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Sins of the Father, cleansed in Dragon Fire

By darien
Backup thread

Private RP Jake is a 21 year old man trying to survive in Cajun country with his mother. After his mother dies he finds himself thrown into a different world where he learns the truth about his father and who he really is... The Xatius Empire is an industrious world of magic and sorcery. Until recently Xaitus was ruled with an iron fist by King Roland Barinthus the III. The Official word is he died of illness and age... others think he might have been poisoned. His only heir, his beloved daughter Princess Elsinore Aurelia Barinthus, is trapped in thick webbing of corruption that surrounds her. The Throne has only the king's Curia Regis to overlook the Kingdoms wellbeing, Barengarius Runard. For many years the Xaitus Empire has moved about the lands bringing other kingdoms into their fold, and allowing them to know proper civilization. There is of course the registry of magical users, since magic is strictly to be regulated. Any magi are to be conscripted to work in The Valley, mining crystals that power their industrious society. The only Kingdom left to join the Xaitus Empire, is the Kohan Empire. Who Xaiuts has been at war with for years now. Their stubborn king refuses to bow down to the Glory of Xaitus, and the only thing protecting the barbarous king of Kohan from the fiery wrath of Xaitus is The Neither... The Neither is large, dark, and barren. It is rocky, hot, full of magma, and sulphuric gasses. What little vegetation there is keeps to only the extremely rare marshy areas. There's no water, unless you have magic that can purify it, and even if you manage to avoid being burned up alive, you'll probably end up suffocating in the quicksand, the tar pits, or eaten alive by the creatures that live there. Scavenger Raptors terrorized the ground, and were possibly more terrifying to encounter than a Dravvus. Dravvus are scared creatures in all the kingdoms, as are many other creatures and spirits. Many different regions have different deities, and they are all maintained by The Papal Affini. Priests and Priestess that tend to community spiritual needs, maintain temples, and they keep the history of the land. Now they do what they can to avoid dissolvement under the Xaitus rule. The Papal Affini are the only ones keeping the temples safe from being used as tools by the Empire, and are the only ones that retain the ancient history of Riders, and the former kingdoms. Cast: Jackson "Jake" Lafaye - 21 - King Roland Barinthus III -Deceased Princess Elsinore Aurelia Barinthus -21 Curia Regis Barengarius Runard - ?? Heathcliff Thome - Captain of the Guard -25, and youngest Captain in History PAPAL AFFINI: Kirra Vaas Priestess of the Dravvus -member of the Papal Affini -23 - sold Papal as a baby - has a seer's gift the Council likes to use for their benefit. Janelle - Mihko (priestess in training) - 7 Armen - Priest -25 Mother Vanya -head Priestess of the Dravvus Temple - 55 Father Eagan -head priest of the Dravvus temple -80
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darien     2y ago

[I And ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear for the Lord is my Sheppard…”] Jake stared vacantly at the hole in the ground with honey colored eyes, where they began to lower his mother’s coffin. This was not how a young man would want to spend his twenty-first birthday… burying his mother. Mom’s death had been hard on him, and it wasn’t like he had a father to fall back on. He didn’t even know who he was. The only evidence he had he was ever around was in an old Polaroid photo of his mother with the man. Jake knew he couldn’t deny the relation, every day he was told by his mother how much like father he looked. They had the same honey gold eyes, and dark black hair. Jake wished he had nothing in common with the loser that dumped them for God knew what else. When Jake was fifteen, they first learned that his mother had cancer, and after a double mastectomy and radiation she went into remission… but with the passing of Breast Cancer came the discovery of Adult Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma… She fought valiantly, but the fight ended and here he was. Jake had dropped out of High School against his mother’s best wishes, and went to work for a construction company. Being too young to work in construction they paid him under the table until he turned eighteen and they hired him. The benefits had been a godsend as he finally had real insurance to help his mother with not that overpriced government crap they tried to sell you. Jake had worked his fingers to the bone to provide for their mother’s treatments. Jake was smart, smart enough he didn’t have to finish high school. He dropped out with a 4.2 GPA and walked right into the local Youth Advocacy Center and took his GED. He’d been working ever since. Odd Jobs as well when construction was slow. He’d have done anything in the world for his mom… now he no one. Jake wasn’t sure what the next step was, mom was gone. He watched them lower his mother into the ground and let him drop a shovel full of dirt onto the top of her plain casket. When that was done, there was no reason to linger, and the crowd that had come to mourn with him was small, and Jake honestly didn’t know half of them, some of them he recognized from the trailer park, others were just strangers who his mother must have known. He didn’t want to talk to them, he didn’t want to hear their stories, he just wanted to go home. He just wanted to sleep. It wanted it to end. When he arrived back at the double wide and the end of a long gravel path, he parked his old red pickup and stared at the double wide. It still smelled like her… the whole trailer did. He knew that when he finally made it to the front door and hesitated, much the same way he did after seeing her dead body in that hospital bed. Only now when he stared at the door an Eviction notice was posted. The Bank knew his mother had just died, the bank knew Jake had nowhere else to go, but they’d found a buyer for the bayou property that the trailer park sat on. Most of their neighbors were already gone. Jake dug into his own will power and marched up the steps and opened the door ignoring the notice. Jake knew this might happen, he’d skipped payments on the property to pay for his mom’s medications… maybe he should have made the house payments instead. Mom was still dead and now he’d be losing his home. He’d have to find an apartment. He walked to the small kitchen table and sat down, burring his face in his hands as he tried to work out the dilemma in his head and come up with a solution. “I don’t have to work tomorrow, so I’ll be able to go through mom’s old stuff. Figure out what to keep and what to pitch, grab some of those Renter books from the grocery store, and meet with that lawyer…” The next morning Jake woke up on the couch to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He was in one of two pairs of pajama pants that he owned and walked to the door to find a middle aged and awkward man holding a battered briefcase to his chest. “Is this the home of the late Fiona Lafaye?” he asked and without a work Jake ushered him inside and towards the kitchen table. “Thank you, I take it you are her only son, Jackson?” “That’s me” he muttered going back to his seat at the table. The lawyer followed, introducing himself and took up the seat that his mother usually sat. For a long moment Jake didn’t hear a word the man said, just that he was sitting in his mother’s chair, but the voice did eventually reach him when a piece of legal sized paper was slid his way. “Do you understand?” The lawyer asked. Jake blinked, zapping back to reality and looked at the Final Will and Testament placed before him. “She left you in charge of her affairs. All of her possessions are to be transferred to your name. She has you listed as her primary beneficiary for her life insurance policy which is set at a quarter million,” Jake blinked in shock. His mother had a life insurance policy? “She wanted to leave you the trailer as well, but the bank has seized the property it seems,” He handed Jake the eviction notice that had been hanging on the front door. He took it reluctantly and set it aside. “I also have the key to a storage unit listed in her will.” He knew which one it was. He’d never gone there, but to get Christmas decorations once a year and again to put them away. It was a small unit and only cost them $25 a month, so Jake had never pestered his mother about it, besides she had told him there were too many memories in there to throw them away, but not enough room in their home to keep them around. Jake knew what was really in there… their dad’s old things. Things from her life before she had a child she couldn’t afford to feed. Things she never had the heart to part with, but couldn’t bear to see. He went over the forms with the Lawyer, signed off on paper work, and when it was all said and done, Jake was left alone with a check from the insurance company for 250,000 dollars minus taxes (of course), and a key to a lonely little storage unit up the street in their decrepit little swamp town. He bid the lawyer goodbye and glanced outside to his beat up red Ford pickup was still sitting outside. That thing was a relic and rusting out from the chassis that he was surprise the entire undercarriage hadn’t fallen out from under him every time he drove over a pothole. At least one good thing came out of his mother’s passing. He had money to pay off bills, and get a nice apartment… Then he was investing the rest into a high interest savings account. Jake was good with money, and he had to be…. They barely had any growing up, so he’d learned how to make his money work for him. The first thing he did was drive to the bank and deposited their money into their account, and he wheeled it over to the storage units where he terminated the rental and packed all the stuff up into the bed of his truck and drove home. When he finally made it back from his day out on the town running errands, he carried the trunk and another box into the trailer and dropped it on the coffee table. He sat down on the couch to go through the things he found in the storage unit. The first box he opened was the intricate looking trunk, he’d never seen before. It was locked, but with a pair of wire cutters from under the front steps he had it broken open and he stood before the old trunk, its musty smell permeating the room. He noticed strange markings around the lid, but ignored it. A Protective sheet covered the items inside, Jake was there to reach inside it and the first thing he removed was a set of clothes. With one sniff, Jake was shocked to recognize the scent as his father’s… and he realized…. “These are dad’s things…” He whispered, and for a moment he stared at the trunk, not wanting to touch it, but something glittered from under the clothes he had lifted. It sparked his curiosity. What he found made his jaw drop. It was a large sheathed sword. To Jake, it reminded him of the Faux Hammer Gandalf used in the Lord of the Rings movies. It was encased in supple mahogany leather, with gold fastenings, and etched runes. It was the last thing he was expecting to find, but when Jake lifted it and unsheathed it in his tiny living room, it rang with power and flashed the sunlight it caught. It was a flawless blade, and Jake could feel it like an extension of his arm. His hand molded to the grip of the handle perfectly, and he instinctively knew how to use it to kill an enemy. Curiously he looked back at the trunk to see if there was anything else just as peculiar… He was soon to find out that there was nothing BUT peculiar, out of this world, items inside the trunk. Though not so curious as another polaroid. This one he had never seen before. It was his mother and his father in a hospital. His mother was sitting up and in her arms she held two blankets. He felt his mouth go dry… Mom had… twins? Where was the other. Was it a boy or a girl? He was suddenly so angry he couldn’t look at the picture anymore, but he wouldn’t part with it. He quickly put it in his pocket to think about later. He curiously he looked back at the sword and over the strange markings along the blade. He found the more he stared at the strange runes, they began to morph into English and he could read. “Forged in Dragon’s Fire, only the True King may wield its power….” Jake scoffed. This had to be a prop from some cheesy movie, but he continued to read down the blade. “This is the Sword of the One True Dragon King, may all his heirs find their rightful path- Whoa!“ suddenly the sword shot from his hand into the TV, pinning it in shattered pieces against the wall. Jake blanched in shock, and jumped back, for around where the sword had struck, magic was forming a portal to a new world, and though he tried to fight the windy force that pulled him closer, he had little strength to fight it even as the items in the trunk were pulled from their resting place and into the portal that was dragging him in as well. Before he knew it he was swallowed up by the swirling cortex like liquid mercury suspended in the air, and everything around him illuminated so brightly he was blinded by its intensity, as he felt he began to free fall at an alarming rate, zipping through the cosmos. Back in his trailer it looked like it had been struck by a tornado, debris covered the floor, and all was quiet as the last little bit of glass fell to the floor, and no-one was there to clean it up… and no one would care about a missing person with no family to call on.

*Kirra Vaas, Priestess of Dravvus
The temple had been swept, the garden tended to, the climbing roses trimmed back, and birds sang from the rafters of the open circular outdoor sanctuary. It was the harvest season, and the leaves had begun turning magnificent colors all around the countryside. The trees in the Dravvus Temple had turned a vivid shade of red and deep purple. Deep crimson roses grew on vines that climbed all over the pillars of the rotunda that led into the gardens. Inside the temple’s main hall, the pagoda structure was roofed with terra-cotta and adorned with intricate wooden accents. Inside there was a massive stone deity that towered in the main room. Its large body was wrapped around itself, with large wings, a flowing whisker like beard, and menacing teeth and eyes. The Dravvus was the Spirit, this temple tended to. The Pavillion also held the rooms of the Papal that resided in the city’s Dravvus Temple. The Dravvus Papal consisted of three women, and two men. There was sister Janelle, hardly an apprentice as the ripe age of seven. The other was their Temple Mother Vanya, a sturdy old bird of 55. Their Temple father Egan was a man of older age, and older thoughts. The other male was the scrawny weasel of a man Priest Armen. The last included one particular priestess, she was unique. Where the other Papal could leave the temple freely, she could not. To do so requited armed escort, and she could only leave when summoned by the Curia Regis, a royal, or the King’s Council. In the whole of her life, Kirra Vaas had only ever seen the outside world from windows, books, through the gate of her temple, and on the rare occasion she was summoned. She traveled only where she was given permission, and that was usually only to the Castle where she would meet with Council members. They always wanted the same thing, but Kirra could not give them what she did not have. The reason? Magic. Magic was not to be tolerated in this world… except, this priestess had a particular skill they liked to keep close. The only reasons they kept it quiet was because she was a sold Papal. Meaning the Temple [I owned] her. Her mother and father having given birth to her, could not afford to care for her, and sold her to the temple. She had started as nothing more than a grunt in the temple, but eventually worked her way into the Papal Training and became a full fledged priestess. She was a Priestess long before her powers ever surfaced, and her particular magic gave her no benefit to rebel. It did not imbue her with strength, and it gave her no tactical physical advantage over those that ruled her. They called her an oracle, a soothsayer… to her face. She knew behind her back they called her what they called all Magi. Trash, scum, monsters. Being a Papal Affini gave her few protections, but it was protection none the less. Kirra liked the outside gardens and sanctuary. There was a lovely stone path that led to a prayer offering through the garden. This time of year was particularly popular with the locals who liked to walk the path through the garden, over the pond and make an offering at the small prayer shrine engulfed in the flaming foliage of the changing trees. It was romantic, and Kirra enjoyed seeing the couples come and go, kissing on the wooden bridge, and holding hands as they left the prayer shrine, leaving their offerings behind. Most people left food, which the papal would eat. Others left coin, which went to supplement the temples budget. On rare occasions someone would leave something of their trade: a silk scarf, fabric, flowers, merchant goods. These the papal split equally among themselves, or gave to those they knew could use it better. The day had been busy, and while the temple was closed today to the public, they had plenty of work to do preparing for the Harvest Festival. No one in the city was a farmer, but everyone still enjoyed a good festival. Life was good if you were a non magic human. By nightfall the entire place would be alighted with lanterns that were already hanging down the walkways and in trees. They had opened the doors for vendors to enter the courtyard and set up their food wares, and games. People would come to hear music, see performances, see the trees, celebrate the changing of the solstice, play games, and at the very end of the night watch fireworks. Done with her tasks for the day, Kirra walked out into the sanctuary and stood on the flooring looking up at the open ceiling, only the circling pillars had a type of roofing, more like a lattice the climbing roses clung too. Everything was quiet, and the clouds were fluffy and plenty, the sun would be setting soon and it had cast the sky in a swirl of orange, purple, and blue. The sun was strong, and setting low enough it cast a great many shadows in the garden. Her grey eyes were dull, staring almost blankly up at the sky, and her dark raven hair was loosely pulled back from her face into a messy bun, slowly slipping out of its wrapping. Her face was certainly tired, but at the call of her name, something cause her face to twitch. Her eyebrow namely. A close, observant, and very watchful eye might notice the loneliness in her gaze, despite the very convincing smile she wore. [+green “Princess Elsinore, you must be heading home to prepare for the festival. To what do I owe the pleasure of you dropping in?”] Kirra teased with a warm and friendly smile. Princess Elsinore was perhaps a person Kirra might call a friend, but that wasn’t something she was quite willing to call the daughter of the man who enforced and expanded the rules against Magi, and allowed a booming enterprise of human trafficking to ensue. She couldn’t truthfully blame Elsinore for that. At her core, Elsinore was nothing more than an innocent bird, trapped in a gilded cage. That was something Kirra could relate to. Kirra stepped away from the center of the structure to the sides with Elsinore to greet her better. [+green “I’m glad you came, I was hoping to see you tonight, how lucky of me you’re here early-“] She had to stop as there was a sharp crack above their heads above the open sanctuary. For a brief moment in her mind she had thought about what Barengarius wanted -The Dragon Sword. The [I Kings] Sword. He wanted her to find it, to locate it with her own powers, but she’d had no luck in all the years, but for some reason, today she felt something different, and it seemed to cause the explosion above them. [+green “Get back!”] Kirra didn’t know what it was, or how fast her guard would move, but Kirra was closest and quickly shielded Elsinore from the massive fissure of lightning that struck the center of the stone floor. If Kirra had it her way, she’d find the sword and give it directly to Elsinore. Despite the brightness, Kirra looked to see what was happening. This was bad. She hoped she wasn’t blamed for this. She hoped whatever this was, didn’t get her killed. The lightning was drawn back up to the sky, but before it could pass the ringed structure it snapped once more and Kirra watched a mercurial vortex form in the center. It caused wind to pick up and swirl the leaves about. Kirra didn’t release her hold on protecting Princess Elsinore. Over the howl of the wind was the echoing shout of a person coming closer and closer. The first thing to fall out of the vortex was a trunk and its loose contents littered the ground. The trunk smashing into pieces and scattering wildly. The final thing to fall was what surprised Kirra the most. A Man fell with a hard smack to the stone. Just as violently as he was brought into the world, the vortex closed up and all was peaceful once more. Kirra kept Elsinore safe behind her, no matter how hard she protested, and kept her back from the unknown man. Her guard close by to keep Elsinore close, and allow Kirra to approach the fallen figure. He was dressed oddly, his shoes were filthy with caked on mud, and his shirt was well worn and thin, but he had a head of dark hair which he had tucked under a strange hat on his head. He groaned which gave Kirra a moment’s hesitation, and further down the hall she could hear other Papal shouting and running to figure out what had happened. Kirra felt something like a heartbeat of power reverberate in her. There was powerful magic nearby. She hadn’t felt anything like it before. Was it the man? [+green “Sir?”] She called out. The man finally brought his hands up and Kirra saw he had a sword. Which she quickly rushed forward and grabbed from him. He was too distorted to stop her, but for now at least he was unarmed. [+green “Who are you?”] she demanded. [+green “Where have you come from?”] He didn’t answer her, he looked around the space, his breathing catching before he finally turned to see Kirra. She gasped, he stared on slack jawed. Kirra felt pale… was this man a spirit? He looked exactly like the late King Roland! [+blue “Mon cour! What just happened to me? Where am I?”] he asked with a strange accent. Kirra felt herself get defensive. [+green “I asked you first, traveler! Who are you?”] [+blue “I’m Jackson Lafaye… what is this place?”] He didn’t bother to get up, still trying to get his bearings and looking around at the crowd of people that had gathered to see his arrival. He didn’t seem to care that she held his sword against him. [+green “This is the Dravvus Temple in Xaitus Capital. Where did you come from?”] [+blue “I was at home… hey I didn’t want to come here. That sword brought me here. I found it with my dad’s things.”] he snapped back. He seemed to be just as frazzled as the rest of them. The sword? Of course, was that were she was sensing the great power from? Kirra looked down at the sword and read the inscription. Upon completion, her eyes widened in shock. [+green “F-father! Mother!”] Father Egan hurried forward as best he could as did Mother Vanya, and they came to her side. Father Egan walked over to Jackson and Mother Vanya took the sword. She read the inscription too and looked to Egan. “It is the King’s sword…” she said with a hushed breath. Kirra turned suddenly to check on Elsinore and locked eyes with her. No doubt this would shock her too. Who was this strange man that just arrived? And why did he have to come right before the Festival?! The sword was suddenly placed back in Kirra’s hands. “He wants this,” Vanya said in a dark voice. Kirra looked back with a hard expression, knowing who Vanya spoke of, and why. She looked the sword over and then looked over at the man. Barengaius would kill him to know he possessed the Sword. “You have to be sure,” Vanya added. Kirra swallowed tensely and made her way over to Jackson, kneeling before him. He tensed up backing away just as nervously from her, and when she reached out to touch his forehead, he initially slapped her hand away. [+green “I must do this, I promise, I will not hurt you,”] He seemed reluctant to believe her, but allowed her to place her hand on his forehead. They both gasped, as Kirra flipped through Jake’s history, and thoughts. She saw everything, felt his pain too. When she pulled her hand away she was crying. [+green “You are full of much pain…”] Jake stared back at her with an unreadable expression. [+green “He tells the truth,”] she suddenly called to the others. [+green “The sword is his… it brought him here. The Council will want to know.”]

