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Chapter Twenty-Four — You’ll Be The Hero
Pepin closed the doors quietly behind them, and Kai could easily tell that there was something on the servant’s mind as he had kept silent all the time on their way back from the war council room. As of now, he had to start preparing himself to march against the House of Uxilan, whatever that meant.
“Pepin, are you worried? Do you think the same thing as before might happen?” he asked cautiously, trying to find a way to gather information from the servant without appearing too suspicious and un-Sebastian-like. He had no idea why that even concerned him at this point since there were so many other more important things at stake.
He turned to look at Pepin and froze at the sight of those lovely eyes swimming in tears. “Hey, what’s wrong?” He had no idea what to do. Was he supposed to offer his handkerchief? Galien had done that for him when he had cried over exchanging lollipops with Pepin and making a mess out of it.
Pepin surprised him again by rushing over and hugging him tightly.
“Pepin, you’re suffocating me,” Kai complained. “What happened last time when I went against those jerks that you’re so emotional right now?”
What were the rules of dealing with an emotional boyfriend? He had no idea because he had never had a boyfriend before. But he hadn’t been OP before, either, so he just had to get used to it and do the right thing.
“You almost died,” Pepin said while sobbing. “I thought I really lost you.”
“Come on, for real? I’m OP, I mean I’m so powerful and I can freeze anyone, right? You don’t have to worry so much. Tell me what happened then that you’re so messed up right now.” He was basically using Pepin’s feelings to get information out of him, but it was for a noble cause, and he had no time to spare on regretting his methods.
“They took your magic away,” Pepin said and buried his head into Kai’s chest while violent sobs racked his body. “Don’t you remember?”
Oh, shit. Kai hadn’t expected anything like that, and now he could feel his entire body getting stiff and his feet cold. “How the hell did they do that?”
“They’re dark magic wielders,” Pepin explained while pressing his forehead hard against Kai. “I don’t know how, but they did.”
“Then how did I win against them?” Kai murmured.
“You crushed them with your sword and wits alone. And there was also…”
“What was?” Kai asked impatiently, seeing how Pepin had stopped talking.
“The protection magic your mother cast on you shortly after your birth,” Pepin said and began crying harder.
Well, that wasn’t so bad. If he had a protection spell cast on him and Sebastian’s incredible martial skills on his side, he could still win even without ice magic. “Then I’ll be fine this time around, too,” he said simply. “You don’t have to cry your heart out over a simple thing like this.”
“Sebastian, how come you don’t understand?” Pepin raised his tear-filled eyes and stared at him. “Even your mother could only do this much. You no longer have her protection. It was gone the moment they tried to kill you. And why do you have me remind you all these things? Do you enjoy seeing me suffer?”
“Maybe I should get her to cast another,” Kai replied, ignoring Pepin’s emotional speech, but he no longer felt so sure of himself. “But why did Galien call it a whim of fate when we were in the war council room?” As much as Pepin could start getting suspicious of him, he needed to ask all the right questions and get the correct answers.
“Because your mother didn’t think you should ever need it, and it was only because a vulture tried to hurt you in your crib while she still cared for you as a small child that she cast it on you.”
“For real? Why did she think I shouldn’t need it? Because of my OP… my ice magic?”
“No.” Pepin shook his head. “The people taking care of you once you were brought here, to the castle, they said… They all say that your mother is cruel. That she believes that should you fail, it will only be your fault for not being as strong as she made you to be.”
“And as soon as she thought that, I was about to become a vulture’s breakfast,” Kai said matter-of-factly. No matter what the people around believed about Sebastian, the prince couldn’t have had it easy with a mother like that.
So, the chances were that the House of Uxilan would leave him without his ice magic, and he was minus protection spell from mother dearest, anyway. That left him with nothing but the ability to hold a sword, so all in all, he no longer felt as OP as before. Damn, why did Sebastian’s enemies have to be even more OP than him?
That wasn’t very nice of them.
He took Pepin by the shoulders and made him sit with him on the bed. “Pepin, I will have to do this.” He hoped that the ice goddess wouldn’t let her own son be defeated so easily and that she would chip in at the right time. Well, it was a slim hope seeing how cruel she was, indeed, but at least when her son had been about to get devoured Diyarbakır Escort by a predatory bird, she had decided to protect him.
