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  #856  
Old 02-01-2020, 07:20 AM
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Thanks, Alexa! I agree, I can't wait to explore more of their dynamic.
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Old 03-16-2020, 01:24 AM
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Awesome posts, Alexa and Glory! Sorry I haven't written for this RP in so long.




I rubbed my eyes sleepily as I wandered into the dining hall for breakfast the next day. Last night, I had been awoken suddenly when the commotion in the hallway. It wasn’t loud, but after those terror-filled weeks at the Dai Li training facility, I had become keenly attuned to even the slightest disturbance. I had listened for a few minutes to make sure it wasn’t a threat, but it seemed to be only the agents returning from their latest mission. I’d breathed a sigh of relief, but it had taken me a long time to get back to sleep.
When I went to sit down with my tray of food, I saw that everyone at the Gifted table were already chattering animatedly.
“What’s the big news?” I asked, stifling a yawn.
“You haven’t heard?” Stacia turned to me. “The rumors are all over the place! Apparently the agents who went to rescue Hanna got back last night, after escaping literal hordes of Dai Li! They had to fight their way past the King himself and his elite guard, after Ansell’s cover was blown.”
“Huh.” I raised an eyebrow. “Sounds exciting.” I felt a thrill go down my spine. I’d known the terror of being under the cold, cruel gazes of those Dai Li agents. It was hard for me to believe anyone could stand up to them, let alone win! And with such a small group of Clann fighters too.
Despite how new I was, I felt a rush of pride for our Clann agents. Their abilities really were incredible.
“How did they get out of the Capitol, though?” a boy sitting across from us wondered out loud. “I heard there’s a military blockade that runs for miles! With members of the Gifted army who have telepathic powers. And they spent a whole day and night in Dai Li territory before escaping. What were they doing there, I wonder?”
“Probably getting information on the King’s plans!” a girl piped up. “I’m sure that’s why the Council has been in meeting for hours. And it’s all true! I heard that they had to fight their way past three entire elite squadrons, including Captain Darklighter herself, and through the King’s council room, where all of the Dai Li were gathered, and one of our agents nearly assassinated the King!”
“No way!” the boy exclaimed.
“It’s true!” the girl insisted. “I heard it from Leila, who got it from Elisa, who got it from Darin, who heard it from Ansell himself!”

I heard a snort from behind me.
“If I know Ansell, he’s definitely embellishing things.” Haven sat down to join us. Despite her derisive words, she was grinning from ear to ear. She looked happier than I had ever seen her, a far cry from the angry, grief-stricken girl from a few days ago.
A younger girl was standing slightly behind her, looking shy and uncertain. A curtain of long blonde hair framed her small face, and the eyes that peered out at us were the same blue-gray as Haven’s.
“Everyone, this is my little sister, Rhea,” Haven introduced us, giving her sister a gentle push forward.
Joy gasped. “Haven, this is wonderful!”
“I’m glad they managed to save her!” Stacia exclaimed. “It’s so good to meet you, Rhea.”
I smiled at the young girl. “Hi Rhea, I’m Sierra. I was a prisoner of the Dai Li too. I’m glad you’re safe.” I felt a twinge of pain, deep in my stomach, as I thought of Willow. Still trapped in that horrible place, forced to fight and hurt her fellow Gifted just to survive. When would she have the chance to be rescued? Would she ever see the light of day again?
“Um… nice to meet all of you. Thank you for having me.” Rhea relaxed upon seeing everyone’s friendly and welcoming demeanor, settling in beside her sister and biting into a piece of toast. Soon she was digging in with gusto. I winced upon remembering the Dai Li’s tasteless gruel. All those days of having barely enough food to keep up our strength, while the agents laughed and feasted on the other side of the room.
“I know,” Hope murmured, sensing my thoughts. “Hard to believe we managed to survive, right?”
"But we did, and that's what matters." I squeezed her hand under the table. "I'm just so glad to see not one, but two families reunited."

Haven had been chatting away with the other kids at the table when a small boy of about nine years old entered the dining hall. Immediately, the bright smile slid off her face, to be replaced with an expression of anguish.
“Finn… I…” Haven’s voice is shaking. “I’m… glad to see you’re alright.” She got up, standing awkwardly by the table.
“No, it’s okay… you don’t have to leave,” Finn mumbled, not quite able to look her in the face.
“No, I – I’m sorry, Finn. I don’t know how to make this up to you, but I am so sorry.” She got up, and in a flash, disappeared out of the dining hall. Rhea glanced from the young boy to where her sister had disappeared, looking confused. A moment later, she stood up to follow Haven.

