by Dan Hiestand
Kingdom of Sindell
Capital City of Hamon
In the center of Sindell Castle’s main lobby, Jace stood at the base of a towering ivory pillar staring up. At the top, a miniature golden airship was fixed, depicting an eternal climb towards a dazzling dome overhead.
It was at this time of the day, when the display was most brilliant, when the sunlight poured in through the high arches and circular openings, the dazzling sculpture glittering in the glow.
This was the place where the main corridors of the castle converged; the hub of activity. All around him there was urgen business as pilots passed to and from the Royal Hangar which was just through a large door not more than a few paces away. He stood here as often as he could, observing all the goings on and basking in the white noise of hurried activity. In those rare moments over the past few months when he had time between missions, this was his favorite place to be.
Today, the electricity in the air was palpable. Everyone was on their business with a little more energy, a little more spring in their step.
Now, oddly, Jace noticed something he hadn’t before, turning his head slightly when he realized there were names reflected all around the base of the pillar with the names shining down on the floor. Of the significance of the names he wasn’t sure, whether it was a monument for fallen airmen or a monument of honor or both, he did not know.
Staring down at the incandescent script, he had just read the name Tharod Grace, when a screechy excited voice startled him out of his thoughts.
“Jace!” screamed a little, but highly excited voice.
The outrider turned to face down the wide wall to his right, beaming instantly at the sight of a little blonde-haired girl running full speed towards him from the direction of one of the more major Halls called the Corridor of Kings.
Small shoes slapping the marble floor, and echoing off the walls, little Casey Ferris – blue ribbons in her hair that matched her sky blue dress tying her hair into pigtails – was running full speed towards him, arms outstretched.
“Casey Bear!” Jace yelled, laughing. Crouching slightly, he picked her up off the floor, groaning at the sudden reminder of his ribs; a not so pleasant reminder of Hazel Lien’s handiwork.
The little girl didn’t notice the grimace, she was too busy choking him with her hug around his neck.
“You’re back! I’m glad you’re back!”
“Yep,” Jace said, and he transferred her to the crook of his arm, winced again, and then bounced her a bit to a more tolerable position.
“Me too,” Jace said. “How are you?”
For a few moments, she didn’t answer, lost in her own world, focused on Jace’s face.
“Good,” she said, distractedly reaching up and touching his cheek. “You shaved all the hairs off your face.”
“Yeah, what do you think?” he asked, and he leaned back a little bit as if to give her a better view.
“Hm,” she said, little fingers on his cheek. “Soft.”
Jace laughed a little again, bobbing her around, but he was looking around now amidst all the busy activity around him.
“Hey, I got something for you,” he said.
“What?” she asked.
Jostling her around now so he could reach into his pocket, he pulled out her little blue arm band.
When she saw it, her mouth opened and she sucked in breath.
Jace imitated the same exact face, and then she was very pleasantly and happily holding it with both hands in her own private world.
Jace smiled at her a moment.
“Where’s your mom?” he asked, still looking.
Jace actually caught sight of her amidst the crowd at the far end of the hallway near the mouth of the long hallway known as the Corridor of Kings, just an instant before Casey pointed in that direction. Danielle Lang was talking to Constable Thean, in deep conversation, and while she didn’t really acknowledge Jace she glanced towards them just long enough to track where her daughter was. She didn’t have much room in her mind for anything else, no doubt inquiring about her husband.
Then Jace was suddenly drawn immediately to the task of holding up Casey as she leaned back hard specifically, no doubt, to force Jace to have to make sure she didn’t fall out of his arms.
“Talking to my daddy’s big boss,” she finished, laughing at the fun of the dip.
“Oh your daddy’s big boss?” he asked, starting to tickle her and she squeled out in uncontrollable laughter that echoed off of the walls. “Your daddy’s big boss?” he repeated and she howled on.
By the time Jace stopped, both Constable Thean and Danielle Lang were on their way to him, and Jace lowered the little girl down just as they reached them, lightly hugging Danielle Lang and kissing her on the cheek as she reached them.
“So good to see you,” she said, smiling, kissing his cheek back. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“He shaved the hairs off his face,” Casey pointed out from her place next to her mother’s leg. “Ah, yes, I can see that,” she said reacting to her daughter but then looking back to Jace with another smile. “You clean up good, Dabriel.”
