The Kingdom of Hail
1- In Which Elena Discusses the Sons
With tentative confidence, Elena approached the room she knew she would find Olivier Hope. She was new to this world so Elena knew she had to be patient and kind, but they were on a bit of a tight schedule, so she also had to be blunt. She just finished with her meeting with the King where she got to have a practice run with explaining the situation to him and his various high ranking soldiers. Somehow, she was more nervous about talking with Olivier than an entire room of important people. Frankly, she wasn't exactly sure how and why all of these responsibilities had suddenly fallen to her, but she wanted people to be able to rely on her better so she accepted it in stride.
It hardly took any time at all for Olivier to respond by cautiously opening up the door and looking upon Elena with hesitation. "Hi, you're Olivier, aren't you?" Elena asked, though she of course knew the answer already. "I'm Elena."
Olivier was a very pretty blonde girl, essentially Elena's height and age. Her hair was perfectly straight and her eyes were mostly blue, though there was a hint of green around the edges. She looked a lot younger than seventeen, actually, and her face was little red from crying, which wasn't terribly surprising considering the circumstances. She must have been overwhelmed and confused by this completely new world she had stumbled into. Olivier was a Chaste Beauty, which meant she had recently woken up from something like a dream—a dream that included high school, friends, family and, for all intents and purposes, an entirely satisfying (though oftentimes dull) life.
Her job in this real world was to use information from her other world to make predictions that would help them here. It seemed simple enough, but the visions struck randomly and the information was in code. And, most importantly of all, things were pretty stressful right now and they couldn't afford the time for her to get properly acclimated before trying to learn anything they could about a prediction she might make.
Olivier welcomed Elena into the room. Elena had been in her position before about a month ago, but she had decided to "retire" (have sex) so a new girl would Awaken with more accurate visions. She made sure to explain this potential out, since Olivier had the right to decide if this all felt too dangerous (which it was).
And so then Elena began to explain, trying to keep things quick, but precise. The bad guy's name was Judge Hunt, a very powerful magic user and former soldier of the King. Fifteen years ago, he had escaped execution and now he was back for revenge… or to take over the world… or… well, his goal wasn't entirely clear, but at least his methods were.
His plan was to place a demon called a Thar into each of the King's Seven Sons in order to control them. If he could control them, then he would control their massive flying Kingdoms. The Kingdoms were like traveling castles, using a combination of science and magic to float above the clouds of the country. At this point, there was only one Son left to Infect.
"So he has control of the other six of them?" Olivier inferred.
"Um…no," Elena said dumbly (because despite her bravery, Elena really is quite dumb). "It's complicated. The demon takes about a week to really get rooted in there and along the way, we've figured out ways to slow it down or get rid of it. But Hunt only had seven Thars to begin with, and only one left now."
Olivier looked at her blankly.
"Okay, how about I'll start by telling you about the Sons? That might make it easier."
"The oldest one is Lawson. He's twenty. He's…well, he's got black hair, and these really green eyes. You'll know it's him when you see him. To be totally frank about it, he's really handsome, but he's a little childish. Well, they all are. But Lawson's kind of got low self-esteem right now because a lot's gone wrong for him over the past month. He can't exactly walk very well, since he was shot in the leg. And um…"
Elena wasn't sure if she should talk about their brief dating stint. Actually, she wasn't even sure if they were still dating. After recent events, it was difficult to say. She just decided to leave all that out.
"He had a Thar Infection too, but Hunt took it out of him because he accidentally Infected him with a second one that was meant for Quentin, who's the second Son."
"Quentin," Olivier repeated. "And the first one is Lawson. I should remember these names."
"Yeah," said Elena, "but they won't get offended if you're confused at first. They're used to it."
"Okay. So tell me about Quentin."
"He's nineteen and he's the tallest. I guess he's…well, kind of blond, and brown eyes… and you'll know it's him cause…"
Elena's hand lingered near her own ear for a few seconds as she looked uneasy. "What?" Olivier led.
So Elena continued and said, "Well, Hunt kind of…ripped part of his ear off. His face is all bruised up, so you'll know it's him."
Elena gauged Olivier's reaction. She was making sure to warn her about the Sons' physical injuries so she wouldn't stare at them when she actually met them.
"Fair enough…" said Olivier calmly. "What else? You said there were seven of them."
"Right. Next is Phinn. He's eighteen and he's…how can I explain it? He's kind of a loose cannon. I don't think you have to worry about him hurting you, but he can get mad pretty easily and he's always very—vocal. And physical. But, on the flipside, he can be very kind and thoughtful when he's calm. He's a good person to rely on but he doesn't like a lot of people."