Princess Elsinore Aurelia Barinthus
Princes Elsinore’s brow furrowed, the perfect skin between her eyes puckering ever so slightly as she ran the tip of her finger down the side of the palm-sized portrait she held. A gentile, but ever so arrogant smile peered out from the stretched canvas; deeply set beneath two brown eyes; the teeth unnaturally white. She sighed and as a knock sounded behind her and she set the portrait down on the windowsill beside her. “Enter,” she murmured and turned to see the ornate door of her bedroom open and a middle aged woman step in; her white linen skirt fluttering ever so slightly beneath a starched wheat-colored apron. Her wimple matched. In fact everything she wore was light in color, save for the simple red sash pinned about her waist. It made the woman stand out against the dark wood and ironwork that comprised every square inch of her bedroom and the rest of the castle. At one time the royal attendants had all worn black, but from the time she had learned what color was- what it could mean- Elsinore had begged her father to let her change the dresses of her own maids to something more… light. She could not stand darkness upon darkness. It was one of the very few concessions the King had made, though it came not without its own punishments. Her horses, the swans in the courtyard pond, even her faithful dog Dash were to be black. But then that was her father’s way- the same way it had been for her grandfather, her great grandfather, her great-great grandfather, and so on. There was no pleasure without pain. No life without death, no gain without sacrifice. Still, Elsinore gave the woman a smile. “Hello Hetty.” Hetty returned the smile, her eyes creasing as she gave a light bow of her head. “Alas, not still sighing over what cannot return, are we my girl?” she asked, her gaze shifting to the small gilded frame that caught the sunlight streaming in through the window. Elsinore glanced at it. “He wasn’t really so bad,” she said as she pushed up to her feet, the black velvet of her gown brushing against the tops of her shoes with a delicate rustle. A dainty ringlet of golden blonde hair caught on the crystal studded net that encased the bundle of her braid. Hetty merely sighed. “Aye, that he wasn’t. Though I didn’t quite care for his manners at the dinner table.” She extended a weathered hand towards the princess and Elsinore crossed the room to take it, allowing the maid to tuck it into her arm with a motherly-pat. “Neither did I, I’m afraid. I suppose it’s just as well.” Together the two made their way down the long hallway that was lined with a plush red runner and when they reached the stairs, two more similarly dressed maids took up their posts behind them. The man in the portrait had been named Damien, and he had been the son of a Baron from a neighboring land to the south of the Capital. Almost two years ago they had been engaged to be married, but a week ago she had been notified that he’d taken a spill from his horse and died. This hadn’t made much sense of course. His country had been known for their horse breeding, and Damien had been riding since before he could walk. But Barengarius had apologetically assured her that it had been just that. An accident. And you didn’t question Barengarius because he currently held the throne. Questioning anyone in the upper echelons of court was bound to get you an accident of your own. Besides, she was just Princess Elsinore Aurelia Barinthus, born and bred only for her ability to marry well. Who she married was of little concern as long as he was chosen for her. But Damien hadn’t been a bad suitor. In fact, compared to a few of the other candidates that had been in the running, he was down-right pleasant. In the end he been chosen for his dull personality and easy manipulation. She liked him because he preferred hunting then spending time with her. And when he was with her he did little more than eat food, fondle her breasts a bit, and fall asleep with his hunting dogs at his feet. She wore black because that’s what grieving fiancés who just lost their husband-to-be’s did, but she was less upset about the meaning behind it and more so that she couldn’t break in the dusty rose frock she’d had commissioned for the harvest festival. It was one of her favorite events of the year because she could spend it outside the gates for a little while instead of locked away behind its towering walls. Those moments were precious and far too rare, ever since King Roland's death. Barengarius said he could not risk her safety. She was allowed out for only an hour each day, and she usually spent it on a walk along the canal that surrounded the capital. The route took her past the Temple District where various worship houses were open to the public. The Xiatus Empire had four prominent deities, said to make their home at the four corners of the universe. Each were always depicted in the animal forms they were said to take on earth- a Dravvus for the south, a Sluagh for the north, a Thylanice for the west, and a Mynad for the east. Each temple possessed separate architecture and theming, but all of them were undeniably beautiful, separated by gardens and various other architectural aesthetics. Each season had a festival dedicated to whatever deity had fought to take its rightful place on the moon at that time of year, and the citizens of the Capital flocked to the corresponding temple to pay homage and bask in frivolity. It was autumn- Festival of the Thylanice temple. Elsinore stepped daintily down the main staircase and into the shining foyer, where the iron and stone walls glowed dully from the sunlight that shone down through the massive glass skylight. A female attendant was waiting, the princess’s black cloak draped over her arms, and Elsinore quickly put it on, Hetty ensuring the silver clasp was secure beneath at her throat. A matching bonnet was tied beneath her chin, the brim of which stretched outwards, casting her face into shade. She let out a small sigh she couldn’t bare to muffle. “Too tight, my girl?” Hetty asked with concern. “It’s so warm out today! Must I truly bundle up?” “When the seasons change so does our wardrobe,” Hetty recited dutifully. “You’ll be glad for it come another week or two when the winds turn cold.” Again, Elsinore didn’t bother to argue. And it wasn’t just because her dissent fell on deaf ears. Hetty may have been her governess and now her head maid, but as much as she loved Elsinore, she was loyal to Barengarius and his men. Her complaints would get back to him no matter what, and too many would get her already miniscule privileges taken away. Instead she glanced around the massive foyer, ignoring the obscenely large mural that spanned the entire walls; depicting a battle one of her the royal family’s long ago patriarchs had been involved in. The mural showed them triumphing, but so did every piece of artwork in the kingdom. It was against the law to depict the Royal family as anything more than victorious. When all you did was win, victory lost it’s meaning. “Where is Heathcliff?” she asked, the blue-violet of her eyes catching the sunlight even beneath the bonnet. She was answered with the sudden clattering of boots on the marble floor. “I’m here! I’m here!” a strong voice called out. The gathering of ladies turned to see five men stride into sight, their armored boots echoing off in the space. They were dressed in uniform, their armored breastplates and bracers decorated with etched scrollwork. The man in front held a loft a covered basket. He was young, only a few years older than her, but he was tall and broad shouldered, his long dark hair pulled back into scruffy ponytail and secured with a ruby studded clasp. An impressive sword was sheathed at his hip while a heavy rifle hung between his shoulder blades by way of a thick strap. The rifle was black, comprised of a sleek but weighty iron, and the caged barrel glowed ever so slightly from an orange crystal that was trapped inside. All the soldiers carried one. Elsinore smiled, placing her hands on her hips with an arched brow as he approached. “You’re late.” “I got held up,” he said with a roguish grin and handed her the basket which she took and hung in the crook of her elbow. It had a good weight to it and she heard the rattling of coins and the pewter containers of food offerings. “Thank you Heathcliff.” “My pleasure. Now…” He offered her his arm with a bow. “Shall we, Princess?” “We shall, Captain,” she replied and went to take his proffered arm. Before she managed t, Hetty sidestepped in front and looped her own arm through. “Now-now, Captain Thome. Our Princess is still in mourning for the passing of her betrothed. It is against our modesty laws for another man to be so forward with her.” “Of course,” the Captain smiled, nodding as he straightened. As Hetty lead the princess towards the front door, she rolled her eyes at him in passing, and he returned it with crossing his own, causing her to stifle a giggle behind a crooked finger to her lips. With the two maids in front and five guard in back, Elsinore and Hetty made their way down the front steps and into the cobbled courtyard where the sight of the castle wall greeted her. It was nearly a hundred feet high and comprised of large slats of thick iron, as black as sin, and riveted together. They called the seat of power the Iron Throne for a reason, It was their number one export; though the only countries lucky enough to import it were under Empire control themselves. The pathway was lined with crimson-leafed trees that, with the autumn season, glowed red as they blossomed. At peak it would look as if a dravvus had lit the place on fire, the leaves dancing like little flames in the breeze. If she were going anywhere outside the Capital district, she would have taken a carriage, but the Capital was truly the epicenter of both business and religion, and so she started the mile walk to the Temples. In her opinion, business and religion should never mix, but so went the way of the Empire. Outside the walls of the castle, the world was abuzz and she found the hum of conversation and rumbling of the military vehicles in the streets to be a refreshing change to the quiet halls of the inner, royal sanctum. The sun was high in the sky and brown-feathered birds flew overhead. She could smells the sizzling street food vendors and watched light hearted at the children that chased after each other with toy weapons carved from wood; a few of them waving red streamers attached to sticks while musicians played their drums and woodwinds in anticipation of sunset when the festival would officially begin. It was everything Elsinore could do to keep from ripping off her bonnet and running head long into the crowd, shouting and laughing at the beautiful day. Instead she did as she had been trained, kept her eyes ahead and her mouth delicately pressed together like the petals of the roses in the castle courtyard. To be royal meant to appear indifferent and regal, and despite her title holding no merit other than her bloodline, she was still a part of it and so she would act as she had been instructed to in public. Running into the crowd wouldn’t have done much good anyway. Everywhere they passed, people stepped back- carving a path through the gathering citizens like a parting wave. They bowed low and murmured, “Gods save the Princess.” She would have liked to meet their gaze, returned their well wishes. But it was not allowed. She was Barinthus, daughter of the late King Roland. You did not acknowledge those beneath you. To do so meant they mattered somehow. And no one mattered more than the Iron Throne… The trek to the Temple District took about 20 minutes on foot, and as the clean stone walls came into sight, Elsinore felt the corners of her lips tip upwards. Here it was peaceful and serene, the energy positive. She loved it here… Her smile faltered ever so slightly as she went to step off the sidewalk and onto the cobblestoned road when suddenly Hetty’s grip tightened so much so she nearly tripped and was pulled to a stop. Confused, she looked to the side and her pulse quickened. A soldier on horseback rode into view, the clatter of hoofbeats matching cadence with the two others that followed behind. Between the guard shuffled a line of about twelve man; all of them hunched, dirty, and carrying various tools like pickaxes and shovels. It wasn’t the state of them that made her feel instantly sick, however. It was the look in their eyes. All of them were hollow and without life, and she wanted nothing more than to turn her head and look away. As they passed, the soldiers saluted her and her entourage with their rifles. The guns they carried glowed blue instead of red like Heathcliff’s. “Gods save the Princess,” the guard called out. “Gods save the Princess,” the men in line murmured, though their voice lacked the same passion. They bowed their heads in passing… save for one. Even beneath the layer of soot that dulled his skin, his face was wrinkled. But his eyes belonged to a man who only looked old due to the work he did, not his age. And those eyes met hers and glared. She was caught completely off guard and she blinked in surprise. Her own eyes widened immediately, however, as without warning a shot rang out; a blue bolt of light sizzling through the air as it struck the man; slicing through his flesh like a blade made of pure light. His skin crackled and burned, and she couldn’t help the tiny gasp that escaped her as the top of his face split on the diagonal; his skull separating from the rest of his head as his body collapsed to its knees and then landed in the dirt. The light had cauterized most of the wound, leaving the brains a grey and sizzling mess as it pooled out in a small puddle of burnt blood. Elsinore lifted a finger to her nose and turned her head. The smell was stomach churning. One of the other soldiers that guarded the rear of the line, reached to his side and unhitched a long metal tool, three pronged on the end like a trident, and trotted forward a few steps where he lifted it and threw it down ; impaling the corpse. As if it were just an every day occourance, the head soldier repeated “Gods save the Princess.” The men repeated it, only this time it was louder… and no one dared to look at her. With that the soldiers and line of men moved on, the corpse dragging along the ground behind them. When they had passed, Hetty merely patted her arm and forced her to continue across the street. Elsinore’s toes curled inside her shoes as she passed by only inches from the skull cap that lay on the ground- the only evidence of what had once been a living person… The men had been magi- born with magic in their veins. Once, magic had been as commonplace a talent as singing or swordplay; even revered. The first king of their family line had been an extremely powerful mage, wielding a fire said to have rivaled that of a dravvus. But almost three hundred years ago, their family had lost their magic. The new king, fearing the throne would be usurped by another magi, he outlawed magic completely; forcing those who were born with it to be registered and enslaved under the new regime. No magic? No chance of a stolen throne. There had been an attempted uprising of course, but the King had beaten them all with a simple spell. It was said he found someway to steal the heartfire of the dravvus god and imbued a talisman that could steal the magic of other mages. He decimated the population, and when it could hold no more, he destroyed it. The dravvus that once roamed freely on their lands- the animal that decorated the Capital’s livery- disappeared from the land, moving outward until all that was left was the feral beasts that inhabited the Neither. And magic, like some living and breathing thing that knew when it was not wanted, began to disappear until only a select few were born every year. If you were born a mage, it was only a matter of time before you got caught. You became a pariah- like a leper. According to the Capital, magic was a disease; an abomination only worthy of being rubbed out. Magic was feared and hated. When that magic manifested, usually during puberty, you were forced to register with the government. Mage’s couldn’t freely get jobs or use money, and their citizenship was completely stripped. Their only hopes of staying alive was to agree to work for the Empire, usually in the mines of the Neither. Sure you didn’t have to register. No one forced you to. But if you got caught without the enchanted seal branded onto the skin of registered mages, you were killed on sight. No matter the age, no matter the how powerless you actually were… And you would be caught. All mages in hiding were eventually caught in the end. It was too difficult to stay hidden. Magic recognizes magic, no matter how well hidden, and Xaitus’ foundations had been built on magic. But death might have been the more merciful thing in the end. Working for the Empire meant jobs that would end up killing you anyway, just far more slowly. “Shall we, to the Autumn Moon Temple?” Hetty’s voice pierced through the haze of the Princess’ thoughts and she gave herself a little shake to return to the present. They were now standing just inside the district’s entrance, which was always open. No gate or door barred the passage. Anyone could come and pray and enjoy the gardens and beautifully cultivated grounds. In fact it was the only place the maji were free to use along with Capital citizens. Elsinore looked to Hetty’s smiling face, the woman completely unperturbed by what had taken place. How very… Xaitus of her… Looking down the pathway, she looked to each of the four entryways that faced the paths. They were spread far apart, all four having completely different appearances. The Autumn Moon was the fourth entryway all the way to the back, its golden apple trees and moss covered stone work were made ever more striking by the bright orange maples that lined the pathway. It was filled with a throng of people who waited their turn while others prayed and left their gifts, lighting incense sticks that they stuck into gravel filled tiers in front of the massive stone depiction of the autumn deity of the west- a thylanice. A tiger-like beast with stripes along its’ back and three tails twisted in an arch behind it. It towered above them, teeth bared and one paw raised to rest on a globe made of pure gold. After witnessing the death of the mage in the street, the guilt of having been helpless to intercede flooded her, and turned her stomach. She knew as the Princess she could tell her guard to clear out the temple for privacy and they would do it without hesitation, but Elsinore simply did not want to look anyone in the eye at the moment, and the crowd made her shudder inside. “No,” she replied, forcing herself to retain the practiced cool and calm voice she used at court. It was the most talented defense she possessed- to sound and look completely indifferent. When your life hinged on appearing untouched by emotion, you learned how to fake it. “I’d like to visit the Summer Moon Temple, first.” “Are you sure?” Hetty asked. “You only have so much time, and we must ensure your offerings are left.” “I’m sure, Hetty,” Elsinore said and gave the woman a look that told her not to argue. Hetty acquiesced immediately and they made towards the third temple instead. The symbol of the summer temple was the Dravvus, the creature that Xaitus had once revered above all others. She quickly strode beneath the ornate archway into the warm terracotta and white stone structure where various members of the religious sects that lived there bowed as they passed before returning to their various states of meditating or chores. Heathcliff and the soldiers immediately took up post outside the doors of the inner sanctum while the Princess