Chapter Three

The Castle on High

The inner workings of the castle were many. Mykensi had no hope of deciphering allegiances or finding every hidden door, but in her time spent on her own, Mykensi had drawn up in her mind the routines and schedules of the workers in the castle.

Mel was a petite woman with square shoulders, thin hips, and a busty pair of breasts. She always braided her hair back and kept it in a high bun so as to keep stray wisps from interfering with her day. She drank hot cups of water every evening after starting Mykensi's bath and continued a rigorous schedule until she went to bed.

Every morning Mel waited by Mykensi's side in the grand throne room until the duties were complete. Syrusses allowed all his workers the chance to visit with their loved ones for an hour right before lunch. Mel was always alone.

She was Deborihn, as were the majority of workers in the castle these days. The impish creatures looked to have an easier time with the smoke, because of their history with underground mining and dragon-hatching. The question as to what Syrusses meant to do with this new life grew ever more demanding in her mind.

So as she tracked her maid's routines, she also followed the seamstresses' until she finally worked her way to one of Syrusses's personal guards.

Once every three nights he would steal pastries from the cook's pantry and then take a midnight walk through the corridors. It left Syrusses's bedroom open for anyone to walk in, since the second guard usually fell asleep by the mid of night.

Syrusses had been locked in his room for weeks. Mykensi suspected he was just avoiding her, but when his soldiers came with rumors of rebellions in Emendry, she was unable to lure him out even then. She was concerned, because it was of her nature to be, even if she felt nothing but dislike for him.

So upon establishing routines of the workers in the castle, Mykensi carried out her hasty plan to speak with Syrusses for the first time in weeks.

Mykensi walked quickly through the large hallways, making it seem she was out of bed for a reason if anyone were to happen across her.

Just as she neared Syrusses's door, the guard with his plump belly and beady-eyed stare took off toward the kitchens. The second guard's snoring grew louder with every step she took forward.

She was nervous to be caught entering Syrusses's bedchamber. No one would disturb him, lest it be severe punishment for whoever does. Ideas men would get about late-night entering were not ones she wanted to encourage either.

The door crept open slightly. She snapped a quick glance at the sleeping guard to see if the noise woke him. He continued to snore just as loudly as before. She slipped inside the room and closed the door before she felt any more exposed.

Inside the room there was settling darkness save for the steady glow of a candle next to his bed. He didn't look up at her, didn't show any indication that she was there. Instead, he lied in his bed with a book to his nose. His pale skin molted with the light, his midnight hair absorbed the darkness around him.

The entire scene saddened her. He portrayed the image of a man with no other goal to pursue. He was silent, still. She couldn't help but wonder if his evil intents were subdued by boredom he was condemned to in his bed chambers. He showed pain in his eyes, a spasm of muscle when he flipped a page. Mykensi could no longer stand there.

She seated herself on the edge of his ornate poster bed, could almost reach out and touch his leg. He still didn't recognize her presence, even when she said his name.

The two waited silently for the other.

"Syrusses, I wish to speak with you. Won't you respond like any man would?" She watched the next page float across his lap.

Impatiently Mykensi ripped the book out of his hands and tossed it onto the floor. His trance-like state dissolved and a look of rage settled in its place.

"I was finishing the chapter," He replied tightly, "considering you lack the manners to knock."

Mykensi shrank back from his stare, but she was no longer a scared child. She returned his look with one of sternness. "It is wrong of you to ignore your duties as a king."

"That's why I have you," he slowly adjusted his position on the bed. "The people find you much less intimidating."

"That is not what I meant. I cannot know what to do about rebellions, nor can I lead without your telling me what to do. I'm no queen."

He studied her for a long time, wondering just how incompetent she could really be. "That's not why you've come."

"You must first tell me why you've been ignoring the castle and I." Mykensi tried her best to display a cornering expression.

"Don't hurt yourself, my sweet." He leaned toward his bed-side table and picked up a list of what looked to be like names. Some were crossed out, others were highlighted in red. He handed it to her.

"My soldiers once tossed you into my dungeons, acting on inadequate instructions. You remember?"

"Of course I do,"

"Upon receiving you from Felix Dragoff, I had just mastered a new ability I found several years back, but I needed certain factors to contain this new power I acquired. I ordered the development of that dungeon. It was built underground by Deborihn men, and it connected to that mansion I bought from a long lineage of founders.

"There, I could store anyone who bothered me, anyone who rebelled against me. I also kept Mundrians and Hahryene with specific abilities or gifts given to them. While they were there, I experimented with this new talent.

"I was able to take their powers away from their minds and give them to myself—"

"Syrusses!" Mykensi exclaimed in terror, "Is that what you did to Cyran that day in the caves?"

