Stand right where you are, Kara! howled an angry Crys.
The Dahlian warrior stopped in her tracks, brusquely turning her torso to face the Orakian prince, giving him a full view of half of her face, her angry glare more than evident.
Leave me alone! she hollered.
No chance! retorted Crys.
Not while you're recklessly putting the party in danger!
Kara turned to face Crys, wiping her long strands of green hair out of her face.
Why are you so upset? she asked defensively.
We won the battle! Isn't that's what's important?
Crys clenched his fists for several seconds before relaxing and taking a deep breath. Mieu and Wren, watching their prince give way to anger, grabbed Laya lightly by the arm and escorted her to the sidelines, whispering to her that things were inevitably going to get ugly.
No, it isn't! Crys shot back condescendingly.
I don't recall giving you any orders to attack the back row of monsters while the four of us were set upon by six...six monsters from the front lines!
Kara scowled at the scolding she was receiving.
So what, now I have to take orders from you? I'm a Dahlian general for crying out loud!
And I'm the leader of the party. You joined us. We did not join you. Crys' voice grew more and more acidic with each word.
Kara's face began to grow scarlet.
And how many missions have you accomplished so far? she spat arrogantly.
With a proud smile, Crys replied,
This is my first. And I think I'm doing a damned good job at it, too.
Well, I've led numerous campaigns. Unlike you, who are nothing more than a novice son of a half-breed and a psychopath, I have led many military campaigns. I know what I'm doing.
Laya gasped at Kara's brazen insults directed at Crys' parents. Whatever their backgrounds were, it was pretty clear that the Layans and Orakians were in the same battle, so it was absurd to her that Kara would be so childish as to bring Crys' heritage into the argument. Laya turned to Wren and was surprised to see him snorting softly and wearing an amused smile on his face. Then, turning to Mieu, Laya saw the red-haired android look at the ground while shaking her head.
Suddenly, Crys burst out laughing. He roared so loudly that Kara's angry visage was quickly replaced by a confused stare. Laya looked over at Mieu and spoke.
Uh, Mieu. Why's Crys laughing? the blonde-haired queen inquired.
Mieu let out a sigh.
I think Kara has just picked the wrong person to get in an argument with. She's about to have her piece of what you refer to as
Whatever my parents may be, they're still capable of defending themselves and Landen if need be. Too bad we can't say the same for your pathetic, has-been, waste of a father.
Kara's face quickly turned seven shades of red.
You leave my father out of this! He's twice the man you are, you lowly Orakio spawn.
Crys' chuckles grew louder. With a huge grin, he said,
He's also twice the maniac I'll ever be, even if I practice day and night for the rest of my life. And from the looks of you, you fruit-haired nutcase, the apple doesn't seem to fall far from the tree.
Kara instinctively reached for her slicers.
I. Am. Not. CRAZY! Her shrieks echoed over the cold blizzard winds of Frigidia.
Says the girl who seems to be creating new shades of red with each passing second, provoked Crys.
I swear, Crys. If you say another word about me or my family, I swear I'll kill you and leave your carcass in this icy wasteland forever. Kara's tone gave no doubt that she meant what she said.
Laya looked at Mieu and Wren.
This is madness, guys. We have to do something. They'll kill each other for sure.
Mieu shook her head mournfully.
I'm pretty sure Crys has a method to his madness. It's hard, even for his parents, to figure out what he has going on in his head. Mieu glanced back at the two; Kara was already lifting one of her slicers and pointing it threateningly at Crys' neck.
But he always has a plan.
And his plan is to insult her until she hurts him? What sort of stupid plan is that? Laya seemed outraged.
I said he had a plan. I never said it was a good one, sighed Mieu.
Crys stared defiantly at the fifth party member.
Whatever you say, you Selenite strumpet.
Kara screamed and hurled one of her slicers in Crys' direction. The olive-haired prince stood his ground. Without flinching, he drew his sword and struck the slicer in mid-air. The slicer flew off course and landed several yards away in the snow. The impact of the blow, however, had also knocked Orakio's sword from his hands and the long black blade fell onto the soft white snow.