and her maids ventured inside. Once Elsinore crossed the threshold to the cool, shaded interior she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, her eyes moving towards the impressive statue at the center, the onyx gleaming in the sun as if trapping the suns warmth inside. Reaching up, Elsinore plucked at the bow beneath her chin until it came undone and with a sweep of her hands she removed the bonnet and handed it to Hetty who took it with a stern look of disapproval. Elsinore knew she’d hear about it later, but right now it was as if she was having trouble breathing and the bonnet was the least constricting thing she could quickly take off. Not that it mattered much. Her hair was tightly coiled and the netting bound it to her head. No true freedom. Only ever the illusion… “Princess Elsinore.” Elsinore looked over to a side doorway to see a young, pretty woman dressed in the robes of a priestess strode forth, her silky hair tied in a bun that was slowly coming undone. It gave her a lively look that added to her beauty, and for the first time Elsinore truly smiled. “Kirra! How lovely to see you. I was hoping to run into here.” The priestess was honestly the closest thing Elsinore had ever had to a friend. They had grown up together in a way, seeing each other often enough as children when Elsinore spent time in the temple for her religious studies. And while they could never truly be close because of their class standing, they were still allowed the liberty of speaking to one another. They had played together on her breaks, skipping stones in the temple pond, or running hand-in-hand as they were chased by the always-angry peacocks that ran wild over the grounds. That changed one day. Kirra was a couple of years older than her, and one day she stopped being allowed to fraternize so closely with the Princess. When Elsinore had begged to know why she could not see the other girl, Hetty had only said, "you’ll understand soon enough.” Sure enough, only two years later, Elsinore left her own childhood behind, along with her menstrual blood. She had understood then. Puberty had brought with it an end to her innocence, forever changing her the same way Kirra’s had. For the Princess it come as her eligibility to marry. For Kirra… it had come in the manifestation of the magic in her blood. And while a common citizen was to lower themselves to kiss the feet of a royal, for a mage like Kirra they were lower still than that. Only when Kirra had managed to reach the coveted position of priestess had they once more been allowed to speak. Elsinore looked forward to seeing her whenever she could, but those times had once again become rare when her father died three years ago, and Barengarius had stepped up to take his place and had demanded she remain in palace at all times save for her hour of recreation… Kirra’s smile warmed, her dark eyes rimmed with long lashes. Elsinore had always found her pretty. She gestured towards the doorway with her broom, her robes flowing about her like ripples over water. “You must be heading home to prepare for the festival. To what do I owe the pleasure of you dropping in?” “Actually, we just got here,” Elsinore replied, lifting the basket she carried, ever so slightly. “We’re here to pay our respects. The Autumn Temple’s just a bit crowded at the moment…” Kirra nodded, knowingly. All the temples would receive visitors that night, but the Autumn Temple was the highlight for the festival. “I’m glad you came, I was hoping to see you tonight, how lucky of me you’re here early.” Elsinore smiled, her lips parting to respond, but she was interrupted by a sudden, sharp crack above them. The sound ricocheted like a thunderclap against the walls of the sanctuary, causing all those inside to duck as if to avoid a physical strike, before peering upwards at the ceiling where the noise continued to roll. Elsinore’s eyes widened as she suddenly took notice of the sudden formation of swirling clouds that began to collect above their heads like a misty whirlpool. The clouds thickened and suddenly begin to flicker as if lightning were trapped behind them. She heard Heathcliff’s voice calling her name as the guards rushed in to check on the commotion, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from the swirling storm overhead. Without warning they seemed to split in the middle and the void was filled with a light so bright and fiery she could only lift one dainty, gloved hand to shield her eyes. Was this somekind of God coming through the heavens?! “Get back!” Kirra yelled, and Elsinore felt herself blindly shoved backwards; Kirra’s slender but muscular arm wrapping about her shoulder. The force of the unexpected embrace caused her to drop the basket, and the contents exploded out of it with a clatter, the bags of coins and foods spilling out across the floor. The various fruits and grains immediately caught fire and charred to blackened nothing as an enormous bolt of lightning shot through the clouds and struck the statue, splitting the onyx dravvus down the center. Elsinore felt immediately faint and her hands reached up to grip at Kirra’s arm as they watched the top half slide to the floor and shatter. She couldn’t help noticing the eerie similarities between the statue and the earlier mage’s skull. Someone shouted and she heard the maids scream as they dove for cover, while the lightning was drawn back up to the sky, but before it could pass the ringed structure it snapped once more and suddenly the clouds were sucked from above to form a mercurial vortex in the center of the sanctuary, over top of what was left of the statue. The onyx shards seemed to hum to life, and lifted off the ground, trembling as if charged by pure energy. It caused wind to pick up and Elsinore was left to reach up and grip her hair with one hand so it did not tear free from her net. Kirra didn’t release her hold on the princess and she shoved the young woman further behind her as Over the howl of the wind was the echoing shout of a person that seemed to increase in volume as if they were being dragged through the air. A large, ornate steamer trunk suddenly fell through the vortex, and it hit the ground with a crack, shattering to pieces; the contents scattering across the stone floor. Moments later it was followed by the figure of a person- their arm outstretched and clasping a oversized broad sword as if it were pulling him through. He collided with the floor, flipping twice before landing on his back; his hand still gripping the hilt. The void flashed once more before coming to an abrupt close; the light snuffed out and the clouds dissipating until the world was as till as if it never happened, the distant sound of laughing and talking heard from the adjoining temples. For a long moment, no one moved, uncertain of what had happen or if it were truly over. The Captain was the first to jump back to his senses and he all but leapt over the scattered belongings of the trunk to grab the Princess’s arm and pull her back. Elsinore went without a fuss, too shocked to argue. Kirra released her immediately and instead took a step towards the unconscious figure on the ground. He was dressed oddly, his shoes caked with mud, and his shirt well-worn and thin. He possessed a head of dark hair which he had tucked under an unfamiliar style of hat. Still gripping her broom, the priestess firmly tapped the bottom of his foot and he groaned which gave Kirra a moment’s hesitation. Further down the hall she could hear other Papal shouting and running to figure out what had happened. “Sir?” she called out. The man groaned a second time, but this time he finally brought his hands up, the sword he held slicing through the air. It made everyone take a step back out of surprise. Finally he opened his eyes and there was an audible gasp at their color. They were a beautiful amber-gold, that seemed to catch every bit of light the temple sanctuary offered, making the almost platinum inner-circle around his pupils glow. Only one other person had eyes like that .. King Roland Barinthus the Third… Giving her head a slight shake to gather her wits, Kirra had the wherewithal to rush forward and disarm the stranger, but the moment she took hold of the sword she stumbled and nearly fell. It was heavy- unbearably so. She managed to keep herself upright, but her legs were forced to shift to keep her balance. In her hands the metal felt hot, bordering on scalding, as if it had been held over a fire. “Hey…” the stranger groaned again, attempting to sit up. He lifted a hand and gripped his head, squinting as if in pain. Kirra glared at him. She wanted to point at him, but she knew she couldn’t hold the sword up with only two hands… “Who are you?!” she demanded. “Where have you come from?!” He didn’t answer her, looking around the space, his breathing catching before he finally turned to see Kirra. She gasped, he stared on slack jawed. Kirra felt pale… was this man a spirit? He looked exactly like the late King Roland! There was just no denying the eyes… “Mon cour! What just happened to me? Where am I?” he asked with a strange accent. Kirra felt herself get defensive. “I asked you first, traveler! Who are you?” “I’m Jackson Lafaye… what is this place?” He didn’t bother to get up, still trying to get his bearings. A crowd of papal worshippers had begun to gather, their faces a combination of shock and awe. Kirra merely grit her teeth, her inability to lift the blade beginning to anger her. “This is the Dravvus Temple in Xaitus Capital! Where did you come from?!” The man looked back at her, hands lifting as if in surrender. “I was at home… hey I didn’t want to come here! That sword brought me here. I found it with my dad’s things.” Where she stood Elsinore felt faint. The sword… she recognized it almost as quickly as she recognized her eyes. It was the focal point of nearly every artist rendering of the Barinthus Regal line. The hilt of the sword was designed to appear like a pair of wrapped dravvus wings, carved from a material that at first glance appeared to be iron, but the texture of it was such that it almost stone like. The blade was thick, and a line of three blood-red stones were set at the base of the blade, embellished by an inscription that ran the length of the blade. It too gleamed unnaturally. She wasn’t the only one that recognized the blade for what it was, however. Kirra looked down at the sword and read the inscription. Upon completion, her eyes widened in shock. “F-father! Mother!” Two older temple residents rushed forward, their robes swaying as they came to either side of her in an effort to help her lift it. Neither one could manage it. “Look- quickly,” Kirra strained and the head priest reached out to run his hand against the etched lettering. Kirra expected him to commen on the heat, but he acted as if he hadn’t even noticed. “It is the King’s sword…” he said with a hushed breath. Behind them Elsinore tensed and without warning nearly every eye turned on her. She couldn’t spea, too in shock to react. A large hand suddenly covered hers, and Elsinore glanced up to see Heathcliff giving her a look that promised to protect her. Her fingers laced with his and she squeezed her thanks. “He wants this,” the mother priestess suddenly said, her voice a dark warning. 21 years ago this very sword had disappeared, and now it was back; clutched in the hand of a stranger. This did not bode well for anyone… Kirra looked back at the stranger, her grip on the sword tightening. Her look became one of feral determination. She had been ordered to find the sword, and now she had it. It was her ticket to survival from a future that had up till now been marred by a promise of death if she failed, and she sure as hell wasn’t letting it go. She looked the sword over and then looked over at the man. “You have to be sure,” Vanya added. Kirra swallowed tensely. “Captain… take it,” she said carefully and behind her Heathcliff released the princess to step forward and grab the blade, The moment Kirra’s hands released it, he fell to his knees; the sword clattering to the ground as if magnetized to the earth. “What in the four moons?!” he exclaimed through gritted teeth, making an attempt to stand and pull it. It was like trying to move through a tar pit with his armor on- almost impossible. Kirra almost reached out to help him, but she suddenly realized that the sword wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, she made her way over to Jackson, kneeling before him. He tensed up backing away just as nervously from her, and when she reached out to touch his forehead, he initially slapped her hand away. “I must do this. I promise I will not hurt you.” He seemed reluctant to believe her, but allowed her to place her hand on his forehead. They both gasped, as Kirra flipped through Jake’s history, and thoughts. Elsinore pressed her fingertips to her lips as she was suddenly overcome with a sensation that welled up inside her as if it were crawling from her brain. Her eyes welled with tears as for no reason at all she could feel nothing but an empty sadness. Where had that come from? As if he could sense it, the stranger immediately met her gaze. And when Kirra pulled her hand away, she too was crying. “You are full of much pain…” Jake stared back at her with an unreadable expression. Swallowing tightly, Kirra quickly reached up and wiped at her eyes before turning to the others. “He tells the truth. The sword is his… it brought him here. The council will want to know.” Heathcliff, still struggling with the blade immediately looked to the other soldiers and barked an order to get them a carriage to take the princess home. He also demanded one of them ride ahead to summon Barengarius. Where she stood Elsinore managed enough of her wits to rip her eyes from the stranger and look to Heathcliff. “No!” “Princess, come,” Hetty suddenly approached attempting to coax her from the temple. Elsinore pulled away. “No! That is the King’s Blade- that is my father’s sword! I deserve to be here when you interrogate him!” “Princess,” Heathcliff managed as three of other soldiers came to his aid, managing to drag the sword up and onto their shoulders. It took all three of them to lift it and even then they seemed out of breath. “You must return to castle. It’s not safe here.” “Captain Thome I order you to allow me to-” Elsinore began but Hetty stepped between them once more. This time the old woman’s gaze was fiery and suddenly her weathered hands belied her age as she squeezed them into the Princess’ arms, forcing her to suck in a breath. “I think this day has been most trying on our Lady,” she said, her voice a warning. “Perhaps these outings have become unnecessary for the sake of your safety.” Elsinore’s eyes widened and she immediately stopped struggling. No- surely they could not mean to take away her only hourly privilege?! Knowing she had her, Hetty immediately wrapped an arm around her shoulder’s and lead her towards the exit. Elsinore managed to look back once more at Jackson, her gaze pleading in every facet of her pretty face as she disappeared behind a corner. ********************* Barengarius was not a happy man. His steepled fingers tapped together as he stared down at the map laid out before him. It was massive, tattooed onto leather, and stretched and mounted to a large circular table. Tiny replicas of ships and large iron boxes representing troops of soldiers on land were scattered throughout the various colored patches that boasted the names of those countries to which they belonged. A large crimson mass took up the vast majority of the center, on which “Xaitus” was painted in large, foreboding though elegant script. His fingertips tapped together again. “Have you ever seen a bridge, Commander?” he suddenly asked. A man in uniform stood at the opposite side of the table, his helmet tucked beneath his arm on which an impressive set of epaulets rested. His brow furrowed in confusion. “My liege?” he asked, uncertain of the question. Barengarius simply arched his brow, the grey hair peppered with the barest hints of white. “A bridge, commander. Have you ever gone over one? Even… stood in the presence of one?” “My… Leige… I…. yes?” the commander stammered. Barengarius gave a simple nod, lips pursed every so slightly. “And tell me… are you afraid of bridges? Do you fear traversing them?” “No. I don’t believe so, My Leige.” “Then tell me,” Barengarius sighed before movig with a speed that belied his age and snatching up a small model of one that was placed on a particular section of the map. He crushed it in his hands, breaking it in half, before throwing them with such strength and accuracy that a bit of wood embedded deep in the stunned commander’s cheek. The wound welled with blood and then spilled down in a single, thick rivulet. “Why the fuck you have so much issue with crossing the shithole that is the Neither?!” he yelled. Behind them, posted at the door were a pair of soldiers and they cringed at the man’s anger. Barengarius was not a man to cross. He was not a king- Xaitus hadn’t had a king in three years. When Roland had died, it left an empty throne on which no man but the rightful heir to the Iron Crown could sit. Because the only legal, blood relative of the king was his daughter, the rightful heir had to be the man she married. Barengarius had quickly discovered the lack of qualified candidates. Oh there was plenty of young men in the Capital and its surrounding territories. The Empire had no shortage of young blood. With the power of metal and fire behind them they had easily decimated every kingdom they’d come across. In an effort to cement their loyalty, the kings of Xaitus had slaughtered any leader that denied them fealty and replaced them with more… cooperative rulers. Now they owned almost the entire continent- an unstoppable superpower of the world. But there was always the chance that power could slip, fade. Finally he had realized there was only one person ruthless, cunning, ad powerful enough to keep that throne… Him. Turning the throne that he currently occupied as a mere figurehead, into his rightful ownership would mean he would need to marry Elsinore Barinthus. But marrying her meant that he had been required to off any other, eligible bachelors that stepped into the running His latest had been easy enough. The man hadn’t been the brightest bulb on the porch. He would have been nothing to manipulate and control. But he wasn’t Barengarius… so he had to go. “It’s too big!” the commander replied, stepping backwards; boots squeaking on the floor. “There are too many variables. My last platoon was eaten alive by the rakes! Their numbers are growing! We’ve become nothing but a steady supply of food for them!” Barnegarius lifted a hand and raked his fingers through his cropped mane of grey hair. His white sideburns were a nice contrast, amplifying the red of the ruby that sat atop the massive signet ring he wore. It was the King’s Ring, passed down to mark the rightful ruler. That honor had once been done by blade, not ring. But the King’s sword had gone missing 21 years ago, so now the ring took its place. Roland had given the ring to him; placed it in his palm as he lay on his death bed. There were witnesses. Barengarius possessed the ring so he too possessed the power to stand in his stead. He needed that sword though. Without it- marriage or not- he would never been seen as full ruler. No one knew where the sword was. King Roland had told them he’d hidden it in a place no mere man could find it. Not even Barengarius had been privy to the hiding place. But it was inching closer to the time he couldn’t afford to be missing it. Royal weddings were only ever held once a year- on the exact day of the summer soulstice. It was the day the dravvus mated. The day of Dravvus-Fire when the sword was at it’s