Keeping to the shadows was second nature to Aerlene. It was what she had been doing her entire life. Having such an extraordinary twin had certainly helped in that aspect of her life. While everyone marveled at Kendrick's talents and abilities, she was free to skirt around unnoticed. As she successfully completed mission after mission, though, it was harder to remain unnoticed. Perhaps she was able to be so successful because she kept switching troops. Most guides were assigned one troop by the time they turned 16. Given that Ella didn't trust Aerlene (or Edan or Fett), the fairy refused to give the Kavich Guide one specific troop to serve . . . until now.
Obviously Ella had assigned Aerlene to Commander Deluvia's troop as punishment of some sort. Aerlene really hated that Ella won in so many ways because of this. The Commander had never truly trusted Aerlene. Even before Edan was banished, Patrick continually told her brother of his growing concerns that Aerlene had been gaining popularity with the Xamalian court.
"She is tied to Kendrick, Edan," she overheard Patrick tell her brother one night. "How can you trust her when she has a twin fighting for the west?"
"Well," her brother replied, coolly, "I have a brother that fights for Temoragu. Do you trust me?"
"It is different for your sister," Patrick waved him off, irritated. "She is his twin."
As much as Aerlene wished that she could deny that argument as easily as her eldest brother had, she couldn't. Though she hated to admit it, for as long as she could remember it seemed that she and Kendrick were connected. There were obvious connections, like how when Kendrick broke his arm, Aerlene had felt the pain as though it were her arm that had been ailing, but there were also less visible connections as well. Like how Kendrick was depressed for a month while Aerlene struggled internally, trying to break up with Kyle after she was banished.
Not that any of that mattered at the moment. For better or worse, Commander Deluvia was leading the troop that she was assigned to. It was the first time that Aerlene had ever served in one of Patrick's troops and it was painfully obvious to her that it had been the commander's choice. Indeed, the first day that Patrick had assembled the troop, it took him a good ten minutes to even look at her. The other warriors in Patrick's troop caught on to the fact that their commander didn't trust her. As the days progressed, the troop began siding with him, leaving Aerlene all by herself. The only other female in the troop was the Healer, and she seemed to like to be left alone.
Catching a glimpse of the scowl that seemed permanently attached to Patrick's face, Aerlene tried to understand why his profound hatred of her had been so surprising to her. Maybe it was because Aerlene had won over Patrick's daughter, so she thought that might translate to Patrick, but of course, it didn't. In fact, it almost seemed like it had the opposite effect and made him even more suspicious of her. Or perhaps it was because Aerlene still had Matilda's katana sheathed at her side, and Patrick saw that as bragging for killing her. Though Aerlene had nothing to do with Matilda's death, she did at least find that to be an acceptable reason for him to be pissed at her, and he certainly was that.
It had been three days since their troop left Xamalie, and Patrick hadn't said five words to her. The rest of the troop followed his lead, except for Nolan, who made a point of greeting her every morning and saying good night before bed at the conclusion of each day's hike. Patrick narrowed his eyes at his brother, but other than that, he didn't react. Seeing Nolan coming her way, Aerlene gave him a small smile.
"Good morning, Aerlene," Nolan said, a broad grin on his face. "How did you sleep?"
"Can't complain," she told him, holding his empty canteen out to him. As he did every morning, Nolan accepted it and proceeded to examine it to make sure that it was still empty before mixing his own fihae.
"You think that your fihae tastes better than mine?" he asked as he gave his canteen a good shake.
"I have no idea, Nolan," the Guide laughed. "Why do you ask?"
"Pat always says that I make horrible fihae, but from what I understand from pretty much everyone else is that fihae is just a really nasty drink, period. It doesn't matter who makes it," he said taking a nice, long swallow. "What have you heard about it?"
"Previously I would have agreed with you," Aerlene nodded. Turning to look at Patrick, she could see that he was still glaring at her. Swallowing a bitter taste in her mouth, she continued, "but now I'm not so sure. The Healer that was in our troop while we were on the rescue mission for you and your brother apparently figured out a way to make it taste better."
