|My Five Gentlemen
Author: Kasandora PM
"Inverse Harem Anime" Nina was an ordinary girl until five strange, but cute alien guys start living in (and ruining) her house! Now she has to deal with a demon thief, a prince, a knight, a musician, and a galaxy police officer - not to mention a two-heaRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Humor - Chapters: 26 - Words: 131,405 - Reviews: 49 - Favs: 36 - Follows: 26 - Updated: 06-14-09 - Published: 08-28-05 - id: 1995957
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hi, all! Thanks to everyone who's read so far! Sorry this chapter's also on the lengthy side – and I feel like I kind of rushed the end of it, but it was already 19 pages long! It also kind of stinks because there were certain scenes I wanted to put in the middle of the chapter, but I felt like there wasn't enough room for them otherwise the chapter would have been 30 pages long rather than 20, which is already really long! So, I kind of edited stuff out to try to just focus on the main plot…hopefully it doesn't suck too much, lol!
Anyway, hope you all enjoy! R&R! :)
Part Nine: My Darkest Enemy
"You see, the whole reason why Del was trying to get you to marry him wasn't because he wanted Daddy's approval, although I suppose he was trying to get it to a certain extent," Reagan explained as the others looked on, solemn and disbelieving. "He was trying to convince Daddy to change his mind and make him king instead of me."
"But…I don't understand," Gaia spoke up now, baffled. "Delmar is the oldest male and isn't it customary in Maris for the oldest male of the royal family to be next in line to inherit the throne?"
Reagan nodded. "I think that's why Del is so desperate to be crowned king; he feels like an embarrassment and a failure because Daddy made the unprecedented choice to have me crowned the next sovereign of Maris instead – because he thought I would be a better ruler than Del would be. And, I must admit, I am quite capable of ruling Maris, especially when compared to Del."
"Well, Delmar really isn't the most responsible or most diligent person to rule an entire planet," Gaia admitted.
"But he could have given him a chance," Nina reasoned. "He was obviously trying really hard to become king – after all, he went to all that effort to find me – so it must be really important to him."
"It still wouldn't be fair!" Reagan then protested. "I'm charming, intelligent, well-liked, sophisticated, and the perfect model of royal beauty and grace, not to mention that I've worked really hard and excelled at my studies and met with important dignitaries when all the while Del has done nothing but slack off! Well, you can't get everything on a silver platter, you know, and I earned my place as the next heir to the throne!" After this defensive rant, she frowned and glanced down at her feet. "Still…even though I don't think he deserves to be king, I do wish Daddy would treat him a little bit more kindly…maybe then Del might have actually tried when we were younger and maybe then he really would have been worthy of the throne. But he's kind of made that apathetic attitude of his some sort of defense mechanism…the only one he ever seems to show any sign of emotion with is me, and that's usually because he's angry with me – I wish he'd direct some of that emotion toward a more positive effort, though…" A moment of silence lingered as Reagan trailed off. She then forced a regal smile, although her youthful fears were still stirring behind her eyes, and told them, "I apologize – I should take you to your suite now so you can get your rest. There will be a lot of festivities this week for the coronation, including a great ball on the eve of the crowning, so you should all rest while you can before they begin. You are all my honorary guests this week and so I want you to enjoy yourselves. And I'm sure Del will be along shortly…"
Thus, Reagan quietly led them through the magnificent halls of the palace of Maris, now intimidating and eerily solemn in the silence, save the echo of their slow and weary footsteps.
Reagan had already departed, leaving them in their suite, when Delmar arrived – less than an hour after they had left him to talk with his father and mother. He entered the suite with his head sheepishly lowered, his cheeks blushing red despite his best efforts to keep his face expressionless. "Hey…" he grumbled meekly while the others frowned with sympathy for the visible uneasiness they were causing him by their mere presence in the room.
"Hi, Delmar…" Nina answered weakly for the rest of the group.
"Sorry about that…" he said, speaking only slightly louder than before, and rubbing his shoulder awkwardly.
"No, no, it's all right!" Nina insisted hastily.
"Anyway…uh…" Delmar began, taking a deep breath and trying to muster up his nerve. "Well…since you're all going to be here for awhile…there's something I've been meaning to tell you…" He moved his hand from his shoulder to the back of his neck, lowering his head further and hoping that his hair would somehow cover most of his face. "You see…I kind of…wasn't entirely truthful…about the coronation, I mean…"
"You don't have to say it; we already know," Iggy spoke up now, trying to spare Delmar some of his humiliation. "Your sister told us that your father chose her to be crowned the next ruler of Maris instead of you."
"She did?" he asked in surprise. He then gave a bitter laugh and said, "Oh, of course she would – she probably wanted to brag, the little brat."
"It wasn't really like that," Nina said and then winced slightly, correcting, "Well, she did brag a little…"
"I don't see why the hell you'd want to be king for, anyway," Iggy then began. "I mean, by just staying a prince, you get all the perks of being royalty without any of the responsibilities."
