|The Chosen Ones
Author: elizaye PM
The kingdoms of Morramen and Trayzak have been warring for generations and generations. What happens to the unfortunate spies that are caught in the middle? In this story, you'll find action, adventure, a bit of magic, and more than a little bit of love.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 15 - Words: 65,341 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 06-01-12 - Published: 07-24-11 - id: 2936043
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"I can't believe this is happening," Val whispered to Warren.
"Me neither," Warren whispered back, shaking his head.
It had been a month since Aaron's death and Val was still on the Trayzakian side—she still had to get his seal. Where it was she had no clue. She was also having trouble devising a good way to return to Morramen and reclaim her place from Elizabeth.
And maybe a tiny, completely irrational part of her wanted to stay in the place where her lost love had lived and died.
She and Warren were standing behind Chris at a peace conference. Across the table from them were Alex, James, and Scott. A temporary peace agreement had been drawn up and approved by both Kings, and this was the signing. The official seals of each side were placed on the forms. Val peeked over Chris's shoulder to see the seal, but it was Chris's, not Aaron's.
Scott and Chris stood, going around the table to shake hands. They forced smiles that disappeared as soon as their hands parted.
"Let's go," said Chris, going back to them.
Scott said the same to the Morramenites, and both groups of representatives left the tent. Since the meeting had been held in the Trayzakian camp, Chris sent a guard over to escort the Morramenites on their way out.
Half an hour later, the whole camp had been cleaned up, and Val was climbing onto her horse. The group started the ride back to Vicetown, and Val marveled at how quickly a huge, messy army was able to clean up and leave its campground.
"It's odd, riding back from battle without the prince at the head," said Warren, riding up next to her. "I guess I'm too used to riding under Aaron's flag. He was a good leader."
"Hmm," said Val stoically. She'd learned to avoid all emotion whenever Aaron was the topic of discussion.
"That's right, you never liked him," said Warren.
"Well, he was a bit…harsh," said Val, remembering how he'd been when she was Angela. She quickly concentrated on Warren—she couldn't let herself think about Aaron.
"True, occasionally he was a bit hard on us, but a good leader overall," said Warren.
"Let's not talk about that, please," said Val, and they fell silent.
Before she knew it, she had sunk into her thoughts about Aaron. The last time they'd been together, how she'd tried to return his soul to him, how his soul filled her at this moment. Her hand went to her chest, flattening over the locket, remembering how it had been so warm against her skin when she'd first slipped it around her neck.
She blinked away tears and rode on.
Scott was still having a hard time accepting that Val was gone.
Even though they'd never found her body, she must have died or been captured by some unknown force from whom they wouldn't be able to rescue her.
He'd awoken almost a month ago to find that Lissy and Aaron had escaped and that Val was missing—the worst news that he could have received. Since then, they had signed a peace agreement and were now riding back to Morristown. James and Alex were accompanying him, and Jordan was riding with the troops a ways behind them.
"I'm very sorry. I should've been watching over her…" said James from his left.
"That's all right. There was nothing you could have done," said Scott.
"Jordan and I also should've been—" began Alex from his right.
"I've told all of you that it's all right! Stop feeling sorry for me!"
James and Alex fell silent, and for a while, all they heard was the sound of the horses' hooves on the dirt road.
Then Scott said quietly, "I didn't mean to yell, but I meant every word of it. Please stop showing me your sympathy."
"Understood," said James, falling back just a little bit. He made a face at Alex.
"Right, right," she said quickly, getting the hint. "No more sympathy."
But Scott wasn't listening anymore. His mind had flown back to a time when he and Val had gone out to practice scouting an enemy camp and had gotten lost.
It had been autumn, and they'd lost the trail because of the intense winds, which shifted the leaves and sticks around, scattering the tracks that their instructors had left. Val and Scott had ended up on the wrong side of the mountain, and they'd spent the rest of the day trying to find their way back to the others.
Then, while they rested by a waterfall, Scott had kissed her.
