Chapter 4: Immunity Three

When the rhythmic stirring came to a sudden, unexpected halt, Healer Destan looked up from the unconscious boy and toward his apprentice.

Healer Kendra's hold on the stirring rod slackened as she looked fearfully at the entrance of the compartment.

Curious, he turned, his eyebrows climbing when he saw the dark figure waiting at the threshold. It was rare to see such an influential man concerned with recovering patients, but then again, this was a special patient, was it not?

"Lord Josiah," he greeted casually, "good that you're here."

Taciturn eyes leveled the female Healer with an impatient stare.

Ah, secrecy. 


Healer Destan nodded to his assistant. "I will take it from here, Kendra."

The young Unda Healer abruptly nodded and fled the room. Destan sighed, watching the blonde-haired woman's hasty retreat.

"How is he?" The Igni king inquired.

Destan clicked his tongue and pressed a hand against the child's forehead.

"You were fortunate to bring a medical team on your excursion, My Lord. Otherwise, you would have certainly lost him." His fingers gently patted Ezra's forehead. "He is still recovering. It's remarkable, the boy's ability. Frightening and disconcerting, yes, but also remarkable."

Used to the man's quiet demeanor, Destan continued.

"I helped him come into this world as a newborn. It never crossed my mind to test the boy's tolerance to Elemental magic. I'd never needed to use it on him as a child, as he was always a very healthy boy."

Demonstrating, he conjured up a small, innocent sphere of water. With a silly grin, he splashed it toward Ezra. As soon as it encountered the finely sculptured face, the sphere of water disappeared like smoke. Even the pillow around his head remained dry, unaffected.

"Fascinating!" In all his years, he'd never... "But it does come at a terrible price."

"He's immune to your healing," Josiah conjectured correctly.

Destan nodded distractedly. Most water Elementals, who chose not to embrace the offensive side of combat, decided to learn the ways of healing with their gift. Once a prosperous warrior himself, Destan had willingly left behind the prestige of a warrior to learn how to heal. He never looked back.

"I am fortunate to have access to the alternative healing remedies the Igni people brought with them when our kingdoms united."

Before gaining the water Elementals as allies, the Igni people relied on tonics and salves for healing. That, in itself, was an explanation of why the Igni Empire had fallen before Unda. The Unda people could heal faster with water Elementals.

In the end, they had outnumbered the Igni Empire quite significantly.

"You were able to create a tonic for him, I imagine."

"Yes," Destan confirmed, glancing toward the workbench. "We are also creating a tonic for him to ingest during the next few days. He will need to take it as instructed in order to fully heal his internal organs."

He looked back down at the child. It had only been a few hours ago when they'd carried the young man aboard the train. The boy's screams were both piercing and hoarse as he had grabbed at an imaginary infliction on his chest. It had taken Destan a few minutes of intensive questions before he understood the situation.

They were fortunate they had enough supplies on the train to treat Ezra. Lord Josiah really had no idea how close they were to losing the royal heir.

"What else?" Josiah suddenly demanded, easily noticing Destan's reluctance. "Were you able to deduce how it happened?"

The Unda elder nodded. "It is called Exsequor Healing."

The Igni was silent for a moment.

"To follow," the man identified the delineation with ease.

Destan chuckled. "You're correct. Exsequor means 'to follow', but in this case, it translates into, 'I follow or accompany to the grave'. The Healer, in this case, Ezra, is taking the pain from the victim and transferring it to himself."

He turned, catching the dark, ominous look across Josiah's face.

"That is an incredibly reckless thing to do. It's a habit that needs to be broken."

"Most definitely," the Healer agreed wholeheartedly. "I've seen Exsequor Healing before with children of water Elementals."

When a water Elemental conceived a child with a non-Elemental, their offspring could be one of three things; a full-blooded Elemental, a child who exhibited absolutely no signs of harnessing the Element, or a hybrid of sorts. Most hybrid children could not conjure enough water to successfully battle, so they often tried healing.

Thus, the term Exsequor Healing had originated.

"However," Destan started, "what little healing these hybrid children can accomplish is a backlash on their own person, though, it's not quite as severe as this."


"The Exsequor Healers I've come in contact with experience pain for a few moments before the small traces of water magic in their bloodline absorbs it away. In Ezra's case, he has the ability to absorb the wound, the internal damage, but not recover. Whatever water magic King Calder passed on to him is insignificant."

