"I am sorry Princess, but I cannot see this ever happening." Said Grace as she withdrew her hands. A lengthy sigh followed while she avoided her gaze.
"Why not?" Anna straightened her posture and smiled sweetly. Grace rolled her eyes, turning her head towards the door.
"Princess. It is not realistic, and I cannot risk my business for aspirations." She said with a grave voice.
"Give me time to prove we can." Anna pleaded.
"It will not work." Grace shook her head continuously.
"What if you met Shadow?" Anna tilted her head, the smile she wore turned wicked. Grace's eyes darted, watching the Princess behaviour. She was not lying; she knew Shadow, the person Grace never managed to meet.
"How long?" she asked, trying to keep her tone calm.
"Hm?" Anna's eyes brightened, pretending not to know what Grace meant.
"How long do you need to make this work?" Grace snapped, covering her impatience.
She wanted answers. How did such a princess meet Shadow? How did she make him follow her when she the owner of the guild did not know how he looked? How could she dare to even hope to make business directly with him?
"Hoho!" Anna covered her mouth with her frail hand and waved the other, amused by Grace's unusual conduct.
"Five years. That's all I need to make it the greatest." Anna said.
When a Prince or a Princess turned twelve, they would be allowed independence, allowed to have over five knights under their rule and to leave the Palace without Imperial edict. Anna planned on leaving the Palace once she was of age and never to return. This way no one would notice her disappearance and she will take refuge under Grace's guild.
The rest of the years promised will give her enough time to make money from this business or maybe take full control over it. Knowing Grace, she would not give up on the guild so easily, but that was something to worry about later.
"I will trust you this once. But know this, if you do one mistake, I will leave you behind." Grace said suspiciously, eyeing Anna.
"Naturally." Anna replied with a sweet smile. With that Grace extended her hand, which Anna gladly took and shook it. Similarly, Grace smiled while her eyes were clouded.
'She's thinking of something.' Anna thought. It was to be expected since she was a businesswoman, she thought as one, with a way out no matter the deal she made. What bothered Anna was not this. She knew what she was getting into the moment she shook her hands. She wanted to know what Grace was thinking. Not being a step further than the partner put her at a disadvantage.
Three days passed painfully slow, with nothing to do Anna and the other children stayed inside Grace's house hidden from the rest of the world. She took this time to familiarise herself with the guild and the secret network, but Grace was apprehensive not allowing Anna to know too much about it.
She refused to let Anna know the branches she had around the country or if there were any outside and changed the subjects whenever Anna asked to see the sales. Anna annoyed beyond limit demanded to see them, but Grace refused on several occasions, brushing it away.
She did not trust Anna, and it showed. Without seeing Shadow, Grace refused to give her guild over to Anna.
Thus, Anna had been stuck inside the shop, waiting for Helm to wake up. She could not leave them here, she had to leave them in her mansion in Kertin and contact Pedro if he were still alive.
"That bastard doesn't die that easy." Anna convinced herself, remembering the events from months ago. She saw him sink in the canal, but something inside her mind told her she should not trust the appearances, not with this man.
Outside, the rain stopped after it had rained for days continuously. Anna took her coat and headed to the door. She wanted to take a walk, to clear her troubled mind and calculate a plan.
The wet stones Anna stepped on squeaked as they sunk in the runny mud around the plaza. There was no one outside. Everyone was still inside their houses, hiding and fearfully praying for their houses to remain standing.
Walking past the cramped houses, some splotched with dirty rainwater, while it decorated some doorsteps with broken twigs and dead leaves washed by the tumultuous rivers formed by the rain. Although the rain stopped more than half a day ago, the town was still sunken in water, making it hard for Anna to walk around.
Her boots splashed water with every step she took towards the river that passed the outskirts of the village.
At last she arrived at the riverside, where a wet wooden bench sat quietly, inviting the passers-by to take a seat. Anna placed her coat on the bench, shielding her from the soaked wood and she gently looked at the stormy waters rushing down.
"Come out." Anna said and immediately, Angus showed himself with a troubled look on his face.
They had lots to talk about and no time.
"It's been a while, Princess." He said while sitting next to her on the coat.
"Indeed." She said, not knowing what question to ask him first. They both watched the river, a serene quietness between them. Anna gulped, looking down. Her hands have suddenly become interesting.
"Thank you." Anna cut Angus off.
"Hmm?" perplexed, the snake looked at Anna trying to read her expression. A sad smile covered her skinny face, while she avoided his intensive gaze.
"For everything I mean. Thank you for saving me." Anna continued to thank Angus. By now an awkward atmosphere enveloped them; Anna thanked no one. Not meaningfully.
The snake's expression eased a little, and he half smiled, tactilely keeping quiet. It truly was a unique day, and he did not was to ruin the mood between them. He felt as if he understood a bit more about Anna's complex moods and thoughts.
"In my last life although my parents loved me dearly, they did not understand what I went through and sometimes I felt like I was a burden. In my worse days I was too afraid to ask them for help; they had done a lot for me already; I could not ask them for more. I had no one to protect me… you were the first." Anna showed a pained smile, battling the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
"Sometimes is better for you to rely on someone. Keeping it inside breaks your mind little by little until it cannot be mended any more." He added, turning his attention to the forest on the opposite side of the river.
