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A small group of children crept through the hallways of a huge house. There were seven of them together, all with navy blue hair and bright, mischievous eyes. Outside, lightning flashed and thunder rolled, accompanied with the rhythmic tapping of raindrops on windows. Angelica and Govanna were no older than five, Oluemma and Ullianna were eleven, while Hurrion, Walser, and Frolon had just turned fourteen. The noises outside were too much for the sensitive ears of the sleepy demons, and so they set out to find their Grandmother – exploring the house on the way. After a whole hour of wandering through the hallways, Frolon bumped into their grandmother’s butler – Walt. The group held their breath as Walt examined them with an amused expression.

“Follow me,” said he as he turned away and started walking with long strides. Confused, the children followed him and soon after came to a big library with lots of shelves, huge cozy red sofas, and a lit fireplace. In an armchair closest to the fire sat their Grandmother. Walt led the siblings into the room, bowed to their grandmother, and left.

The old demonness looked over at her grandchildren and smiled.

“Well, go on, go on, rest yourselves comfortably,” insisted she and gestured to the biggest sofa. Slowly, one by one, Frolon, Walser, Hurrion, Ullianna, Oluemma, Govanna, and Angelica sat down, huddling to each other. Just exchanging glances, grandmother and her grandchildren understood the reason of why each other weren’t sleeping. After a couple of minutes of awkward silence, Govanna piped up with a hesitant smile, “Granny, will you tell us a story?” Frolon, Walser, and Hurrion groaned in union, rolling their eyes.

Chuckling, Grandmother Aruella agreed and launched into the history of their ancestors.

“This story takes place before history had been written and Jesus Christ was born.”

Quickly raising her hand, Angelica asked, “Granny, did Julius Caesar live at that time?”

Aruella shook her head and continued, “No, he did not. The story I’m going to tell you takes place before any of the countries we know of today were founded. And that means that there was no China, England, or Rome.” She paused to clear her throat, and then proceeded, “Back then, there were no countries – only kingdoms. There were eleven original in all: the Genshoku, Hurukashi, Ouchirodaku, Arnolla, Reindorfonce, Wulner, Ullnmei, Vlanisski, Yorkotsu, Pronaslkia, and Terosaru Kingdoms. In addition to being the last one, the Terosaru Kingdom was the strongest and largest of all. King Joshen ruled his kingdom with an iron will and unbreakable laws. The citizens of his kingdom fearfully respected their King and never even dared to speak against him in private.

“His army was unbeatable – Kings and Queens of other Kingdoms respected King Joshen, but they were also wary of him. It was known across lands that if he started a war with any kingdom or civilization, he would most probably win. Sometimes, the Kings and their families would whisper that he had weapons that could breathe fire.” Aruella paused and winked at carefully listening children (even the proud and cool Frolon, Walser, and Hurrion). “It might seem outrageous, but King Joshen was the first person to invent canons of some sort, even if nobody except the oldest of us know it.

“Anyway. The king had a brother – Riverhear, whom Joshen appointed as the general of his army. It wasn’t a bad choice either, since Joshen was better at publishing laws; his brother, on the other hand, was very strict with his underlings and could command armies. The brothers were twins, but strangely enough, they didn’t even look alike. King Joshen had a short muscular build, rough square jaw, short-cut silver hair and dark purple eyes. In contrast, Prince General Riverhear was tall and lanky with a pointy chin, and had long crimson hair and deep green eyes.

“Many were amazed about how Joshen and Riverhear didn’t fight over the throne, but lived like normal brothers should. Neither strove to be the best and push the other lower, nor did they help each other too much. They worked in union, but they never acted overly brotherly towards each other in public. Both also had children: Joshen had a young son – Prince Arsulan, and Riverhear had a young girl – Princess Skylive. The two were very close in age, and sometimes even thought of themselves as siblings.” Aruella paused again, closing her eyes and gathering her thoughts.

“Now this exact story takes place when Prince Arsulan was about sixteen years old,” she continued, “and the war between the Terosaru Kingdom and the Arcanum Forest had just started. Oh, I almost forgot! The Arcanum Forest was a forest where every inhuman creature could find shelter and acceptance. Heh, it was probably the most populated land where those kinds of creatures resided, actually...Well, let’s move on with the story.

