Cobalt-blue eyes narrowed as they focused through a sight on the deer grazing a hundred-fifty paces away, aiming at its heart.
Seraphina Klein took a deep breath as her mentor, Flynnt Clark, gruffly whispered guidance from behind her, "Easy now, don't aim too high else you'll cause it unnecessary pain... That's it... Now-" The sound of something being dropped crashed behind them.
The deer's head shot up at the noise and began to run. She quickly fired but instantly knew it would miss. The deer fled deeper into the woods and out of sight.
Seraphina turned and glared at her friend and fellow ranger, Elliot Murtagh, who was casually picking up his canteen off the ground.
Handing her rifle to her mentor, she stalked up to the tall, lanky young man. "You did that on purpose." She said through gritted teeth.
Elliot raised his hands as if he was being arrested, his face expressing great offense and shock. "That's rude, I would never! I only lost my grip," He stated simply.
"I spend four hours tracking that deer, only to lose it because you 'lose your grip'? Right. I have half a mind to switch aim to you, now!" She growled.
The brunette tsked, brown eyes glistening. "Now Sera, violence isn't the answer to an honest mistake."
Flynnt sighed and scratched at his gray beard as his current and formal pupils began their usual banter. Looking at the sky, he noted the sun was about to set and walked over to the horses.
Sera noticed this during their intense match of 'you hit me first' and saw that after gathering her's and his steeds, Flynnt threw the reins to Elliot's horse over its neck and shooed it off in the direction of the castle. Once it was out of sight he walked over and handed her the reins to her brown gilding, Rush, saying, "Just ignore him. We need to hurry and get back to the castle before dark. Besides, he'll have plenty of time to think about his actions on the way back."
Hiding a smirk of justice, Sera tucked a strand of midnight-black hair behind her ear and grunted acknowledgement before mounting and following the older man trotting his horse away.
Elliot laughed after them, "I'm sure I will!" Before turning and suddenly frowning as his horse had vanished. "What... Oi!"
Sera and Flynnt laughed most of the way back.
After returning to the castle, they led their horses to the stable and began to unsaddle when a voice sounded by the doors, "I see the mighty ranger has returned with her invisible catch," Sera suddenly felt her good mood dampen as she turned to see a boy her age with honey-blond hair, hazel eyes and pointed face saunter up to her and look at the ground in front of her. "Looks a little small to me..."
Sera grinned. "Bit like your brain, then,"
Levi Jeager frowned. "Clever,"
"I know." She shrugged.
Straightening up, Levi smirked and said, "Well then, now that that's out of the way, Duke Arthur wants a word with you."
She furrowed her brow. "With me? Why?"
He shook his head. "Dunno, he didn't say."
Sera looked over at her mentor for some sort of answer, only to receive an uneasy glance. "What?" She asked wearily.
With his back turned to her while brushing his trusted mare, Flynnt answered, "You'll find out once you go, won't you?"
This didn't make her feel any more secure.
Sera stood in front of the door to the Duke's office debating whether she should run or not. Usually whenever he wanted to speak with her it was about her future as a ranger or about another fight with Levi that resulted in the loss of another one of the castle's courtyard statues. She didn't remember breaking any recently...
She glanced nervously at the guard standing against the wall by the door. He looked at her, silently questioning if she ever planned on going in.
Resigning herself to her fate with a sigh, she knocked on the door. A calm voice saying "Come in" came from the other side.
Once inside, she shut the door behind her and bowed to the man sitting behind a great desk cluttered with books and parchment. "You wanted to see me, Your Grace?"
Duke Arthur Vessalius was a handsome, well built man with shoulder length blond hair and beard and green eyes. He looked up. "Ah, Seraphina! I am glad you're here. And yes I did, as a matter of fact. There is something of which I must speak with you about,"
Sera approached the desk slowly. "My Lord?"
Placing down his quill, his tone suddenly became serious, "As you know, tomorrow is the day for the beginning of the contest between the Three Great Noble Families. The day each family's heir starts their travels through the Forest of Nox to Mt. Zeriff in order to retrieve the kingdoms symbol, the Noblesse flower, for their family's right to rule above the other two for the next fifteen years."
"Yes," she replied, "However, the Vessalius family aren't competing because there's no heir, correct? It's just the Celestine family and the Hausen family."
Duke Arthur nodded slowly. "Yes, that is... partially true,"
Sera was growing more confused by the second. What was this all about?
He continued, "We, the Vessalius', will be competing for the right to rule in the competition with a sole heir of our own."
She knitted her brow. "What sole heir?"
Looking her right in the eyes, the Duke stood and walked around his desk, gently placing his hands on her shoulders. "You, Seraphina Klein."
Seraphina roughly shoved a shirt into her bag. It was nine o'clock in the morning on the day of the contest, and she was to leave at noon. And needless to say, she wasn't too happy.
Why, of all people, had the Duke chosen her? Sera wanted to become a ranger, not the next head of the Vessalius family.
Sera wasn't exactly the best in her studies, either. True, she did better than most people, but nothing worth merit. She didn't pride herself in being patient when it came to dealing with others. However, if you asked her to stalk a deer for the entire day, she wouldn't mind doing that. That was fine. She was outside, free of stifling papers and rules and servants asking constantly if she needed anything that she was perfectly able to get herself. The deer didn't ask stupid questions, but did only the occasional raising of the head when it heard something. Like Elliot, she thought, miffed.
Also, Sera didn't enjoy having to attend the castle parties. They were fun and all, but the annoying dresses she was forced to wear, and constant socialization was something she could only tolerate for so long, and just so many times a year. As the next Duchess, she would be forced to duties such as that countless times, not only at her own home, but at every other Lord and Ladys' homes as well. It would never end.
She would be forced to sit behind a desk for practically the rest of her life. After all, the only time Sera saw Duke Arthur outside of his confining office was for meals, parties, tournaments, and the occasional walk around the grounds to make sure everything was running smoothly.
She also took into account that once she was sworn in as head when the time came, she would be forced to leave her name Klein behind her, and take up the more grandeur name of Vessalius. Seraphina Vessalius. No longer Seraphina Klein. No longer herself.
As she decided that she wouldn't last longer than two minutes at the job, a knock sounded at her door. She said that it was unlocked, and Flynnt opened the door to her room. He proceeded with caution, as if he were walking on thin ice, or about to have something thrown at him and wanted to be prepared. And, to be honest, he just might be. Sera stopped mid-way putting extra clothes in her bag, to stare at him as he walked to a few feet away from her. Looking at her half-packed bag as if it was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world, he said casually, "Seems like you're coming along well, then?" But Sera wasn't about to have any of that.
Crossing her arms in front of her chest, Sera gave him a look that said 'I know what you did, and I'm not happy with you!' "You mean my packing? Oh, yeah, it's coming along nicely. However, I must admit, I would have preferred a little bit longer notice than the night before hand, you know, so I could've had time make sure I had all my hair and makeup stuff ready to go."
Flynnt raised an amused eyebrow. For if there was one thing his student ever fretted about wanting more time to pack, beauty supplies wasn't it. Extra ammo perhaps, but not beauty products. "Hair and makeup? Well then, you must forgive me, I shouldn't have disturbed the young lady in her preparation." He turned as if he was about to leave the room.
Sera sighed exasperatedly and sat down. "You wanted to say something?" She said, the distress in her voice evident. Flynnt chuckled and sat down beside her. "I wanted to tell you, you know." His voice was solemn, as if he was carrying a great burden and didn't know what to do with it. It's funny, because that was how Sera felt at the moment.
"Then why didn't you?" She inquired, her voice pleading, "I don't want this! I want to be like you and Elliot. I want to be a ranger, not some Duchess confined to her chambers all day!"
Flynnt stared at the far wall. His shoulders were heavy and he seemed older. "I know..." he said calmly, "I've been with you long enough to know that though you admire His Grace, the Duke, you would never want to be him. But you must understand my reasoning for why Arthur and I made the choice we did. And it is we, for I was the one who suggested you." Sera was about to ask why yet again when he turned to look at her with the eyes of someone who loved her like a father loved his daughter. "Your parents were my and my wife's closest friends. When they and my wife died in that carriage crash, leaving you orphaned and my child motherless, I was a broken man. You were young, but I know how it affected you, even to this day," She looked at floor, not sure where this was going.
