Meetings and Greetings
The ride from Ortus to Effin was a long and silent one. Even with the presence of her best friend, and fellow nobleman, Axel, Selah couldn't bring herself to make any sort of conversation, big or small. Axel fidgeted in his seat the entire time. It was obvious he wanted to say something encouraging, but didn't know what. Once the first blockade of the citadel came into view, his fidgeting became even more pronounced. Selah glanced over quickly before reaching over and takes his hand into hers.
"Don't worry so much, Axel. Everything will be fine."
"You don't know that, Selah. Anything could happen to you while you're in there. This could all be one elaborate trick to finish off the Jaguara bloodline."
"Do you really think I haven't considered that as a possibility? I'll be on my guard from the minute I step out of this car and into their line of sight. Besides, if they try anything, I'll just blow them up."
Selah waved her free hand lazily in the air as she finished speaking, but anyone could tell that Axel was still unnerved by the whole idea of sending her unprotected and unarmed into Effin. He knew she wasn't truly unarmed, so to speak. She's a noble, a direct descendant of Lady Jaguara herself. Just as he is the direct descendant of Lord Oakham, and just like their ancestors they don't need to rely on mundane weapons such as guns or swords to defend themselves.
The current nobles—Selah Jaguara, Axel Oakham, and Chasen Darcia—all had their own special abilities that had been passed down from their ancestors. For Axel, he could implant memories, thoughts and emotions into people's minds to manipulate them. He would have to be within a certain proximity for this to work, however, which could be dangerous if anyone ever decided to take him out via sniper. Compared to his, Selah's power was much more useful in long range scenarios, but also much more destructive. Selah can project and detonate explosions at will from her mind. Although Axel knows Selah can take care of herself if Effin's armed forces try anything, he still wished she would take another form of protection before stepping foot inside of the lion's den.
The car the two nobles were riding in came to a stop twenty-five yards away from the blockade's gate. The doors to the citadel were open to welcome the noble into Effin. Armed soldiers, along with two of the citadel's government officials waited just inside the doors. Selah let out a long sigh before taking her hand out of Axel's grasp to unclip her seat buckle.
"Want me to walk you over to them?" Axel asked, unsure of what to do.
"No, you stay inside the car. I don't want them to know you're here. They might think the opportunity too great to pass up."
Selah smiled to him reassuringly. "Besides, Vincent's here, and you know he'll want to escort me to Effin's doors personally."
Axel relaxed when he heard Vincent was here. He had known Vincent for many years now and knew how able the man was at protecting someone. After all, he hadn't been made second in command of Ortus's Elite at the age of twenty for nothing. Leaning over before Selah could scramble out of the car, Axel pulled his fellow noble in for a parting hug.
"I still can't believe you're going through with this, and I know you don't want me to say it, but good luck in there, Selah. Stay safe, and don't do anything stupid, all right?"
"Yeah, yeah, Ax. Miss you." Selah said before pulling away and turning the handle on the door to exit. She barely got through the door before she heard a soft, "Miss you, too." From behind.
Stepping out in front of the car she had been riding in, a hand reached out and grabbed Selah's arm from behind. She didn't have to turn around to know it was Victor who had grabbed her. He was the only member of the Elite who felt comfortable enough around the nobles to do such a thing. Looking back, she saw that his mouth was set in a tight line. He was obviously unhappy about this arrangement between the citadels, but wasn't voicing any opinions on the matter now that they had arrived. Selah smiled to him, as she did with Axel.
"Oh, brighten up, will you Vic? It's not forever. I'll just be here for one month. Thirty days. I mean, how bad could it be?" She asked with a small laugh, trying to ease the tension.
"Thirty days too long, if you ask me. Here," he handed over her backpack, but still held onto her suitcases, "you're sure you packed everything, right? Enough underwear, toiletries, snacks? You packed your laptop, right? I don't know if it'll work in there, but you should have brought it anyway."
"Yes, mother." Selah responded with a brief roll of her eyes. "You don't have to treat me like a child."