"Okay. Lawson, Quentin, Phinn. Lawson has black hair, Quentin is…bruises."
"And Phinn is…what's he look like?"
"He's got kind of brown hair, a little blond. And these really big brown eyes. He's not very coordinated when it comes to fashion or colors, though he's usually got a lot of clothes on. Shorter than his brothers, but definitely the strongest."
"Any injuries I should be aware of?"
At first, Elena thought she was being sarcastic, but then she realized she was completely serious. And that was pretty cool.
"Physically, Phinn's always got something wrong with him, but he's pretty tough, so you don't have to worry about him," Elena replied.
Of course, Phinn was currently enduring a painful process called "syncing" that was thankfully almost over. Essentially, he got a searing zap in his brain every twenty minutes or so that almost always knocked him into unconsciousness. It was happening because Hunt was building a Kingdom based on designs from Phinn's, which resulted in Hunt accidentally making it connected to him. Hunt didn't know about this mistake yet (at least, they didn't think he knew) and they were hoping to use it to their advantage. But she'd hold off on explaining that insanity until it was relevant.
She also didn't think it was relevant to tell Olivier that Elena might be on the verge of falling for Phinn. Nope, definitely not relevant information.
"Phinn's the last one," Elena said. "For the Thar Infection, I mean."
"Okay. Got it."
Olivier was weirdly agreeable. Then again, Elena could recall that when she first arrived in this world, she didn't believe a word anyone was saying so she just nodded and went along with it too.
"The fourth Son is Turner," Elena went on. "He looks a lot different from the other boys so he'll be real easy to spot. His hair is really blond and he's got bright blue eyes. And he's skinny and…well, he'll probably have a bandage around his head."
"He's hurt too?"
"Yeah…and he's a little…it's a head injury. He seems out of it most of the time. Occasionally, he'll talk, but he won't have a conversation with you unless you look at him and make sure he's paying attention. And he forgets a lot. Don't be offended if he doesn't seem to know who you are even after you introduce yourself. He's a really nice guy, though. Just a genuinely nice guy."
"People usually say that about ugly people."
"He's not ugly," Elena defended (though she did concur that Olivier was justified in making that observation). "They're all pretty good looking. They all had really beautiful mothers."
"Well. They each have a different mother, and almost all of their mothers have already passed away for one reason or another. And believe me, you don't want to go casually bringing up any of them. There's a lot of drama in the family that we don't even have time to get in to right now. I'll try to explain it later."
"Oh. Okay. When what about the other three? There are three left, right? Wait, what was the fourth one's name?"
"Right. Really blond. Probably a bandage on his head. Turner. Okay."
"So the fifth one is Sage, and you have to be careful with her."
"Her? One of the King's Seven Sons is a girl?"
"Two of them are," Elena said, acknowledging that their title was needlessly confusing. "Sage is sixteen and visually, she's kind of a short girl version of Turner. They have different moms, but their moms were twins, so they kind of look like twins too."
"So she's blonde and blue eyes too?" Olivier assumed.
"Yeah. She's the shortest. You'll be able to tell which one she is right away. And even though she looks like Turner, she's not like him at all. She's um…" Elena sighed, trying to find the right words. She wanted Olivier to make her own decisions on how she felt about the Sons, but she also didn't want her to go into meeting them completely blind. She had to find the balance between telling her too much and telling her too little. "Well, she can be difficult to get along with. Mostly, I think you should be careful about what you say in front of her. She gets offended easily and she's not going to want to be your friend. I've known her a month and I've really only had one or two conversations with her."
"All right. I'll keep that in mind. The shorter girl is Sage."
"Don't compare her to Turner," Elena warned. "They have a history. They've only sort of just recently been able to tolerate interacting with one another, but in general, she really doesn't like being compared to him."
"Let me guess. The story behind that drama is overly complicated too?"
"Way too complicated. For now, just be careful."
"Okay, I will. Tell me if I have them all right. Lawson, Quentin, Phinn. They're the three oldest. Then Turner and Sage."
"Right. Next is Ryder. She's the second girl. She's got black hair and she's fifteen, but she looks older than that. You'll know it's her because…well, there are only two girls. Sage is blonde, Ryder has black hair."
"What do I need to be careful about regarding Ryder?" Olivier asked.
"Not very much, actually," Elena confessed. "Out of all of them, maybe Ryder is the most stable. Though she can be unpredictable sometimes. Maybe because I always expect her to be reasonable, I get surprised when she does something that seems crazy. You know, something that would seem normal if one of the others did it."