“Prince Arsulan had just returned from his sword fighting practice, when the royal knight – Karen walked up to him.

“ ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘His Highness Joshen requests that you and Princess Skylive come to his rooms immediately,’ after a moment’s hesitation, the old knight added in a whisper, ‘He seems to be in an extremely joyous mood.’ At that, Arsulan raised an eyebrow – it was very rare when his father was happy, and usually, it only happened when there was either to be an execution or a hunt for a spy, neither of which Arsulan enjoyed. Sighing, the tall and pale young man made his way towards his father’s rooms.

“On the way, he encountered Skylive and told her the same thing Karen said. Both shared uneasy glances, but hurried – Joshen was very impatient and hot-headed, especially when his own son and niece were late. Eventually, both of them reached the huge and forbidding metal doors that led to King Joshen’s rooms. Carefully pushing the door open, Arsulan walked first into the room, Skylive at his heels. They were very surprised, though, to see that there was no sight of him. Arsulan crossed his arms, and Skylive gave a small, quiet, and an annoyed huff just as Joshen and Riverhear entered the room. Neither noticed their child – they were talking in hushed voices and holding a huge book in their hands.

“Annoyed even farther, Arsulan cleared his throat and asked, ‘Was there any reason you asked us to come, Father?’ Both fathers visibly started and looked up, gaping, at their children. Joshen was the first to compose himself, and stated the obvious, ‘Ah, you’re already here.’ Skylive nodded and tapped her foot impatiently. After a moment of awkward silence, she added, ‘Father, Uncle, I should have gone to my mathematics lesson more than ten minutes ago, so...?’

“The brothers glanced at each other, and then, smiling, Joshen said, ‘Well, I guess since you both are already here, and not late as you usually are, I guess I’ll tell you the great news. I’m starting a war with the Arcanum Forest, and soon enough we’ll have that land and it’s creatures as ours.’ Bewildered, Arsulan could only stare, while Skylive smiled a charming smile and exclaimed, ‘That’s great, Uncle Joshen! Now we’ll have our army twice, no, thrice as strong as it was before!’ And apparently, Joshen and Riverhear were just expecting only that kind answer. Their mood was broken, though, when Arsulan, with his long and slightly wavy black hair falling into his face, hissed, ‘You can’t! That’s absolutely outrageous!’

“You see, no matter how... forbidding and cold Arsulan might look, he was a very nice and gentle person. He was against wars and never even enjoyed hunting. Therefore, he tried to convince his father and uncle that the war was foolish and pointless and could simply erase all magical creatures from Earth. He told them that the creatures wouldn’t give up their home and would gladly die fighting rather then give up their homeland. His family refused to listen to him though, and no matter how much Arsulan tried, nothing worked. Therefore, the Prince decided on a different approach. A couple of days later, he went out into the forest, excusing himself outside to stop ‘ruining their joyful mood and glorious plans of power.’

“Arsulan rode deep into the forest, forcing his horse to gallop through branches and uneven ground, so that he could reach a special place without wasting too much time. Soon, he reached a small, wooden hut in front of which small children were playing with a pair of wolves. On the porch of the hut sat a young person with short, dark blond hair, dressed into a dirty hunter’s outfit. Suddenly, as if on cue, the person looked up sharply and saw him. Grinning from ear to ear, the person stood up and walked over to where Arsulan’s horse stood. Woodlang bowed her head slightly and greeted, ‘Good day, your Highness,’ at the same time stopping the horse and helping him down from it.

“ ‘Hello Woodlang.” Arsulan nodded. If Arsulan hadn’t known the young elf, he would have thought that he was greeting a boy with a girl’s name. And Woodlang really did look like a boy, especially when she wore her hunter’s clothing. Smiling to himself, Arsulan mused that he thought too much about Woodlang sometimes. He was startled out of his thoughts though, when she pushed him sightly between the shoulder blades, making him stumble forward. Sharply turning around, he saw her grinning at him and then asking, ‘If I may ask, your Highness, why did you come to visit myself at such an odd time of day?’ Woodlang was looking at him with a raised eyebrow – she had clearly analyzed his studying hours, and Arsulan was not the kind of person who would be lazy or impatient when it was a matter of studying. Clearly something had happened and he probably came to ask her for help as he usually did.

