elora said, smiling at me gently, “Put me down,”
I smiled back and placed the Princess on the ground where she turned to face her mother. “Now do you see, mother? It wasn't the Bond, it was never the Bond. It was Orin who made me want to stay.”
“Elora, I'm sorry. I don't know... I was just trying to protect you.” Gida replied, her eyes desperate and pleading, almost like she was trying to make Elora understand.
“To protect me from your own fears? It isn't the fact that Orin is an Heir that concerns you, mother. It's his silver Element. I don't know what happened to make you so afraid of it, but Orin shouldn't have to pay for your cowardice,” Elora stated bitingly, causing her mother to flinch. “Congratulations, mother. You've managed to push what little care I felt for you away. Orin and I will be returning to Myrin. He is my husband and heir to the crown of Venos. That is how it is, how it will always be. I've made my choice.”
I blinked, my jaw falling open, “I'm... I'm what now?”
Elora turned to look at me, her cheeks turning red, “You're my husband, Orin. You have been since the moment we first Bonded. Is... is that alright?”
I couldn't help but smile at how uncomfortable the Princess looked in that moment. I had a lot of questions but for now I made do with winking at the Princess, “Yes, Elora. I think I can put up with it.”
The Princess sighed with relief and turned away from her mother, the Queen. She slipped her arm through mine and we made our way towards the doors, Tessa following us at a distance.
“Orin! Wait, I want to talk to you-” Vera came up behind me. Annabelle trailing behind her.
I turned and punched the First Knight across the jaw, sending her to the ground. She didn't seem that hurt by the attack. Instead she just looked up at me in stunned silence.
“Stay the fuck away from me, Vera. We're done.” I said. She had lied to me about my soul dying. Hopefully that was a problem I wouldn't have to deal with now that Elora and I had reinforced our Bond, but she had known about it since it had happened and had done nothing. She would have broken the Bond and left me to die.
“What was that about?” Elora whispered at me.
“I'll tell you later. First Knight wasn't just lying to us about the ritual. But that's enough politics and psychotic in-laws for one day.”
“Psychotic in-laws... oh! We're married!” Elora cried out, looking strangely pleased.
“We are, isn't that something?” I grinned and pulled the Princess closer, Elora leaning into my hug. “That's something we're going to have to discuss at some point.”
“I know,” Elora sighed, exhaustion plain on her face, “That and a million other things. I still don't know how we managed to keep the Bond. Did you see? I summoned Rionna.”
“I did,” I glanced over my shoulder at Tessa who trailed behind us. “I intend to find out more about that, but I think you need rest.”
Elora leaned her head on my shoulder, “I think you're right. I'm exhausted. That Severance really kicked my ass.”
I raised an eyebrow at the Princess and she chuckled as she hit me on the arm, “I can swear too, Orin. I'm not the demure and fragile Princess any more.”
I laughed, “You don't have to tell me that, Princess. Should we leave the castle? I don't want to be jumped by your mother in the night.”
Elora grimaced, not appreciating the joke. “I don't want to risk it. We should leave as soon as we're ready, but I have one or two things I need to grab before we do.”
We walked down the hallways of the Paldrum castle in a comfortable silence. We had really done it. We were free and clear, finally after so much fucking shit being thrown our way. I was not as happy about staying here any longer than we needed to, but I didn't want to rush the exhausted looking Princess. I was fit to keel over as well, but I still had things to discuss with Tess. That might take a while. Best if the Princess wasn't there for it, I knew how Tessa felt about audiences. I could fill her in later anyway. I delighted in feeling the golden thread of the Bond and in watching the merrily dancing flames of my soul. Everything was as it should be. Well, I did have a Queen who despised me and the mysterious Mentor and Jester were still out there somewhere. I wished things could have worked out differently with the King and Queen, and Vera as well. But they were prime examples of why I disliked the Nobility. They kept secrets that were not theirs to keep, tried to change things to fit their world view. Shit, the King may have backed us up at the end, but he seemed pretty fine in accepting the Severance when it was happening. I couldn't trust Elora's family, but at least I was safe in the knowledge that they couldn't kill me. That would only cause Elora more pain. Something both her mother and father were very much against. At least physical pain. The emotional strain of having a Bond removed could not be ignored.