Victor's mouth tightened even more. He looked over Selah's form quickly before nodding his head and offering her his arm. She snickered, but hooked her hand into the crevice of his elbow anyway. Although the walk wasn't a long one, it definitely felt like it. Selah could feel the guns pointed at her body, the soldiers holding them awaiting orders, prepared to shoot at any moment. Half glancing at Victor, Selah wished he had worn his helmet along with the rest of his armor while walking her to Effin's door. She knew that if they shot at him, his body would be unharmed, but if one of them shot at his head, it'd be game over. Though, unless Selah knew which direction a soldier was about to shoot from, she's also a sitting duck for any of the snipers.
When the two reached Effin's threshold, Selah turned her body to Victor's, hand outstretched to take her belongings. Victor handed them to her silently. As soon as they were out of his hands, Victor went to reach out and brush away a strand of Selah's hair that was out of alignment, but quickly stopped himself, not wanting to show any form of affection for the ever watching eyes of Effin to see. Selah smiled knowingly at him before nodding for him to go. He bowed his head slightly in response, then turned about to head back to the fleet of armed cars to take him back to the safety of Ortus.
Selah watched him go. Making sure that Victor returned to the fleet safely, she then turned around and braced herself to face the two men from Effin. The men were old, almost sickly looking. Both were balding. One had white hair, while the other had retained his golden brown hue. The white haired man had a long, harsh nose with a chunk missing from the bridge of it. His mouth was set in a deep frown. Selah wasn't sure if he was frowning because he didn't want to be here or if his face was naturally set like that. The other man had a much kinder looking face, but also had a haggard look about him. With profound wrinkles and multiple liver spots on his skin, the man had obviously seen better days.
"Lady Jaguara, your reputation precedes you." Selah's brow twitched as the man with white hair croaked out his words.
"Effin is thankful that you agreed to this arrangement. We are glad to welcome you to our citadel, and are humbled by your presence. Please, follow us. We will escort you to your father's estate."
The white haired man turned and began to walk towards their fleet of cars, not waiting to see if the noble would follow. The second man, however, waited for Selah to near him to start for the fleet. He herded her into one of the larger, flashier cars and followed in behind her.
"Your father will be pleased to see you. It'll be quite the reunion, after all." The man begins as the drivers start the engines and begin to drive further into the protection of the citadel, towards the cities.
"I'm so sure. What was your name again, sir? I didn't catch it when your colleague was speaking." Selah says dryly, knowing that no such introductions were made. She searched the man's face for any sign of discomfort at her passive words, but found nothing but amusement in his eyes. That unsettled her, why was he amused?
"Of course, our apologies, my friend must have forgotten with all the excitement. My name is Edward Rite, and the man you spoke briefly with earlier was David Poppin. It is a great honor to meet you personally."
"Oh? Why would that be, Mr. Rite? I was under the belief that everyone within these walls feared and hated the name Jaguara."
"That would be the case for many, yes," he says, unabashed, "but not for everyone. After all, there are exceptions to every rule. Some of us here are glad to hear about your visit to Effin. It means that we are that much closer to peace."
Selah chose not to respond to his statement of peace, knowing that such a thing was highly unlikely between the two power houses. That didn't mean she wouldn't try though. Although this man came off nicer than Poppin, Selah had a feeling he was a wolf in sheep's clothing, waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. She had met many men like this in the past, men who tried to worm their way into other's good graces for some end game that would benefit them. This citadel was full of them.
Remaining silent for the rest of the trip, the car ride to her father's estate was excruciatingly slow, especially because Selah had no clue about how close they were to arriving. She did not want to ask Rite how much longer the trip would be, in case he took her question as a green light signal to ask questions himself. When they eventually pulled off the main road and headed down a long drive towards a very large house, Selah almost heaved a sigh of relief. Almost. It took three hours and two minutes to arrive at the estate from the moment she got in the car. That is, if the clock on the car's dash is to be trusted.
The drive way of the house rounded out, allowing vehicles easier passage back down to the main road. The multiple cars parked in the drive's circle, and Selah had to wait for the driver to come and open the door for her. Scooting out of the car, she took in the elaborate house before her. It was large, much too large for Selah's taste. The size was meant to intimidate those who were beneath them, and show off the owner's wealth and power to those who also had money. Parts of the house were elegant, Selah supposed, but most of the elegance was hidden by the gaudiness of the rest of it.