Josiah seemed to digest the information given to him before he gestured to the boy.

"The scars on his hands. How old do you imagine they are?"

Destan frowned at the sudden change of topic, peering down at the fingerless gloves. He hadn't noticed the gloves earlier, as he was too busy stabilizing the child. He reached for them, his fingers barely brushing the leather before the sleeping boy curled his hands defensively.

It was a strong defense mechanism and an indication of extreme self-consciousness.

Destan's curious nature got the best of him.

He reached for the boy's hand again, establishing a solid hold on the glove before unfastening it. As he tugged it off, he paused at the pale and glimmering scars.

"Oh." He breathed, touching the scars. He grinned tightly as Ezra pulled away from him again. "Undeniably caused by fire. I would say they're quite old. Perhaps older than ten years?"

Looking at the motionless figure of the Igni Lord, Destan realized Josiah was waiting for him to piece together something vital. When he mentally calculated Ezra's age, and the estimated time of the scars, it came to him quickly.

He grunted in surprise, turning back to Ezra and touching the scarred hands once more. Studying them, he could only imagine the pain the boy had gone through.

"He tried to heal Ember as a child," Destan concluded. "That night they escaped the palace, he wanted to heal his mother from the wounds she sustained from you." He wouldn't elaborate much on the event, as he didn't want to misstep with Josiah.

"I'm certain that was the case," the fire Elemental mused, looking down at Ezra.

"As a child, he was rather expressive and gentle. He would have seen his mother's pain and reached out to touch her, wanting to make her 'better'. Yet, instead of just transferring the damage internally, he also incurred the external injuries, the scarring."

Destan nodded sharply.

"It is likely he practiced throughout his childhood," he said. "He was able to take the internal damage today without incurring a superficial wound on the outside." He tossed the leather glove on the nightstand. "I'm certain I don't have to stress how dangerous this 'gift' is, My Lord."

The Unda Healer pivoted around to peer at Josiah.

"The internal bleeding, the scarring, the secrecy, it all spells trouble. The term Exsequor has never held such literal meaning until now. This boy will follow the victim to the grave, only in this case, he will take the victim's place."

Josiah glided away from the door and came to a stop at the foot of Ezra's bed. His eyes were harsh as he assessed the sleeping figure. "He has a few weaknesses we need to address," he said. "I will need to work with him."

"As will I," Destan volunteered. "I can teach him how to take only a margin of the pain and not the entirety."

Orange eyes flashed at Destan, instantly putting the Healer on guard. "I plan to teach him how to put a wounded animal out of its misery, not heal it," Josiah informed sharply. "Do not encourage the boy to commit suicide."

Sensing he had overstepped his place, Destan conceded.

"Of course." He bowed his head passively. "I hope you will allow me to assess him further once we return to the academy, My Lord. If he practiced healing on Ember, I don't know what kind of diseases or internal damage he absorbed from her. I must make sure Ezra takes full repossession of his body."

Josiah didn't appear to be listening.

His full attention belonged to the young man on the bed. Something menacing churned in those eyes before they shuttered and turned detached.

In the end, Josiah inclined his head. "Just don't make him your lab rat, Destan."

He turned his heel and swept toward the compartment door. Before he exited, he paused, his back facing the Healer.

"While you're at it, make sure you take that silly charm off his eyes."

Destan whirled around, nodding once as he observed the sleeping child. Eye charms were parlor tricks performed by people with the ability to practice sorcery.

Unfortunately, eye charms, if worn too long, could damage the lens of the eye. Checking the boy's eyesight needed to be added to the growing list, along with an in-depth checkup of his nutritional measurements.

The boy appeared a bit too scrawny for the age of twenty-one.

* * * *

Shame colored Micah's cheeks as he dropped the staff again.

Trying to avoid Master Idris' gaze, he stooped low to pick up the weapon. Just as his fingers curled around the staff, however, a heavy pressure applied itself to the back of his neck, stilling him.

"Never lose focus. Never give your enemy such an advantage. You're dead."

Micah dismissed the staff altogether and straightened. "We're only sparring and you are not my enemy. Maybe if you'd just let me pick up the staff without interference, I can learn this faster."

Idris' battle-weary face scowled at Micah's stubborn pride. With a powerful sweep, he knocked Micah's feet out from underneath him. The young teen lost his balance and landed hard on the ground.