peak power. Whoever held it aloft would be privy to the whereabouts of the single most important artifact the Empire had ever know… the talisman that all the magic of the bygone eras had been collected in. Whoever held that, would be unstoppable. The talisman was said to be destroyed, but he knew better. Magic was pure life-force, it could never really be destroyed. That talisman had survived and he would find it. It was already fall. The summer soulstice was coming fast. He needed that damn sword! “Sir! Caius Regis Barengarius!” a voice called out, followed by the thunder of heavy boots on the marble floor. The commander looked instantly relieved to have the attention taken off him for the time being and he and Barengarius looked to the door in time for to see one of his higher officers rush in. “What?” he snapped, his hazel eyes glaring. The soldier saluted. “Sir we’ve located it.” “What?” “The sword.” Barengarius froze and the question must have been written across his face because the soldier nodded. “The King’s Blade,” he elaborated. The Regis shot to his feet. “Where is it?!” “The Summer Moon Temple. The Dravvus Temple. A void opened and unidentified male exited. He had the sword on his person sir. They’re bringing them both to the castle as we speak.” “Deliver the sword straight to me the instant it arrives. In the throne room.” The soldier nodded and made a movement as if he were going to leave, but paused to turn around. “Sir?” “What?!” “The unidentified male? What would you have us do with him?” “Lock him in the prison. He is obviously a thief.” “Sir I…” “Are you questioning me, boy?” Barengarius demanded even though the soldier could not have been less than thirty. The soldier swallowed. “I… he…” “Well? What is it?! Spit it out man!” “His eyes. Sir… he looks just like the king.” Barengarius froze. For a split second there was fear behind his eyes. But he quickly slammed anger down over them to hide it. He could not afford a single show of weakness. His plan was so close to fruition he could taste it and he did not need some golden-eyed little upstart to throw a proverbial wrench into it. “Then bring him to the throne with it. And I want not one single pair of eyes or ears to around us. If I find one, I will cut it off, or cut it out. Do you understand me?” The soldier saluted and dashed back outside the room. Barengarius followed, his black tunic fluttering spastically as he moved, knee-high boots of supple leather thudding with every step. His right hand went to the thick belt that surrounded his waist out of habit and unclipped the sheath that housed his own personal blade. Entering the innermost, center sanctum of the Castle, he threw the large, ornate doors wide revealing a circular room with pillars built from floor to domed ceiling. There were twelve of them, giving the room the appearance of a large clock face, and at the twelve o’clock position, perched on a slightly raised dais, was the King’s Chair. The Iron Throne. The chair was black, inlaid with a dravvus mantle at the top, its eyes made of large rubies. It was made of the same material as the sword- a black metallic stone; the core of an ancient meteorite fallen to the earth. He walked towards it with deliberate steps, his heart pounding in his throat, and as he approached it, he could see the lines of the sigil circle carved directly into the floor beneath the throne. The closer he came the harder it was to move forward, a wave of guarded power emanating from the runes and lines. Finally he stood at the first step of the dais, and tried to lift his boot to step up but the sigil glittered red and he found himself unable to take it. He put his foot back to the floor, hands curling into fists at his side; the King’s ring heavy around his finger as he glared. Only the one true heir could sit atop it. Once he had the talisman he could use the magic to make the bloodline fall to him. But he needed that sword. The doors behind him opened and three figures entered, the soldiers closing the, afterwards with a bang. Alone, Barengarius turned to meet the gaze of his Captain of the Guard, a temple priestess, and strangely dress young man with golden eyes. His expression stopped just short of shock as he stared at him. The soldier hadn’t been lying. The boy looked like the spitting image of Roland when he came into power. Surely it couldn’t be. The Princess was Roland’s only living heir… The doors opened again and quickly Barengarius hardened his gaze. Four soldiers entered, pulling an iron trolley between them. The wheels squeaked under the weight of the King’s Blade that rested on top. They pulled the sword to the center of the room and left once more. When the doors here shut, Barengarius tossed his sword to the side with a clatter. “So! We have a thief in our midst, I see,” he snarled. “He has stolen the King’s face the way he has stolen the King’s Blade!”

*Jackson "Jake" Lafaye
Jake had fallen through the vortex, feeling as if he was trapped in the current of a dangerous riptide, or a vicious tornado. When he stopped, he stopped hard. He was still reeling from the impact, but he came to rather quick when he laid eyes on the woman glaring at him. He couldn’t recall ever seeing someone that pretty, but the pressing danger of what just happened, and not knowing where he was, or what the actual FUCK was going on; had him shifting his gears from one brain to the other. Now he was left sitting in front of a gathered crowd of curious and strange faces, dressed in stranger clothes. It wasn’t so much that, but how naked he felt, and suddenly those sharp grey eyes were no longer beautiful, but ugly. That woman had touched him and he’d [I felt] her [I inside] of him. Felt her rummaging around in his mind and in his heart. She saw memories, and felt his feelings. He glared at her, but it was more than that… it was the feeling of another… Loneliness, an unending fear, and a hunger for more. It didn’t belong to the raven haired woman in front of him, and it didn’t belong to him. His gaze was drawn across the room, and it seemed everyone else had eyes on them as well. It was a woman across the room, that made him stop. Hiding his expression as if he were an expert actor, he wore a hard expression, and while he knew he should have looked away, he couldn’t. Standing across from him, with terror in her hauntingly familiar blue eyes, was a woman being heavily protected by the people in the room. Who was she? Why did he suddenly feel as if he knew her? Why did she have to look like her? [I WHY] did she look like her? Jake felt his mouth go dry, he was so absorbed by her appearance he didn’t notice the armored man trying to lift his sword off the ground until he shouted an order to remove the princess. Princess? “No!” He heard her shout, she was staring back at him, and he could feel a great tension in his chest the rush of anxiety, and it wasn’t his… could it be… her’s? Her people tried to coax her away but her words made him pause. “That is my father’s sword!” That certainly made Jake pause. Her fathers? But this sword belonged to his… he instantly remembered the polaroid in his back pocket and he was suddenly on his feet. It [I WAS] her. He could feel his heart racing, he had a desire to be near her. He never made a step, because the moment he jumped to his feet, that same raven haired woman blocked his path, and two armored men were suddenly at his back and shoving him back down to his knees. He knew he was in no position to fight these people. He didn’t even know where he was. “Hey, lady,” he snapped at the dark haired woman, his gaze flashing for a brief moment to watch as three soldiers now struggled to lift his sword off the ground, but his eyes were on the woman being dragged away. She was looking back at him, and he could only stare and watch her be rushed from the room. “Who was that?” He asked. The woman glared back, she looked ready to go in a full rage, she too had been watching the woman be dragged out of the space. Instead of an answer he found his head snapped to the side. For someone so small, she certainly wasn’t dainty. That act seemed to be all the excuse the men behind him needed to shackle him in irons and hoist him up. “Hey, hey get your hands off me! I didn’t do anything, man! Come on!” He gave a shout and put up a bit of a struggle as they forced him to walk away. His protests went silent instantly, the moment he heard an older woman give a scream. He turned his head, craning his neck back to see another guard standing over the woman. She had been struck to the ground. The old woman stood not far off, hands clasped over her mouth. “You have struck a member of the Papal Affini!” The old woman warned. Even Jake had something to say about that. “Hey! What the Hell was that for? She didn’t do anything!” “Shut up!” One of the guards growled. Jake glared at him and turned back to see the guard lifting the woman off the ground and tossing her over his shoulder. Her dark hair falling in a curtain around her face. Jake ceased his struggles. Why strike her and not him? Why was she even coming? She couldn’t possibly have anything to do with this. What even was this? Jake had never felt this anxious before, not even when his mother went into remission. He figured it was better to comply than to continue struggling. He didn’t have a clue what he’d fallen into, and the only way he was going to get out of this, was by being patient, and being smart. He was shoved into a metal wagon, boarded up with only small narrow slats at the top to let in any light. He barely managed to catch himself and turn around when the other guard came and tossed the woman in. Luckily his hands were shackled in front of him and he hurried to catch her before her head hit the floor. The man waited no time in slamming the door shut too. Jake did what he could, awkwardly holding the unconscious woman in his arms. He wanted to make sense of what was happening, but he could only handle things as they came, and right now he had an unconscious woman in his arms, and she had one hell of a punch. He did not want to be on the end of that fist again. He carefully backed himself into a corner and slid down, using his own body as leverage and allowing her to gently collapse at his side, leaving her head on his leg. He figured it lucky to had gotten situated before they started moving, because there was no warning, just a harsh jolt as the wagon took off. There wasn’t much to do now but sit and wait for what came next. Sitting in the shadows of the wagon, Jake stared down at the woman resting in his lap. He noticed the bruise forming on her cheek, that the hand curled up by her face was rough and calloused. She wasn’t some pampered girl, so what was she. “Hey,” He moved his hands out from under her to rock her shoulder. “Hey wake up,” he gave her a gentle shake and she slowly came too. The moment she did, she sucked in a sharp gasp with large eyes full of absolute fear. Panic flashing in her eyes and across her whole body. She seized sitting straight up, but Jake was fast, even with his hands cuffed. He was able to grab her hand, and called out to her. “Hey, calm down. It’s okay. You need to breathe, look at me,” She did, her grey eyes locking on his, as she worked to catch her breath, the grim reality of her situation settling in. Jake completely, unaware. “Good, tell me your name,” “Kirra,” She managed her voice edged with emotion. Jake gave her a genteel smile. “That’s a very pretty name, mon Cher. Can you tell me what is happening?” Jake smoothed his hand over the top of hers, his other holding it aloft. She sucked in a shaky breath and looked up at the slatted bars. “We are being taken to the Iron Palace. The Curia Regis will want to meet you. You should know something, Jackson. The person we are about to see is a dangerous man. He will not think twice to kill you, that sword you carry is no ordinary blade. It is bonded to you and you alone. That much is obvious by the fact the others could not lift it.” “Then how could you?” Jake asked. That hadn’t gone unnoticed by him either. Where fully grown men had struggled she’d been able to at least keep a grip on it and remain standing. “Magi know magi.” Jake stared at her as she had taken to sitting with her back against the wall, facing the door to the wagon, and waiting with her knees tucked against her chest. He wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but he had a feeling it was all she would give him. They saw in awkward silence a moment longer before Jake managed to muster up the courage to speak to her again. She was downright intimidating. And with those grey eyes of her’s, her gaze was as hard as steel. “So this Curia guy-“ “You mean Lord Barengarius, Curia Regis of the Xaitus Empire. You would be wise to learn his name, and though he would like to think he is King… he is not,” she warned. Jake took note and gave a nod of his head, continuing on. “Right, if this guy’s so bad, then he’s no doubt going to try and get rid of me. Just the idea that I’m a threat might prompt him to kill me.” “We cannot let that happen!” She suddenly hissed turning on him, her hands fisted tightly against her legs. He stared back, stunned. “I have seen into your heart, Jackson LaFaye. I have seen your memories, and in this world, I know you better than anyone else. You are exactly who you say you are. The Son of King Roland Barinthus the III. I would rather see you sit on the Iron Throne. It is your birthright.” Jake stared at her, she was dead serious, but there was more than that. She was scared, her hands shaking with each passing second. Jake wanted to match her determination, at least he had an ally, even if it was by happenstance, and out of necessity. “Alright, tell me everything I need to know. The basics, enough to keep me alive.” Kirra spoke quickly, knowing there wasn’t much time and Jake did his best to take in every word. Magic was illegal here. She had sensed it on him, but urged him not to do anything that might summon it forth. For now she was certain it was locked away until he would have true need of it. He had his father’s name, had his father’s face, his father’s sword, and by extension he would have his father’s throne. Part of him grinned inwardly at the prospect of burning his father’s kingdom to the ground. The other part wanted to just go home, but when he thought about his trailer, he was reminded there was no home to go back to. “Do you understand? This kingdom was founded on magic, and now holds it in contempt. The throne itself is protected by old magic. Only you can approach it. Fine a way to walk to it in front of others in the room. There [I has] to be witnesses. It you can just touch that godforsaken throne… it will be yours. Whatever you do. Don’t let him have that sword.” “I understand. Why can’t I just let him have everything? I don’t want this. It might be my only way to go back to where I came from.” Kirra stared at him with a very disturbing expression, a solemn acceptance. “I die. Likely right in front of you.” “Wha… why?” He couldn’t believe it. Why her? She’d done nothing! “I will have ceased my usefulness, and Barengarius will likely find some way to blame the portal on me, blame my magic, I will have broken the writ, my Papal revoked, and shot dead, all with one word.” “Right…you probably don’t want to die either.” “All things die, Jackson. Death will come for me as it does all Magi, early and without mercy.” Jake couldn’t say more, the wagon had come to an abrupt stop and they were both removed from the wagon. Jake blinked, looking up at the massive black stone and metal structure. A massive hundred foot stone wall surrounded the entire complex. It was a steampunk parody of Dracula’s castle. When Kirra had called this the Iron Throne, she hadn’t been kidding. He was shoved through a doorway by two guards and stumbled forward to come face to face with a tall broad shouldered man. Kirra was being escorted behind him, by a guard who kept her compliant with what looked like an AK-47 aimed at her head. “Do you really have to do that?” Jake asked the man with his firearm. “Really, at her head? Is that necessary?” To shut Jake up the man seemed to set the trigger, making a light seem to glow from inside the mechanism. Kirra seemed to go rigid, her eyes wide, and her hands fisted tightly. “For fucks sake…” He glared and turned around facing the obvious leader of this group. He had been the one shouting orders at what Jake came to learn was a temple. The Captain grabbed Jake and carried him towards a set of large double doors. Kirra stayed in step behind them with her head down. The doors were opened and the three of them entered to have the doors close right behind them. Jake stepped away from the guard with them and stood center to stare down the very man Kirra had cautioned him against. -[I Do not look weak-] Those had been Kirra’s words to him at one point during their conversation in the wagon. Jake wanted to look around the room, and just behind Barengarius he could see the Iron Throne, and the gleaming eyes that seemed to alight on him. Jake couldn’t pay it any mind. They were in a silent battle of wits, and Jake wasn’t likely to back down. He’d come up against his fair share of bullies in the past. The tension was only made worse as the doors were broken open again and four soldiers came rolling in his sword on a trolly. They pushed it in just close enough to Jake, if he tried really hard, he might get his hands on it. They left as soon as they came, the doors slamming shut, Jake’s eyes still on Barengarius. Barengarius tossed his sword to the side, which seemed to make Kirra flinch beside him. “So! We have a thief in our midst, I see,” he snarled. “He has stolen the King’s face the way he has stolen the King’s Blade!” “I have only that which I was given. That which is rightfully mine,” he said boldly. Beside him Kirra tensed even greater, looking pale and sick. Maybe he was showing too much strength? Or maybe this was just the sort of attitude that would piss Baregarius off. “Can’t be theft if it was left behind. Am I under arrest for something legitimate? If not, I’ll be on my way. I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here. So let’s cut the bullshit and you just tell me what you want.” “M-my lord!” Kirra suddenly exclaimed hinging at her waist into a deep bow. Oh Gods! What was she thinking?! This was certainly going to get her killed, but if that oaf kept pushing Barengarius they’d both be dead. The Captain was useless, just standing there, a worthless guard for a worthless regime. “I have seen this man before in visions. I did not equate his face as his own. I mistook it for our late King Roland, I knew he was the key to finding the sword, but I can not find what is not in our world.” “Our world?” Heathcliff asked. Kirra kept her head down, letting her hair cover the sheer terror on her face, despite her own voice remaining eerily calm. “Yes, ours is but one of many. So Legend says. They are all connected by doorways, but they were closed long ago, for there was no magic strong enough to open one. I believe King Roland used one of these doorways to another world. That is where he hid the sword. I was a baby when it happened, but I know there was a time before Roland was king… he went missing for a year, and ever since his disappearance the sword has been missing. He returned with Princess Elsinore instead. Or so the Archives say,” Kirra added the last bit to save her own neck, and hoped with The Captain at least in the room he could stand as a single witness. Though, she doubted it would help her much. Still, if this could help stave off a most untimely death for Jake, she had no other choice. He came through a Dravvus portal, she had seen his true self, she had seen the potential in him, she felt some sense of responsibility for him.