And then the reason why he had spent most of his first three months there growing those hairs on his face grow in the first place seemed to occupy all of her thought, or become relevant once again, and some creases of worry were there.
Jace read them immediately, distracted a second as a team of pilots walked into the giant door to the hangar beside him.
“He’s fine,” he said, assuredly. “Everything’s fine.”
She sighed a little and nodded.
“Yes, Constable Thean was just telling me,” she said, turning slightly towards him, although just like when they were back home, she never seemed to really believe it until she heard it from him. “He and Darvin are expected back this afternoon.”
“Ah,” Jace said, happy to hear it. “See, there ya go then.”
And he turned to Thean.
“Sir,” he said.
Thean nodded back.
Seeing the pause between them, she seemed to sense that there was something they were meant to discuss.
“Okay, well, I’m sure I’ll leave you two to talk then,” she said, bending down to pick up Casey. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon, though,” she said to Jace. “At the Ball.”
A line of confusion wrinkled Jace’s brow.
“I got a dress!” Casey chimed in.
“Ohhhh,” Jace said, not really understanding.
“A green one!”
“I’m sure I’ll see you there,” she said, starting to walk away, and then she looked over to Constable Thean. “Constable,” she said. “Thank you so much for you time.”
“My pleasure, as always, Danielle,” he said, and then with another smile she walked away. As they did, over her mother’s shoulder she made a tough angry face.Jace made one back and the little girl smiled and turned back around in her mother’s arm.
“Daddy’s boss is grumpy,” she said, in a not quiet voice, and it was very clearly heard coming back to them.
“Shhhh!” Danielle Lang’s voice came back, and then she glanced back and made a an exagerrate mortified face, making eye contact with Jace and smiling.
And watching them go for a second or two longer, Thean looked back to Jace and they made eye contact.
Jace looked back at him, calm and cool.
“It’s true. You are.” Constable Thean grumbled, and Jace raised his eyebrows a little. “Ball?”
Now Thean sighed.
“Walk with me,” he said, and they started together down a short hall leading north, up to a small flight of stairs leading up to another section of the castle, leaving the ivory pillar and golden airship behind them. “That was good work on the Zarponda mission,” he said. “Damn good job.”
None of them had exchanged a single word about Jace’s experiences in the Tunnels of Armageddon or Lornda Manor. There was some reflecting and discussion of Cedwyn and the events as they pertained to the events of what was now being referred to in the cold, realityless military classification of the Lornda Manor Affair.
“I appreciate that,” Jace said. There was a time not so long ago when the simple words for such a massive undertaking would have annoyed him, but no longer. Perhaps it was what he had been through. Perhaps just that he was maturing.
They were in route to Jaden’s room. A place Jace had gone at least once a week since he had arrived in Sindell, and that Constable Thean had started leading him there, knew that he had an appointment with her within a few minutes. It was starting to be apparent that as Jace’s relationship with Jaden got closer, the more nervous he became. When he had seen them joking around in one of the gardens one day, he did not seem to disapprove, but the accompanied visits started then, he was told to meet him at the base of the pillar and wait before going to the weekly appointments. It was only ever trivial things they discussed, sometimes even walking just in silence all the way to her door, but he always looked like there was something he wanted to discuss, but in typical Thean fashion couldn’t. Tight as a drum.
“Tomorrow night. In celebration of the Zarponda victory.”
Jace sighed, looking around.
“What the hell’s wrong with these people?” but he didn’t say it like he was really that disgruntled, then glanced back to Thean as they reached the part of the hallway that was the end where Jaden’s room was and stopped outside the door. “I don’t know what’s weirder. Having a Ball now, or the fact that the Veil’driel legions actually brought dress uniforms.”
“Everything of a military nature came with us,” the Constable said, though he looked annoyed himself, either at the Ball or that he was now forced to explain something and use extra words to do so. Annoyed especially that he had apparently been seeking out Jace, maybe even as Danielle Lang had spotted him. That much was clear to him now. “Everything. It is our business to represent Veil’driel to the fullest and under the best light and that is what I intend to do. If the King of Sindell says we’ll have a Ball, we’ll have a Ball. Even if it is the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard of. And by Gods if we’re to look like jackasses having a Ball in the middle of the apocalypse, then we’ll look like sharp jackasses who represent our nation to the fullest.”
Finding it funny, Jace laughed a little. Thean was not exactly known for his sense of humor, and it was hard to tell if he had been humorous on purpose, but he laughed any. Now Thean glanced towards the closed door.