"Not long after that, it became clear that Arthur's wife Lady Kate could not conceive a child and since he had no brothers or sisters who could take the title when the time came, we had to look elsewhere...and there you were." Placing his hands on her shoulders, Flynnt made her look at him, and she could see his eyes over flowing with pride. "Seraphina, when the Duke took you in and placed you under my care as my apprentice, I got to watch you grow up into one of the finest and most beautiful young women I have even seen. You are kind, yet stern. You can follow orders well, and yet still give them and have a mind of your own. It is true you have somewhat of a temper, and you don't always listen, and there's the thing where you seem unable for the life of you to sit still and have patience..." She raised an eyebrow which seemed to get him back on course of what he was trying to say, "But you are good. You can make a hard decision when it counts and are loved by many. You can pick people up when they're down and refuse to let yourself get pushed to far by others. These are only a small part of the reasons as to why we chose you. In you, the Duke and I see a future for Fyor....For the people of this small, yet wonderful kingdom. Seraphina Klein, it would be my honor to one day serve you as my Liège Lord should I live to see the day."
Sera looked back at the floor. What was she supposed to say to that? The way the man had always been able to throw her off-balance never failed to unnerve her. However, she still couldn't see it. No matter how hard she tried, Sera could not see a 'future for Fyor' inside of her. She saw a seventeen year old girl whose only desire was to run around the woods and, on occasion, fend off any dangers that threatened her home.
Sera sighed and stood up, turning so that she could look at her beloved mentor. "I'll go. I'll participate in the contest and I'll try as hard as I can to bring back the Noblesse Flower," Flynnts face seemed to light up, "But," she continued, (and his features said that he already sensed a 'but' coming, though hoped it wouldn't,) "I will only do the contest. I understand how you all feel and I don't want to disappoint anyone, but please try to understand me. I can't be the next head. I cannot rule a kingdom."
Flynnt stared at her for a long while before smiling gently and saying, "Very well, then."
Three hours later, Sera stood by the ship port, surrounded by people she grew up with. Slung across her back was her trusted long-range rifle and bag, and her twin-knives on her belt. In her right hand she held the reins to her friend and partner, Rush, who would be accompanying on her trip and whose saddle bags were filled other things she would need that wouldn't fit in her own bag, such as her medical kit, and her bedroll behind her saddle.
Looking around, Sera took note of two other groups nearby. The first, she recognized, was the Hausen family. She'd met the heir, Dean, a few times at one of Lady Kate's parties that she insisted she go to. He was a cheerful fellow, a bit like Elliot, and loved animals. She also noticed that Dean's ever-faithful German Shepherd, Sam, was in his usual place by his side, waging his tale with his tongue out as his master swung his squealing with delight, or at least she hoped that was the case, little sister Liliana around playfully. Dean's other sibling, Alexander, or "Alex" as they called him, was laughing along with his older brother. The woman standing with them, in all regalness and poise, was their mother, Duchess Roseline Hausen, head of the Hausen family, watched with a smile on her face as her three children played. The other group looked less cheerful and more "professional", if that was the word for it, or perhaps "solemn" would be more appropriate. There were five there, two of them were guards, standing as still as statues and stern expressions. One was a woman she did not recognize, though she stood by the youngest of the group with a motherly aura. The one she stood by Sera recognized, again, because she'd met him at a party, though it wasn't a very eventful meeting. Glen: sole heir of the Celestine household.
When she was talking with Dean, he saw Glen walk by and brought (more like dragged) him over. He was quiet, only speaking when spoken to, and reminded Sera of one of those things other countries were developing. What were they called? Oh yes, a robot. In other words, they didn't hit it off very well and soon went their own ways.
That aside, Sera noticed that he was talking to that man she knew to be his father, Duke Oswald Celestine, head of the Celestine household. She'd only met him once, (that time being when he had inquired about who was keeping the grounds of the Vessalius estate and Duke Arthur had summoned her forth) and the man had never failed to send shivers up her spine whenever she caught merely a glance of him. He was what Sera would call smarmy. Never failing to make you feel inferior and essentially useless along with terrifying you out of your wits without that stupidly smug smile never leaving his face. In all honesty, even though she didn't exactly get along with him, she couldn't wait for the day that Glen took over. At least he had at least some manners that didn't seem forced; like he was talking to a bug not worth his precious time. However, as they were talking, Sera couldn't help but notice that it wasn't exactly a father/son talk. It was more like Duke Oswald was lecturing his son about something or other; like he was talking to one of his servants. But before Sera could dwell on it any longer, the sound of Levi's voice brought her mind back to her body. "And just remember, if you find yourself dangling off the side of Mt. Zeriff, don't be afraid to let go, no one will miss you that much." He said as if trying to be reassuring. This was met with a swat to the head by the girl standing next to him.
"You hush up," Noelle Clark, Flynnt's daughter, scolded, before turning and smiling at Sera with the same baby-blue sparkling eyes that her father had, "You'll do fine, I know it. Just be sure to eat properly and get plenty of rest. Of course that goes for you too, Rush." She said while patting Rush's snout. He sniggered gently in reply. Sera smiled. Sometimes she wondered just which of them was older, seeing as how the short blond was always acting like her mother. She didn't mind, just found it amusing. "I will," she said, "And don't worry, Levi, I'll keep your advice in mind." He smiled and she rolled her eyes.
"What about my advice?" Elliot almost whined to her left.
"I don't believe that attempting interpretive dance to throw off a bear while it's trying to eat me is what can be considered advice, O' Wise One." Sera rebuked.
"And telling you to fall off a cliff is?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes, because I might actually survive the fall." He huffed, causing the other three to laugh.
Duke Arthur and his wife Lady Kate, who were standing nearby, stepped forward from their place off to the side with Flynnt. "It is almost time, Sera, so if we may speak to you for a moment." Duke Arthur said politely.
Sera gave a nod and a smile to her friends and after receiving a hug from each, (or what could called a choke hold from Levi) they went over to the older ranger, Noelle hugging her father affectionately.
Once they left, Duke Arthur and Lady Kate directed their attention towards her. "Well then," began the Duke, "I suppose all we can say is that we leave our faith with you, Seraphina Klein."
Sera gave a slight bow. "It is my honor, Your Grace."
He waved off her gesture with his hand. "There is no need for formalities, as of right now you are my heir and that gives you some perks, if not only being able to speak casually."
Sera gave a small smile and relaxed in her posture. "Thank you, M'lord." He grinned.
It was then that his wife, Lady Kate, a tall, beautiful and graceful woman with dark hair and eyes and fair skin stepped forward and took one of Sera's hands in hers and smiled a motherly smile. "Seraphina, Flynnt has informed us of your wishes and we will respect them. However, should you change your mind about the position of being heir during the duration of the contest; I want you to know that it would mean the world to the both of us. As you know, we cannot have children of our own, and it would make me proud to be able to treat you like my own daughter."
Whatever relaxation Sera felt a moment ago was suddenly replaced with guilt. What on earth was she supposed to say to that?
Duke Arthur laughed and placed an arm around his wife's shoulders. "Now, now, dear, you're making her uncomfortable," slight relief, "but she is right, you know." And back came the guilt. Sera laughed nervously along with the couples own laughter.
Lady Kate looked over and saw Flynnt waiting patiently off the side and nudged her husband, signaling it was time to leave them. Duke Arthur took the hint and said with his hand outstretched, "Farewell, Seraphina. I know you'll make us proud."
Feeling slightly nervous, Sera somehow managed to take his hand firmly and say, "I'll do my best."
After sharing a goodbye hug with Lady Kate, the Duke and his wife went back over the others and Flynnt came over.
They both looked around and at each other for a few moments before Flynnt finally said, "So, it's that time now. Try not to get yourself killed out there; the Forest of Nox doesn't exactly have cute, little bunnies for residents."
Sera made a disappointed face. "Oh darn, I was hoping to get one and keep it as a pet."
"Well, you're out of luck, then. Sorry to disappoint."
They stared at each other for a few moments before laughing and engulfing one another in a hug.
Whether Flynnt was checking to make sure she hadn't gone brain-dead in the past few hours or whether he was starting to get emotional, Sera wasn't sure, but he began saying advice in that gruff voice of his like she leaving forever rather than a few days. "When you're in the forest, don't eat all your food at once; the chances of finding an animal worth eating are few and far between. The others will only try to eat you. Also, make sure to get fresh water whenever you get the chance, you run out quicker than you'd think. And don't forget to take proper care of Rush, I like that horse. And when you're doing maintenance on your rifle, don't treat it like a toy. If there's a bullet still in there while you're working on it, it could-"
"Go off in my face, I know. You're the one who taught me, remember?" She cut him off, smiling. She could feel him smile as well.
