No More Secrets
by Maxzell Lerm
The ancient mountain-sized dragons embedded deep within the valleys of Earth rise up to defend the planet as Nevrhada’s nemesis launches an attack. Blazing meteorites – concealing deadly creatures – explode into Earth’s atmosphere. Humans, oblivious to the world-ending war, watch as storms shake the foundation of their planet.
Despite their differences, Nevrhada’s creatures align with Earth’s witches to protect the humans.
Meanwhile, in Nevrhada, demons break free and torment the landscape while the royal guard tries to defend the castle.
Clara, still deeply hurt by Keith’s marriage to Deso, has been missing for weeks – but is she finding comfort in the arms of someone else?
BUY THE BOOK
~ The Future~
The delicately carved wide mahogany doors swung open. The ceremonial hall was deadly quiet. Deso stood at the threshold of the magnificently decorated room and stared at the chamber where, hours later, she was due to say her wedding vows. She took a deep breath and entered the hall. Her footsteps were the only sounds echoing through the otherwise-silent interior.
Deso was dressed in a spectacular creation of yellow silk and white lace. Her hair and appearance had been styled by a dozen chambermaids diligently overseen by her mother. She not only looked beautiful but would easily take away the breath of any man who laid eyes on her that day.
Her striking violet eyes roamed the hall. The diamond stones engraved around her eyes were colorless. These last few weeks, she had learned how to hide her emotions. At first, she had cursed the stones which were hereditary in the royal family. She had found it difficult to control her emotions and the stones would radiate her mood. However, Deso had slowly learned to control her feelings and hide the colors of the stones.
She was ready for this. She couldn’t prevent the memories of Keith from seeping through her tight resolve, but they’d be banished from her mind as soon as Sir Flangas was her husband. She was almost sure if it; she hoped so, anyway. Deso couldn't bear the thought that she’d spend her whole life daydreaming about another man. This wedding was important to her family, to the kingdom.
Deso held her breath and forced the tension from her shoulders. She heard the soft hammering of her heart against her ribs. The soothing sound of music in the hall next door had just begun. The banqueting hall was already filled with well-wishers. After the feast, the rehearsal would begin. Tonight, would be her last night before her vows. She wasn't nervous; she did harbour disappointment but by no means would she voice that to anyone else. The disappointment had nothing to do with Sir Flangas’ lack of attributes. Instead, it had to do with the fact that she couldn’t accept him as easily as she accepted the boy from Earth.
Something landed on Deso’s head and she briefly lifted her finger to touch her hair; the golden mass of curls had been styled in an amazing array of diamonds and flowers. Deso’s fingers brushed against a wandering butterfly. She knew her mother had gone to great lengths to arrange the décor based on her daughter’s love for nature. Rows of white lace and tree branches dangled from the ceiling, forming a canopy of sorts. Amidst the canopy were hundreds if not thousands of neon-colored butterflies drifting from one branch to the next. The glowing insects cast a romantic ambiance throughout the hall. The pews were decorated with blossoms that also had glowing centers. The aisle was sheltered by a blanket of leaves and flowers of all shapes and sizes. The entire chamber carried the heady scent of spring.
Deso stared at the dazzling stained glass behind the preacher’s pulpit. The sun shone its bright rays through the window and cast its vibrant colors on precisely the spot where the newlyweds would unite. What was fascinating about the stained window, was that it was constructed by magic. Every few seconds its shapes would alter and move, merging into other shapes. This caused the array of colours to constantly swirl and change, on the stone-floor Deso was standing on. She took a deep breath and walked toward it, then stood basking in the stained-glass reflection. She closed her eyes and tilted her head, as the colours changed on her face. With her eyes still closed, she turned to her right and, for a second, pretended that Sir Flangas was standing facing her and that the hall was filled with family, friends, and nobility.
Deso stood frozen in place like that until a commotion in the passage drew her attention. A chambermaid cried out in distress and ran into the cerimonial hall, eager to get out of the way. She left the doors wide open in her haste.
* * *
I had been riding for hours and the guard’s horse I had borrowed was breathing heavily. I stopped only at intervals so that Duke, running behind me, could rest. I tried to ignore the slain dragon I had left behind. I also tried to ignore the fact that I had very hastily left behind Deso’s brothers. All I concentrated on was reaching the princess and stopping her inevitable wedding.