Is that the best you can do, you would-be genocidal general? taunted Crys.
The green-haired girl gnashed her teeth and let the other slicer fly in Crys' direction. This time, when the slicer was only about a foot away from his throat, the prince of Landen shot his arm out like a blast from one of Wren's cannons and got the weapon, grabbing it by the handle. Everybody but Mieu stood completely dumbfounded by this sudden display of courage and skill from Crys, whom, to their knowledge, was completely destitute of knowledge regarding Layan weapons.
Crys treaded slowly across the snow in the direction of the flabbergasted Kara, ignoring the crimson drops of blood that dripped from his arm onto the white ground. The princess of Dahlia soon noticed Crys' wound: part of the slicer's blade had dug into his forearm. Nonetheless, she was astonished that he demonstrated no sign of pain as he stood in front her, ripped the slicer out of his arm, and handed the weapon to her. She gawked in surprise as she received the weapon from the prince of Landen, who didn't even do so much as flinch as he pulled the Layan weapon out of his arm.
With a voice that was slow, but firm, he said,
We work as a team, Kara. And if you can't even show any sort of restraint in the face of a few epithets thrown at you, then you're not even fit to lead yourself, let alone anybody else. Crys took a deep breath and then started clutching his arm.
Be yourself, but follow my lead. If anything happens, I shoulder the blame. That's how it works. Turning to the other three, he yelled,
Come! New Mota should be close to here. I'll need a couple days' rest now.
He turned around, took two steps, and then promptly fell forward into the snow, screaming in pain. Mieu looked over at Laya and rolled her eyes.
He's good in battle, but he's still lacking when it comes to handling these sorts of problems. Come, Laya.
The android and the Layan queen ran over to Crys and were about to pour dimate all over his wounds when Kara stopped them.
Let me do it, girls, ordered Kara. The Dahlian princess knelt beside Aron and transferred a luminous blue energy from her hands into his arm, causing the wound to partially close. Then, the green-haired beauty got up, picked up her other slicer and walked in the direction of New Mota.
Laya and Mieu helped Crys to his feet.
Weren't there other ways you could've resolved that? asked the blonde-haired archer.
Wren, who by now was standing beside the others, commented,
Maybe it would be better to ask Mieu to have what you refer to as
a girl's chat with Kara the next time she does something like that. She has a better way with people than you do, Prince Crys.
As they walked in the direction of the town, Crys felt as if some huge monster had dug its claws into his arm and was squeezing it at regular intervals. However, the pain was soon drowned out by the echoes of his own verbal jabs, which stung far more than the gash in his arm. It was clear to Crys that whatever point he had wished to make with Kara, was not justified by the path he took to get there.
Still clad in his armor, Crys stepped out of his room at the inn in New Mota into the hallway. He tried to tip-toe across the wooden floorboards, but they creaked loudly with each step. Stopping in front of Mieu and Wren's room, he opened the door, only to walk in on Mieu removing her leotard to slip into a nightgown. Crys quickly turned his head away.
Sorry, Mieu. Didn't know you ever changed clothes, he tittered.
It's okay, Crys. Like what you see?
Crys rolled his eyes.
Nah, you're not my type, Mieu.
Wren, who sat cross-legged in a corner of the room, spoke up.
And what do you prefer, Prince Crys? Green-haired Layan warrior princesses or blonde-haired Layan warrior queens?
Oh, ignore Wren. He still can't figure out how your dad ever fell in love with Sari, Mieu said.
In any case, is everything okay here? Crys asked helpfully.
Oh. No, we're fine. Thanks, my prince, answered Mieu cheerfully.
Crys walked down the hallway to Laya's room and, before turning the doorknob, wrapped lightly on the antique door.
Yes? called a soft raspy voice.
It's Crys, Laya.
Come in! she said invitingly.
Crys walked into Laya's bedroom. The queen of Mystoke sat up in her bed and smiled at her guest. He could tell that her eveningwear was quite skimpy by the way she pulled the patchwork quilt up to her neck. Laya blushed a little and then spoke.
So, to what do I owe your presence, Prince Crys?
Please, Queen Laya, just call me Crys.
