Kingdom of Wind
1- In Which Elena Tells a Story
"She got to a point where the fantasies actually did seem really real. Sure, maybe at first it was just a defense mechanism to help her escape from the sudden deaths of her parents. But, after a little while, she really started to care about these people that only existed during these temporary visits to a make-believe world.
"Even though the Seven Sons were a little crazy, the girl grew to like all of them—most of them. She didn't care much for the ones who didn't care for her in return. But some of them she liked well enough. Which only made it worse when she was thrown back into reality again, left to wonder if the oldest son, Lawson, would survive."
"Wait," Seth interrupted, "did we know he was the oldest son?"
"Yes, we knew he was the oldest son," Elena said with a sigh. "It was one of the first things he told the girl. That's why he thought he was the best to be the ruler of the Kingdom of Clouds, remember?"
"It gets confusing with all the different Kingdom names and the character names," Seth said, sounding a little whiny as he pulled his covers up to his nose and leaned back in bed.
It had been a full day since Elena Lash returned home from her stint in the fantasy on board the Kingdom of Rain.
You see, Elena has these really elaborate daydreams. It all started one day when she hit a butterfly with her car and it smashed against her windshield on her way to school. It reminded her too much of her parents' very recent and very brutal deaths, so she decided to skip school. Oddly, instead of getting in trouble for doing something like that, Elena found herself at the top of the nearest hill and discovered a massive flying castle hovering just above her car. Just like that.
At the time, she hadn't hesitated. If she had, she wondered if maybe she wouldn't have ended up having such strange dreams. But when she dreams, it felt real enough. She could feel pain and she also could get very sad. What's worse, it seemed as though things transcended the dreams from one world to the next: from the real world to the fantasy world. She would see things (or people) in one world, and then they would pop up in the next. There didn't seem to be any consistency as to when or where such things would occur (or even when the fantasies would start or end), so she just had to be ready.
Her mind must have had a rather insane imagination, though. The fantasy world she created in her dreams was peculiar and, not unsurprisingly, she had made herself the most important figure in the entire world. In the fantasy, they tried to convince her that they were the real world, and the real world was actually the fantasy. Supposedly, she had "visions", which explained this "fake world" (which is actually the real world). She must also be sexually frustrated as well, because the only way to end the fantasies was to (supposedly) have—sexual intercourse.
This created for all kinds of awkward situations.
There were seven main characters in the fantasy, and they all had the same father but different mothers. They were trying to get the floating castle that had picked Elena up, called the Kingdom of Clouds, but they each had their own Kingdom named after a various form of precipitation.
She spent most of her time in the Kingdom of Rain, however, with the oldest son named Lawson. He was undeniably the most handsome man she had ever seen, though he was selfish and understandably conceited (likely as a result of his handsomeness) and, during their time together, he had grown to like her quite well. In fact, he had sort of at one point asked her to marry him (after knowing her for only like a week) but she pretended not to hear.
All seven fought amongst themselves in order to get the Kingdom of Clouds, though they had made an alliance only the day before, in order to combat the uncreatively named "Others," which were kind of like the bad guys of the fantasy world. Well, they are the bad guys. Up until a few weeks earlier, the Others had been simple creatures who just liked to kill and maim. Now, it seemed, they had some kind of new strategy. The more Elena mulled it over, the more she started to realize that the strategy probably had a connection to the Stranger.
Most recently, Lawson had a run-in with a strange man—appropriately called the Stranger. The Stranger was a very tall creature who, for all intents and purposes, looked like a regular man. But, he possessed strength and skill that was beyond that of a regular human. Before Elena had been thrown back to reality, she and Lawson had to face the Stranger and he essentially mopped the floors with them. Actually, he didn't even bat an eye at Elena; it seemed as though the only person he had any interest in was Lawson.
He bested Lawson at swordsmanship, which was basically unheard of. He nearly strangled him, cut up his face and then shot him in the leg. As if that wasn't bad enough, it seemed the bullet was poisoned with the venom that could only be found in the claws of the Others, which only further proved her theory that the two were connected.
(That's the super abridged version. Super confusing…I strongly recommend you read the first one before you go any further.)
"So then she went outside and sure enough, it was hailing," Elena finished up. She was telling her young cousin, Seth, a bedtime story so maybe he would go to sleep and let her get back to catching on homework that she so frequently missed because of her trips to the fantasy world. "And only over her own house too. It was very strange."
Seth stared at her and waited for her to continue.
"Then?" he led.
"That's it for now," Elena said. "If you're good, then I'll tell you more next Thursday."
The truth was, she didn't have any more of the story because nothing had happened past that point just yet.
"It can't end there," Seth decided, looking completely disgruntled with this turn of events. "At least tell me… the girl went to the Kingdom of Hail next, right?"
Elena looked at him questioningly. "Why would she do that?"