We raced through the forest, through the familiar canyons with eyes. The large rocky boulders, all piled into each other, formed two high walls towering over us. The rocks blinked individually and constantly as we raced past them. They bore witness to our mad dash as we recklessly raced over the canyon floor. Except for a few growls, Duke didn’t seem perturbed by the eyes watching us. I welcomed the sight of the forest as it transcended into its nightly form. All the vegetation lit up in neon colors. The brilliance of it all cloaked me as my mount kept moving.
The horse was on the brink of collapse when we finally reached the floating islands. Although I had seen the islands once before, I still found them a magnificent sight to behold. They were eerily shrouded in mist that floated lazily above the raging river. As the emerald-colored water of the river bent to the left or right, so did the hundreds of islands, never once leaving the border and floating into the forest landscapes.
I spied the tiny windows which grazed the cone-shaped ends of the island and recalled one of the fairies mentioning that Nevrhada guards and even nobility lived there. I pulled my mount to a stop and he happily obliged while I dismounted. I didn't know how I was going to find Deso or what I was going to say. I waited for a wooden bridge to land on the grassy embankment leading from one of the islands. The familiar thundering noise of the colossal waterfall drifted over the landscape.
Duke didn’t need an invite; he casually walked over the bridge. I also easily made my way onto the smallest floating island to which the bridge was connected. However, I didn’t have the same luck with the guard’s horse. Unlike Ghost, my Nevrhada mount that had previously crossed the bridge with ease when the fairies accompanied me, this animal protested. Finally, I surrendered and left the horse behind seconds before the bridge disconnected from the grassy embankment and drifted higher.
I stared at the moving islands and the valley below. Duke had found a puddle, which he lapped up vigorously. The soft spray of the waterfall landed on my stained face, but that was the most relief I’d get at that point. This wasn’t how I wanted Deso to see me. However, it was too late to worry about formalities now. I stood, unable to relax and sit down while the islands maneuvered around each other. Impatiently, I waited for my island to connect to the top grassy embankment, where I could carry on until I reached the stone bridge leading to the castle.
I could already foretell that reaching Deso would be a problem; as the island drifted higher, I saw hundreds of people and creatures crossing the bridge to the castle. A line of guards was inspecting all passing bodies, even the nobility in their carriages. I didn’t want to intentionally hurt anyone, but I wouldn’t let anyone—including royal guards—stand in my way. I had to see Deso. I pressed my hand deep into my trouser pocket and removed the small carved wooden box. I flipped open the lid; inside, the red ruby sparkled in greeting. I could already envision the ring on Deso’s hand.
A soft thud drew my attention away from the jewelry. I looked up to find that the island had connected to the mainland. I stuck the box back into my pants and jogged across the bridge. A lizard-like creature had left its coat over a branch as it conversed with other animals, also reptile-looking, beside it. I grabbed the coat as I passed and swung it over my shoulders.
The bridge leading to the castle was a nightmare. Hordes of bodies pressed in on either side of me, all of them anxious to enter the castle on this very rare occasion. This was a good sign; perhaps they were all wedding guests and not well-wishers intending to greet the couple who had already married.
I was inches from the front when I noticed a line of guards sitting on their horses, their vigilant eyes scanning the crowd. The eyes of one guard met mine and I instantly dropped my gaze. I could feel him watching me and I knew he must have noticed that I didn’t bear the appearance of Nevrhadan people. My lips weren’t blue, and I didn’t have blue marks above my eyes. When I spared him another glance, I saw that he had climbed off his horse and was making his way through the crowd toward me. I drew my sword and hid it under the folds of the cloak.
The guard was rudely pushing Nevrhadan people and creatures out of the way to get to me. A carriage drew up alongside me; inside was a family of nobles. Unlike the rest of the creatures and people, the carriage was instantly allowed to pass. I grabbed hold of the back of the carriage, allowing it to pull me along. Duke effortlessly dashed in between people and creatures, following me. The guard who had been making his way toward me started to shout, drawing the attention of his fellow soldiers. Not what I had in mind.
Another guard on horseback approached me from the opposite direction and pulled at my cloak, which instantly fell off my shoulder. He reached for me, but I twisted and pulled his arm over my head, causing him to tumble off his mount. I used the carriage as leverage and swung myself up and onto his riderless mount. The chestnut horse pranced and pawed the cobbled walkway. The guard swiftly stood and drew his sword, swinging it at me. I used my own sword to deflect his assault and kicked him square in the chest. Duke didn’t hesitate; he tore into the guard’s trousers, pulling him off balance.
More guards approached me. I pulled the reins of the horse and nudged him into action. He was quick to react and lunged forward. People and creatures screamed and hurled themselves out of the way as the horse ran past them. I did a double take at a creature that looked similar to the Fierians whom Deso and I had visited during my very first days in Nevrhada: the untroubled days when the demons were still bound to the dark forest, when I didn’t know she had been engaged at birth. It all seemed like a lifetime ago.