“Good luck with your …,” he waved his hand around the door. “Whatever this is.”
“Well, thanks for walking me, honey.”
Oddly, Thean seemed a bit nervous and this threw Jace off a bit.
“Nothing you can’t tell me now?” he asked.
Thean sighed, and again his reaction concerned Jace.
“Are we still on for later then?”
“If you’re up for it.”
“I’m up for anything that increases your training to the best of-”
“Okay, okay,” he said. “Alright,” he said, almost laughing and stopping him from going into the whole thing, and he put a hand on Thean’s shoulder. “I understand. Training. Yes, I’ll be there.”
Jace offered a little half salute.
“Noon,” he said, then he turned, opened the door and passed through it. Thean stood by a little longer and looked at it. Then sighed and continued back down the stairs.
When Jace first walked into the room it looked as if it were abandon for centuries, nothing more than a ruin. Another step and it was less time that had passed. Another and it was dusty, exactly as he and Cedwyn found that library in Lornda Manor with dust all over it like it was abandon for months. When he took another step, Jaden appeared and the room was Jace walked past her into the room, and its giant window that looked out on some of the roads behind the castle that were alive with activity and merchants. Today, on this beautiful late-summer day, they were all open, and Jace walked over there first. Looking out on the city.
“Getting better at that,” she said.
“Well, you know what they say, practice makes ….” He caught site of a chair that was bent back and immediately pointed at it. “You’re not gonna, like, operate on me this time or something are you?”
“What?” she laughed.
“Thean was just talking to me like it was the last time I was ever gonna see him. I have a feeling he knows more about what’s about to happen here than I do.”
Jaden nodded and smiled.
“Fenlow knows a great deal more about a lot of things than he lets on,” she said. “But I promise you, this will be painless,” and she stepped aside, urging him into the room to the chair. “What’s a matter, doesn’t look comfortable?”
“No, it looks plenty comfortable,” he said, but as he sat down in it he motioned around the tables scattered around with a bunch of stuff on them. “It’s all these things and stuff all around,” he specificed.
She was obviously amused with him and smiled a little.
“Well, you’re in safe hands, I assure you,” she said putting a potion together and looking to the side of it and holding it up to the sun. “Goooo ahead, ask me about this Ball.”
She smiled at the reaction he knew he gave her.
“Ha. Sorry. That magical intuition of your ain’t gonna work this time. Guess I’m getting better at that, too.”
She made a little impressed face as she put down the one she was working on and picked up another vial.
“So what’s the story with this Ball?” he asked.
She turned around to look at him quickly.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said.
She was smiling as she turned back to the concoction she was mixing.
In the relatively short term he had spent with her, one thing was clear. He liked her very much and they had a very easy repoire with her immediately.
“The King believes it a good idea,” she said.
“Just the King, huh?” he asked skeptically.
“It’s not merely enough to survive, Jace. People must live as well. The world is not filled only with the mighty Jace Dabriels of the world. There are also the…” she paused, and again, seemed to intuit something from him. “The Danielle Langs,” she said.
“Those who have nothing to do but wait and watch.”
“I’d like to try that sometime.”
“It can be a lot harder.”
And she looked to be hesitant and look away and take a moment to herself.
“Hey,” he said. “I know.”
She smiled at him a little, like she was embarrassed at getting caught in the moment, and surprised too that she was capable of letting her guard down in front of him.
“The Ball will give them something to look forward to and enjoy,” she went on, some of the melody in her voice to lighten things up again a little. “Up until a few months ago, these people thought all was lost. That the entire world was the dominion of some mysterious, unknown force. A feeling you only glimpsed when they started their attack on Fairlawn City. You can imagine that helpless, lost. Now imagine thinking everyone you know and care about, the world as you know it was gone forever. And that you had to go through that for years.”
“Yeah, look, I hear you,” he said, getting serious for the first time. “I’m just saying what if an attack or something happens. They’ll be sipping cocktails one minute and then the next everything you just described might be true.”
“So the whole city’s coming to this Ball, eh?” he said sarcastically.
“The whole city will taking part in festivities and celebration, yes. I’m sure there will be many more celebrations and parties than the one tomorrow night, but this Ball is ours … for a more specific guest list.”
Jace raised his eyebrows playing with some instrument on the table near him and playing with it.
“Hm,” he said. “Will I actually know any of them?” he asked, distracted.
