She needed to - in the light of all that had happened that night.
Even with her fingers held between his strong and warm grasp, Celestyn still felt so cold. Even worse, she could not shake off the feeling of trepidation.
The moment they arrived at the stables, evidently sensing her uneasiness, Kierlan looked at her. "All will be well, Aine." He grinned. "Now I see why you captivated Lady Dalintri so much. Your acting skills are exceptional, my lady." He told her in a mock impressed tone.
She did not laugh at his jest. "Must you go home tonight? Why don't you just stay at the dorm?" She asked him, worry clouding her gray-blue eyes.
Kierlan sobered. He cupped her face between his hands and kissed her forehead. "Someone has to stay at home with Master Josiah and Ariadne. They have to be protected at all times."
Celestyn nodded, knowing he was right. "I know...It's just that..." She sighed. "I can't help but..." She clenched her fists at her sides, seized by a sudden emotion.
"I will be alright." Kierlan told her, though he felt otherwise. He saw Zack approaching from the corner of his eye. "Celestyn, nothing will happen to me. Next time you see me, I will still be in one piece. I promise." He held her close. "Now rest. You have gone through quite an ordeal. I will see you tomorrow."
Celestyn nodded. She started to turn away then she stopped and looked at him. "Kierlan...Be careful, alright?"
Kierlan felt his gut twist at the worry in her eyes but still, he answered: "Nothing will happen to me. Now go." Just as she was about to leave, he was not able to stop himself from holding her arm and giving her a quick, soft kiss on the lips. "I love you."
She smiled weakly. "I love you too." Then with visible reluctance, she turned and walked slowly away to give him and Zack some privacy.
Zack approached Kierlan as the raven-haired woman left, whistling softly. "We had quite a night."
Kierlan turned to his friend, his eyes serious. "Stay with her tonight, Zack. Do not let her out of your sight. Give her any excuse but whether she would like it or not, don't leave her." He saw Zack's swollen jaw and seized on that as an excuse. "Distract her. You can even tell her your jaw needs medical attention. But whatever happens, don't let her venture out of school grounds." He instructed, under his breath.
"Understood, Kierlan," he answered, nodding. "With Siraak running around like that I'd make sure she's safe. Is there a place for me to spend the night?"
"Stay in Room Thor. I am rooming with Frizlan Blythe." Kierlan hoisted himself up on Mischa. "Take care of her, Zack." He said once more before galloping off.
He nodded as Kierlan rode off, turning to bring his things into said room. After making sure things were in order, he left to find Celestyn.
He had a hunch he'd find her somewhere quiet. So he headed towards the garden, and found her there.
"I hope you don't mind knowing you've been assigned a bodyguard," Zack said to break the silence.
Celestyn was sitting on the bench when Zack found her. She looked up surprised. She must be really lost in thought not to notice his arrival. It took a while before she could find her voice. "A bodyguard?"
He smirked. "Kierlan made me promise to make sure you don't leave the school grounds. I swear, I've never seen him this protective since his mother injured herself with a needle."
Celestyn smiled weakly. Zack was trying to cheer her up. She knew that. "I do not really need someone to watch over me..." She started, used to being independent for most of her life.
"No, you don't," Zack answered. "I can see you're capable of taking care of yourself. Kierlan just cares about you a lot to make sure that I'm around to keep you safe, especially if he can't do it himself at the moment."
She nodded, worry for Kierlan still in her mind. She would not able to get some sleep that night until she was certain he was alright. Fates, why did she have the feeling something was going to happen to him? Why did she just not insist for him to stay?
"Kierlan will be fine, Celestyn. I've known him since boyhood, and he's always been a strong one," Zack continued, leaning against a tree. He could see the worry and tension on her face, and somehow felt compelled to try and get her mind off Kierlan for a while. The feeling of kinship rose in him again, surprising him.
"You know..." he started awkwardly, "The hearth-women have always peaked my curiousity, their ways, their customs, their wisdom. I've wondered what it would be like being with them, especially now that since there are more clues that my mother might be one of them."
Celestyn saw his intent and decided it would indeed be best to stop worrying for a while. "Yes, people are often curious about us. We do not mingle with the outside world that much, as you can see." She glanced at the ring in his hand. "I believe your mother is connected with us. Black firestone is a very rare material, even in Sacred Keep."
"I see..." he gazed at the said item, turning it in his hand. "It's strange how there are so many clues that connect me to them, especially since I've only recently discovered that I have magic."
