This Strange World Needs A Kicking! - 32. Gone Rogue
Chapter Thirty-Two – Gone Rogue
“Well,” Luna insisted, seeing how he remained silent, his teaspoon resting in a delicate balance on the edge of the plate. “It looks like you do not wish to share Milo’s whereabouts, so I will start with a confession of mine.”
Sebastian’s head shot up, and he stared in disbelief at the charming lady. A charming lady with charms, she called herself, and at times, Sebastian thought that there was something about her, playful and mischievous, that he couldn’t quite pinpoint. If that were the case and her true self was this quirky side, his mother would never confer with Luna Celeste. That made as good a reason as any for her to hide that part that seemed so inclined to games and whatnot.
He waited patiently. To show that he was in no hurry to divulge anything that would put Milo in harm’s way, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, all the while eyeing Luna carefully. Something in her beautiful round face always brought appeasement. Still, Sebastian usually fought that sensation, as he found it unsettling to lose control over his own will in such a flighty manner.
“You’re so like your mother, stubborn to a fault, but your heart, just like hers, is still in the right place.”
He scoffed at that. Of course, Luna would think nothing else of Reya, and that was why they were thick as thieves. All the more reason for him to keep his guard up and not allow her to see inside his heart, not for a moment if he could help it. Reya wanted the good of Ifigia, and in that, there was simply no room for affection toward a son who existed only so that he could serve the said good.
“I wished for you to find love,” she said.
“And I did, didn’t I?” Sebastian replied curtly. “Pepin--”
Luna raised her hand and cut through the air. “Enough, Sebastian. Don’t take me for a fool. The last time you visited me, I wished for you to find love and put my wish in the charm I gave you.”
Sebastian stared at the empty plate in front of him and frowned. The mark on his skin where the Uxilan dagger had stabbed his body while Kai was still in it itched, and he had to use all his willpower not to touch his chest. Was this woman so wicked as to curse him?
“You,” he hissed. “You made it so that I was cursed to travel to that strange world!”
She served him an amused smile as her eyes lit up with interest. “Sincerely, I thought you were having emerging feelings for your new concubine and hoped to nudge you in the right direction. If that had failed, it would have confirmed that Pepin should still be the one for you.”
Sebastian frowned. “You’re playing with things that don’t concern you,” he said thickly. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
To his dismay, Luna placed her chin in her right palm and looked at him with loving eyes. What was she playing at now?
“I do. I finally helped you realize your deepest wish, Sebastian.”
He grunted as he pressed himself back into his chair more. “And what would that wish be if you don’t mind my asking?”
“To love and be loved back,” Luna replied matter-of-factly like he should have known that already.
He looked away and worked his jaw. “That is preposterous,” he denied. “What would love,” he spat the word like it was poison in his mouth, “bring me? I have everything.”
Luna sighed, seemingly from the bottom of her twisted heart. If she wanted to fool him into thinking that she was on his side, she had to do better than that.
“I kept telling your mother,” she started, “that she should allow you to feel happy. And she kept telling me that you were perfectly fine.”
“I certainly was,” Sebastian shot back.
Luna shook her head. “No, my dear boy, you weren’t fine at all. You weren’t living, not completely.”
“And how is this,” Sebastian replied and grabbed his chest, “any living? This… this pain--”
“It’s living,” Luna contradicted him and nodded all knowingly. “It cannot have been too long since you were forced to part ways with your chosen. Don’t you remember the joy, too?”
He stopped the flow of words he wanted to hurl at her. Of course, he did remember the joy, but it was because he remembered that, pain existed, too, and their mingled effect was just too much to bear. “That is not important.” All that sighing coming from Luna was starting to get on his nerves. “Why do you pretend to be so concerned? And Milo is not anywhere in the palace or near it.”
“That much I gather.” She continued to examine him with keen eyes. “What is this talk about a strange world?”
So Luna didn’t know she had sent him into a world so different from theirs that he had no idea where to start. But then, how had her charm worked? Did she have no control over her own crafty magic?
“You should know,” he gave a vague reply.
“I don’t. But when I saw Milo--”
Sebastian tensed. “Where and when did you see him?” he asked through his clenched teeth.
Luna rested her lily-white hand over her mirror to the souls of humans, as she called that implement. “Here.”
