Chapter 12

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"How will we get through Mist?" I asked Edward as we sped along the Baronian countryside in his wonderful little craft.

"What do you mean?" he replied.

"When my family and I passed through Mist, the elder got angry at us. They don't like people intruding. And then there's the cave; no one can get past the eidolon to Mist in the first place."

"There's a pass through the mountains around the village that we take," Edward explained. "Usually, hoovercrafts are no good on mountainous terrain. But this is low enough to the ground and smooth enough for us to go over. I've never seen Mist, myself. What's it like?"

"It's different. Their magic is unlike my own; it's more... intense? I don't know. All I can do is manipulate the elements. They can summon eidolons like one might summon a loyal dog. The make me feel kind of puny."

"You have great power, Anna, make no mistake. It's strong and useful, and you've worked hard to hone it. I'm sure they really aren't that different from you at all."

His words were comforting. I had always been slightly intimidated by the elusive Summoners, but in an awed and respected way. Deep down, I was also a tad jealous of them and their unique abilities—abilities which seemed granted only through blood, which meant that I would never be able to learn their skills. Of course, he wasn't one to talk; he also held a unique and wonderful power, himself.

For most of the ride, we moved too fast to be able to hear each other, so we sped along in silence, enjoying the landscape and the warm late May sun on our faces. The hovercraft was like no other device I had ever seen. It hovered about two feet off the ground, and was propelled by spinning propellers. The dash board had several different levers and buttons which controlled every aspect of the craft's movement: speed, direction, height—and Edward knew exactly what each one did. He drove expertly over the land, cutting across vast fields and meadows rather than taking the winding roads towards the mountains. We reached the mountains in a fraction of the time it had taken my parents and I to walk from there to the city.

Daddy would not have approved on so many levels.

Edward's mountain pass was diminutive and easy to miss. Only clever or seasoned travelers could have found it. Nonetheless, it was wide enough for the craft to pass through, so we proceeded through. It was like a long hallway with towering walls of gray stone. Far above us the sky was still visible as a narrow strip of blue. We were totally invisible to the world—no one in Baron, Mist or Kaipo ever would have known how close we were to all of them; however, I felt a creeping feeling that the eidolon knew where we were.

The pass emerged half an hour later into the open expanse that was the desert of Kaipo—we could just faintly make out the tiny town at its center, shimmering like a mirage, quaint as ever.

"I feel sort of bad," I mentioned. "Mama and Daddy are so close, and we're just driving right by..."

"We can stop and say hello, if you'd like," Edward offered.

"Daddy would never let me go. If I step back in that house, I'll never get back out."

Edward was sorry for me, that was obvious. He had no way of understanding my dilemma, having the wonderful, caring parents that he did. We continued on to the near northeast, toward the shoals that lined the desert's coast. As well as hovering over land, the craft could hover over shallow water such as these shoals or reefs. Anything deeper than 20 feet, Edward had explained, the craft could not hover over. The hovering capabilities would go out and the craft would crash into the water.

These shoals snaked along the coast of not only the Kaipo desert, but the Dancyani desert as well—this was the path that Edward had always traveled with his companions, and decidedly the faster and safer way to go. The waterway was deep and dark, its tunnels sprawling for miles and miles underground. And, of course, not to mention the monsters and the threat of fungal or bacterial infection like the one that had nearly destroyed Kaipo so many years before.

Unlike the waterway, the shoals were a straight, direct path in full sunlight; the only negative aspect was the sun's glaring on the water, which was only slightly worse than the desert heat, and therefore bearable for us.

I had never seen the sea before then. It was exhilarating, and exciting in a very strange way. The idea of the blue void, reaching far beyond my sight to parts and depths unknown filled me with a sudden longing to know what the other end was like. The sea was full of opportunity, hope, and unearthly desire. It was also full of danger, which only made it more appealing. As we flew over the shoals, the shallow water cleared away in our wake, leaving a fine mist in the air, coating our skin and hair in sparkling, salty water droplets.

We cruised at the craft's top speed for several hours, passing the desert and then the mountain range that hid the waterway beneath it. Beyond these mountains lay our destination, the bigger and somehow warmer desert kingdom of Damcyan. After sailing along the coast for a long time, we turned off the shoals and made our way inland, deeper and deeper into the blazing hot desert.

