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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Crown Prince Yoshi - 9. Chapter 9

Nine

“Have you found Midori?” Namik’s sharp gaze rested on his steward. “I want him here.”

“My lord, General Midori was last spotted on the borders of Earith fighting against our forces,” Rocke said. “All attempts to reach him have failed.”

“You mean his inner circle has killed your messengers,” Namik said, his tone amused. “Looks like I trained him well. However, I must have left out vital lessons for him to defy me this way. No matter, once we have taken the palace and Prince Saki crowned, Midori will find his way back.”

Rocke stared at Namik’s feet, clearly ready to say more.

“What?”

“Sir,” Rocke said, his tone wary. “They say General Midori protects the Prince Yoshi.”

“Protects?”

Namik stared at Rocke, anger rising. It angered him that his men had missed assassinating Prince Yoshi, not once but three times now. He’d heard of the incident in a village and a dark rider spiriting the young prince into the forest. The dark rider had to be his son.

“Leave,” Namik said.

Rocke nodded and hurried out of the tent.

Namik grabbed the goblet of wine on his table and drank deep. Shaking his head in disappointment, he slammed the goblet on the table.

“Your anger will be your undoing.”

Namik turned to find Prince Tailen had come in to the tent. He scowled and gave the man a small bow.

“What brings you here, Your Highness?” Namik asked. “You should be in the palace helping the Empress mourn her son.”

“Don’t mock me,” Prince Tailen growled moving to sit at the head of the table. “We both know an impostor lies in the casket. Almira is not as devastated as she should be, I suspect she knows the truth too.”

“Your hold on her is weak,” Namik said.

“She’s not easy,” Prince Tailen scoffed. “Vulan trained her. A man who subdued the Sand Queen. What do you expect?”

“If Saki is going to rule, you need to take more risks.”

Namik worked to hide his disgust. Prince Tailen was sly and thrifty, strong he was not, and the idea of serving him for longer than he had to disgusted him. Still, if this was the only way to wrest power from the Taimeng House, then he would work with what he had. Once Almira was out of the way, he would kill Tailen, leaving Saki open to his ideals.

“The Imperial army will surround the palace,” Namik continued. “The Fier Army will patrol the streets of Lexin City and guard all entry gates. That should give you enough time with the Imperial Diet. They will insist on following the laws of succession. Without Yoshi, you have an easy task.”

Prince Tailen glanced at him.

“What of the Quad Council. The Council works along the Diet, Namik. The Diet might control the structure of the royal family, but the Council determines how the Empire treats a monarch.”

“Don’t worry about the Quad council. Both the ministers of defense and rites are from Fier. They will convince the others to follow if they hope to survive this.”

“What of Terra?

Namik chose a seat then. He stared at the map on the table. He didn’t want to tangle with Terra or Lilind, the Queen of Sands. He knew Almira had sent a messenger to Terra. As long as the messenger didn’t make it, Terra would not make a move. As for Dwind, they never bothered with Quad politics. Pipa Klud spent too much time worrying about her people, and Lilind considered Quad politics petty since her tangle with Emperor Vulan. If he managed to wrest control before they got involved, Terra would bow to the new authority, and Dwind would shrug the change away.

“Control Almira and we have Terra,” Namik said.

“Yes, Almira has a strange love for Terra because of her husband,” Prince Tailen said, giving him a small wicked smile. “The Empire mourns Yoshi’s death, his funeral is underway. A successor must be named, and the Imperial Diet must meet to attend the task. Almira will fight to delay that summit, but with your army at her gates, she has no choice left.”

“This will only work if you’re committed, Prince Tailen,” Namik warned, he’d risked everything.

Prince Tailen held his gaze.

“I’ve waited my whole life, Namik of Fier. No one is more committed to this than me.”

Namik stood.

“Then, I will lead the army into Lexin city tomorrow morning.”

***

Lexin City

Warning drums wrenched peace from the city. Weeks worth of tension broke into chaos. Almira stood in an alley and watched her people run on the streets in fear. Screams of fear, angry voices, frantic men and women carrying their belongings.

Her talk with Teng Heim had lasted all night. On her way to the palace, the warning drums at the main Lexin City gates started.

Now, women clung to their children as they ran to the safety of their homes. The rumble of mammoth gates closing told her she still had loyal servants within the palace.