Celestyn's stunned gaze jerked to his. "You have magic?"
"Only found out when I was travelling from Allonshire to Sollus," Zack nodded. "Shape-shifting. Apparently I can change to any form of beast as I choose." He looked at her. "My father didn't have magic, so that leaves my mother. Know anyone among the hearth-women with a similar ability?"
For a long while, Celestyn looked at Zack, a suspicion beginning to form in her mind. "Shape-shifting..." She remembered someone...someone very dear to her...but she shook her head. It can be her...Not wanting to give Zack false hope just yet, Celestyn asked: "Before I answer that question, may I ask if you can transform at will then? And how do you transform?"
"Twice I transformed because my life, or someone else's, was in danger. I've been meeting with Josiah to be able to control this power, which has been happening steadily. So I guess, it's transformation at will."
She nodded. "I see. There are many ways of transformation. Only few shapeshifters can transfer at will. The weaker ones, would have to be able to touch the form they desire in order for them to adapt the shape. That is strong and dangerous magic you have, Zack. I think you must know that it is remarkable of you to be able to keep it in check."
He looked sheepish as he remembered. "I know what you mean by dangerous. I nearly killed three men while protecting Ariadne from them. She was quite shocked, to say the least." A hand came to the back of his head.
"You and Ariadne were attacked?" Celestyn asked surprised. "When did this happen?"
"Not too long ago. Damn bandits," Zack muttered, scowling. "Makes my job harder than it already is."
Celestyn just sighed, knowing it was no use to worry about that now. She glanced at him and once again, she felt that leap of recognition...kinship. To distract herself, she stood up. "Let me get something for that jaw. If you don't do anything about that now, it will inconvenience you greatly starting tomorrow."
She came back moments later with a bottle of what seemed to be transparent oil that smelled faintly of jasmine and a gauze. Gently, she began to apply it. "I was not able to thank you for what you did earlier."
Zack let out a chuckle. "It's nothing. Dealing with that idiot Siraak every day is more painful than that punch he gave me." He punctuated that by rolling his eyes. "I'd love to do what Kierlan said and tear him, as quoted, from limb to limb."
She smiled weakly at that. "You have my gratitude, Zack. I would like to return the favor someday. Perhaps I can start now by helping you find out about your mother."
Zack nodded in thanks. "It really is true... Froisne heoini klore deqoia..."
"Everything comes full circle. Anything you do to others comes back to you." Even as she translated the Allonian words in her mind, Celestyn froze. There was only one person she knew who had the habit of saying those very words Zack just spoke.
An image came to her mind. A tall, willowy woman who had blonde hair and brown eyes that could be firm and gentle at the same time...
her mother's cousin...
"Fates..." Celestyn whispered as she looked at Zack.
Zack's mother was Kalare.
"What is it?" he looked at her surprised face, wondering what was it that he said that caused her shock.
"This is an evening full of surprises." Celestyn smiled wryly. "Perhaps this will be the most pleasant of all for you." Now she knew why she felt that they were kin...
She and Zack were cousins after all.
"It seems like it, from the pleased look on your face," he answered. "Now if you would be kind enough to let me out of the dark..."
She laughed. "Forgive me, I am just quite shocked by the revelation." She took a deep breath and looked straight into his confused eyes. "Perhaps it is right that I should be the one to break this to you. Froisne heoini klore deqoia...I only know one person besides you who speak those words constantly, Zack. She is someone...very dear to me." A fond, wistful smile. "I miss her greatly. She is Kalare. My mother's cousin, one of the leaders of our clan." She took his hand, the moonlight emphasizing the figure of a falcon in his ring.
After a long while, Celestyn told him quietly. "She is your mother, Zack."
She is your mother...
"Then... you are..." Zack's eyes widened at the knowledge. "That explains it... you are kin, you are my cousin..."
She chuckled softly. "It appears so." She smiled. "Yes, that explains it indeed."
Zack laughed, shaking his head. "I wonder how Kierlan will react to this," he smirked.
The Sollus residents had all turned in early.
As he rode on Mischa, Kierlan saw that only few people were still in the streets. The city was dark and almost empty.
And he wondered how Celestyn was.
Kierlan knew he had to stop worrying. She was in Zack's hands.
Kierlan smiled dryly. And Celestyn could take care of herself too. He was well aware of that.
As for himself...
He was expecting them any moment now.
As if on cue, Kierlan saw several dark figures come out of the shadows.
