Suddenly, three voices came from behind him, Tayna was asleep and didn’t seem to hear them – he feared that it was the half-faced man back to take her away. Even though he knew that he could do nothing, he whirled around with an angry expression, desperate to protect her.
But he couldn’t believe who he saw.
Although his hair was shorter and reached his shoulders and he had less wrinkles, the man at the front was definitely Paradam. Will smiled, were things going to get better for Tayna? He turned his attention to the two boys behind him, and broke out laughing at who it was.
Andrel and Arlamus – except this time they were definitely twins. They both had blonde hair which was shoulder length, Will had laughed at how Andrel’s hair had been combed over with layers of gel, his face ravaged by acne, and square glasses. They’d both changed so much between that night and when Will knew them, Andrel more than Arlamus.
‘Is she d-dead, sir?’ asked Andrel, his voice stuffy.
‘Hardly,’ said Paradam, observing her breathing. He bent down and twisted the dagger around in her hand, ‘but judging by this and the state she's in, she's been in trouble recently.'
‘Sir, there’s smoke over there!’ shouted Arlamus, pointing behind them, Will knew that it was evidence of what was left of Castia.
Paradam turned around and his brow furrowed, ‘so my intelligence was correct. I had word from a friend about an arson attack on a small village called Castia – not a single survivor…except for one it seems.
‘So what do we do with her? She looks half dead.’
‘What else can we do?' said Paradam, 'we take her with us -,’
‘But she’s a human, sir!' Andrel said disapprovingly, 'it’s not allowed at the Sanctuary.'
‘Actually, she’s much more than a human,’ said Paradam matter-of-factly, scraping back her hair, and revealing the scab across her cheek, the blood blue. ‘Her blood is blue, boys, the mark of a royal. This is our future princess.’
‘A – a royal? Is it possible? All the way out here? Which one, where’s her family, shouldn’t the monarchs be looking after her?’
‘We’ve fallen on hard times,' Paradam said gravely, 'even the monarchy has had to make sacrifices to preserve their race. If I were to hasten a guess, I'd say that she is an Ilmatar, an Air sprite, and what I know of their lineage is that the newest princess was supposedly abandoned for her own protection where nobody could find her. Unfortunately, our enemy has more resources than we could have imagined – as residents of Maegard, it is our duty to see that she is safe.’ Without a second thought, Paradam scooped her up in his arms, Tayna groaned but didn’t wake up. But the principal's arms were shaking and he was clearly struggling.
'Sir, would you like me to take her?' asked Andrel, Paradam nodded and passed her over. Andrel gazed down at her, his eyes widened in marvel. 'She's so...beautiful.'
'Indeed,' agreed Arlamus.
'The mark of a true descendant,' smiled Paradam, gesturing them to continue walking. ‘This could only be fate, boys. I took you down this path for a casual stroll, and we come across the lost Ilmatar, the divine forces are certainly helping me in my mission to unite the royal families.' He tried to pry the dagger from her hand, but with the strength she had, she refused to let go. 'It's alright now, princess. You're safe now, nobody will hurt you anymore,' he soothed, and the three of them walked deeper into the woodland, disappearing into mist like the trees around them, soaking into the ground as nothingness.
Will sat on the ground, left behind for a while, then he felt the ground shake beneath him. It rumbled, and suddenly the earth cracked beside him, spreading wider and further into the horizon, when it disappeared from sight, Will gasped as the crack rose into the sky, revealing a pool of inky blackness deep below and above. The land began to fall away, deep into the chasm, Will tried to scramble away but he was cemented, unable to move, forced to fall, a scream rising from his lips as he was plunged into darkness once more.