Okay. And please, Crys, just call me Laya.
Both of them laughed.
I'm just making my nightly rounds before I settle down for the evening. I need to make sure that everybody is fine and okay before I myself retire.
How chivalrous! exclaimed Laya.
I'm fine. And your arm? How is it?
Crys looked back and forth to see if anybody was in listening distance.
Don't tell Kara this, but she's a better warrior than she is a technique user. I had to ask Mieu to give me an extra dose of monomate after Kara performed res on me.
But will you be okay?
Just give me a couple of days and I'll be as good as new. He turned and headed for the door.
Now I just need to visit the Lune spawn and I'll be done for the evening. Sleep well, Laya.
You too, Crys.
The prince of Landen walked down to the end of the hall to where Kara's room was. His forearm began throbbing so powerfully that he struggled to hide the pain and not contort the face at the extreme discomfort he was feeling. He knocked softly on the door, but there came no response.
Kara? he said with a soft voice.
Looking down the hall and seeing no one, he opened the door and took a look inside. The room was empty. He saw Kara's purple breastplate and other battle clothing strewn carelessly across the bed. Glancing in every direction to confirm that Kara was in fact not in the room, he closed the door and went back to his own room.
To Crys' surprise, when he stepped into the doorway, he saw Kara standing at his bedside, waiting for him. She was dressed in a pair of purple checkered pajama bottoms with a black silk blouse that cut off less than an inch above her navel. She wore a indigo silk robe that went down to her knees over her blouse. Kara's lime green hair was twisted into a long braid that touched the small of her back. Her face was visibly distressed, but she managed to project dignity despite whatever it was that was going on in her mind.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Crys was the first person to speak.
Fancy meeting you here, Kara, he said genially.
Kara forced a smile, and finally laughed a little.
Surprised to see me here? she asked.
A little, yes. Crys entered the room and gestured for her to sit by him at the edge of his bed.
Sorry for what I said earlier.
Kara stared at him without saying a word.
I did go overboard with the insults, even if it was to prove a point.
I admit I've never had anyone say anything like that to me, she said solemnly.
But yeah, what you said did hurt. Not necessarily what you said about father—I had that one coming. But what you said about me—
—Was reprehensible, yes. Crys began to feel the pangs of guilt for calling her, among other things, what was essentially a race-killing harlot.
Then why did you say it? Kara searched the team leader's eyes for a reason.
I don't know. When I get going, I don't know when to stop. Crys tried laugh at himself, albeit uncomfortably.
I'm far more insane than I alluded to being during our argument.
And you find it funny? asked Kara, confused.
No. There's often a thin line between horror, fear, embarrassment, and laughter, according to dad. Sometimes we laugh at things simply because we feel ashamed and don't know how to deal with it. Crys' voice started becoming far more somber.
Do you really think those things about me?
The Crys wiped the sweat from his brow,
strumpet part, no. The
genocidal general, part,
I think is more of a projection of my anger towards your father for my having to grow up in a near-constant state of war with Dahlia, not necessarily at you.
So why did you direct it at me?
I don't know. I was just as angry as you were. I just did a better job at hiding it.
So by that definition, you're about as fit to lead the party as I am.
Bear with me, Kara, replied Crys defensively.
All of a sudden, my parents show up one day and say,
Go save Alisa III from crashing into the sun, please and suddenly I'm a leader.
Kara took a deep breath.
Then I ask you to do the same with me, Crys. One day my father is filling my head with propaganda about how Orakians are scum and sends me on to battle against them, the next he tells me that everything he had ever taught me is wrong and now I have to work alongside of you. Bear with me, Crys.
For several seconds, which seemed like minutes, neither Crys nor Kara said a word.
Please accept my apologies, stammered Crys at length.
I should really punch you, Kara said seriously.
But I think your arm is enough punishment for now. Curving the side of her mouth a little, she added,
Crys, if you ever feel the need to argue with me again, take me aside, talk to me, and try to keep your arguments focused on the criticism and not my character. I'll try to do the same.
The Landen heir rubbed his arm a little.
Kara smiled and shook her head.
How are you now?
Crys ignored the pain in his arm and smiled.