He frowned. “How?”
“Your replacement walked into my quarters, in search of answers.”
Sebastian could feel his jaw hurting. Just how much damage had that bumbling idiot done? “And you found it not in the least strange that he wasn’t me?” he asked.
“Ah, I was almost fooled for a moment. But unlike you, he gobbled down the cake I gave him without pretending that it’s not the most delicious thing he ever had. I was intrigued, of course, especially since I sensed that he was developing feelings toward Pepin. Imagine my surprise.”
Sebastian chose to look sternly at her. “I have my doubts you were that surprised.”
Luna laughed her silver bell laughter that, just like her confectionery, could lull his mind into a pleasant state that he tried to chase away as misleading and ill-intended. She was his mother’s closest confidante, and he should not forget about that if he wanted to keep Milo safe.
“Very well. Not that surprised. But I did see Milo, and his strange attire confirmed to me that he must be somewhere a long way from Ifigia. And where he was when I saw him, you had to be, too.”
“Did you see me?” Sebastian asked. Did you even look? Sometimes, such annoying questions came to mind. Whether he returned from war or negotiations with a neighboring kingdom, no one cared about his wellbeing. Except for Pepin, of course, but Sebastian had always had to do his damnest to keep his servant at arm’s length so that he wouldn’t end up making him believe any feelings of a romantic nature would emerge between them.
“No, because, according to my eyes, you were sitting right in front of me. Of course, your replacement confirmed then my suspicions by letting me know that Milo is his friend. Hence, if he were here, you had to be… where exactly have you been, Sebastian?”
Luna was obviously trying to appear calm and collected, but her eyes shone with curiosity. He didn’t say anything.
“Never mind, then. I believe you would talk when you realize that I’m not your enemy, and I’ve never been.”
“That will never happen,” Sebastian said icily.
“Never say never,” Luna replied. “Now, you came here to ask me something. Go ahead.”
Sebastian pursed his lips in thought. Could he trust Luna not to let Reya know of Milo? She knew and had known for a while, without a doubt, and yet Reya had no idea of the handsome boy Sebastian was in love with.
“Yes, you can trust me,” Luna said with a slight note of exasperation in her voice. “Ask me. Just do it.”
“How is it possible to travel between worlds?” Sebastian asked directly.
“Well, since you are actually the one to have embarked on such an astonishing journey, I was hoping you could tell me.”
Sebastian stood abruptly. “You are of no use to me.”
“Sebastian, wait.” Luna stood, as well, and came around the table and close to him. She placed a hand on his forearm. “Milo won’t be safe. Why don’t you let me help you?”
“The only help I need is for you to tell me how to open the gate to that strange world. It looks to me that you have no control over your own charms.”
“You are harsh, just like her.” Luna raised one hand and caressed his cheek. “I am here for you, whenever you need me. Just make sure she doesn’t catch whiff of Milo being in Ifigia.”
“How do you know he’s in our world?” Sebastian asked, only then realizing that he hadn’t asked the most obvious fact.
“I saw what happened at the Shimmering Cavern.”
He didn’t have to ask how.
“And I know that Milo, along with his friends, didn’t stay with you.”
“How come you don’t see him now?” Sebastian asked, using his coldest voice.
“Quite the strange thing,” Luna replied. “I should have been able, but… I wonder what magic is stronger than ice.”
She gave him a sided look, but he held his tongue. Clearly enough, she thought of Galien and his mother’s lineage. Despite his cousin’s denial of having any magic of his own, it didn’t mean that he couldn’t enlist his mother’s help when needed. Where Reya had only frosty feelings at best toward her offspring, Fiana’s love for her son occasionally burned a bit too hot. Galien often joked about never being allowed to emancipate from under her wing till the day he was no more.
“They must be with him, then,” Luna said airily.
Sebastian gave her a stricken look.
“Oh, do not worry. I had my suspicions, but I needed the confirmation I see now in your eyes. They’re in good hands.”
“Not for long, I suppose,” Sebastian said.
“I’ll search for your answer,” Luna replied. “I fear someone must have meddled with my magic.”
“That’s quite unsettling, don’t you think?” Sebastian eyed her carefully.