Whatever Jaden was doing, she was ready now and she was coming back and sat in a chair right near him.
“Oh, I think you’ll know a few,” she said. “And all your outrider friends will be there.”
Jace laughed still playing with the stuff on the table.
“I say something funny?”
“All your outrider friends,” he mocked in a very pleasant way, and it was clear that he liked her a great deal. “Thanks mom.”
“Ok, shut up, be quiet and listen. You remember what we talked about last time?”
Jace nodded and had a look of trepidation on his face, and nodded, annoyed.
“I remember what I told you about it.”
“Gotta be done now, Jace.”
“Not yet,” he said.
“It’s not that bad yet.”
“Then you didn’t have an attack? In that flower shop?”
He looked at her confused for a second and then a moment of recognition swept across his face.
“It was an apothecary…” Jace said, and then he snapped off like he was suddenly hit with a vision and held his hand up to the side of his head.
“Jace?” she asked, leaning closer to him.
“I’m getting something.”
Now Jaden looked very confused.
“It’s a …. Cocky little bowman that has been here recently.,” he said, annoyed but not really that angry.
“Yeah, yeah, under the orders of your Constable. Which means he told Thean. I guess I know why he was talking to me like it was the last time he was gonna see me, now.” And then he looked a little nervous. “Seriously, what’re you gonna do to me?”
“It’s gonna induce a trance. It’ll connect you in a way that can heal you, start your clock from zero with the progression of the …. “ she hesitated again with the same expressin of trying to find the word earlier. “Disease.”
“Well, isn’t that what we’ve been doing?”
“The longer this goes on, the more that’s gonna be necessary. Now you gonna let me do this or not?”
He looked away.
“Yessss,” he said annoyed, but was smiling.
“Shirt off,” she said.
He stood up.
“Oh right, noooow I see what you’re all eager to do this treatment for.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Shirt off,” she said with an annoyed expression.
Jace turned to the side and took his loose cotton white shirt off, his feet on the side of the lean back chair and laid it over the back of the chair. She was stunned when he did so, looking at his darkly tanned skin. The scar from where he was hit in the shoulder right above the heart, and as she looked at it now she couldn’t figure out how it didn’t kill him. Lower still in his ribs were the bruises from this last mission, on the other side. Below the shoulder threre was a cut, and on his hand, as she saw when he firt waked in there was a nasty looking gash. The discoloration, grayish scars of the plague that came back even more this time. And tracing through all of this there was a cluster of Lunar Rose flowers starting up in the upper left behindhis shoulder blade, and weaving all over his back were elegantly arranged, starting down there was a lunar rose, the Veil’driel national flower, and next to each were initials.
“Are all these….”
“Outriders,” Jace said and in a tone much different than the previous tone of this conversation, and he was looking down to the floor.
Not thinking, she touched it, and Jace jumped just slightly, his head looking up an straight ahead.
Jaden pulled her finger back as if touching a hot kettle briefly.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“These two are new,” she said pointing to two of the new ones. “A.R.”
“Something Rackham,” Jace said. Then he looked to the side, started with a joke of “Strange, too. That one was really….” But then his breath skipped. “Lucky.”
She watched him a little longer, and he leaned forward and put his hands on either side of his head and held the back of it. It was starting to take a toll, she could see it, but he was strong, recovering quickly.
“Right, so ….” He cleared his throat and was fine again, leaning back in the chair again, and just like that there was no detectable trace of the emotional waiver. “So go ahead and do your stuff.”
“We don’t have to do this now.”
She smiled at him, knew she had no chance of getting through anymore. Knew it all too well.
She smiled, but it was kind of sad.
“Drink this,” she said and handed it to him.
Slowly he downed it.
“Blah what’s in that?”
“Just relax,” she said. “He closed his eyes and leaned back.”
Jaden closed her eyes and held her hand over his chest. Then a second later she opened them again.
“Relax, I said,” she said.
He smiled a little and squirmed.
“Well, alright, I’m try’in. It’s just that I haven’t had to endure one of these things in three months.
“Mmmm,” she said with her eyes still closed. “What about seeing General Lockhardt’s great grandfather on that wall?”
He opened his eyes.
“Stop. Doing. That,” he said again.
“Shhhh,” she said, a thing smile on her lips.
