Previously: After Nadec managed to skip them away from their pursuers, they end up in the house of her employers, the order of the red knight. Except, it was all a lie. The order doesn’t exist. They are Nadec’s aunt and uncle.
Read all the previous chapters here.
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Nadec listened in stunned unbelief. No. That wasn’t right. She believed everything they were telling her. Stunned. She was merely stunned. Her parents had never told her about any aunts. They’d always claimed all relatives either lived too far away or were dead. In a way, they hadn’t lied. The anger she felt before kept simmering, but on a low fire.
By the time she reached the bottom of the bowl of soup, she knew the summarised history of her aunt and why she’d never heard of her. Kridec had decided to give her heirdom to her younger sister, Nadec’s mother. When she was seventeen, they performed a ritual to officially transfer the coming succession. She’d moved out of the castle, with sufficient funds to start a new life. Nadec wondered why she could stay, but couldn’t ask because she was in the middle of swallowing the last of her soup. Kridec talked right over her.
‘I travelled around and saw the world. Years later, I came back here, with Stetem,’ she pointed her head towards her husband and gave him a slight grin. ‘We managed to buy this house. By then, most of Paralelo’s population had almost forgotten about me, which was what we wanted. Everyone was doting over your mother as the next heir. She and I always stayed in touch, secretly. Do you want more soup?’
Nadec nodded. Before the servant could grab Nadec’s bowl, Kitty jumped off Nadec’s lap and began crying a loud and panicky meow. He stalked around, sniffing at places, his howls getting louder.
‘Guts, he needs a toilet. Do you have any loose sand area outside?’
She stood up halfway but Stetem gently pushed her back down by the shoulder.
‘I’m on it, you should listen to the rest of the story.’
He grabbed Kitty’s lead. Kitty hissed at him! Nadec told Kitty everything was alright. She didn’t know if he understood her, but at least he followed Stetem’s lead. Sort of.
‘Your mother and father got married while I was still away. They had trouble getting pregnant. So much so that they turned towards old myths and legends.’
She stood up and took something from a drawer. The servant came back with the bowl re-filled with soup.
‘Here is something you can eat after finishing your soup.’
Her face held a mysterious —and mischievous?—smile. She held out her hand, palm down, and dropped something on the table. A small box, rectangle-shaped. Frowning at Kridec, Nadec slowly slid it closer. It had a simple mechanism for opening the lid.
The gorgeous aroma of chocolate wafted toward her, overwhelming every other smell. Sweet, earthy, nutty. The chocolate was shaped like small triangles, stamped with a lighter square in the middle. Nadec couldn’t resist the pull and popped one in her mouth. The rich and deep taste of the cacao was too much. She rolled her eyes back before closing them. The initial bitterness kept lingering while a sweetness overtook it, perfectly paired. By far one of the best chocolates she’d ever eaten.
When it was all melted away, she let the bliss take her a bit longer before opening her eyes.
‘Chocolate helped them get pregnant with me? Perhaps I shouldn’t be eating chocolate then.’ She muttered that last, aware of all the measures she took to not get pregnant.
Her aunt laughed. It sounded so much like her mother’s laugh, goosebumps spread over Nadec’s arms and her eyes welled up. She blinked it away before Kridec saw it.
‘Now that would be something!’ Kridec’s glee was still obvious when she resumed her talk. ‘No, if you’re in the right—or wrong, depending on how you look at it—circles, you would hear about the myth of Earth. It had always been a legend talked about in the Ichau family. Madec somehow found the way to skip there. She brought me the secret to making chocolate. That’s how—’
‘You! I grounding recognise you. You’re Nadec’s burning employer? That either explains a grounding lot or makes it even more burning strange.’
Kridec’s eyes opened wide. So did her mouth.
‘Close your dripping mouth, you look like a burning fish.’
Nadec couldn’t help but snort at that, despite her surprise at both Patat’s appearance and his words. He recognised her?
‘You, you… you…’
‘Yes, yes, dripping me.’