Before I could ask what was going on, Nyna and the Council of Elders swept into the room, looking as poised and regal as ever, though the stress and anxiety showed in the tight expressions on several of the Elders’ faces.
“Attention, everyone!” Nyna clapped her hands. “By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about our agents’ recent mission to the Dai Li Capitol. While some of the tales may be a little exaggerated – “ she grinned. “ – The bravery of our agents and Gifted, their strength and determination to stand up for what is right and defend our family – that’s what I want all of you to take away from this. Together, we are strong, and together, we will beat back this force that has been a dark shadow upon all of us for so long.”
The dining hall erupted into cheers. We all stood up to clap and lend our voices to the rising crescendo of uproarious approval.
“But,” Nyna raised a hand for silence. “Our work is far from done. This is not the time to get complacent, and even as we speak, our enemies are plotting their next move.”
The mood in the room abruptly became somber once more.
“What our agents have learned on their mission to the Capitol was this.” Nyna took a deep breath. “King Adonis is planning to sign a treaty with Queen Adalia of Noorwind. He wishes to enlist her aid in his war against the Gifted.”
Dead silence in the room. A chill went down my spine. We were barely able to hold back the Dai Li as it was. How could we hold up against an attack from both Adonis and the Noor?
“Rest assured, though this news may seem grave, that the Council and all of our agents are working tirelessly to keep all of you safe. This is simply another development in our ongoing war, and we will prevail against it, just as we always have!” Nyna declared. “We’ve already sent two very capable agents to scout out and monitor the King’s negotiations with Noorwind. In the meantime, we plan to send our own peace delegation, to the neighboring kingdom of Cerrawen. King Arwin and Queen Elyssandra have long been known to be sympathetic to the Gifted. If all goes well, we may be able to form an alliance of our own.”
There were hopeful and excited murmurs throughout the room. Nyna smiled. “To show that we are truly dedicated to our cause and sincere in our efforts, we will be sending a delegation party made up of both Clann agents and Gifted. I will be going myself, this time, as one of the Clann’s leaders, so we can show the King and Queen how serious these negotiations are to us. For safety reasons, I will only be taking along Gifted who are at least fifteen years of age. Are there any volunteers?”

There was quiet for a moment.
“I’ll go.” I spoke up first, and all eyes turned to me. “I was taken prisoner by the Dai Li, after all, and trained to be in their Gifted army. I can give a first-hand account of what it’s like there, the cruel and inhuman treatment we all received. I’ll make them understand how bad things have gotten in Alagaesia for the Gifted.”
“I will as well.” Nik spoke up. “I should be there to show Cerrawen that we are not all like my father. As crown prince, my presence will give extra weight to these negotiations,” he stated, eyes glinting with steely determination.
A ripple of shock swept through the crowd. Wait. This Nik's real identity was... the crown prince Nikko? King Adonis's own son? He had been with us all through the last battle, and from what the others said, the past several weeks as well. He has fought with us, laughed with us, chatted and ate alongside Clann and Gifted alike. And this whole time, he had been the son of our sworn enemy. The son of our sworn enemy... and also a Gifted himself.
And he had just volunteered for this mission as a delegation from the Clann. It was a message, clear as day, that he was choosing to reject his father's cruel empire and side with us.
“If it’s alright, I’d like to come as well,” Stacia added, after the shocking murmurs around the room had faded. “The Clann took me in when I had nowhere else to go. You saved me from the Dai Li and gave me a home. I’d like to help protect it however I can.”
“Thank you, all of you. Sierra, Nikko, Stacia.” Nyna smiled. She had known who Nikko was all along, I realized. Despite the shock, I sensed no hostility or distrust in the room. He was one of us now.
“The Clann thanks you for your bravery. Please, go now and prepare yourselves. The Council will begin planning the details of our negotiation immediately." Nyna stood up. "After our scouting party returns with news on the King's meeting with the Queen of Noorwind, this will be our next mission. We shall depart in two days' time, at nightfall. Hopefully we can make it past the Dai Li patrols under cover of darkness. By the morning after, we should arrive at the royal court of Cerrawen.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~

Two days later...

