A/N: Very very very very sorry. I forgot I had a waiting story. :( Dammit. And I didn't upload ANYTHING this summer! Eck. I'm not going to promise anything so I won't break it :D It's the last day of Intramurals for our school, and we have a festival until September 20 :) Happy Fiesta to moi!

A song I had in mind to explain Mel's attitude at the end of this chapter ;) Edward's POV.

"You love the way I look at you,

While taking pleasure in the awful things you put me through.

You take away if I give in,

My life, my pride, is broken."

-Points of Authority, by Linkin Park


"So first we go to the easier stops… Oh-Kay…"

They were wandering up and down Istir Forest, Edward in the lead, holding the fragile world map. Te'ijal insisted that he copy the four locations of the keys, and now there were four marks hastily scribbled on the old parchment. Edward was concentrating so hard on the nearest location (far west of Istir Forest) through the harsh wind that he hardly seemed to notice Stella and Mel, who were halfway through obtaining hypothermia.

"Ed-Edward…" Stella mumbled, shivering. A loose strand of hair flew to her mouth, and she flicked it away. "Are you sure this is the right way?"

"Of course I do!" Mel instantly knew he was lying. There was the telltale glint of uncertainty in his eyes when he turned, and it made her frozen lips tug automatically into a smirk. He turned to Mel and saw through the snow her smug appearance, and yelled, "And what's up with you, smirking like that? You doubt the crown prince of Thais' sense of navigation? Ha! It's not like you would've done any better."

Te'ijal and Galahad grasped each of her wrists tightly in case something happened. Nothing did, though. Mel ignored the jibe from the crown prince, seeing as she hated nobles, much more being successfully baited by them. Edward, who was expecting a tantrum, looked away, secretly disappointed at the lack of response, and turned to chat with Stella gloomily.

"Ignore him," Te'ijal intoned in a whisper. Mel and the two vampires walked slowly so they could have some privacy. Edward and Stella were still talking up front, and there was only a slight chance they would be overheard. "In stories of wars against evil where the kingdoms are included, the Pendragons have been all talk before joining the party of the heroes."

"Really?" Mel said, intrigued.

"Yes," the vampire replied. "Before, when the world was again plagued by an evil… person… named Ahriman; the princess of Thais – Alicia Pendragon – never wanted to marry. She refused to marry Lord Zorom, who had kidnapped her and who had also brought back Ahriman; she gave a demanding letter to a world-renowned seamstress to help a girl named Ella marry prince Edward of Candar, thus starting the generations of Ellas ruling Candar. The princess – Alicia – then joined the party of Talia and Devin to rid the world from evil, though always calling them 'peasants' and 'commoners'."

"There is not much to say in the second part of the war against Ahriman," Galahad continued. "It happened many years after the successful mission of the first group. Again, we do not know much, as the elder that told Te'ijal the stories was in hiding during that time. Te'ijal only passed the information to me."

"And then," Te'ijal interrupted. "Two elves from The Vale – that's a place off our world – came to the Land of Man, which is our world. A changeling, Ean had come alone to rescue his friend, Iya, who was abducted by the Snow Queen ruling Shaenlir. After that, they went to Thais and had their mission of uniting the kingdoms against the Snow Queen and regaining Iya's magic back."

"Err… who was the pompous Pendragon then?" Mel asked hastily.

"Oh, yes, I forgot. It was Nicolas Pendragon, the second son of the then-ruling Pendragons. He had good looks, good grades in the Collegium… the only thing wrong with him is his attitude. He thinks he's always high and mighty, and no commoner has the right to even talk to him. He only shaped up when he joined the party and got cursed in Bogwood. He was doomed to being hit by a big boot in his behind every time he insulted someone, and, believe me, it's painful. Though," Te'ijal added thoughtfully, "he was always picky about the party members. He wouldn't want a warlock to be in the group, so whenever he was joining, Nicolas would go back to Thais impatiently."

