A/N: Hello! Just a quick note before starting.

I stepped away from the "Kingdom of" series about a year ago, but I honestly couldn't stop thinking about other things I could have done with the universe that I didn't get to explore previously. So, because I couldn't get it out of my head, I decided I was just going to put it on paper. I like to think of this as a stand-alone series, though obviously it is a sequel as well. In my opinion, it can be read without reading the first series.

Thanks for reading! Tell me what you think!


Ray and the Assassin

Chapter 1- "Run"

Ray never cared much for riding the train. He much preferred to be above the clouds, sailing through the air in the massive structure, the Kingdom of Storms. It flew from place to place at the whim of its lord, landing occasionally in various cities for supplies. The Kingdom was quite literally a castle that floated in the sky, only one of a very small number allowed to exist in the country.

He'd never put much thought into what having a Kingdom meant, though he knew it symbolized the royal bloodline. He just liked being in the air, or standing out on a ledge, feeling the wind whip around him like a futile attack. The Kingdom wasn't his yet, but his parents promised it to him when he turned eighteen, which would be in eleven months. He wanted to be a good son—patient, understanding and confident, but it made him anxious that they hadn't given it to him when he turned sixteen like they had originally promised.

Ray was tall, with a naturally sturdy build, which made him stronger than most of his cousins, even those who were older than him. He had brown hair, which he kept very short because of how unruly it could get with even just a little freedom. His mother always said that he had the same brown eyes as his father, though Ray didn't care much about his own appearance. Above all else, he valued his comfort, and absolutely refused to do anything to jeopardize that.

As a member of the royal family, he was occasionally required to make public appearances, so he had to suck it up and wear the red uniform of his father's Kingdom. Technically speaking, he wasn't exactly sure what his official title even was, because he was somewhat removed from the King. He generally wouldn't concern himself with details of the past but, from what he knew, his own father had been a prince in his youth, until his father passed the throne to his brother instead of one of his children. So the current King, who Ray just knew as Uncle Hayden, would eventually go on to pass the throne to one of his daughters so, therefore, Ray imagined his own father was no longer a prince. He wasn't sure what the son of a former prince was supposed to be called, though the public called him Lord Raymond, even if he didn't think he was actually a lord.

It was confusing, but people still enjoyed seeing him and his family, especially around their home city of Sharee. He hated the fit and the feel of the red uniform he would have to wear, with its brass buttons and snugly fitted sleeves—just everything about it was awful.

But he was wearing it on the train, not because the public might see him, but because seeing him in that red uniform always made Adrianne laugh.

Frankly, he was worried about Adrianne, his favorite cousin, who had just recently announced her decision to get married. The last time they spoke, she brought up the notion of marriage and how much she hated the idea of doing it too soon, and that had only been a few weeks ago at his seventeenth birthday celebration. Somehow, he got the feeling that she was only getting married in an attempt to call her parents' bluff, since they had told her she'd only get the Kingdom when she married.

Adrianne had always been a very competitive girl who could get anything she wanted from anyone. She was an absolute stunning beauty, and she had been all her life, with long, black hair, and green eyes which stood out brightly against her pale complexion. Ray had known her since before he could remember, and he'd always envied how easily everything came to her because of her beauty.

The only ones who seemed immune to her charm were her own parents, because they were perhaps the only people who were more attractive and competitive than she was. Lawson, her father, was Ray's oldest uncle, a stern man who was very much like Adrianne herself: ambitious and, at times, entirely unreasonable. Ray respected him a lot, and he knew that he was one of his mother's best friends, which had helped Ray and Adrianne get so close. But it was his fault that Adrianne was getting married—his fault why Adrianne thought she had no choice.

Ray hadn't told anyone else about this theory, though he imagined many of them suspected it, even if they were too awkward about saying it out loud. He hoped he would have the chance to talk her out of it and steer her away from making this bad decision.

When he heard the announcement, he knew right away that he had to see her face-to-face, so he asked his mother if he could make the trip to Parson, the city where her family lived. Somehow, she decided that it was such a great idea that she wanted to go as well. Because Ray's father, Phinn, had taken his Kingdom to enemy territory the day after Ray's birthday, she had been noticeably lonely without him, so Ray wasn't about to deny her—as if he'd be able to stop her anyway.

In a way, he imagined she knew perfectly well why Adrianne was getting married and maybe she'd be able to help by speaking to Lawson. Ray had seen her work wonders with conflicts among his aunts and uncles before, so he hoped she'd be successful. Generally speaking, everyone really respected her—he'd never met anyone who didn't like her.

He liked to think he was a lot like her. His father liked to think so too.