He closed his eyes. And then his body totally relaxed and he looked truly at peace. Then amazingly, the bruises all over his body started to fade before they were totally gone. The gash on his hand disappeared, and then, it looked like she was causing her a bit of exertion, she had to concentrate and the grayish scars of the plague started to fade. And then after awhile her hand started to glow pink, the color of the potion she had him drink.
And Jace gasped, and opened his eyes with a start, and there was a bright flash and both of them reacted simultaneously with a similar reaction of sudden exertion in their faces and for the first time in 3 months, Jace saw a bright flash, and the feeling of sereneness was replaced by a sudden rush.
The first vision that raced through him was back to Zarponda when that family came out. The woman had just gone back into their house and there was Calloway, standing bloody behind the family and looking out at the alley, shaking his head disapprovingly as he closed the door.
He was sitting at a wooden table, in the Communion Vault, his feet were up on the table, crossed at the ankle. He was looking at a woman’s back, he swore it was Isabelle. She was talking to someone to her left, straight ahead, and to the right, in a meeting but all he could stare at was her, and then all the torches around him flicked from the colors to back to the normal orange of flame. She twisted back to him and smiled, and his breath caught in his throat by how beautiful she was.
And he was watching a little girl run around with cabbits in the peach orchard near the stables behind Lornda Manor. He was sitting on a stone bench in a courtyard, his arm around Jaden’s waist, her head resting on his shoulder.
They were in the same spot. But this time Jaden was gone, it was just him. It was the same little girl riding a pony and trotting happily around in a circle around the paddock. He glanced over and there was Charles, he was young and strong and fit, a small golden pin on his lapel, admiring the scene from a distance, approvingly.
In his peripheral vision, four glints of green sparked on the border of Terrill Silva as four golden riders came running out of it enroute to Lornda Manor. Neither Charles or the little girl paid any attention, and somehow Jace thought to himself that this was routine.
“See me, daddy?” the little girl screamed jubilantly, and Jace turned around to see Jaden, her hair in a different style but just as beautiful and otherwise looking the same with a beaming smile on her face.
“Yes, sweetheart, I see you!” Jace yelled back, and when he did so, Jaden opened her eyes and gasped, looking at him just long enough to see him add: “Good job!” Taking a few quick gasps, trying to say his name but only saying it weakly, she gasped and reluctantly, looked like she couldn’t resist closing her eyes, wavered a little bit, but then did. And as her eyes fluttered closed, she whispered “open your eyes.”
And now the golden riders were dismounting at the edge of the paddock and walking their horses gently past, admiring the little girl as they passed, all of them helmetless and looking friendly. They saluted Charles as they caught site of him as they passed.
And Jace knew all at once that the little girl riding the horse was Hazel Lien … Ward.
Jaden’s eyes were open again, she shook her head a little, took a deep breath, and then looked down at him, narrowed her eyes a little. “Jace,” she tried again. And then mustering all she had yelled. “Jace!”
When she did his eyes flashed open and in one motion without wasting any time he sat up, grabbed her hips and picked up her off the stool, and she didn’t resist him, draping her arms around his neck as he charged all the way back to the wide indoor ledge of the windowsill and sat her on top of it. He had one hand grabbing her thigh, pushing up the cloth loose sky blue cloth of her loose dress, nearly all the way up to the top of her thigh showing nearly her full leg, the foot of which the only part of her touching the floor.
Jaden’s eyes, throughout the commotion, never left Jace’s as he pushed her back, not even remotely resisting.
Suddenly the door kicked open, slamming into the wall and knocking vases all about, all of them crashing the floor.
While Jaden, her world feeling like it was in slow motion, blinked in the space of what felt like an eternity and looked over to Thean, Jace never moved. He just opened his eyes slowly as she looked back to him and made eye contact. And they stayed in that position, as it was impossible to know how he stopped himself so quickly, he had halted just inches from her face, and when his eyes opened, they were staring at her her lips, and then slowly the rose up to meet her amethyst eyes. The entire time his eyes came up slowly to meet hers, she was brething in deep but steady breaths, a look of concern all the way up until the point when his eyes met hers and he smiled, and she did too, her eyes opening a little wider, wrinkling her nose as if answering a challenge.
Jace heard what sounded like a thousand echoes coming from a million directions changing ‘ace, ace, ace’ pouring in on him and then focused, and time seemed to catch up to them with a focused “Jace!” And Thean was standing next to him. He was standing straight up, looking at himself in the reflection of the window, seeing the reflection of a young Artemus Ward looking back at him.