She had been fifteen the last time the warning drums rang. Her father was Emperor. Lilind of Dwind had started the war then. Lilind led an uprising against Emperor Vulan Taimeng. Almira had watched her father face the Sand Queen, and come out the victor. Emperor Vulan insisted on one-on-one combat. Forcing Lilind to face him in the city square. Almira watched her father fight the terrifying Lilind, heart in her throat as Vulan was wounded many times. Thirty minutes of fast battle, and Vulan had defeated the Sand Queen, holding her down on the ground with the sword Yoshi now carried.

Almira had asked her father why he hadn’t killed Lilind later that day.

Lilind is one of our subjects, Almira,’ Vulan said. ‘She is vital to the well-being of the Empire. It is better to compromise with her.’

Almira sighed now watching a small boy fall, screaming as people ran around him in panic. What was she to do with Namik now? Was she to compromise with him when he had dared murder her only child for power?

She clenched her fists.

Such wisdom was beyond her.

“Save the boy.”

Ara, her guard, rushed into the chaos and returned back carrying the boy.

Almira adjusted the scarf over her head, hiding her face. She took the boy from Ara knowing her guard would need her arms free to defend them. Ara led the way down a dark alley heading back to the palace.

Almira held the panicked boy in her arms. Tears slid down the boy’s cheeks even as she held him. Fear in his eyes. Almira vowed then to squash Namik and Tailen for good.

***

Zia Sayu pressed against the high wall keeping her from entering Terra, and prayed for strength. Two days, and she had yet to find a way in. Terra’s defenses were solid. Her two assassins dogged her every step. She was tired and thirsty, her supplies long gone.

A rock dislodged to her left and she held her breath. The dagger in her right hand held tight. She stood still, waiting. Letting the assassin come to her. She would have the advantage of surprise. She would not die here. She had a duty to her Empress and the Phoenix. Her grip on the dagger tightened, and her muscles tensed in preparation.

A shadow appeared on the edge of the wall, and she stopped short when a white cat emerged. It meowed in irritation and continued on. Zia smiled, amused, and then followed the cat.

***

Yoshi held Senbon’s reins turning him around in a circle, his gaze on the luscious green grass growing in a wide field behind the Furian Palace. Vibrant flowers on trees surrounded them, thick vines dropping from tall branches created a wall around the field. So utterly untouched and wild: beautiful, nature forged.

“Can you win?” Midori challenged behind him, and Yoshi jerked his gaze to his lover.

His breath hitched at the sight of Midori atop his black stallion, Midnight. His Fier General was too handsome for words. Midori smiled at him and Yoshi urged Senbon to catch up with Midnight. They raced: fast and reckless. Senbon was swift, but Midnight was strong and he kept up. Yoshi laughed when they raced head to head, exhilaration in every gallop. He slowed down Senbon and was pleased when Midori followed suit with Midnight. They ended up on the edge of the clearing away from the palace and prying eyes. Midori reached for his reins and moving his horse close, until they could lean close for a kiss.

“Did I win?” Yoshi asked, meeting Midori’s gaze, his gaze dropping to Midori’s lips.

Senbon shifted, and Yoshi sighed when a small distance grew between them.

“You always win,” Midori said. “At least in my heart.”

Yoshi smiled.

“Your words are as beautiful as this field the Iron Furian Princess has nurtured. Who do you think she comes here with?”

“Telia,” Midori said with a knowing smile.

“No way,” Yoshi gaped. “Are you serious?”

“When am I never serious?” Midori asked. “We should go back. The head of your Black Guard will get antsy.”

Yoshi sighed.

“Yes, you are right. I need to leave for Dwind. Namik has reached Lexin City by now.”

“Yes,” Midori agreed.

“Can I convince you to lead the allied army while Sando, Telia and I head to Dwind?”

“No.”

“Midori.”

“You asked me to stay by your side. Don’t send me away, Yoshi.”

Yoshi nodded, a frown dancing on his forehead. He too didn’t want the separation. Midori made his duties bearable, kept him focused. Alone, the responsibilities swamped and paranoia set in. There were too many who wanted him dead, and equally too many who wanted his support. Midori helped him cut through it all for a moment of respite.