The gardens, which would have been beautiful if not for the interspersed statues plotted about, had flowers of all different types, mainly roses, but daisies and irises as well. However, next to this grand house, the flowers looked small and unworthy of acknowledgment. Perhaps had the gardener planted in some taller plants, the house's total appearance would have looked less harsh.
The house itself was made mostly out of white marble. Four ionic columns held up a very large and ornate pediment that held the Hendron family crest. The roof held red shingles that looked wildly out of place against the white walls, but was accented throughout the house's exterior by decorative red squares in between the columns and below the pediment.
Poppin called over his shoulder for someone to fetch him water, snapping Selah out of her evaluation. Seeing that someone had grabbed her suitcases, she headed for the front door of the house. Someone waiting on the other side of the door opened it just as Selah extended her arm to knock. Rite appeared at her side, silent as a mouse, and told her to follow him into the parlor room. Turning past three different corners, the two old men and Selah entered a room filled with pricey, antique furniture that smelled of artificial roses.
Selah spotted him right away, hidden in the far corner of the room. It was disturbing for her to finally meet him, to be able to compare the mental image of herself against him. Though she had always thought she looked like her mother, Selah could see definite traits linking this man to her. They had the same, small chin, high cheek bones, and the same shape of eyes, though luckily she had inherited her mother's shade of light brown and not his black ones. He held a glass of brandy in his hand and looked at her with a curl in his lips, looking as though he caught a bad scent. Jutting out her chin in defiance, Selah met her father's gaze without reserve. She knew he was sizing her up just as much as she was him.
"So, you're Jaguara."
"No, I'm Darcia." Selah replies sarcastically. Armin sneered at her, not appreciating her tone. No one has talked to him in such a manner for decades now.
"Excuse me?" He asks, bewildered that she just interrupted him.
"My name. It's Selah, not Jaguara. Jaguara's my title. I thought since I would be staying here for a while we could drop the formalities. Or were you calling me Jaguara because you couldn't remember my name?"
"Right," he clicked his tongue, not acknowledging her question, "well, Selah, come, and I'll introduce you to my family."
Selah's nails bit into her palms as Armin turned to walk away. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she followed him deeper into the house. They entered what Selah guessed was the living room, though she couldn't see much difference between this room and the last. Both had the same type of furniture, probably bought from the same store with the same historical background, and both smelling of fake flowers—though this one smelled of lilacs, not roses.
Next to the fireplace by the far wall, two women sat primly on an uncomfortable looking couch. One of the women—his wife, most likely—was very elegant looking. She wore a long sleeved, royal blue dress, made of silk no doubt. The dress had a v-shaped neck line that stopped well before what these people would deem as improper. The woman was lovely, not to mention slimming, in it. Her hair, a dark blonde color, was pulled back into a clip. She looked like a nice woman, which led Selah to wonder why she was married to her father. The woman stood up and smiled gently to Selah before extending her hand in greeting.
"Hello, Lady Jaguara. I'm Deborah, but you can call me Deb if you'd like. This is my daughter, Katherine." Deb gestured to the young girl, who finally stood up from the couch when her named was mentioned. "We hope you have a good time here in Effin."
Katherine, who looked maybe fifteen of sixteen, had bright blonde hair—most likely a dye job—and harsh black eyes. She looked more like Armin than Selah did, and her frowning face implied she had more than just looks in common with their father. Katherine was also wearing a dress, but unlike her mother, it was not an elegant piece of apparel. The grey dress was a tight fit, even though Katherine was petite, and was embroidered with what looked to be real diamonds across the top. Selah thought she matched the house to a T.
"Thank you Deb, and, please, call me Selah."
Deb's smile brightened. She turned towards her husband and motioned for them all to take a seat. Armin stuck close to his wife's side, while Katherine and Selah sat in a pair of cushioned seats facing the couch.
"So," Katherine began in a slow, measured drawl, "how old are you, Selah?"
"Oh, so not much older than Michael." She stated, looking over at her father. Selah thought she saw something spark in her eyes when she said this, but wasn't positive.
"I'm sorry. Who?"
"Ah, yes, Michael." Deb begins, shifting slightly away from her husband, "He's our son. He'll be turning eighteen in two months."