Captain Heathcliff Thome
There were two kinds of magic in the world. There was the kind passed down through genetics- mage blood that you were born with because your father had it, and his father had it. Called ‘pure bloods’, these types of mages were almost completely extinct in Xaitus. A pure blood baby was only born if both parents were magi. And since marriage between magi were expressly forbidden on pain of death, they were now more legend than fact. A part of history the government had attempted to rub out in every measure of the world. In fact, it was hoped that by outlawing such couplings, the empire would manage to destroy the populous completely. But magic is akin to a stubborn weed. No matter how many times you pulled it up by its roots, it always seemed to pop up in other places. It was a living, breathing part of genetics, and some children simply got lucky. Or rather, very unlucky… Heathcliff Thome was about as unlucky as they came. His father had been the mage. His mother had not. Heathcliff didn’t know how or why they’d ended up together. In fact, he didn’t know much about either of his parents. Despite knowing full well the consequences, his mother had gotten pregnant, and you can’t hide that sort of thing forever. She was eventually found out, and the second she had given birth, Heathcliff had been ripped from between her legs and the woman had been dragged out into the street and shot. His father would have been too, if the man hadn’t been considered a valuable good. Like many able-bodied mages, he’d been forcibly conscripted into the mining corps. So the infant had been given to the man to raise. Raising a child wasn’t exactly feasible when you were expected to work yourself to death. He spent most of his earliest days in the care of the other inhabitants of the Capitol slums, and on Heathcliff’s second birthday, the man had left for his daily trip and never returned; apparently eaten by a wraith who had decimated the entire group he’d been with- including most of the armed soldiers. He was twenty-seven now and Heathcliff barely remembered the man, but every morning when he pulled on his uniform he was forced to contend with the recollection of his childhood regardless; of his mother. A child born to magi parents were considered illegal. Stripped of their rights as a citizen. With his father gone, any hope for a normal life had been extinguished. His mother was sickly and couldn’t work, and she had resorted to begging for food. His home had been in the slums surrounding the capitol, and he’d grown up young, scrappy, and hungry. Always fighting. Always in trouble. And it had only gotten worse when she’d died. When he’d turned 14 he had immediately conscripted into the military. It was his only option as neither parent had left him with any kind of trade and he wasn’t allowed to seek work inside the city. To be honest, the military was a godsend in a lot of ways. Anyone could enter it, and if you were citizen-less like him, 5 years of service could earn you your citizenship. That rule had been instated a hundred years ago to combat the influx of immigrants that came with Empire’s constant conquering of other countries. And the work was good. You could find a talent, move up ranks, and if you were good enough eventually make a career out of it. With no real future and substantial hate for the life he’d seemingly been dealt, Heathcliff signed up for infantry, intending to die quickly. Except he hadn’t died. Somehow, Heathcliff had found a knack for weaponry and fighting, and it had started a life of achievement that he hadn’t thought possible. The men he fought alongside liked him, his superiors liked him, and he liked the action and the assured three square meals a day. Eventually, Heathcliff managed to move up the ranks until he was transferred to the King’s Guard; the inner police of the Capitol. It wasn’t quite the army, but it still put a roof over his head and food in his belly. Working for the Guard, however, wasn’t easy. There’s a reason they say don’t ask how the sausage gets made… Heathcliff sooned learned why the King’s Guard were so widely hated. Most of them operated less like a police force and more like a crime syndicate. Fear and oppression were the top tricks in their tool bag. Eventually Heathcliff wanted out, but he wasn’t given a choice. He was threatened with his own arrest- his own death- unless he continued to serve. It was a never ending nightmare, and when his superior suddenly resigned under mysterious circumstances that involved him waking up one morning with a knife to the chest, Heathcliff was promoted to Captain. He didn’t want it, but other than committing suicide he was out of luck. Finally he made a decision. If he couldn’t beat the system, then maybe he could change it. He was in a position of authority and for the past two years he had been slowly but surely draining the swamp of its predators. Sure, it had given him some new enemies, but those enemies kept running into one very serious issue- the same issue that had plagued his time in infantry… Heathcliff Thome was a man that just couldn’t seem to die. “Captain? The sword.” Heathcliff blinked and glanced down at the men in front of him. They were both doing their best to hold up the large, onyx blade from the ground. He frowned and reached out to grip the hilt, but the second his glove connected with the metal there was an electric shock the burned through the glove, causing him to pull back; a hiss escaping between his teeth. “Damn” he murmured, brow creasing in a frown. He looked over towards the figure that had fallen from the sky as he was hoisted off the ground by two guardsman and ordered to march ahead- hands where they could be seen. His clothing was so foreign looking, but the face… the face truly was an exact image of late King’s. Immediately, Heathcliff didn’t like him. No one had liked the King, not even his own children liked him. The man had been a tyrant, and Heath wondered if the stranger shared similar traits. He set his hand to the pommel of his sword as, for a split second, the thought entered his mind- what if he just killed the bastard now? He could say the guy was giving them trouble. He was captain and no one would question it. Suddenly the stranger turned and looked at him, and Heathcliff immediately dropped his hand. His eyes and face may have been the king’s, but they were also familiar in another way. So many of his features matched Elsinore’s. And Heathcliff loved Elsinore like a little sister. She was the only part of the entire empire worth protecting. Letting out a sigh he jerked his hand upwards in a motion for them to proceed and followed them out. The walk out of the Temple District as short, and Heathcliff was happy for the festival as it meant the large crowds paid little attention to them. Beside him, hands folded neatly at her waist, was Kirra the temple maid; her steps soundless compared to the crunch of his boots on the gravel. “Are you alright?” he asked her. The question almost seemed to startle her, and she looked over at him in surprise before turning her eyes ahead. “I’m fine,” she answered curtly. He rolled his eyes. The young woman was a friend of Elsinore’s and they had crossed paths several times. He always said hello, she always ignored him. He couldn’t blame her; not really. After all, he was a soldier and she was a mage. The two didn’t mix. His kind killed her kind. Of course, he wondered what she’d say if she knew his history. However, no one knew his history. He’d been sworn to keep his true identity secret by his superiors. It couldn’t get out that he was the son of a mage and a traitor of a mother. “You sure?” he questioned again. As a priestess, she had to be flustered by stranger’s arrival in her temple of all places. “Quite. Please… don’t speak to me.” Heathcliff’s brow furrowed, but he stopped her with a look. “So quick to want to get that sword to Barengarius, huh?” he murmured. She froze and turned to meet his gaze. There was pain behind those large, luminous eyes of hers, shielded by anger. “Of course. You of all people know the importance of loyalty and obedience to the crown. Long Live the King.” Heathcliff stood there as she turned on her heel and jogged ahead to meet up with the stranger. His hands fisted, the leather straining and he couldn’t keep the disgust out of his expression. After all, he was just as prisoner as she was, and she didn’t even know it. Kirra, Heathcliff, and the stranger were the only ones allowed in the throne room once they arrived. As the doors opened, Heathcliff lead the way inside, his brow immediately arching at the sight of Barengarius backing way from the dais the throne was seated on. He looked upset, but that discouragement turned to rage the second he set eyes up on the stranger. “So! We have a thief in our midst, I see,” he spat. His grey hair was coifed expertly at the nape of his neck, his black robes embroidered with silver thread glittering in the light from the wall sconces. “He has stolen the King’s face, the way he has stolen the Kings blade!” Heathcliff's lips parted, intent on delivering a report on what had happened, but before he could utter a sound, the stranger spoke. “I have only that which I was given. That which is rightfully mine,” he said boldly. Heathcliff blinked, shocked, before snapping his head to the side to pin Kirra with a death glare. What has the two of them discussed on the way to the palace!? Had she prompted him to act so foolishly- putting them all in danger!? Beside him Kirra tensed, looking pale and sick; eyes wide. The stranger didn’t seem to notice. “Can’t be theft if it was left behind,” he said, his accent rough and unfamiliar to them. He shoved his hands in his pockets and took a step forward towards Baengarius. The man’s exression darkened considerably and he crossed his arms across his chest . “Am I under arrest for something legitimate? If not, I’ll be on my way. I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here. So let’s cut the bullshit and you just tell me what you want.” “M-my lord!” Kirra suddenly exclaimed hinging at her waist into a deep bow. Barengarius gave her a look of ultimate disgust, his dark blue eyes promising retribution. “I have seen this man before in visions. I did not equate his face as his own. I mistook it for our late King Roland, I knew he was the key to finding the sword, but I cannot find what is not in our world.” Beside her Heathcliff frowned. “Our world?” he demanded. “What do you mean ‘our’ world? What other world is there?” Kirra kept her head down, leaving her hair to hang like a dark sheet, hiding her face. “Yes, ours is but one of many. So, legend says. They are all connected by doorways, but they were closed long ago, for there was no magic strong enough to open one.” “Until now,” Barengarius growled, his eyes raking up and down the newcomer with dagger like precision. “Yes,” Kirra nodded. “I believe King Roland used one of these doorways to another world. That is where he hid the sword. I was a baby when it happened, but I know there was a time before Roland was king… he went missing for a year, and ever since his disappearance the sword has been missing.” Barengarius finally turned his gaze on Kirra, his lips pursed, demeanor icy. “He returned with Princess Elsinore instead,” she said, and lifted a hand, fingers splayed, to gesture to the stranger. “Or so the Archives say.” “How do you know what the archives say?” he asked, his stare a warning. Kirra blushed, flustered to say the least, but Heathcliff stepped forward and raised an arm to cross in front of her; as if to shield her. The tip of the dyed-red horsehair from his helmet swept against the floor, as he adjusted it under one arm. “I gave her permission to use them,” he lied. “When you ordered her to locate the sword, I allowed her use of them.” For a moment Barengarius peered skeptically at Heathcliff, but as if he accepted it, he finally dropped the tension in his shoulders. “Fine. And did the archives tell you the name of this so called world he left the sword in?” Kira shook her head. Barengarius took a deep breath and finally turned back to the unfamiliar face so like the late King’s. “Were do you come from?” he demanded. “Louisiana,” he responded, chin lifted defiantly. Barengarius arched a brow. “Lou-ee-see-yana?” he questioned. “I’ve never heard of any such place in the archives.” “Many such worlds did not have names,” Kirra responded. “Only the knowledge of their existence is written.” Barengarius looked back to the stranger and seemed to look him over thoroughly for a long moment. “And what is your name?” he asked, pointedly. “Jackson.” Finally Barengarius let out a breath and his whole demeanor changed. He settled one hand against the small of his back before gesturing to Jackson with the other. “Well Mister Jackson, It appears we’ve entered quite a conundrum. If it is written in our archives… then it must be true. Those archives are the very backbone of our society; handed down on the backs of the very men who built our empire. If what they say is true then you are indeed the heir apparent of our throne. On the other hand…” He reached up to stroke his bearded chin. “I can’t just let you waltz right into the heart of the palace and take a seat when I am uncertain if that seat is deserved. So… we must find a way to prove you are indeed what you say you are.” Turning he nodded to Heathcliff. “Have your men escort Lord Marcus here to the throne room.” Immediately Heathcliff and Kirra both stiffened and shared a discreet glance. “My lord,” Heathcliff said and then bowed before turning on his heel and making his way out of the doorway; his ponytail fluttering behind him. On the marble flooring, his boots echoed in the hall as he gestured to the two saluting guards outside. “Go and summon Lord Marcus. Lord Barengarius wishes to see him.” The guards saluted a second teeth and muttered a quick ‘Aye Captain!’ before setting off down the hall in one direction while Heathcliff frowned and immediately made his way down the opposite hall. If Barengarius would demand Marcus to come forward, then Elsinore deserved to be there as well. He sped back down the hall and into the foyer before jogging up the grand staircase and up two floors until he reached another hall where four guards were stationed this time; two on each side. They saluted but Calder ignored them and hurried towards a room several doors down. The door had one other guard posted at it, and he nodded to the man before knocking on the heavy mahogany that glimmered in the light. He’d barely lifted his fist from the door when it was flung open and the princess stood there with her hands clasped; face flushed. She was truly lovely and- Heathcliff couldn’t help but notice- out of breath. “Heath!” she exclaimed, rushing forward to grab his arm. “Where is he?!” Heathcliff lifted his hand and jabbed his thumb back over his shoulder. “He’s not dead yet.” She visibly relaxed and stepped back. “He is not a spy then?” He shook his head. Espionage was so expressly forbidden in the empire that if you were accused of it, you were shot on sight- guilty until proven innocent. Even children had been executed for it. Elsinore, pressed a crooked finger to her lips. “I cannot believe this. On all days.. the Lunar Feast… Did you find out where he came from?” Heathcliff shook his head. “No. Not really. He told us where, but the name sounds completely fake. But Elsie listen to me.” Reaching out he gripped her shoulders and gave her a look. “He said his name was Jackson, but more than that? He said he was your brother.” Elsinore froze, her eyes widening. “What?” “He’s called Marcus.” Her brow furrowed and her eyes swept across his breastplate in disbelief. “If he’s called Marcus… than he may truly believe it. Why?” Heathcliff released her and shrugged. “He does look very much like your father.” “Surely that’s not all.” “No. He also has the King’s sword with him.” Her look spun into shock yet again. “Are you absolutely, immeasurably positive it is my father’s sword?” “Without a single doubt. And he can lift it.” Elsinore looked faint. “If it is true… then he is my brother!” Heathcliff gestured towards the hall behind him. “You should be there when Marcus gives his answer, whatever it may be. You have a right too. Not even Barengarius can deny that.” “As much as he’d like to,” Elsinore agreed before the two of them sped off down the hall and back towards the throne room. The closer they came, the faster Elsinore became until she was all but running; her blonde hair whipping out behind her. “Elsinore!” Heathcliff exclaimed and reached out to grab her by the arm just as she shoved the door to the throne room open; revealing Kirra, Barengarius, and Jackson. Unable to pull her to a stop she ripped from his grasp and made her way to Jackson where she looked up into his eyes with a look of awe. Suddenly she spied the blade behind him and she jerked her gaze back at him and gasped. Her hands shot up and she gently held his face; his sun-bronzed skin seeming darker against her pale skin. “It is you!” she exclaimed softly, her blue eyes glittering with kindness. “What is the meaning of this?” Barengarius interrupted, shooting a glare at Heathcliff. “This man is my brother. He is of royal blood and I am entitled to see him!” she replied, her expression determined as she released her touch to . “My Princess, we do not know if the allegation is true. For all we know he could indeed be a liar.” “He has the King’s sword with. My father’s sword.” “Yes, but-” “If he can lift it than he is of royal blood!” The door to the throne room opened again, and three men entered. “Then Marcus shall confirm it,” Barengaris said, and snagged her wrist in his hand, pulling her to the side. Of the three strangers that entered, two of them were soldiers. They walked on either side of the last figure who, at first glanced, seemed rather short. It took a moment to realize that the man wasn’t short, rather he was hunched a large hump protruding from behind him. His face was also irregular, deformed and marred by scarring, bumps, and protrusions that forced one eyes to remain in a perpetual state of half-open. One arm hung at his side, and he kept the other tucked against his chest, hidden beneath the folds of his sleeve as if to hide it. Despite that, his hair and eyes matched Jackson’s completely, though Marcus’ hair was liberally threaded through with grey. His expression was completely unreadable. “Lord Marcus,” Barengarius said, his grip on Elinore’s wrist nearly bruising. “This man claims to have inherited the late King’s sword,” he said. Marcus’ expression didn’t change. “As is your right, tell me if he is who he say he is.” For a moment, the deformed man remained completely still. Finally he moved forward, his body stiff and slow; his gait uneven and clumsy with a lip. He shuffled forward until he stood directly in front of Jackson and stared at him; his one good eye gleaming. Without warning, he finally lifted his hidden hand, the sleeve shifting down to reveal something that was only a pale imitation of a hand. It was twisted, bumpy with growths, and the skeletal, ad the skin was completely black. The fingers which were curled and tight spread outwards causing the flesh to crack and ooze blood as if the whole thing were charred in a horrific fire. Where he stood, Jackson looked horrified as the hand came to suddenly touch his chest, and the moment the fingers brushed against the fabric of his shirt a clear and deep bell-like tone rolled through the air that suddenly felt too heavy to breathe. Jackson attempted to breathe through it, the world appearing to freeze in place for a long moment, during which time Lord Marcus suddenly grinned, his thin lips splitting into a sinister sneer, his teeth broken and infected. A burning sensation filled the boy’s chest until he was blinded by a flash of light. And almost as quickly as time had stopped, it sped up and started again, causing Jackson to gasp. Everyone around him acted as if they hadn’t even noticed what Jackson had seen. And he had to wonder if he’d only imagined Lord Marcus’ smile as the grotesque man was back to his stoic self. “Well?” Barengarius said. Marcus merely continued to stare at Jackson. Finally he spoke, his voice distorted and hissing. “He is of Royal Blood.” Barengarius’s eyes widened and Elsinore gasped excitedly as she pulled free of him and all but threw herself at Jackson, gripping his hands in hers, her eyes immediately full of affection. “King Maker has spoken,” Heathcliff said, without warning dropped to his knee in a bow. Kirra bowed as well, leaving Barengarius standing with look of complete shock. Finally he too bowed to Jackson. “My… Prince,” he said, but his tone was no longer incredulous. He finally stood and his face wore a smile. “You have my sincerest apologies. Our Empire has been without a ruler for these three long years. I had to be certain.”