I'll be fine. A good night's rest should help a lot.
You're not as good a liar as you are a diplomat, said Kara a little frankly.
And you don't seem to have much good sense in you either? What if you had had your arm sliced off?
I anticipated that years ago. I've been trained quite a bit in one-handed sword techniques as much as I've been in two-handed sword techniques.
And if you lost both arms, or your life? Kara's voice displayed a level of concern that took Crys off guard.
Mieu is second-in-command in the party. She's also trained in fencing as well as other Orakian and Layan weapons. She would've taken the lead. Crys' voice was a bit cool. After taking a deep breath, he stared into the girl's penetrating eyes.
Look, Kara. You have to understand that our party is not the same thing as your father's armies. We are not expendable like the monsters you commanded. We cannot afford to take any loss whatsoever on this mission. If one of us dies, then we all run the risk of dying.
Kara averted her gaze.
I was taught by father to not fear death.
Crys placed his good hand on her knee.
Good! Excellent! We don't need cowards. But we also don't need martyrs. He reached over and turned her face towards his so that their eyes met once again.
Kara, if you want to fight on your own, suit yourself. You'll probably win quite a few battles. But they'll get harder from here on out. And if you can't work in unison with the rest of us, then you're putting yourself in danger. Kara's face began to soften at this expression of concern for her well-being.
I don't want that, Kara.
Suddenly, Crys' arm started hurting, causing him to groan and bite down on his lip, trying to handle the pain. Blood began to seep out of the wound, staining Crys' white bed sheets. Kara immediately reacted by grabbing Crys and dragging him across the mattress until his back was up against the backboard of the bed. She quickly removed his armor and tossed the pieces haphazardly on the ground. Soon she was sitting on her knees, straddling Crys' outstretched legs. Removing her robe, Kara wrapped it around his arm and tightened it as much as she could.
The eyes of the young prince quickly left his wound and focused on Kara's bare shoulders. Kara had always kept her body under several layers of clothing and armor, so it was the first time he saw her delicate isabelline skin. He felt the strong urge to reach up and caress it, but he held back, noting that he was really in no position to demonstrate any affection whatsoever to the proud warrior princess. Crys therefore let Kara tend to him in whatever way she felt necessary, and was content to simply admire her comeliness.
After making sure the bleeding in his arm had stopped, she reached over to his bed stand and picked up a glass bottle that looked like it contained some sort of liquor.
Just hang in there, Crys, she said quietly.
I took the liberty of going to the store and picking up a few odds and ends. I didn't think the res would work very well, so I have a better remedy for the pain in your arm. She removed the lid to the bottle and took a whiff of pink liquid inside.
What is that? asked Crys, whose face was now shiny with sweat.
It's an old Dahlian painkiller, invented by Layan women as a way to treat their husbands' wounds and— Kara's cheeks turned a bright pink color.
—and it helped cheer the men up as well.
Oh? How did it do that? Crys' curiosity helped to lessen the pain in his arm.
There's a secret ingredient in it. Kara winked to Crys.
She poured a small quantity of liquid into her mouth and sloshed it around for a few seconds. Kara then pressed her lips against Crys' and Crys felt a warm, tingly sensation in his body. The pain quickly went away and was replaced by something more euphoric. Crys soon found Kara's tongue probing in the inside of his mouth and responded by massaging it with his own. Kara placed her hands on his face and the healing ritual continued for several minutes before they broke apart.
How do you feel now? she asked with a seductive smile.
I think I still feel a light throbbing in my arm, responded Crys with a week.
Kara poured a small quantity of the liquid onto his fingers and rubbed them against her lips. Their mouths met again and Crys sucked the medicine from her lips before resuming the same passionate ritual as before. This time they kissed uncontrollably for almost ten minutes before Kara pulled away. By this time, one of the medicine's side effects, drowsiness, began to take effect and soon Crys was sound asleep.
The princess of Dahlia removed the rest of his clothes and made sure he was completely covered up under the numerous blankets and quilts on this bed. She then gave him a kiss on the forehead and quietly slipped out of the room.
Crys had never slept better than he did that one night.