Once they pulled away, they weren't entirely sure what to say to each other, but luckily they were spared when the horn sounded, signaling it was time to leave.
Sharing one last smile, Sera went over to the center of the port where the kingdom's flag was billowing proudly in the wind. She stood next to the two other heirs and an old man in brown robes stepped in front of them. Sera recognized the man to be Old Joran, keeper of Fyor's history. The three heads took their places behind him. All was quiet when Joran began speaking, "Heirs, what you are about to take place in is of the highest quality of danger. You will sail across Weilani Lake and travel through the Forest of Nox. Once on the other side you are on your own, no one can help you. Whether you chose to help each other is your own choice. In the forest, you will find creatures of which the like you have never seen before. Avoid them if you can, for they are not used to being the hunted. When you reach Mt. Zeriff, you must climb your way to the cave leading into the mountain. Inside, you must then go deep in the mountain and find the flower that has represented our kingdom since its birth: the Noblesse Flower. When you find it, you must bring it back to the port on the other side, there will be three boats waiting. The first one to return shall grant their family the right to rule over the other two for the next fifteen years.
"Now, let us begin... Glen, heir to the Celestine household, for the past thirty years your family has had supreme rule, do you understand and accept the task ahead of you?"
Glen stepped forward. "I do."
"Then go forth and bring your family honor."
Glen turned and retrieved the reins to his stallion from one of the guards that came with him. And after curtly nodding to his father, he boarded the ship that was docked at the port.
Joran spoke again, "Dean, heir to the Hausen household, do you understand and accept the task ahead of you?"
Dean stepped forward and nodded. "I do."
"Then go forth and bring your family honor."
Dean went over to his mother. She handed him the reins to his mare and Sam trotted to his side. After sharing one last hug, he and his two companions boarded the ship.
Sera was nervous. Her hands were feeling clammy and she wanted to get in her horse and run when Joran spoke yet again, "Seraphina Klein, heir to the Vessalius household, do you understand and accept the task ahead of you?"
Swallowing the lump in her throat and gripping Rush's reins, she stepped forward and said as steadily and confidant as she could, "I do."
"Then go forth and bring your family honor."
Letting out a breath she didn't know she was holding, Sera looked and smiled at her friends as they waved at her. Nervously waving back, she turned and went to board the ship.
Why had she agreed to this, again?
The sail across Weilani Lake went smoothly, to say the least. Dean, a tall and muscular young man of nineteen with short, chocolate-brown hair, jade-green eyes and tan skin, was rather good company. Sera and him got along rather well, and as for Glen, a smaller, yet clearly not without strength, boy the age of seventeen like Sera with raven-black hair and storm-gray eyes, usually kept off a little bit the side, minding his own business, like now, for example:
"So, what you're telling me..." said Dean, scratching Sam's head which rested in his lap and leaning his back against the railing as he and Sera sat on the deck, "is that you're the heir, but you don't want to be the heir, so you're only taking the position until the contest is over, and then you're returning to your job as a ranger, correct?"
"Mhm," answered Sera while shifting slightly to get more comfortable.
"Now..." Dean began, a thoughtful expression on his face, "how exactly does that work again?"
Sera opened her mouth to answer but instead took on the appearance of a gaping fish out of water. Taking on a similar expression, she said, "You know... I'm not entirely sure..." He nodded.
Glen, who had his arms crossed over his chest and and staring out over the lake, had one of those rare occasions where he spoke without being told to, "In other words, she's a fill-in and shouldn't really be here." His voice was calm and straightforward.
"Oh, come on, you don't really mean that!" Dean said exasperatedly.
When Glen made no move to respond, Sera said, "It's fine, Dean. Besides, he's right, for the most part. I am a fill-in and really have no clue as to why I'm here." She grinned at Glen and he looked away awkwardly.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Okay, that's it," he pointed a finger at Sera; "You're not a fill-in and have every right to be here as the heir of the Vessalius family, no matter how short a time that will be. And you," he switched his finger and attention to Glen; "you shut your mouth and stop being such Debbie-Downer over there."
Sera made a mock-salute and couldn't help but notice out of the corner of her eye, Glen try to hide a grin. Maybe he had a sense of humor, after all.
Throughout their conversations, Sera took note of what weapons the two boys were carrying. Dean had chosen a long-bow and a set of throwing knives, while Glen had a broadsword and two hand-guns strapped onto different belts he was wearing. They both seemed very familiar with the tools and Sera had no doubt they could handle themselves just as well as her in hand-to-hand combat. This contest could prove very interesting.
Dean, Sera, and (reluctantly) Glen were playing a game of I Spy when the captain shouted "Land ho!" and the three stood and turned to see the ship about to arrive at the much smaller port in front of the entrance of the Forest of Nox. Once it docked, the three were handed their horses from the rooms below and went on land.
After the ship had left and checking to make sure she had everything, Sera mounted Rush and looked over to say goodbye to the others when she found Dead still on the ground unlike Glen and her and about to walk away. "What are you doing?" She asked.
Dean looked up at her from his dapple-gray mare, Elsa, eyebrows raised in question. "I'm walking; don't you know what that is?"
"I do, actually," she replied, "What I meant was: why are you walking when you can ride your horse?"
Dean looked as if he was about to answer before closing his mouth and looking away awkwardly. It was Glen who answered from up on his black stallion, Hawk. "He can't ride horses." He said matter-of-fact. Sam also barked as if in confirmation and Dean looked at him like he was a traitor.
It was Sera's turn to raise her eyebrows. "You, Dean Hausen, the boy with a legendary talent with animals that is known throughout all of Fyor, can't ride a horse?"
Dean held up a finger. "It's not that I can't ride, you two, I just don't like to. There's a difference."
"So..." she began slowly, "you're scared."
She hit right on the mark if his face was anything to go by. "I'm not scared! I've just had too many bad experiences with it and don't like it, so I choose not to. That's all!" He said almost desperately.
Sera smirked and saw Glen mouth 'he's scared' from his mount behind Dean, causing her to chuckle. "Well then, you have my apologies. Naturally, someone with your skills in animal training should have a choice to walk rather than ride."
Ignoring the sarcasm, he made a mock-bow. "You're too kind, My Lady."
Smiling and shaking her head, Sera turned Rush towards the direction of the forest and had him walk into it. "See you around, boys!" She called back.
It would take several days to get to Mt. Zeriff, and it was already almost sunset of the second day since Sera and the others had been here. Though, the difference between night and day in the forest was a mere difference between semi-dark with a few sun rays here and there and pitch-black. Last night she set up a small camp and hunted birds for food, seeing as how there weren't any deer in sight and she'd need all the supplies she could get for the trip back. All in all, it was rather boring. Sera hadn't come across any of the 'great and terrible' beasts everyone kept warning her about, so little to no action happened at all. There was the occasional case of when Rush got spooked and tried to bolt, but they were in an eerie, pitch-black forest with creepy sounds going on constantly. Not exactly something to rush back to the port about. However, Sera was just about to dismount and set up for the night again when she heard something coming her way. And judging by the sound of confidence in the steps the creature made, she didn't think it would run away scared if you threw a rock at it. Dismounting, Sera pulled rush behind a group of trees and shrubbery away from where the creature was coming from and got her rifle into position in case it noticed them and attacked. She could try running, but if the stories she was told about what lurked in the forest as a child were anything to go on, that wouldn't do much good.
Sera's heart began pounding. If something went wrong, if it found them, if she missed, it could mean the end of both her and Rush. Wetting her lips, Sera aimed for where it would be coming out as best she could in the dark. She had placed her finger on the trigger and readying herself when Dean Hausen and his mare, Elsa, walked into one of the rays on sun seeping through the canopy of trees up above, Sam trotting happily beside them. Allowing herself to breathe again, Sera stood and walked with Rush out of their hiding spot, returning her rifle to its place across her back. "I almost shot you, you know."
Dean jumped in surprise and reached for a throwing knife before realizing who she was. "Oh, it's just you..." He relaxed, "You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
She walked over to him. "I could say the same to you. With the way you were stomping through the forest, I mistook you for some kind of beast."
"I wasn't that loud." He defended.
"Yeah, you were." She stated. He frowned.
The two began walking west in the direction of the mountain when Sera noticed Dean's mood seemed more quiet than usual. True, it was understandable to be serious in their situation, but this didn't seem like him at all.
"Is something the matter?" She asked as they walked.
