174 The Heartbeat of a Drowned Man*
Lua and Lia knew they were in trouble as soon as the guards spotted them. Well, of course they knew they were going to be in trouble before that, what with them sneaking off and all, but they didn't know exactly how much until they realised that Kaesius, the Captain of the city's guard, was talking with the two on-duty guards at the main entrance.
To put it mildly, Lua and Lia were well-acquainted with Kaesius. He was a legend in the merfolk circles, a warrior and a talented leader. Many other merfolk cities had been jealous when Kaesius had chosen to guard their city of Luven. To Lua and Lia however, Kaesius was little more than nuisance who's one of many duties were keeping the two young princesses out of trouble.
Was Kaesius aware of this part of his job description when he chose Luven? It was unlikely. However, it'd become a trouble unavoidable part of his week to hunt down the twins wherever they'd managed to sneak off too at least once a week.
Now, as he turned to find the two of them dragged a human body behind them, he couldn't help but narrow his eyes in silent fury. Great. Not only had they gone outside city limits this time, but they'd also brought back an outsider. A human.
Kaesius swam out to meet them where the girls paused. They knew they couldn't swim from him so instead they waited with nervous looks as he arrived before them, his blue-silver armour glistening in the low-light as he appraised them with stern dark eyes.
His tone made the girls flinch, particularly Lia, who was docile as it was.
"…not only did the two of you think it was appropriate to venture beyond city-limits without an escort, but you also saw fit to bring back a drowned human?" asked Kaesius, "Exactly what do you think we'll do with him, he's better off as shark food".
"Well…he's not dead," Lua said hesitantly.
Kaesius's eyes narrowed, "Humans can't survive underwater, you know that. And if he had a water affinity we'd know".
Lua shook her head, "No, not a water affinity".
"Come on, your parents are worried sick," Kaesius turned to swim back to the gate, "And drop the stranger. The last thing we need is to cause a stir about the princesses being interested in humans".
Lua hesitated as she looked back at the man, "To be honest I don't know what his affinity is, we can't read his Life Lines".
Kaesius paused, looking back at them, "What do you mean you can't read his Life Lines?"
Lua looked at Lia, then the two drew the body closer and lifted the shirt of the man's back to expose the black line.
Kaesius's eyes widened as he saw the lines, then he swam quickly back to them, pulling the shirt down frantically, "Where did you find him?"
Lua looked at Kaesius's shocked expression and then hesitantly pointed west, "The new ship wreck by the crevice".
Kaesius frowned, looking at the body.
"You said he was still alive?" asked Kaesius.
The two girls nodded, "He's got a heartbeat, though it's not a normal heartbeat".
Kaesius pressed a couple of finger's to the man's neck, waiting for a moment. Eventually, a single heartbeat pulsed through the body, then there was only stillness once more.
Kaesius looked at the body, then at the two girls. He turned and motioned to the guards.
"Get back to the palace," Kaesius ordered.
"Now, Lua!" Kaesius snapped, "This is not a matter for you to be involved in".
Lua frowned, released the man and swimming past Kaesius towards the gates with an angry glare. Lia hesitantly followed behind her sister. After a moment, Lua stopped and turned back, right as the guards passed them.
"There was someone after him," said Lua, "A Magician woman who seemed adept at both water and shadow elements. She was quite angry when she didn't find him, and she went west after we succeeded in hiding his presence".
Kaesius's expression turned grim, but before he could say anything, Lua turned back towards the city, her sister in tow.
Kaesius handed the body over to the two guards, "Follow me. This is a matter for the council of elders".
The elders were debating seriously two hours later as they took turns trying to read the black Life Lines as well as feeling for the heartbeat of the otherwise drowned man.
"You said there was a hybrid magician after him?" asked Ilo, one of the elders.
Kaesius nodded, "From what Lua implied, she did not have good intentions and she left quite unsatisfied".
"We can't keep him here," Tarion insisted, "We have no idea who that Magician is or what her intensions are. If she somehow finds her way here, we'll end up being exposed".
"I agree with Tarion," Juline stated, "We may be able to handle a single Magician, but what if she brings others next time? Our city is not equipped to sustain a long-term siege, nor should we have to for the sake of an outsider".
"Still, black Life Lines?" asked Yulan, "You don't think he is like Her do you?"
"You know that no matter what form they take they cannot hide their true nature," Runa stated, "I see no tails nor ears on this man".
"Runa is right, he is not Kitsune," said Juline, "Still, with black Life Lines, She would no doubt be better qualified to address this situation".
"And, you know how difficult it is to find her, if we didn't have the crystal she gave us its unlikely we would ever encounter her again if we looked," Tarion said, "He will be better off with her, and with him gone the city will no longer be in danger".
The five elders lapsed into silence, a silence that was broken by the entrance of the King.
"I heard that a stranger was brought in?" asked the King, and he too assessed this drowned man with a heartbeat and black Life Lines before he concurred with the elders.
"I think taking him to someone even vaguely like himself is the best option," the King stated as he turned to Juline, "Might I ask you, Elder?"
Juline sighed, "Very well. I suppose I haven't seen her in years".
Though, the unspoken rule was that she was not to be visited unless under dire circumstances. The Merfolk may have been some of the few people that had connections with the Kitsune of the Fairy Forest, but with that came an understanding. An understanding that Kitsune preferred to be alone.
"Prepare an escort guard," the King order Kaesius, "You'll leave in the morning".
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It was a fortnight-long journey to the Fairy Forest. They needed time to make appropriate preparations.
With that decision made, the council of elders parted ways, leaving the pale human alone in a solitary chamber whilst they made their preparations.