"He also gets all of the shame, disappointment, and ridicule without any of the honor, prestige, and respect," Zephyr noted.
Iggy shot him a glare. "You're not helping."
"There's plenty of good you can do without being king!" Bronte then chimed in with a genuine and assuring smile. "You can really make a difference, no matter what your title may be – as long as you have faith, and fate will guide you; there's always a path for everyone, even if it's not the path you necessarily set out to follow at first."
"That's what you used to tell Leda…" Nina murmured sadly, lowering her head in respect for the remorseful memory. Then, with a shudder, she added, "And Proteus used to say...'your fortune is rarely what you predict it will be…'"
The others grimaced, sinking further into the cloud of misery and despair already hanging over their friend Delmar. Iggy gave her a glower and remarked sardonically, "Way to go, Nina – you've managed to make the mood even more dismal."
"Sorry…" Nina muttered, blushing.
"There isn't any reason why you should be moping or feeling sorry for yourself," Gaia then interjected sternly, directing his attention toward Delmar. "Your sister wasn't wrong in what she said - if she has done more work than you've done, then I don't see how you could argue that you deserve the throne more than she does."
"I should have guessed you'd side with her…" Delmar grumbled.
"That's not what I'm trying to do. You can't change what has happened or your father's decision, but Bronte is right in that you can still do important things whether or not your king. And Iggy's right, too, in that you probably wouldn't want to be king, anyway, given the way you enjoy your more leisurely life. The only reason why you probably want it in the first place is because of some social construct enforced on you since you were a kid – that the oldest male in the royal family is to be the next heir to the Maris throne, regardless of merit – and because you're trying to earn your father's respect."
Delmar gave a yawn and said lackadaisically, "I really hate when people lecture me…"
Gaia, however, became more severe. "Your sister wasn't wrong when she said that you use that nonchalant attitude in order to avoid your problems, either."
"Is that what she said?" Delmar asked edgily, a bitter look festering in his eyes. "She really doesn't know how to mind her own business…"
"She's only trying to help you," Nina insisted.
"Yeah, in her own arrogant, nagging, self-righteous sort of way," Delmar retorted. "And as long as it's not at her own expense…" He then gave a shrug and commented disinterestedly, "I wonder what other kind of crap she said about me."
Gaia let out a frustrated sigh. "Talking to you is pointless – if all you're going to do is make snarky comments rather than actually taking any initiative in your life, then what's the point of even attempting to try and cheer you up? All we'll do is tell you the same thing over and over again and all you'll do is continue to hide behind some façade and wallow in your own self-pity. Nothing will ever change if you refuse to address anything seriously."
"Hey, lay off him," Iggy spoke up. "You're acting like this is all his fault; maybe nothing will ever change because his father's such a stupid jerk."
"Iggy, don't say that," Nina argued, glancing worriedly at Delmar. "He's still Delmar's father…"
"All the more reason why I should say it," Iggy countered. "What kind of asshole treats his own son like that, huh?"
"He really shouldn't hit you like that, Delmar…" Nina conceded as Delmar purposely kept his eyes averted, his cheeks flushing again with embarrassment.
Gaia, however, did not relent. "That isn't the point – "
"Of course it's the point; I mean, you're a father, aren't you?" Iggy then questioned pointblank. "Would you ever treat Atlas like that?"
Gaia flinched, being quickly ensnared by Iggy's argument. "No, I wouldn't," he murmured quietly, but firmly.
"So doesn't it piss you off then?"
Gaia hesitated, glancing over at the visibly embarrassed Delmar. "This isn't an appropriate conversation for us to be having," he then said. "We're obviously just making Delmar feel uncomfortable."
"You guys can talk about it all you want," Delmar said now with a careless shrug, although the color of his cheeks retained a slight tint of pink. "Unless, of course, this is one of those problems I'm supposed to be addressing seriously, in which case I'd rather just change the subject. Angst is kind of dull and reality is just depressing, but denial is pretty cheery and entertaining in a self-deluding sort of way, so I'm content with just taking everything lightly or, at the very least, concentrating on those things that I can take lightly."
Iggy let out an exasperated sigh. "Damn it, Delmar! Gaia is right! This isn't something you should be joking around about! And now you're making me side with Gaia, of all people!"
"That is kind of scary, now that you mention it…" Delmar noted with a frown. "I suppose it must be pretty serious if you're willing to take Gaia's side."
"You're still doing it!" Iggy exclaimed, scowling. "That attitude really is frustrating! How do you go through your entire life feigning such indifference?"
"Years of practice?" Delmar offered with a smile and a shrug, which simply caused Iggy's scowl worsened. "Either that, or I was born highly unmotivated; in fact, I'd even say I was motivated to be highly unmotivated, which, come to think of it, is kind of contradictory…"
As Delmar trailed off to ponder this conundrum, Zephyr remarked, "You really are pathetic."
"Says the man who was once Sterling Silver," Delmar noted wryly and Zephyr's eyes flared with a mix of indignation directed at Delmar and his own self-loathing.