"Hm?" He said distractedly before understanding, "Oh! Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Great, actually. Just a little nervous,"
"Well..." he began slowly, "you see, the Celestine family has won the contest the past two times, thus them having supreme rule for the past thirty years. Before that, the Vessalius' won," Sera nodded, saying that she was listening, "Before my father died on that hunting trip, he spoke with me about the contest. In that discussion he talked about the chances that should I win the next one for the family's honor and pride. And... I don't want to disappoint him."
Sera watched him closely and for the first time saw him truly like the next head of a family. "I think you can do it." She said. Dean looked at her curiously and she continued, "I don't even really want to be here, but you have a reason and desire to win, which is more than I have. The real contest is between you and Glen, if you ask me."
Dean chuckled. "Well, I'd hate to be Glen if I came back empty-handed to my father."
Sera furrowed her brow. "Why's that?"
He looked at her as if she had grown two heads. "Have you met his father? The Oswald Celestine likes his power and doesn't take kindly to failure or it being taken away, especially at the hands of his own son. Oh sure, he'd be courteous enough should Glen not be the first one back, but who knows how he'd react once they returned to their castle."
Sera suddenly felt miserable. She hadn't thought about the others' situations. All she did was think about how she didn't want to be here when the other two were struggling to please their families. Her resolution of the fact that she wouldn't make it one day as the leader of the Vessalius family suddenly grew much stronger. The two were entertaining themselves with mindless chatter when they heard a great roar from off in the distance to the left, making them stop in their tracks.
"I am so glad we're not over there," Dean admitted.
Sera was about to agree when a gunshot from the same direction sounded, followed by another roar. Sera hesitated for a moment before saying, "You don't think..."
The sounds of a crash and someone yelling.
"Yeah, that would be him." The taller boy confirmed.
After sharing a quick look the two began to head towards the direction from which the noise came from as fast as they could, Sera clambering onto Rush and Dean starting to run.
"Get on your horse!" Exclaimed Sera as she directed Rush into the proper direction.
"I can't! Horses are crafty when you're on the ground but as soon as you're on their backs they're just plain devious and everything ends badly!" He rebuked, tugging on Elsa's reins to make her run with him. Sam began running in circles and barking, signaling they should hurry. "I know, I know!" He snapped
Sera made an agitated noise and saying, "Then I'm leaving you behind!" Before spurring Rush into a gallop and taking off.
Glen rolled out of the way as the massive troll swiped it him with his great, clawed hand. It let out a ferocious roar in discouragement when it couldn't catch him. It turned around to lunge at Glen again but he blocked it with his broadsword. With quick footwork he maneuvered around the creature and swung at its foot, hoping to injure it so that he could get away but ended up barely making a cut deep enough for it to notice with its thick skin. It only made the troll more irritated. Glen's stallion, Hawk, had bolted when it attacked from nowhere, coming at them in the blink of an eye without so much as a noise beforehand, an impressive feat for a creature as unintelligent as a troll. Luckily, it was small for its kind. Unluckily, it still stood at eleven feet tall and was quick; quicker than you would expect. One might think it odd to see a troll during the hours of the day, for they turn to stone in the light of the sun. But this was the Forest of Nox, and hardly enough sun seeped through the branches of the humongous trees. Not enough to turn a creature into stone.
As Glen came to the conclusion that a sword would not do much good against the beast, he sheathed it in its scabbard with a practiced speed and reached for one of his hand-guns, aiming it at the trolls head. However, before he could pull the trigger, it moved and the bullet grazed its ear, resulting in another roar as it groped at its lobe. During its stumbling, the troll ran into one of the smaller trees, uprooting and knocking it over. Glen froze and watched in horror as the tree fell towards him. It was only when it was too late the he regained his senses and tried to get away, ending with the tree landing on his left leg. He howled in pain. The troll managed to stop it's bumbling around and shook its head as if trying to clear it of water. Once it was able to focus again, it directed its attention back on Glen who was trying desperately to free his leg from the heavy, forest growth. It reached out its hand to grab him when the sound of a rifle firing sounded and it recoiled, holding the hand that was outstretched and looked around, panicked.
Sera jumped off Rush, keeping her rifle pointed at the troll. It swung around and started towards her, snarling. She fired at the tree next to it and it froze, a frightened look on its face. Grasping one of her twin-knives, she yelled and ran at it. The troll winced, turned and fled. If there was one thing Sera had learned from one of Flynnt's all night training sessions in the woods, it was that trolls are only fearsome until you traumatize them. After checking to make sure that it was really gone and would not be coming back, Sera walked briskly over to where Glen was trying to push the tree off his leg.
"Don't do that," she said as she crouched down beside him, "You'll only end up doing more damage that way. If you're leg's not shattered already, you may just be able to get away with a banged up knee and foot,"
"How do you know?" Glen said through gritted teeth, turning back around and resting on his forearms. There was a great strain in his voice.
Sera grinned. "A boy I grew up with named Levi and I thought it would be an interesting idea to find a couple of trees and have a zipline race, and oh, was it interesting." She could have sworn she heard a tense chuckle.
Sera had begun to think of ways to get the fallen tree off him when Sam came bounding towards them, closely followed by a heavily breathing Dean tugging Elsa and Hawk behind him.
"About time you got here," Sera chided.
Dropped the two horses reins by Rush, Dean quickly made his way over to the two, attempting to catch his breath. "Well, if I hadn't run instead of dashing in like some kind of hero like somebody I know, I wouldn't have found that guy over there." He said indicating Hawk.
Sera rolled her eyes and Glen managed to grunt a thank you.
"Don't worry about it," Dean shrugged, "Now, what happened here?"
Sera stood up straight. "Got himself attacked by a troll. If I hadn't 'come dashing in like some kind of hero,' he would have been dinner."
Dean made a face, causing Sera to lightly laugh. "Come on," she said, "let's get this thing off him."
Standing on opposite sides of the tree, they reached down and picked it up a foot from the ground, grunting in effort. Once Glen had removed his leg from underneath, they gladly dropped it back to the ground.
Sera quickly checked Glen's leg and used her knowledge in medical treatment to find out how badly damaged it was and tend to it. Luckily, Sera was able to happily inform him that he had, like she said, managed to get away with it only banged up. However, she also said that he had to stay off of it for a few weeks.
"That's impossible," Glen argued, "The contest is still going and I have no intention of pulling out simply because I have a hurt leg,"
"You had a tree fall on it," She deadpanned.
"I don't care," He rebuffed.
Sighing, she looked to Dean for help. He sat on the fallen tree. "Well then, I guess we'll just have to stay with you for the remainder of the journey in order to make sure you don't get yourself killed."
Glen looked at him as if he had hit him. "No," he said rigidly, "we're supposed to do this alone."
"Fine then," Sera simply, "you can go on ahead for a bit, limping about as you try to hunt and fight off more trolls, and we can stalk you from a distance and come to your rescue every five minutes,"
"Brilliant," Dean concurred.
The matter was quickly resolved when Glen glared and tried to stand, failing miserably.
They had set up camp a good ways away from where the troll had attacked and Dean was off getting more wood for the fire, leaving Glen and Sera staring into the flames, exhausted. Sam was asleep with his head resting on Glen's good leg. After nearly ten minutes, Glen broke the long silence saying, "I owe you my life."
This surprised Sera to say the least. She knew Glen wasn't heartless, just reserved. She had also gathered from talking to him that he had difficulty expressing how he felt. And now she knew he was capable of admitting he couldn't do everything by himself. Smiling, Sera readjusted her position on the ground and said, "It was nothing. I'm just glad you weren't eaten,"
With the light from the fire, she saw a small smile appear on Glen's face. "That makes two of us." She grinned.
As they sat in comfortable silence, curiosity got the better of her and asked, "If you don't mind me asking, what was it like to know from birth that you would one day take over your father's place?"
For a moment Sera thought he wouldn't answer, but then he said, "I don't know about Dean, but not that great, to be honest. My father has never exactly been the type to be loving or kind when it wasn't convenient for him. He built his legacy higher than even my grandmother's when she won the contest thirty years ago, but it wasn't just that. He's manipulated and lied his way to the top, always sure to make everyone feel smaller than him and frightened. Even me. The only one who ever actually paid attention to me was my former nanny, Mary."
Sera knitted her brow. "Was she the woman who was with you at the port when we were leaving?"
