It was the voice of Felix and, a moment later, he appeared from within the dense thicket of the forest. He walked towards them, expecting cheerful greetings. Instead, he was startled by the sight that greeted him.
He was startled to find the tense air surrounding Lakshman, Ondine and the cat. Lakshman was darting his eyes around nervously, Ondine wore an angry face, but the cat was lazily lying near Lakshman’s had.
“What happened here?” he asked cautiously as he walked towards them. “Were you attacked by something?”
“No!” Ondine said angrily.
“Okay…” Felix said uncertainly. “Then, why are you lot looking as if you had a fight or something.”
“It’s probably because we did!” Ondine said, looking upset as she glanced at Lakshman.
“I don’t know what is going on!” Lakshman said honestly. “We were just talking casually, but they got very angry at me all of a sudden.”
“I see…” Felix said and he looked at both Ondine and the cat. “So then, what was the reason you were angry at Lakshman?”
“T-That’s because master said he loves us a friends and it really frustrated me!” Ondine said in frustration and the cat meowed in consent.
“See!” Lakshman said as he gestured towards Ondine and the cat. “They are angry about that and I don’t understand why. Is it wrong to love your friends?”
“N-No master, that’s not the issue here,” Ondine said, looking uncomfortable as she avoided looking at him.
“Okay, but please explain why you are angry at me. I’m really confused!” Lakshman demanded as he stared at her.
“Okay, okay. Settle down you,” Felix said, interrupting them. “Now, let me get this right… Ondine, you begin by explaining from the start.”
“I only asked him if he… um… loved that me and that cat,” Ondine said, looking slightly embarrassed.
“Ah! I see, I see,” Felix exclaimed and he nodded as though he understood.
“What?” Lakshman said, looking surprised by Felix’s reaction. “Do you understand something?”
“Possibly,” Felix said simply before speaking to Ondine. “In response to your question, he said he loved the two of you as friends. Am I correct?”
“Yes!” Ondine said looking frustrated and the cat meowed. “Now I feel stupid for asking the question!”
“Oh, calm down will you!” Felix said, becoming slightly irritated. “Ondine, aren’t you forgetting that Lakshman is only twelve years old?”
Ondine had no words to respond with. She simply looked uncomfortable as he avoided his gaze. Felix smiled at her and inwardly he chuckled. If he had chuckled outward, he might have a battle on his hands.
“Be reasonable,” Felix said in a gentle voice. “Lakshman is only twelve years old. How do you expect a twelve year old to understand the true meaning behind your words, Ondine?”
“B-But!” Ondine began in interjection. “Master behaviour is nothing like a twelve year old!”
“Yes… I am well aware of it,” Felix said patiently. “You are forgetting the fact that he is raised in a mixed way which sort of makes it difficult to tell that he is only a twelve year old kid.”
“It’s a tall order to ask such a question, Ondine. I am astounded.”
“Fine, I understand,” Ondine said and she looked at him in irritation.
They turned to see Lakshman looking at the m blankly. They had completely forgotten that he was there listening to them. Fortunately, Lakshman did not understand what they were talking about. However, he understood there was something strange about their behaviour.
“Is there something else to ‘love’ than what I know?” he asked cautiously.
He was cautious because he did not want to be on the receiving end of another outburst from Ondine.
“There is,” Felix said with a nod of his head. “However, you are not old enough to understand.”
“Unfortunately, no, but rest assured! You will grow up and I’m confident you will come to know about that other definition for ‘love’.”
“I-I see…” Lakshman said hesitantly. “Sure, but why is everyone saying the same thing?”
“Saying the same thing?” Felix said in surprise.
“Yes,” Lakshman said as he nodded at Felix. “Ondine said the same thing about me being not old enough to know.”
Felix’s eyes widened slightly and he turned to look at Ondine with a raised eyebrow. Ondine quickly looked away from him.
“Oh really?” he said softly and he smiled at her.
“I-I accidently said that when I was really frustrated,” Ondine said, still looking away from him.
“And then she told me to grow up quickly!” Lakshman told Felix.
This time, Felix widened his eyes and he started to laugh. Ondine swung around and glared at him fiercely.
“It’s not funny!” she exclaimed and her hands were close to pulling out her swords. “I just lost myself due to frustration, that’s all!”
“Okay, okay! I get it!” Felix quickly said and he waved his hands at her in protest. “Now, please calm down Ondine.”