"Really?" Nolan asked, taking another deep drink of his concoction. "So, that Healer was able to save me and Pat and he improved the taste of fihae? Where did you find such a creature? Surely he is a mythical being."
"They found him in Mor," Patrick cut in, his voice tight. "I'm surprised Regan never told you about him."
"Wait," Nolan said, looking questioningly at his brother. "You knew the kid?"
"We met," he said shortly. "Sort of."
The response interested Aerlene, Nolan, and pretty much everyone else in the troop. Even the Healer seemed intrigued by Patrick's statement. Seeing the curious gazes, Patrick sighed and continued, "I saw him on my last trip before Mor fell. He was a tall kid, given how scrawny he was at the time. But looking into his eyes, I could see an immense amount of strength, and I was interested in getting to know the Healer that was responsible for why Mor had been holding its own for so long."
Cal was strong, Aerlene had to give him credit for that. But of course, he had to be, to survive as a bastard in Viger.
"How did he manage to stay out of Xamalie's clutches if he was such a talent?" Titus asked, giving Patrick a measured look.
"Because Cal was a bastard," Ryleigh said softly, speaking for one of the first times that Aerlene had heard her. "He was lucky in that way."
"Lucky?" Nolan asked, lifting his eyebrows in a confused look. "How do you mean?"
"Bastards don't have many advantages over everyone else, but the fact that they are invisible to the fairies is certainly a plus in their favor. If you are invisible to the fairies, you are invisible to the war."
Aerlene considered that statement for a moment. Initially, she wanted to disagree with Ryleigh, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that the Moran was right. Of all the traveling that Aerlene had done during the five years that she was banished, the only bastard she had heard about was Cal, and that was because she was looking for him. But even while searching, she did not turn over much. She hadn't even learned his name until he was standing two feet in front of her.
"You sounded like you knew him," Patrick said slowly to the girl.
Ryleigh glanced over to him and nodded. "I did know him. He showed me how to make a couple remedies before he left to help your daughter."
The accusation was subtle, but poignant. Clearly, Ryleigh thought that Cal's death fell directly in line with his agreeing to serve the Lieutenant.
Feeling an uncomfortable silence about to fall over the troop, Aerlene tried to subdue its presence by clearing her throat and saying, "Let's head out."
Hiking had always been a relaxing activity for Aerlene, but in this troop, it was the most strenuous part of the day, because it was when Patrick was physically closest to her. Patrick had always liked hiking at the front of the line, right behind his Guide. Aerlene had hoped that he would change his normal stance since she was his current guide, but he hadn't done that yet. Though it was obvious that he wanted to; well, wanted to switch spots or kill her. And killing her would have been the easiest thing for him to do, as the only person that she was positive would try to save her was Nolan, who was at the very end of the line. He was the farthest person from her for most of the day. Aerlene wasn't positive, but she thought that Patrick had caught on to her discomfort and that seemed to perk him up a little. She really didn't like that.
But still, she was grateful that Patrick was the Commander of the squadron. He had managed to win over every member of the troop, with the exception of Ryleigh. Aerlene didn't know what the girl had against the Deluvia brothers, but she really seemed to dislike them. Aerlene had never seen a man as skilled at manipulating people's emotions as Patrick was. Certainly she knew that he was capable of this, but she had forgotten just how good he was at it. When he wasn't glaring at her, Aerlene had actually forgotten that he couldn't stand her. Lucky for her though, Patrick seemed quite capable of reminding her of that if she overlooked that fact for very long.
Sighing, Aerlene tried to clear her mind of those thoughts and focus on something else. Immediately, her mind jumped to the ever-present problem of getting her twin out of the Monan Regna. No matter how she approached the situation, she always ended up with the solution that it would be impossible. Kendrick did nothing that would put him at risk, and fighting Nolan in person would do more than that - it would kill him. There was no way that Aerlene could conceive of getting Kendrick out of his home. If they couldn't lure Kendrick out, then they would have to go in. The problem with that, of course, was the fact that she didn't know where Kendrick lived. The only people she was sure knew that location were her dad and youngest brother, and they wouldn't tell her where Kendrick lived if the reason she was asking was to help her troop kill him. There was one other person who might know, and that was Edan. Though Kendrick moved every time that Edan managed to find him, the fact that Edan had found him several times was promising. The problem with that solution however was the fact that Commander Deluvia swore that he would kill Edan if he ever saw him again.