There were ten of them. Each of them began to form a circle around him.
Lightning struck that moment and rain began to fall from the skies. Kierlan saw the largest figure's face illuminated.
Automatically, Kierlan's fingers went to the handle of his dagger. With dark, calm eyes, he regarded his opponents' faces, gauging their strengths and their weaknesses.
He had known. Had always known. Since the Headmaster said that his test would have to conducted at a later date...
He jumped down from his horse and took his dagger from his hilt and faced his attackers.
"Care to start now?" He asked casually.
Nicolo let out a cruel laugh. "I have been waiting for this forever." He rasped.
"Has she been sad... since... Father left her?" Zack asked Celestyn, still disbelieving that he now knew who his mother was.
"Yes. But she hid her sadness well." Celestyn felt a wave of sadness hit her, as she remembered her Aunt's story. "She is a very strong-willed woman, your mother." She sensed Zack's desire to know more about his mother and sadly, she was the best person to enlighten him now. Even Lothiara would insist that as his cousin, Celestyn must be the one to tell him.
She wished she could prevent the pain he would feel as soon as he finds out what had truly happened between his mother and father.
"I would have expected that," Zack answered, leaning back as he laughed. "I never thought so many things would happen the moment Kierlan asked me to take care of some matters for him back in Allon-" A loud cry alerted him and he straightened. "What was that?"
Celestyn stood up then, seeing a falcon flying high above them, its cry alerting them...warning them...
"Oh no..." She whispered, her face pale.
"Celestyn!" Zack called as he followed the falcon. "Stay with someone in the school, don't leave the grounds!"
Rain began to fall on them but Celestyn did not care. She did not listen to Zack as she ran towards the stables.
Oh please...let him be alright...Celestyn cried in her mind, her heart thundering.
Damn it, Kierlan! What the hell did you get yourself into this time?!
Zack continued to follow the falcon, removing his sword from its scabbard as darkness began to close in behind him.
A puppet let out a loud yell as Kierlan struck it down with his blade, making it explode into dust.
Despite his pain and weariness, Kierlan did not even pause to rest. There were only three puppets left...
Two puppets came at Kierlan at once and swiftly, he ran his dagger through one, pulling it back just in time to slit the throat of another.
He felt a moment's relief seeing the two explode into dust.
His victory was short-lived.
Nicolo extended his hand and black light was torn from it, throwing Kierlan against an alley wall.
Kierlan gritted his teeth as a sharp pain exploded at his side.
He glanced down and was surprised to see his clothing drenched with the blood flowing from the wound on his side.
"I have been dreaming of this day..." Nicolo said as he advanced, a triumphant gleam in his eyes. "Who would have thought, that His Royal Highness, Prince Kierlan of Allonshire, would be at my mercy?"
Nicolo let out a loud laugh. "Wet...Bloodied...Powerless...The Prince in all his glory..."
Kierlan got to his feet, facing him. "This is a test." He said quietly the rain poured heavily on him. He held back a wince at what the slightest effort brought him. "I already killed you before." He added calmly.
With that, Kierlan leapt and plunged his dagger into the last puppet.
At Kierlan's words, Nicolo merely laughed and extended his hand again, releasing black light, throwing Kierlan once again on the ground.
"Do I look dead to you, Your Highness?" Nicolo taunted.
Kierlan clutched at his left shoulder and felt his blood oozing from his fingertips. His body felt numb by the pain. Though he had years of practice in controlling his magic, he knew that he had to defeat this illusion now. If he were to weaken any more than this, it was highly possible that his magic would come out automatically.
That he could not allow to happen.
He had to stay in Sollus.
The future of the others depended on it.
An image of Celestyn came into his mind.
He had to protect her.
Kierlan struggled as he tried to muster all of the physical strength he had left.
His arm hang loosely on his side as he got to his feet, thinking of the best way to attack.
"So your magic was the only thing you had, Prince Kierlan?" Nicolo snickered. "Now without it, you are lost...weak...Look at you...You could not even touch me."
Though weak, Kierlan tried to remember Nicolo's point of weakness.
That night of the play...How did he, Meara and Celestyn manage to kill the man?
Celestyn used fire...
Meara used the partisan...
Kierlan knew the answer did not lie there. He had stabbed at Nicolo many times a while ago but the man was not wounded at all.
He focused on what else they had done to kill Nicolo that night.
A light seemed to go on inside him.
He had controlled Nicolo's mind...