He hissed in pain. In humiliation.

"The only way to excel in combat is to practice as if you are in combat, silly boy!" Idris rammed the end of his staff right between Micah's legs, just a hairbreadth away from his groin. "You have too much pride. Lose it now!"

Micah pressed his lips together and stood calmly from the ground. He brushed off the back of his trousers and leveled Idris with a look of disdain.

"Forget about this. All I need is a job at your tavern. I don't need to learn how to spar." With one last superior sniff, Micah turned his heel and made a move to leave the tavern.

"Just how many times have you applied to Concordia Academy? And got rejected thereafter?"

Micah stopped in his tracks. "Twice. But you knew that already, didn't you?" he inquired slyly.

"Twice you were saved from bruising your ego and damaging your pride. You better thank the high gods you weren't accepted."

That got a rise out of Micah. He pivoted around, furious. "Excuse me?"

Idris grunted, running a hand through his short, greying hair. "Concordia Academy isn't only about education, boy! It's a military school."

"I am well aware of that," Micah replied promptly, reverting back to his casual drawl. "Did you think my intelligence is just as bad as my sparring? Of course I knew of the military influence. The academy offers the students—"

"Yes, yes, they tell applicants that swordsmanship will be taught to all the new students." Idris pressed the end of his staff into the ground and leaned his weight against it. "That's rather irrational of you if you believe the majority of the new students haven't already learned how to wield a sword. Most of the children are of noble blood. They have been training since they were children."

He thrust his thumb toward a motionless and coldly observing Micah.

"You're already at a disadvantage because of your poverty. You aren't an Elemental and you aren't of noble blood. Your intellect probably isn't all that great either."

Micah pressed his feet together, straightening to his full height. "What, exactly, are you trying to—"

He cut Micah off.


"You think you can go places with just book smarts, boy? You'll struggle at the academy if you enter without sparring skills. Everyone will look down on you. You'll be years behind those who received special training as children. By the time you catch up, your reputation will be soiled." Idris raised his eyebrows. "You have the arrogance and attractiveness of a noble, though. Maybe that will give you a few bonus points... just probably not the kind of points you're looking for."

Micah stood there as Idris' harsh, but true words sunk in. He'd never thought about the other students before. For all the speech, the etiquette, and the educational lessons his mother had given him, he'd believed he was already ahead.

But those children of nobles, of the elite society, would be getting the same lessons. He'd be on equal, if not lower ground than those other students.

He'd be at a disadvantage.

Idris sighed and pushed off from his staff, approaching Micah. As he placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder, his face softened.

"Pride is good to have, Micah. But before you can have pride, you need to learn how to fail."

"Were you ever as bad as I was?" Micah countered.

The old warrior chuckled merrily and nodded. "Oh yes. It took me years to learn. And after I learned, I pushed myself harder, hoping to get some sort of leverage against those that were Elementals."

His yellow eyes were kind, warm as he ruffled Micah's hair.

"Don't be afraid to fail in front of me. I'm only trying to make you stronger."

Micah stared into Idris' eyes, his respect for the man finally establishing. "I understand, Master."

The loud clap of thunder stirred Micah from his deep sleep.

He inhaled deeply, hesitantly, hoping the pain he'd become accustomed to was no longer present. When the sheer agony did not spike, he exhaled with relief.

Micah hadn't expected Josiah and his men to succeed in healing him on time. The pain had been unbearable, but he distinctly remembered swallowing something that froze his insides and kept the flames at bay.

He had also remembered a man with long, blond hair standing over him. The man's white robes had indicated that he was a Healer, a highly educated Healer at that.

Slowly, Micah blinked open his eyes, catching the light dancing across the ceiling.

He furrowed his brows, looking above his bed and taking note of his surroundings. He was on a train, he realized, and the flickering lights on the ceiling came from the passing streetlamps.

Micah contemplated the high window above his bed before sitting up. He'd only been on a train once, and that had been years ago.

Standing up sluggishly, he planted his feet near the headboard. On his tiptoes, he stared out into the dark atmosphere.

Lightning veined across the sky and outlined the large, ominous clouds in the distance. The light patter of the rain against the windows turned soft, silent, before a gust of wind caused a downpour to smear the window, making it impossible to see clearly.