That was everything he had, and he needed to put it to good use. It didn’t matter that his feet felt like lead, and it appeared that coordinating his limbs was a feat even as he did as little as hold Pepin by the shoulders to provide him with the assurance he needed right now.
“You could always tell them that you changed your mind,” Pepin said. He looked at him with eyes full of hope. “Master Galien’s plan is much better. He is an excellent strategist, and even you said that on numerous occasions. He held the border of Kelonia without losing almost any people all these years.”
There were so many things he didn’t know about his cousin, Kai realized. So it could be that Sebastian had left Galien to take care of his duchy and not pushed him away so that he wouldn’t steal his lovers, as rumors had it. Or, it could be both, and what did he know, anyway?
“Yes, I know, his plan was sound,” Kai admitted. “But I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Pepin turned away from his touch. “Anyone but you? Is that what you’re saying, Sebastian? You’ve always been like this, rushing in the face of danger, like… like I don’t even exist!”
“Pepin,” Kai said sternly, “don’t tell me you’re selfish. Don’t you care about all these people who could lose their homes, their families, their lives?”
“I do, but do they care about anything else but themselves? They say ‘all hail Prince Sebastian’ while gossiping behind your back, saying that you’re cruel and that your heart is made of ice. Their mean eyes fill with glee each time you part with yet another lover, celebrating behind closed doors and feeling proud that they can have what you cannot.”
“Ugh, Pepin, you kinda lost me. And I’m not talking about nobles, but about, you know, the knights and the troops that will have to go to war.”
“They’ve trained all their life for it. Why shouldn’t they go to war?” Pepin said in a strained voice. “And everyone thinks the same, everyone! They know they are protected by you. And at the same time, they hate you because you’re so strong, superior, above them all. Yes, they all think that, all but me!”
“Now, now, Pepin, don’t overreact,” Kai tried to reason. “And Galien cares about me, and Conrad, too. Not everyone’s bad. If there’s even one soul that deserves my protection and OP-ness, then it’s enough. And that soul is you,” he added.
Pepin turned to look at him again. “If it’s for me, don’t do it, Sebastian. I want you here, with me, alive and well. I don’t care about anything else. Even though –” he choked and sobbed.
Kai sighed. “Do you want me to hide behind these doors, while people are fighting outside? You know that’s not who I am.” He honestly hoped he sounded as much as Sebastian right now as he could.
Pepin nodded. “I do know. But it is still worth trying to change your mind.”
“Sorry, Pepin. I know you wanted to go see the Shimmering Cavern, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Pepin looked down, seemingly in defeat. “Then there is only one way. You will take me with you.”
Kai snorted. “Yeah, right, no. Getting a dragon’s tear was one thing. Fighting against assassins with dark magic and poisoned blades is on a whole different level. It’s endgame stuff, and you’re only like level four or something even if you’re great as a support and all.”
“You cannot keep me from coming with you. And now I know –” Pepin stopped again.
What? Kai suddenly became curious. Now and then, Pepin acted strangely. “What do you know?”
“You’re not him,” Pepin said brusquely. “I’ve wondered for so long… but now I’m sure.”
Kai stood from the bed cautiously and pretended that he needed to check on the state of his sleeves which were totally fine. “Um, what do you mean?” Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that he misunderstood everything, and Pepin was talking about completely something else.
Pepin’s eyes were clear when he risked a look at him. “I don’t know who you are and why you are here, but I know you’re not him. So you have to let me come with you because I cannot let you die now that I found you. Sebastian is not the only one who got his future told. And I know I’m to be loved.”
“Uh-huh, you don’t make any sense, you know? I am Sebastian, no need to talk about me, to me, in third person.”
All right, so it looked like he had a huge problem on his hands right now. Kai began walking slowly toward the door. Of all the times Pepin could have said something, he had to choose the moment when he needed to play Prince Sebastian for real and go against a nation of dark magic wielders.
Pepin walked toward him purposefully. “I must protect you. You cannot stop me from taking me with you.”
“Actually, I can.” He hated to do this, but it wasn’t like he had a choice. The last thing he needed was for Pepin to start shouting off the top of Diyarbakır Escort Bayan his lungs that he wasn’t the real prince. Also, whatever was happening right now, it was no longer child’s play, and he couldn’t have Pepin hurt in any way. And all that stuff, with Pepin figuring out everything, it had to wait.