“Dabriel!” Thean yelled again, and then sleepishly he looked over to him.
“Out! Now!” he yelled furious.
Jace looked over to her in the window sill, and she was sitting there looking at him, not having moved, perspiration still on both of them. He took a step over, picked up his shirt, glanced back to the reflecton, it was him again. Then he hesitated, looked at Thean as if he didn’t know why he was standing there for a minute, looked at him with almost complete disregard, and then looked back at Jaden. She still hadn’t moved, but looked to be recovering. She nodded a few quick times, and without another word Jace picked up his and left.
Thean turned around to watch him all the way out, and when he got to the doorway he stopped, slid his arms into the sleees of his shirt, and peaked back in as he buttoned them back up.
“Can we make it 12:45, constable?” he asked as if nothing had happened at all, and then he walked out of site descending the stairway.
Thean looked back at Jaden who was standing again, the look on his face like he was going to start yelling, but then hesitated and looked back to the doorway.
“Why?” he barked.
“Just thought of something I wanted to do,” came his voice floating up from halfway down the stairs.
“Are you out of your god damn mind?”
She started drinking some water, looking out the window, her hand on her hip as she drank a whole thing of water.
“What the hell are you thinking?”
“You know what I was going to do.”
“I hoped I was wrong. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. That’s a mistake I won’t make again. These little meetings of yours? End. Today. That’s it.”
“Not your decision to make,” she said simply.
“The hell it isn’t!” he stopped and turned around.
“He doesn’t belong to anyone. He’s not a possession.”
“Yeah. He’s not a possession. Say that over again a few times.”
“You initiated a trance!” he yelled.
“He needed a break.”
“He isn’t ready, Jaden! He’s just a kid!”
She smiled and cocked her head to the side.
“Well, that’s certainly up for debate,” she said, opening her eyes a little.
Thean charged her and walked up to her and grabbed her wrist, took the glass out of her hand and put it on the ledge, and she barely resisted, like a child being disciplined and still being a brat and then he made her look at herself in the reflection and as she stared there.
“The meetings of yours. The end. Now,” he said to the reflection as if that image may still be open to sense.
He turned around and started walking to the doorway.
“Or what?” she asked. And Thean stopped, the look on his face of infuriated impatience that his outriders had seen countless times before. “You’ll torture me? Like you’re going to torture my daughter?” He stared a little longer, and then Thean’s expression relaxed, expelling a fraction of a breath that qualifies for a sigh in his world. “No one is going to hurt Hazel, and you know that.”
“Do I?” now she was asking her own reflection. She looked over to Thean who was still looking at her.
“Because you’re not crazy.” Thean looked at her a little longer, turned and started to the door. When he was almost at the doorway he stopped again, and Jaden’s head looked up a little, for the first tiem looking like she hadn’t been expecting him to stop. “And because I will personally gut any son of a bitch who goes near her without my permission.”
A silent exchange seemed to pass between them, a meaningful silence that seemed to ease some tension from the air.
“He’s been through so much.”
“He can take it.”
“Do you know that? I mean, do you really now that, Fenlow?”
“Because I’ve spent the last every waking moment of the last 27 years making sure,” he said, the hardness returning. He proceeded to the top of the stairs right outside the door.
“If you care about him that much, you should tell him,” she said. “Before it’s too late.”
“He isn’t Artemus, Jaden,” Thean said at last, stepped out the door and grabbed the handle on the otherside. “Sorry about the vases,” he added, and closed it. Jaden, looking at her reflection, sighed and slowly leaned her head against the window, letting herself relax.
Kingdom of Sindell
The Kingdom of Sindell Throne Room was very impressive, a great round dome at the top of the center tower with great descriptions. Giant windows looking out all over the countryside as far as he could see it in all and any directions.
But there were many maps spread all over the place that added a disorder to everything, and a place meant to impress any visitors, who had to walk a tall staircase to even get there was dulled with maps and charts all over the place.
William Bryce, King of Sindell, was sitting in his throne, at one of the very rare times you could find him doing so. And he was only doing so today because he was meeting with his parliament. The meeting was wrapping up and Tharod Chaypin was speaking.
“… which brings us to our next order of business, majesty. A rather delicate matter.”
At this the head of parliament hesitated, and Will sitting on his throne, elbow resting on one of the large armrests with his chin on top of a balled fist, raised his eyebrows.