I had lived in an oasis town all my life and thought I was used to desert heat, but this desert was harsh even for me. I had expected Edward to be more accustomed to it, but he hadn't actually lived in Damcyan for a long time and was still getting used to it himself. Once upon a time the heat hadn't bothered him much—he had been born in the palace that housed the fire crystal, after all. But those days were years ago, before he left for his travels.

"I have all the time to get used to it again now," he commented. "I'll be in this city for a long time from now on."

The city was a mass of gray stone buildings in the middle of the white-hot sand, and the castle towered above it all, much like the way Baron was built. But it stood out imposingly, almost severely. With nothing lively to compare it to or to soften it, the city—the castle especially—appeared serious and dour. Even at the distance, I could feel the crystal's energy radiating, the source of the unusually intense heat. Anyone else would have felt the strong elemental presence; but to my fine-tuned senses it was almost overwhelming. Edward obviously felt it as well—despite the sweat and the redness of his face, he kept shivering.

By now it was late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to fall rapidly; not rapidly enough to begin painting the sky, but enough to turn the light from harsh yellow to harsh gold. In the shadow of this invisible power, we approached the city's stone wall, veering around the wrong side to the far wall.

"We'll take the back entrance," Edward explained. "It goes straight to the royal stables, and I have the key to the gate. We'll draw less attention that way, than if we went all the way through the city."

"Do the people know that you've left again?"

"I don't think so. Now that I'm actually staying here, I need to break this habit of leaving and not letting my people know about it, shouldn't I?"

"That might be a good idea."

As if conspiring with us, the sun cast the wall's ever-lengthening shadow over us as we drove along the back wall to the gate. The gate was a small dent in the looming wall, a simple pair of beautifully forged wrought iron doors hiding a stone courtyard behind it. Edward brought the craft to a stop beside the gate, put it in park and climbed out, pulling a small silver key out of his pocket. He wordlessly unlocked the gate and pushed the doors open, and then climbed back in the craft.

He eased the craft inside the doors quietly, not to attract any attention until he absolutely had to. As it was, the courtyard was empty; however, there was a wide door-less opening nearby and we could clearly hear horses whinnying and a boy's voice attempting to soothe them. Edward drove the craft into the stable, finally alerting someone to his return—the 12 or 13-year-old stable boy on duty.

"Dauphin! You've returned!" the boy exclaimed, dropping what he was doing to rush to the aid of his prince. "You came back sooner than we expected; their majesties will be pleased."

"I know, Jacques," Edward agreed, climbing out of the craft once again. Though I'm sure that he didn't like it, I climbed out on my own, a little clumsily because of my skirt.

"Is this the belle dame you told us about?" Jacques asked, looking at me with suddenly starry eyes.

"Indeed she is. This is Anna Faraxhae, my girlfriend," Edward introduced. I smiled and shook his hand warmly.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Jacques," I said. The boy kissed my hand politely, though a little too earnestly. Jacques would never stop idolizing me after that. He would be one of my closer friends, and also one of the most loyal and attentive.

Jacques offered to help Edward with the hovercraft, of course, but Edward insisted on doing it himself: the craft was his responsibility, and he was determined that no one handle it but himself. Aside from horses, a small fleet of hovercrafts was also stored in the stable; the hovercrafts outnumbered the horses two to one. While the horses were beautiful and masterfully trained, the crafts were faster and more reliable in the desert and still beautiful. The crafts were painted various bright, firry colors such as red, orange and golden. Edward's craft was a singular shade of orange-yellow, not like any of the others.

As much as Jacques wished that we could stay and keep him company while he worked, Edward and I had to take our leave of the stables; his mother and father were waiting for us—mostly for me. So while our leaving irked Jacques, Edward and I left the stables and proceeded into the castle.

Castles were another thing that intimidated me. They were big, filled with strangers, and probably didn't come with maps in the way that cities or my school did. They were an easy way to get lost and end up in trouble. However, Castle Damcyan was significantly smaller than Castle Baron, its corridors few and its spaces wide and well-ventilated. Plus, I had Edward to guide me through it—as long as I was with him, I would never be lost.