“What?” Pepin asked. “What do you intend to do?”
“I think it’s quite simple since I’m the prince,” he said, trying hard to believe that. He walked to the doors and pulled them open. “Guards!” he called, hoping to sound royal and convincing. Two armed men hurried to him. “Take Pepin and escort him to his room,” he said, fighting a crack in his voice that he hadn’t known to be there. “Make sure he stays in there until I return from Uxilan.”
“Your Majesty, you cannot!” Pepin jumped to his feet.
If Pepin started shouting that he was an imposter right now, he would be royally screwed.
“Oh, yes, I can,” Kai said and bit his lips to stop them from their slight trembling. “Guys, take him,” he told the guards.
He didn’t look Pepin in the eye as he was dragged away by the guards, shouting and kicking. As soon as he was alone, he closed the doors and let himself slide to the floor, his back against them. He buried his head in his hands. How the hell was he supposed to fight those jerks? Was Sebastian OP enough just yielding his sword? And would Pepin tell the guards he wasn’t their lord and master? Would they believe him?
For the first time since he had landed in Ifigia, Kai regretted that he wasn’t in his own body, living the boring life of a high school student whose only worries were how to get passing grades and whether he could afford or not the next video game release.
He couldn’t tell he was surprised when Galien barged into the royal quarters, looking like he had a bone to pick.
“Whatever you want to say, can it wait until I’m back?” Kai asked defensively. If his cousin started yammering that he didn’t believe him to be the real Sebastian, he was in it deep.
“You mean, until you’re dead?” Galien slammed shut the doors behind him in quite an unfriendly manner.
Kai winced and pretended he was totally fine with that. Gosh, Galien would soon start yelling at him, right? He couldn’t stand when people were yelling at him.
“What kind of a decision was that?”
And… he was yelling. Kai groaned and hid his face in his palms. “I’ve got enough of an earful from Pepin on the same topic. I don’t need one from you, too.”
“Sebastian, with all due respect, you are out of your mind! You know you barely survived the last time you went against the House of Uxilan!”
Well, it would have served to have known about the whole ice magic blocking and ice goddess’s protection spell before getting into that kind of situation, but it wasn’t prince-like to go back on his word.
“But I did. See, I’m whole and everything, all limbs in their places.” He stretched his arms to make a point.
Galien gave him a stern look. “I cannot let it happen. I simply cannot. I’m coming with you.”
Kai groaned and let his head down in defeat. “Do I have to call the guards on you, too?”
“Call the guards?” Galien’s stricken face was a bit funny. “And who else did you call them on?”
Kai walked toward the door, decided to repeat the number from earlier. But the doors opened before he could reach them, and Conrad walked in.
“Great, this is just great,” he said and threw his arms up. “Go ahead, Conrad, give me your speech.”
“If you are doing this, I’m coming with you.”
All right, so he needed to call more than just a pair of guards to handle these two hunks because they couldn’t be dragged away as easily as Pepin, who was as light as a feather. He brushed by Conrad to go into the hallway.
“Guards,” he said as soon as he saw the two armored men who were back at their station after they had surely locked Pepin in his room. “Round up a few more men because you need to take Sir Galien and Sir Conrad to their quarters, like you did with Pepin.”
“Stay where you are, men,” Galien commanded right from behind.
Much to his surprise, the guards stopped.
“Hey, I’m the prince. Who’s paying your wages?” Kai asked, hoping that his voice would be enough to command the guards and make them obey. Gosh, this whole prince impersonation stuff was slipping through his fingers.
“Your prince,” Galien said pointedly, “has suddenly acquired a death wish. You will do no such thing as to stop us from helping him avoid such a fate.”
“Yes, Master Galien,” the guards shouted together.
“What the hell?” Kai complained. “Guys, how are you not on my side?”
The guards looked down, but then one of them spoke. “You’ve always done that for everyone, Your Majesty. And we heard what decision you took today. Everyone here with a sword at the hip, and even more, to the last stable boy wants to come with you.”
“Hmm,” Kai pondered, “so Pepin was wrong, after all? Ha, I’m so Escort Diyarbakır going to rub it in his face. People love me!” The next time he saw Pepin, the servant would expose him for the imposter he was. And then, everyone would hate him.
He didn’t waste too much time munching around his thoughts and turned his attention on the guard. The guy was shifting his weight from one foot to another.