darien     2y ago

[I “How do you know what the archives say?”] Barengarius’ voice was icy cold, and it sent a chilling shiver down Kirra’s spine. She didn’t know what to say, how would she tell him she had accessed the Archives, without actually touching a single piece of paper? It was a gross new level of her powers that she didn’t want him to be aware of, but it had also taken copious amounts of concentration and energy to do. Not to mention, Elsinore’s help. Before she could say anything, her eyes wide on Barengarius’ face -the only person she truly feared, a hand came across her view. It was gloved, and armored, and her gaze moved up the arm to see Captain Thome’s profile. Why was he doing this? Kirra didn’t understand, nothing Thome said was true. She thought back to their walk, his questions about her welfare, and now this? These were not the usual actions of a Xaitus soldier. She had never trusted him, and never would. She made it a point to avoid Tower Guards and law enforcement in general. Very few knew she was a mage, and even less knew the scope of her powers. Elsinore was the only person Kirra had entrusted the full knowledge of her abilities to, too easily could they be used to spy on other countries and leaders, and the only reason Kirra had learned her powers could be used in a multitude of ways was due to her efforts in trying to find the sword. She had all but tried to stamp the magic out of herself when she reached puberty and had her first ‘dream’. She didn’t want to be a mage, she didn’t want to work the mines, and she had been a frightened girl, willing to do what she had to to survive. Becoming a Papal only ensured she would never have to work a mine, but it didn’t mean she wouldn’t be used in other ways. Since the knowledge of her powers reached Barengarius, he’d used her. However as the temple owned her, and her powers showed no signs of being able to do anything physical, he was limited with what he could do with her, so he managed to instill an everlasting fear into the child, and it had manifested into reluctant obedience in her. She had found plenty of other mages, and artifacts over the years, but none had she searched for as hard as she did for the King’s sword. She just hadn’t been expecting Jackson Lafaye. She was quick to not get drowned too deeply in her thoughts and shook her head at Barengarius’ question. He was not happy to be without information, and was forced to interact with Jackson. “Were do you come from?” he demanded. “Louisiana,” Jackson responded, chin held high as if proud. Kirra watched quietly through the strands of her fallen hair. “Lou-ee-see-yana?” he questioned. “I’ve never heard of any such place in the archives.” Kirra sensed Barengarius wasn’t about to accept that answer, but Kirra knew better. She knew it was the truth. “Many such worlds did not have names,” Kirra responded quickly. “Only the knowledge of their existence is written, and there are many.” Her answer seemed to stay Barengarius’ temper and he looked back at Jackson, who hadn’t moved from his strong stance. “And what is your name?” he asked, pointedly. “Jackson LaFaye.” Jake stood his ground, he had nothing to hide, and he felt he had nothing to fear. Despite Kirra’s harsh tongue and attitude on the ride over, she was proving to be a true ally. She hadn’t lied when she said she was scared of this man who stood before him. He could see the fear in her face even now, and he would do what he could to get her out of this alive at the very least. So far, aside from this Barengarius being an obvious Ass, Jackson didn’t know what was so bad about him. It was quiet for a moment after he answered his name, and watched the demeanor of Barengarius shift slightly. Jake had dealt with his share of users, takers, and abusers. Jake could spot a manipulative jerk when he saw one. “Well Mister Jackson, It appears we’ve entered quite a conundrum.” No joke! Jackson listened to what Baregarius told him, and he instantly wanted a look at these Archives. Perhaps they could help him find a way back to Louisiana, back to Earth. He was remiss to admit, that Baregarius made a good point, if they just accepted him without proof, Jake would have found them all to be incredibly dumb. Baregarius wanted that proof, and Jackson simply shrugged his shoulders. Complying, which must have been a welcomed shocked to Baregarius. “Whatever, I don’t care either way…” When the truth was… Jake was curious to know for certain himself. Baregarius’ attention moved to the Captain, and Jake’s own eyes moved back towards the gleaming eyes of the throne above them. The longer he stared the more he felt and heard the buzzing of voices in his head, the eyes pulling him in, and his feet began to move towards it, but he stopped when the door slammed shut with the Captain’s departure, and the hand that stayed him. It was a soft tug on his sleeve, Kirra had reached up, her head still down, remaining silent, and pulled him to a stop with a single tug of his shirt. He turned to look back at her. He fell back in line with her, and reached over to take her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. Silently telling her he understood, and he released her hand back to her, where she once again folded them at her waist. He waited in silence beside Kirra, letting Barengarius pace around the room with his watchful eyes. Jackson just ignored him and turned to Kirra, trying to engage her in conversation as they waited for Lord Marcus, whoever that was, but Kirra simply shook or nodded her head in response to his attempts. He sighed wondering how much longer this would take when the doors burst open and shout came from the hall. He turned his head curiously, hands still bound before him, and blinked in shock to see that girl again. She burst in with such a rush, Jake almost didn’t have a chance to avoid her as she made a quick observation and rushed him. He stood stone still, staring at her with just as much curiosity and awe, as she did to him. He felt his heart hammering in his chest and his mouth going dry. God, she looked so much like his mother. [I Their] mother. Her hands came up and she gently held his face. At her touch, Jackson sucked in a breath, feeling an ocean of emotions spilling over. Her hands were so soft, and when she spoke: “It is you!” she exclaimed softly, her blue eyes glittering with kindness, Jackson felt utter relief. He felt as if the missing part of him had been found. He said nothing only smiling at her warmly, with pure instant love. “What is the meaning of this?” Barengarius interrupted, shooting a glare at Heathcliff. Jackson ignored him, his eyes only on Elsinore who suddenly let go of him to defend herself and claim him. Jake watched her, proud to see she was strong, and determined. They argued his legitimacy, and Jackson kept quiet, letting her speak her peace, but as the doors opened again, Baregarius made a final remark and made a big mistake. He grabbed Elsinore’s wrist tightly in his hand and pulled her away forcefully to the side. Jackson said nothing again, but ground his teeth and bristled like an angry cat ready for a fight. Three men entered the room, and it took Jake a good moment to look away from Baregarius, and towards the newcomer. The horribly deformed man was not what Jackson was expecting. Hunched over, scared face, limp arm… Jackson felt pity for this man. His hunch was something that could have been easily fixed with earth medicine, and Jackson assumed this was Lord Marcus. Jackson also had to wonder something else. If he had another sibling he wasn’t aware of. To be fair, he’d only just learned of Elsinore just this morning. They had the same colored eyes, though it seemed Marcus’ eyes were drooped and unfocused. They had the same colored hair, but Marcus was heavy in grays. Finally, despite his deformity, Jackson could see they shared the same face. A brother, perhaps? “Lord Marcus, This man claims to have inherited the late King’s sword,” he said. Marcus’ expression didn’t change and Jackson watched him closely, but he was distracted by the look of pain on Elsinore’s face. His gaze went to Baregarius’ hand on her wrist and his eyes narrowed. “As is your right, tell me if he is who he says he is.” Jackson looked away from Elsinore and Barengarius only to face Marcus who now stood before him, and Jackson was able to see he had one good eye. It gleamed with intelligence, and Jackson gave a nod of his head. Only Jackson wasn’t prepared for the charred remains of a hand Marcus suddenly showed. Wasn’t that painful? Was’t he afraid of an infection?! Why wasn’t it bandaged? Wasn’t it obvious it needed medical attention?! It was twisted, bumpy with growths, and skeletal. The skin was completely black, charred as if held in a fire, and now cracked and bleeding. He gasped at the sight of it, and watched as he lifted it up, horrified by it. “You okay? That looks painf-“ Jackson stopped as Marcus settled that hand on his chest, and he felt something chime within him. It rang like a bell, and everything seemed to take on a haze. Everything around him seemed to stop, frozen in time. Jackson wanted to look around, but he could only look at Marcus and into his good eye which seemed to suddenly gleam, and a smile crossed his face. Jackson felt more horror at the sight of the man’s teeth. Had he found something amusing to him? Jackson wasn’t sure, this felt different from what Kirra did. He felt a burning fire begin to rage inside his chest, and he wanted to shout out as everything around him began to rock and shake, time suddenly whizzing forward and around him until a light encompassed him and he blinked… Everything was still once more. All except Jackson who was suddenly breathing very hard, his skin hot, but his blood was running cold. “Well?” Barengarius asked impatiently. Jackson took a shaky breath and looked up at Marcus, his face stoic and staring back dully. “He is of Royal Blood.” Jackson’s eyes widened, not because of what he said, but that his voice was also deformed. Strained for air, trouble pronouncing words due to poor teeth. Living must have been hell for this man, and Jackson couldn’t help but pity him. He was nearly knocked back by the sudden impact of Elisnore coming to grab his hands, and steal his attention away from Marcus. “King Maker has spoken,” Heathcliff said, without warning dropped to his knee in a bow. Kirra bowed as well, leaving Barengarius standing with look of complete shock. Finally he too bowed to Jackson. Jackson looked around bewildered by the events of the day. “My… Prince,” he said, but his tone was no longer incredulous. He finally stood and his face wore a smile, but Jackson was having a hard time believing he was happy. “You have my sincerest apologies. Our Empire has been without a ruler for these three long years. I had to be certain.” Three years, they’d been without a ruler for three years? He looked down at Elsinore who was smiling up at him, and he smiled back at her. “So, you’re content to make me your ruler, huh? Why, I’m a total stranger, and I don’t know anything about your world or your government.” “Then we shall teach you, Prince Jackson,” Kirra suddenly said looking much calmer, now that he was accepted by Barengarius. He rolled his eyes, and walked over to Heathcliff. “Hey you, get up and unlock these things for me.” Once free of his binds, Jackson massaged his wrists and then turned around to face Elsinore and reached up to remove his hat, showing his crop of dark brown hair. He approached her and held out his hands for her. When she settled hers onto his he smiled at them and held them gently. “I’m sorry,” he said to her softly. “Sorry it took so long for me to find you, but I’m here now,” he told her with a smile, and without warning pulled her against him into a tight and warm embrace. She was shorter than him by a few inches and it allowed him to nestle his cheek into her hair and take in her scent. Jackson felt warm, felt complete, and felt a love as powerful as he held for his mother, rekindle to life back inside of him. He couldn’t wait to tell her all about their mom, and share new experiences with her, get to know her, and tease her. Their sweet moment was interrupted only by the sudden grumble of his stomach. Jackson tensed feeling a slight pang of embarrassment and chuckled it off, stepping back from Elisnore. “So what’s a guy got to do to get a bite to eat around this place?” He asked, but upon looking around he could see everyone was watching him, and he wondered what they were waiting for. He looked then at Kirra and pointed at her, his eyes moving towards Barengarius. “I want her to stay here with me as well.” Jackson said, remembering what she had said on the ride over. If they had accepted him as their new leader, he supposed he’d start to test his boundaries. “My lord?” Baregarius asked confused. Jackson turned to face him, and put an arm around Elsinore’s shoulders. “I want her. I like her spunk,” Jackson said plainly walking by Barengarius with Elsinore in tow, Kirra had gasped, her face turning bright red, and watched him march right up the steps and to the throne. He marched the steps with Elsinore without any issue, or pushback. “So this is it huh?” He asked his sister looking at the chair, and again into those strange red eyes of the dragon head that mounted the top of the chair. “It’s a bit… creepy…” He commented, reaching up to touch the snout of the dragon skull. “This was where he sat…” Jackson murmured, meaning their father and slowly dropped his hand an unreadable expression on his face. He looked down at the floor beneath him to his muddy work boots, and worn jeans. He then moved his gaze where the others stood, and finally towards Elsinore, who stood at his right. He grinned at her. “This is nothing in comparison to getting to see you,” He told her and reached out to take her hand once more. “So, Baregarius,” Jackson called down, feeling a bit of joy at seeing the man’s expression to see him standing next the throne. Kirra told him there would be no denying it, if he sat on the throne, but there was something about the throne that made him feel uncomfortable with that at the moment. “You’ve been running this show I assume? I guess I’ll be working with you a lot. I’m going to need all the help I can get,” Jackson said to him, now all smiles that he wasn’t in cuffs and united with his sister. Besides, if what Kirra said was true, and this man was dangerous, Jackson wanted to keep him close. “I clearly wasn’t raised to be a king, and I’m not sure how good I’ll be at it. I hope I can depend on you.” He looked to Heathcliff next. “And you, you were with Elsinore when I came through. Thank you for protecting her all this time. I look forward to working with you as well. Where I come from they have a saying: A Country boy can survive, and that may be true where I come from, but I’m sure there is much you could teach me as well. Now that I have such a precious treasure back, I will want to be able to protect her as well. I don’t image you earned your position by kissing ass, so maybe you can teach me too. And you…” He looked at Kirra then, and reached up to massage his cheek where she’d punched him earlier. “You owe me an apology for punching me earlier.” He almost chuckled at the horrified expression on her face as she stared up at him. “Though,” he tapped his chin in thought “I suppose you only did it to protect Elsinore, so I will let it slide, but you’ll have to meet me in my room so we can come to an agreement.” Jackson gave a wicked smile, and Kirra only stared up in horror, disbelieving what he was saying, and unable to fight the two guards that took her arms and held her at bay. He suddenly clapped his hands then and looked back at Elsinore. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten yet today, and I have a feeling this king business is going to make me very hungry. Shall we go get something to eat? You can show me around this place so I don’t get lost.” Jackson was doing his best to play an obvious game, using his naivety to his advantage, and his new found power. Most importantly he was trying to set pieces around him for not only his own advancement and survival in this place, but to ensure Elsinore’s continued safety.

