Chapter 225 SIX: A Bug
Lucy frowned as she noticed Kel and Calix approaching.
"I thought I told you to keep your hands off her! Could you not even restrain yourself for one day?!"
Kel exchanged a quick look with the Emperor, both their faces red and breaths coming out in short bursts.
"Oh.. we were just sword training," she waved her hands, giving Lucy what she thought was a reassuring smile.
The woman scoffed and shook her head.
"Well, I'm certain one of you was training their sword," she muttered, raising her hands in defeat. "Your room is prepared, so please retire to bed now, Your Majesties."
"Thank you!" Kel beamed, immediately darting toward the building's entrance. "Good night!"
Her face grew even more red as she closed the door and leaned back against it, imagining how Calix must be holding back his laughter at her hasty escape.
How had an innocent sparring session ended in such vulgar behavior?
After Calix had sat down next to her in the cool grass and laid his hand on her cheek, he leaned in and kissed her. It wasn't heated and desperate, but slow and passionate as if he was trying to savor the taste of her lips.
Then, gradually, that same sweet kiss worked its way down her neck and across her shoulders. He moved her tunic to reach more of her skin, and then…
"Ugh," Kel dropped her face into her hands. "There's something wrong with us. Both of us."
After a while, she raised her head again, hoping nobody lingering around the inn's main room noticed her spectacle.
Luckily, the room was empty aside from the innkeeper, a middle-aged woman who seemed busy with something behind the front desk. Whether she'd been too preoccupied to notice Kel brooding at the door or just pretended not to notice, Kel was still grateful.
As she moved away from the door, however, she realized there was another person in the room, after all.
He had been lingering in a corner but rushed across the room and down one of the hallways before Kel could get a good look at him.
As he moved across her view, she did notice that he seemed to be dressed rather strangely.
His chest and abdomen were entirely exposed, but he wore a cloak that covered his back with the hood pulled up over his head. All she could see of his face was the glint of his eyes and his sharp jawline.
Immediately her mind was drawn back to a night when she'd seen a man dressed the same way. In the streets of the Serin Empire, surrounded by blazing braziers and an excited crowd, there was a man on a stage.
Wearing a cloak in a similar odd manner.
The same mysterious glint in his eyes.
And an unmistakable angled jaw.
A gasp escaped from Kel's lips.
It couldn't be! .. Could it?
Too late, she charged after him, only to find the hallway he'd entered completely empty.
Whirling back around, she opened her mouth to call out to the innkeeper.
The woman must know if he was a guest of the inn.
A hand clamped over Kel's mouth, smothering the rest of her call.
"Mmph!" she wriggled around, trying to break free of the hold.
A familiar voice next to her ear stopped her struggles.
"Shhh. Calm down," Calix whispered. "Come with me to the room, and let's talk there."
Feeling frustrated yet curious, Kel nodded, and the man let go. Still whipping her head around wildly scanning the area around them, she followed him to the largest room on the highest floor.
"Why did you do that!" she demanded, closing the door behind them. "I saw something-no, someone important!"
"Did you?" Calix shrugged, seating himself on the bed. "I only saw a bug. A small one, hardly worth the effort to crush it."
"You mean.. You saw him too?" Kel was dumbfounded. "That man in the cloak?"
Come to think of it, she'd been standing in front of the inn's door until just moments before Calix grabbed her from behind. How had he gotten in so quickly? And without her noticing?
"Do you know who that was?" Kel pressed. "Because I'm pretty sure it was-"
"I told you, I only saw a tiny bug," Calix interrupted, lying down and pulling the blankets over him. "Are you coming to bed, or are you still not tired yet?"
She squeaked as he gave her a devilish grin.
"I'm going to bed!" she exclaimed, crawling under the covers next to him. "So don't touch me!"
The Emperor smirked and rolled away from her so she could no longer see his face.
A tiny bug.
Kel was unable to find sleep, the Emperor's earlier words repeating themselves in her mind.
His evasion of her questions made her even more certain.
He had seen the hooded man, and he suspected the same thing as Kel.
The Emperor's half brother and unintentional survivor of the uprising in Subterra.
Calix had been so set on killing him back then, so why pretend not to see him now?
Eventually, Kel drifted into a restless sleep, her troubles manifesting themselves in unsettling dreams.
It began with a dark room and two beautiful birds chirping happily in a large silver cage.
She stood and watched those birds for hours or days, feeling more uneasy with each high-pitched note that came from their tiny beaks.
At some point, the chirping turned to laughter--breathy, disturbed laughter echoing all around her.
She covered her ears and ducked her head as it grew louder. When she dared look back up, the birdcage was gone and in its place stood Soren, laughing as he held the lifeless body of one of the birds in his hand.
His other hand, dripping with fresh scarlet blood, he reached out to Kel, his fingers drawing closer and closer to her neck until-
Kel jolted awake, her heart racing and forehead covered in sweat.
After taking a moment to calm her breathing, she discovered that she wasn't the only one being plagued with unpleasant thoughts of the past.
Leaned up against the window sill with a milky glowing rock dangling from a chain wrapped around his fingers, stood the Dragon Emperor.
His fair skin shone eerily in the moonlight, and the stone cast a blue reflection in his eyes.
It was the moonstone she had found in garden back when the Emperor was ill in Mevani.
The one he claimed belonged to his half brother.