"That's right!" Bronte then exclaimed suddenly, much to the alarm of the others in the room. He hastily stepped toward Delmar and said, "That's right – I don't think Gaia or any of us want you to try to change to appease your father; what we want for you to do is try to decide for yourself what you want your life to be like – kind of like Zephyr did. When he was Sterling Silver, he had all these expectations placed on him by someone else, but then he decided that he was going to make a conscious effort to change who was and be who he wanted to be, regardless of what anyone else thought of him. Even if you aren't able to be king, you can still decide the way in which you want to live your life and the kind of person you are going to be, whether or not you get the approval of anybody else, even your father. But you shouldn't keep living your life trying to please someone who might never be pleased with you and you shouldn't go through life so indifferently, either – you need to decide what's most important to you, find an inner strength and self-confidence to believe in it, and then go for it whole-heartedly, just like Zephyr did!"
Bronte beamed and placed a firm hand on Delmar's shoulder as he concluded, full of pride at his enlightening revelation, while the others seemed more stunned by the usually clueless knight's lengthy and heartfelt rhetoric. At last, Iggy commented incredulously, "Wow…that was actually…kind of…insightful, Bronte. And you even made Zephyr seem kind of noble."
"I am noble!" Zephyr snapped.
Delmar, meanwhile, smiled up at the well-intended Bronte. "Thanks, Bronte…" His gaze then shifted to the others. He forced his smile to remain, although there was something dark and solemn lurking in his eyes. "Thanks to all of you, really…I really appreciate that you all care so much, but you really shouldn't worry. I'm fine. I'm always fine…with everything."
The week past quickly as it was packed with numerous events and festivities to celebrate the upcoming coronation; while the others were excited and jubilant through these occasions, particularly the wide-eyed Nina who took in the grandeur with a sense of awe and reverence, Delmar remained sullen throughout. This same sullenness lingered in back of Nina and the others' minds, even as they enjoyed the celebrations, and, despite her radiance and joy at the good fortune soon to be bestowed upon her, it also held prominently in the forefront of the heart of Princess Reagan. Even as she smiled with her regal airs, Nina always noticed a glint of solemnity and remorse shining in the young Reagan's eyes, making them sparkle with reserved tears that her dignity refused to ever shed. Although she hid it better than her brother, there was never a moment during the celebratory week when either of the young royals of Maris were not somber.
Now the eve of the coronation had arrived and Nina and Reagan dressed for the great ball, Reagan lending Nina one of her dresses for her to wear. As soon as she had it on, Reagan clapped and declared, "Oh, I knew it would look good on you! That's my favorite dress, I have you know! You're going to most certainly dazzle everyone tonight when you make your first grand entrance in…well, who knows how long!"
Nina frowned a little bashfully. "I guess so…but, if it's your favorite dress, then shouldn't you be wearing it? I mean, the ball is for you, after all…"
"Don't be silly now, Nina!" Reagan exclaimed. "You need to look your best and I always look my best no matter what I wear – some people just have that sort of natural glow, don't you think? Whereas others are just so common looking that they need a good dress to spruce them up!"
As Reagan began laughing, Nina frowned further. "Should I take that as an insult…?"
"Besides, this is just the sort of dress you need to charm Daddy!" Reagan then said eagerly, although there was something earnest stirring in her gaze. "You'll be sure to have such a great presence wearing it that he'll just have to listen to you!"
"Charm…?" Nina asked, wincing.
"Well, I was thinking that maybe if you talked to Daddy at the ball and told him all about how much you think of Delmar, he'd maybe open up to accepting Del a little bit more! I was even thinking that you two could have a special dance together – he'll be so honored by such a request from such a beautiful and admirable princess such as that of Eden, that he will almost certainly give credence to what you say. And, wearing such a spectacular dress will almost certainly mean he cannot refute you or your praises about Del!"
"And when were you going to tell me about this plan, again?" Nina asked, glaring at her with some annoyance.
"Oh, Nina, you have to do it!" Reagan then exclaimed desperately, taking hold of both of Nina's hands, much to Nina's alarm. She then bowed her head pleadingly. "Please, Nina…he won't listen to me, but I'm sure he'll listen to you…I mean, you're the Princess of Eden! And I thought that…maybe…"
Nina's cheeks turned pink at the embarrassing thought of talking with Delmar's father and began, "But I don't really think…I mean, I'm not very good with words! I think he'll just think I sound like an idiot!"
"But you're a princess – there's got to be some innate sort of charisma that you were born with!"
"I wish…" Nina muttered. She then sighed and said, "Besides, even if I did talk to him, your father seems very stubborn. I don't think I'd be able to ever convince him to give the crown to Delmar instead of you."
"Who said anything about that?!" Reagan exclaimed, giving Nina's shoulder a shove in the same way she often did with Delmar.
"Ow…" Nina whined, rubbing her shoulder.
"I don't want you to do that – I just want you to get Daddy to see some of the good that you see in Del!" Reagan clarified, still annoyed at Nina's suggestion. However, she soon frowned and lowered her eyes again, mumbling dejectedly, "And some of the good…that I see."