Elora walked into her room and I stopped at the door, smiling at her.
“What are you doing? Come in, idiot!” Elora rolled her eyes and I grinned.
“Wait here, Tess,” I said, looking at the mercenary who merely nodded with pursed lips. Seems she was back to her old barely talking self. I found that to be a relief in a way. This whole D'viritazi business was almost too much for me to take at the moment.
I followed Elora into the room and closed the door behind me. “Nice room, Princess.”
The room was far more opulent than anything I had ever stayed in. Shit, it was even better than what I had in the palace of Myrin.
Elora sat at the edge of the bed and tapped the spot next to her. I sat as commanded and sighed as she leaned against me.
“It's over, Orin. We did it,” Elora said, I couldn't see her face but I could hear her smile.
“For now, Princess,” I replied grimly, “But I think we've still got a lot more ahead of us.”
“Doesn't matter,” Elora quipped, leaning back and opening my tunic, pulling out the slightly flattened flower I had placed there earlier. “It's like you said, Orin. We're fated.”
“The Venosian lily,” I mused, taking the flower from the Princess' outstretched hand. “Also called the Fate Flower. Sister told me that you gave this to someone when you wanted your lives to be intertwined forever.”
“I know you didn't mean anything when you gave it to me the first time,” Elora smirked, “But I'd say it works, wouldn't you?”
I laughed at that, “Yeah, I'd say it works. We've come a long way, Princess.”
“We have,” Elora raised a hand to touch my cheek, “But you still have a ways to travel yet. Go, talk to Tessa. You need to speak.”
“We do,” I sighed and turned to face the Princess, “I'll be back soon, Elora. Then we're getting out of here.”
“I can't wait,” Elora grinned, “This dress is killing me.”
I chuckled and leaned forward hesitantly, softly, and pressed my lips to hers. Elora returned the gesture and wrapped her arms around my neck. It was quite a bit longer than our last kiss and the Princess looked out of breath when we separated.
“I... I could get used to that,” The Princess blushed as she looked at me. “Though I suspect it will be even better when you are not covered in blood.”
“Yeah... I forgot about that,” I murmured before jumping to my feet, “I'll be back soon.”
I exited the room and closed it quietly behind me, finding Tessa already waiting. She leaned against the far wall, wearing a troubled look on her face. I matched her, leaning back against Elora's door.
“Well? We going to do this?”
“Yes.” Tessa replied sharply, “It's just... this isn't easy for me.”
I nodded, trying to understand and be compassionate but my patience had already reached a breaking point.
“Boldrin. He alive?”
Tessa nodded and I sighed in relief. Thank the Spirit. He may have been keeping secrets from me but he was still an important figure in my life. Besides, he helped me get through the Severance, or his lesson did.
“He's still breathing. Tough old bastard. Take more than a Knight to kill him.” Tessa muttered, “Come with me. We'll talk.”
I followed Tessa a little further down the hall until we reached a room with it's doors wide open. It was a significant downgrade compared to Elora's, but it would serve the two mercenaries purposes easily enough. I closed the door behind me as Tessa walked up the window.
“Sit,” She said, waving a hand at a chair near to where she stood.
I grumbled, barely holding back my complaints but I did as she said and took a seat. “Well?”
Tessa took a deep breath and looked out the window onto the small town and army below us. She was standing so close that her breath frosted up the glass on the exhale.
“I hated you, Orin. For the longest time, all I could think about was how much you ruined my life. I could've been happy, could've stayed with my family. If it wasn't for you.”
I frowned, “Tessa, what are you talking about?”
“I am D'viritazi, Orin. That name is well known among the Knights and Smiths of Ouros. My family have been members of the Council at Tyra since the First Knight himself founded it. My family were also among the first to be Bound to an Heir. That became our purpose. If an Heir is born, a Smith from the D'viritazi is sent to Bond with them.”
“Bond? So... you're a Smith?” I asked, “You were meant to Bond with me? But why? How? I've known you for three years, Tessa.”
“You've known me for three years but I've known you for ten. You never saw me, but I was there. Me and Boldrin both.” Tessa pulled up the sleeve of her tunic and muttered in some strange language. Before my very eyes glowing red symbols appearing on the mercenary's arm. Then they moved up further still, covering her face and disappearing at her neck. I had seen the language enough to know what it was. Inscription. Inscription, but on a living person.