“The Princess Naria can lead the allied forces to Lexin City,” Midori suggested. “She doesn’t need to engage my father, she only needs to show unity until you can return with Terra and Dwind at your back.”

“Do you think I’m strong enough to convince Lilind of the Sands to follow me?”

“The Emperor Vulan was your grandfather,” Midori said. “You are of his blood line, Yoshi.”

Yoshi started to turn to Midori, and paused when he caught a shadow in the woods. Meeting Midori’s gaze, he reached for Senbon’s reins.

“My grandfather’s stories are intimidating.”

Yoshi shifted on Senbon, ready to act. Midori noting his stance, brought his right hand to the hilt of his sword.

“Do you think my stories will be intimidating to the future too?”

Midori smiled.

“Of course, Yoshi.”

The shadow shifted, running at them, Yoshi caught the glint of a sword and jumped off Senbon faster than Midori. He swung his sword, meeting the intruder’s attack with a strong swing of his sword sending the intruder staggering back. Before he could engage him again, Tai Migi appeared and took over the fight. In mere seconds, their would-be attacker was pinned to the ground, a dagger in his shoulder, and Tai Migi crouched over him.

“Who sent you?” Tai asked, his tone laced with cold anger.

When no answer was forthcoming, Tai twisted the dagger in the attacker’s shoulder drawing a sharp scream.

“N—Namik of Fier,” the man cried. “I—I’m o—only a messenger, sent to Lord General Midori.”

Yoshi froze, his gaze going to Midori.

“What is your message?” Tai demanded of the messenger.

“I—

“State your message,” Midori roared.

“You belong beside your father,” the messenger said. “Lord Namik looks forward to having you at the table.”

Midori stepped back and Tai Migi sunk a second dagger into the intruder, killing him.

“Why did you do that?” Yoshi demanded. “We could have gotten more answers—

“You are too close to General Midori. A messenger sent to him by Namik will cause unrest in a budding alliance,” Tai answered. “It is best for all of us if no one knew this man made it this close.”

“My father will have sent more than one,” Midori said, his tone low.

“I’m well aware,” Tai answered, getting to his feet. He kept his gaze on Yoshi as he spoke. “Your Royal Highness, must you keep the General by your side?”

Yoshi held Tai’s gaze.

“Yes.”

Tai stood watching him for a moment longer, then nodded, giving him a small bow.

“As you wish,” Tai said. “The Black Guard will hunt down any lingering messengers.”

“This was to be a private hour,” Yoshi commented, looking into the surrounding trees, half expecting the head of the Black Guard to appear. “Who else watches?”

“There’s only me,” Tai said. “You’ll never be alone, Prince Yoshi. However, when it’s only me, you are alone.”

Yoshi knew then his world was changing slowly. Soon, more than Tai would know what he ate for breakfast, who he kissed, when he kissed…

Midori touched his shoulder.

“The body—

“I will deal with this,” Tai said, his gaze on Midori’s hand where he touched Yoshi.

Yoshi knew what bothered Tai, but made no move to remove Midori’s hand. He would hold on to this one happiness.

“When you are finished, start prepping for the journey to Dwind,” Yoshi said, turning to Midori. “I must meet the Princess Naria before I leave.”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness,” Tai gave him a short bow. “I will report to you when I’m done.”

Yoshi swung onto Senbon and urged the stallion into a hard run, needing to escape.

***

“You will hurt him,” Tai said, when Midori moved to mount his own horse.

“What?” Midori stopped looking at the man who unsettled him.

Dressed in black, his face covered but for his eyes, Tai Migi was dangerous. Midori didn’t need to see him fight to know it.

“The longer you stay by his side in this capacity, you will bring him harm.” Tai’s gaze narrowed. “When that time comes, I will be the one to remove you.”

“You threaten me?” Midori asked, gripping the reins tight.

“I don’t need to,” Tai answered. “The Empress, however, she protects what she must. This warning is the only courtesy I will extend. Midori of Fier, if nothing else, know that the Empire comes first for that one you cling to.”

Tai returned to the dead man on the ground, leaving Midori to stare at him.

Midori mounted Midnight fast, and urged the stallion after Yoshi. He did not need Tai’s advice. He knew very well who Yoshi was, what loving him entailed. Still...