It had been their first kiss. She'd been so angry when he advanced on her that she'd spent the rest of the day not talking to him.
A small smile flitted across his face as he remembered how she'd come to his tent that night, apologized, and admitted that she liked him too.
James and Alex looked at each other.
"Do you think he's all right?" Alex silently mouthed.
James nodded and made a motion of zipping his lips. Alex nodded, smiling grimly. It would be a quiet ride home.
"Hurry up, will you? The King's expecting us," said Chris.
"Yeah, yeah," said Warren, running his fingers through his hair. "If you would have helped me with all the troops, I might have finished up faster."
"That's not my job."
"It didn't specifically say in my job requirements that I was to deal with army supplies, either," said Warren.
"Hush," said Chris, walking briskly down the hall.
"Yeah, when you can't win the argument, you tell me to shut up."
"You don't want Lissy to see us arguing, do you?" asked Chris.
"Nice excuse," said Warren as Chris pulled open the door to Lissy's office.
"Oh, hello. Are we going up there now?" asked Val, getting to her feet.
She'd been in Lissy's office for half an hour already, but she hadn't done much. Chris had told her to stay in the room until they called for her to join them to report to the King.
"Yes, we are," said Chris. "Come on."
"Are the others ready too?" she asked as she stepped out of the office.
"Yes," said Warren. "Harold and Candace are meeting us there."
Chris draped his arm around her and steered her down the hall, and Warren walked on her other side. Val felt like she was still in the middle of a war—a silent war of emotions.
They reached the castle in about five minutes, and it took another minute to get up to the King's quarters. The six minutes passed in tense silence, and Val longed for anything to break it. One of Jordan's jokes would have been ideal. They waited outside the door for a few more minutes before Harold and Candace arrived.
"Why are you late?" Chris asked.
"We got caught up in some errands," said Candace. "Sorry."
"That's fine," said Chris. "Let's go."
"Yeah, before the King eats us alive for keeping him waiting," muttered Warren.
Val suppressed a laugh as the large doors opened. Warren grinned at her until he noticed Chris's murderous expression and looked away in silence. The doors slammed shut behind them, and Val observed the great room in which they now stood.
Contrary to the King's Court of Morramen, the Trayzakian King kept his Royal Hall adorned with jagged black designs that ran across the dark blue walls. The room had a dark feel to it, and Val almost shuddered—not a good first impression.
The King himself sat on his throne behind an elevated desk, and he stood when they came into the room. "The messenger has already brought me tidings of the treaty. It was a job well done. We gained two territories, and I am very satisfied," he said, smiling.
"Yes, but I'm sure you've heard the bad news as well," said Chris slowly.
"Bad news? Why, what bad news is there to be heard of? Please, do tell," said the King pleasantly, sitting back down.
Chris turned slightly sideways to survey the others' expressions. Val looked around too and noticed that everyone was looking around uneasily.
Finally, Warren nodded and Chris took a deep breath, turning back to the King. "We've allowed a horrible thing to happen," he said guiltily.
"Well, what is it?" asked the King.
"Oh, nonsense!" exclaimed the Queen, bustling into the room before Chris could continue. "You can't have done anything horrible. And if you have, bad news can wait until tomorrow. You're excused, all of you."
"But—" protested Chris.
"Dismissed!" the Queen ran him over. "Out, out, out, now."
She ushered the group out of the room—none dared to object. Then the large doors closed, and the Queen sent the guards down to the end of the hall.
"Your Highness—" began Chris.
"Not a word about my son," said the Queen in a hushed voice. "Not a word. Do you hear me? He is not missing, neither is he dead. Go to his room, and everything will be clear. I command you to do so." Chris opened his mouth to speak, and the Queen interrupted, "Don't say another word to me. Go on, now. Go to his room. Good-bye." She turned, "Guards! Come back to the door."
Without another word, she disappeared into the King's chambers. The Chosen Ones exchanged glances as they shuffled down the hall.