Selah nodded her head. She understood now why the tension had thickened in the room, and was amused by the fact that it had almost nothing to do with her, and practically everything to do with Armin. If she and Michael were so close together in age, it must mean that Armin had cheated on Deb with Hannah while they were married. Given that the two didn't get married because Deb was pregnant with Armin's child. That usually wasn't how it was done in Effin. Here the children are never conceived out of wedlock.
"Where is he?"
"Oh, he's on a camping trip. It went a little longer than expected, but he should be back in time for dinner. I do hope you'll like the food here. I've heard the meals differ in your citadel, but perhaps you'll find the food to your liking if you give it a chance."
"I wouldn't worry too much. My mother prepared some Effin styled meals for me when I was younger."
"She did?" Armin asked, finally speaking up again. Selah looked over at him briefly, gauging his facial expression.
"Yes, she did. She burnt a lot of them, actually, but when she did them right I liked them well enough. I think she wanted to perfect several of the recipes, just in case."
"Just in case what?" Katherine asked.
Armin began to cough, uncomfortable with where the conversation had led. Katherine looked over to her father before muttering a harsh, "Oh." She realized the 'just in case' meant in case Armin ever chose to leave Effin for Ortus. Smirking a bit at her father's discomfort, she continued, "My grandfather hated when she cooked Effin recipes, though. He never acquired the taste, I guess."
"No," Deb began, "I suppose he wouldn't want to, either. Well, I'm sure you're a bit tired after such a long drive today. Would you like to rest for a bit? I'll show you to your room."
Deb stood up, not waiting for Selah to answer if she'd like to rest or not and walked purposefully out of the room. Selah followed her around five corners and down three hallways until they reached back to the foyer where the grand stair case spiraled up to the second story. Up nineteen steps and down two more hallways, Deb finally stopped in front of a door on the right side of the hall.
"Here we are. Everything should be in there. All your suitcases and what have you. If anything is missing, just use the intercom on the other side of the wall to call down to the staff. It's the blue button, easy to find. Anything you need should be in the room, in case you forgot something, like toothpaste. It should all be in the far right closet next to the door that leads to the bathroom. Have a good rest, Selah. We'll be having dinner in about two hours. I'll have a maid ring you a half hour before hand to remind you. We'll be eating in the dining room, just a bit father down than the living room. You can't miss it."
With a tighter smile than before, Deb departed back down the hall. Once she was out of sight, Selah opened the door to her temporary room and almost ran to open a window when the scent of fake flowers filled her senses. This room also smelled like roses, almost causing her to gag. When she finally felt she could breathe without wanting to hurl, Selah unzipped her suitcases and began to unpack her belongings. Looking around the room, she didn't have any idea which door led to the closet, so she walked over to each door in the room and opened them all.
The first one led to the bathroom. It was long and skinny, and overly decorated, but at least it didn't smell of artificial flowers like practically everything else in the house. The sink was in the middle of a counter and was bordered above by a large mirror. Below the counter were twelve cabinets and drawers, enabling the user to store every product they may own with room to spare.
The second door Selah opened was to the direct right of the bathroom. It was a walk in closet, with its own mini hallway. Selah didn't think that she could fill half the closet up, even with all the clothes she owned.
The door to the right of that was a much smaller closet. It was the room Deb had told her about that held toiletries like toilet paper, extra tooth brushes, q-tips, anything a girl might need for her thirty day stay.
On the wall adjacent to the previous, there were two more doors to be opened. Selah opened the door on the left. It was very small in comparison to the rest. Selah assumed it was a room to hold her suitcases while she wasn't using them, as opposed to shoving them under the bed.
The final door, located to the right of the other door, but to the left of her bed, was also small, but held a metal chute to throw clothes down to be washed. Selah clicked her tongue at such extravagance in just once room and wondered how large the master bedroom was. The only buildings in Ortus that held this type of luxury was the Keeps of the three nobles. All other buildings in her home citadel were much skinnier, but also taller, taking up little space. Here, in Effin, the bigger the better and everyone had houses that took up more land than they knew what to do with. Back in Ortus, people at least tried to live minimalistic.
Stepping back and away from the door holding the laundry chute, Selah walked back to her bags and began to organize her belongings into their designated spots throughout the room. Forty five minutes later, Selah had found a place for all of her things in her room. With time to spare before some maid called to remind her about dinner, she laid down on her bed, pulling her laptop onto her stomach.