Yoshi slowed Senbon down, allowing him to catch up. One glance at his handsome Prince and the doubt receded. Yoshi smiled at him and that was enough to send Tai’s warning away. He didn’t care what the future had in store for them. As long as right now, Yoshi kept smiling at him.

“Race you to the stables,” Midori challenged.

Yoshi grinned and they set off in a fast race, Yoshi laughing when they stayed head-to-head.

Midori locked away the sound of that laugh deep in the vault in his heart.

***

An hour later, Yoshi sat at the head of a gargantuan table in the Furian Palace Court Room, facing officials and nobles from both Earith and the Furian Forest.

“The Princess Naria will lead the allied forces into Lexin City.”

Protests and murmurs of complaints filled the room, rising until Lord Heloth dared voice the words.

“Why not you?” Lord Heloth. “We have come together under your banner, Your Royal Highness. Why must we now serve the Furian Princess?”

“I go to convince Dwind to join forces.” Yoshi kept his tone neutral, his expression blank, giving away none of what he felt inside. “Lilind of Dwind will listen to no one else.”

Midori listened as the nobles argued, and came up with suggestions to keep the Princess Naria from leading the allied forces. Their irrational fear for the Furians annoyed him, especially after all the Princess Naria had done. Keeping Fier’s rabid army clear of Earith, fighting for them…

“Why can’t you name General Midori your proxy?” Lord Heloth suggested at one point. “He is a proven leader. He kept the Fier Rebel army at bay until you came back to the Earith border.”

Midori started to protest but Yoshi beat him to it, slapping his palm on the table, startling the room into silence.

“The Princess Naria leads the allied forces,” Yoshi roared. “Her title ranks higher than General Midori or you Lord Heloth. The Princess Naria knows more of war than all of us in this room. She has kept the Furian Forest at peace for more years than I have lived. Anyone who dares question my authority will face my Black Guard.”

Silence filled the room. Many mistook it as acquiescence to Yoshi’s words, perhaps an acknowledgment to his threat to meet the Black Guard. Midori recognized the fact that these noble men and women had finally caught a glimpse of their future ruler. Yoshi’s voice had rang with undeniable authority. His gaze cold as he delivered his first edict.

“Namik of Fier has reached Lexin City. Our army must face him soon. We need to draw his attention away from the Palace.”

“Do you think Dwind will join forces with us?” Princess Naria asked Yoshi then. “Lilind of the Sands rarely moves a finger when the Quads are at odds.”

“It is my duty to try,” Yoshi answered. “If she won’t join us, I will return with Terra’s forces and we can face Namik together.”

“How long will you be away, Your Royal Highness?” Lord Heloth asked, when Naria took over talks on planning the allied forces.

“Five days,” Yoshi said. “It should take us three days to cut through Earith, and enter Dwind. Depending on Lilind’s answer, there will be no need for stealth, I will enter the Imperial Lands and meet you at the gates into Lexin City.”

“Who goes with you?” Princess Naria asked.

“Sando, Telia, General Midori and the Black Guard,” Yoshi said.

“Will that be enough?” Lord Heloth asked. “If we lose you, this war is lost.”

“One of my men will join us,” Midori said, speaking for the first time. “Lenoth is a seasoned warrior.”

“I will hold you responsible if anything should go wrong,” the Princess Naria said, her voice colder than Yoshi’s.

Midori wondered if there was a Royal School hidden in the Empire that taught them how to intimidate their lowly subjects. Midori inclined his head in understanding and Princess Naria continued on with her plans. The planning took over three hours. By the time it ended, preparations were underway for departure. Midori lost sight of Yoshi as he went off with Sando to talk to the soldiers in the army in person.

To keep up morale, Midori sighed.

Yoshi had no idea that having him around was enough of a boost for the men and women in the allied forces. A Prince who had spent his life hidden away from the world by the powerful Empress Almira, now walked among his people, fought beside them…got wounded…Yoshi was stealing hearts at every turn. Midori stood on the edge of the clearing near the army barracks and watched Yoshi sit around a fire, joining five other men. The men laughed at something Yoshi said, and Sando paced behind him in a state of agitation. No doubt worried one of the men would dare touch Yoshi, or some similar foolishness. Yoshi patted a soldier’s shoulder and Midori grinned. Poor Sando.