Nina frowned, feeling trapped. "All right," she agreed reluctantly. "I'll…I'll try my best tonight."
"Oh, you're the best, Nina!" Reagan declared, throwing her arms around her to hug her. "And, hey, maybe you could even throw in something about how you're considering marrying Del and all – that would make Daddy really happy!"
Nina cringed. "Um…I don't think that would be a good idea…"
Reagan sighed, releasing her and shrugged. "Well, it was worth a shot. Besides, I still think that Del's too good for you, anyway." However, she then gave Nina a genuine and gracious smile and Nina smiled back.
"This is going to suck," Delmar muttered as he and Iggy stood leaning against the hallway wall outside the large ballroom where people had already begun to gather and music had already begun to play. The two waited along with Gaia, Zephyr, and Bronte for Nina and Reagan to arrive so they could be properly announced as they entered the royal ballroom.
"Come on, Delmar; it won't be so bad," Iggy tried to reason. "I mean, this is the first time I've actually been invited to one of these fancy shindigs; most of the time, I'm crashing them. It'll be kind of cool to be treated like nobility."
"It's really not that great…these things are long and boring and stupid," Delmar said flatly and then yawned.
"If worse comes to worse, we can just cut out and get drunk at some bar somewhere," Iggy offered.
"Because that's just want my father would want to see tomorrow morning at my sister's coronation – his son with a massive hangover," Delmar remarked wryly.
Iggy frowned and gave a sigh. "Well, if it's any consolation, you were totally right – your parents suck way more than mine ever could."
Delmar gave a laugh and answered cheekily, "I told you so."
It was then that Nina and Reagan arrived, Nina beginning, "Wow! You guys all look so dressed up!"
They turned to her and were immediately surprised at how dressed up the usually plain and unassuming girl was; she was wearing a long, silvery and sparkly strapless gown with white gloves, a silver tiara, and diamonds on her neck, ears, wrists, and fingers. Around her waist was tied a white sash and her face was prettily painted up; her shoes, too, were sparkling silver and glittered under the light of the chandeliers above them. The train of her dress extended a foot behind her, also sparkling in the light, while her hair, which was usually tied back, was instead elaborately curled and flowed all around her.
"Wow, Nina! You look amazing!" Iggy immediately blurted out, his cheeks quickly turning red because of it.
Nina blushed, too, lowering her head a little. "You do, too, Iggy," she remarked, noting the fancy red jacket that he wore with gold trimming along with the tailored black slacks and shiny black shoes that he wore. Even his white hair was neatly tied back, as if he really were a gentleman of the noble class.
"Oh, well, you know…just trying to look the part, I guess," Iggy insisted, cheeks turning redder.
"Me, too, but it's pretty cool to be wearing something so fancy…although part of me feels a little silly dressed in a poofy princess dress like this," Nina said with a more relaxed laugh. "I kind of feel like a little girl playing dress up!"
As she laughed, Bronte smiled with the pride of a father and walked over to her. He lent his arm out to her and bowed his head gracefully, saying, "It would do me a great honor if I could escort you in, Princess Nina."
Nina smiled warmly and accepted his arm. "Thanks, Bronte," she said and the two proceeded toward the ballroom
"Oh, and you must escort me in!" Reagan exclaimed, quickly taking hold of Zephyr's arm. "It will be so cool to walk in with a celebrity! And, not only that, but the Sterling Silver! What a dream!"
"Wait, what?!" Zephyr exclaimed in panic, but Reagan was already dragging him to the entranceway of the ballroom.
Gaia then frowned. "That means I'm going to be stuck entering the ballroom with you two idiots," he muttered in disgust.
"Not necessarily," a voice came from behind and Gaia gasped, immediately recognizing it.
"Urania!" he exclaimed, spinning around to see his grinning wife dressed in a dark, slinky, glittering dress with ruby earrings and a matching necklace. Delmar and Iggy also looked surprised to see her, particularly as she was so elegantly dressed. "But…what are you doing here? And what about Atlas?"
She smiled and said, "Atlas is with your parents right now; I thought it would be best that I come and check up on you and Princess Nina. Being the wife of one of Princess Reagan's honored guests this evening, it wasn't too difficult for me to get in. That, and it does help that my parents are part of Maris's noble class, even if they are on the lower end of it."
As Gaia smiled, took her arm, and headed with her toward the ballroom, Iggy scowled and grumbled, "So not only is she some high-ranking Galaxy Police Forces officer, she's also part of Maris's nobility?! How the hell did Gaia get a wife like that?!"
"And, judging by her dress and the jewelry she was wearing, she's seems kind of rich, too," Delmar noted more disinterestedly. "Not to mention, she looks pretty hot in a dress."
"I am now officially jealous," Iggy admitted with some disdain. He then sighed. "I guess that just leaves us two, then…I don't even know how the hell they're going to even introduce me – as some crazy demon thief?"