Princess Elsinore Aurelia Barinthus
For a moment as she stood with her hands clasped around Jackson’s, Elsinore’s stomach dropped. She had been so overcome with sheer excitement that she had no idea how he would react. For her, having been alone so terribly long, suddenly finding that you have a new family member to love seemed like a dream come true, but she knew he might see it different. What if he had a different life in his world? One where there was a family of his own? Was he married? Did he have friends? What about his mother? …Their mother… Her pulse quickened at the realization that he held the key to finding out about a mother she had always longed for but never met. The fear in her instantly subsided when a smile spread across his face. It was kind and warm, and while it filled her with happiness, she couldn’t help but secretly be taken aback inside. Those eyes of his… they were the King’ eyes… he looked so much like their father. And their father never smiled except in cruelty. A smile from the King had meant danger. To see kindness in those eyes was terribly alien. As if sensing her whirlwind emotions, he took up a hand and cupped her cheek. Elsinore couldn’t help herself and pressed further into it, delighted by its size and roughness. He was warm and strong and she felt her nose prickle with heat the way it did whenever she felt like crying. “So, you’re content to make me your ruler, huh?” Jackson said, and they turned to look at Barengarius who arched a brow. “Of course. You are King Roland’s son. The eldest male heir. It’s only right that you sit on the throne. “Why? I’m a total stranger, and I don’t know anything about your world or your government.” “Then we shall teach you, Prince Jackson,” Kirra suddenly said. “Oh yes!” Elsinore agreed excitedly. “Of course we will.” Barengarius frowned. “You are the rightful heir to the Xaitus empire, Jackson LeFaye of Loueeseeaina,” he nodded, mangling the name of Jackson’s home state. Whatever you wish, is yours.” “Whatever I wish?” Jackson murmured, and when Barengarius nodded, he made his way over to stand before Heathcliff. Lifting his hands he gave them a shake, rattling the cuffs. “How about you get up and unlock these things for me?” Heathcliff got to his feet without hesitation and gabbed the center of the chain that connected the two cuffs. Reaching to his belt, he retrieved a ring of keys which he used to dismantle the binder. Jackson massaged his wrists and then turned around to face Elsinore and reached up to remove his hat, showing his crop of dark brown hair. He approached her and held out his hands for her. When she settled hers onto his he smiled at them and held them gently. Elsinore’s slender fingers braced his palms in happiness. “I’m sorry,” he said to her softly. Elsinore’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Sorry? Why… whatever for?” “Sorry it took so long for me to find you.” “Oh Jackson! How could you have known?” He silenced her with a squeeze. “But I’m here now,” he told her with a smile, and without warning pulled her against him into a tight and warm embrace. Elsinore’s eyes widened, her lips parting in shock, but the sensation of his hug enveloped her and immediately her hands came up to grip his shirt; burying her face in his chest as she fought to keep her tears at bay. Behind them, Heathcliff and Kirra smiled Their sweet moment was interrupted only by the sudden grumble of his stomach. Jackson tensed feeling a slight pang of embarrassment and chuckled it off, stepping back from Elisnore. “So what’s a guy got to do to get a bite to eat around this place?” The Princess gave a laughed, muffled against the fabric of his shirt and pulled away, a hand resting against his arm. “Of course. Please,” she gestured to the doors behind them. “Come with me.” Jackson nodded and went to follow her but Barengarius stepped in front of them, his own hands up. “Please. Princess, I know how eager you are to… catch up as it were, but surely you must recognize the severity of the situation. Prince Jackson and I have much to discuss.” Elisnore arched a brow. “I am very well aware of how eager you are to start unloading all of your knowledge onto my brother, just as he no doubt is willing to oblige you. But he is mortal, and he is my brother,” she said, tucking a curl behind her pale ear. She spoke the word with a happy reverence. “And I am entitled to see to see well being and get to know him first.” “Princess, surely-” “Surely you can wait, Lord Barengarius. After all, if the Gods’ sent him, then surely they mean for him to remain for at least some time.” She felt Jackson tense beside her, but she squeezed his hand and was relieved he took the hint and remained silent. “You will many days with him, so allow me his first night here. After all, perhaps it would be best for you to prepare a statement… for the Board. And the Firm.” Barengarius pursed his lips, obviously irritated but he bowed none the less and stepped back. “Perhaps you are right.” “Thank you. My brother and I will take dinner in the east suite.” She looked over her shoulder at Heathcliff. “Do have something prepared and set up, wont you Heath?” The man smiled and gave a quick salute. “Of course my Princess.” Elsinore nodded sweetly and moved to continue their walk, but Jackson stopped her and suddenly pointed to Kirra. “I want her to stay here with me as well.” The lot of them looked surprised. “My Lord?” Baregarius asked confused. Jackson turned to face him and put an arm around Elsinore’s shoulders. “I want her. I like her spunk,” Jackson said plainly walking by Barengarius with Elsinore in tow, Kirra had gasped, her face turning bright red, and even Elsinore looked surprised. Barengarius looked flustered but merely cleared his throat. “My Prince… I regret to inform, you that… that simply will not do. You see, she is a priestess. She belongs in her temple.” “And? Why can’t she belong here? If I’m Prince-” Elsinore suddenly pressed her hand to his where it cupped his shoulder. “Jackson. I will explain. But… if you are concerned for Kirra’s welfare, surely Lord Barengarius would not object to sending for her tomorrow so that you may see she is well taken care of?” She glanced at the mortified priestes. It was the absolute best she could do in the instant to assure Kirra’s welfare. Again Barengarius was obviously frustrated. He turned to look over at Kirra, eyes glowing with a warning. “You will arrive here, promptly tomorrow morning at eight. Is that clear?” “Hold on,” Jackson said. Barengarius blinked and watched as the boy released Elsinore and suddenly strolled across the marble floor towards the throne. A collective silence suddenly filled the air as all of the watched him as he moved with a cocky gate to climb the thin steps of the dias, the black stone so smooth it reflected him with every step. Jackson made it to the top and they watched in breathless anticipation for him to sit down. Elisinore felt her chest tighten, unable to tell him to stop. Only the King could sit on the throne. For anyone else to do so could mean instant death. Even for a prince. But it was as if time suddenly froze, and Jackson reached out to grip the cold, black iron of the throne’s arm. However, he too suddenly stopped, his eyes locking with the red jewels of the dravvus head that was carved at the top. It was expertly crafted and quite realistic, and Elsinore shivered recalling the memory of her own self climbing the dias as a child. She too, in a moment of rebelliousness had thought to sit in it, in secret. But when she had locked eyes with the carving, she too had stalled. It had given her the most cold and cursed feeling he had ever experienced; a silent dare that would cost her something she had been instinctively unprepared to give. That had been nine years ago. She’d run from it and never looked back, and to this day had never touched it again. Jackson suddenly turned, his movements almost jerky, but his hand remained on the arm. That was enough, however, to wipe the irritation from Barengarius’ face. Only someone with true royal blood could touch the throne. If there was any falsehood in Marcus’ claim, it was gone. Jackson of Louisiana was indeed an heir to the throne. “So this is it huh?” he asked his sister, looking at the chair, and again into those strange red eyes of the dragon head that mounted the top of the chair. Elsinore nodded, her voice a touch strained. “Y-yes. That is the Iron Throne. Our most important of artifacts in the whole of the Empire.” “It’s a bit… creepy…” he commented. Elsinore didn’t reply. “This was where he sat…” Elsinore nodded. He looked down at the floor beneath him to his muddy work boots and worn jeans. He then moved his gaze where the others stood, and finally towards Elsinore. “This is nothing in comparison to getting to see you, though.” Finally the tension in Elsinore’s shoulders faded a bit and her smile softened. “So, Baregarius,” Jackson called down, feeling a bit of joy at seeing the man’s expression. “You’ve been running this show I assume?” Barengarius nodded. “I have, my Lord Prince. We’ve been awaiting the rightful heir to the throne these three long years. It has been a dark time for us. But, you are here now. As was foretold to us. And for that I am sincerely grateful.” And despite his obvious disdain for the idea his voice did sound genuine. “I guess I’ll be working with you a lot. I’m going to need all the help I can get. I clearly wasn’t raised to be a king, and I’m not sure how good I’ll be at it. I hope I can depend on you.” Barengarius smiled, but there was surprisingly no animosity behind it and he again bowed. “I give you my word, my Prince. We rare loyal to you and to our Throne. You have my word.” Jackson looked to Heathcliff next. “And you, you were with Elsinore when I came through.” Heathcliff smiled his rougish smile, clicked his boots together and saluted. “At your service My Lord Prince.” He bowed. “I am Heathcliff Thome- the Captain of your private guard, The Kingsmen. I live only to serve you and our empire.” Jackson nodded. “Thank you for protecting her all this time. I look forward to working with you as well. Where I come from they have a saying: a country boy can survive. And while that may be true where I come from, I’m sure there is much you could teach me as well. Now that I have such a precious treasure back, I will want to be able to protect her as well. I don’t image you earned your position for kissing ass, so maybe you can teach me too.” Heathcliff laughed and the sound was handsome and warm. “It would be an honor, sir. Elisnore is indeed our kingdom’s most prized treasure.” Elsinore gave him a loving smile and laughed gently where she stood beside him. “And you…” Jackson looked at Kirra then, and reached up to massage his cheek where she’d punched him earlier. “You owe me an apology for punching me earlier.” He almost chuckled at the horrified expression on her face as she stared up at him. “Though,” he tapped his chin in thought “I suppose you only did it to protect Elsinore, so I will let it slide, but you’ll have to meet me in my room so we can come to an agreement.” Jackson gave a wicked smile, and Kirra only stared up in horror. Before she could dissent he suddenly clapped his hands then began his dissent from the throne where he came to stand before his sister once more. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten yet today, and I have a feeling this king business is going to make me very hungry. Shall we go get something to eat? You can show me around this place so I don’t get lost.” “Of course. Come with me. Heathcliff?” The captain smiled and lead the way across the room, past Barengarius where he lifted his hand to pound twice at the door. The guards on the other side opened it and he lead the way through Elsinore looping her arms around Jackson where they exited together. Left alone, Barengarius stood still for a moment, as if in shock at all that had take place. Finally he turned to glare at Kirra who was as equally stunned at the events of the evening. “You,” he snapped, shaking her from her stupor. “What are you still doing here? Get out and get back to your temple. Tell the Elders you are to be here at the Lord Prince bequest.” He spoke the words with such venom that Kirra quickly sped from the room. Barengarius followed soon after and turned to close the wide doors, but before he did he found himself looking to the gleaming eyes of the dravvus which held his gaze for a long moment before he dragged the doors shut. Heathcliff left Jackson and Elsinore in the main foyer, giving them a bow and reminding them he would see to having food and a change of clothes brought up before taking his leave in opposite direction. Elsinore gave a sigh as she watched him leave. “Can he be trusted, Jackson asked, and Elsinore glanced up at her brother to see hi staring after the Captain with narrowed eyes. She nodded. “Yes. I understand your concern, but I assure you- if there is anyone at all to trust in this place, it is Heathcliff. He’s a good man, and as close to brother as I ever had before you showed up.” She smiled again, her eyes glittering just slightly with what might have been tears before she tugged him in the direction of the grand staircase. “Come on. I’ll show you to your room. We’ll take a meal in there. I must simply know all there is about you!” She lead him up the stairs and down a main hallway to another set of doors that were guarded by two sets of guards, their guns glittering and at the ready. “This is our family’s domicile wing. All of our rooms are here. I’ll place in one until we can have one set up to better suit you. After all, we weren’t quite prepare for arrival,” she giggled, a finger crooked against her pale, rose lips. Jackson stopped however, a look crossing his face that had her suddenly frowning. “Jackson? Why… whatever is the matter? You look though you’d seen a ghost.” “Our… uh… our mother. She used to do that.” Elsinore’s eyes suddenly filled with a hollow expression that made the blue seem darker. “So,” she managed softly, looking to her feet. “She is… dead then?” Jackson nodded. Elsinore tried to smile, but it failed; appearing lopsided and broken. “Oh. I so was… hoping that I might get to meet her…” “I was hoping to meet our dad,” Jakcson said, his own look unreadable. Elsinore looked up into his eyes. No he didn’t. Oh now she knew that was the last thing Jackson wanted and he didn’t even realize it… She managed to swallow and force a smile, reaching out to grip his shoulder. “We have a great many things to talk about,” she replied softly before turning and leading the way to the doors. The guards saluted but looked wary about letting her pass. Elsinore merely lifted her chin and looked them dead in the eye. “With me, is Lord Prince Jackson, heir to the Iron Throne.” The guards’ façade crumbled in shock they couldn’t hide. “Princess?” one of them managed. “The Gods have sent us the rightful heir. You would do well to memorize his face, as he is a member of the royal family.” The guards looked at him, and they too could not deny the resemblance. Those eyes were the King’s without a doubt They all dropped to a knee, their weapons across their chests. “Our Prince,” they all said in tandem, and Elsinore waved a hand. One of the soldiers immediately got to his feet, pushed open the door and saluted as Elsinore lead him through and down the hall. She brought him to a room several doors down and to the left. She opened the door and reached inside to a knob on the wall which she gave a quick twist; the sconces sputtering to life. The room was richly decorated in reds, golds, and navy blue, the large canopy bed ladened with heavy damask curtains. She hurried inside to pull out a chair for him at a small table for two in the corner, and then made her way to a desk against the far wall, where she opened a few drawers until she located a small box. Turning, she slid it open and plucked a match from inside, returning to the table on which an oil lamp sat center. With delicate movements, she lifted the glass and struck the match, lighting the wick before shaking it out and filling the room with an extra glow. When Jackson commented on the lack of windows, she looked over at him and gave him a sad, but resigned smile. “Yes, no windows. Something you’ll come to learn very quickly here is that… the Iron Palace is very deserving of its name.” She sat down in the other chair with a sigh, finally allowing herself to relax. She looked tired. “I have lived here all my life, and yet… I have never found comfort here, as one should in their home. Sadly, I found more peace in these last few years then I ever have.” “Really? What changed?” “Our father died,” she said and met his gaze. He seemed to be waiting for a joke but her expression didn’t change. Finally he sat down himself, his long legs stretched out. “He didn’t seem like a very nice guy.” Elsinore hugged her arms around her midsection, her skin pale in the light; made more so by the dark velvet of her gown. The dark colours didn’t suit her at all In fact, everything about her cried out for softness and gentleness. “No. He wasn’t,” she agreed. “Our father ruled this kingdom for nearly eighty years. He took it over from our Grandfather when he was our age.” That stunned Jackson. “Wait… how old was he when died?” Elsinore’s eyes drifted towards the ceiling as she silently calculated. “A hundred and two. I think.” “What?!” Elsinore couldn’t help but laugh. “Jackson, like it or not, magic lives in our veins. Because of it we can live a long time. Did you not know that?” Jackson shook his head and explained that most people didn’t live to see a hundred much less a hundred and two. It was her turn to seem surprised. “How every odd. Our worlds truly are different…”
darien     2y ago