The sun was just rising over the horizon when we arrived at the border the next morning. To our dismay, there was a squad of Dai Li agents, pacing the only entrance to the bridge that separated Alagaesia from Cerrawen. We had been lucky so far, under the cover of darkness, and had made it here without having been seen by any of the patrols. But now, we were stuck, for there was no other way to cross over to Cerrawen.
“This isn’t good,” Talia whispered. “I didn’t expect there to be so many of them, considering the situation at the Capitol. It seems the King is putting heavy patrols around all the borders of Alagaesia, probably to prevent us from sneaking any Gifted out of the country before the incoming war.”
“But that means he’d be spreading his forces thin then?” I asked.
Nyna nodded. “That’s one good thing. He won’t have the manpower to terrorize villages at the moment, so we don’t have to worry much about saving individual Gifted for now.”
“If I know my father, he’s planning to wipe us all out in one fell swoop,” Nikko said grimly. “So it doesn’t matter to him if he lets a few slip away temporarily.”
The word “us” hung in the air. It occurred to me suddenly, that if all went well, and we were somehow able to overthrow Adonis and his tyrannical regime, this young man in front of me would become the next King. He had the compassion for it, I could sense that through my own empathetic abilities. I wondered, then, what an Alagaesia with Nikko as its ruler would be like.
Perhaps the people could finally live their lives in some semblance of peace, without the constant threat of the Gifted and Dai Li struggle hanging over us all.
“It’s okay,” Stacia reassured. “We planned for this, right? So what if there are a few more Dai Li than we expected?”
“Yeah. True,” I said, not quite able to hide the nervous quaver in my voice. The thought of being recaptured by the Dai Li, placed in chains and forced to fight for my life again, chilled me to the bone. You chose this, Sierra, I reminded myself. It was your choice to come, so calm down! Talia gave my hand a reassuring squeeze.

“What is your business here?” one of the guards met us halfway across the clearing as we stopped in front of the tree line. I cast my eyes over the rows of Dai Li agents behind him, noticing one that was strangely diminutive, at least a full two heads shorter than any of the other guards. That one was stationed directly next to the bridge that we had to cross, a good several yards away.
Ezra spoke first, keeping his voice low and gruff as to be unrecognizable. “We are Gifted hunters, sir. It has been a while since a shipment has come from Cerrawen, isn’t that right?”
One of the King’s many despicable decrees was sending groups of mercenaries disguised as merchants and traders across the border to Cerrawen, to capture unsuspecting Gifted and bring them back for his army. They were hailed as heroes and given generous rewards upon returning. Gifted in Cerrawen were not nearly as used to being hunted as those in Alagaesia, and were often easy targets.
The guard eyed us with some suspicion. “I thought His Majesty wanted to halt all Gifted capturing activities while he dealt with the Clann situation?”
“That directive was for those highly trained agents, the Dai Li,” Nyna explained calmly. “His Majesty does not wish for such elite agents to busy themselves with menial tasks such as capturing individual Gifted at times like these. But we are hunters, freelance mercenaries, and our services are still of use to him.”
All that time she had spent addressing crowds of hundreds at the Clann’s rallies made her well-prepared for this. She responded to all his questions confidently, neatly dodging the ones we could not answer, her voice never wavering. Until, at last, the guard nodded in satisfaction.
“You’re free to go. Happy hunting,” the guard grinned at us in obvious pleasure. “Show those Cerrans that the only place where the Gifted belong is on a leash, as His Majesty’s personal pets.” I felt my skin crawl at those words.
We had almost walked past all the Dai Li agents at the entrance to the bridge when one of the cloaked figures, the unusually short one, suddenly stiffened.
“These aren’t hunters!” the small figure cried out, his hood flying back. I saw to my shock that he must have been no more than ten years old. A Gifted. One so very young. Hope and I barely managed to survive that place… how does a child bear it? The pain, the terror, being forced to hurt people just like you.
But that momentary shock was soon replaced by horror as the little boy proclaimed, “They’re agents from the Clann! And Gifted!” Oh no. A telepath! I felt my heart hammering in my chest. The King had never deployed his Gifted army to the border patrols before. And this one was so young…
There was a moment of dead silence, as those words hung in the air. Then, in unison, the Dai Li agents flanking the bridge drew their swords, steel glinting in the pale dawn light.

“Run for it!” Talia shouted.
We all rushed forward. Talia and Ezra shoved their way past the Dai Li attempting to block their path, pushing them aside with the hilt of their swords. Stacia abruptly vanished before our eyes, and I allowed my own Gifts to take over. My body shrank, sprouting wings, and I flew into the air as a small hawk. I saw one of the Dai Li swing his sword at Nyna, but Nikko materialized out of nowhere and yanked her out of the way. I flew at the guard’s face, striking out with my talons, and he tried to bat me away with his arms.
“Thank you, both of you. Keep going!” Nyna gasped. Stacia and Nikko reappeared next to us, and we ran, the Dai Li hot on our heels.
Shouts and furious cries erupted as a squadron of soldiers from Cerrawen appeared out of the trees. They flanked us on all sides, and pushed back against the onslaught of Dai Li agents.
“Get off our land, Alagaesians!” one of the soldiers snarled. “Unless you’re looking to incite a war.”
“Several criminals are attempting to escape over the border!” the Dai Li leader exclaimed, gesturing to us. “We have the right to bring them to justice.”
“They are on our turf now, and we will be the ones to decide what to do with them,” the Cerran soldier snapped. “We will send them over to you if we deem it appropriate. Now get back to your own country!”
There was a tense stand off that lasted for several minutes.
“Fine. Deal with them as you wish. But the moment any of them tries to cross back over, they will be ours,” the leader of the Dai Li growled at last. He lifted a hand to signal to his troops, and they filed back across to the Alagaesian side of the border.
I repressed a shudder. We’d cross that bridge when we got to it, so to speak.