"I'm sure they'll come up with some sort of euphemism when they announce you."
"I guess…" Iggy trailed off, glancing at the grimacing Delmar. "You know, we really don't have to go in, though, if you really don't want to."
Delmar gave a shrug. "Well, it's either go in now or listen to my father yell at me tonight for not coming…and as I'm not really inclined to do the latter…"
"The ball it is then," Iggy decided for them. The two then headed in.
"Now presenting…her majesty, daughter of King Leofric and Queen Morrigan, Princess Nina of Eden, and her knight, Sir Bronte Gild of Eden, the last surviving members of the Royal House of Eden," it was announced loudly as Nina and Bronte stood at the top of the grand stairs, looking down at the even grander ballroom where people dressed in their finest attire were already dancing, eating, talking, and drinking happily and merrily. At the center of the back wall of the room sat both King Malik and Queen Regina, where they sat on two thrones while a long line of nobles awaited to greet them properly. "Wow…" Nina whispered in disbelief at the massive glass windows, the marble tiled floors and elegantly painted ceiling, and the brightness of the glittering diamond chandeliers while the crowd burst into a reverent applause at her appearance. Bronte gave her a smile and a nod and then the two proceeded down the staircase, Nina holding tightly onto Bronte's arm for fear she might trip over her dress.
"Now presenting…her majesty, daughter of King Malik and Queen Regina, the Grand Princess of Maris and heir-apparent to the throne, Princess Reagan with honored guest and pop idol sensation, Sterling Silver."
"It's Zephyrus Clark!" Zephyr shouted at the man who had announced them, but was drowned out by the enormous applause by the guests for their princess and future ruler. Reagan grinned, waving down at them, and then gave Zephyr a tug as the two descended the stairs.
"Now presenting…daughter of the Baron Cronus de Lemur, Captain Urania Erhard of the Galaxy Police Forces, and her husband and honored guest, Lieutenant Gaia Erhard of the Galaxy Police Forces." Both graciously descended the stairs as a more polite applause than the more exuberant applause for both Nina and Reagan.
"Now presenting…companion of Princess Nina and honored guest of Princess Reagan, Ignatius Gladwyn." At the sound of Princess Reagan's name, the guests immediately broke into a loud applause which made Iggy frown uncomfortably.
"Well, this is definitely different…" he muttered to himself before walking uneasily down the large staircase.
The last to come was Delmar, who reluctantly stood at the top of the immense stairway. "Now presenting…his highness, son of King Malik and Queen Regina, Grand Prince of Maris, Prince Delmar." Like with Reagan, there was a large burst of applause for their young Marisinian prince, but Delmar seemed uninterested in it; rather, he was glaring down resentfully at where his parents sat. He then plodded down the stairs with a façade of apathy, although the same bitterness remained lurking in his eyes.
While Delmar chose not to wait on line to properly greet the King and Queen like everyone else (rather, he chose to sulk against the adjacent wall, the others were nearing the King and Queen. As Nina and Bronte reached the thrones, Bronte bowed respectfully while Nina tried her best to courtesy in her dress and hoped that Bronte would do all the talking for them – in which she could just smile and nod in agreement.
Luckily, Bronte began, "It is an honor to appear before you, your majesties. I am humbled to be in your presence and grateful for the assistance you have given myself, and more importantly, the protection and hospitality you have given to Princess Nina. I will forever be in your debt, my lords."
"Yes, likewise," Nina quickly and quietly said, lowering her head as she began to blush at the two pairs of regal eyes gazing upon her with such force.
"We are grateful to you, Sir Bronte of Gild," Regina answered back, "for the honorable service you have provided in protecting Princess Nina and your diligence and dedication to your duty. You are a most worthy Knight of Eden and a most worthy member of the Royal House of Eden."
"Thank you, your majesty," Bronte answered with another bow of his head until at last rising.
Just as they were about to end their greeting, Reagan gave Nina a shove from behind, whispering, "Go on!"
Nina's eyes fluttered with a shrill gasp, her whole body turning red as Malik looked directly at her and Reagan. "Is something the matter?"
"No…I…uh…" Nina stammered when Reagan took hold of her arm and brought her closer to Malik's throne.
"It's just that Princess Nina had said she would feel so very honored if you would dance were her this evening, Daddy," Reagan explained and then gave Nina a shove forward. "You go on and tell him, Nina!"
Nina winced fearfully at the tall and menacing man before sheepishly lowering her head, cheeks flushed scarlet, and clasping her hands modestly in front of her. Tugging at her gloves nervously, she said meekly, "I mean…if you would like…I would really appreciate a dance." She then bowed her head and blurted out, "It would make me very happy if you would dance with me!"
Malik seemed puzzled by the bizarre way in which she requested this, but then gave a warm and boisterous laugh that startled and surprised Nina. She looked up, flustered, and saw Malik grinning down on her – she had yet to see such a kind expression upon his face before. He then said graciously as he extended his arm, "I could have no greater privilege than to dance with you, Princess Nina."
