The fields swept by in a blur, a sea of green overshadowed by sheer gray mountains rising on either side like the walls of some gigantic fortresses.
Estella peered outside the glass windows, her eyes scanning the view that wasn’t obscured by the riders guarding the convoy’s flanks. Telrondis Pass wasn’t a dangerous place thanks to a nearby fortress, but it’s easy to get lost within its twisting valleys and corridors even with experienced guides.
Of course, the Academy wouldn’t let that happen, and neither did the Knights of Telrondis. Field trips and expeditions were rarely dangerous, barring certain situations where adventurous students actively sought said dangers. Like Estella’s former mentor.
She never convinced Nox, however. And as she let the curtains fall back to cover the windows, she glanced at her Squire sitting on the opposite seat with a frown.
“We’re not entering a war zone, Nox,” she chided. He had been too quiet since the journey began five days ago. And restless.
“You keep saying that for the past three days,” he said, eyes never leaving the mountains. His shoulders were tense, and his right foot drummed on the floor in a random beat.
“Because you’re acting like we are entering a war zone.” She sighed. Estella had never seen him so worked up before. Why?
On the right, Aldros grunted. “This is his first expedition, Ella. Cut the boy some slack.”
“You’re only saying that because you’re near your element,” Estella muttered. Then she frowned. She knew some Wielders acted strangely whenever they were near their elemental strengths or weaknesses. Perhaps Nox was like that.
It was past midday when they finally arrived at their destination: a glittering lake in the middle of a deep valley. A town spread along its shores, where they would be staying for three days.
Estella glanced at Nox. The sight of the lake seemed to have calmed him somewhat, though his eyes were still clouded with worry.
The convoy entered the town, greeted by the mayor and a dozen guards. Estella stepped out of the carriage, inhaling deeply. On their way here, she had seen a field of flowers to the east, ringed with oak trees. Perhaps she and Nox would visit it tomorrow, before the start of the expedition.
Her Squire stepped out next, silent, his gazed fixed ahead. Estella followed his gaze—he was looking at the lake.
Before she could ask what was wrong, he spoke softly. “Reminds me of my village. It had a lake too. I used to swim in there during the summer.”
So that was it. She smiled. “I hope to see it one day, then.”
“And swim together with me?” He was still looking ahead, but there was a quirk in his lips.
Estella smirked. She shifted closer, brushing the back of his hand with her thumb. “We could do it tonight,” she whispered, tracing circles along his skin.
It was just a game, she told herself. Something to ease her Squire’s mind. Besides, he started it, challenged her. And as a Knight, she never backed down from a challenge.
But a part of her wanted the game to be real.
Nox glanced at her, his expression unreadable. Estella met his gaze. She didn’t bother shielding her mind this time, and she knew that he could hear her thoughts.
There was a cough, and both of them jumped.
“If you two are going to flirt, please don’t do it where someone can here you,” Aldros said dryly. Next to him, Erian was very pointedly looking at anywhere else but them.
What a spoilsport.Estella stuck out her tongue, making Nox chuckle. With a huff, she tugged at his hand. “Come, Nox. Let’s get away from these boring people.”
Aldros stared at her indignantly, while Erian choked, covering his mouth with a hand. Estella began dragging Nox toward the direction of the inn. He was taking in the sights with interest, and she sighed in relief at that.
For now, the worry in his eyes was dim.
Morning dawned bright and clear. After a sumptuous breakfast filled with chatter, Estella asked around the town for directions to that flower field she saw yesterday, Nox in tow.
“Shouldn’t we start preparing soon for the expedition later?” he asked after a helpful guard directed them toward their destination.
Estella hummed as they walked. “We still have four hours, and the location isn’t really far. Besides, we sorted out most of what we’d need last night. It’s going to be fine.”
Soon they were outside the town, heading east toward the flower field. They were still quite far, but Estella could already smell the sweet scent in the air.
When they arrived, a gasp escaped her lips. Colors filled her vision, like a rainbow on land. Everywhere she looked, flowers dominated her sight. There were tulips and roses of every hue, carnations and daisies waving in the gentle breeze.
She turned to Nox with a smile. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Her Squire nodded, even if he didn’t look impressed. Estella pouted and looked away with a huff. She expected some sort of reaction from him, like in those romance novels she used to read where the male lead would look at the heroine differently.
Nox gave her an odd look. She ignored him and proceeded north, closer to the lake. A line of red had caught her attention.
Curious, Estella drew near. The field sloped downward, leading to an area awash in crimson. Blood? No. She could see stems, and crimson flowers in full bloom, held in the center of red stalks rising like an upturned spider in the sky.
A shiver ran along her spine, wonder and fear coursing through her veins. She wasn’t an overly superstitious person, but flowers often held meanings—especially this kind of flower.
“These are weird flowers,” Nox commented.
Estella was glad that she had shielded her mind once again; she didn’t want to trouble him, only a few hours before the expedition. “Let’s go back,” she said, turning around and walking past him.
He didn’t say anything, never asked questions. He just followed her silently. But she could sense his confusion.
When they returned to the town, he finally asked, “So, what are those flowers called?”
They stopped at the small plaza near the center, filled with the bustle of a lively town. Why did he want to know?
Estella shook her head. No. She was thinking too much of this. Or maybe Nox’s anxiety was seeping into her. It was nothing. It was just a flower. Just a flower.
She glanced at him and answered, “Those are red spider lilies, Nox.”
“Also known as the flowers of death.”
Thank you for reading!