“Well? Go on, then.”
“Yes,” Chaypin went on, clearing his throat and looking to the others. “The issue of Hazel Lien. There has been concern that she should perhaps … be moved …”
“Chaypin,” Will said, losing patience.
“Outside the castle, Majesty.”
“Isn’t she still unconscious?”
“Why … yes, your Majesty but if she were to wake up she could be a tremendous threat.”
At that moment, the door knocked, and a messenger walked in. He walked up to the Throne Room, and lowered his head.
“Majesty, the Veil’driel Outriders are here. Lady Jaden waits with them outside.”
Will acknowledged this and the messenger left.
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to continue this a little later…”
They looked at each other, angry, and then left. Jaden came in, followed by Darvin Nash and Ferris Lang. They had worked together before, in the events leadng up to Whistlers. Nice connection.
“Meeting with pariliament, I see,” she said.
“Humoring them keeps them busy and occupied. Gives them purpose.” he said, standing from his throne and making his way down. He smiled at her and she smiled back at him.
“Ah,” Jaden said. “A true king, afterall.”
He smiled and looked past her to the two outriders.
“Outriders Nash and Lang,” he said. “We can’t thank you enough for your service and part in the Zarponda mission.”
“Sir,” Nash said, bowing his head.
Ferris Lang did the same but said nothing.
Now General Creed and Constable Thean came in.
“Seems we’re a little late,” Creed said, walking up to the outriders. “Seems congratulations are in order, gentlemen.”
They nodded at him, then turned to Constable Thean, and when they did so, they both stood up a little straighter.
“Constable,” they both said simultaneously.
“What’s the status of the Dock Complex?” Will asked.
“General Lockhardt reports that a lot of the airships are missing, sir.”
Will ran his hand over his mouth.
“About three hundred.”
“I don’t understand, they’d need people to fly them, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Lang chimed in. “There’s word on that, too. They were training this whole time. Townspeople reported missions being launched, the pilots in the Dock Complex were all jailed within it, the entire occupation, but none knew what was going on. They said they weren’t flying at all.”
“Which means, they had people training on the airships.”
Now Will looked across the room to Jaden.
“So it’s as we feared, then.” Jaden sighed and Will went on. “Well, they won’t have the same advanced weapons as us, right?”
“I did not devise the weapons your airships currently have using amethysts. They were instituted long ago, I merely took away the ability to use them, in collaboration with your father after the Bryce Valley incident.”
“Yeah,” Will said. “You told me. And then you approached my father and he voluntarily gave up that power after he found out he acted on not all the information and that was too much power to wield for future kings so it would never happen again.”
“Right, but when we saw this threat coming from Arkhelan, your father and I began plans to reinstitute those weapons, which we eventually did here.”
“And those were meetings that Artemus sat in on, correct?” Thean said, understanding.
She sighed again and nodded at him.
“What’s even more,” she said looking back to Will. “I believe he had your father killed to specifically prevent that from happening. Knowing what we do now.”
“How do you mean?” Will asked.
“There was an attempt on your father’s life 3 years ago, two days before we finished work on the technology, the gemstone configuration to complete work on the forcefield that would protect the capital. Knowing what I know now, I believe Artemus tried to have your father assinated before it was completed, just as he tried to assainate me in Bryce Valley.”
“I never knew about that,” Will said, shocked.
“It was kept a secret, but at the last minute, General Lockhardt saw the threat and saved his life. Then, about a year ago,” she glanced over to Creed and nodded at him. “Right around the same time Veil’driel was held was under attack,” she looked back to Will. “Work was coming to an end on finally reinstituting the amethyst weapons back on the airships to protect against the Winged Creatures and what both of us suspected was coming. Tears, etc. And your father was coming to visit me at Lornda Manor, for final preparations, he flew as far as his airship would take him before the emeralds started to die out by their limited range, which it’s the proximity to the Emerald Grotto in Caladrayd that gives them their power, and the farther they get away from them, the less power they have. Which is why there’s always been limitations in that regard. He flew to Bryce Valley, the extent of where they can fly and which it is why the natural barier to your Kingdom. He got out with his body guard, and was assinated, as you know, by two Tears.”
“Valith and Orinus,” Will said with anger.
“The same who tried to kill me as well,” he nodded, and she looked around to all the others to emphasize the point. “By the instruction of the only person who knew when where I was going to be there.”
“Artemus,” Thean said.