Nina felt herself blushing still as she warily accepted his hand and he led her to the dance floor, Regina grinning giddily and giving her a thumbs up in her excitement. As Nina and Malik began to dance, Iggy had walked over to Delmar (he, too, had chosen to skip the formalities of introducing himself) with two glasses of wine. Handing Delmar one of the glasses, he said, "Did you see? Your father's dancing with Nina."
"So?" Delmar muttered disgustedly, taking a large gulp of wine.
"Hey, you think if I asked her…she'd dance with me?"
Delmar forgot himself for a moment, looking up at Iggy in surprise. "What?"
Iggy blushed, embarrassed now, and quickly waved his hand. "I was only kidding!" he insisted, trying to laugh.
After a lengthy pause, Delmar then gave a smile and a light shrug as he finally answered Iggy's question good-naturedly, "Probably."
Nina, meanwhile, tried her best to keep her nerves in check as she danced with the renowned King Malik, who seemed surprisingly much more jovial and warm than she had recalled seeing with Delmar; she thought this would make her feel more at ease to begin talking about his son, but instead she felt more confused than anything else. What was worse was that she had never had any formal ballroom dancing lessons before and was instead trying to follow Malik's lead step-by-step. In the meantime, Malik complimented, "You are a very graceful dancer, as to be expected of such a high-ranking princess."
Nina blushed further and muttered, "Oh, um…not really…I'm just trying to follow you…"
"Modesty is also a fine quality."
"Thank you…I guess…" Nina staggered.
"It is a great honor for Maris to be blessed with the long-lost Princess of Eden dancing in its court – it is truly a miracle – a sign that a great reign will begin and Maris will be entering a Golden age even more prosperous than the last."
"Yes…Maris is a really beautiful kingdom…I've never seen anything like it," Nina admitted, still feeling awestruck by the planet's grandness.
"But you have seen its equal – in Eden," Malik noted with a smile and a charming glint in his eyes.
"I was very young at the time, so I don't remember it that well," Nina began, starting to feel more comfortable as the conversation flowed more steadily. "Although, I do know some from the stories Bronte told me…and from the few memories I do have. But it's still different than here."
"Well…that place was my home…yes, it was beautiful…but it was also familiar and safe. This place is all so new and strange and exciting to me…"
"I suppose a place can become routine after living in it so long," Malik admitted. "Although I feel pride for this place, a stranger with fresh eyes can marvel at its beauty much more than myself – someone who has already been dazzled by it so many times before."
"It really is beautiful," Nina repeated. "And I think you're right…about Reagan; I think she's going to have a great reign. She's really been very nice to me."
Malik grinned. "I'm glad to hear. Your approval is greatly accepted."
Nina then laughed. "Although, I can't believe we're the same age! I mean, I could never imagine ruling a whole planet! That's so much responsibility!'
"You'd be surprised what people are capable of, especially someone as noble as yourself," Malik said. "You do, after all, have the spirit of Amaranth the Unfading within you – and you are destined to defeat the Great Demon Loki."
"But that's still nothing compared to ruling an entire kingdom…although, I actually kind of relate to her in some ways…you see, my older sister…" Nina trailed off, hesitating.
"What is it?'
"It's just that…well, my older sister was supposed to be crowned the next ruler of Eden, but I was chosen instead because of what the prophets said...because Amaranth had chosen me."
Malik's jovial expression became graver. "Oh…I see."
"My older sister was very angry at me…at everyone, really…and I felt so sad because she was so sad," Nina explained. "And I didn't think I even really deserved the throne, seeing how hard my sister had worked for it, and how I only was awarded with it because of some good luck, even though I hadn't really done anything on my own to deserve it. And I think she really would have made a great queen, too, if things had worked out differently."
"Well, it is different then," Malik began. "Reagan has done a great deal of work to make herself worthy of the throne. She was chosen based on merit."
"Yes, I suppose that's true," Nina remarked, glancing down nervously. "I was just thinking she must feel a little sad in some ways, that's all…it's a difficult position to be in, especially because you're hurting someone you love."
"I wish she wouldn't worry so much over him," Malik grumbled somewhat bitterly. "It really isn't her place to."
"Well, he is her brother…of course she worries."
"She's wasting her efforts on him; he isn't worthy of her concern."
"But he is your son, isn't he?" Nina pressed now. "I mean, even when my sister lost the throne, my parents still were remorseful toward her…and they tried to cheer her up."
Malik glowered. "He isn't worthy of my concern either."
"Well, he's worthy of my concern," Nina countered, growing indignant. "In fact, he is one of the worthiest people I know."
"Is this what this is all about then?" Malik asked with a sharp chuckle. "No wonder why my daughter was so insistent we dance together."