“He is changing you,” Lenoth said, coming to join him. “You smile more readily than you did before.”

“Do I?” Midori asked, swallowing back his smile, though it was hard for him to stop staring at Yoshi. “Have Naro pack enough for three days journey. Once we reach Dwind, we will know what to do from there. Ask him to consult the Prince’s Chamberlain on further arrangements.”

“I have never been to Dwind,” Lenoth confessed. “I hear the sand shifts according to Lilind’s mood. When she is angry, it rises up into the sky, covering all who dare brave it to their death. I would hate to suffocate in sand, My Lord.”

“Your imagination is alive and well,” Midori soothed. “I promise not to let you suffocate in sand.”

Lenoth flashed him a grin.

“I can’t promise you won’t sink into the sand, though,” Midori continued. “The ground does turn soft in Lilind’s dunes. One step is all it takes, and you are swallowed up.”

“Cruel Lord General,” Lenoth scoffed. “Looks like the Prince has done nothing for your sense of humor.”

Midori laughed and Yoshi turned at the sound. Their gazes met and held, and for one solid second, the reality of the war ahead disappeared. Then Lenoth touched his arm, seeking his attention, and Yoshi looked to the soldiers eagerly talking to him. The second passed, but Midori locked it away deep inside: a treasured memory.

***

Zia Sayu crawled along a murky dirty drain. Her fingers touching rough rock, squashy muck she dared not examine. The stench alone enough to wake the dead. She coughed, her gaze on the light at the end of the tunnel. The cat she had followed into the drain long gone. Skipping on nimble feet along the drainage edge no doubt coming out with no speck of dirt.

Such cunning creatures, cats.

At least she had lost her assassins. The drain the cat had chosen was sunk under the wall, hidden by long blades of grass. She would never have found it without the cat. She kept walking forward, her bag balanced on her head. The ring on a chain around her neck carefully protected by her tunic. Once she was within the walls of Terra, then her real task would start.

Her goal: finding Lady Tinya Hellis, Terra’s Commandant the Empress’s sister in-law. Lady Hellis’s castle was carved out of the cliffs by the ocean and guarded by the men who trained the Prince’s Black Guard. Zia stopped and touched the blades on her back, hidden under the dark fabric she wore. Sneaking in was impossible, fighting her way through was the only option. But before that…she pressed her back against the tunnel wall, crouched and closed her eyes. She needed at least four hours of sleep if she hoped to succeed.

***

Dwind

Hurried footsteps rapped a beat on clean polished sand-colored floors. Dashing fast through the arched corridors to the private courtyard in the Citadel. The courtyard was walled with sand-colored walls, decorated with gemstones through the generations. Greens and reds that glittered in the sunlight. The garden was an oasis of aesthetics lush green plants, and a fountain in the middle. Four paths, dissecting a rectangle pool of water. Most inhabitants of the citadel came here for the breeze and shade.

Pipa Klud stared at the blue sky, lifting her hand up as if to touch it. She lay on a papyrus woven floating bed, on the eastern corner of the rectangle pool. Her white skirts trailing in the water. She closed her eyes, and dropped her arm just as the hurried footsteps reached her.

“Pipa.”

The voice was out of breath.

“Sol.”

Deep breaths followed.

Pipa smiled and opened one eye to peek at her younger brother.

Sol was in a white tunic and kneel length trousers, their seams delicately embroidered with gold string. His short hair sticking up, from all the running, probably climbing walls outside the citadel.

“Pipa,” Sol said, finally catching his breath. “The sands have risen. They are too close to the citadel. Semak and the guards are already closing the gates. The people fear the unrest in the Empire has reached us.”

Pipa sighed and glanced at the sky one last time. Her precious solitude over. Sol helped her get out from the pool. Wringing her skirt to remove excess water, Sol led the way out of the courtyard.

Outside their residence, Pipa got on her horse, and Sol settled behind her. Giving him a grin, she urged her horse into a wild race through the streets of the Oaz Citadel. Sol laughed with joy, calling out to merchants along the streets. Screaming out for citizens to get out of the way. He got catcalls in answer. Pipa smiled when Sol wrapped an arm around her waist when they reached a small bridge filled with people. She never used the bridge. Instead, she jumped the horse over the small river, leaving behind gasps of awe, and surprise as they headed to the main gates of the Citadel.