Once they were two floors below the royal chambers, they turned to each other.
"What in hell was that all about?" asked Warren.
"How should I know?" asked Chris.
"Maybe we should go take a look," said Val.
"Should we?" asked Warren.
"He never lets people in his room," Candace pointed out.
"But if his mother the Queen commanded us to go in there…" said Val.
"Regardless, we need to check if there's something we're supposed to see," said Chris.
"I'm not going. I don't want to risk getting pummeled," said Harold. "You know how he and his mother don't get along. If he's really in there…"
"Suit yourself," said Warren. "We'll go."
"Sure," said Harold, heading down the hall. "I'll be in my office."
"Yeah, all right," said Chris. Harold disappeared around the corner.
"Shall we?" said Warren. They started down the hall in the opposite direction toward the wing of the castle where Aaron's quarters were located.
As they walked, Val faintly heard Warren and Chris talking, but it was an uninteresting backdrop to what was going on in her mind. She recalled the time when she served as Aaron's personal maid, back when she couldn't understand her feelings for him, back when the tingly feelings he left were to be persecuted, exterminated from her mind.
But now that he was gone, she felt that there was a hole inside her, a hole she couldn't quite fill, not even with Scott. Why had Scott lost so much meaning? His name and face had become nothing more than a synonym for guilt.
She sighed. "Lissy, is something wrong?" asked Warren from her left.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking," she replied absently.
"Really?" he asked. "You look distracted."
"I know. I was thinking."
"What were you thinking about?" asked Warren.
"Don't bother her," said Chris.
"Oh, he's not bothering me," the kind side of Val responded before she could stop herself. She wondered too late whether or not she should be siding with Warren.
"See? I don't bother her," said Warren.
"She's just trying to be nice," said Chris.
"Interpret it however you like," said Warren, grinning.
"I don't understand why guys always go for the girls that their friends like," remarked Candace from behind them.
"This has nothing to do with you," said Chris.
"Yeah, and I'm not going after Lissy. We're just close friends. Right, Lissy?" said Warren, putting an arm around her.
"Yes, of course we are," said Val, smiling.
"Hands off," said Chris.
"All right," said Warren, successfully masking the resentment in his voice as he removed his arm. He even managed to smile at Chris as he watched Chris put his arm around Lissy. He was getting so good at self-control.
"Here we are!" exclaimed Candace suddenly, to change the topic. She skipped up the last few steps, skirting past the group, and stopped at the door.
The other three joined her.
Chris knocked gently on the door. "Aaron? Are you in there?" he called.
He knocked again, harder this time. "Hey! Are you in there?"
He looked at the others.
"Let's just go in," said Warren, moving past Chris.
He opened the door and entered the room cautiously. He froze almost immediately, and Chris bumped into his back. Val and Candace entered the room and froze at the sight as well.
Aaron was lying on the bed, unconscious. Candace gasped loudly. Chris and Warren were astonished but couldn't react. All this time, the man they'd been searching for had been here.
"Aaron? Are you…alive?" asked Candace, the first to overcome the shock.
She went to the bed slowly, and Chris and Warren, noticing motion in the room, followed her. Val stood there for an extra second, still stunned, but shook herself out of it and followed.
"Is he alive?" asked Warren.
"We'll have to see," said Chris, placing his fingers on Aaron's forehead. He drew them back quickly, "His skin's dreadfully cold."
"Even I could have told you that," said Warren. "Get to the important part."
Chris glared at him but held his tongue, pressing his fingertips back to the cold forehead. A moment later, he turned to the others, removing his fingers. "He's alive, but barely. His essence is gone—that is, he's lost his core," he reported.
"Wait—you mean to say, he's administered the Fatal Kiss?" asked Warren in disbelief.
"He must have, but for whom, I've got no clue. That's the only way to lose your core without instantly dying, though," said Chris.
"Why would Aaron do such a thing? He hasn't got a heart," said Candace.