Galahad sighed. "They're powerful and smart, yes, but the Pendragons have an ingrained sense of nobility, and with it comes the pride in their ranking, regardless of what they want to be. In Edward's case, he is proud to be a Pendragon and to be the crown prince, even though he demands everyone not to call him 'm'lord'."

Mel made an "Eww" face that was not so severe. She had expected it for the nobles then and now, and the "m'lord" part relived memories of Lydia at the Collegium. At that instant the castle resurfaced when Mel had turned around and she saw flash of green while the king was talking to Edward. She wondered, not for the first time, if Lydia overheard the "bring home a bride or literally marry an orc" rule. Mel hoped Lydia was sidetracked and wasn't waiting for them in, for example, a village in the west.

"We're here!" Edward cried from up front, his arms spread wide over his head like he was attempting to embrace the enormous castle that seemed like it was thrown from its own kingdom and, unfortunately, landed in this lonely place. Stella was on her knees, wrist-deep in a fresh corpse that had a big ugly gash on the side. She stood up and shook her head, her right hand flicking up and down sending droplets of blood smearing the white snow.

"It's already looted," she said to us. Stella looked up to the castle uncertainly. "Someone beat us here."

"And they're inside the castle," Galahad added, pointing to the lights inside. They were bright yellow and although it was nearing sunset, the snow looked as though they had been blessed with sunshine. Stella's face lit up.

"We're at Beauty's castle!" she said, ecstatic, clapping her hands as she bounced. She shoved an empty hand, palm upwards, at Edward and said, "HA! You lose! Pay the debt!"

"What?" Edward answered, aghast. "N-no! You're not e-even sure if Beauty is in there!"

"Well then, let's go see!" Stella dragged the prince by the collar inside the gaping door. Her voice echoed from inside, saying, "And remember, if I win, you'll be my slave for a day."

There was a scream of protest (a long and dramatic "Nooooooo!" that kept warbling high) from Edward, and Mel had the urge to chuckle and snort.

"I might actually like her, you know," she said to the vampires unnecessarily, and they followed inside, marveling at the walls made entirely of ice. There was a set of stairs and they saw an ecstatic man bouncing up and down his heels as he gazed outside the window. Mel had the impression he won a lottery. And then she realized who he was, and the memory of that petty fight in the pub at Thais resurfaced.

"Eston?" she called to the man, and he looked up. Surely there he was – all happy and carefree, not the grump, whiny stranger claiming Mel's glass of water to be his at the tavern. Eston's face lit up as he recognized her.

"Hey, Mel!" he said, waving his hand in greeting. "Who're your friends?" He was eyeing Te'ijal and Galahad suspiciously, possibly because of their pale skin reflecting in the last rays of sunlight streaming inside from the window. Te'ijal had her fists clenched on her sides, mouth tight, eyes focused on a small crack in the ground. Galahad was touching the walls of ice without comment.

"Err… they taught me how to ice skate," Mel invented wildly. "They… uhm… they helped me today and we lost track of time and we just went west and we stumbled here at your… err… lovely castle."

Perhaps it was the speed of her talking or the nonsense in it that made Eston smile and chuckle. "This isn't my castle. This place is owned by the girl I rescued."

Before anyone could ask him who, Stella bounded to them, panting, and Edward-free. "Beauty's real!" she squealed in delight, and she cackled.

"Of course Beauty's real," Eston replied uncertainly. She glanced at Stella and then at Mel, and back again.

"Don't worry," Mel said hastily. "She's with us." She laughed uncertainly and whispered at Stella, "Where's Edward?"

"Oh, he's moping around open-mouthed. Apparently being a servant for a commoner for the second time had a huge impact."

"Of course it does," Mel replied, smiling wickedly. She waved at Eston and said, "Hey, we'll just ask Beauty some questions and we'll be off."

"Okay. Oh, you can stay here, if you like. There are spare beds and rooms, and it's dangerous to go out at night. The wolves and those spirit-thingies are worse than ever."

