* VIII *

Emrald and I burst out laughing.

"Sapphire City?" he asked. "All right, who sent you? Was it one of my friends?"

Tara looked confused. "No, I was telling the truth."

"Come on! Who really believes there's a place called Sapphire City? It sounds like The Wizard of Oz rewritten!"

"Your Highness, I promise I'm telling the truth."

"You can stop calling me Your Highness. The joke's off."

"It's not a joke. The kingdom of Sapphire City is hidden in a meadow and its subjects need a new ruler."

Emrald turned serious. "You can stop now."

"Your Highness, I am not joking. There is actually a place called Sapphire City. I'm here to take you there."

Emrald looked at me. "Do you think we should trust her, Anna?" he asked.

I saw he was acting as if he believed her and replied, "I don't know, Your Highness. It might be a trap."

Tara looked surprised. "You know you're a prince already?"

Emrald turned to face Tara. "Look, it's not funny. Give it up and tell us why you're really here."

Just then, Emrald's dad walked in. He looked tired.

"Indico, she's telling the truth. Your mother was a princess."

Emrald looked confused. "You're part of the joke too?"

"Would I really make a joke involving your mother? Would anyone?"

Emrald looked lost for words. "I ... I don't understand."

"Magic exists, fairytale kingdoms are real... There's more to the world than you know, son. I know this is strange and frightening and that you don't understand but trust me."

"Dad, why are you doing this to me?"

"I'm sorry, son. Your mother and I never intended for you to know about Sapphire City. She hated it with a passion and wanted to keep it a secret."

"You lied to me?"

I felt Emrald shaking and I held his hand tightly.

Emrald's father nodded. "I'm sorry."

Emrald turned to Tara. "Why are you here?" he asked angrily.

"Sapphire City needs a king."

"Then find one instead of wasting your time talking to someone who didn't even know the place existed! I don't see how I can help!"

"The king has to be descended from one of the previous monarchs. It's the way things are. If the rules are not upheld, the city will fall into ruin. Countless people will perish and the city walls will crumble."

Emrald looked unhappy. "I don't want to be a king. I'm not even worthy. What have I done in my life that was noble or honourable? I'm just Indico Emrald Anvair, your average seventeen-year-old. I'm not ready."

Tara spread her hands. "Then Sapphire City will fall."

"What do I do?" Emrald whispered. "What do I do?"

The End

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