He nodded. "When I came to understand that I was expected to take over when the time came and continue his lies, I felt sick, but what can I do? He's my father, no matter I say or do, he will always have the ability to make me do what he wants. At the port, he told me to bring back the Noblesse Flower at all costs. I suppose he couldn't bear to have his precious crown taken away from him. Still, I'm tired of constantly hearing about how I mess up. That's why I swore to myself I would bring back the flower so I could prove myself to him, even if that means I have to climb Mt. Zeriff with two injured legs."
Sera didn't know what to say or think. Both Dean and Glen wanted to please their fathers, but in different ways: Dean wanted complete the task given to him by his father before he died, and Glen wanted to be acknowledged. To prove to his father that he wasn't useless. What was her motivation? To hurry up and get the flower so she could return to her normal, everyday life? Compared to the others, she really had no right to be here. Standing up, Sera turned to leave the camp. "I'm going to find out why Dean's taking so long, yell if you need me. Also, I believe in you, though that doesn't count for much."
She looked back over her shoulder at him. "Yes?"
"What I said on the boat, about you being a fill-in and not supposed to be here... I take it back."
She blinked, taken aback. What exactly had she done for him to say that?
Smiling, she said, "Don't worry about it." Then she went to search for Dean
Sera found Dean struggling to keep small branches and twigs from falling whenever he tried to pick another on up. Laughing, she went to take a few, which he gladly handed over.
As they kept working, Sera broached the subject of their journey. "It's going to take longer with Glen only being able to ride at a walk, but then it would be foolish to barrel through in this constant darkness, anyway,"
Dean nodded in agreement. "Besides, who knows what else is in here other than trolls. If we went fast, making a whole bunch of ruckus in the process we might as well be inviting other creatures to have us for dinner."
"But we will be that much slower returning home,"
"True, but I don't intend to leave Glen behind,"
"Nor do I. He's stubborn as a mule, but I like him well enough to consider him a friend,"
Dean raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. "A friend? I thought you two were content to ignore each other for the rest of time."
She chuckled. "Yes, well, that was before we were forced to put up with each other for an extended period of time. Don't worry; I'm beginning to like you, too,"
"I'm feeling every form of happiness hearing you say that," he said jokingly." Now, you're the ranger, what are we going to do about food and water?"
Sera thought for a minute. "Well, the horses are fine with grass. We can hunt. But as for water, we'll simply have to use it sparingly and hope that either it rains or we come across another pond soon."
Dean sighed. "Whatever you say, I suppose. You're in charge,"
This caused her eyebrows to shoot up. "Why am I in charge? I don't want to be in charge,"
"Well, one of us has to be. And since you were practically raised in the woods, you're the most qualified." He stated matter-of-factly.
"But you're the oldest! You know ways with animals that could save our lives in here," She argued.
"So you should put forth some ideas as well. Or are you going to follow everybody else till the day you die?"
"You sound strangely like my mother..." He drawled.
Sera stood up a little taller. "I'll take that as a compliment, seeing as how she has beauty, brains and an abundance of grace,"
"You forgot terrifying." He reminded.
She recalled one time Duchess Roseline visited a few years ago with Dean's father before his accident and, in an animated discussion with Duke Arthur, her husband nearly took off her head with his sword. It was the first time Sera had ever seen the usually elegant lady lose her composure and she hoped dearly it would be her last.
Dean made a knowing face. "Not so gracious as she seems now, is she?"
Sera shuddered at the memory as she picked up another dried stick. "Even so, she's a good ruler, there's no denying that. She's respected, loved, admired and a force to be reckoned with. People think twice about crossing her, and not just because of her temper. Even Duke Oswald seems to be wary of her."
"That is true," he said nodding, " You know, you two very similar. First time I spoke with you I had to do a double take. Next I saw you knocking that boy Levi 'round the head and chastising Ranger Elliot and nearly had a heart attack at the resemblance. You scared me at first. Still do in fact." He added as an afterthought.
Sera shot him an offended look. "I'm not that bad!" She defended. He merely responded with a look that said 'oh, yes you are.' She huffed and stalked away, leaving him laughing.
Several days had passed since the troll incident, and the base of the mountain was in view. They had decided that they would climb together, but it was every man for himself once they found the cave leading into the mountain and began the real search for the Noblesse Flower in the maze that made up the inside of Mt. Zeriff. The only problem was Glen, something he was only too aware of.
Glen's leg was now able to support his weight and could walk for a short distance on his own, but climbing a mountain was another story. Sera was reluctant to have to leave him when they made it to the top, but she knew Glen well enough that his pride would only cause him to get mad at her and they'd waste time arguing, resulting him going off on his own regardless.
When they made it to the base, after what seemed like ages, the canopy of trees stopped and proper sunlight shown down on them. At first their eyes, not used to the brightness anymore, winced, but they soon were able to relish the light once they grew accustomed once again. It was only when they looked up at the mountain for the first time they felt intimidated due to the daunting task ahead them. Mt. Zeriff was even larger than they had imagined, the very tip being obscured by the clouds. And despite the trees that grew so close to it, the mountain had no vegetation on it whatsoever. Not even a single bird could be seen on it. Rock, stone and dust was all that they could see. The monstrous thing was hardly inviting. The only thing that proved positive was the fact that the sky was clear, meaning that there was no chance of lighting striking the mountain as they attempted to climb
Somewhere to her left Sera heard Dean swallow hard. "We have to go up that thing?"
Sera was about to respond when Rush nickered softly and a very important detail they had failed to notice hit her right in the face. "The horses..." She breathed.
Her two companions made puzzled faces before it dawned on them as well. They couldn't take the horses. It was too steep and unsteady.
Dean groaned. "There's always something, isn't there?" He said to no one in particular.
Glen sighed and readjusted his seat on Hawk. "Well, I supposed it's just as well. I never intended on climbing the blasted thing on horseback, anyway,"
"Well, neither did I, but what are we gonna do with the poor things? Leave at the bottom for some creature to come by and have a snack? I don't know about you two, but I actually like my horse." Sera fussed.
Glen thought for a moment before saying slowly, "Look, this contest had been going on since Fyor was created by the Three Great Noble Families ages ago. And I could be wrong, but I don't remember reading a history of past competitions that didn't include names of the past heirs' steeds. So, in other words, there must be some place that they kept them as they climbed. It's the only logical explanation."
Dean nodded. "Mother did mention something about her horse as she described her time in the contest. If only I could remember... Aha! That's it!" His sudden outburst startled the two other heirs, including the horses and Sam.
Sera patted Rush on the snout before directing her attention on the tall male. "What on earth are you going on about?"
Dean turned to the other two, a huge grin on his face. "You see, my dear friends, I've just learned a very important lesson."
"And that would be?" Glen inquired slowly.
Dean suddenly had a very philosophical expression on his face as the glanced between the two bemused seventeen year olds. "Always pay attention to your mother, no matter how boring she's being."
As it turned out, true to Dean's word, a cave in the side of the mountain with a wooden gate enclosing it was hidden off the side behind brush. They led one of their horses in each of the three stalls inside and unsaddled and groomed. It was amazing, Sera thought. There was a water pipe that hooked up to a stream nearby and provided an endless amount in the water troughs and large bales of hay stood next the stalls, just close enough so that horses could stick out their necks and eat.
Sera picked up a piece of hay and studied it carefully. "It's fresh," she noted. "Seems like someone's put it here recently."
Dean looked up from brushing Elsa. "Ah, mother mentioned something about that as well. Something about the officials not caring whether you starved or slept out in the cold, but Heaven forbid he horses be put through such torture. I can feel the love all the way from here."
Sera grunted in amusement. "Sounds like something Flynnt would say... Oh wait, he has." A memory of her mentor making her sleep outside in the rain to watch over a sick fawn while her horse got a nice, warm stall, snacking happily on oats and peppermint treats immediately sprang to the front of her mind. What made it worse was that she could have sworn Rush was mocking her when she came in the next morning, cold and looking like she got ran over. After mentioning it to the other two, Rush bumped her with his nose, snorting cheerfully.
She glared. "Watch it, buddy." Dean and Glen laughed, sharing in her horse's amusement.
It had taken two says, but the three finally found the opening leading into the mountain. At one point, Glen's leg caused him so much trouble and slowed them down so much he told them to go on ahead, but Sera and Dean wouldn't hear of it and merely picked him up by the elbows and dragged him, much to his annoyance. As they stared into the tunnel, seeming to go down at an alarming degree, Sera suddenly felt like turning back. It was dark, confining, intimidating. How a flower could grow inside of such a place was beyond her. Sera, Dean and Glen all shared an uneasy glance and nearly jumped out of their skins when Sam barked, causing a massive echo.
