My return to consciousness was not a particularly pleasant one. My cranium throbbed and I was overtaken by a pervading sensation of loss.
The third thing I became aware of was Illyana, standing guard over me. There was a palpable energy in the air from her magic barrier.
The instant I began rising, Drake alerted her, fascinating that his vocalisations could be comprehensible to her. The connection betwixt a familiar and their master is fascinating.
“Michael?” She asked, her voice betraying uncertainty.
“I am not certain what happened,” I said. “How much time transpired while I was unconscious?”
“I’m not sure exactly,” Illyana admitted. “Two to four hours, certainly. I was really worried. You just collapsed and I couldn’t wake you.”
“I regret causing you concern,” I stated. I brushed the dust from my armour. “We have also lost time. Let us continue on our way.”
“Will you be okay?” Illyana asked. She brought her hand to my forehead.
“I have a gnawing sense of incompleteness,” I stated. “Physically, however, I will be fine. Thank you, for safeguarding me.”
She smiled. “Hey, what are best friends for?”
I don’t know what I’d expected. We’d gone over the formation and then it turned into a social event, like so many I’d had to attend as a Princess.
I found my way to the garden. What was the point, I wondered, of getting to know people when you were about to go into battle and some of you probably wouldn’t come back?
“Somehow, I knew I’d find you here.” It was a familiar voice, one which got my heart racing.
“Callie,” I breathed. I looked back. She was right behind me, the moonlight illuminating her features.
“So, what’s it like to be riding into glorious battle on the morrow?” Callie asked. Her tone was glib. “Nervous?”
I tried to say no, but we would both know that was a lie. In the end, I simply nodded.
Callie moved so quickly that she seemed to dissipate. I felt her arms around me as she hugged me from behind. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”
“B… but they aren’t sending you,” I said, stuttering just a little.
“Because I’m a foreign aristocrat, I know,” Callie said. “And, as a foreign aristocrat, I also know that I don’t have to follow their orders. They’ve tried to keep me safe. They’ve washed their hands of responsibility. Great. Now I’ll go with you any way.”
“That’s…” I began, but Callie’s finger on my lips stopped me from completing the thought.
“I didn’t come here for Het Wald or even for the elves as a whole. I came here for you. And I shan’t see us separated.”
I stared at her… no, not directly at her but into her bright, blue eyes. I wanted to protest that she shouldn’t follow me, that I didn’t need her help, but I knew she’d see right through me and, truthfully, what she’d just said had made me really happy.
It occurred to me in that moment that I may have actually started falling for her.
I regained consciousness in a comfortable bed. I had not expected to awake again at all, given what I had heard before drifting into unconsciousness.
“Commander, he’s awake!”
I searched for my blade. A pink-haired elf in full armour approached.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “There are rumours going around about what happened with you and Lynai. Quite unkind towards you, I’m afraid. Fortunately, I know the truth and I was able to stop them. Thank you, for helping her.” She held out her hand. “Lais Elivy, at your service.”
“I am Michael Ryufan,” I responded. I did not take her hand. “are you, perchance, related to Luc Elivy?”
“And how might you know my sister?” she asked. Her mannerisms were those of a person who is laughing at their own private joke.
“I was her student at the Academy,” I answered.
“Funny,” Lais said. “She never mentioned teaching a draconian.”
“She was unaware,” I stated. “I always wore heavy robes and a hood.”
Lais snapped her fingers. “I remember! She mentioned having a strange student who did that. She thought you were self conscious about your looks.”
“I noticed,” I said. “She was always making certain to reference famous mages who were considered unattractive when conversing with me.”
“So, why did you come back here?” Lais inquired. “Surely, it’s not just to talk to my sister.”
“Of course not,” I stated. “Since Lynai and I are on friendly terms, I decided that I could aid her fight against the troll threat.”
In truth, my feelings towards Lynai were wholly ambivalent, but I was well aware of her feelings being more positive and feigning friendship was a more certain avenue towards cooperation than being entirely honest and saying that I just wanted to be owed.
“That’s great news,” Lais said. “Lynai is going to be leading a garrison into battle in the morning. I’ll send you with them. just look out for her, okay?”
“I will strive for her safety above all else,” I stated.
She nodded. “Try to get some more sleep. I’m sure you’re still more than a little sore.”
I closed my eyes and drifted peacefully into sleep. it was all happening in accordance with the plan.