“What the fuck!” I exclaimed, my eyes fixed to the insidious looking runes.
“A warding spell to hide my soul. I can release it at any time, mostly to stop me from going insane. The Princess nearly found me out, the first day you were with the band. I saw her wondering around after you two had Bonded, looking for something. I suspect that was me. If I leave it up too long I can become irrational, my mind starts to lose itself. I act out.”
“Is that why you attacked Elora? You were acting out?”
Tessa grumbled, “No, that was all me. I knew that if she kept pushing you down this road that eventually someone would figure out what you are. At that point we would have no choice but to contact the Hall.”
“Boldrin said they don't know, but why?” I asked, my eye glazing over in thought, “Why would keeping me a secret be so important.”
“Because you shouldn't exist, Orin!” Tessa replied, exasperated. “You come from a line of farmers, whose ancestors were also farmers all the way back to the First Knight. You have not a shred of Noble blood in your body, not one Smith or Knight has ever been associated with your line. Yet, here you are, an Heir and Knight in full.”
I froze, “What? How do you know of my family? I'm an orphan, Tess.”
“No one is born an orphan, Orin,” Tessa spoke almost gently, “I don't know the details, but I do know that Erin saved you from an attack meant to end your life and carried you to Myrin. She hid you there for eight years by herself. Everyone who knew anything about you thought you were dead.”
“The Sister? She lied to me?” I asked, my world was crashing down around me for the second time in as many hours. Was everything in my life a lie?
“To protect you,” Tessa interrupted my spiralling thoughts, “She wanted to protect you from the Hall. The Masters were the only ones who knew about your existence. It must have been one of them who tried to end your life.”
“So, my parents? My real parents?”
“Dead,” Tessa stated, “or so I assume. Erin does not like talking about it.”
“Erin?” I suddenly threw my seat back and jumped to my feet, “You know my mother so well as to call her by name?! I assume Boldrin is the same then! What the fuck is this, Tessa. Why keep this secret from me? Why?!”
“Because we didn't know what to do!” Tessa said, getting to her feet and joining me, “Erin contacted my father, the head of house D'viritazi, because she thought she could trust him. My father sent me and Boldrin here to keep you safe. Every other Heir in history has come from royal blood descended from the First Knight. You have are neither royal nor do you carry any of his blood. You see? My father decided to watch you, that was all. We were to keep you safe until he could figure out a safe way to bring you into the fold of the Hall.”
“A safe way? Tess, I was a mercenary... I was...” I stopped. “I was a mercenary. I joined Boldrin's Brigade of my own accord. I sought out Boldrin myself. How do you explain that?”
“You had a fire in you, Orin.” Tessa replied, “All Heirs do. But without training, you would have eventually picked a fight you just couldn't win. Erin made sure that you were at the front gates when the Brigade came into town. You wanted adventure, you wanted purpose. It wasn't hard to figure out what you would do. Better you learned with Boldrin, where he could keep an eye on you.”
I sat down in the chair once again, my head falling into my hands. “So it was your design? The three of you gathered round a table and plotted out a course for my life, and I had say in nothing?”
“Don't be a child, Orin,” Tessa snapped, “You wanted glory and adventure. Boldrin gave you both of those in spades.
“But it wasn't my choice. I was manipulated into taking a path that was not my own!”
“Where would you be without the Brigade?” Tessa snapped, “A thief, a cut-throat on the streets of Myrin? A member of the Common Dogs like your friend? What kind of life is that?”
“A life that I chose,” I growled, “Don't try to take the moral fucking high ground with me, Tessa. Shit, is that even your real name? Or is it something entirely different?”
Tessa gritted her teeth, “Tessaraina D'viritazi.”
“Oh, that's nice. You should use it more often.” I grunted and walked towards the door.
“Don't mock me, Orin. I've sacrificed too much for you already.”
I turned and blinked at Tess, “Excuse me?”
“My friends, my family, my home. I left everything behind because you were an Heir and needed a Smith.”
“Yeah, thanks for that. I don't seem to remember wanting shit from you.” I tried to open the door but Tessa slammed it shut again just as fast.