"Don't do that, you overgrown flea-bag!" Dean gasped as he held a hand over his heart. Sam merely wagged his tail, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.
Glen steadied himself on the wall of rock. "One day, I am going to put a muzzle on that thing,"
"Go for it." Dean muttered, fondling Sam's ears, and something told Sera he was only half-joking.
They agreed to separate as soon as the tunnel lead to more tunnels. And when it did, Dean was the first to go. "I'll see you guys at the finish line!" Were his last words to Sera and Glen as he and Sam took off down the narrow space, holding his lantern out in front of him. Glen and Sera, though they didn't say anything about it, both instantly noticed how quite it had gotten without the brunet around to make jokes and Sam to wind between your feet, tripping you as you tried to walk.
Sera had Glen's arm slung over her shoulders to provide him support as they walked, which worked fine as he wasn't that much taller than her. Something Dean was only too happy to point out, resulting in Glen throwing one of his boots at the nineteen year olds head. The two went on in silence for the better part of their time alone together until Sera suddenly broke it. "I'm beginning to wonder what the point of all this is..." She said in a low voice.
Glen glanced at her. "What do you mean?"
"Just this whole concept," she said, exasperated. "Every fifteen years the three heirs are forced to go on this ridiculous quest to find a flower of all things and try not to get themselves killed simply because their family wants power. What's the point? There's a reason there's three noble families, not just one royal family. Three allows a type of system to where everyone's opinions are acknowledged and respected, not just one. And yet someone decided they wanted to rule over the other two and created this stupid game so that he could have dominance. It's completely ridiculous!"
Glen was quite for a long while and Sera thought he wasn't going to say anything when he spoke up. "I wouldn't call it stupid," he said solemnly.
"Oh? And why's that?"
"It's true that it kind of defeats the purpose of the three families, but it also gives a sense of finality. If the two of the families decide that something needs to be done, the third, even if he doesn't agree, has to listen. But the choice can't be made until the main ruling family says so. Besides, more than one heir has lost their life for their respective family's chance to have the power."
Sera snorted disdainfully. "An abundance of contradictions and lives lost due to greed. That's exactly why it's stupid,"
Glen chuckled. "Perhaps."
At last another tunnel diverged off to the side; it was time to part ways again.
Sera couldn't help but worry about Glen, what with his leg and all. He noticed her concern and sighed. "I'll be fine, Sera. Stop frowning,"
Her frown only deepened. "I don't doubt that you can take care of yourself, but what if your leg gives out completely and you're stranded? What then?"
"Then I'll yell," He said simply, "This place echoes even when you whisper, I'm sure you'll be able to hear me then."
Still reluctant, Sera nodded and handed Glen his lantern. With a rather large limp and using the tunnel wall as support, Glen made his way down into the darkness and out of sight.
Sighing, Sera turned and looked down her own path, the only path left. No turns, no bumps or zig-zags, just straight. And though she tried to convince her feet to move forward, she couldn't. And she knew why. She was alone. Throughout the entirety of the journey, Sera had Dean and Glen with her; always there to give her a push onward. True, there was that first day they had set out, but even then she had Rush. If she called now, she was sure Glen would hear her, but she didn't. She had told herself and the others back home that she would do her best to bring back the Noblesse Flower. She wasn't about to fail them and get to the flower last because she chickened out. No, she'd get it on her own, no matter how scared she was. How ironic, Sera mused, that the only time you could ever be brave was when you were scared out of your wits. And she knew there was no denying it; she was scared. You could ask her to run off a dozen trolls, but the moment she was told to walk into a dark and enclosed space with only one way out was something she feared beyond all else.
It was probably because of that hatred for confinement that Sera wanted to part of being the next head of the Vessalius family, and why she loved being a ranger. As a ranger, she could run wherever she wanted. But as the next Duchess, she felt she would be trapped. Trapped: the one thing she hated most in the world.
Slowly, after attempting to swallow with a dry mouth, Sera began walking. It didn't get easier as she kept going, but she forced herself to. She didn't know how long she continued on for, minutes, hours? She didn't know. But the moment the tunnel lead into a large, circular chamber, Sera felt her breathing relax.
She looked around. It was empty all except for a huge boulder towards the back of the chamber. She approached it cautiously, holding her lantern out in front of her. When she reached the other side of the boulder she gasped and nearly dropped the lantern. The boulder was hollowed out and the back side of it gone, leaving a perfectly round space inside of it. And inside were dozens of beautifully radiating, rich purple flowers, and all bearing resemblance to a lily. Sera knew what they were immediately. "The Noblesse Flowers..." She breathed.
Sera couldn't believe it: she had found them! It seemed impossible, but there they were, just within arm's reach. Slowly, as if afraid they might disappear, she reached out a hand to pick on up.
Her fingers grazed the delicate petals, and just as she was about to wrap her hand around the beautiful flower, the flower that the whole contest revolved, a blood curdling roar shook throughout Mt. Zeriff.
Dean walked down the tunnel he chose carefully, Sam following close behind. At one point he nearly jumped out of his skin when his shadow made from the lantern light hit one of the rocks on the wall in a strange way that made it look like some kind of animal, starling him. The last thing he needed was something in there with him besides Sam. He was on edge as his mind decided he should remember stories about the mountain his old nurse had told him as a child; stories about a great beast asleep somewhere deep inside Mt. Zeriff.
As he continued deeper into the chasm, Sam suddenly ran ahead, disappearing into the darkness.
Dean furrowed his brow and held his lantern higher, picking up the pace. "Sam? What is it boy?" There was no sound and his companion never returned to matter how much he called. He made his way briskly down tunnel until he found Sam sniffing a spot amidst a bunch of gravel. Dean sighed in relief and squatted down to scratch his dogs head. "You had me worried there for a second, buddy. I even thought you had found something important, my mistake." He joked. He frowned as Sam stopped sniffing and began to dig through the gravel. "What are you doing? We don't have time to play, Sam, we gotta find that flower. Hey, are you listening?" Sam continued to dig, ignoring his master. "Of course you aren't." He sighed.
Dean let Sam dig furiously for a moment before he noticed the gravel beginning to fall away into the ground and his heart dropped to his stomach. It was all he could do to shout for Sam to stop and grab him by his collar as the section of ground gave way and they were both sliding down a small, steep tunnel. Dean held onto Sam and yelled as they fell. The rocks tore at his skin and clothes but he tried to protect Sam as best he could.
The small tunnel ended suddenly and they would have fallen to their deaths had Dean not grabbed the rocky surface. Holding Sam with his other arm, Dean watched as his lantern fell down into a black abyss, only hearing the sound of it crashing a good while after it had vanished out of sight.
Heart pounding, the brunette swallowed and tried to raise Sam to safety. And after multiple tiring tries, he managed. With hurting arms and bleeding hands, he clawed his way up as well, only relaxing once he crawled next to his canine friend and laid face-down on the hard stone. He jumped slightly as Sam yipped and licked his hair. He chuckled morbidly as his heart steadied and patted the German Shepherd. "No more digging, okay boy?" The dog barked as if in agreement.
Groaning and making a mental note not to have anything to do with this place ever again, Dean began to half crawl, half climb his way back up, pushing Sam ahead of him. They had only made it a little ways when an agonizingly horrendous roar came from the black chasm behind them. Sam coward and whimpered, backing into Dean who had frozen as if made of stone. His heart had stopped and his mouth became dry. The stories his old nurse had told him weren't real, he told himself... Were they?
The sound of growling could be heard as Dean meekly looked back towards the bottom. There was scratching and then a burst of wind. Something had flown past the tunnel. Another roar was all that was needed to let panic take control and have Dean urgently usher Sam forward and scramble back to the top. Once out, he ran blindly back the way he had come in the dark, Sam at his heels.
When he raced out of the smaller tunnel into the main one, he collided with something and crashed to the ground with it, Sam barking madly. The thing was holding a lantern and, like him, groaned in pain from being slammed to the stone floor. Rubbing his head, he saw that the thing he ran into was Sera. He quickly stood them up and said something so fast Sera couldn't understand. She held up a hand and told him to slow down.
His face pale, Dean began again. "We need to get out of here. There's something in the mountain, something big that can fly. I-I don't know what because I couldn't see, but merely hearing it had Sam and me shaking. Come on!"
He grabbed her hand and was about to dash for the entrance when Sera held him back. "Wait a second, what about Glen?! We can't leave him!" Dean's mouth opened and closed and he moved anxiously on the spot, his mind not seeming to work. Sera took control and said, "I'll go back and get him, you take Sam and start heading down."