So the two of them had boarded the train together nearly eight hours ago, and they were getting very close to Parson. In a Kingdom, the trip would have only taken less than two hours. At least they got to take first class.

Ray looked away from the window and at the sliding door behind him, anticipating someone was coming. He didn't exactly understand it, but he could usually feel things before they happened. Most of it came from his mother and her childhood visions, but he also came from his father who, like him, had a mother who had visions in the past. It did occasionally make him feel somewhat paranoid over when one of the feelings would seize him, but he'd become accustomed to integrating their sudden and random appearances. They were helpful when something bad was coming, but it could get annoying for mundane things. Usually, he avoided talking about it to other people after he came to learn just how rare it was.

Then the door slid open and Ray's mother, Elena, entered the compartment with a sigh. She beamed at the sight of him in his red uniform because although she knew he hated it, it always made her happy. Ray guessed that seeing him like this reminded her of what his father used to look like, since they were about his age when they first met twenty years ago. All around, Ray could assess he mostly resembled his father in a visual sense, though he generally felt that his parents looked similar to each other, so there were times when he could look like her.

"You look so handsome," she said, waving for him to stand up so she could do her usual adjustments. "I know it's uncomfortable, but it looks so good on you."

"Yeah," he muttered as she checked the buttons to make sure they were secure.

"If you get any taller, you'll be taller than you father. Oh, you're not even wearing boots. Maybe you are taller than him, then."

"Maybe," Ray agreed, humoring her even though she was quite obviously talking to herself. "How much further until we get there?"

"Any minute we'll be pulling into the station," she said, sitting down on the bench across from him. "It's a short ride to the complex, so I guess we should figure out our plan of attack."

"Plan of attack?" he questioned, sitting across from her and pulling his boots on.

"You know what I mean," she said. "This is important. We have to stop them from making this terrible mistake, so you have to focus all your energy on stopping Adrianne, and I'll be spending all mine on stopping Lawson. Once it's all over with, they'll both thank us, I promise you."

Ray crossed his arms and smirked at Elena, who raised both her eyebrows in a sly way. "I figured maybe you knew," he said. "You're a smart one, Elena."

She immediately leaned forward and playfully smacked him on the knee. "Don't call me that!" she laughed. "I do not like this new habit of yours. I'm always going to be Mom to you, got it?"

"Right," he said, nodding and leaning back on the bench.

"So do you have a plan of attack?"

"Do you have to call it that?"

"But it feels like that sometimes, doesn't it?" She gave an exasperated sigh as she began to fiddle with her long hair that she had tied into a braid. "It doesn't matter which one of them gives in first, just as long as one of them does."

Ray knew that his mother had a tendency of injecting herself in other people's business, but he also knew that she always meant well. It seemed that her primary motivation for doing most things was to help others who didn't even notice they were floundering. It could be her most endearing trait, but also her most annoying as well.

She sat there, just watching him, as if expecting him to speak, a tiny smile on her face. "I wish you'd grow your hair out a little more," she remarked.

It was almost as if she purposely made that comment in order to incentivize him to come up with his own conversation topic. "I feel the train slowing down."

"Let's get to the door."

She urged him to his feet and led the way to the end of the train car where they could exit privately. Elena began to adjust Ray's collar again, and he allowed her, until she was satisfied. As soon as her back was turned, he tugged it back into a more comfortable position.

"I hope your father doesn't come home while we're away," Elena commented.

"If he does, I'm sure the first place he'll look is in Parson."

"That's true."

For most of his life, Ray was under the impression that his father never made a mistake or even felt pain. He seemed to excel at everything he did, but never wanted recognition for any of it. The only person he would ever yield to was Elena, and he almost enjoyed it when he was able to compromise with her so she could have her way. Sometimes, Ray suspected he would only disagree so that she could have the joy of convincing him to change his mind.

Ray had only recently began to appreciate how his parents were apparently so different, yet somehow exactly the same.

"It might be a little short around the cuffs," his mother said randomly, but then Ray realized she was talking about the sleeves of his uniform. "It's nice to see it still fits, though. It's a good thing you put it on so it can be adjusted."

"Hopefully, I won't need to be wearing it to any weddings anytime soon," Ray said. "Right?"

"Right," Elena replied, looking despaired.

"You're not worried, are you?" Ray asked.

"No," she said, grabbing onto his arm. "I know we'll be able to stop them."

He trusted that her confidence was not misplaced.

Once the train came to a stop at the station in Parson, Elena and Ray waited until the very last call before they got off, waiting for most of the platform to clear out in order to draw less attention. Citizens of Parson were generally accustomed to seeing them there because they knew about their closeness to Lawson's family, but it was better for it to be low-key. Ray knew his mother didn't like the attention, and he certainly didn't like it either.