“Stop. I... I'm sorry. I know what we did was wrong, I know that not telling you about this was not the right thing to do. But please... just sit down. There is more to say,” Tessa said, looking at the carpeted floor.
I examined the mercenary for a moment before nodding and returning to my chair, leaving Tessa at the door, giving her the time to formulate what she needed to say.
“We didn't tell you about your abilities because we thought that it would push you to try and experiment. We didn't teach you anything of Knighthood and you never really showed an interest. We thought we were protecting you from yourself.”
“Not telling me almost got me killed,” I said, “Vera told me my soul was damaged after I Bonded with Elora.”
“I know,” Tessa winced, “I knew the moment I saw you again in the inn. I'm a Smith, I can see souls. It settled it for Boldrin and I. We would have been happy to allow the Bond to be broken, but with such a wound you would have died in weeks, if not less. We decided to help you with Dunwellen to strengthen the Bond. We assumed once you Forged a Weapon that you would be safe. But I woke up soon after the Queen knocked you unconscious. I could feel her soul. She hated your Element, Orin. I knew she would try something drastic.”
“Severance,” I said, “So, the letters to Ragora? They were real?”
Tessa shook her head, “No. They never existed. I just needed to get in here and make sure that Elora was there when they attempted it. Her being there would have made you fight. Her absence would have destroyed you both.”
I scratched at my head, annoyed beyond measure, “Why does she hate my Element so much, anyway? Is it because I'm an Heir? Is that one of my abilities?”
Tessa came and stood in front of me. She looked vulnerable.
“Being an Heir is not about the Element, Orin. It was never about the Element. You saw what you did to Elora during the Severance. The Gift of the Crown. One of the powers of the Heir. A Gift for the Smith. It allows them to use the power of their bloodline.”
“Their bloodline? What do you mean?”
“You were so focused on your silver Element, but you never stopped to wonder why you had the same Element that every Knight in Elora's family used. Darkness. Didn't you find that strange? Out of the dozens of Elements that appear in Knights, you had the exact same one that Elora's family was known for using.”
“What are you saying, Tess?”
Tessa rolled her eyes, “You are so dense. I'm saying that is the ability of the Heir, Orin. Your soul is pure. You tap into your Smith's bloodline and take their Element for your own. It's why you are feared so. The Queen was afraid because she knows what your silver ability can do. Because she's seen it before. In her own family.”
“Then the man who attacked us after Craven died is somehow related to the Queen? To Elora? He had the Silver Element.”
“I don't have all the answers, Orin. Boldrin knows a lot more about Hammond and his Mentor than I do.”
“Surely someone should have noticed that I had a 'pure' soul,” I inquired, “It's not like I had wards to hide it.”
“Actually, you did,” Tessa said, “But they shattered as soon as you Bonded with Elora. It would look like you always had the Dark Element to everyone else.”
“I'm not so sure, Tess,” I said, my brow furrowed in thought, “Having a different Element doesn't seem so important, even with this 'Gift of the Crown' thing. I'm just a different kind of Knight.”
“No, Orin. You are more. So much more.” Tessa said, falling to her knees in front of me and taking my hands in hers, “Do you trust me?”
I frowned at her, “Probably not the best time to ask that, Tess. You did just tell me my life is a lie.”
“I know. But I promise never to lie to you again, never to betray you. I was sent to serve, Orin, and I would. If you'll have me. Please, just trust me.”
I narrowed my eyes at the mercenary but nodded my head slowly.
“Elora gave you Darkness. It is powerful and will serve you well, but it isn't enough. Not to protect you, not until your purpose is revealed. More enemies will come and you must meet them using all of your strength.”
The air around us began to feel charged and the symbols on Tessa's body flared up again, this time glowing so brightly they were almost blinding.
“From me you will gain Lightning. Turbulence and wrath and Speed.”
The words resonated and my soul began to quicken. Something flickered inside of my black flames. A bolt of the purest white lightning darted across the black, faster than anything I had ever seen before. I watched dumbstruck as Tessa gave me a predator's smile. I saw a flash of lightning spark across her steely grey eyes., the smell of a storm filled the air around me and I swear I could hear the distant crash of thunder.
“Orin. I name you my Knight.”