Evard was still interviewing the Selected, and he was getting some very useful information, and had made quite a few allies already it seemed. Of course he would have to be careful with who he actually trusted. Next on his list was Kitri Romero. She was in the training rooms of the palace, and when he walked in rock music could be heard as Kitri took aim at a dummy and blew it to pieces with a sharp green blast from her wand.
She scowled, for some reason unhappy with the results, and another dummy appeared where the other one had previously been. She took aim again, and this time when the green light hit the target, the entire mannequin was engulfed in green flames. Kitri pumped her fists into the air, jamming out to the music, before spinning and spotting Evard.
She shot him a pair of finger guns and waved him over. 'What can I do for ya'?"
"Miss Romero, can we talk for a moment?"
Kitri gave him a funny look, "Miss, talk?" She echoed, laughing. "Only if you come up here and fight me."
Evard blinked. He looked to her wand, then to the still-on-fire dummy, and grimaced. "Can't we talk off the mat?"
Kitri crossed her arms, "Are you afraid?"
Evard scoffed, "No. I just don't have time to-"
"Great then come on over, change your clothes and let's have a good ol' fashioned duel. We can talk and fight."
Evard continued to stare at her, then sighed, he couldn't believe he was going to do this. He hadn't dueled anyone in a while. And she seemed very capable. He set down his journal and waved his wand, effectively changing his clothes into a pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt to move in. It wasn't exactly real 'work-out' clothes, but he wasn't going to waste energy on more specialized clothing.
Kitri whooped and hollered as he walked onto the mat. The dummy disappeared and Evard took its place, already regretting his decision. He raised his wand and held it straight out in front of him. Kitri matched suit, then nodded. They both sized each other up, and Evard took the first shot, sending a blazing redlight across the mat to her.
Kitri deflected with a silver mist and shot back a yellow spark. Evard swiped his wand and shot the spark into the wall beside them.
"So, Kitri, what kind of magical training do you have?" Evard asked, blocking another yellow spark.
He sent three green beams her way and she easily deflected them. She shot a purple beam back at him and he redirected it quickly back to her, adding momentum. She shrieked in delight as she shot a red beam to intercept it.
"What kind of-" Evard was interrupted as a blue spark almost hit his foot, but he quickly recovered and sent a blue spark back to her. "What kind of magic?"
"Light. Easy peasy, next question."
She hardly seemed to be making an effort, and she was still easily deflecting all his spells. Evard hummed, then shot two red beams before quickly following it with a yellow and then twirling his wand to change the direction of the red beams to surprise her from behind. Kitri crossed her arms and built a cage of defensive air around her, destroying the beams.
Kitri clicked her tongue, "Fighting dirty, Your Highness?"
Evard shrugged, "You don't?"
Kitri barked a laugh, then grinned broadly, "Fair enough. Tell me, Kid, how long you been training? All your life? Well, it certainly shows."
Evard wasn't sure whether to be insulted or complimented, but Kitri showed no sign either way indicating her intention.
Kitri sent three orange sparks, and Evard quickly diffused them. He didn't have time, however, to block the slightly lighter orange spark that landed right in his gut. He gasped, and dropped to the floor, clutching his stomach. He groaned and Kitri hissed.
"Ooh, sorry, I thought you'd have that one for sure."
Evard shook his head, taking a moment to collect himself before wincing and standing. "Good match."
"Good match." Kitri nodded to a small bench against the wall. "Got any more questions for me?"
Evard nodded, and scooped up his journal, waving his wand to get his previous clothes back. He limped over to the bench and Kitri sat too, undoing the braid her hair was in. She shook her head, and then smiled at Evard. Evard couldn't help but notice they were about the same height seated, and he suddenly felt even less confident in his approach to her. Not only was she quite pretty, but she was clearly skilled and powerful.
"Um...how, uh how long have you been dueling?"
Kitri hummed in thought, stretching her arms and rolling her head. "A few years." Evard couldn't help but notice the toned muscle on her arms and the slight abs on her stomach visible with her workout outfit. Evard quickly looked away, and Kitri continued talking, "I had other roles before dueling, but I quickly caught on."
Evard nodded, taking note. Evard also noticed several tattoos and scars littered across her body. "And those?" He asked, pointing to one mark on her forearm.
"Just trophies," She mused, smirking and showing him a few more. "They're huge in my...family."
Evard hummed, and while he wrote down scars, he also wrote down family?
He suspected it most certainly was not blood family she was referring too, and he wondered if she was involved in something deeper than he could imagine. Was she in some sort of cult? A dark magic fanatic household? Some sort of rebel spy base? This girl, however casual she seemed was hiding something, and he planned to get to the bottom of it.
It seemed everyone was harboring secrets here. The real question was which secrets were not only bad news for Khelben, but for Evard as well? How dangerous, exactly, were these witches?