"Maybe you should have waited until we actually got there before you put it on," she said quietly as they hurried through the station, hoping they wouldn't be seen by too many people.

"The point is that I want to walk in and throw her off because I'll be wearing it," he pointed out.

"Okay, okay," she said.

They stepped out of the station and hurried down the stairs to some of the drivers who were waiting. Ray heard a passerby utter his name as they recognize who he was, but he tried to ignore it and keep pressing forward, practically diving into the backseat of the car as his mother explained where they wanted to go.

He sighed with relief as she climbed in next to him and laughed at his acrobatics. "I don't understand why people even care about seeing me," he said.

"Can you blame them?" she asked. "You're the next generation and you're adorable."

"Elena," he said scoldingly.

"Raymond," she said in an equally stern voice.

"What?" he asked although he knew perfectly well what she was getting all stern about.

"Don't call me that," she said flatly, and she did sound very serious.

"Okay, I won't," he said, though he didn't have plans to keep the promise.

The driver took them to the gates of the complex and, though he offered to drive them to the front door, Elena insisted that they walk the rest of the way. She seemed enthusiastic about the idea of their arrival being a surprise, even though Ray was sure it would be a surprise regardless of whether they walked or drove.

As they got out of the car, Elena thanked the driver and watched him go. For some reason, she looked quite thoughtful and remained standing there, staring into the distance, then abruptly faced Ray to ask, "Why is she doing it?"

"Huh?"

"Adrianne. Why is she getting married? Is it really just for the Kingdom?"

"I think so."

"Why can't she just be patient?" She sighed and gestured for Ray to start walking.

"I think she's worried about having to compete with Anne."

"With her sister?" Elena almost laughed. "Lawson would never make his daughters compete for the Kingdom. Not after he went through as a kid with all his siblings. That's just absurd."

"I don't know," said Ray with a shrug. "Maybe it's not absurd to her. I mean, Turner's almost twenty and he still hasn't gotten the Kingdom from his parents."

"Turner," said Elena with slight laugh. "That's different."

"Why? Because he obviously doesn't want the Kingdom?"

"Do you really think that?"

"Yeah, he's probably worried he'll fall out of it."

Elena laughed out loud before covering her mouth. "That's so bad, Ray," she said, trying to muffle herself.

"He's probably mostly better by now, you think?" Ray asked. "I don't get how he fights the Others and never even gets a scratch on him, but then he does something stupid like fall over a balcony in his own home."

"Turner is only coordinated when it counts, you know that," Elena giggled.

"I can't imagine what it's like to be him."

"Because of how clumsy he is?"

"No. Because Aunt Sage is so overprotective of him. Just him. I mean, I know he's really accident-prone so even I worry about him sometimes. But she can be a little crazy."

Sage was Ray's aunt and she could be a very intense person despite how petite she was. Even though she had five children, she seemed to be oddly focused on her oldest son, Turner, practically shadowing his every move like she needed to keep him safe.

Of course, Ray did know that he had an uncle that he never met, who had been killed twenty years ago, and had the same name as his cousin. Uncle Turner had stepped in front of a bullet to save Sage while she had been pregnant with her first son, and so she had decided to give him that name.

But Ray knew that it was tough for his mother to even think about how Uncle Turner had been killed. She had once shared a secret with Ray—she imagined Sage used her son to replace the brother she'd lost. Considering the violent circumstances surrounding Uncle Turner's death, it wasn't much of a stretch. She asked Ray not to share this theory with anyone, so he kept quiet about it. Though, ever since she told him about it, Ray had to admit he saw the validity and his mother definitely had a way of interpreting the motives behind other people's actions. He often wondered if his cousin was aware of his mother's unconscious behavior—or if even Sage herself knew.

Even with Sage's ever watchful eye over Turner, he always seemed to be hurting himself in needlessly dramatic and serious ways. Although he was a soldier in the King's army, most of his injuries were a result of his clumsiness, or when his own magic would backfire on him. He inherited his capacity for magic from his powerful father, Uncle Garrett, so he not only healed from physical injuries at a rapid rate, but was able to increase his speed or strength by sending charges of magic to portions of his body.

So, even though he hurt himself a lot, he would heal from broken bones in just a week, and the massive concussion he sustained was gone by the next day. It was nice enough but, during his recovery, he would have to spend most of the day sleeping because of the rigorous amount of energy it took. At times, Ray envied his ability to heal, but he also saw how cumbersome it could be.