The leader of the Cerran warriors looked us over coldly. “And what, exactly, are a ragged group of Alagaesian criminals doing sneaking over the border at the crack of dawn?” Her hand rested on the hilt of her blade, an obvious threat.
“Please, we’re not here to fight.” Nyna took a step forward. “We mean you no harm, we only wish to talk.”
“We’re from the Clann, an organization that seeks out and protects the Gifted from the King’s wrath,” Ezra added.
“I’ve seen what you Alagaesians have been doing to your own people, to children,” one of the other soldiers snapped. “Why should we believe anything you say?”
At this, Stacia stepped forward. “Because we are Gifted, too.”
“And believe me, I know very well what the Dai Li are capable of,” I lifted my arm, slowly to show that I didn’t intend to fight, and pulled back my sleeve to show the raised red marks from the chains that had circled my wrists. “I was among those who were taken from their families and forced to fight at the King’s whims. If you really care about the Gifted, then please listen to us.”
“We need your help,” Nikko added, materializing out of nowhere next to the captain. She jumped backwards in shock as he pulled back his hood. “I am Nikko, Crown Prince of Alagaesia. And… I’m a Gifted too. I’ve renounced my father and his ways, and have allied myself with the Clann and their cause.”
There were murmurs among the Cerrawen soldiers, in tones of both surprise and intrigue. The hostility in the air had faded somewhat, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Please,” Talia said. “Take us to your king and queen.”
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Last edited by Night Wish; 03-16-2020 at 03:06 AM.
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  #858  
Old 03-17-2020, 04:44 AM
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Fantastic post Night! I love how Nikko is starting to come into his own!

Here we gooooo!!!


Finn

I woke up in the morning to the sound of someone walking around in the room. I blinked sleepily, then saw Ren putting a cloak and boots on.
“Ren?” I asked.
“Hey there ke’chara, glad to see you awake,” she replied, and came to give me a hug.
“Where are you going?” I asked, a knot of fear coiling in my stomach.
“I have to go away for a while, but I promise I will be back as soon as I can.”
“No! Don’t leave me alone! What if -” I burst out, clutching onto her hand with desperation.
“Hey hey hey! Hush sweetling, I won’t leave you all alone. Nik will be here, remember him? He promised to look out for you while I’m gone. Nyna and Talia too, plus Hanna and Ezra. They all will have your back, and you can go to any of them for anything you need. And I will come back as soon as I can, promise!” I reassured him, and hugged him close again. “Everything is going to be alright, love.”

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Ren called for them to come in, and Ansell opened the door, with Nik standing behind him.
“Ready?” Ansell asked, and I looked to Ren, pleading with my eyes for her to stay.
“I’ll be back soon, sweetling, I promise,” she whispered to me, giving me one more hug, then nodding to Ansell.
“Come on Finn, let’s get something to eat,” Nik said, holding out an arm for me. I slowly crossed the room, and Nik put his arm around my shoulders. He lead me out of the room, talking about things I had missed, though I didn’t hear much at first.
“And then, they escaped the entire Dai Li army!” He was saying when I started listening. I looked up at him sceptically, and he laughed. “What? Don’t believe me? Ask Ezra here!” Nik replied, as Ezra walked up next to us. “”Ez, tell him!”
“About our daring escape? You really missed out kid!” Ezra replied, then started telling the dramatic tale.

“Wow!” I replied when he finished, as we walked into the dining hall, “That sounds epic! I’m glad you are all ok.”
“We’re all fine, and we are all just glad that you are ok, kid!” Ezra replied, patting me gently on the back.

I looked around the dining hall, and saw her, her face paling to white with anguish. I froze, then looked down.
“Finn… I…” Her voice shook. “I’m… glad to see you’re alright.” She got up, standing awkwardly by the table.
“No, it’s okay… you don’t have to leave,” I mumbled, not quite able to look her in the face, shaking a bit.
“No, I – I’m sorry, Finn. I don’t know how to make this up to you, but I am so sorry.” Then, in a flash, she disappeared out of the dining hall. I watched her run out, then noticed a girl who looked about my age. She glanced at me, then followed Haven out of the dining hall.
Before I could ask anyone who the girl was, Nyna and the Council of Elders swept into the room, looking as poised and regal as ever, though the stress and anxiety showed in the tight expressions on several of the Elders’ faces.
“Attention, everyone!” Nyna clapped her hands, but I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, lost in my worries about Ren and Ansell, and about Haven.

“I will as well.” Nik spoke up from beside me, shaking me from my thoughts. “I should be there to show Cerrawen that we are not all like my father. As crown prince, my presence will give extra weight to these negotiations,” he stated, eyes glinting with steely determination.