"Anyone who's alive can feel," Chris cut her off.
"But not Aaron. He's just so…distant. Unapproachable. Perfect…" said Candace.
Chris and Warren both looked the other way, trying not to laugh at her.
Val had drifted away from the others, going to the window and opening the curtains, remembering how Aaron had reprimanded her for opening them the first time. Then she remembered that there had been two Aarons. Was this the one she loved? It had to be, because the one she loved was the one who'd given her his core…
Where was the other one? She hadn't seen him since her days in the castle. In fact, she'd forgotten about him completely.
Val accidentally bumped into Aaron's desk and turned quickly to balance it. In doing so, she noticed a letter addressed to the five Chosen Ones.
She picked it up. "I found something," she said.
"What is it?" asked Chris, going to her.
Warren and Candace followed. Val opened the envelope and took out the paper inside, unfolding it. Then she read,
"To Christopher Greene, Warren Jones, etc. Firstly and most importantly, you are never to speak of this letter or the contents that follow, for if you do, I reserve every right to castigate you with as severe a punishment as the offence requires. That being said, I will continue.
"As you most likely have observed at this point, Aaron Trevor Vice is alive, but he is obviously not well. The liveliness of his being will be taken care of within a few days. You are not to worry about this, nor are you required to do anything for returning him to consciousness. If his body disappears within the next few days, you are not, I repeat, not permitted to take action or alert anyone.
"At this point, His Highness the King, as well as the rest of the Kingdom of Trayzak, believes that Aaron is on a mission in a foreign land. As for how his body returned to the castle, I had him transported home as soon as I learned that his essence had been lost.
"Now, should any suspicion be raised concerning his whereabouts, I will hold you directly responsible. Take care, for your lives may be on the line. With all due respect, Marilyn Stone Vice."
The letter ended with the Queen's signature and seal.
"The Queen herself," said Warren. "No wonder she was being so secretive earlier."
"Yeah, this answered one question and opened the doors for a million others," said Chris. "For example, how would she have known to go right then and there to pick him up? The timing was perfect."
"Maybe she's been watching," said Warren.
"But why would she have been watching?" asked Chris.
"Maybe she's worried," said Candace.
"Then why would she be worried? Aaron's been to war before."
"Maybe something's different this time…" said Val.
"No, there wasn't anything strange, really," said Warren.
"See what I mean? More and more questions. How is she planning on reviving Aaron without using us? Does she plan to summon sorcerers again?" asked Chris.
"I was thinking about that when she read it," said Warren. "Do you think that maybe the rookies are going to take over this project?"
Val wondered who the "rookies" were. But she couldn't ask the question—Lissy had to know about these "rookies".
"But how would they be able to do anything?" asked Candace.
"I don't know…" said Warren.
"Another question. Who did Aaron give away his core to? There weren't any women who seriously needed Healing the night that he disappeared," said Chris.
"Yeah, honestly. We don't have women in the entire army, except for you two, and you were just fine that night," said Warren.
"Maybe he met up with that girl after he left," suggested Candace.
"But then why would he leave?" asked Val.
"I don't know," said Chris.
"How about, let's just stop speculating and wait until the Queen's people get him back to life and ask Aaron himself for all the answers. I'll wager he's got all of them," said Warren. "And they'll be the right answers."
"Good idea," said Val, smiling. "I'm going to my room."
"Sounds good to me. I'm exhausted," said Candace.
She marched out of the room, and Val followed, handing the Queen's letter to Chris.
Chris pocketed the letter and exited after Warren, making sure to close the door as he left. Then he hurried over to Lissy. "Are you going to get some dinner?"
"I'm not really hungry," said Val. "I ate while you and Warren were out. Do you want me to go with you to get some food? I will, if you want."
"No, that's all right. I was just making sure you were taking care of yourself," said Chris. "I would walk you to your room, but I can't right now. Things to do…"
"I know," said Val, smiling at him. She reached the bottom of the stairs and headed for the exit of the palace. "I'll see you later."