"Well, I guess we all can be a little crazy sometimes," said Elena.

Ray stopped walking, feeling something terrifying creep up his spine. They still had to walk another ten minutes down the road to get to Lawson's home, but Ray's senses were practically screaming, and he didn't quite know why.

When he stopped, Elena stopped as well, looking up at him questioningly, but staying quiet because she recognized his serious expression.

They both looked around the area and, finally, Ray zeroed in on a small grove of trees they had just passed. His mother got closer to him and whispered, "Ray?"

"I don't know," he answered softly, feeling the hair on his arms stand up straight. "But I think…it's dangerous."

A sinking feeling manifested in the pit of his stomach. A foul smell was wafting from the trees and, when he saw the flash of an animal's eye, he quickly tried to push his mother to move away.

"Run," he said with only enough volume so she could barely hear him.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Run!"

He yelled because he saw the animal shift. He didn't have time to wonder how it got into the city without being detected because the beast leapt from the trees and pounced for him.

The Others were a different species all together, though they were perhaps a dangerous cross between a human and wolf. They were huge creatures that could stand upright but also gallop on all fours, with sharp claws, but they could pick things up because they also had thumbs. They didn't speak—only growl—and had large jaws filled with huge teeth that could easily bite through bone if they wanted.

Thankfully, they weren't intelligent, but they certainly felt joy when they could kill. Over the past twenty years, the Guard had worked to push them back into their territory, which was actually what Ray's father was currently assisting them to do, so sightings were uncommon, but an Other appearing inside the walls of the complex was unheard of.

Everyone knew that the most deadly thing about the Others was the poison in their middle claw. Even a tiny dose could kill an adult if it went untreated, and the window for treatment was very small. The chances of surviving an encounter with the Others was fairly low because everything about them gave them the advantage.

Ray had only seen an Other on a few occasions when he was much younger. He knew that his father was rather known for fighting them and inspiring the King's Guard's use of slow poisoning to build up a resistance. But Ray himself had never fought one, and he'd always hoped he'd never have to.

Elena did start to run, and Ray did as well, but he could hear the thumping of the beast as it got closer, rapidly closing the distance between them until he felt its paw clip his leg, knocking him off his feet and landing him face down in the grass. He tried to scramble back up, but the creature flipped him over and pinned him down, pushing its weight down on his neck to hold him in place.

Ray could barely breathe, but he soon found it to be a lesser concern when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. Looking down with his eyes, he saw the Other's second hand digging into him, middle claw and all. Desperately, he tried to wrench himself free of its grip, but it held him firm, unconcerned with his struggling.

Suddenly, it eased off of him, swiping its arm at something else. He heard his mother scream, and then the Other let him go and seemed to just disappear.

Ray sat up, wincing as he did, putting a hand where he was bleeding. He felt a burning in the wound, and an odd numbness spreading. Without even knowing the symptoms, he knew he had been poisoned by the Other.

It was nowhere in sight. He began to rise to his feet, but he collapsed, catching himself with his hands as blood fell from his chest and into the grass. Frantically, he raised his head and tried to focus his vision, and then spotted his mother a few feet away, sprawled out on the ground—and she wasn't moving.

"Mom…" he stuttered as the mere act of speaking increased the strain on his body.

The burning in his chest radiated out to his limbs as he pushed himself up, making it very hard to move. As his vision blurred, he stumbled forward, trying to reach her, until he eventually collapsed down beside her, reaching a hand to her face to find her unconscious. It took all his strength to simply roll over and gasp for air. How much time had passed? It felt like hours.

He tried to call to her again, but he was sure no real sound came out aside from a groan. He couldn't even move his fingers, and the burning in his chest was starting to become more painful than the wound itself.

It sounded far away, but someone was calling his name. Although he tried to respond, all that came out was heavy breaths as his vision dimmed and tunneled. He was terrified and utterly sick, hurting all over. And, when a sudden pressure on his chest appeared, he was able to briefly see the face of someone he knew but did not expect looking down at him: Charlotte Clinton.

Her eyes were full of worry as she assessed his injury. She was pulling at the buttons of his coat, quickly yanking it off and tearing the shirt underneath. He allowed her to do it—it wasn't as if he'd be able to stop her anyway—even though it hurt more and more as she dug into the wound made by the Other's claw.

"Ray," she said, resting her hand on his cheek. "Ray, what happened? Was there an Other?"

He was entirely unable to respond, just hoping she'd be able to do something to help.

"Stay still," she urged, placing her hand over his eyes to close them.

Ray closed his eyes just as she urged, and took in a tentative and strained breath. He didn't know what she was doing, but he trusted her.