Evard still felt the ache in his stomach from Kitri's assault in the training room, and he was about ready to turn in for the day when he found Delphine, the next person on his list. She was heading back from dinner he guessed, and he quickly walked to catch up with her. "Delphine? A word, please?"
Delphine turned to face Evard, and she seemed wary, eyeing him carefully. "Yes?"
"I just have some quick questions for you, only a few really, and then I'll be out of your hair." And he would be going to the medical wing to get patched up.
Delphine slowly nodded, standing with her arms folded in front of her. Her eyes kept darting.
"What kind of magic do you use, and do you have any specialties?"
Delphine grimaced, "Uh..Light Magic. Yeah. I work with many aspects of magic."
Evard's brow furrowed, and he made a quick note to study her and see how often she used magic. He looked back to her, "What do you think of Dark Magic?"
Delphine hesitated, which wasn't a surprise, some people would be shocked at the blunt question. "Oh, uh, it's...well, it's not so bad. Some people give it a worse rep than it deserves, honestly."
Now there was a surprise. She seemed so skittish, yet she wasn't fearful of dark magic? Odd. He made another note.
"Do you think Light and Dark Magic can co-exist?"
Delphine's nervous gaze shifted into a small smirk, "Of course it can. It already does, doesn't it?" She shrugged, then walked away.
Evard could only stare after her. What had just happened? He made a small note to himself, then shut the journal, quickly making his way down the hall to the medical wing, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Delphine had really left the conversation spot.
After he left the medical wing, Evard went back to his room, where he placed his current journal next to five others. Some were filled with questions and answers, but most were filled with theories and possible connections. He felt his head spinning, and he wondered if it was the magic in the palace or the toll of his investigations finally collecting payment. He collapsed onto his bed, falling asleep almost immediately. He just wanted to escape the world for a little bit.
Elaine was getting ready to go to the local botanical gardens with Khelben, as an official date they agreed, but she wasn't exactly going to be flirting with him. They were more like confidantes to each other, and she enjoyed helping him discuss and sort his thoughts. She wore a plaid, knee-length skirt and a flowing white top and some slip-on flats to match. She put her hair in a bun and dusted light makeup on before hurrying out to the driveway to meet Khelben.
He opened the limo door for her and she climbed in. He followed her and closed the door behind them, nodding to the driver, who took off, closing the divider as well. Elaine turned to Khelben and offered a small smile, shrugging.
"So, how's it going?"
Khelben shrugged, "It's exhausting, honestly, going on dates with all these girls, trying to figure out which ones I like enough to keep around, which I don't dislike enough to get rid of. It's all a game of pros and cons right now since hardly any of them seem to flow well with me so far."
"None of them?"
Khelben grew timid, and he cleared his throat, "Well, Delphine….and Kitri; oh, but Selia is so sweet."
Elaine hummed, "So there are a few...You're sure you're giving the others a real chance right?"
Khelben nodded, "Yes!" Then he grimaced, "Well, I think so. It gets so confusing, Elaine."
"I'm sure you'll get better at figuring it out the more dates you go on, Khel."
Soon they arrived at the gardens, and they stepped out of the limo. They entered the gardens, which had been completely cleared out for them, and spent the first half hour or so in complete silence as they admired the trees, flowers, and even some butterflies who seemed to love Khelben's hair. He laughed as he gently shooed them away.
They reached a small bridge over a creek when Elaine finally asked, "So, you and Evard?"
Khelben frowned, plucking a leaf off a nearby plant and tearing it apart, "What about us?"
"No, we haven't talked it out. And no. I don't think we're going to. He betrayed me, Elaine. He'll continue to betray me. This is our path now. All I can do is hope to win the Challenge."
"And in the process lose your family and any true trust you can place in your Selected? I've seen you around them, Khel. You went from collecting them as adoring fans to keeping them at arm's length because you're paranoid they're going to turn on you like your brother did."
Khelben scoffed, but said nothing. Elaine continued, "Look, I know it's stressful, it's not anything I'd have to go through, but trust me, it will only be worse if you hate each other going into this."
Khelben sighed, throwing the pieces of the leaf into the stream below. "How will I even approach him? We've been attacking each other for weeks."
Elaine shrugged, "I'm not sure. Maybe you could offer peace after dinner. Or go to his room?"
Khelben shook his head, "He won't want to see me."
"You don't know that. In fact, I think if you two could just find a way to work together you'd be unstoppable!"
Khelben pursed his lips, "I'll try. But I can't make any promises."
Elaine smiled, "Trying is the first step in the greatest empires, you know."
When they returned home Elaine walked back up the steps of the palace, her arm intertwined with his. They stepped inside, and Khelben muttered something about needing to work on paperwork. Elaine sighed, gave his arm a squeeze, and unwound herself.