"She just wanted you to see some of the good that she sees in Delmar…and that I see in him, too," Nina explained. "Delmar really is a great guy – he's clever and funny and brave and always looks out for his friends, no matter what the cost will be to him. Sure, he sometimes can act kind of aloof, but he's always there when it counts and he's been very helpful in protecting me. In fact, if it weren't for him, I'd probably be dead now. I had been shot and it was him and Bronte together that brought me back to life, not to mention all the other times he's fought to protect me. I'm not saying you should give him the throne instead of Reagan, as he is kind of irresponsible most of the time, but the least you could do is not be so hard on him."
"Your loyalty is admirable as is your spirit, but that still does not mean he's worthy of any of it," Malik insisted stubbornly.
"How can you say that? He's your son!" Nina argued, her indignation rising further.
Malik scowled, but restrained his temper. "We should stop talking about this. It will only end badly."
"But – "
"It's complicated; there are things that neither him nor you understand...there are reasons for everything," Malik interrupted gravely.
"Reasons…?" Nina then glowered, frustrated by this cryptic answer. "Well, if that's the case, you can at least be honest with him," Nina retorted. "It's not fair to him to not even tell him why you're acting this way if there's a reason for it. You at least owe him some sort of explanation so that he'll maybe have the chance to fix it."
"It's not something that can be fixed or undone," Malik answered, releasing her as the dance concluded. "It just…is."
Nina frowned dejectedly at this hopeless assertion and the despair lingering in King Malik's countenance. "But…there's always something that can be done," Nina whispered to herself. She then became more determined and willful as she clenched her fists and walked over to where Delmar and Iggy.
"So, how did dancing with Delmar's Dad go?" Iggy questioned with a wry grin.
However, to his surprise, she brushed past him and went directly to Delmar, and said, "Listen, Delmar!" Delmar looked up, surprised to hear the forcefulness in her voice. "You need to find some way to talk to your father – confront him and demand that he give you some sort of explanation."
"What are you talking about?" Delmar asked in perplexity.
"I'm not really sure myself, but your father told me that there is something between you two that has caused him to be so distant," Nina explained.
Delmar perked up a bit, standing up straight. "That's what he said?"
Nina nodded. "Maybe you did something or caused him to get angry in the past and you didn't even realize it, but either way he holds a grudge about it now. Can you think of anything you might have done?"
Delmar winced now. "Not really…maybe it's just my attitude in general?"
"Well, whatever it is, you need to have an honest talk with your father and find out once and for all."
"She's right," Iggy agreed. "All of this crap about your father is going to keep nagging at you if you don't just tell him how you honestly feel – and find out what his problem is in the first place. It might end up being something stupid, but at least then you'll know and you'll have an honest answer from him."
"Did he really say…there was a reason?" Delmar asked, some hope flashing in his eyes. "And that maybe I could fix it all somehow?"
Nina frowned now, glancing down at her feet. Then she swallowed hard and prayed with all her might until she at last lied, "Yes…that's exactly what he said."
And Delmar's eyes glinted with resolve.
The morning of the coronation had arrived and a large crowd had already gathered outside to watch the elaborate ceremony. With only minutes away from the beginning of the coronation, Delmar marched down the corridors of the palace, until at last reaching a large chamber door. With all his resolve and courage, he at last knocked on the door, loudly and firmly, until his mother opened it. Queen Regina blinked in surprise and asked shakily, "Oh, Delmar…shouldn't you be heading to the coronation? Your father and I…"
"I want to speak with you and Dad," Delmar interrupted coldly, pushing his way into their bedroom.
"Delmar, what are you doing in here?" Malik demanded furiously, having just finished dressing as the servants made the final adjustments to his attire.
"I want to know the reason," Delmar insisted with more tenacity than he had spoken to his father before. "Nina said you told her there was a reason and I want to know what it is."
Malik glowered and glared at the servants. "Get out," he barked at them and the servants quickly obeyed and scurried out of the room, closing the door behind them. He then scoffed, refusing to make eye contact with Delmar. "I should have known that Princess Nina would have said something to you."
"I want to know – why did you pick Reagan over me to become the next ruler of Maris?" Delmar questioned, unwavering.
"I told you the reason; she is more qualified and you lack any sense of responsibility. That is the reason," Malik remarked.
"That isn't the reason, otherwise you would have just told that to Nina," Delmar countered. "So tell me why you chose her instead of me?"
"That isn't what you're really trying to ask about," Malik then said, still keeping his eyes averted. "What you're really trying to ask is why I treat you the way I treat you. And why I treat you differently than Reagan. Ever since you were a little boy, that's what you've always wanted to know, isn't it?"
Delmar flinched, feeling a sudden apprehension at this candid response. Then he lowered his eyes and answered sincerely, "Yes…that's what I want to know."
"Well, it will do you no good knowing," Malik answered abruptly. "There's nothing you can do to change it, so it's best that you don't know. You will be better off not ever knowing."
"How can you say that?" Delmar questioned, growing irate. "All my life, nothing I've ever done has been good enough for you and now you won't even tell me the reason why?"
"Delmar, please!" Regina then exclaimed, clasping onto his arm. "For your mother's sake…please…stop this line of questioning. Forget about it completely. Your father is right in that it will do you no good. He's trying to protect you."