A ripple of shock swept through the crowd, and I stared up at my friend’s face in surprise. Wait. Nik is... the crown prince? Prince Nikko? King Adonis's own son? He had been with for weeks! He was with me when we had to hide during the battle! The son of our sworn enemy... and also Gifted himself.
And he had just volunteered for something, something I had missed because I was spacing out! Plus, while I was stunned about who he really was, I missed the rest of the conversation about what it was he had just volunteered for!

I realized then that I was gripping his hand tightly, afraid that he was leaving too and I would be alone here. Nik - Nikko - looked down at me, and gently squeezed my hand back in reassurance.
“Hey, don’t worry, we aren’t leaving until Ren gets back. We won’t leave you alone, promise.” He said softly, and I breathed a sigh of relief.



Ren

I watched Finn leave the room with Nikko, hating to leave him alone right after he woke.
“He’ll be alright, Nikko’s got him,” Ansell whispered, and I nodded, taking a deep breath.
“Let’s go, we have a long way to go.” I state, picking up my bag. We head to the stables, and find they have already gotten two horses ready for us. We thank the Clann members, and ride off in silence.

I watch Ansell out of the corner of my eye, hoping he will say something. We have barely spoken since I heard his mental call for help and come with the team to rescue them from the Dai Li. Not through the entire time spent at his father’s home, or the entire ride back to Clann… not when we got back either, and then Finn woke, and now here we are, riding in awkward silence.

I remembered how relieved I had been to find him, relieved he was ok and relieved I wasn’t going crazy - his mind voice had been real. I remembered how he’d whispered that I was amazing. Then how he’d shut me out, how I’d been filled with doubts and almost closed myself off behind my own walls. Then I’d noticed how his hands had shook as he led our horse towards his father’s house, noticed the slight amount of fear leaking through his shields, and all I felt was worry for him. I had steadied his hands, and tried to just be a supportive presence, not asking questions. All I had were the stories I had heard about his father while in the Dai Li, but I knew nothing besides the rumors.

There had been that moment, getting out of the carriage, when his mask had cracked a little, and I thought he might say something, but then his grinning mask returned, along with the shields to shut me out. I had told him I would be here whenever he was ready, and I hoped he would tell me when he was ready. But to this moment I was still being shut out by him, whether through shields and silence or through shields and jokes. I almost spoke up at various times, but each time just fell silent again instead, not knowing what to say.

The silence dragged on.

I tried to focus on the path I was taking, and on remaining vigilant for any Dai Li. I lowered my shields some so I could “listen” for nearby minds. The whole day passed this way, with us traveling at a fast but sustainable speed, only stopping to rest when the horses needed food and water. We ate in the saddle, and when we did stop to take care of the horses, we only spoke a little of commonplace things, then continued the ride in silence again.

When the sun was growing lower in the sky, I finally spoke.
“We should probably make camp for the night.”
“Good idea. Know any good spots nearby?” He replied. I thought a moment, then nodded and started leading him off the path towards a secluded grove with a cave.
“We can light a small fire, we should be far enough from anyone else. I can’t sense anyone close by.” I state, dismounting and tying up my horse before taking off it’s tack and rubbing it down. Ansell did the same, then he gathered firewood while I fed the horses and set up our bedrolls in the cave. Ansell arranged the wood just outside of the cave, then lit the fire, and we both pulled out the food we had brought with us, sitting down to eat by the fire.

I watched the sun slip below the horizon while I ate, very conscious of Ansell sitting nearby and how we still had barely spoken since that night.
“Sooo…..” I finally said, then trailed off again, trying to figure out how to bridge the chasm that had formed between us over the past few days. “Nyna packed these in our bags. Not sure what to do with them though.” I finally stated, pulling out a weird packet of things.
“What?!” Ansell exclaimed, taking the packet from me, “You’ve never had a s’more before?!” He gasped dramatically, putting a hand to his chest and feigning being scandalized.
“Um. No. What’s a s’more?” I ask, in a quiet voice, feeling ridiculous.
“Wait, you’re serious. You’ve really never had a s’more before?!” He cried out, looking seriously shocked now. I shrugged my shoulders helplessly.
“I didn’t exactly have a normal childhood…” I trailed off.
“Well! Time to fix your lack of s’more knowledge! You came to the right guy for the job, I just so happen to be a S’more Expert!”




(Poor Ren, never had a s'more before! And yes, Night and I decided s'mores have to exist in this world. Who cares if it might not make sense. S'mores are important )
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  #859  
Old 03-22-2020, 06:21 PM
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Great post Liri!