“You are never going to get a husband here,” Sol commented when they reached the high walls surrounding the citadel. The heavy wooden gate was slowly making it’s way down, the hinges well oiled thanks to the maintenance department.

Pipa jumped down from her horse, her sandals making no noise on the cobbled stones.

“Sol, I get to choose your wife. Don’t you think you should be nicer to me?”

Sol laughed, taking her hand to lead her to the guards standing by the gates, looking out into the desert beyond.

“You love me too much to choose a wife for me.”

That he was right about. Pipa ruffled his hair and reached Sema.

“Why send panic through the citadel?” Pipa asked in greeting.

Semak held up his hand, and the gates paused their descent.

“Have a look, My Lady,” Semak handed her a bronze-colored spyglass.

She walked out of the citadel, giving herself ten feet from the main gate before she brought the spyglass up to her right eye. The wall of sand was high, almost to be mistaken for a sand storm. Except there was no high wind, and no grains of sand in the air. The large wall of sand moved closer to the citadel, neat, precise.

“Close the gates,” she ordered.

“Pipa.”

“Semak, keep Sol inside.”

“Pipa,” Sol protested, but it was useless. Semak’s guards had caught Sol and he wouldn’t be allowed to come out of the gate after her.

Semak stepped out, as the gate slid down the last few inches. The citadel was secure.

“This is no sandstorm, My Lady,” Semak said, coming to stand beside her.

Pipa handed him the spyglass and stood tall, her arms folded against her chest. They stood in silence until the wall of sand reached them. No sand grains filled their eyes, the wind was calm.

“What do you seek?” Pipa asked, her voice stern. “The Citadel is off limits to you.”

The wall of sand remained for a full minute, and then started reforming and receding until a figure of sand stood before them.

“I apologize,” the husky voice of a man said.

Pipa watched the sand figure’s skin slowly smoothen to reveal a muscular man with ink black eyes. His skin was bronze, and his hair a white shiny mass that flowed behind him. His upper arms clamped with gold bands, branded with a phoenix standing on a leaf. A gold belt on his narrow hips held a white silk skirt-like cloth that reached the top of his knees. His feet were in leather sandals. He was unmistakably a son of Dwind.

He bowed with elegance.

“My lady of the Klud Clan. I frightened your people,” the man continued. “The citadel is safe from me.”

Pipa acknowledged his apology with a simple nod, though she had no intention of opening the Citadel gates.

“What do you seek?”

“I am only a messenger,” the man said. “The Matriarch sends me.”

Pipa bit back a groan and glanced at Semak. She was wary of Lilind. The woman thought her people half-bloods, not pure.

“Say your message,” Pipa said, not sure she wanted to hear it.

The man started to move closer to her, and she raised her hand to stop him.

“You will speak so that my companion hears.”

The man paused, glanced at Semak, then shrugged.

“As you wish. The Matriarch warns that the Empire’s Prince has entered Dwind. He seeks an alliance. She asks you not to seek him until the Matriarch has made her judgment. Otherwise, the war will destroy your people as well. You may give me your reply.”

Pipa chuckled. “Lilind foretells war in every message she has sent me. If the Empire’s Prince seeks me out, I will not refuse his audience. Lilind does not speak for my people.”

“It is not wise to remain angry with the Matriarch.”

“The Citadel is independent of the Matriarch,” Pipa stated. “Do not concern yourself with our decisions.”

“It is true what they say. Your wild nature interests me. I will tell you my name—

“Do not speak it!” Pipa ordered.

Hinda,” the man said with a wicked smile. “Now, Pipa of the Klud Clan, you and I are bound. You must repay me with greetings the next time you step on the sands.”

Before Pipa could reply, the smiling Hinda disappeared in a cloud of sand, leaving the air as quiet as if he’d never bee.

“Did you hear his name?” Pipa demanded of Semak.

“No, My Lady. The last words were of you making a stand for the Citadel, then he was gone.”

Great, Pipa sighed. Now she also had a new problem in Hinda.

Lilind was going to be her undoing. What did she mean the Empire’s Prince was in Dwind?

She stared at the desert, then gasped.

“Semak, call your best guards,” she ordered.