"Yeah," said Chris. "See you later." He turned in the other direction.
Val sighed and left through the front gates.
"Hey, Lissy!" Warren called.
Val turned around to see him jogging toward her. "Oh, hi," she said.
"Where's Chris?" asked Warren, catching up with her.
She turned to keep walking, and he fell in step beside her. "He had some unfinished business to attend to," said Val.
"Perfect. I haven't been able to talk to you for a long time," said Warren, grinning.
"What are you talking about? We just talked," said Val.
"Well, without him interrupting," said Warren.
"He is my—"
"I know. He's just a bit over-possessive, and that gets annoying."
"I guess so," Val allowed.
Warren smiled. "How are you?"
"What do you mean? I'm fine."
"No, I'm talking about just between you and me. You don't have to act in front of me, Lissy. I know something's wrong. Come on. We didn't grow up together for nothing," said Warren. "I can tell when something's not right with you."
"I'm just fine," said Val. "You must be reading me wrong."
"Then why are you walking so fast?" asked Warren, grabbing her arm and pulling her back to her normal pace.
She hadn't even noticed that she'd been walking faster. She cursed mentally but turned to smile at Warren. "All right, tell me why you think something's wrong," she said.
"For one thing, you've been very quiet this whole time. You were never this quiet before," said Warren.
"Uh huh, sure. What else?"
"You're also normally…well you normally cling to Chris a lot more than you have been lately. And you're talking differently too. Like you have a unique way of speaking… but I just can't pinpoint what the difference is from how you normally talk. It's been bothering me for a while, but I haven't been able to say anything," said Warren.
"So you're not normal. I mean, you still haven't told me what you saw in that nightmare that one night. What's going on?" he asked.
"Nothing," said Val. "I'm great."
"Maybe someone else isn't great. Is there something wrong with Chris that you're both trying to hide from the rest of us?" asked Warren.
"No," said Val. "Just leave me alone. I'm okay."
"You never used to hide your problems from me," said Warren. "You used to come to me the minute they showed up."
"Maybe I'm getting more independent," said Val.
"It wasn't that you were dependent on me in the past, you just wanted my opinion. You, of all people, should know that," said Warren, his eyebrows furrowed. "Look, I'm not trying to be nosy. I just want you to be fine, and when I know something's wrong, I can't just watch you continue to be uncomfortable. Seriously, what's wrong?"
"Maybe I can't tell you this time," said Val slowly, looking down. She'd have to make something up to convince Warren to leave her alone.
"What could you possibly not tell me?"
"What if it were under command of the King himself? I can't tell you or anybody else anything," said Val, looking Warren in the eyes.
He was watching her closely, and she wanted more than anything else to look away, but she knew that that was exactly what he was looking for. If she couldn't look him in the eye, she couldn't be telling the truth. So she had to stare into those bright blue eyes until they finally turned away.
"All right," said Warren, nodding. "I'll let you off the hook for now, but believe me, I'll figure out what it really is sooner or later."
"Whatever you say," said Val, turning to keep walking.
"I won't be joining you," said Warren. "I have to…I wasn't finished with some issues concerning the troops."
"Then don't stay up too late," said Val.
"I won't," said Warren. "I'm tired as is."
"Okay. Bye, then," said Val.
Warren forced a smile and jogged back toward the castle. Val sighed with relief and started back on the road to city hall.
A few minutes later, she approached the doors and was about to open them when they were thrown open suddenly.
She leapt back, thankful for her reflexes, and Prince Lou Ferdinand Vice stepped outside, closely followed by his younger brother, Jacob Brandon Vice. Judging from his appearance, Lou was probably about fifteen or sixteen years old. Jacob couldn't have been more than three years younger, probably close to twelve years old.
Clearly they'd been debating something, but both fell silent when they saw her.
"Hello, Highnesses," she said pleasantly.