“Indeed,” she admitted with a thoughtful nod. “Until I find what I’m looking for, make sure to stay away from Milo. Reya mustn’t see him.”
“No need for you to remind me that.” He hesitated for a moment. “Why are you helping me? Against her wishes, even?”
Reya offered him a fond smile. “I love your mother, Sebastian.” For one heartbeat, she remained silent. But then, she looked straight at him and right into his soul. “But I love you more.”
He opened his mouth, wanting to ask what she could mean, but she silenced him by pressing her index finger against her lips.
“Now go and have faith. When the time is right, you’ll see him again.”
Sebastian couldn’t say, hand on heart, that he should have felt soothed by those words, but it was a simple truth. There was something more than charming about the charming lady of Ifigia. She could take anyone’s pain away with just a touch.
“Everything looks so cute. I can’t eat! It’ll just ruing them!” Tani exclaimed as Galien’s personnel came and went in a flurry of activity, placing the most exquisite-looking dishes in front of them.
“I can,” Kai replied and eyed everything while licking his lips. “But you should try Pepin’s mini omelets, for real. He makes the best in the world. I mean, the best I’ve ever tasted,” he added.
Compared to them, Milo was a lot more reserved, and he was sitting straight in his chair without letting out any sign that he was as impressed with his surroundings as Tani. He was no longer muttering under his breath so that at least was a good sign.
“Please, enjoy,” Galien encouraged them. “And I am well aware that nothing can surpass the food made by the one you love.”
Kai snickered. “Has Conrad cooked anything for you?”
“I’m afraid we’re still not there yet,” Galien replied affably. “However, I am much interested in hearing more about your world. And Milo,” he added.
Milo remained still, his fork in the air. Kai stared at his friend and watched him swallow a bit nervously. Even if Milo had come to terms somehow that they were in a fantasy land, it didn’t mean that he felt at ease there. They had been given other clothes, so now they didn’t appear as out of place as before. Milo looked quite dashing, Kai had to admit, in a blue outfit adorned with intricate golden decorations, and the same frilly type of shirt that Galien wore was part of his outfit. Not that his dark green suit was any less interesting, Kai thought, but Milo indeed looked handsome in his.
“Um, well,” Milo said, “What would you like to know… Your Grace?”
Kai snickered. Tani followed, proving once more that they were siblings. Milo gave them an alarmed look. “What? How am I supposed to address someone as high up the ranks as Galien?”
Galien hurried to the rescue. “Feel free to call me by my name. We don’t keep up with formalities here when we’re among friends.”
“Are we friends?” Milo asked.
“If we’re not, we’re sure to become,” Galien assured him gallantly. “My cousin is deeply in love with you, and I will do my best to--”
“But I’m not in love with him,” Milo said abruptly, cutting Galien’s words short.
Kai held his breath, and Tani did the same as they watched the exchange.
Galien’s eyes softened and shadowed. “Well, it’s quite the shame if this is how you feel.”
“All this time,” Milo explained as his fingers flexed around the fork, “I thought I was in love with my best friend. I don’t really know your cousin, with all due respect.”
Milo was right, of course, to some degree. But hadn’t he come to know Sebastian during their time together? Kai wondered.
“But you do,” Tani intervened, making all eyes turn to her. “He does,” she insisted, somewhat defensively as her eyes moved between Kai and Galien briefly. “All this time, Milo, you’ve been with Seb, and come on, you like him, at least.”
Kai observed Galien. He was examining Milo keenly as if he were trying to make sense of something.
Milo played with the fork a little more. “I was with him these last few weeks, but not for one moment, I thought that someone else lived and breathed in Kai’s body. No matter how much he insisted. I was thinking that my best friend, now boyfriend, was just fooling around.”
Tani scoffed. “That still doesn’t change anything. You’re in love with him,” she concluded.
“Tani,” Kai came to Milo’s rescue, seeing how his friend was looking down, unsure of what to say, “let Milo be. He knows better.”
“For now, let’s enjoy our meal,” Galien recommended. “And later, you can all teach me how to talk smack properly.”
“Smack?” Milo asked. “What the hell have you been telling these people, Kai?” He was grinning now, a good sign that the earlier conversation hadn’t rattled him too severely.
“I was just trying to defend myself,” Kai protested. “Of course, I’ve said all kinds of weird things.”