In seconds, I was at the castle doors, a row of soldiers chasing me. Without hesitation, I led the horse into the castle. Its hooves made a loud click-clack as we cantered through the passages. Servants heaved themselves out of harm’s way. The horse snorted, fighting against my hand, but I was determined to see Deso. I passed a hall where hundreds of people and creatures were huddled, some feasting and others dancing to strange music. The ceiling was alight with shapes mimicking rainbows, while dozens of white and silver birds flew between the shapes.
I was about to encourage the horse to move over when he bolted forward and came to a stop adjacent to another large hall. This one was empty, but it was impossible to miss the surreal vision aglow at the end of the aisle. I’m too late, my mind screamed.
Deso looked enchanting, wearing what could only be a wedding dress. The yellow silk and lace piled around her like smooth caramel. I slid off my horse. Even from this distance, I could see her shocked expression. I walked toward her, hearing the oncoming shouts of the castle guards.
As I entered the hall, I saw a cowering chambermaid. Gently, I took her elbow and guided her out of the hall without a word. She looked petrified and tossed worried glances over my shoulder to her princess. One of the guards had reached me and he pulled out his sword, pointing it at me. I growled, very impatient at this stage. In a few seconds, I had managed to outmaneuver him and kick his legs from under him. I watched as he fell to the castle floor. Then I hurriedly banged the ceremonial doors behind me, placing my sword into the handles to prevent the door from being opened.
I barely noticed how enchanted the room looked around me. Instead, I turned around and stared at Deso, who hadn’t moved a muscle. That wasn’t a good sign. Duke raced over to her, but she ignored his pitiful attempts to get her attention by pushing his snout into her leg. The tension in the hall was stifling even though we were the only two people in a room that was possibly twice the size of my house. I could hear myself breathe and I couldn’t shake the anxiety flooding me. I was more nervous now than I had been killing the dragon hours earlier.
Slowly, I walked toward her. For the life of me, I couldn’t utter a sound. I was suddenly very self-conscious about my unkempt appearance. There were so many things I wanted to tell Deso but when I finally reached her, I didn't know where to start. My eyes devoured her hungrily; she was even more beautiful than I remembered. I had to fight the urge to pull her into my arms.
My eyes fell on the sparkling green stone in the ring on her finger. A pain more excruciating than any I had ever endured ripped through my heart and I flinched. Deso’s eyes followed mine; she saw my gaze lock with her ring. I saw her right hand slide over to cover her left hand and hide the ring from view. If only it were that easy. We stood staring at each other, unsure. I refused to believe I was too late.
“I remember,” I said, so softly I didn't know if she heard me. For a while we just stood there, each lost in the other’s gaze. How could I explain to her, the person I truly loved, that my memory loss, was to blame for forgetting her. How could I explain that my amnesia had driven me into Clara’s arms. I couldn’t because, the truth was I had forgotten her. I had created a new life without her. And the thought was excruciating. I could not at this stage imagine what I had put her through. I was guilty for forgetting her and our love, and I did not deserve her forgiveness. The thought caused a cold tremble to slowly crawl up my spine.
It looked like she wanted to say something but changed her mind.
“You look beautiful,” I croaked out, to my disgust.
I cleared my throat and tried again, forcing more confidence into my tone.
“You really do look amazing,” I whispered when she didn't reply.
I saw her lips tremble, but she made no move toward me. Either she was unaffected by my sudden appearance or she had a better hold on her emotions. The diamond stones around her eyes were transparent, indicating she had learned to control her emotions...or she really didn't feel a thing. I chose to believe the former.
There were voices outside the door. Soon the guards were banging on it, trying to gain entry into the hall.
I refused to believe this was it. For the first time, her eyes, which had been glued to mine, roamed over my body. I saw her violet orbs become round when they fell on the unmistakable tattoos on my arms. A small frown of confusion etched her brow; she knew what she saw but obviously couldn't make sense of why these markings were on my body.
My hands had a mind of their own as I reached out to her. I didn't miss that she instinctively recoiled from me and then she stopped herself.
“Deso, I can never begin to explain how sorry I am for everything that has happened,” I declared passionately, my hands frozen in mid-air.
I dropped my hands but didn't allow myself to touch her; my fingers only lingered over her arms and I could feel the heat of her.
“I’d never do anything to hurt you intentionally.”
“You shouldn't be here,” she finally whispered.