Ondine glared at him for a few more seconds. Then she looked away with an “Hmph!”
“Haha, it’s good to be young,” Felix muttered with a small smile. Then he turned back to face all of them as he said “Anyway, my work here is done! Now, let’s get going to the Water Spirits area.”
“Okay!” Lakshman said brightly and was secretly glad to be on their way.
He looked down at the cat which was watching him curiously. He smiled and rubbed its head once more.
“I need to go now Kitty,”
The cat looked upset at his words, but he grinned as he continued rubbing its head.
“I promise I’ll come and play sometime soon!” he said with a grin on his face.
The cat looked up at him and looked happy. Felix watched them and he frowned slightly.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, but… why are you calling that cat ‘Kitty’?” he asked Lakshman.
“Well… I didn’t like to call it ‘cat’ or ‘it’ so often. So, I gave it a cute nickname like Kitty.”
“Right…” Felix said with a sigh. Then he looked down at the cat and asked “Are you okay with him calling you that?”
The cat responded firmly and Felix sighed once more.
“Well, since the cat is fine with it and the name maker is okay with it, I don’t see any point in arguing about it,” he said and he smiled at them.
Lakshman rose to his feet and, together, they set off. The cat remained behind and meowed them goodbye and they waved back. Afterwards, they continued to walk silence as they walked deeper into the forest.
“It feels as though we’re getting into deeper thicket here,” Felix said when he brushed aside the low hanging leaves for the umpteenth time.
“We, Water Spirits, prefer to seclude ourselves from human settlements,” Ondine said. “Which is why the deeper we go, the denser the forest becomes.”
“Makes sense,” Felix said with a nod. “There may be peace, but memories of the clashes of the past are hard to forget.”
“What do you mean?” Lakshman asked with a puzzled expression.
“Long ago, the Humans and the Spirits waged war against each other,” Felix explained to Lakshman. “The Humans and the Spirits were evenly matched. Each side possessed magic and power to equal the opponents. Thus, it was a brutal war. Many lives were lost and many more were sacrificed.”
Lakshman gulped and he looked at Felix with wide eyes in shock.
“It took a lot of man power from the Phoenix Clan to stop the war and bringer peace back to order. In the process, many brave Phoenix Clan members put down their lives for the greater good.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Ondine said and she nodded as she remembered something. “Our elder told us great tales of how the Phoenix Clan defeated the instigators of the war and brought peace once more between us and Humans.”
“It was not easy defeating the instigators,” Felix said with a serious expression on his face. “From what the stories told, the Phoenix Kings of that time had difficulty tracking them down. So the Phoenix Sages of that time used their super sensing magic skills to track them down.”
“Why couldn’t they simply attack all out? Wouldn’t that have made it easier?”
“Don’t be stupid,” Felix said sharply. “If the Phoenix Kings attacked recklessly, it would have made us become the enemies of the Spirits and that simply won’t do. After all, we are the Guardians who keep the peace between races.”
“Ah, that is true,” Ondine said and she nodded in understanding. “Which reminds me, how old are you Felix?”
“My age?” Felix asked, sounding surprised. “Why do you want to know my age?”
“Oh, it’s just… you and Indra seem to know each other for a long time. So I was curious about your age.”
“For your information, I’m only thirty three, same age as Indra,” Felix said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Wow!” Ondine said in amazement. “You and Indra don’t look your age!”
“That’s because we are amazing!” Felix said and he laughed heartily
“Right…” Ondine said as stared at him with half closed eyes. “Still, you will outlast Indra in age. After all, don’t all of the Phoenix Clan members live up to two-hundred to three-hundred years or so I heard from our elders.”
“Now you are being rude Ondine,” Felix said curtly. “Right now the Phoenix Clan possesses such amazing skills, but it was all thanks to the efforts of the Phoenix Titan.”
It suddenly happened. Lakshman clutched his head as it throbbed in pain upon hearing the name ‘Phoenix Titan’. This was not the first time this happened. Each time that name was said aloud in front of him, his head would start hurting and he did not understand why.
“Hey, Lakshman,” Felix called him as he and Ondine were some distance ahead of him. “What are you doing? You’re going to be left behind!”
“Ah… coming!” Lakshman replied.
He rubbed his head as the pain receded. He shook his head to clear away the useless thoughts. Thinking about why he suddenly pain will not take him anywhere. That is what he thought as he hurried to catch up with Felix and Ondine way ahead of him.