Jackson followed Elsinore where she led, his eyes never leaving her profile, and still in awe of how much she looked like the late Fiona LaFaye. They stopped first in the foyer. Jackson was already very familiar with this room, and now the Throne room. Heathcliff left them alone to make his own preparations and Jackson couldn’t help but watch him leave. He asked Elsinore if the man could be trusted, and as she answered he spied out of the corner of his eyes, the Priestess Kirra fleeing in the shadows to make haste back to her temple. His eyes followed her right out a small servants door on the side, before he was swept up by his sister and taken up a grand staircase. Jackson had already surmised that Kirra could be trusted enough to help him, but he saw her reactions to Barengarius and he didn’t trust her to not break if under duress. He could only trust her so far. He wondered if Heathcliff would be the same, and while his sister was still very much a stranger to him, he also knew in his heart that she was true; and if she said Heathcliff could be trusted, then he would take her word. “This is our family’s domicile wing. All of our rooms are here. I’ll place you in one until we can have one set up to better suit you. After all, we weren’t quite prepared for your arrival,” she giggled, a finger crooked against her pale, roses lips. Jackson stopped caught off guard by her movement, and his heart ached painfully twisting in his chest. He was suddenly thrown back to multiple memories all playing out at once in his mind of his mother doing the exact same thing. Her fingers curled against her lips as if to try and stifle her laughter. Usually in public and if he had said something rather clever or wicked that would make his mother chuckle before chiding him. Elsinore quickly caught his pained expression, or maybe she felt the heartache. He wanted to answer her, but his mouth felt dry. Christ, he’d only just buried her yesterday! She said he’d seen a ghost and it actually knocked a nearly hysterical chuckle out of him, but it came out more like heavy breath. He’d have to tell her the truth about their mother. “Our… uh… our mother. She used to do that.” Recognition played out in Elsinore’s face at his wording, and she surmised correctly their mother’s passing, he just couldn’t bring himself just yet to mention how recent it was. He didn’t blame Elsinore for wanting to meet Fiona Lafaye. She had been a wild and untamed woman, full of laughter and strength… that was until the cancer. He wanted Elsinore to have been able to meet their mother, and while he got the feeling dear old dad wasn’t much of a catch, he’d still wanted to meet him. If nothing more than to let him know, that he had managed just fine without him, that he’d made sure mom smiled everyday, and that he didn’t need his approval. “We have a great many things to talk about,” she told him softly, no doubt dealing with her own flux of emotions, and to be honest being near her was a tad confusing as well. He could sense her own disquiet, and he wouldn’t blame her, two armed guards were blocking their path and from what he’d seen so far, he wasn’t exactly comforted by their presence. However, with quick instruction from Elsinore to them about him, they quickly dropped to their knees. He arched a brow, clearly put off by the display. “Our Prince,” they all said in tandem, and Elsinore waved a hand. One of the soldiers immediately got to his feet, pushed open the door and saluted as Elsinore lead him through and down the hall. As soon as they cleared the doors, Jackson was shocked by how dark it was. Lights illuminated the space, but as he looked around he saw nothing but solid walls all around him. Was this a palace or an asylum? He made sure to follow Elsinore closely, and when she went into a room several doors down into the hallway, he watched how she turned on the lights that came to life in the room. He walked in looking around, taking in the decor, but he was really looking for a view… He frowned and turned back towards Elsinore. “No windows… why?” Elsinore didn’t look happy about it either, and he joined her over at a table in the room. “Yes, no windows. Something you’ll come to learn very quickly here is that… the Iron Palace is very deserving of its name.” She was seated, and he noticed the door was closed, which must have allowed her to relax, and he was able to see the truth on her face. She was tired, and she was stressed. He didn’t like it. “What is it?” He asked with concern, and moving through the room. She didn’t hesitate to confess to him her lack of peace in her own home, and when he asked why, he was shocked to hear her answer. Because their father died? Was she serious? With a single look he could tell she was. He stopped his curious adventure and grabbed the chair across from her and turned it about on his leg, to sit in it reverse, his long legs stretching out on both sides, and his arms coming up to rest along the back of the chair. Despite his relaxed posture, his gaze was hard and set on his sister. “Dad doesn’t sound like he was a very nice guy.” “No. He wasn’t,” she agreed. “Our father ruled this kingdom for nearly eighty years. He took it over from our Grandfather when he was our age.” Wait, that didn’t make any sense. Ruled for nearly eighty years? He held up a hand quickly to stop Elsinore from speaking ahead, and getting him more confused. Also what did she mean by ‘took it over’? “Wait… how old was he when died?” Elsinore’s eyes drifted towards the ceiling as she silently calculated. “A hundred and two. I think.” “What?!” Jackson couldn’t believe it, and he was so flabbergasted by the idea he almost missed Elsinore’s laughter. It stopped him from spiraling down a rabbit hole of questions, and instead he locked onto the sound of her laughter and stared up at her. “Jackson, like it or not, magic lives in our veins. Because of it we can live a long time. Did you not know that?” Jackson stared at her for a moment, as if she were crazy, and finally smirked at her. “No. Must have missed that class in school.” She clearly didn’t catch his method of sarcasm, and he sighed, rubbing his jaw, it still ached from Kirra’s punch. “Where I come from most people live to be about 80 or so, it’s sort of a crazy feat to reach 100, let alone 102. Our Healthcare isn’t much to be desired…” he growled the last part to himself, and wasn’t bothered by the fact that Elsinore did not catch it, and even if she had she wouldn’t have understood. “How every odd. Our worlds truly are different…” Jackson looked over at Elsinore and studied her for a moment. He wondered if she’d like it in Louisiana, and he thought of all the places he could take her to see in his world. If he could get back to his world, and honestly, since he’d laid eyes on Elsinore he wasn’t sure he wanted to leave, even if he could. “I’m sure there’s a lot of things that are different between our worlds. For starters, this place makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time. Everything looks like an antique, even your weapons look like antiques.” He said in reference to the rifles they carried which easily resembled early rifles carried by soldiers in World War I. A Knock at the door sounded then and Jackson looked up nervously, but Elsinore was there to get the door and allowed a maid to enter who carried a stack of clothes. Ah yes, they wanted to redress him. He supposed that was for the best, in the sake of blending in. Being a prince apparently drew enough attention, he didn’t need for his tattered earth clothes to bring him any extra unwanted attention. He watched the maid carry them to a dressing table on the other side of the room, curtsy and then leave. Jackson watched her go. Having people waiting on him hand and foot would take some getting used to, and he wasn’t sure if he actually would get used to it. “I suppose I should get dressed before we eat,” he muttered and walked over to the table and looked the clothes over. Soft fabrics, but heavy and dark. “Oh jeez… this thing is a full on monkey suit…” he muttered to himself and picked up a silk collared shirt. He’d have to get use to dressing like this. He excused himself for a moment to a side room he noticed had the door ajar. It was a washroom, so he took the clothes with him and shut the door. Finally he was alone, and the silence of the room was deafening. He dropped the clothes to grip the sides of his head and slid down to crouch and breath heavily through the stress he’d been holding back. He took a few moments to just try and catch his breath, but it was hard. She looked just like mom. He hated to admit how much he felt like throwing up in that moment, but he powered through just like he had all the other times, except this time is was much harder to ground himself being in such an unfamiliar place. So he started counting the bricks on the wall, as he dug his fingers against his scalp. It took him plenty of bricks to finally calm his breathing and manage to let out a shaky breath and stand up. ‘Just get changed.’ That’s what he told himself. Slowly with jerky movements he removed his clothing and changed into the clothes. They weren’t completely unfamiliar. He’d seen clothes like this in a few movies, mostly it made him think of ‘Titanic’. His mother loved that movie. When he finished the last button on his vest, he looked in the mirror and he felt he was dressed like some 1920’s gangster, or a groomsman at a really fancy wedding. The clothing was a dark coal grey with light grey striping, and black Oxford styled shoes. He didn’t bother with the coat or the cravat, the cufflinks or any of the extra pieces. He simple changed clothes and tried to stay as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Studying his reflection he wondered what his mother would say if she saw him: [I “Look at how handsome you are. My sweet prince…”] He could hear her voice as if she was in the room with him. Now he knew that when she called him her sweet prince, she meant that he was one. She had to have known, that had to be the reason why she kept all those things. He had to go back out there, and didn’t want to keep Elsinore waiting too long. Thankfully this place had running water, and he was able to wash his face quickly and run it through his hair to try and smooth it down. Tried to clean himself up, before he walked out. He practiced a smile just for good measure and grabbed his things before he headed back out into the room. When he did, maids were arriving with food and setting the table for them. He said nothing as they worked quietly, not speaking a word to either of them. Jackson went to toss his clothes onto the bed, but a maid came over to take his dirty clothes after have set the food down. “You’ll bring them back right?” He asked the maid, who gave a quick nod of her head. “Alright, these are my favorite jeans,” they were his only good pair of jeans “And this is my favorite hat. I’d appreciate it if you’d clean this up too.” “Your boots sire?” Jackson chuckled then and looked at the caked on mud and concrete dust. He gave them a good nudge under the bed. “Those are beyond help, the clothes will be fine, just-“ he stopped her from getting too far with his clothes and removed his wallet from his pocket and the polaroid, as well as his pocket knife and his useless cell phone. “Thank you.” He stated awkwardly, doing his best to be nice even though the maid seemed put off by it. She gave a quick nod and left with the others in haste. Jackson waited for the door to shut before he walked over with his wallet in hand and looked down at the polaroid. He gave a small smile and sat down across from Elsinore. “You look so handsome,” Elsinore commented, and Jackson’s only response was a wan tired smile, and he set the polaroid on the table. “You look like her,” he said and let her take the polaroid and observe that moment in time, captured on film. He suddenly wasn’t hungry seeing her look at the photo. “She umm… died… four days ago. I uhh… I buried her yesterday.” His voice was rough with emotion. “Seeing you is… it’s hard. I didn’t know you existed until this morning, and now here you are, and you look like her, and you have so many of her little mannerisms… and you, you didn’t get to grow up knowing her, and somehow…” His words trailed off, and he dropped his head feeling stupid for being unable to be as happy as he felt he should be, but with the adrenaline wearing off and the comfort of privacy allowed Jackson to start to show his true self, at least to Elsinore. His face burned, his throat tight, and his head hammering with the built up stress of needing to scream, maybe cry, but most of all to lash out in a hope of finding relief to the pain inside. He didn’t want to bring Elsinore down with his own sadness and pain that he was still processing, and now the uncertainty of this strange place, but the comfort of having found his missing other half. He finally lifted his face, and it was obvious he was not like the late king, as Jackson’s face showed a tender heart, and deep sadness, his eyes filled with emotion and he looked down at the polaroid in Elsinore’s hand. “You should keep it. I have this…” He opened his wallet and removed a different photo. He showed it to Elsinore as well. It was Jackson as a little boy, maybe 13. He wore his church best, black slacks and a white button-down with his converse sneakers, a beat up old guitar hung off his back, and his hands were stuffed in his pockets. Even then he looked like a little punk, an angry mug on his face, but his mother looking beyond in love with him. “I remember that Sunday. I agreed to sing at church for her, and I hated every moment of it, but her smile was worth it. She took me out for a cheeseburger and ice cream afterwards, and it was weeks before she and the whole church stopped talking about my song. I had to fight off the choir director for almost a year from trying to twist my arm into joining the choir.” He grinned at the memory, and decided to try his phone. It was a very basic old phone, but it still worked. It still had power! “Holy shit…” He muttered and flipped through the home screen. He had over half a battery but zero service. Yet somehow the phone was still working. At least for now. “Here, check this out. I’ve got loads more pictures of mom,” He said, food forgotten and he moved his chair over to sit directly beside Elsinore and spent his time flipping through the photos he had of himself, his very small pool of friends, places were he’d been around, and his mother. By the time he got to the recent photos of his mother it was obvious her health had been declining for a very long time, and by the end of it, Jackson had told Elsinore about his best friend Avery, who’d gone off to play football at LSU, and who he’d grown up with getting into trouble and playing games up until Jackson dropped out of high school. At one time Jackson and Avery had both planned to go to LSU, play football, and get super hot girlfriends, and go to all the best parties. He showed her pictures of his favorite places to hunt and fish, but mostly pictures of himself and their mom. He told Elsinore about their mother’s cancer and how it had been aggressive when it came back, and… “And I never got to say goodbye. That’s the last photo I took with her.” It was Jackson and his mom sitting in her hospital bed, her skin pale, thin, and her body weary. But her smile was still bright and so was Jackson’s, even though he was too busy kissing her pale cheek. “I really miss her. She was my best friend. She was the only family I had. I wish you got to know her the way I did…” he muttered and then flipped the phone to videos and he smiled as he saw one. “Here,” he hit play and the video played out for her. [I The camera panned over a window to a table outside, with people standing around a thin woman, with a heavy scarf wrapped around her head. All of them chatting and talking over a table full of food and conversation. “You ready?” A voice can be heard. “Yeah, yeah, I’m ready,” Jackson replied and came into view holding a large cake “Get that stupid thing out of my face. Just focus on her, Avery.” Jackson said laughing, and walked forward. “Brah, shut up, I know what I’m doing. Get yo ass moving. My momma look like she about to come in after both us. I Ain’t finna catch them hands.” “Then stop playing the directors cut” Jackson says into the frame as he pushes the door open with his back and leads the way outside. “Oh look at that!” Avery’s mom called out, her hands clapping together as she quickly made space before Fiona to place the cake. “Haaaaa-ppy Birthday to you!” They all began to sing. Avery was recording Jackson carrying the cake over across the lawn to an old picnic table where the trailer park community had gathered for Fiona’s birthday… one they all felt was going to be not only her last birthday, but the last party any of them would celebrate in the park before it was sold off to a wealthy investor. Fiona smiled, shocked, her hands coming up to her face and a happy expression radiated off of her. “Oh Jake, sweetie. Did you make this for me?” She asked as they all continued to sing and she grabbed his face to kiss his forehead. “Yes momma,” he said and kissed her forehead too. “Happy birthday, now blow out your candles. Make a wish.” Fiona LaFaye looked from Jackson over to her candles and blew the flames out. There was a loud applause and Fiona let out a laugh, curling her finger against her lips. “Hey, momma Fi, you gotta open up your gifts,” Avery said from behind the lens, his dark hand reaching out from behind the frame to point to a bag. “You open your gifts, Imma cut this cake up for us,” Avery’s mom said and moved the cake out of the way, while Avery’s hand moved a bag to sit in front of her. “This one from me and my mom.” Fiona opened the bag and removed two tickets from the bag as well as a book. She gasped. “Avery, tickets? These are expensive.” “Nah, not when you on the team. I thought it’d be nice if you could come see me play sometime. Since you can’t see Jay play, and I know you like me best anyway,” Avery starts to laugh, taunting Jackson, who simply flipped the bird to his friend. “Na I’m just playing, you got one more from Jay.” Jackson set his gift down in front of his mother and she opened the large box to find it was a beautiful shawl of black fabric and floral patters. Delicate strings hung from it, and Fiona sighed. “Oh Jake! It’s like Stevie’s” Jackson smiled. “Put it on, give us a twirl, pretend you're on the edge of seventeen,” he teased. She gave him a slight push and draped the shawl around her shoulders and stood up from the bench. She began to dance in a circle a few turns, before rushing to Jackson and pulling him up from the table, and he knew it was because she could not go on, so he picked her up and spun her around himself, until she laughed and cried that she could take no more and he carried her back to the table to sit down and catch her breath, and they both waved to stop the recording.] Much to Jackson’s shock, the video did it for the phone’s precious battery life. Something had caused the device to drain its energy just to play that one video and show Elsinore photos. It flashed a warning that he had low power, and he frowned. He had to shut it off. Hopefully that would reserve what little power he had to open it back up one day and see and hear her laughter again. The video had crushed Jake. He’d wanted to share this with Elsinore, but his heart wasn’t ready for it. He couldn’t help it and he gripped a hand to his face as he tried to stop the flood of tears that hit him like a sudden wall.


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