Chapter 58: Magical Forest

Grian Balthazar, a soldier in training, was someone that soldiers were envious of because of the special attention he has been getting lately from the captain, but the envious stares grew worse when the rumor of him having an audience with the new king was discovered. He did meet the king once, but it was to deliver a girl he believed to be a mermaid, and he didn’t get any rewards for delivering her, except for a pat on the back by the captain. In truth, he began to wish that he never met the king, since he now felt even more alienated by his comrades in arms. Even though he felt like this, he was once again given an assignment directly from the king, but this time there were other soldiers besides himself present, so the nervousness was decreased somewhat. The captain, Molech Hilani, was also present. He stood next to the king with seriousness in his eyes as he repeated the assignment that was to be carried out.

“Lady Nira has escaped and must be found at all cost. She must not be allowed to get away, so find her before this day ends.”

Lady Nira…Grian remembered this name. She was the girl he had recovered from the beach, the one he believed to be a mermaid. He was still puzzled why the king was so eager to find her, but then a thought dawned on him: could she be the new queen of Rheolis Kingdom. This would be huge news for the people of Rheolis Kingdom, who hadn’t had a queen since the last queen passed away, and even the previous king didn’t have a queen. Grian had to admit that he was quite excited with this thought of his, but it was only a thought, since the king himself hadn’t even made it clear that he had found a queen.

All the nervousness and the feeling of alienation were completely blown out the window as he made it his goal to locate Lady Nira, who he believed would be the new queen.

With the orders announced, the soldiers and himself entered the wooden area near the shrine where she was last seen. According to procedure they were to comb the area together, but Grian decided to distance himself from the others to cover more ground. What he didn’t expect was to lose sight of the others within minutes. He at first panicked, but then gathered his wits about him and continued his search for Lady Nira.

“Lady Nira, are you here?” he called and then repeated her name pushing through the thick branches that blocked his path. The moment the branches left his sight, he saw Lady Nira sitting in the center of a bed of flowers.

Yanira and Grian stared at each other for a short while and then exclaimed almost at the same time.

“Grian Balthazar!”

“Lady Nira!”

Grian paused and then asked, “So you remember my name?” Yanira nodded and then tilted her head asking, “Why are you here?”

“Ah, that’s right,” stated Grian and then knelt before her, “His majesty sent me and other soldiers to locate you after you disappeared.”

“Disappeared…I guess I did leave without permission,” stated Yanira and then stood up along with Grian. She did a half bow before him saying her apologies for her disappearance. Grian smiled at her polite conduct and stated, “No need, but we do need to return to his majesty.” Yanira nodded and took a step forward, but stopped in her tracks making Grian glance back at her.

“Is something wrong, Lady Nira?”

Yanira clenched her hand and asked, “Do I really need to return?”

“What do you mean?”

“I am a prisoner in that castle. I have tried to escape to no avail…this is my chance to get away.”

Grian’s eyes widened at her words. Prisoner? He never heard anything about this. Her disappearance was mentioned when he and the other soldiers were sent to locate her, but when he thought back at the orders, he realized that the tone of the order was like they were sent out to catch a criminal. Grian clenched his fist as he looked at the depressed form of Yanira. No matter how he looked at this girl, she didn’t resemble a criminal in any way.

Grian shut his eyes momentarily before opening them coming to a decision.

“Lady Nira, you should discard the thought of escape. Even if you did get away, the king would not let you stay free for long,” stated Grian with a troubled look, “I know my words sound cruel, but I only say this for your benefit.” Grian knew that his words would hurt Yanira, but he felt it was best to speak the truth instead of let her live in this fantasy of escape. He didn’t believe her to be a criminal, but at that moment he trusted his king and felt that her imprisonment must have some form of meaning.

Yanira didn’t nod and only looked away with a saddened expression. She knew that Grian didn’t understand her at this moment, but her resolve to escape when the time was right didn’t leave her mind.

Grian grabbed Yanira’s hand gently saying, “Let’s head back.” Yanira nodded finding it unwise to run at this moment, but when Grian took a step forward, he was suddenly whipped into the air and dangled in the air upside down with him screaming in surprise.

“What’s going on?” Grian exclaimed. Yanira gasped as she stared up at his dangling form.

“Wait a moment, I’ll get you down.”

Yanira looked around and then saw a tree about the same height that Grian was hanging from. She tore a piece of her skirt off to give more freedom to her legs and then began to climb the tree like she did in the past when she lived in Balwar Kingdom.

“Just stay still,” stated Yanira as she got closer to Grian’s form, not noticing that Grian looked shocked as he watched Yanira climb the tree. This was the first time that Grian witnessed a girl climb a tree, but he was also shocked that Yanira paid no mind to her revealed legs. Grian felt that he had nowhere to look as Yanira got closer.

“Lady Nira, could you please conceal those legs of yours.”

“I can do that after I get you down,” stated Yanira with a small pout on her lips. Grian felt that all he could do was shut his eyes hoping that Yanira would succeed in getting him down and concealing her legs.