I saw the way Lyren watched Finn leave the room with Nikko, clearly hating to leave him alone so soon after he woke.
“He’ll be alright, Nikko’s got him,” I whispered, and she nodded, taking a deep breath.
“Let’s go, we have a long way to go.” Lyren stated, picking up her bag. We headed to the stables and found that they had already gotten two horses ready for us. We thanked the Clann members, and rode off in silence.
I could feel her watching me out of the corner of her eye, hoping I’d say something. We have barely spoken since she had heard my mental call for help and came with the team to rescue us. Not through the entire time spent at my father’s home, or the entire ride back to Clann… not when we got back either, and then Finn woke, and now here we are, riding in awkward silence.
I remembered the relief on her face when she had found us, just when we had needed her most. Like a vision out of a fantasy, fierce and blindingly beautiful. And in return, I had shut her out, despite how I had coaxed her out from the shadows of her own doubts, once. Yet she had reached out to steady my hands, and tried to just be a supportive presence, not asking questions. All she had were the stories told about my father while in the Dai Li, and I knew she had to be burning with questions.
There had been that moment, getting out of the carriage, when she had told me that she would be here whenever I was ready, and I had almost cracked. The walls I’d built to keep the world out felt hollow, fragile, about to topple with the slightest push. But I simply couldn’t find the words.
I still couldn’t.
To this moment I was still shutting her out, whether through shields and silence or through shields and jokes. I could tell she’d almost spoken up several times, but just fell silent again instead, not knowing what to say.

The silence dragged on.
I tried to focus on the path we were taking, and on remaining vigilant for any Dai Li. The whole day passed this way, with us traveling at a fast but sustainable speed, only stopping to rest when the horses needed food and water. We ate in the saddle, and when we did stop to take care of the horses, we only spoke a little of commonplace things, then continued the ride in silence again.
When the sun was growing lower in the sky, Lyren finally spoke.
“We should probably make camp for the night.”
“Good idea. Know any good spots nearby?” I replied, relieved to finally break the silence. Lyren thought for a moment, then nodded and started leading us off the path towards a secluded grove with a cave.
“We can light a small fire, we should be far enough from anyone else. I can’t sense anyone close by.” She stated, dismounting and tying up her horse before taking off its tack and rubbing it down. I did the same, then gathered firewood while Lyren fed the horses and set up our bedrolls in the cave. I arranged the wood just outside of the cave, then lit the fire, and we both pulled out the food we had brought with us, sitting down to eat by the fire.
I watched the sun slip below the horizon while I ate, very conscious of Lyren sitting nearby and how we still had barely spoken since that night.
“Sooo…..” she finally said, then trailed off again. “Nyna packed these in our bags. Not sure what to do with them though.” She finally stated, pulling out a packet of delicious goodness.
“What?!” I exclaimed, taking the packet from her, “You’ve never had a s’more before?!” I gasped dramatically, putting a hand to my chest and feigning being scandalized.
“Um. No. What’s a s’more?” Lyren asked, in a quiet voice, looking awkward.
“Wait, you’re serious. You’ve really never had a s’more before?!” I cried out, with genuine horror now. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly.
“I didn’t exactly have a normal childhood…” she trailed off.
“Well! Time to fix your lack of s’more knowledge! You came to the right guy for the job, I just so happen to be a S’more Expert!”

In no time, the two of us were holding a pair of sticks over the fire, with fat marshmallows skewered on the ends.
“The trick,” I told her, putting on my best “wise old scholar” voice. “Is to hold the marshmallow over the fire, at just the right angle, and turn it slowly, but not too slowly, until it has been browned on all sides. The trick is in the timing. Not long enough over the fire, and it won’t reach the optimal gooey texture to hold your s’more together. Too long, and it will get burnt.”
“Like this – oh!” Lyren exclaimed as her marshmallow abruptly caught fire. She yanked back the stick, but it was too late. The blackened marshmallow fell into the flames.
“Do not fret, my dear disciple. It takes many campfire trips and the sacrifice of countless marshmallows to properly learn the art of making a perfect s’more”, I said solemnly. We both glanced at each other, then burst out laughing. After all the stress and heart-pounding escape of the days prior, it felt good to laugh like this.
I gave her one of my already-toasted marshmallows, and we stuck them between slices of chocolate and layers of graham crackers. Lyren closed her eyes as she bit into hers, savoring the delectable sweetness.
“I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on these my whole life,” Lyren turned and grinned at me. “Don’t hold out on me now – what other sweets do you know how to make?”
I laughed and leaned back. “I’m afraid that the making of s’mores is the only culinary art I’ve mastered thus far. But when we get back, I’ll have the Clann chefs introduce you to a whole new world of mouthwatering pleasures.” My smile faded a bit as I added, more softly. “Lucien taught me how to roast marshmallows, when I was five.”