"I wonder if this was how Selda felt." Broken, with no one to take care of her in her childhood. With people using her, leaving her to die when she needed them the most.
"About Selda…" the snake said after a brief pause.
"I now know why your soul will never settle."
"What?" Anna troubled eyes landed on Angus.
"You are not fully human." He said in a grave voice.
"What do yo-you mean?"
"This body of yours is not entirely human. I could not tell this because I was stuck inside your body, but now being outside, I could tell. You are human and Ethereal. You are mixed." The snake replied.
Anna stood on the bench stupefied when she remembered something the rat said, something similar. She remembered him looking at her with disgust and complained about her. At the time she did not understand what he meant and was too afraid to ask, but now it made sense.
When a person was a mixture, they either had powers like Angus or they didn't. Ethereal were beings lower than gods, what she called angels. They were known for being outstanding warriors and have exquisite beauty compared to no other. That would explain why Selda was acknowledged as the most beautiful girl, although it was buried deeply by the rumours. Her mother was not the most beautiful woman, and her father did not compensate much. So that meant that…
"My father is not really mine." Anna murmured, but the snake shook his head, denying.
"No. You have his blood in you, it's the strongest. It's not like you are half human - half Ethereal, your ancestors had it and now it's very impure."
"But they disappeared for thousands of years." The books did not know exactly when the Great Vendetta finished and the peace settled, but it must have been thousands of years for a civilisation to reach this point. It was only natural for Anna to reject such an aberration.
"Yes… something must have gone terribly wrong." He sat in silence. Not even he knew what happened.
"This makes absolutely no sense. How can a person like me be born like this, my parents are normal people?" Anna defended herself, not knowing why she felt disappointed.
"I will have a look when we go back to the palace." He said exhausted. Maybe he should have kept this secret with him and not shared it with Anna until he knew the details in full. Only then would he be able to calmly explain the situation, without confusing himself. Truth be told, Angus had never accepted he was a mixture between his parents, nor did he look for answers when it came to them. He was disgusted with himself, how he was not fully human nor a god, the laughingstock of gods and forgotten by humans.
If it were not for Griella, the goddess of death, who graciously gave him a job and never looked down on him, Angus would have been left with an eternity of pure hatred and sour feelings.
"Haa! This makes me insane." Anna yelled, looking at the grey sky.
"I don't know what really happened."
Anna's parents come from prominent families, both with power and insane influence. Her paternal family had been kings and queens ever since the kingdom was founded, and as it progressively got larger, they became Emperors of flourishing lands. Never had they had such a situation where a child was godless. From archives, Anna's relatives had potent powers, all water-related, the strongest trait found in the family.
On her mother's side, things got a bit complicated. Anna did not know much about the Marquis Camer. She knew they lived in their castle, near the northern border, between the Friella and the mountains that extend to the east at Kertin. They were quiet, never interacted with the politics nor showed any signs of rebelling. In fact, they fight side to side with Alessia's family, Fanglad against the northern Empire. Both families refuse to spend their time in the capital, making an important meeting with the Emperor brief, after which they return to their lands.
This is why her mother was the best suitor for the Emperor, who had a lot of trouble when ascending to the throne. She had no political affiliation but her father, a general, had the elite knights, also known as White Eagles.
There is a saying in the Empire 'You're not a knight in front of the White Eagles'. They were the best of the best, trained in harsh conditions that not everyone could stand. No one can stand in front of them, the reason the north never conquered the Empire.
The aristocratic party tried to push another suitor for him, but they did not dare complain when the Emperor came with another woman to the capital. They were too afraid of the convoy that looked like beasts ready to slice in half anyone who obscured their path.
"Then how are you able to use magic?" Anna knew it was the ring, but she was not sure how and why.
"When you got the ring, we formed another contract, so now I can stay outside without the need to stay near you. I can use the power you have in your blood to make my magic come true. It's trough the ring that you can also invoke shadows." He explained proudly.
"What can I call besides shadows?" Anna asked excitedly. She kept a calm voice, but inwardly, she was relieved that she could finally use magic.
"Almost everything that has to do with death. Warriors, pain, suffering… but you can also use the shadows to lift things and change your appearance. Those are temporary, however, and they use lots of your energy so don't use them until you can wield the power good enough. The more you use it the better you become and the longer you last.
"What's my limit now." Anna inquired.
"About five warriors for three hours."
Anna lowered her head, disappointed. She wanted more, but she had to deal with what she had.
"What happens if I go over that?"
"You die." He replied with a gloomy voice.
"The more you use it, the more it consumes you, you'll faint at first and then…"
Anna remembered what happened three days ago when she used her powers continuously for more than a day. She heard a voice, she felt sweet pleasure… was that what he referred to as consuming oneself?
Indeed, it was. When one forms a contract trough the ring, part of the soul is given in exchange to the spirit they use, making it easier for the spirit to control the powers, but it could also take over, eventually leading to death.
Unlike other nobles, Selda did not possess a magic core, so she could not gather energy inside to use it for later. All she had inside her body was the most she could do, but an advantage to this was that she had Angus, which controlled the flow of energy, making it easier for her to invoke magic.
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