"Khel, just think it over. Properly. It will be worth it. But you can't expect to get anywhere if you don't put in the effort."
Khelben nodded, kissed her hand, then walked off. There went one brother, and now, if only she could convince Evard to be patient enough to hear Khelben out.
Khelben had another date tonight, and he was honestly just wishing he could go to bed. But he had planned dinner under the stars for him and Vera. She had previously been staring at the stars when he came up with the idea. He asked the chef for something simple and warm to eat under the night sky. He was dressed semi-formal, wearing khakis and a white button-up shirt. But he left the top couple buttons undone and didn't bother slicking back his hair. He was waiting outside, standing and looking up at the vast amount of stars above him. It was kind of hard to see considering how bright the palace and Angeles City were, but he could still see plenty and he hoped Vera enjoyed it.
He heard soft footsteps behind him and turned to greet Vera. She was wearing a soft pink knee-length dress with a white cardigan over her shoulders. She had curled her hair, and smiled softly, looking around at the set-up. There was a small blanket on the ground with a little tray holding their plates, and pillows for them to sit on. There was a blanket, and a gentle flickering candle in a jar.
"Please, sit." Khelben spoke suddenly, realizing how silent it was. He indicated the pillow, and took the pillow opposite her. He lifted the tray covers and revealed two bowls of hot soup.
"How did you know I loved soup?" Vera asked, laughing softly, "I don't even mind which kind."
Khelben shrugged, "I have my secrets."
Vera hummed, smiling, and tasted the soup. "It's delicious, give the chef my compliments."
Khelben chuckled, "Of course, he shall be informed." He ate his own soup, trying his best not to slurp in front of the girl. He didn't want her to think he was a slob. They made idle conversation, Vera telling him about some of her philosophy classes, and he told her about the classes he had to sit through as heir.
"I do admit I'm not big on reading," Khelben mused, "it's never been my thing. I prefer to get straight to the action."
Vera scoffed, "Well then we are polar opposites, I consider everything carefully, and I'm much more fascinated in the 'why' and 'how'. I'll observe and take notes from the safety of my library, thank you."
Khelben smiled to himself, gently moving the tray out of the way so it wouldn't clink before folding the extra blanket over their laps, and down their legs. Her legs must have been freezing. Vera pulled her cardigan closer to her and sighed contentedly. Khelben propped himself up on his arms and stared up at the stars.
"So you enjoy stargazing?" He asked, eyes searching the sky intently, for what he didn't know.
Vera nodded, then leaned up against him, and stared up at the sky as well. "Ever since I was a little girl. That's how I got my familiar, she appeared after I was stargazing."
"Wow, mine just appeared after I successfully completed a defense spell." Khelben's nose wrinkled, and Vera laughed.
"That's good too."
They sat in silence as they stared up at the stars. It was quiet, only crickets chirping in the garden. The breeze was gentle, and Khelben honestly felt content out there with this girl on his side. But she soon spoke and he would be lying if he wasn't a little disappointed at what she said.
"I think I should go home." Vera sat up, turning to face Khelben, "Not that I don't enjoy it here, it's been fun. But I've been thinking about college, my home, my father and brother. I think I miss them, my normal life too much."
Khelben bit his cheek but nodded, "I understand. Are you sure?"
Vera nodded once, eyes never leaving his. Yeah, she was sure.
Khelben sighed, then stood, helping her up. "Then Vera Clarke, I wish you luck, and bid you farewell. You can leave as early as the first light if you want."
Vera smiled, eyes soft, and she stood on her tiptoes. She planted a quick kiss on his cheek, and said, "Thank you for the lovely evening" before walking back into the palace, leaving him standing alone.
Khelben looked to the dinner site and nodded to himself before packing everything up. He carefully filled his arms and carried everything back inside, handing it to a nearby maid. Khelben was honestly a bit disappointed she'd left. But he supposed there were other girls, just as sweet and soft as her. But as he thought of his group of Selected, he also thought about how many seemed like they could, or rather would, be the death of him. They were just so powerful and harsh, it was like he was leaving a soft meadow and about to jump face first into a rose patch.
But he knew one of them had to be the one. He needed one of them to be the one.
Hahaha heeyyyy how's it going?
Ah so Ladies, Gents, and everyone in between or outside I present to you for the first time since MARCH: an OCCW update. Holy wow, guys I- literally I don't even know HOW I haven't updated since March, that's just...whoops. But hopefully it was a little worth the wait aha T-T Anyways let me know what you guys thought of this chapter, but lord please be gentle in the comments alright I KNOW it's been a hot hour. (But I mean hey maybe that's the perfect time to go re-read some old chapters hehe jkjk) Aight.
See y'all in the next chapter, whenever it may be RIP~