There was silence for a bit, and I was afraid that we were going to slip back into that awful tension from the ride here again. I was about to open my mouth, searching for something to say, when Lyren spoke up.
“I’m sure Skyf would have loved them,” she said wi****lly. “He always did have a major sweet tooth.”
The mention of her brother broke the dam between us. I looked into her eyes, and there was no going back now. She had shared with me the deepest, most vulnerable parts of herself, laying it bare between us with such bravery. Now, it was my turn, and I chose at last to put my faith in the soft, fragile thing that had blossomed between us.
“What was your brother like?” Lyren asked softly.
“He was my light,” I said simply. “All of ours, actually. He was like the sun – warm and gentle one moment, blazing with passion the next. Everyone seemed to gravitate towards him, whether it was our father’s household and fellow Dai Li, or those at the Clann.”
I could have lowered my shields, let her see the thoughts that had been choking me for so long. But it didn’t feel right, somehow. I let her in just enough to see the images behind the words. But the words themselves, I had to say out loud. They were a confession.
Mea culpa. My cross to bear.
“My better half.” I smiled. “He was the one who always spoke up for what was right, and was never afraid to take a stand. He’d move heaven and earth to protect the things that were important to him, take on the whole world if that’s what it took. That’s why it – why it hurt so much that he didn’t want to punish Father for what he did.” I sighed. “But in the end, he was right, of course. Because really, there’s no pursuit as hollow and worthless as revenge.”
Lyren put a hand over mine as she watched me struggle to find the right words. “It’s alright,” she said gently. “I do want to know the truth, but I can wait until you’re ready. Just know that I’m here.”
“I’m sorry,” I offered her a small smile. “You deserve to know. It’s just – I’ve never spoken any of this out loud before. The others had already known.”

I took a deep breath. “Most of the rumors surrounding what my father did are true. He wasn’t – he wasn’t always like that, so ruthless and calculating. I remember him being a kind father, when we were children.” I smiled a bit wi****lly. “We had been a happy family, once.”

“Ansell!” Lucien called out in exasperation. “Where did you go?”
“Boo!” I stuck my head out of the thick branches of the oak tree in our back yard, grinning as my brother jumped backwards, startled. I hung upside down from the thickest branch, hanging on by my legs as I stuck my tongue out at him.
Luc rolled his eyes good-naturedly at my antics. I’d been six years old, Lucien ten, and our father had just been invited to dine with the King at his palace for the first time. It was a great honor, and we had been preparing for weeks. And by preparing, I meant attending the most boring of lessons involving palace decorum, the proper way to walk, talk, and address the nobility, not to mention – I shuddered just thinking about it – dance practice.
I heard Dad’s booming laugh as he pushed his way past the willow boughs hanging over the small pond on our estate. “You got your brother well and good, didn’t you, my little monkey?”
“Oh dear.” Luc pulled me out of the tree and pinned me to the grass, tickling me all over. I tried to wiggle out of his grasp, squealing. “What have we here? A spy, hiding in the trees?” he teased. “You’ll get no mercy from me!”
I rolled away, tossing a handful of grass and dandelions at my older brother. “You just wait! When I grow up, I’m going to be the bestest spy ever, and you’ll never be able to catch me!”
Lucien laughed. “Now that, I would love to see.”
“What is going on over here?” Mom strode over to us across the lawn, the train of her elegant gown trailing over the grass. She put her hands on her hips, looking over each of us in turn. “We have less than three hours to get dressed, and look at all of you! Ansell, you’ve got dirt and grass stains all over your clothes, and Lucien, are those twigs in your hair? Maxime, you had better not be encouraging this!”
Dad laughed. “Oh, let them have a little fun, Amélie. They’re going to be stuck at the royal court for the whole evening, and we know how stuffy and boring that place is.”
Mom rolled her eyes at him, but the corners of her lips were turned upwards in a smile. “Is that how the illustrious Lord Gervais speaks about his king’s palace?” she scolded. “Someday, Lucien will inherit the title and your place on the council. Isn’t it about time you start setting a good example?”
“Hmm… you’re right, of course, darling. I should not be encouraging their lack of decorum.” Dad hung his head as if chastened, but when Mom turned her back, he winked at us. “I heard that the first opportunity where you can politely excuse yourselves is after the third course,” he said to us in an exaggerated stage whisper. “Then you can escape out to the gardens until dessert is served!”
“Oh, honestly!” Mom threw up her hands at all of us as Lucien and I dissolved into giggles.

“But constantly being around the Dai Li changed him,” I continued. “It was a mess of political machinations and backstabbing, with the various lords and ladies in constant struggle for the barest scraps of power. To stay alive and keep his position, Father had to be wary of everyone and everything around him. It made him… harder, more paranoid, and more desperate. With each passing year, holding onto power became more difficult, as our family was small and had few allies. As such, Father had to become ever more ruthless to keep in the King’s good graces.”