She had turned to head back when Glen's voice sounded. "Don't bother, I'm already here."
Sam danced around Glen in circles, happy to see yet another familiar face. Dean and Sera rushed over to him. "Please tell me you heard that thing," Dean said.
Glen raised an eyebrow. "It'd be kinda hard not to considering Mt. Zeriff shook when it roared. What was that, anyway?"
"We don't know," Sera answered, "but we can't stay here. It's still inside the mountain and I'd rather not run into it."
After a nod to Dean, the two turned for the exit but Glen stopped them saying, "Wait, did either of you find the flower?"
Sera raised both her eye brows in disbelief. "There's some kind of monster in here that could very well kill us, and you're worried about a flower?"
"I think you've got your priorities backwards there, Glenny-Boy." Dean piped in using the nickname they had used to tease Glen over the journey when he was being difficult. They all had one reserved for such occasions.
Glen scowled. "Just tell me."
Sighed exasperatedly, Sera nodded. "Yeah, I found them. They're down the main tunnel, hidden inside a large hallowed out boulder. Impossible to miss,"
"Did you get one?" Glen inquired with an almost desperate edge to his voice.
She shook her head. "No. That thing, whatever it is, scared the living day lights out of me and I ran back for you guys. The flower was the last thing on my mind." He seemed almost disappointed yet relieved at that, though Sera or Dean took any notice.
"Guys, we need to go. Now." Dean said with a note that held no room for argument.
Sera didn't need to be told twice as she slipped under Glen's arm to support his leg and the three, along with Sam, hurried towards the mouth of the cave.
Once outside, it was as if something had slammed against the inside of the mountain and another roar cried out. They had to steady themselves on the rocks so as not to fall. After it was over they hurried down as fast as they could without falling. It had taken two days to get up, but getting down would be much quicker.
They hadn't made it too far down when the mountain shook yet again and Sera slipped. Letting go of Glen so she didn't fall with him, Sera tumbled down the rocks and down to ledge jutting out from the mountain, landing painfully on the rifle strapped to her back. Sera gasped from the impact.
"SERA!" Dean and Glen called out. Dean quickly slid down to her, helping her sit up.
"Are you alright?" The tall boy asked worriedly.
But before Sera could answer, a burst of fire shot out from the cave above them and a great beast flew out and landed powerfully on a large rock near the three heirs. It had the body of a goat, the foreparts of a lion, the bat-like wings of a dragon, the tail of a snake and three animal heads of a ram, lion and dragon. A chimera.
Sera's mind went numb. Chimeras were said to have vanished long ago, only continuing to live in old wives tales. Yet, the creature peering down at her with four different pairs of eyes, each equally unhappy at being woken up, was undoubtingly a chimera. The tail that was a snake hissed and the lion head growled, curling its lip up to reveal sharp white teeth. The ram head bobbed up and down as if uneasy and the dragon head gazed at the three heirs and Sam with what seemed to be curiosity. Sera was terrified, as were her two friends.
How they were going to make it out of this one, Sera had no clue.
The chimera stayed perfectly still for a great while and Sera thought that perhaps it might leave them alone. However, as if it read her mind, the dragon head snarled and let loose a stream of flames directed it them. Glen grabbed Sam and flung them behind a rock, as did the other two and out of harm's way until the flames stopped.
Sensing that the beast wasn't about to leave them alone, Dean took his chances and, reaching back for an arrow in his quiver and unhooking his longbow from his body, he stood out from the rock and with years of experience easily pulled back and released the deadly shaft. The arrow went for the ram head but it knocked it away with its horns, letting out a shrill, ear piercing cry. The chimera pawed the ground and lunged at Dean, who was cursing his luck, all three heads and the serpent tail crying with the different sounds of the respective creature's anger. Dean jumped out of the way, only just managing to stay safely on the lose rocks of the mountain. He looked up into four irritated pairs of eyes, the snake tail hissing. Knowing that long-range weapons would do no good in this case, Dean cast aside his bow and pulled out a throwing knife from his belt, readying himself for another attack. The dragon head let out a low rumble and flames flickered out of its teeth in preparation for another breath of fire. Dean looked for a boulder large enough to protect himself from the flames when a gunshot sounded, hitting the creatures right hind-leg. Letting out a howl of pain, the three heads spun to look up at the ledge above where Glen stood with a barking Sam, a handgun in each hand, aimed at the chimera. The beast roared and jumped at him but Dean threw his knife at it, embedding in its hip. It howled again.
Sera pulled out her twin knives and, using them to climb, scaled up to Glen. When she reached them, Glen had fired another shot, grazing the lion head. This only made it angrier and it jumped at the two. After pushing Glen away because he couldn't jump with his leg, Sera found herself underneath the chimera, a giant lion's paw holding her down and her knives knocked away from her grasp. She struggled to push it off but it was too strong and large. Sera could hear Dean and Glen's voices and Sam's barking as she stared up into the creatures many sets of eyes.
In the serpent's eyes she saw annoyance as it hissed down at her from behind the others. In the ram's she saw apprehension and suspension. In the lion's there was pure rage and animosity. And in the dragon's a mere sense of curiosity with a touch of amusement.
The dragon head perhaps scared her the most.
It was as if her fear was its enjoyment. The snake, ram and lion were intimidating and looked ready to lash out at any time, but the dragon was different. Like it wanted to play with its food before putting it out of its misery. And though the other heads were impressive and intense, the dragon head was strangely beautiful and alluring with its ancient eyes and glittering scales that covered it. It was the most deadly part of the creature, and not because it breathed fire.
Sera jolted back to reality as the chimera reared its many heads back, howling once again as Sam attacked the ram heads neck, clinging onto it as the beast tried to shake and throw him off, snapping blindly at him. When the chimera's weight lifted off her somewhat, Sera managed to bring around her rifle and using the butt of the gun, swung it like a bat, hitting the lion head and knocking the creature off balance, causing it to remove its massive paw. Sera rolled out of the way and was met by Glen who, despite his leg, managed to drag her to safety.
The chimera became even angrier and managed to throw Sam off, throwing him right into Dean who caught him with a grunt. The beast growled and was about to pounce again when thunder roared. They all looked up, including the chimera. With everything that was happening, they had failed to notice the dark clouds that had rolled in, bringing sprinkling rain that now slowly began to fall both faster and harder. Sera's mouth went dry and she could feel Glen stiffen next to her. After thunder there was always one thing that followed: Lightning. And when there was lightening, the last place you wanted to be was near the top of Mt. Zeriff, a mountain that acted as a massive lightning rod.
Everything seemed to slowdown as a bolt of lightning hit close above where they all were, causing rocks to tumble down on them. Sera covered her head with her hands and, like Glen, pressed against the wall of stone. Dean managed to make sure he and Sam were safe as well. However, a large rock landed on the chimera's back and it roared and jumped awkwardly out of the way. It snapped and growled as other rocks hit it as well. Another bolt hit farther away, leaving them unharmed. The chimera shook the water off itself and, glancing one last time at the three heirs, spread its bat-like dragon wings and leapt into the air, flying up the side if Mt. Zeriff and into the mouth of the cave.
Another lightning bolt, this time striking closer.
Dean and Sam rushed over to his two friends and asked if they were all right. They nodded.
"We need to find cover; the lightning's coming closer again." Dean said urgently, trying to see through the downpour for something suitable to protect them. After managing to retrieve their weapons, it came as a shock to both Sera and Dean to find Glen struggling to climb his way back up to the cave. Dean rushed over and grabbed Glen's jacket collar. "What do you think you're doing? The chimera's still in there!" He shouted.
Glen swayed slightly on his good leg. "Doing what you said:" Glen said fiercely, "heading for cover."
Dean was going to protest when Sera put a hand on his shoulder. He looked down at her. "Glen's right, Dean," Sera began. "We'll never make it down fast enough and there's nowhere to hide out here. We have no choice."
You could see the struggle on Dean's face as he attempted to find a reason not to go back in Mt. Zeriff. It took a bolt of lightning hitting dangerously close and more rocks falling before he agreed.
They made it inside without much trouble other than the wet stone causing them to slip. It was much quieter in the mountain, though it still shook with the sound of thunder and bolts hitting it. Sam stood with his tail between his legs as he sniffed the air. You didn't have to be a dog to be able to smell that the chimera was here. Where, exactly, they didn't know. But it was here.