The way the castle was built was straight forward and clever. The dark gray stone of which it and the rest of the city was constructed soaked up all the heat of the sun outside; but it could not penetrate the stones or the tight mortar holding them in place, so the inside was fairly cool. Every hallway began and ended with a tall, narrow veranda; when the wind blew into the halls, it became an air corridor, the air often moving fast enough to blow my hair into my face.

These and other feats of engineering were more than necessary in the castle—the beating sun was harsh enough, but the Fire crystal also posed a problem. Particularly near the castle's center, where it was hidden, maintaining a comfortable temperature was a tricky and delicate balance that these people had either mastered or simply learned to quietly endure.

As we hurried through the various air corridors and up a few flights of stairs, the halls were mostly empty, say for a few servants who stopped to greet Edward and ask if I was "the one", the talented and angelic mage girl he had spoken of so often. With every, "Yes, she is," Edward beamed like a star with pride, and I turned another shade redder.

The throne room was at the very center of the castle, and where we were expecting to meet the king and queen. As we ascended a final staircase to it, we were met by an aging woman. She was dressed in plain but richly embroidered fabric, and her long, dark brown hair in a single plaited braid down her back—the only thing that really marked her as any kind of royalty was the golden circlet around her head. When she saw us, the look on her face change from bored anticipation to bright, unrelenting joy and she ran forward, enveloping Edward in a warm, welcoming hug.

Thus was my first impression of Marthe, queen of Damcyan, who had stayed to wait for us while the rest of her family had gone on to their supper.

"We honestly didn't expect you until late tonight," she said to her son.

"We drove straight through, mother," he explained. "We came as quickly as we could."

The queen nodded understandingly and then turned to me. "So, this must be Anna. My dear, you are just as lovely as he said you were!"

I blushed again—usually I didn't mind flattery, but so few girls ever get complimented like that by a queen. For want of another reaction, I began to curtsey, but she stopped me.

"None of that, dear," she insisted, laying her hands on my shoulders and drawing me upright again. "You're part of our family now; there's no need for formalities here."

Any time I was with queen Marthe, it wasn't like being with a queen. It was like being with a woman. She was very much like my own mother—understanding, supportive, willing to help me. And, above all, she was highly informal. I always appreciated that about her.

"The two of you must be tired after your journey," she guessed. "Supper was served about half an hour ago, but there are places reserved for all of us. Shall we go, or would you rather rest first?"

Edward looked at me for an answer.

"Um... I am pretty hungry."

"To the dining room, then?" he said, offering me his arm.

"To the dining room," I agreed, feeling like I was pretty good at this castle business so far.

"Mother, who will we find in at supper?" Edward asked as we walked.

"Your father, of course, who is dying to meet this lovely young lady," Marthe answered. "Your cousins Patrice and Xavier also, and their parents."

"Xavier? When did he get here?"

"Just hours ago."

"He wasn't due for another week."

"I know. He's trying to prove something."

"That might mean trouble..."

I was well aware that I would not be the only one moving into the palace for the summer. Summer was a break from studies for royal and noble children all over the world, a chance for families to come together the way they should be. I was also aware that of all of Edward's jealous cousins, Xavier von Moir was one of the most jealous, oldest and craftiest of them all.

Attacking Xavier with any kind of spell was one of the first things Edward had specifically forbidden me from doing.

Like the other family rooms, the dining room was very tall and wide, secure from the heat, and a veranda on one side of the room let the breeze in. Some of the space was a little wasted—all the room really contained was a large table with many chairs, a hutch filled with bottles of fine liqueur, and a piano in one corner. Not all of the chairs were filled; three were waiting for us, just as Marthe had said, and placed near the head of the table.

Two seats sat at the head; one was reserved for Marthe, and the other was occupied by Nicolas, the very handsome king—Edward looked exactly like his father, blonde-haired and green-eyed, fair skinned and very elegant. The one thing that Edward and his father did not share was that the king appeared to be wearing—of all things—black lipstick.