"They're all crazy?"
"All a little crazy. Oh! And their Thar Infections. Turner had one, but he killed it by drinking alcohol. Sage still has hers because she was most recently Infected, and Ryder drank a lot of alcohol the other day to try to kill hers and we're waiting to see if that works."
"You should make these bios into a powerpoint presentation."
"I was thinking about doing something like that," Elena said. "I know it's confusing, but once you get to know them, it's really easy to keep straight because they're straightforward people when they want to be. The last one is Cole. He's the youngest. He's fourteen, though you could look at him and think he was eleven or twelve. He looks like…how I would imagine Phinn would look if he was a little kid too."
"But they're all only half brothers. Or half siblings, I guess."
"Yeah, none of them are full brothers. Or full siblings. Well…Turner and Sage, I guess they're cousins. Or… half cousins. Full cousins?"
"Um…full cousins, I think."
"Yeah, I guess so. But anyway: Cole. He can kind of be two different people without any warning. Sometimes he acts like a stupid, selfish little kid, but the only reason he does that is so that no one will ask him to do anything. If you call him out on it then he'll be who he really is, which is actually a smart and brave kid. He sort of acts like everyone owes him favors and he's definitely spoiled. If you take the time to get close to him, he can be really sweet. In his own way."
"And his Infection…?"
"Oh. Right. He's still got his Thar. He's decided not to try to kill it for now and only manage it with the antidote. We've figured that Hunt can track us with the Thars and, as long as one is still alive, he'll think they all are."
"Wait, so you're purposely making it easier for the enemy to track you so he always knows where you are?"
"I know it sounds insane. But if Hunt finds out that we've figured out how to kill the Thars, then he might try to kill the Sons. It's the only way we have right now to keep them safe."
Olivier looked a little skeptical about this most recent development, but she didn't make any vocal disagreement about the choices they had made.
Just as Elena was beginning to feel self-conscious enough to start defending this decision (even though she wasn't confronted), Olivier waved her hand dismissively. "So, what happened yesterday?" she asked.
"Yesterday?" Elena inquired.
"I've only been here a day, and I can tell something really bad happened. I thought when you told me about the Sons, you were going to tell me that one of them died. Someone important died, didn't they?"
Elena lowered her head awkwardly. "Yeah…" she answered.
"Oh, sorry. I mean…what happened?"
"We were trying to confront Hunt," Elena said. "The problem with this world is that when someone dies, they have the option of exchanging their soul in order to come back as a demon. Hunt's threatened to do that, so there are a few ways to kill someone so they can't exchange their soul. One way is to get a blessed weapon, but that can be pretty difficult to do, and Hunt was expecting us to do that, so we thought we could maybe do it another way."
"It didn't work, did it?"
Elena shook her head. "Edward Steinorth was the King's personal bodyguard," she said. "Basically, he was one of the most important people in the entire Kingdom. And really powerful physically and magically. He was sure that we could catch Hunt off guard by performing an elaborate curse that would darken his soul so it couldn't be exchanged. But Hunt killed him."
Before Olivier could respond, there was a faint knock on the door. Olivier looked over at the door and didn't move. Within a few seconds, the doorknob turned and the door swung open very slightly.
Alexander Wood was standing before them. He stood up straight, and then bowed.
"Oh," Elena said, standing up (and Olivier followed suit). "Olivier, this is Alexander Wood. He worked for Sir Steinorth and—"
"I've met him," Olivier interrupted as Wood walked over with a smile. "He told me about my visions and the Kingdom and that kind of stuff."
"Hayden isn't exactly in a fit state to be explaining things at length," Wood remarked to Elena.
And then there was Hayden. He was the Captain of the Guard, though he probably wouldn't be for very much longer due to various reasons. First of all, he likely couldn't physically do it anymore because he had been shot recently and he wasn't even able to breathe on his own, let alone perform the duties that were required of him. But then there was also the fun fact that Hunt revealed. There had been debate for a long time of whether or not Hayden was the King's illegitimate son, but as it turned out, he was an illegitimate son of the former King, which technically made him the King's much younger brother. Or half brother, but still closely related enough for the King to likely disallow Hayden from putting his life in danger so readily in the future.
As for Alexander Wood, he was one of three people who might get a promotion to Steinorth's now available position. But, maybe Wood was too nice. Realistically speaking, though, he must be a very good soldier if he rose in the ranks at such a young age (twenty-three), so he might be good for the job. It wasn't as if Elena had ever been in a place to witness his fighting abilities, so she couldn't judge whether or not it was right for him.