They were about to settle down when Glen lit a lantern and began to head down the tunnel. This time it was Sera who stopped him. Running in front of him, she said, "Okay, seriously, what are you doing? You are not going down in there where we can't escape if that thing attacks us."
Glen only glanced at her briefly before limping around her to keep going. "I don't care,"
Sera grabbed his arm and held him back, Dean and Sam standing a little ways off, observing with a frown. "What is this about, Glen? At least tell us why you suddenly have a death wish." She asked. Glen only had to look her in the eyes for a moment for her to understand. "You can't be serious... You're going after the Noblesse Flower?! That could be where the chimera is resting for all we know!"
"Glen, it's too dangerous," Dean put in. "Forget about the flower, this is your life we're talking about."
Glen shook his head. "I can't stop. Not now. I'm finally here, I'm this close. I won't disappoint my father, not this time."
Sera wanted to punch him and knock him unconscious so he would stop doing stupid things. But she herself knew what wanting to prove oneself felt like, and though it wasn't to the same scale as what Glen had from his father Duke Oswald, she, too, wanted to please those who had put their faith in her. She looked back at Dean, his face was hard, and his mouth a tight line, but his eyes were soft in understanding. It was ridiculous, all three realized, to risk one's life for such a reason as this. But they had all promised someone the very same promise. All had something they wanted to prove. And after coming this far and being so close, only to run away at the sight of danger, well, Sera didn't think she'd be able to come back empty handed, even if she might be called a fool by Flynnt for risking her life like this.
Sighing, Sera grabbed her own lantern and lit it, thrust it into Dean's hands, and, slipping under Glen's arm, began to walk. "This better be worth it." She muttered. Dean and Glen chuckled.
They made it to the circular chasm that held the boulder towards the back. Glen detached himself from Sera and limped towards it, lantern held high. When he looked in the back of it, into the hollowed out house of the beautiful purple flowers, his face finally seemed to relax.
A thought struck Sera, though it was Dean who voiced it. "How exactly are we going to do this? Each take back one flower, or only take one? Sera was the one who found them first but she didn't take one, and now we're all here." He went and crouched over the flowers, his face thoughtful. He reached out and touched one.
Sera crossed her arms. "Well..." She began.
A low growl made the hair on the back of their necks stand and their hearts stop beating for a moment. Slowly, the three turned and saw, standing in the only way out of the chasm, the chimera.
Glen slowly unsheathed his broadsword as Sera and Dean each grasped a knife. Sera's mind went into hyper-drive as she tried to figure out what to do. However, it was Glen who whispered as the beast took a few agonizingly slow steps forward. "Dean," he said so low Sera had to strain to hear, "can you use your skills to distract it for a minute?"
"Yes," Dean breathed back. "But only for a minute."
"That's all I need. Sera," Glen whispered in her ear.
"Yes?" She asked quietly.
"Can you use your rifle to give us a chance of escape? I'll help." She nodded.
"Then let's get started." Dean said. He stepped out towards the chimera and said in a gentle, cooing voice, "Easy, girl, easy." He kept his eyes down, yet still watching for signs of violence, and body bent low. Look an angry animal in the eye and keep your chest puffed out, you're just asking for trouble. The chimera looked at him curiously.
When the chimera had its attention on Dean, Sera slipped silently the other way. When she was about to ready her rifle to take action, the sound of a staggering run could be heard and the chimera looked behind itself to see Glen running down the tunnel, one of the Noblesse flowers in his hand.
Sera couldn't believe it. Glen had tricked them, and all because of a stupid flower.
Feeling betrayed, though knowing she had to act now, Sera raised her rifle and shot at the ground by the creature's feet. It was startled for just a moment, but that was all she needed. She dashed forward, grabbed Dean's hand, and ran as fast as her legs could carry her past the chimera and back through the tunnel, Sam close behind them. Glen was nowhere in sight. The chimera roared and bounded after them.
They were about to pass one of the tunnels that diverted from the main one when she, against her better judgment, looked behind them and knew it was hopeless. She shut her eyes.
There was the sound of another gunshot, the chimera roaring and hitting the wall, and a part of the ceiling crashing down on the beast. Sera opened her eyes and, along with Dean, turned to see Glen, flower in hand, standing next to the collapsed portion of the cave. The chimera was not to be seen or heard.
Warily, Sera and Dean walked next to Glen. "What happened?" She managed to say.
Glen turned to his two best friends and, grinning, held up the Noblesse Flower. "Returning the favor by saving your life this time."
Sera, Dean and Glen left the mountain after hearing scuffling and low cries from the other side of the rubble. The chimera was wounded, but alive. That was fine with them so long as it stayed in Mt. Zeriff. Dean also nearly strangled Glen for almost giving them a heart attack and making them believe he had betrayed them. After being nearly abused by both his companions in their anger, Glen laughed and promised never to do it again.
It took them over half a day to get down the mountain. Once their feet touched dirt again they retrieved their horses, which were very spooked by the earlier noises, and began heading back through the Forest of Nox. During their slow and tired journey back, they broached the issue of the Noblesse Flower. One of them had to take it back, but they all agreed that they wouldn't even have it, let alone even their lives, if not for the three of them together. The two boys began to devise a plan that made little sense to Sera until they cut in front of her with their mounts and addressed her with determined expressions.
"What?" Sera asked bemused.
Dean was the one to speak. "There are three of us, one flower. If all three of us, the three heirs, take it back together," he put emphasis on together, "then what would happen?"
Sera knitted her brow in confusion. "Probably the head of houses would throw a temper tantrum and demand to know which one actually found or picked the flower, thus insisting that one won the contest. Why?"
Glen answered this time. "Yes. However, like you said, the whole concept of the contest is rather ridiculous, so if we band together and say that it was all of us..."
"They'd throw a temper tantrum," Sera cut in repeating her previous statement.
Glen shook his head, grinning. "Most likely. But even they can't do anything about it if we refuse to give them a specific name, since they weren't there to see what really happened. We all did it together. It's time that the Three Great Noble Families started acting like they were supposed to."
"You want to abolish the tradition?" Sera asked, amazed.
"Oh, not just abolish, destroy. With a chimera on the loose I'd say there's been enough mountain climbing." Dean said smirking. "But there is one problem..." Sera made a gesture to continue. "If one of the heirs who brought it back bailed from the position the moment the contest was over, it would be much harder to make them agree to our plan."
Sera frowned. "So, in other words, I have to stay the heir of the Vessalius family?"
She received two beaming smiles as her answer. To be honest, Sera didn't mind.
"Absolutely not!" Duke Oswald Celestine roared, slamming his fist on the table in front of him. The three heirs, the head of houses, Flynnt and Old Joran were all crammed into the office at the port. "Glen, my son, was the one holding the flower upon return, the Celestine family should be the one to rule."
"Father..." Glen began.
"Be quiet!" Duke Oswald snapped.
"Perhaps I should say the same to you, Oswald," Duchess Roseline said calmly. Duke Oswald turned furious eyes on her and was about to retort when Old Jorah spoke.
"My Lords, My Lady," He bowed slightly to each ruler, "your heirs were adamant on their story and decision. Perhaps it would be wise to take what they say into consideration. I am the keeper of Fyor's history, as was my father before me and his father before him. I grew up being taught all traditions and knowledge of this country and I can honestly say that this contest is by far the most confusing."
"What do you mean?" Duke Arthur asked, breaking his long silence that he had kept during Duke Oswald's outburst.
"I mean, I agree with Seraphina." He stated simply. "It defeats the purpose that all the three houses stand for."
All eyes were suddenly on the midnight haired girl leaning against the wall towards the back with the other two heirs. Sera shifted uncomfortably and looked to Flynnt for help. He merely shrugged. Sera had the urge to groan. Despite being the most notorious figure for getting into arguments over stuff like this, her mentor was being incredibly unhelpful.
"I think so as well." The elegant voice of Duchess Rosaline agreed. The eyes shifted to her.
"I, too, agree with the children." Duke Arthur said and Flynnt grunted in approval.
Everyone turned to Duke Oswald as he was the only one in opposition. He sent a heated look towards his son, stood, and said something about doing whatever they want and stormed out of the room.
Old Joran cleared his throat and stood. "Then it is decided. The contest for the Noblesse Flower shall be abolished, and the families Hausen, Celestine and Vessalius shall each take their rightful place as equal rulers. Let this be known throughout the kingdom!"
Duke Oswald would be mad for awhile. He might even try to do something about it. But that didn't stop Sera, Dean, and Glen from looking at each other and smiling.
LPH Writing Class stories 2013-2014