To his immediate left sat a young man, several years older than Edward, who's lips were also painted black—Edward's cousin, Xavier. He was decidedly darker in color: his skin was golden-brown from the sun, and his hair was so dark brown that I thought at first it was black, the same as his eyes. Even his clothes were severe, intense black.

Beside Xavier sat his sister, Patrice, who was my age. She looked nothing like her brother, much more like Edward and his father—pale skin, feathery blonde hair, and clear, sparkling blue eyes. She sat silent and ridged yet graceful, the way a good little princess should. As beautiful as she was, I got the distinct feeling that she was every bit as cunning and cruel as her brother.

Their parents were silent, and they spent most of that evening appraising me critically. Their mother was of another family in the Damcyani nobility, but their father was one of Nicolas' younger brothers, the second eldest, in fact, and the successor to the throne should anything happen to the king before Edward was old enough to take it himself.

Despite the stares of his brother's family, King Nicolas stood up at once when we entered the room, prompting the rest of them to follow suit, thought it peeved them terribly.

"Early! What a pleasant surprise," he greeted and strode across the room to us; Marthe came and met him with another hug and a quick, affectionate kiss which her sister-in-law seemed to disapprove of.

"Marthe, this is undignified," the woman scolded stoically.

"A woman is allowed to kiss her husband, is she not, Amande?" Marthe retorted. Lady Amande rolled her eyes and said no more.

Nicolas released his wife and took a moment to look at me. "Edward, this is the girl? You said she was a mage, not an angel. She's beautiful!" he exclaimed. Before I could even try to bow to the king, he took my hand, kissed it, and then bowed to me.

"Mademoiselle, welcome to my kingdom. It is both an honor and a pleasure to have you here."

My voice failed me, and my face must have looked sunburned by the flattery. "...Thank you," I finally managed to whisper.

"Father, you'll kill her," Edward warned, shooing the king back a few feet.

"My apologies," Nicolas said with a grin. "Come, sit down, all of you. You must be very hungry, yes?"

Edward and I found ourselves conveniently seated right across from Xavier and Patrice, both of them perpetually angry at Edward and unimpressed with me.

"So, Anna," Patrice asked, "where did you say you were from?"

"I did not say," I answered.

"...Then perhaps you will tell us?" she said, trying not to grit her teeth or call me stupid like I knew she wanted to.

"I grew up to the south, in Kaipo," I answered. "Though my parents moved there from Mysidia before I was born," I explained.

"That's a painful move," Xavier noted.

"I suppose. They won't tell me why they left."

"I've never been to Kaipo," Patrice mentioned. "But I've heard that it's a tiny little place—very quaint. However did Edward manage to find you?"

"In his travels with the clown school no doubt," Xavier suggested.

Edward and I both scowled at him for the insult, and he scowled back.

"Actually, I did," Edward informed. "We stopped there for the first time last year; Anna and her family were very kind to us when we came; they continued their hospitality this year when we came through."

"How fascinating," Lady Amande said dryly, her eyes still glued to my body. "Such little standing in the world. So unlike us. It's just a perfect little fairy tale come true, is it not?"

"Darling, please," her husband interrupted. "She has been welcomed into our home, and we must show her some amount of respect, despite her humble origins."

Sir Felix, Edward's uncle, was never shy about gritting his teeth or calling a situation as he saw it. His son and daughter were smooth and subtle with their insults, merely hinting at their meaning or hiding it beneath a metaphor. But not Felix: he didn't like me and my nonexistent social status, and he wasn't going to hide it. His brother, the king, may welcome me, but he certainly did not, and neither did his snooty, conniving family.

Part of me wanted to throw a Fire spell at them all, shout at them that my family had been very well respected in Mysidia, (Which wasn't actually as true as I thought.) and that our living in an oasis town that was barely on the map was of our own choosing. But none of it would matter. I was the scum of the earth to these people, and nothing I said or did was ever going to change that.

However, it still didn't bother as much as it probably should have. I didn't care about them: I was in Damcyan to spend my summer with my beloved Edward, and nothing was going to ruin that for either of us.

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Author's Notes...

Now coming to you LIVE from my brand new Acer netbook! Dude, this thing is tiny—it ROX! XD

Only one chapter in Damcyan tops; promise.