Steinorth had asked her while he was dying to tell the King not to promote Wood. Although it made her uncomfortable, she told this to the King in front of his high ranking soldiers, including Wood. In the end, the King could promote anyone he chose to, though he promised to take Steinorth's recommendation into consideration. Wood didn't appear offended by Steinorth's dying gesture and had, instead, taken it as a compliment to his kind personality rather than an insult to his abilities as a soldier.
During the meeting, there had been two men standing near Wood, so Elena assumed they must be the other two candidates for promotion. They were both older than he was (for certain) and much more severe looking. It seemed as though they were more like Steinorth, while Wood was more like Hayden. But, if Wood was already working with the Chaste Beauty (which was normally a job done by the Captain of the Guard), then maybe that meant he was destined for a promotion to that position. Though, for all Elena knew, there was a different group of people being considered for that promotion as well.
She couldn't pretend to understand most things.
"I hope I haven't interrupted anything," said Wood pleasantly.
"No, we were just talking," said Elena.
"I wonder if I might borrow you for a bit, Ms Elena," Wood requested.
"Go on," Olivier insisted.
"All right," Elena said. "I'll be back. We'll talk more."
Olivier nodded as Elena went with Wood out into the hall. "I apologize," said Wood, bowing his head slightly. "It slipped my mind that we had intended to be less formal with one another."
"What do you mean?" Elena questioned, closing the door behind her.
"I called you 'Miss'," Wood pointed out.
"Oh, I didn't even notice," Elena reflected with a slight laugh.
Wood laughed politely too. "Elena, we are currently descending upon the Imperial City of Cerah."
Elena was alarmed to hear this. Last she knew, they were hovering over Parson.
"The family will be departing from the Clouds," Wood explained, noting the surprise in Elena's face. "Sir Steinorth's family, I mean. They will continue their mourning period on the ground and bury him in the Imperial City."
"Oh," said Elena with a hesitant nod.
"I assume you don't intend to disembark as well," Wood inferred.
"No, of course not."
"Then I suggest you deliver your messages to the family before they leave the Kingdom," Wood said. "You do have message for them, don't you?"
Steinorth had performed magic just before his death to give her various messages. One was imploring Hayden to inform the King about their relationship to one another and to retire. Another was discouraging the King from promoting Wood.
The rest of the messages had been rather…personal. They were intended for his family. And, though Elena was terrified about having to deliver such sensitive messages, she would like to have them off her chest and finally be able to get them out.
"I'll escort you there, and then after that, to wherever you'd like," Wood said. "And I don't meant to put a time limit on your meeting, but I have to meet with the Audience."
Elena only began her stutter as she looked over at Wood with a confused expression. How did he know about the Audience of Three?
The Audience of Three was a secret trio that made all the decisions regarding the Kingdom and the country. It was their job to do all the important stuff, and then convince the King that he had thought of it all. In fact, the King was a figurehead and he had no idea.
The members of the Audience of Three were unknowingly elected by the King, however. Up until recently, they were comprised of Hayden (Captain of the Guard), Steinorth (King's bodyguard) and Geneva Carmen (representative of the people). Elena didn't recall Geneva Carmen being at the meeting as well, so she could only wonder where such an important woman had wandered off to.
There was no reason for Wood to know about the Audience. Only the Audience knew about the Audience.
"I've only just learned about it this morning," Wood said, lowering his voice. "And I must admit, I'm not terribly surprised to learn about its existence. Admittedly, if I had known this responsibility came with the promotion, perhaps I would not have accepted it."
"You were promoted?"
"Captain of the Guard," said Wood, his smile widening as he bowed his head to her again. When he looked up, his smile faded as he added, "I wish it could be under better circumstances. I'm sure you've assumed Hayden had to retire."
"I didn't realize he had retired already—"
"Just this morning."
She hesitated again. "Oh, I mean, congratulations!" she tried. "Sorry, I should have done that first!"
"Why thank you, Elena," said Wood with a gracious nod.
Although, Elena wasn't sure if she actually was happy for him. After all, the job of the Captain of the Guard always ended in tragically early death (or, in Hayden's case, irreversible physical trauma).
And then there was the new development that Wood was in the Audience. If the King had already elected a new Captain of the Guard, then he had likely already elected a new personal bodyguard as well. She barely remembered the two other guys who had been standing near Wood. It was probably one of them.
"Come with me," Wood offered. "I'll take you to the family. Though, I must ask you to be as delicate as you find you are capable."
"I will," Elena assured him.
"Then come along."