Micah pressed a hand against the glass, marveling at how fast they were going.

Used to the slow speed of horses and their inner-region transport system, he could not fathom moving at this speed. In the outskirt regions, technology hadn't become nearly as advanced as it was near the capital.

Keeping his attention on the passing scenery, his thoughts wandered.

He was finally alone.

He had finally broken ties with his mother.

Undeniably, he was elated with the idea, yet at the same time torn with guilt and uncertainty. Her fate—Idris' fate—would remain elusive to him. He did not anticipate Josiah telling him the full truth of what happened to them.

Until he had evidence of their fate, Micah would trust that his mentor and mother were alive.

As for Josiah, and what the man intended to do with him, Micah did not know. He had no way of bracing himself for what would come his way. He'd planned to keep his distance originally, but that was impossible now.

Josiah was already a step ahead in their game.

"Just like a stray kitten," the voice droned from the shadows. "Restless and curious."

Micah stared out the window, his pulse spiking in shock.

Gradually recovering from the surprise, Micah masked his emotions before calmly turning toward the figure at his bedside. He hadn't seen the man there. He hadn't even sensed him. It dawned on Micah that his training was in effect now.

Since a child, he knew this day would come. It both thrilled and terrified him.

He needed to keep his surprise—his emotion—in check. Each word, each expression would be calculated and appraised. A slip of concentration would be enough for Josiah to take advantage.

As Micah slowly sat back on the bed, his face remained clear of any worry, of any vulnerability.

"Josiah," Micah acknowledged neutrally.

Looking at the man, Micah wondered how he could have missed his presence.

Power shrouded the unofficial king, yet there was also something else around the man. It was dangerous, ominous, and it made Micah sit up and stay on guard. Something told him that if Josiah wanted to be overlooked, he could accomplish it. When he wanted to be noticed, it would be impossible to look away.

A faint smile traced the man's lips as Micah stubbornly held on to the silence.

"Not a single query about Master Idris or your mother? Impressive." Something shifted in Josiah, almost as if the man realized Micah wasn't as hopeless as he'd feared. "You were raised adequately. The least I can do is give my sister some credit."

"Some credit?" Micah repeated dryly, amused despite himself. "You're being rather partial. Who else would deserve that credit?"

A predator-like gleam brightened the man's eyes.

"As a child, you were around me for a time. As you know, children's minds are so very malleable. Easy to mold and shape."

They lapsed into silence once again, Micah trying to adjust to the situation, and Josiah merely observing him. They were both testing the waters. Not quite used to the other, but both destined to interact often with the other.

Micah ran a critical eye over the Igni king, trying to keep his face deadpan under the man's fixated scrutiny.

While Micah’s memory wasn’t entirely reliable, Josiah appeared the same. Unmarked by time. His features were still lineless, his eyes still intelligent and focused. Everything about him held the same intensity, not even Micah's dreams had exaggerated the man's dark allure.

Josiah traced a single finger against his bottom lip.

"You've grown handsomely," he remarked blatantly. "Just how I imagined you would."

Micah cocked his head to the side, smiling grimly. "Would you also give yourself credit for that... uncle?"

Serpentine eyes widened a fraction over Micah's cheeky comment before they narrowed with glee. "You do appear far more Igni than you do Unda, one of the reasons you were able to blend in so well in the outskirt regions."

"But that didn't hinder your efforts to find me, did it?"

Feeding the man questions was easier for Micah, at least in this stage.

Josiah hummed pleasantly. "I once told you I could find you anywhere."

Micah’s curiosity won out in the end. "How long have you tracked us?"

"Several days after you stepped foot outside the palace walls," Josiah replied frankly. "I had men and women assigned to live around you in each new village. Your mother could never identify moles. She was entirely clueless."

Micah pondered on this for a moment, instantly wondering why Josiah kept his distance and why he humored his mother into thinking she'd gotten away. Why would the man leave him with an unstable mother? Why would he allow Ember a victory?

"And Calder?" Micah inquired stiffly. "Does he know as much as you do?"

He needed to know how much Calder and Josiah interacted.

"Calder didn't have the necessary tools to find you. I did," Josiah claimed, continuing his examination of Micah.

It was a vague answer. It didn't give Micah any indication of how often Josiah and Calder confided in one another, and it didn't tell him if his father had any sense of his current location.