“What? You don’t love me?” Kai asked, in his most princely voice, and narrowed his eyes.
“We love you, Your Majesty,” the guards shouted together.
“Yeah, that sounded a little bit too enthusiastic to be true, but whatevs,” Kai said. “But make sure that Pepin doesn’t escape his room. I want him safe. Now off you go since it looks like I have no authority left and everyone wants to come to the party with me.”
He turned toward Galien and Conrad. “Now let’s see what great plan you two have.”
He had one of his own, but for now, the best course of action was deceit. Sooner or later, he would be exposed, so he needed to rush to the border, defeat the dark magic jerks, and then…
Huh, maybe that was the final quest. After that, exposed or not, he’d probably return to his body, and Sebastian was free to deal with all the mess.
A mess that included a certain very much in love Pepin. Right then, the reality struck him. Pepin no longer loved Sebastian; if his words were true… maybe, just maybe… he was in love with…
Kai shook his head. There was no way Pepin was in love with him. He practically looked like Sebastian; no, he was Sebastian! That was a boatload of confusion, right there!
Galien snapped his fingers in front of him. “Sebastian, where on earth are you? Quit making faces and listen closely.”
“Right, right,” Kai mumbled and ignored the pointed look both his cousin and Conrad threw him.
“I gotta say, kid, you’re tougher than you look,” the tattoo artist said as he covered Sebastian’s arm and back of the hand with a bandage of sorts and gave him the last instructions on how to care for the ink during the following hours, days, and weeks.
The shirt was clinging on his back with sweat, and he felt as if he was returning from war, but all in all, it was a success. His right forearm now sported a red dragon wrapping around it, his head with open mouth and fangs visible resting on the back of his hand, a warning for anyone who ever wanted to mess with him.
“Thank you,” he said primly.
Tani rushed to him. “We gotta get home fast. Mom texted and asked where we are. I lied and said we’re at the movies. And that we watched like two of them. Oh, boy, I had no idea it would take so long to get a tattoo done.”
Much to his surprise, Tani had been good all the time, without complaining about getting bored. But, in all truth, she had been on her phone a lot, and Sebastian knew what a devourer of time that thing could be.
“That dragon will look so awesome,” Tani declared. “I have such a cool brother,” she said with pride.
Sebastian cleared his throat and pointed her toward the exit.
“Well, did it hurt? Like how much?” Tani asked the moment they were outside.
“Like pretty much,” he said shortly. Kai’s body really needed to develop a better tolerance for pain, and he was very much into teaching it precisely that.
“Okay, now what are we going to tell mom?”
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“What are you going to tell her? About your tattoo?”
“I’ll tell her I thought of getting a tattoo and that I got one,” he said naturally.
Tani grinned. “That is so badass.”
He grinned, too. Yes, that was badass, and that was what he wanted.
“What happened to your hand? Why is it bandaged?” Mrs. Martin caught them just as they walked in. Sebastian could swear the woman had a special sense in detecting any injury sustained by her son. Not that a tattoo was an injury, but it had definitely hurt a lot.
“Did you have a run-in with street thugs again? Let me see,” she insisted, a bit of panic evident in her voice.
Sebastian cleared his throat. “There’s no need to fret, mother. I only got a tattoo.”
Mrs. Martin stared at him nonplussed for a couple of moments. “You got a what?”
Her voice was suddenly extremely loud.
“A tattoo,” he said slowly. “It is spelled –“
“Watch it, young man,” Mrs. Martin warned him. “Do not play the smartass with me now.” Tani was about to sneak past her when Mrs. Martin caught her and forced her to stand side by side with Sebastian. “And you, young lady, where have you been this late?”
“She was with me,” Sebastian said calmly.
Mrs. Martin made a strange sound and then threw her arms in the air. “Who are you and what have you done to my children? What is this tattoo business all about?”
Sebastian frowned. Did she want him to describe the workings of a tattoo parlor? He didn’t think he was the best person for that.
“Is it at least something small like a flower or –” Mrs. Martin pushed his sleeve up and gasped in horror. “Does it cover all your arm?”
Sebastian thought it was the right moment to step up. “It is a dragon. It wraps around the arm up till here.”
“And it looks badass, mom,” Tani chimed in, remembering, finally, that she was supposed to be an ally in all this.
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