“Sighing, Arsulan turned around again and walked up to the porch and sat heavily onto it. He seemed to think about something, before he asked, ‘Woodlang, tell me, do you know about the war between our kingdom and the Arcanum Forest?’ That statement immediately erased the smile off her face, and gray eyes seemed to pierce him through.

“ ‘Yes,’ she finally answered. ‘Everyone did. King Joshen announced it for the citizens of the Terosaru Kingdom more than three days ago.’ She was looking sadly at the ground and was about to add something when suddenly there was a crash. Arsulan was startled out of his seat, but Woodlang seemed to be at ease, starting to smirk again. After a couple of moments a young woman with gray hair and crimson eyes looked out the window and growled at Woodlang, ‘Elf, why do you always have to keep the house in such a mess?’ Then, she suddenly seemed to noticed Arsulan, which made her blink confusedly and duck back inside the house again. A couple of seconds after, she was outside again, running over to Arsulan and hugging him with all her might. Koranna was the princess of the Arcanum Forest, but now, since a war was starting, her father had forced her and her brothers to go to a certain hunter – Woodlang, and live there under the Hunter’s wing. Koranna and Arsulan knew each other well, because she and her siblings would usually come to visit Woodlang.

“Anyway, they shared a couple of words, and Arsulan finally told them that he was against the war and that he couldn’t come up with anything that could actually stop it. His father and uncle refused to listen to him and his cousin was agreeing with them. During the whole time Arsulan was telling this, Woodlang seemed to be deep in thoughts. When the Prince was finished with his story, Woodlang mumbled, ‘If you want to, you could blackmail your father into stopping the war, you know....’

“And guess what? It was a great plan. They had no trouble in finding a couple of hardly visible bunch of pixies, who gladly agreed to spy on King Joshen. The life went on, Arsulan returned to the castle and acted like nothing happened; while Woodlang, Koranna, and her siblings, kept on living in the forest, in that small hut. The war was starting to turn gruesome, as the magical creatures refused to give up their land to the humans of the Terosaru Kingdom. Thankfully, a week later, Borgen, Luka, Olma, and Plo had gathered the right information.

“Riding back to Woodlang, Arsulan found that she already knew the secret information and had already written the letter. The only thing left was to send it, and she was just preparing her hawk for that when Arsulan arrived to the hut. They exchanged greetings, talked about the plan, and wished each other luck as they again parted ways. That same day, just as Arsulan came back to the castle, a pageboy told him to come to his father’s rooms at once. Dreading the worse, the Prince came to his father’s rooms, only to be surprised to learn that his father had no idea about who wrote the letter, but had no intention of letting such valuable information be passed to the enemy. Therefore, Joshen had decided to stop the war ‘for now,’ but continue it later, after his army’s troops regained some strength.

“It never happened though, because a year later, when King Joshen was hunting, he fell into the river and almost drowned, when a young boy saved him. The young man looked no older than fifteen, maybe sixteen years old and had worn the clothes of a hunter. He helped the King get the water out of his lungs and made a fire to help Joshen warm and dry himself. Later, the young hunter rode the King back to his castle and left.

“Joshen was curious, and on thinking that his son probably knew the young man, he asked Arsulan about the hunter. The King was surprised to learn that the hunter was not a boy at all, but a female elf – Woodlang, who, surprisingly, was from the Arcanum Forest, but lived at the Terosaru Kingdom forest providing the whole kingdom with fresh meat and herbs, even during and after the war. Joshen was so surprised, and so thankful that he dropped his plan of attacking the Arcanum Forest ever again. And that is the end of the story.” Aruella smiled kindly at her grandchildren, and added, “You may ask any questions you have now.”

Ullianna raised her hand and asked timidly, “Grandmother, what happened to Arsulan and Woodlang later? They fell in love, didn’t they? And did they keep the secret about the blackmail, or did they tell about it to everyone later?”

Grandmother Aruella chucked mirthfully and announced, “Yes, in fact, ten years later they both told each other about their love, and a year later they married and lived happily ever after. As for the secret of the blackmail... well, they never told about it to anyone – not even their children. Koranna was the one who told the whole Arcanum Forest about the blackmail plan – although she never told anyone about what was in the blackmail.”

The rest of the night was spent with the seven siblings taking turns in asking their grandmother questions about the war story, and eventually they all dropped off into light sleep.

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