Yanira soon reached the height he was at and reached over using the strength of her legs to hold her weight. She resembled an acrobat doing stretches on a high bar as she began to untie what looked like a vine from Grian’s leg. Yanira pressed her lips together in concentration as she worked on the knot, but her legs suddenly lost their strength and she found herself falling toward the ground. She gave out a yelp and managed to grab Grian’s dangling arms making Grian gasp in surprise and fling his eyes open only to see that his eyes met eye to eye with Yanira, who was trying her best to climb up his body.

“Lady Nira, what happened?”

“I guess I need to work on the strength of my legs.”

“You lost your grip on the tree.”

“…Sorry, but I will get us out of this.”

“Please, just get back to the tr…”

Before Grian could finish his sentence, he found that his face now faced her chest. He turned red in the cheeks and felt that he might just pass out from the sight. In his mind, he begged forgiveness from the king if Yanira truly was the next queen.

Yanira managed to reach the vine again and this time managed to undo the knot.

“I did….KYAHH!”

With the knot gone, Yanira and Grian found themselves racing toward the ground with them both screaming. Grian managed to turn in the air and grab Yanira, pulling her to his chest with the intent to take the full impact of the fall.

To the surprise of both Yanira and Grian, they felt no impact and instead felt the softness of cotton. They looked around and found themselves surrounded by what looked like clouds.

“What is this?” muttered Grian as he poked the clouds around them, while holding Yanira to his chest. Yanira poked the clouds too, but then smiled saying, “It’s so soft.”

“Do you like it?”

Yanira paused realizing that this voice wasn’t Grian’s. This voice was like a child’s. She looked around along with Grian and noticed something rustle in the clouds. She poked the cloud area making it burst and revealed a small creature with transparent wings.

“HIYA!” the small creature chirped as it waved at Yanira. This creature looked like a small child, but it was no bigger than the palm of her hand and the transparent wings on its back made it quite obvious it was not at all human, if the size was not enough of an indicator.

“A fairy?” exclaimed Grian in surprise. The small creature, the fairy, chuckled and circled around Yanira and Grian.

“You two are humans, right? So interesting,” it chirped and then began to circle Yanira’s head making Yanira giggle in delight.

“You’re pretty! I like you very much!”

“Thank you, little one,” Yanira chirped as she reached toward the fairy, but before she could touch it, Grian grabbed her hand with a serious look in his eyes.

“I heard that it is not wise to touch a fairy without permission.”

Yanira nodded in understanding, but she suddenly felt her hair being tugged on and noticed more fairies flying around, while playing with her hair.

“So pretty.”

“I like her.”

“Play with us, play with us, pretty lady.”

Yanira smiled when she noticed more fairies begin to circle around them and gleefully exclaimed, “There are so many!”

Grian looked around in puzzlement at the gathering fairies and muttered, “This is strange, fairies should have been extinct in our country.”

“Extinct?” Yanira asked with her head tilted. The fairies imitated her gesture by tilting their heads and looking at Grian for an answer.

“Well fairies did explore our country in the past, but they just vanished one day, so it was believed they became extinct.”

Yanira smiled at Grian with a thoughtful look and stated, “Just because they disappeared from your sight, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.” The fairies nodded in agreement as they hovered around Yanira like she was the center of the world. Grian couldn’t help, but smile at the sight of Yanira’s smile finding her worlds quite inspiring in his opinion.

Yanira looked at one of the fairies and asked, “So why are you guys here now?”

“We wanted to play with you.”

“You did the pretty dance after all.”

“Pretty dance?” Yanira asked with her head tilted again. One of the fairies nodded and did a small spin before saying, “The dance called for us and that dance only happens when the kingdom needs power to grow.”

“Grow…this kingdom?”

All the fairies nodded and the next thing Yanira and Grian knew, they were standing in what looked like a maze made entirely of trees. One of the fairies hovered before Yanira and Grian saying, “It’s been a long time, so we need to test you two to see if you are worthy for the power that can help the kingdom.”

“A test?”

The fairy nodded and then a fairy with crystal like hair joined it and added, “You must travel through the maze until you find a tree that bears fruit of flames. After you locate the tree, you must eat one of the fruits. Afterwards, you will be found worthy to get the power to help the kingdom.”

The fairies all giggled in delight wishing Yanira and Grian luck, before disappearing from their sight.

All was silent, until Grian exclaimed, “What is going on?” Grian was only sent to locate Lady Nira and bring her back, but now he was forced into a test by the fairies that he believed were extinct. It was all so puzzling for the soldier, but Yanira looked excited saying, “This maze reminds me of the one back home.”

“Home?”

Yanira nodded and took Grian’s hand saying, “Let’s pass this test together.” Grian fell silent as Yanira began to drag them through the maze. None of them noticed that a man with long brown hair in braid watched them from the shadows of the trees with an amused smile on his face.

You are my master, but I must still test you to appease the spirit of this kingdom.

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