“It isn’t a coincidence that the first city to fall was Zarponda, and I didn’t make the connection until after I found out Artemus betrayed me. The hub of Sindell Air Force intelligence, the cusp on military development, the dock complex.”
Will walked up the small stairs to his throne and sat in it, plopping down for no other reason that at that moment he needed to sit. It could have been a rikety chair in a corner somewhere, and that, to Jaden, definied this king’s reign. He leaned to the side, supporting him up on his elbow.
“Still, my pilots have been flying since they were barely teenagers. They couldn’t compete.”
“They might not have to, the weapons can shoot through forcefield. And you know what that means. You know what they’re target might be. The place that would bring down the forcefield. They don’t have to do battle with your pilots. They just have to bring down the forcefield.” She looked now to Thean. “Jace said he had a vision at Lornda Manor that told him the forcefield was going to be lowered. That Artemus had found some way to do it.”
Thean grumbled, but said nothing.
“Then this is most definitely it,” General Creed said, and he looked over to Will who was sitting in the throne.
“Do you think we should cancel the Ball in light of this new information?”
Will sighed, and he stared out the giant window that was in the throne room.
“You’re assuming, I even could,” he said, looking out the window. In the dusk different color lanterns and sporadic occasional fireworks were being fired. “The entire city is in celebration. There’s hope where there wasn’t before. A reason for living. Nothing can take that away from people once that starts. Not even a King.” He turned back addressing the assembly. “No. We won’t be calling it off.” He concentrated on Creed now. “But let’s be ready for anything, General. Let’s spread the legions around the perimeter of the city at all the main gates, not just concentrating the force. Let’s act as if the forcefield does not exist and every gate will have to be protected simultaneously. And I’d ask, General, that this be done immediately.”
Creed nooded ever so slightly.
“It’ll be done at once,” he said, and started out.
“You two assist him in the recoordination,” Thean said to his outriders. “Moving that many men will not be an easy task. Even with the sapphires making it easier, I want you to be the General’s eyes on the process.”
“Sir,” Ferris Lang said.
“Sir,” Darvin Nash chimed in.
But before they were able to get too far, Will called after them.
“What is the status with the Winged Creatures attacks?”
“They never came,” Lang said after turning around. “General Lockhardt thinks it might be because the enemy knows they wouldn’t be much of a match for the amethyst weapons on the airships.”
And the enthusiasm at which they accepted this more than suggested they were happy to be leaving the complicated meeting, and excusing themselves, they followed Creed out, already quietly talking over some aspects of what they were ordered to do.
Will was looking back to Jaden and Thean from his throne.
“I have patrols spanning as far as Bryce Valley and the Hezlin Sea. They’ve reported nothing of airships there, if they were there, we’d know about it.”
“No,” Jaden started. “Artemus always thinks at least three steps ahead. He’ll be in a place he can defend from a ground attack. A fall back place from Zarponda.”
“Well, in that case,” Will started. “I’ll get Shamblin on it right away. He knows everything about the information coming in from the patrols, and the details of the best places to start something like that. But given the enemy’s talent for illusions, and hiding stuff from the air, we might need to also send in away teams,” he glanced to Thean. “I’ll contact you when that becomes necessary?”
“Of course,” Thean said with a slight head bow.
He tapped his sapphire, walking to the door.
“Shamblin,” he said.
A voice came back over the sapphire.
“Where you at?” Will asked through it on the way to the door.
“In the Hangar, sire.”
“I’m on my way,” he said.
“Understood, sire,” Shamblin’s voice came back. (A subtle call back to exchange that starts off Tears in the Reign.”)
The heavy double doors were opened by the guards, and immediately the loud yell of “His Majesty, the King!” echoed back in as Will vanished out into the hall, and then they left the heavy doors open, signifying that the King was not in there. And over the wide table, Jaden and Thean looked at each other, left alone.
“He never came to see me,” Thean said.
“Things took an unexpected …. Turn.”
“So he doesn’t know?”
Jaden shook her head.
“Maybe it’s best that we wait for Foy, anyway.”
Jaden nodded slightly.
“I don’t like that he’s taking them through the Bryce Valley tunnels.”
“He’s always been immune, ever since studying with the Shaman healers who the ignorant call druids. That’s not what I’m concerned about. What I’m concerned about is that he better be busy.” He looked to Thean who understood but didn’t really show it. “For all our sakes.”