Galien laughed whole-heartedly. “I wouldn’t mind the truth this time. So, your world has no magic? None whatsoever?”
Kai was thankful for Galien’s smooth manners. Milo was surely confused and couldn’t just jump into the new situation and declare his undying love for Sebastian. Things were rarely that simple, in any story that he knew of. But he exchanged a quick look with his sister, and Tani shook her head and then mouthed to him – ‘he loves Seb’ and gestured with her chin toward Milo.
Maybe Tani was right. But that still didn’t mean that things would be easy.
Luna Celeste didn’t have the answers he wanted, which only meant that he would have to look somewhere else. But where? Sebastian pondered, examining the options he had at his disposal. None in the entire Ifigia, at least none that he knew of, could yield such incredible power. Luna had admitted that someone must have meddled with her magic, but her knowledge on the matter was limited.
Still, he wouldn’t sit idly, twiddling his thumbs. First things first, he needed a map and to summon all the eggheads at his court to question them on all the places and people with magic living in his kingdom. If it took him days and nights without one wink of sleep to find a way to send Milo back to safety, he would do it without a moment to waste.
He frowned as he walked into his quarters and found Pepin dusting as usual. These minor intrusions upon his privacy were beginning to unnerve him.
“The place is as clean as it can be. Feel free to tend to other duties. I believe you have quite an important one,” he said without even greeting the servant.
Pepin turned to face him, holding on to his feather duster like the thing could summon protection magic at any moment. “Sebastian,” he said in a hurt voice, “why are you so cold?”
“Cold? Don’t you mean my usual self?” Sebastian snapped.
Pepin didn’t recoil from his moods like he used to. “You’re troubled. You’re worried. And so am I. Kai--”
“Please, do not speak his name. Walls have ears, as you just may well know. If you don’t, then you’re a fool.”
Pepin hurried close to him and touched his arm. His big beautiful eyes were swimming in tears, and that was something Sebastian couldn’t stand. However, Pepin required learning a few crucial truths, or else he’d be prey to confusion and much more suffering for a long time. “Pepin,” he said in a measured voice, “you know you cannot keep him.”
“What?” Pepin took a step back and held on to his shard.
Sebastian sighed in exasperation. “Not the child. Your lover. He must return to his world.”
Pepin nodded. “Yes. If Reya discovers them--”
Sebastian put one hand up. “No need for you to remind me.”
“Your Majesty, are you in love with that handsome young man?” Pepin asked.
Sebastian looked away. Why did everyone feel the need to twist the knife? “Yes,” he admitted in a quiet voice. “All the more reason for me to find a way to send them all back. They’re not safe here.”
Pepin came closer again. “I want to help.”
“What can you do?” Sebastian said and waved dismissively. “All your life, you’ve been trained to be a servant. And you are a qualified one, don’t get me wrong, but--”
“Kai took me on adventures with him. And I helped him get the dragon’s tear when Conrad was ill after being stabbed by an Uxilan dagger meant for you.”
Sebastian stopped, astonished to hear such an incredible story. He scoffed. “It is not like you to embellish the truth or say blatant lies, Pepin.”
“It is true,” Pepin insisted, his hands turned into fists and held close by his sides. “Ask Conrad if you don’t believe me.”
There was something alluring about Pepin when he got stubborn like that. His willfulness could be considered a character flaw, and Sebastian had always been annoyed by it, but right now, he could understand why Kai Martin would fall in love with the servant. Of course, his face was very pretty, but that wasn’t it. A fiery fire burned into those eyes the color of a summer sky.
“Very well,” Sebastian said coolly. “I suppose your insubordination could at least serve the higher good, given the circumstances. Can you please tell me what you think happened that Kai Martin and I exchanged places in such an incredible manner?” He crossed his arms and waited. Pepin would be a bit upset about being put in place like that, but he had to see his limitations.
“It must have been a really powerful magic,” Pepin replied.
“Yes, that much I gather. But who could be behind it?” Sebastian didn’t care about sharing with Pepin the details of his discussion with Luna Celeste just yet.
“You ended up falling in love, so it had to be someone who wished you would find happiness,” Pepin said thoughtfully. “But if that had been true, then the handsome young man you now love would have been summoned here instead of your being made to travel to Kai’s world. Which means that the magic used could also have been employed as a means to eliminate you.”