Still, there was a very strong possibility that even if Aerlene didn't ask her brother to help, Kelly Deluvia would. After all, Edan trained her and she seemed inclined to give him a little bit of leeway in the affair of her mom's death, something that her dad could not do.
So, how do I handle this question? Should I tell Patrick the truth or should I lie and hope that his daughter tells him for me? Considering the fact that he had already spoken to his daughter twice and still seemed ok, Aerlene was betting that Kelly had kept any intention of meeting with Edan to herself. While Kelly had the luxury of being able to keep that secret from him, Aerlene did not, not if keeping the secret would put the troop at greater risk, and Aerlene could think of few things that would anger Patrick Deluvia greater than the knowledge that he would have to not only see Edan again, but quite possibly work with him.
Calling the troop to halt for lunch, Aerlene passed out all of the canteens, saving Patrick's for last. He must have read something in her body language that he didn't like, because he was glaring at her by the time she reached him.
"Commander," she said, nodding at him as she held his fihae canteen.
"Aerlene," he forced himself to reply.
Taking the fact that he had spoken to her as a good sign, the guide nodded and said, "I think you should know something about our mission."
He tipped his head forward, but said nothing.
"You know that Lieutenant Deluvia was trained by Edan, right?"
Immediately, Patrick tensed. Balling his hands into fists, Aerlene could see the depth of the rage that still riled under the surface of his calm demeanor. Still, he did nod, to say that he had known that.
Giving him a careful look, Aerlene said in a measured tone, "Lieutenant Deluvia is probably going to use him at some point on this mission, and that means that you are probably going to have to work with him."
And just like that, Patrick lost it. Springing to his feet, Patrick lunged for her, but before he could take a step forward, his brother intercepted him. Apparently, he had moved closer to them while she was talking to the Commander. Catching Patrick's first attempted grab, Nolan tried to disable him, but he was unable to do it. Lifting a knee, Patrick was able to ram his leg into his brother's stomach.
"Pat! Knock it off!" Nolan shouted as he ducked under Patrick's punches. Patrick did get in a couple blows, but Nolan was able to defend pretty easily. After all, the Deluvia brothers had a lot of experience fighting one another. Thus, the fight did not take long. After a good, solid punch to Nolan's ribs, Patrick regained most of his control and he let his fists fall.
For a few moments, the two of them just looked at each other. After it was clear that Patrick had truly regained his composure, Nolan finally allowed himself to tend to his injuries. Letting out a soft chuckle to break the silence, Nolan said easily, "Your right hook is getting better. We all know you've got me beat in the legs, but I think your hands are finally starting to make a difference too."
Glancing at his brother, Patrick offered, "Sorry, Nolan."
"Don't worry about it," Nolan grumbled, massaging his ribs. "It's not the first time you've punched me and we both know that it will not be the last."
Patrick replied with a half-hearted grin before turning a much sterner face to Aerlene.
"We are not discussing the idea of Edan helping in this mission," he said slowly. Narrowing his eyes, he asked, "Is that understood?"
Aerlene gave a very slow nod and assented, "Yes, Commander."
That answer seemed to satisfy Patrick and he walked over to an open patch of grass and sat down, by himself. The rest of the troop quickly lost interest in the proceedings once Patrick left and they all returned to their lunches. Coming over and putting a hand on Aerlene's shoulder, Nolan said quietly, "You may want to refrain from mentioning your brother to Pat. If Kelly does use him, let her be the one to bring the news to him."
With one final squeeze of his hand on her shoulder, Nolan left. As Aerlene watched his retreating figure, she realized that the best way to handle Patrick dealing with her brother was to not have him deal with it at all. Sadly, though, it didn't look like the universe was in the mood for the easy way of things at the moment.