"Uh…hey," said Lou, sounding uncomfortable. "Are the rest of you back also, or is it just you?"
"All of us are back," said Val, wondering if Lissy didn't usually to talk to the Princes.
"Does that mean Aaron's come back too?" asked Jacob eagerly. "That would help us sort some things out."
"Sorry, his mission is separate from the war. I can't help you with that," said Val.
"See, Jacob? I told you he wouldn't be back yet," said Lou, smacking his little brother playfully. Val decided not to say anything.
"And I told you not to hit me!" shouted Jacob.
"That doesn't mean I have to obey you. I'm older," said Lou, starting toward the castle.
"Yeah well, when Aaron's back, I'll have him deal with you," said Jacob.
"Only because you are incapable of dealing with me yourself," said Lou.
Val watched them banter until they were out of earshot, and then entered the building, a smile lingering about her lips. They sounded so much like James and Jordan when they were younger.
Once inside the building, her smile faded. She was in hostile territory, and even when she posed as Elizabeth Boone, she felt exposed. She didn't let down her guard until she was safe in Elizabeth's room, where she sat down on the bed.
Val was about to flop down when she noticed a note on her pillow. She picked up the small slip of parchment apprehensively, wondering what secrets it would unfold. The note said, "772 Oak Lane, Sudran, Lilia Harris". Unable to decide whether this "Lilia" was the sender or the intended recipient, she flipped the paper over.
Here, in curly handwriting foreign to her trained eye, she read, "Take the Prince to the address on the other side of this paper. Tell her that you come from Marilyn. Do whatever she tells you to do. She will revive him if you do exactly as she says. Then you are to bring Aaron back. Tell the other agents that you are going out on a secret mission. They will believe you without exception. Leave as soon as possible. Aaron's life depends on you. Good luck."
There wasn't a signature at the bottom. Val tried to decipher the handwriting, but it was unlike any script she had seen in the past. Wondering why this mysterious person had left the note with her, she put it down on the dresser beside her bed and lay down to think.
According to what she had observed in the past two months, Elizabeth Boone had some sort of grudge against Aaron. So why would this person leave the note for protecting Aaron with Elizabeth?
Unless he or she knew about Valerie. But that would be impossible, unless Aaron had told someone. But he hadn't. She knew he hadn't—he wouldn't have done that to her. There had to be another reason…
Val racked her brain. Maybe Aaron and Elizabeth really had some lower undercover plan that kept them acting as if they didn't like each other, and a third person knew about it. Then that third person would obviously leave the note with Val. But the Queen had said that everyone thought that Aaron was out on a mission, so who would know that Aaron's life was in peril?
Maybe the Queen had left this message for her. But that couldn't be possible. She had much more graceful handwriting, and she wouldn't have had someone else write the document for her because she wouldn't risk letting another person know about Aaron's condition.
The writing across the whole page was consistent, with fluctuations in the lettering that made it look very natural. After working in reconnaissance for so long, Val could tell the difference between forged and natural handwriting, and this did not look forged. If the Queen, or anyone else, had managed this forgery, she, or he, must have been a master of deception.
Then more important questions surfaced: should she follow the instructions? Could she do this? How could she go to this Lilia Harris to save an enemy, and not just a normal enemy, but the Prince of her enemies? The mere intention of doing such a thing without ever acting on that intention could be considered treason.
Then the thought of never seeing him again cut through her heart like a blade of ice, freezing her inside so that she shivered in excruciating pain.
She couldn't bear that pain.
She had just been getting over his absence when they'd entered his room and she'd discovered that he was, in fact, alive. She shuddered at the possibility of going through another month, or maybe more this time, knowing that yet again, she would become the cause of his death.
Val must have been sitting there for several hours, for when she came to herself again, the candle had been snuffed by an icy blast of wind, and she felt chilled to the bone. She quickly slipped under the covers, not bothering to undress, and made her final decision. She had to save him, even if it meant dying to revive him. She couldn't let him die for her twice—she couldn't.