"Protect me?" Delmar asked in surprise, a sudden fear slowly churning in his stomach. "But…from what?" Regina looked down, tears in her eyes, and Delmar looked to his father more pleadingly now. "What's…what's wrong?"
"Delmar…listen to me," Malik now began, his own voice shaking. "I have wronged you…I let my anger continuously get the better of me – anger that should not have been directed toward you – and for that I'm sorry. But…in the end…I've always tried my best to protect you and be a good father to you."
"I don't understand," Delmar said, still troubled. "Please, tell me what's wrong."
"Malik…" Regina now begged, but Malik shook his head.
"No, Regina…it is time he heard the truth," he said, something fearful stirring in his countenance. Regina only let out a soft sob, releasing Delmar and walking slowly backward to the corner, continuing to cry quietly.
"Mom…?" Delmar asked, looking worriedly over at his gently sobbing mother. His then glanced back at his father. "Dad…what is going on?"
"Listen to me, Delmar – what you hear today must no leave this room," Malik began sternly. "You mustn't even tell your sister. It was a secret that only your mother and I shared, and the eldest prophet of Maris at the time, long since past. Now it will be a secret between the three of us." Delmar only nodded and listened apprehensively. "Twenty-two years ago, before you were born, a great prophet came to be one of Maris's royal prophets. Although he was a great prophet, he was an evil man and yet so powerful, that none of the other prophets could predict his treachery. Rather, he remained under the guise of a loyal servant to the house of Maris. And I was very grateful for his service and his friendship. However, it was not long before I discovered that he was really an imposter."
"An imposter?" Delmar questioned. "But what does this have anything to do with me?"
Malik's expression grew grave. "It has everything to do with you," he answered grimly, his eyes darkening. "It was the night before my coronation – the worse day of my life. My father had died that morning and it had only been a week since your mother and I had been married. I was the only one left in line for the throne and so whoever was my first heir would, thus, be the next to follow."
"But you chose Reagan," Delmar noted.
"I'm getting to that," Malik told him. "On that night, I entered my chambers, grieving still over the loss of my father and feeling the heavy burden I now had in replacing a great king such as my father. However, when I entered, I heard a terrible cry from your mother – and then saw that imposter on top of her, ravaging my beautiful, defenseless wife."
"What?" Delmar asked in disbelief, his eyes jerking to his still quietly crying mother.
"It's all true," she admitted despairingly. "All that your father is saying is true."
"But…how…" Delmar stammered, trying to process all he was hearing.
"That imposter had raped your mother – and then he attempted to kill me, still mourning my father and shocked by the sight I had seen. But, in my anger to avenge my wife, I successfully fought him back and he fled, never to be seen again," Malik explained, then inhaled and exhaled deeply. "After that…your mother still shaking and crying…we quickly and quietly went to the eldest prophet at the time, a man my father had dearly trusted all his life, and told him what had happened with that man who had also been a prophet and had pretended to work loyally under him. It was then that the eldest prophet used his foresight to tell us what we feared – that your mother was pregnant with that man's child and he had attempted to kill me in order to ensure that this child would be the next heir to the throne of Maris, as there would be no others if I had died that night. And, what's more, that man was no man at all, but really…a demon."
"But…that can't be…" Delmar stuttered, beginning to tremble.
"It is true," Malik said firmly. "Nine months from that time, you were born, and your mother did not have the heart to kill you despite knowing what you were from. And, as much hate as I felt toward you the day you were born, I could not bring myself to kill you either, as you were only an innocent infant, unaware of what horrors you were born out of. And so, upon your mother's request, I pretended that you were my son as much as you were hers – a charade I promise I will continue until my death. But even now I can see him in you – that blond hair and those blue eyes belonged to him as well, and, of course, your gift of prophecy. I am reminded of him everyday – that demon who violated your mother – whenever I see you and am reminded that you are not really my son, but the son of a monster. And that is why I cannot in good conscience ever make you the king of Maris, knowing what evil you were born from."
"But…" Delmar repeated, paling in fright.
"Regina, it is time we leave; the coronation will be starting soon," Malik said suddenly, turning rigidly to Regina, who only nodded and composed herself. He then glared back at Delmar and said in a distant voice, "You may come if you like or not, Delmar…but, in spite of all of this, remember that you always have a place in this palace."
The two then left as Delmar's breathing became more erratic; he could hear his heart thumping his ears and pounding against his chest as his eyes widened in terror. "This…this can't be happening…" he stammered shakily, his whole body trembling and his skin deathly white as a sickening realization was forming in his head. At last, an urgent sense of fright ceased him and he darted from the room into the hallway, calling out to his parents who were now down the corridor, "Wait!"
Malik turned around, eyeing Delmar with impatience. "What is it?"
"That man…that demon…" Delmar fumbled over his words in his panic. "What was the name of the prophet he disguised himself as?"
Malik raised a suspicious brow, confused as to why Delmar would be asking such a question. Then he answered coldly, "He went by the name…Proteus Fortuyn."