That was where the opening lie...
As he finalized his line of attack, Kierlan knew he had to keep Nicolo talking.
Nicolo was still looking at him mockingly and was now putting on an exaggerated thoughtful expression. "Ah...but you dealt with my puppets well. You dispensed of them with ease, didn't you? It is I, who is the problem...How will you survive this, Your Highness, without your magic?" Nicolo let out with mock distress.
Then he smiled menacingly. "Or perhaps your magic is still there inside you? Perhaps any moment now, you will not be able to control yourself and it will be set free?"
Kierlan just stood there, looking at him.
Nicolo's grin widened. "Trying to control my mind?" He bowed mockingly. "Do as you wish...You have my permission to try~"
"What the~" He looked up surprised as a falcon let out a sharp cry above them.
Kierlan seized on that moment and his dagger in hand, he bounded towards Nicolo and plunged his dagger on the center of Nicolo's forehead, slicing it diagonally.
As Nicolo let out a loud yell and as a blinding white light enfulged in, burning him, Kierlan removed his dagger and dropped to the ground.
When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see that though the area was still dark, it did not look as if it had rained at all.
No sign of dust could be seen anywhere.
No indication of the battle that had just happened could be spotted.
He heard hoofbeats and amidst his weakness, Kierlan focused on the figure running to him.
"Kierlan!" Zack called out as he came into view, surprised at seeing Celestyn there. "Didn't I tell you to stay in the school?!"
At the sight of Kierlan's bloodied and battered form, Celestyn swallowed back a cry.
"Kierlan!" She sobbed, as she sank the ground by his side
She could have wept with relief as she felt his arm around her. "I am fine, Aine." He assured her weakly, trying to grin. "I promise I am alright."
She nodded, though the fear for him was still there.
She could have lost him.
Zack walked over to help his friend, binding his wounds as best as he could before assisting him to mount Mischa. "You still attract trouble, Kierlan. I'm surprised I've survived this long with you," he grinned.
"I share your sentiments."
When he turned, Kierlan was not surprised to see the Mayor standing there. "You handled the test remarkably, Prince Kierlan." Avenes added, his face pale at everything he had seen.
Beside the mayor, Dirbelow stood, watching quietly, though Kierlan knew him long enough to recognize relief in his face.
Siraak looked livid, but he did not say anything more. Angrily, he stalked off.
Kierlan turned to Elyzaar, who was standing there with a wide-eyed Luciine Korvelus beside him.
Celestyn took one look at Luciine and she came to the same conclusion as Kierlan. Everything that had happened was an illusion conjured by Luciine.
It had been a test.
"I see you are sealed, Kierlan." Elyzaar said, his face as pale as the Mayor's.
Kierlan nodded. "It appears so." He replied wryly.
"With all due respect, Headmaster," Zack said through gritted teeth in barely contained rage, "did this test have to be that dangerous for Kierlan? He nearly got himself killed!" His hazel eyes bored into Siraak's retreating back. "It was his idea, wasn't it?!"
"Tomorrow will be soon enough for explanations." Elyzaar answered. He was looking at Kierlan as he said the next words: "I apologize that this is the only way we know to prove you are indeed sealed."
Kierlan nodded. "I understand, Headmaster."
"Very well. Good night, Kierlan. Lieutenant Farnham." There was a faint smile in Elyzaar's face as he looked at Celestyn. "You have my permission to stay at Kierlan's house for tonight, if you wish, Miss Hearthwell."
Her answer was immediate. "I would, sir. Thank you."
"Good night, all of you." Avenes told them. "I expect to see you better soon, Prince Kierlan."
Kierlan nodded. "Yes, Mayor. Good night."
Dirbelow nodded at all of them. "I don't want to see you at work tomorrow, Kierlan. Get better." A glance at Celestyn and he added. "You are in good hands."
"I couldn't agree more." Kierlan replied with a grin.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Zack gave a nearby tree a powerful punch. "Damn that insufferable, arrogant bastard!"
"It is over, Zack. I am alright." Kierlan winced at the pain in his shoulder.
"It is too late to blame anyone now." Celestyn said quietly. "Let us all just go home."
Zack nodded in agreement as he took Mischa by the reins and led the horse to Kierlan's house. "Fine, he's safe from my wrath, for now."
Kierlan nodded. Then he realized what Celestyn had just said. Home. He looked at her and she nodded at him with a soft smile on her pale face. "Yes, Kierlan, let us go home."