Opening the computer, Selah checked to see if Chasen's newest installation worked. Chasen placed a chip inside of her computer—one of his own inventions—with the intent to give her access to Ortus's internet towers so she'd be able to communicate with the other nobles. However, it was a prototype, and so if it didn't work Selah would be stuck playing games for the rest of the trip. Looking down to see if she had any signal, she told herself to wait at least five minutes before giving up on the idea. After four minutes and twelve seconds the signal came to life, and Selah was able to open up a video conference with Chasen.
On the third ring, Chasen picked up on his end, smiling broadly on screen. Selah laughed at her friend.
"What'd I tell you? How long did it take to work, anyway?"
"Yeah, yeah, you're a genius. Everyone knows this already. It did take a while, actually, considering it's one of your creations. A whole four minutes and twelve seconds."
"See, this is why I love you, Sel, you have the best attention to detail. If it were Axel on the other end, he'd have said: a couple of minutes, you know, not long."
"I think if it were Axel on this end he'd manage to blow the whole computer up."
"That's for sure. I just don't understand how he manages to blow so many things up! You'd think he'd be more careful, but no. In fact, I think when he got back after dropping you off today, he went into his garage and blew half the roof off. His mom was not happy."
"He'll just make it up to her by building some new environmentally friendly garbage disposal or something. That usually works for him until the next time he blows something up."
"It's a vicious cycle, isn't it? So, how's it going—?"
"Hold on. Stop talking." Selah interrupted, lowering her voice to a whisper. Chasen stopped talking; allowing Selah to focus on whatever it was she thought she heard. "Someone's outside my hall," she hissed, "I'll call you back later."
Chasen nodded his head quickly before signing off. Selah looked over at the clock on the bed's night stand. She still had twenty minutes before the maid was supposed to remind her of dinner, and she was supposed to call, not come personally. Plus, it sounded like multiple voices were in the hallway, and they sounded too deep to be coming from maids, and too loud to be from any male staffers.
Setting her laptop down on the bed, she walked up to the door leading to the hallway, preparing her mind to detonate an explosion in case the men outside were armed forces. Since the voices were so loud, Selah knew the likelihood of it being armed forces was slim, but she didn't want to let her guard down just yet. Grabbing the door's handle, she silently opened the door. Outside were four young men, all looking to be about her age.
The biggest of them had platinum blonde hair that was spiked straight up. His muscles were bulging beneath his shirt and jacket. Two of the others were wearing the same jacket, all had the emblem of Effin's armed forces, but each had a small, additional marking. Selah guessed they were cadets still in training. Of the other two wearing jackets, one of them was much shorter than all the rest; however, he looked almost as muscular as the first. His dark skin was almost as dark as his hair, which he tied into a low, thick ponytail. The last one Selah couldn't get too good a look at other than the arm of his jacket because someone else was blocking her from sight.
That someone finally noticed her presence and looked at her with raised eyebrows. He had dark shaggy hair—almost as dark as her own—and looked much lankier than the rest. He was obviously not part of the armed forces.
"Who are you?" The lanky one asked.
"Don't you know it'd rude to ask for someone's name without giving your own first?" Selah responded coolly.
"Well, this is my house, so I think I have the right to ask the name of a stranger when I find them in said house."
"Oh, so you must be Michael."
"Yeah, I am. Now, do I really need to ask again?"
The third boy, the one she couldn't get a good enough look at before, was just shorter than Michael, with much more muscle than him but way less than the blonde. His hair was a shocking shade of red and when Selah looked up into his eyes she found the familiar pair of emerald pools looking back at her. Not looking away from the boy she answered, "Selah, your sister."
"You?" The red head whispered, his once friendly eyes going hard. Selah didn't take her eyes off him, thinking back to that day on the hill when they had met.
"You're Jaguara?" He continues, this time louder.
"Nice to see you again, Alastor."
His three friends looked shocked to find that the noble knew their friend by name and all glanced back at him, questions buzzing in their minds. Selah pushed some hair back behind her ear before closing her door. Michael looked back to her, completely bewildered with what just happened. She smiled at him before heading back down the hallway. Looking over her shoulder, Selah called out, "Hurry up, bro, dinner's almost ready."
A/N: I'm really starting to like this story. I hope you all are, too!