Sebastian was already trying to think of other ways to identify the culprit for the strange exchange without paying much attention to Pepin but stopped at his servant’s last words. “Eliminate me?”
“Yes. And leave Ifigia without her lord and protector.”
Sebastian stared at Pepin for a while. “That makes sense. Excellent thinking, Pepin.”
The servant smiled sheepishly.
Sebastian began pacing the room. “I’ve been thinking the same thing ever since I opened my eyes in the other world. Whoever made it happen must have wanted me away from Ifigia. And--”
“And the same day you and Kai changed places, an Uxilan assassin appeared in the palace and tries to stab Kai,” Pepin said promptly. “That was when Conrad got injured because he put himself between the assassin and Kai.”
Sebastian stopped and stared at his servant. “How long have you known that the bumbling idiot you love was in my body?”
“Not for a while, although I was quite confused by how different you seemed. I’m just trying to piece things together here. The change must have happened that day, because Kai woke up here and pushed Conrad away so fast that he made him fall on his ass,” Pepin said promptly.
Sebastian chuckled at that image. Kai had his good parts, and somehow the situation just described by Pepin appeared quite hilarious. “What?” he asked Pepin, who was staring at him wide-eyed.
“Your Majesty, I don’t remember when I last heard you laughing.”
“What do you mean?” Sebastian turned away from Pepin, slightly embarrassed of being caught in a moment of weakness. “I can be amused when the situation requires it.”
Pepin didn’t let go and walked closer. “Sebastian, you’re… happy.”
“Happy?” Sebastian blinked rapidly and turned to look at his servant. “I’ve tried to navigate the intricacies of a dangerous world for weeks while being ill-equipped for it, I’ve messed up the life and sentiments of a young man through no fault of his own, and someone tries to destroy Ifigia.”
“Not someone,” Pepin replied. “It has to be Uxilan. They’ve always wanted you gone. As for the rest, I believe you did quite well, Your Majesty. You fell in love with a very handsome young man.”
Sebastian sighed. “I am absent for a fortnight or so, and everyone here talks about nothing but romance and love. I’m afraid we must be practical.”
“We?” Pepin asked, his eyes filled with hope.
Ah, he should have considered his words better. “It is a perilous quest,” Sebastian said coolly.
“I don’t mind,” Pepin said promptly.
“I should go alone.”
“No, you shouldn’t.”
“Since when do you feel so free to contradict me?”
“Since I realized that you’re more than just the son of the ice goddess. Better, even.”
“Yes, better,” Pepin said with conviction. “You’re someone who can feel. I’m happy that you fell in love with someone, Sebastian, even if that someone isn’t me.”
Sebastian took his time to search the servant’s beautiful eyes for any sign of lingering love. A loving look met him, but it was no longer the mindless adoration from before. In Pepin’s eyes, he saw the love of a friend. “How can you be sure, Pepin?” he asked.
“Sure of what?”
“That you don’t… love me anymore. And that you love Kai Martin instead. After all, the one in front of you, in this physical form, has always been me.”
Pepin shook his head gently and smiled. “You may think so. But all my life, I was made to believe that my happiness was you. But Luna told me that I was to be loved too, and when you kept on rejecting my feelings… I started to believe, in spite of everything, that you weren’t that person. When Kai came along, my fate became true.”
Sebastian nodded thoughtfully. “But how can you set us apart? When you look at me, don’t you have any feelings left?”
“No. It’s the one inside that counts, Sebastian,” Pepin said and placed one hand on his chest. “Are you worried that the one you love might not feel the same?”
Yes. Yes, he was. But the answer he gave was different. “He would do himself a lot of good not to. His place is not here, and if I can help it, I will send him back to the world he belongs as soon as possible.”
Pepin’s eyes were floating in sadness now. “You’re right, of course. But you are allowed to wish that he still loves you.”
Sebastian turned his back on his servant and walked over to the big table. “If you care about joining me in this quest, you must prove that you can be more practical than this, Pepin,” he said as he spread open the map of the kingdom.
Well, I hope at least some questions have been answered... But we're still far from having all that must be revealed! Even more adventures await these characters, and that's all I'm going to say for now!
Until next time,
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