"Because it was hailing outside!" Seth exclaimed. "If the real world is supposedly the visions that tell her what to do in the fantasy world, then obviously her vision is telling her that she has to go to the Kingdom of Hail for answers! I mean, hail in April? That's not normal!"
Elena blinked a few times in response to Seth getting a little too into the story. But he was kind of right, wasn't he? When she had seen the hail yesterday, she thought maybe it was the sign of the apocalypse or that things were only going to get worse in the fantasy. However, Seth's declaration made so much more sense, especially in the context of her visions reflecting what happens in the fantasy world—not visions, the real world!
"That is exactly what she did next," Elena said reassuringly.
"Tell me what happened!" Seth begged.
"You'll just have to wait," Elena said, standing up. "And go to bed. Your parents will be home soon and if you're not asleep, then we'll both get in trouble."
Seth grumbled and whined some more, but that's not interesting enough to put on paper. Instead, Elena decided to go with the strict route and just run to the door, turn off the lights and slam the door behind her.
When she turned, she encountered something strange, but increasingly familiar.
She was no long standing in her aunt and uncle's home in upstate New York. She had just stepped from the hallway of the Kingdom of Rain: the floating castle owned by Lord Lawson (but don't call him that) who was currently in a bed in front of her, breathing softly in sync with the beeps of machines all around him. He was receiving a dangerous treatment for the poison pumped into him.
Lawson was black haired and green eyed (though you wouldn't be able to tell at the moment because his eyes were closed), though not prone to standing by windows apparently, because he was pale and could do some well with a bit of sunlight to darken his complexion. He was tall and slim, easily over six feet tall, and just about twenty years old, Elena would wager. Also, he was quite prone to wearing black from head to toe, which seemed to be a theme that swept throughout the entire Kingdom he ruled. In fact, when Elena looked down at herself, she found she was wearing another old-fashioned and glamorous black gown, something she seemed to quite often find herself wearing whenever she woke up on the Kingdom of Rain. Lawson liked to see her wearing black, and she liked to make him happy. He looked sweet when he smiled.
He also looked unbelievably handsome (was that already mentioned?) despite the large bandage between his eyes and covering most of his nose. That was where the Stranger had carved a deep gash into Lawson's nearly perfect face—instead of killing him, which Elena still found odd.
When she had first met Lawson, he needed information on a demon that haunted him (because there are demons in this fantasy world too) and kept him from sleeping. He had been extremely short tempered that first day and did not present an entirely good first impression. Over time, Elena learned that his violent threats and short temperedness was all an act (or at least some of it was) and he was not actually nearly so unkind. Sure, he was selfish and mostly condescending, but he was nice enough to people he felt were worth something. In the beginning, he didn't think much of Elena, and probably didn't think she was worth more than a couple of visions. Things changed.
He looked like he was still unconscious. Elena had been hoping that by the time she got back, he would at least be a little better.
And, since she had been so utterly distracted by her flashback sequence and assessments of Lawson, she hadn't even noticed there was someone else in the room.
It was Lawson's younger brother, Quentin. The two did not share very many qualities as far as their appearance was concerned, but their personalities were surprisingly similar even though they did not spend any of their childhoods together.
Quentin was even taller than Lawson, though built solidly so he had more of a manly and imposing presence. His hair was dusty blond and he had deep brown eyes that were clearly too engrossed in whatever he was reading to even notice Elena had just entered the room. He was wearing his perfect green uniform with brass buttons; it was all Elena had ever seen him wear, so she wondered if he had anything else.
He was only younger by about one year. Despite being younger, Quentin was a lot more cool-headed and simultaneously a gentle and commanding presence. His siblings did not think very highly of him, though Elena guessed that was because they were jealous of how capable he was. She could make this assessment of him after only knowing him for a few days and having very occasional encounters.
One of the reasons why Elena respected Quentin so much was because of the way he handled himself even though he was fully aware that his siblings did not like him at all, and would probably kill him if they had the chance. Recently, he had been poisoned by the Others in the conventional sense (a claw to the arm) and received the dangerous treatment, managing to survive and carry himself with poise and present a strong image. He stood up straight at all times, and as Elena gazed at his perfectly straight turned back, she figured she wouldn't be able to determine whether or not he was still feeling the effects of the treatment or the poison.
That was not the only proof of Quentin's maturity: he was only nineteen, but he had already been successfully married for two years to a woman who loved him passionately. His wife's name was Jenny, and she, like Elena, was a "Chaste Beauty" which meant she had visions (AKA, she used to live in the real world). She didn't have visions anymore, of course, because she had lost her virginity to Quentin. After all, there was only ever one Chaste Beauty.
Quentin's philosophy was that he didn't want to kill his brothers and sisters in order to acquire the Kingdom of Clouds. He wanted to show them he deserved it. And, in so few words, Elena maybe thought he did.
"Quentin, what are you doing here?" she asked quietly so she didn't startle him as she moved towards him.