He smirked, nearly laughed at her horror. "Cyran was my test rat. I didn't realize it would result in near death, I promise."

"Didn't you feel in the least bit guilty?" Mykensi wouldn't believe that he felt nothing.

"Of course not," he frowned at her, "It was the most perfect outcome I wanted from it. You see, I locked up these people in my dungeons, and it was a good thing I did. Cyran proved to me that they wake up, and when they do, they have a greater advantage at taking back what was theirs. It was good I had those dungeons set up, but not so good when I brought my army to Nethatar and left them in Arcon.

"If those men or women die while I have their power, the power dies with them and it draws out a great deal of energy from me depending on how long I had to keep those abilities to myself.

"The Change destroyed Arcon. What few prisoners I didn't bring with me died that night. I'm currently suffering the consequences now. I wish not to be disturbed until my energy can be brought back and my next plan of action has been decided." Syrusses gazed at Mykensi curiously.

"I suppose you're going to punish me for having disturbed you?" She crossed her arms across her lap and waited nervously for his verdict.

"Of course not. I may have done some evil to get where we are today, but that doesn't mean I have any inclination of doing wrong to you. You were merely worried, that is all." Syrusses settled back against his pillows with an exhausted look on his face.

Strange, Mykensi thought, how strange it is that he believes he is such a good person. He had done so much wrong.

"You've come to ask me something else, my dear, so speak up."

She searched her mind for the question, having forgotten what it was for only a minute. When she remembered, she only hesitated. Instead of asking about her friends, she asked, "If you have gained so much power from others, what then, was the ability you were born with?"

It was as though a crushing weight bore down on his chest. He was silent, obviously refusing to say anything. Mykensi learned forward and touched his hand, but he jerked it away as fast as he could.

"It's okay if you don't wish to tell me," She began.

He held up a finger, trembling somewhat. "Mykensi, I wish I could answer your clearly important question, but it seems that I have forgotten what it was. I have acquired so many different abilities that they're mixed up in my head. That is why I have a list I gave you. I'm trying to decide which powers I've lost, which I've obtained. Cyran might be the only man who remembers my original power. You ought to ask him."

It took moments for Mykensi to realize what Syrusses had suggested. Anger welled up in her at the thought of Cyran. "How could I ask him if he and all my friends are locked up in a prison you so cleverly isolated on an island surrounded by lava?!"

"Oh my dear, you're right. Disregard that idea then, I nearly forgot why I put them there." Syrusses shook his head mockingly. He noted that she was about to ask more questions, so he decided to end it.

"Leave me. I'm feeling weaker. Guards!"

"I deserve answers, Syrusses! You dragged me across the world, destroyed my home! I ought to have some sort of explanation!" The two guards came hurrying in, one groggy from his late-night nap, the other covered in crumbs.

They seized her, dragged her out of Syrusses's chambers. The thought of her suffering friends brought further tears to her eyes.

**Break

Vailor jolted awake at the sound of banging. The ringing noise frightened him. He had been drowned in silence for so long. To hear this made his ears bleed.

For a long time he cowered against a wall, flinching with every clank. He didn't dare investigate for fear of the origins belonging to an immature guard with a sword. In this prison, Vailor found, they find every excuse to hurt you.

So he waited, imagining so many frightening things lurking outside his door.

He felt crazy. He saw things he knew weren't real. Creatures that hissed and groped clawed at his windows during his sleep. He often thought he imagined smelling smoke, something a dragon like him welcomed but couldn't believe.

Worst of all, he thought he even saw rivers of slow moving lava outside his cell. He knew he was crazy. Wvern had water, not molten rock.

Vailor convinced himself he had completely lost his mind and was imagining this new sound. But it never stopped.

He wanted it to stop. It was loud, it hurt his ears. He couldn't stop imagining the angry stomping of a mountain troll in chains approaching his cell door, just about to rip it off the hinges…

Vailor had to make it stop.

"He-hello?"

He didn't think it would, but there was an abrupt halt to the banging. A ringing silence more painful than the noise settled in, fear gripped his heart.

"Who's there?"

There was scraping, some dirt being scratched at in an almost excited manner. The muffled voice of another living being responded. "Hello!"

Without thinking, Vailor scrambled across the floor and knocked on the wall where he was certain he heard the voice come from. Vailor didn't even wait to consider his possibilities of a greeting. "I didn't know walls talk!"

The scraping stopped; there was a slight girlish giggle. He automatically thought of her. "Mykensi? Is that you?" Impossible.

"No!" A sudden disappointment consumed him. "It's Ahrene! Is this Benjin?" She whooped with excitement. "I finally loosened a stone in my cell with the help of my chains!"