I released a breath and couldn't help the small smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. Her voice ran over me like honey. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, at least she had spoken.
“I had to try, Deso. I had to let you know I could never intentionally forget about you!” I replied vehemently.
After a few heartbeats, she still said nothing. I feared that was the end of the conversation. Then she said, “How…?”
“The night before I remembered everything I couldn't sleep and sat gluing the pieces of the mirror together.”
I could have imagined it, but I thought I saw a glint of amusement in her eyes.
The incessant banging of the guards was getting hard to ignore. I knew time was running out.
“You ... look bigger ... older,” she whispered out of the blue.
I caught the vulnerable look in her eyes before she hid it behind her mask.
That was all I needed. There was so much I wanted to tell her, about my new abilities and why my body looked like I’d spent hours physically training. But that could all wait.
I finally encircled her arms with my hands and this time she didn't flinch. Her skin felt so good in my grasp.
“I know I’ve made mistakes, and I want to spend the rest of my life making it up to you.”
She looked at me and this time I visibly flinched. In her eyes, I could see the hurt and betrayal she felt. I still couldn't believe I had forgotten her.
“Tell me you don't love me,” I whispered.
She swallowed but didn't say anything.
“I want to hear you say it! Say you don't love me,” I demanded, shaking her softly.
“I don't ... I don't love ... you,” she stuttered. A tear rolled down her face.
The words hurt me more than I anticipated but I didn't believe her. Her eyes conveyed a different story.
“Well I, Princess Deso, will love you for the rest of my life. I’ll love you. Till. The. Last. Breath. Leaves. My. Body!” I said passionately, emphasizing the last words in a staccato manner.
Tears freely rolled down her cheeks.
I didn't hesitate and crushed her lips to mine. She offered no resistance. Her arms crawled around my neck and pulled me even closer. Our bodies molded to each other despite the layers of silk and lace between us.
The kiss was urgent and passionate. We were both starved after months without the other. I hungrily kissed every inch of her lovely neck and cheeks. She tilted her head, allowing me easy access. I placed both my hands on the sides of her face and deepened the kiss. When our lips hesitantly left each other, she closed her eyes and tilted her forehead, resting it on mine.
“I love you, too,” she whispered.
Those four small words gave me immense joy; I picked her up and twirled her around. She squealed with giggles and I joined in, laughing at her glee.
When I slowly dropped her back to the floor, I knew what I needed to do. But not there.
“Where’s your room? I have something for you,” I said.
Deso didn't argue, as she sensed the urgency in me. She ran toward the large wooden doors but instead of exiting them, she pushed a hidden panel next to them. The wall on the right side of the room slid open. Seconds before entering, I pulled my sword free from the large golden door handles.
We had just run into a darkened passage, with Duke leading the way, when the brick wall slid closed. I heard dozens of guards stream into the ceremonial hall, unaware we had exited through the hidden passage. As we ran through the cobweb-infested passage, oil lamps magically sprang to life. We ran for some time, hand in hand. Deso’s free hand was clutching most of her silken gown. The rest trailed behind her like a waterfall.
We exited behind a tapestry that hung in the main passage and led to the bedrooms. Deso’s room was only a few feet away. We both laughed and ran toward it. Deso was no longer clutching her dress; it billowed beautifully behind her like wings as she ran. Her hair had escaped from its styled prison and strands were fluttering around her face. She truly took my breath away. The stones around her eyes were a deep pink and I found myself smiling, knowing that our love could outlast anything that was flown in our path.
When we reached the doors, she swung them open with her mind. Once inside, she shut them. We were giggling and breathing heavily. She bent down and smothered Duke with little kisses, finally giving him a proper greeting. I led her to the balcony, and we stood outside with the waterfall cascading beside us, crashing on the rocks below. The water vapors rose and fell around us and the lush landscapes spanned as far as we could see, rising to the imposing mountain ranges which merged with the bright blue sky. We both took a few seconds to catch our breaths.
Deso peered at me curiously but didn't ask any questions.
I was nervous as hell. My palms started to sweat, but I knew, with every fiber of my being, that this was what I was destined for. I just wished that I could have given her the fairy-tale proposal she deserved.
“Growing up, I always felt different. I knew my dad wanted me to be a lawyer and work at his firm even though that wasn’t what I was destined for. And when we moved to Spain, I hated it. I felt more out of place than ever,” I said, rambling away. “But then I met you and my whole world changed. Everything started to make sense. I started to realize what it was I was destined to do.”
I gazed at her with love, then continued.