“My Lady?”

“Lilind said she has sensed the Prince in Dwind. We must meet him first.”

Semak nodded in understanding.

“Open the gates,” Semak called.

He entered the citadel, already giving orders fort he guard she needed to head into the desert.

Sol came running to Pipa.

“Was that one of Lilind’s?” Sol asked.

“Yes.”

“Are they going to take over the Citadel?” Sol asked, his eyes wide with concern.

Pipa smiled. She touched Sol’s head, giving him an assuring pat.

“Not as long as I live, my dear Sol. However, I have to leave for a few days.”

“Can I come with you?” Sol asked, his gaze hopeful.

He was sixteen. He was the right age for adventure. But this—

“I’m going to leave the Citadel in your care,” she said, knowing he would enjoy that responsibility. “Make sure not to drain my pool while I’m away.”

Sol laughed gleefully.

“You won’t know if I do,” Sol said. “I’ll just refill it, if I hear the guards have spotted you in the horizon.”

“Cheeky brother,” Pipa playfully pinched his cheek as they headed back into the Citadel.

She was eager to meet the Prince. If she could meet him first, and impress him, she could manage to strengthen their alliance. Perhaps get commerce flowing more strongly than it did now. Her people needed a stronger economy. The young ones were wasting away bored to death within the city walls.

She smiled.

Prince Yoshi would pull her world from the seclusion their ancestors and Lilind craved.

But only if she could get to him first, Pipa thought.

***

The heat had Yoshi wanting to strip down to nothing. The overhead sun was unrelenting. He wondered how the people of Dwind could get used to such unfriendly weather.

“Here,” Midori handed him a waterskin filled with water.

Yoshi drank heartily. His head was covered with a white cloth, worn to cover his head and half his face. Protection from the sun and dust. When he was done with the water, he returned the covering over his mouth and hang the waterskin on a hook on his saddle.

Around them, the Black Guard moved in the desert heat as though they belonged, looking untouched in their black clothes. In the face of their tremendous ability to survive anything, Sando was barely hanging on. He looked ready to fall off his horse.

Yoshi bit back a chuckle at his chamberlain’s obvious suffering.

Taking the waterskin, he moved Senbon closer to Sando’s horse.

“My Prince,” Sando said, when he realized how close Yoshi was. “Don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine.”

“Sure,” Yoshi took his horse reins and handed him the water. “Drink, at this rate you might discover what the sand tastes like.”

“Are you making a joke at my expense?” Sando took the bag and drank thirstily.

“I suppose you are,” Sando continued once he had drank several gulps. “Gods, why do we have to come here again? Can’t we send a messenger?”

“What would the message say?” Yoshi asked, leading Sando’s horse.

“Help us win the war against a blood-thirsty monster, or you will suffer too.”

Yoshi scoffed.

“And you think that would convince Lilind to side with us?”

“Shouldn’t it?” Sando asked.

“She might approve a blood-thirsty leader,” Yoshi said. “What then?”

Sando blinked. “You might have a point. We can send General Midori the rest of the way.”

Yoshi chuckled and glanced at Midori. He looked like he too thrived in the heat.

“You have an idea,” Yoshi said. “Sadly, we can't send him to ask for help to defeat his own father.”

“Jeez,” Sando gave an exaggerated sigh. “Sire, when I planned a trip to Fier at the palace weeks ago, this is not where I thought we would end up.”

Yoshi took the waterskin back and handed the reins back to Sando.

“Perhaps it was where we were going to end up,” Yoshi answered. “We just didn’t realize it.”

The words were barely out when the wind picked up and the sands rose, dancing in the air, quickly turning deadly.

“Get down,” Midori ordered, already running to Yoshi’s side. “We can’t outrun a sandstorm. We need to cover up—

The wind was picking up too fast. Yoshi jumped off Senbon, clinging tight to the reins, because the horse was nervous. Around him, the guard was already erecting up a wide tent. Yoshi held the cloth covering his mouth and nose tight against his face. His eyes getting gritty, the sand thickening in the wind, it was hard to see anything.

He gasped when Senbon jerked away, and he lost his hold on the horse’s reins. There was sand everywhere, he closed his eyes, hoping to clear them. When he opened them again, he stood alone.

***

2012 lilansui
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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