He turned only his head to look at her. Most of the color had returned to his face and he definitely seemed much healthier than the last time she had seen him (which didn't take much considering he was teetering back then, basically on the verge of passing out at all times), and he appeared relieved when he saw Elena, as if he was expecting someone else.
"I had some errands to run," Quentin said softly, as if speaking too loudly would wake Lawson.
She gestured her head at the packet of papers in his hand, and he showed them to her (though they made no sense to her). "Does Lawson know you're here?" She knew Lawson despised Quentin the very most and probably would not love the idea of him being in the Kingdom and seeing him in such a condition.
She looked at Lawson who was completely drained of what little color he had. His lips were almost white, and the bandage on his forehead looked like it was a darker shade than his skin.
"Lawson isn't quite aware of anything at the moment," Quentin remarked. "He isn't responding to the treatment very positively."
"What?" Elena questioned, confused.
"It's tough to say," Quentin admitted, glancing back down at the papers in his hands. "The poison entered him through an enhanced bullet. It's terrifying enough to learn that they've managed to turn their most deadly weapon into a long-range mechanical weapon, but to add to it, they seem to have altered it slightly."
"Altered it? So what does that mean?"
"It means that the treatment we've depended on for so long is now close to worthless," Quentin said.
Elena hurried to the edge of the bed and got a closer look at Lawson. His skin looked very dry, as if he might crack.
"What now then?" she asked, feeling frantic.
"My men are working on it," Quentin answered. "As are Lawson's men and Ryder's. I just came over here to get the sample." (More on Ryder later.)
He pulled a small vial containing a misshapen bullet out of his pocket.
"Hopefully they'll figure something out soon."
"Is there anything I can do?" Elena asked, taking Lawson's hand and gripping it firmly. Compared to when she had left him, it felt utterly cold and lifeless.
"Well, you just had a vision, didn't you? Did you learn anything?"
Elena's face fell. She cursed herself for taking the blue purse off—it seemed to be the only object that transcended realities and whenever she wore it, whatever was inside would come along with her from "fantasy" to "real" or back again. She wondered if simple Advil would help.
"Nothing relevant to this," Elena admitted, because even though she had learned that she would have to go to the Kingdom of Hail to get answers concerning the Stranger, but that was something she wanted to do on her own and didn't necessarily want Quentin intervening. Yes, Quentin was a good negotiator, but he was that way by being slightly violent, and she felt the most effective way to deal with Turner was through friendly behavior. It was what he responded to the best (more on Turner later).
Quentin sighed and pocketed the vial again. "I should get going," he said. "Ms Elena, if he wakes up and you happen to be here, don't take much of what he says seriously. The medicine in him creates a high fever, which often leads to delusions or hallucinations. You might find he says some strange—or maybe unkind things to you."
He frowned at the thought. Clearly he had experience.
"Thank you," she said. "I suppose, once he gets better, you'll have your turn to mock him."
When Quentin had gotten poisoned, the rest of the siblings made fun of him endlessly, as if he had made the conscious choice to need the treatment. Lawson was certainly among the group throwing insults, but Quentin had taken all of the rude commentary and brushed them right off his shoulder. Elena supposed Quentin looked at what happened to Lawson as karma—that he deserved it.
Quentin surprisingly shook his head. "I know maybe you think I believe he deserved this," he began (and Elena had thought that!), "but I would never wish this pain on anyone, even my worst enemy. It's a wretched experience that no one should have to endure."
Elena nodded and apologized for thinking he was as petty as any of the others.
He waved his hand and began to depart. When he was at the door, he stopped and glanced back at Elena, then to the floor. "This man we're up against," he said slowly, "he is not only incredibly strong, but he is incredibly intelligent as well. He managed to all but kill Lawson."
Elena squeezed Lawson's hand a little tighter, though she didn't realize that was possible.
"I don't know if you know this, but the Kingdoms are connected directly to us. If Lawson died, then the Kingdom of Rain would plummet right out of the sky. It seems as though our enemy did not want that to happen."
The Stranger had nearly strangled Lawson, then he had the opportunity to stab him in the face, then he had the opportunity to shoot him anywhere he wanted. In the end, he passed on all three of those chances. Elena had deduced that his intention was not to kill Lawson, but she hadn't been able to figure out why.
"I suspect our enemy is after the Kingdoms, not us," Quentin went on. "If he can incapacitate us, then taking our Kingdoms will be no trouble at all. That is why I wager that this man isn't even here in the Kingdom of Rain anymore."
"You think he went to another Kingdom?"
"I've already informed the others to be on their guard and on high alert."
"That's good of you. I don't think your brothers or sisters would have had the same courtesy for you."
Quentin smiled and looked at Elena again. "If Lawson wakes up, tell him I wish him well. It's not as though he'll remember anyway."
Elena agreed and Quentin ducked through the door.
She looked back down at Lawson who was still completely immobile and terrifyingly pale. She sank down into the seat next to him, prepared to wait with him as if she had never been forced to leave in the first place.