Stetem came in with Kitty. Kridec slowly turned her head toward him. He looked at her, frowned, and dropped the lead when he saw Patat hovering in the air behind Nadec.
‘Gorwak. That’s a gorwak! They’re real? They were my favourite mythical creature as a child, them and dragons.’
Nadec felt a combination of guilt for not having told them yet about Blackie, and anticipation for their reaction when she’d tell them about the dragon in their room. She exchanged a few quick telepathic sentences with Blackie to make sure she was alright. Kitty sauntered toward Patat, who landed on the floor to receive headbuts.
‘I told you about our childhood friend gorwak.’ Kridec narrowed her eyes. ‘You never believed me, did you.’ She huffed. The indignation was muffled by the way she looked back at Patat. She rubbed her eyes.
‘You had a childhood friend gorwak, and it was this gorwak?’
Kridec answered Nadec’s question with a nod. She wasn’t sure what to think of this coincidence. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence. She sighed. Stetem walked in a daze toward the nearest chair.
‘Burning right it was this gorwak.’ Patat sat next to Nadec. His head barely came above the edge of the table. He furrowed his forehead and gave Kridec a meaningful look. She jumped up from her seat, strode into another room, and came back with big blocks of firewood. They lifted the seat up enough for Patat to be at a better height.
He reached out and pulled the bowl of soup toward him. Kitty jumped up, lying down on his lap. It made eating more difficult, and it couldn’t have been comfortable—Patat being only a bit larger than Kitty. He allowed it anyway, and stroked him while eating the soup in between talking. Nadec grabbed the little box of chocolate, content to eat those instead of the soup.
‘This is good. It’s been too long since I ate hot food. Human food.’
‘Fifty-two years since my brother ran away with you.’ Nadec’s aunt had a faint smile on her lips, remembering childhood memories. ‘He only told us what he did afterwards. We never—’
‘Wait.’ Nadec had to interrupt. She had to!
‘Brother? I’ve got an uncle too? What else? Do I have a lost sibling somewhere? Is the uncle still in the castle? Is he the king now?’ Before she finished her sentence, she already knew it was a stupid question. She knew well enough who ruled Paralelo right now.
‘Oh no, he has passed away. Don’t be sad, it was years ago. He was supposed to be the heir, so when he died, it came to me. You already know what I did then.’
‘When you were seventeen,’ Nadec mumbled, trying to piece things together. It was all a bit confusing. Kridec nodded.
‘Your mother was fifteen at the time. She still had thirteen years until the Wooden Water Crown would appear on her head, but she was already ready for it. She actually got the Crown while she was far into her pregnancy from you.’
The Wooden Water Crown! That had been part of Wyny’s ridiculous tiles.
‘Pagewyn,’ Nadec paused when Stetem uttered a small growl. Kridec’s face fell into a careful neutrality, which screamed disapprovement in its suddenness. ‘Yeah, so, Pagewyn, he rules now, right, so is he a cousin? How is he related.’
The fake neutrality on her aunt’s face got replaced by a smoldering heat in her eyes, emphasised by reddening cheeks.
‘He is a fool, a puppet, put on the throne by usurpers. He is not related to us, at all.’
Nadec’s sigh of relief felt like a betrayal to the anger her aunt and uncle felt. This was going to be complicated, and her head already spun.
‘He doesn’t have the Wooden Water Crown yet.’ Stetem said right on top of Kridec. She continued.
‘The Wooden Water Crown only appears on the head of the person most suited to wear it. That means descendants of the Ichau bloodline, when they turn twenty eight. Or, if they’re not here at that time, or there aren’t anymore heirs, then it goes to the person sitting on the throne.’
It all clicked for Nadec. Partly. Her birthday was in a few days. If she was in The Other Realm then, the Crown would fall on her head. If she wasn’t, or dead, the Crown would got to Wyny. But why would that mean the end of the world, like the zlurp had said? She had a suspicion.
‘What else happens when someone gets the Crown?’
‘They get full potential of the Squares, Triangles and Lines.’
Nadec bit back a curse. The full power of the magic. With the wrong intentions, that might well become the end of world.