Micah clutched the bed sheets but kept his gaze cool, unperturbed.

"And what kind of tools would those be?" he asked.

It couldn't be manpower. Calder had the same number, if not more, men at his disposal. It wasn't gold, considering Calder certainly had more of that. As far as power was concerned, Micah assumed they were equals in that as well.

There was only one thing that Josiah possessed as an advantage over Calder, and Micah was willing to call the man's bluff.

"I wasn't aware that Chosen came equipped with tracking abilities."

Micah had taken the chance and addressed the unspoken issue hovering between them. He wanted to pretend he was unconcerned over the idea of being Josiah's Chosen, no matter how ill he became at the thought.

Otherwise, if he refused to even acknowledge it, it would give the man something to use against Micah.

Unexpectedly, Josiah stood from his chair. With a ridiculous amount of grace, he placed one hand on the bed and angled his body closer to Micah. A single finger brushed against the younger man's thigh, a seemingly accidental touch, but intentional in every way.

Micah tried not to flinch at the contact and found it even harder to remain neutral.

He didn't think he succeeded.

Josiah positioned his face on equal level with Micah, their eyes calmly battling the other.

She actually told you."

Josiah's earlier indifference was gone. In its place was wicked amusement.

He reached for Micah's chin, his fingers dancing away at the last moment to curl into the younger man's hair. There was nothing sensual about the touch, but rather heavy with cruel mockery. With a sharp tug, he pulled Micah's head back, exposing his throat.

Micah tried to conceal how uneasy he was with the contact, with the proximity. No matter how alluring it was to be close to someone so influential, Josiah's aura smothered him, overwhelmed him.

He still had a lot to learn.

Josiah knew it too.

Those burning eyes looked straight through Micah, discovering every flaw, turning over every weakness. Seeing it all and identifying what it all meant.

"You have nothing to be terrified about, child," Josiah mused slyly, recognizing Micah’s uncertainty, his unstable footing. "I have no interest in bonding with someone so weak."

It was both a relief and an insult.

Micah glared defiantly up at the Igni man, hating him more than ever. "I find that a relief," he replied through clenched teeth. "Consider it mutual."

With one hand still curled in Micah's hair, Josiah lifted his other hand and patted his cheek contemptuously.

"Don't be so insulted, Ezra," the man chastised unconcernedly. "You're an impressive surprise, but you have a way to go. You're completely under your mother's thrall."

Abruptly, he released Micah, and the younger man struggled to recover. He watched through shuttered eyes as Josiah withdrew, all but merging back into the shadows.

"I'm not under anyone's thrall," Micah informed briskly. "Nor will I ever be."

Josiah looked at him and then chuckled.

"Come now, my sister was entirely unbalanced when she left the palace. It wouldn't surprise me if she told you what was convenient to her cause. You pitied her and became her little weapon."

With a silent step closer, Josiah peered relentlessly down at Micah. His dark cloak moved against the sheets on the bed, swallowing the end of the mattress in a black void. Everything about his presence was suffocating, overpowering.

Josiah's presence turned Micah's blood cold.

Sadly, he enjoyed every minute of it.

"Perhaps I'm wrong," Josiah mused. "I will not pass judgement until I reacquaint myself with you. I imagine we will have some fascinating discussions in the near future. Until then, get some rest."

Micah strained his eyes, only seeing a weak outline of the man as he retreated toward the exit and out the compartment.

Waiting a minute after Josiah's departure, Micah slumped against his pillows and stared at the ceiling, his eyes unfocused. Many things remained unanswered and he was just as clueless about his situation as he was before their conversation.

Moreover, interacting with Josiah was what he had expected, just as stimulating and every bit exciting. Despite his unsteady footing opposite the other man, he had relished it. He knew he'd enjoy it, but he didn't know he'd enjoy it that much.

He would have to be careful.

Curling his shaking hands into fists, Micah exhaled slowly, marveling at the unfamiliar situation. Adapting to his current, unknown situation shouldn't be too problematic.

After all, acclimating to new circumstances was second nature to him after relocating to a new village several times as a child. However, underneath his elation at the new situation, he felt the growing nostalgia over his mother.

Was it wrong for him to miss his mother's abominable presence?


Pale eyes stared at the blackness. He thought it was rather ironic that he missed the woman who had molded him into such a twisted, unhinged individual.

It really must run in the family.

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