Benjin? The name was familiar.

"My name is Vailor, I think." He leaned back, listening to the silence of probable disappointment this Ahrene was feeling. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay! Vailor! Do you remember me?" She began to dig some more, he could tell. The scraping began once more. "We need to get out of here. I'm going crazy!"

Vailor didn't remember her. Maybe if he saw her face, he might. He didn't remember this Benjin either, but one thing he agreed with her on was getting the hell out of there.

"What do you want me to do?" He asked the wall.

"Count ten stones from the cell door and use your chains to loosen it. Whack it, use the sharpened ends to pry, whatever works." Ahrene continued to work in silence.

"Very well then," Vailor stood shakily, counted the stones, and picked up his rushing iron shackles.

**Break

Tempest was at her desk, flipping through files she was handed at the meeting. Some of her men were being promoted to General Liam's army; two Mundrians and five Deborihn. Tempest was requested to create profiles for them and look to hire a few new replacements once again.

The work was taxing. Tempest knew few healthy enough to even patrol the city, let alone raid villages. She could only hope Ilessa brought back more males than females on this raid. Females were perfectly eligible to enter, but most had children or were physically underdeveloped for the job. Ilessa and Tempest were two among nine women on the force. Unfortunately for them, Liam was a biased man and only allowed for men on his team.

People would rather join Liam's army than hers. Tempest figured it was partly Ilessa's fault. Lately she had been sporadic, rude. She had ignored several duties, as well as injured two of her own men. Everyone was frightened of Ilessa; that was the problem. Tempest had no idea how to fix her friend's mentality, either, so all anyone had to do was ignore it and continue on with their work.

Something bothered Tempest, however. It was that insane story Ilessa told. If Tempest knew her friend, the idea would turn into a fad. The technicalities put into Ilessa's head was much more dangerous than when Ilessa thought she could steal away some of Liam's finer soldiers for her own.

Breaking out a couple of dangerous prisoners would not only cost Ilessa her job, but her life. Who knows where those prisoners would run off to? It'd be Tempest who would have to hunt them down. Her men could be killed, innocent people could be murdered.

She wanted to find a safe and more helpful outlet for Ilessa's trapped feelings, but how? They were to leave for the ruins in short time. The adventure waiting there would surely end this hopeless fantasy of getting back at the king.

Tempest stepped away from her desk for a quick break. She walked outside into the smoky haze of the day to see how the city was doing.

The capitol seemed to be empty, as always. People remained in their home with the hope of escaping the smoke. Only her guards wandered about, patrolling a city that hardly needed watching. How pathetic their lives were. Was this how they were to live for the rest of their short lives?

"Tempest!" Ilessa's familiar voice called out loud and clear. She turned towards the city gates, watched her friend come galloping alone on a poor, wheezing stallion. Ilessa was here? They weren't to be back for another day!

"Tempest, quick! We have to go!" Ilessa grabbed Tempest's arm rather roughly and dragged her into an empty hovel.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Tempest demanded angrily. "You're supposed to be with your party the entire time! You'll earn no respect from them so long as they think you can do whatever you like whenever you like. If this is about Halmount, you've got another thing coming. Count me out. I refuse to be a part of your fantasies. I like my job, so I'm going to keep it and do it right."

Ilessa's expression of urgency faded by the time Tempest was done reeling. She let go of her friend's arm, took a step back. "Would you hear me out?"

"Yes, I will, but I doubt there's anything you can say that will change my mind." Tempest crossed her arms over her chest.

Ilessa rubbed the back of her neck and began to pace about the small space.

"We had just raided the village. One man tried to run away. I was about to execute him, but something stopped me. I accidently shot Waymar in the foot." Three men she's injured now, Tempest thought. Ilessa twiddled her fingers nervously. "I sort of just took off. All the while I kept thinking in my head, 'Syrusses has turned us into these cold-hearted murderers!' There are so many who die by our hand these days. I just don't wish for this kind of life anymore. It's all very well that you like your job, but I don't, and I want to change this."

Tempest's tensions dissolved after she listened to her friend confess her thoughts. She understood Ilessa's point, but there was no way to change any of this. "How do you propose to fix it?"

Ilessa grabbed Tempest's shoulders and looked into her forest green eyes. "Come with me. Help me break them out, I can't do it alone." Tempest shook her head and began to complain. "Shh, listen." Ilessa pointed north towards Syrusses's black castle on the mountain. "They were trapped by him. They need to get out. I have confidence that these people will help us find a way to restore Wvern."

"Restore Wvern?" Tempest repeated dumbly, her eyes widening slowly.

"Will you help me?"