"And," Te'ijal added softly for only Mel to hear, "You're not supposed to go out at night, lest you want to be found by my brother."

Mel gulped as the sight of Gyendal Ravenfoot at Harburg suddenly leaped in her mind. "Okay," she answered Eston feebly, and she walked as fast as she could to the end of the hall where they could see the crown prince of Thais howling like a wolf at Beauty's feet.

"Tell me you're not true!" he exclaimed. Beauty was trying to free her ankles to no avail. "Please tell me this is all a dream!"

Beauty tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear and tugged at her shimmering gown. "I'm sorry, sir, but I am real. Now would you be a dear and let go of my gown, please?"

"I'm going to be a slave! Again!" The prince cried, devastated.

Mel punched him round the head. "Get over it," she ordered. She faced Beauty, smiled, and asked. "Err… Beauty? We have some questions for you."

"Yes, yes," she said, smiling back. She led them to some comfy chairs, sat down in her own throne-like one, and said, "Ask away."

"Do you have a key?" Te'ijal asked straight away. "An irregular one?"

"I had," she replied. "But the wicked witch, Heptitus, had stolen it from me. She was the one who put me to sleep. Without Eston…" Her face constructed itself into a lovey-dovey face that made Mel internally puke. "I would've slept forever and never notice the beautiful surroundings again…"

She sighed dreamily, and there was some sniffling behind Mel. Some few seconds later, someone had bawled loudly. Surprisingly, it was Edward.

"You're so perfect!" he screamed, tears streaming out of his eyes. "A nature lover! You're just the same as me, I want to be a chicken farme-"

"STOP HITTING ON HER!" Mel and Eston shouted together, both their fists landing on each of Edward's cheek.

"Ow!" Edward muttered, caressing his face. His face resembled a purple tomato. "Damn, I can relate to Eston's reaction, but Mel…? You too?"

Mel blushed, and crossed her arms. She pointedly ignored Stella's knowing smirk and said, "I… This isn't the time to get distracted, lover boy. And besides, you have the nerve to hit on a girl in front of her lover?"

"Is it that, or are you just jeal – " Edward began, but Galahad put a hand over his mouth.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," he whispered, quoting a line from a play called "The Mourning Bride". "Best not to push it. Keep it in tact, lest you want your neck torn off."

"Aren't you just relating my situation to yours?" the prince hissed in reply.

In retaliation, Galahad struck a joint in his neck which caused the crown prince to collapse in a heap.

"Is he okay?" Mel said, trying hard to tone down the note of concern in her voice as she asked Galahad.

"He's just tired," he lied casually. "The whole slave issue was too tough for him. Maybe we should go sleep."

"Perfect!" Eston screamed. "It's dusk, anyway. I'll show you to your rooms."

"Oh, no thanks," Mel said. "The rest of you can go ahead. I'll be the night watch."

"Nonsense," Te'ijal was first to reply. "This is exactly what I warned you not to do – to show up in front of my brother! And now you're going to go and get your own death sentence?"

"Relax," she replied, waving a hand. "I'll just keep watch of Beauty outside her room, in case Heptitus or someone else arrives to steal the key which Heptitus stole. At morning we'll go find this witch. And besides, Eston will be there, so I won't be alone."

"Yes," Eston chirped. "I've been guarding Beauty's door every night."

"All right," Te'ijal said reluctantly. "But I'll take the second watch by midnight. Mel, you need sleep."

"Okay," Mel said, and grinned. "I'm going! And don't heal Edward, Stella!"

"Why not!" Stella shouted back.

"He's your slave, remember?" she smirked. "Masters and mistresses don't heal their slaves."

When Mel had gone, Eston chuckled. "Mel was always a kind of masochist."

"Yes, I can see that," Te'ijal muttered, cringing.

A/N: Tell me if I still have the talent. xDDDD