“I fell in love with you before I fell in love with Nevrhada. Your world became mine and the more time I spent in it, the less I wanted to be a part of mine. I love you, Deso. I cannot tell you how much, but I want to spend the rest of our lives showing you,” I finished and fell to my knee. Deso peered at me in shock.
I removed the precious box from my pocket and held it out to her.
“I cannot imagine a life without you, and I don't want to. Will you marry me?” I asked. I removed the ring that didn't belong on her finger and dropped it to the floor. In its place, I slipped my great-grandfather’s ruby-diamond ring.
Deso lifted her hand to peer at the sparkling ring as if to make sure it truly existed.
“Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you!” she cried happily, her eyes spilling with tears of joy.
I jumped to my feet and couldn't help but kiss her. “I’d have liked to have been a bit more romantic, but I didn't think that would be an option due to time constraints,” I said between the kisses.
“This is perfect! With Nevrhada’s plains beneath us and the sun as our witness, this is all we need. Besides, a man riding a horse into a castle with a sword in one hand—I don't think it gets more romantic than that,” she said.
“Yes, wait until you hear how my day has been before I saw you,” I replied with a lopsided grin.
We spent the next few minutes catching up. She told me that her family had spent the last few months driving back the demons from the Forest of Nightmares. Everything was mostly politics, except for the last two months when she had become openly engaged to the centaur. A lot of planning and celebrations had begun for the upcoming wedding. Deso didn't look guilty when she spoke of it; it was a thing of the past. Now we had to convince her family to see our point of view.
First, I mentioned my newfound abilities and couldn't help but boast about my strength and healing ability.
“You’re joking. All your wounds heal?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yes, and it’s extraordinary how quickly I can heal. The strength I have is beyond anything you’ve seen. I picked up my Jeep without breaking a sweat!”
I also told her about my dad being back, rekindling with Mom. I mentioned the school spring dance and a few of the parties I’d been to. I said that next weekend I’d be flying to LA with my friends for my eighteenth birthday.
“It was my dad’s idea. He thought it would be good for me to see my old friends and he suggested that I take my new friends with me,” I explained, shrugging. “I’d like you to be there, if you can make it,” I added.
“I’ll try my best,” she answered, squeezing my hand but looking delighted that I had asked her.
I didn't talk much about Clara, as I didn’t want to spoil the moment. I did, however, mention the demonic creatures I had killed in the forest with Duke. The undead, Clara had called them. I finally reached the part where I told Deso that I had helped her brother destroy a newborn dragon. She looked stunned and was in complete awe as my story unraveled. I didn’t leave out any details. At the end, she traced her fingers over my tattoos.
“This is unbelievable!” she said, captivated.
I was about to kiss her when her bedroom door burst open.
“Sister!” Prince Queron called and walked out onto the balcony. “Father would like a word with you and Keith,” he said and nodded in my direction. Gone was any reservation he had previously harbored. Queron was open and accepting of me. Everything had changed between us after I’d killed the dragon.
Deso nodded and followed her brother without hesitation.
Just before I followed the siblings out of the room, I bent down to retrieve the emerald ring that belonged to Sir Flangas. I placed it in my pocket.
“Duke, stay!” I said and watched him obediently lie down on a plush carpet beside Deso’s bed.
Minutes later, Deso and I walked hand in hand into the library. I had rolled up my sleeves purely because I was getting warm, but I liked having the tattoos peek out on my forearm. Unlike when I had first entered the library many months earlier, when I’d met Deso’s parents, the room was a hive of activity. A group of centaurs was huddled together, talking loudly amongst themselves. Prince Ulric was casually sitting in a chair, talking to his father, the King. Queen Regan was directing chambermaids to place refreshments on nearby tables.
The room was precisely as I remembered it. Thousands of well-preserved novels lined the walls and extended up in a circular rotation, reaching the highest point of the ceiling. The large bay windows overlooking the waterfall were decorated with lavish pillows. The only thing absent was the glow of flames in the spectacular fireplace centered low in the middle of the room. My eyes fell on the only figure in the room that stood motionless, his eyes pinned on us. There was no mistaking Sir Flangas. He stood proud and tall amongst his soldiers. His chest was bare except for a silver-armored plate. His gaze didn’t miss the fact that Deso’s and my fingers were entwined. I was secretly elated that I was no longer threatened by him and I stood taller and prouder next to my princess.
“I think...” Deso began but I gently cut her off.
“There’s something I need to do first.”
I let go of her hand and walked over to the King. The room grew silent as everyone watched me. I bowed politely, first at the king and then at the queen, who was now standing at her husband’s shoulder.