Luke tries to carefully push his way through the celebrating crowd. Most of the guests are lords and dignitaries from various cities who are hoping to recruit elite soldiers and bodyguards among the graduates, so Luke isn’t surprised at the flood of handshakes and job offers. The suffocating mass of potential employers gets so bad that Luke finds himself unable to force his way through to where he thinks his girlfriend is waiting. At one point, he is hit in the face by an extended hand and he stumbles back with a split lip.
“This is ridiculous,” Luke whispers as another hand extends for a shake. A yelp of surprise is heard from the lord whose hand Luke uses to springboard himself above the crowd. As graceful as a floating leaf, the forest tracker lands on the shoulders of a stranger and jumps to another unsuspecting victim. The landings are awkward as he leaps from person to person in hopes of reaching the far edge of the crowd. Luke quickly realizes that the real trick is to land without hurting the person below him. He tries his best to land on the shoulders of people instead of their heads, but he is not always successful. He is almost at the dance floor when he lands on the shoulders of someone who shrugs him off and grabs him by the throat before he hits the ground.
“Do you mi. . . I should have known it was you,” Kellia growls, letting go of Luke.
“Sorry, your highness,” Luke gasps, politely bowing. He massages his throat where there is a fading imprint of Kellia’s hand. “I couldn’t push through the crowd and I promised Kira that I would talk with her after I got my ring.”
Kellia takes Luke by the arm, dragging him to the dance floor just as a slow dance begins. It is obvious that she doesn’t notice the music until she turns toward the half-elf and listens to the song. A look of irritation passes over her serious features before she succumbs to what she has started. The tomboy of the graduating class is wearing the same school clothes as the other graduates, but she has a pair of finely crafted bracers around her forearms. The leather and iron bracers make dancing even more awkward when she begrudgingly wraps her arms around Luke’s neck. She can only imagine how rough the studded metal feels against his bare neck.
“Don’t get any ideas, half-breed. I needed to talk to you about how tomorrow is going to happen,” Kellia whispers, begrudgingly leading Luke through the dance. “You and your friends will be leaving an hour after dawn. I will be leaving tonight with Daniel Skyblade because we are too close to the Caster Swamp for me to be on the open road. He will take me to Gaia by dragon and I will meet you in four days at the docks. It should take you three days to reach Gaia and that will give you a day to prepare. I will be supplying basic necessities, but I recommend that each of you bring enough to survive on your own for a day or two. There is always the chance of the group getting separated.”
“Why the docks?” Luke asks, his eyes hunting for signs of Kira.
“It would be too dangerous to go by land,” Kellia answers, leaning in close to whisper in his ear. “We have to take a boat down the L’dandrin River. The river goes directly into Freedom and we can take the road from there to Gods’ Voice. We will be stopping for supplies and rest at Rodillen, Hero’s Gate, and Vorgabog. These places might be thriving with danger for us, so I expect you to do your job. I will not be leaving the boat without an escort from at least one of you. Danger is even more imminent now that we learned that the Lich’s Hellfire Elf has been seen in the Caster Swamp. He was accompanied by a band of chaos elves. We have to assume that the Lich has either hired a solitary group or joined forces with chaos elf nation. Either way, we know that he has not given up on using me as a vessel.”
“I hate boats, but I can’t argue about your reasoning,” Luke says as he gives Kellia a small twirl. “I really should find my girlfriend since I won’t be seeing her for a long time. So, I only have time to ask one question.”
Kellia’s demeanor softens abruptly before she starts to lead Luke off the dance floor and strong-arms a path to the other side of the crowd. “I understand. I’m sorry that I took you onto the dance floor to discuss business. That might have made more trouble for you if she saw us, but I think Kira would realize that we had to talk business,” Kellia says before placing a firm hand on Luke’s arm. “I hope that this separation does not cause any damage to your relationship. You two make a good couple and compliment each other. Somehow, you two understand each other more than anybody else will. I envy you and her. Sorry. I’m wasting your time again. Ask your question.”
“She is the star apprentice of the great casters, Cyril and Willow. So, you will have to go to Rainbow Tower where they live and pick her up before we leave,” Kellia explains, trying to keep her voice low. “I have no idea what she looks like or how she acts, but I do know that she has never gone on an adventure like this before. I have heard that she has not gone further than Gaia’s surrounding farmland. She’s a city dweller instead of a wanderer, so I trust that you will help her become comfortable with traveling.” She pauses to gather her thoughts and push a few more students out of her path. “I have met Cyril and Willow before, so I can assume that this girl has been trained in manners. Those would be what you, Fritz, and Nimby are horribly lacking in. She will certainly be a nice change of pace from the chaos of you three. That’s all I know about her since it was only six months ago that she was publicly introduced. There were rumors of her great power, but no proof to support them. Just go to Rainbow Tower once you arrive in Gaia and this girl can give you a tour of the city. Use that time to get to know her and brief her on what the rest of you can do.”
They reach the edge of the crowd as Kellia shoves a dancing dwarf out of her way and yanks Luke out from between two hefty nobles. A few students have gathered on the top of the wall to watch the sunset, but Luke can’t see Kira up there with them. He cranes his neck in every direction in hopes of noticing her.
“I’ll leave you to find her. I have some dancing to attend to,” Kellia mentions with a crack of her knuckles. The Serabian heir pats Luke on the back before she starts shouldering her way back to the dance floor.
Luke waits patiently as the shadows begin to stretch across the grass and the sun makes its way behind the distant trees. He is about to go back to the Elfstar dormitory when he is suddenly pounced on from behind. His instincts are about to take over when his legs are turned to jelly by playful kisses to his sensitive, pointy ears. Kira laughs victoriously as she sits on Luke’s back while he remains face down in the grass.
“Sorry that I made you wait,” she giggles before standing up. “I had to see my family off. They wanted to meet you, but I felt that it would be awkward since you used my dad’s head for a springboard to get across the crowd.”
“I guess I didn’t make a good first impression,” Luke laughs, flipping to his feet and embracing the black-haired girl. He gently strokes her soft, brown arm, which she slowly puts around his waist.
Kira suddenly begins talking at a fast, nervous pace. “That was a little difficult for me to explain. I tried to play it off as you being attention starved and playful, which led to me having to field a question about how playful. If my parents ask you about our wrestling class then just follow my lead. I think my dad is interested in talking to you about some kind of business partnership or using you to help get more business. His mind rarely strays from his work, but that’s why we’re so successful. Oh, I almost forgot. I have to say congratulations on graduating and that I wish I didn’t have another semester to go because I chose a primary weapon so late in my studies. Extra classes and the run are going to be so lonely with you and all of my friends moving on. Now we can . . . mphh.”
Luke puts a finger to her lips before kissing her into a quiet state of bliss. Kira tries hard to curl herself against him while they are standing. Luke helps her by picking her up in his arms during the kiss. A few people watch them out of the corner of their eyes until Kevin wanders by. He doesn’t say anything to the couple, but makes a loud growl at the staring crowd before turning back to Kira and Luke. A drunken wink and a slap on Luke’s shoulder is all he does before limping back to the alcohol.
“I think we should disappear from here and talk. What do you think?” Luke asks, putting her down. They quickly take the stairs to the top of the wall and make their way to the far corner. Luke picks Kira up in his arms again before dropping off the wall’s edge and skidding down the wall for a safe landing.
“I brought our little hideout, so we can spend the night in Visindor again. All I ask is that you don’t put me down tonight,” Kira whispers, wrapping her arms around his neck. He holds her tight as they enter Visindor Forest and leave the loud celebration behind them. Both of them knew that, for many reasons, it was going to be a long night.