Lucien and I peered through the crack in the door, watching as Dad paced back and forth, restlessly. Mom watched him, intent and filled with some emotion we could not understand.
“I don’t have a choice,” Dad muttered, hands pulling at his hair. “I didn’t! If the King had found out – if – “ he broke off.
“He was a good friend to us,” Mom murmured, and her voice was so strained. Was it anger? Resentment? Guilt, or regret?
“I know!” Dad threw his hands in the air. “But as soon as he told me he was a Gifted sympathizer, I knew I had to tell the King. If he thought we might turn against him, betray him… You know how His Majesty feels about those abominations, Amélie. Our family would have been ruined.”
“And instead, Elias’s family was,” Mom’s voice was almost accusing. She stood to face him. “You could have at least tried to reason with His Majesty, asked for a lighter sentence! Whatever Elias believed in, he was always loyal to the King. And his family was innocent.”
“I wanted to! Of course I wanted to!” Dad said, his voice breaking. He buried his face in his hands. “If only I had the power to sway him… but the dukes who wanted Elias gone held too much sway at Court. If I’d spoken out, they would have turned against me, too.”
Mom’s face softened. She walked over and put an arm around him. “I know it’s difficult,” she whispered. “But surely… surely there’s a better way than simply giving in to all their cruel desires?”
“I need to do this to keep us all safe, Amélie,” Dad whispered. He clenched his fists. “I’m sorry. I know it isn’t right. But I must do what I have to, to keep my place at Court secure.”
Mom watched him with an expression of unbearable sadness. “I understand you have to make hard decisions, Maxime. But please… please don’t forget who you are. Don’t ever lose sight of the man I fell in love with.”

“When my sister was born, we were happy, at first,” I said. “But… it didn’t take us long to realize she had Gifts. They can manifest at any point in life, and for my sister, it came when she was only six months old. Some burglars broke into our house and tried to kidnap her. She managed to escape their grasp by… floating away. As you can imagine, my father was horrified. He tried to hide the truth of her abilities, at first. But once a Gifted has manifested powers, they cannot be hidden for long, especially for a baby with no control. Soon, the King came to take her away, and along with Meira, he demanded that my mother be punished for giving birth to a Gifted.” I showed her the memory of our desperate flight from my father’s manor in the middle of the night.
“I wasn’t there when the Dai Li dragged Mom, with Meira still in her arms, in front of Adonis for her trial. I was still too young to be present at Court, which is why you didn’t know of me. From what I heard from the Dai Li, Father didn’t speak of us much after we left. But later, I got Lucien to tell me what had happened that day.”

“Take the child away,” King Adonis said coldly, his eyes glinting with malice. “There is no place for such an abomination in our world, except to be beaten down until they are no more than a tool of my empire. Otherwise, their evil would run rampant.”
“Please… please, Your Majesty,” Mom whispered, on her knees. Tears streamed down her face. “She’s just a baby. At least, allow me to raise her into adulthood. I swear I’ll keep her Gifts from causing any trouble.”
“Silence!” The King snarled. “This is on you, too, for clearly your blood is tainted. Otherwise, how could a member of my own council have sired such an offspring?”
Dad started forward. “Your Majesty, please, my wife – “
King Adonis turned on him. “Will you join her in this treachery then, Lord Gervais?” He sneered. “It is time you chose where your loyalties lie – take the side of your wife, who has brought such filth into the world, or uphold your fealty to your king and country.”
Dad hesitated. But then, his face seemed to harden, his eyes turning to steel. “My loyalty, Your Majesty, is to you and to Alagaesia. That will never change.”
“Maxime…” Mom whispered, her voice breaking.
“Renounce your wife, then,” the King demanded with a slow, deliberate cruelness.
Again, Dad had hesitated for a moment. “What about my children?”
“They may stay at your side, so long as they pledge to renounce her and this child, as well,” the King smiled in satisfaction. “I am merciful, am I not?”
“Never!” Lucien cried out, running forward towards our mother. “Mom – “
“Stop him,” Father commanded to his soldiers. They grabbed Luc and prevented him from reaching her.
“Please, Father, you can’t do this,” Lucien gasped, before one of the guards put a hand over his mouth.
Adonis looked at him disapprovingly. “Will you be able to keep that one in check?”
“He’s still young, and he will learn,” Father said, then turned to Mom, who was still weeping, looking to him imploringly. “And you. From this day forth, you are no wife of mine. You may return to the manor to gather your things, but after tonight, never again will you step foot on my lands.”
He swept out of the room, his personal guards in tow, one of them dragging away Lucien, who was struggling hard, still reaching for Mom. She followed at the end of the procession, under heavy guard, her hair a wild, tangled mess around her tear-streaked face. Meira had already been torn from her arms and given to a high-ranking Dai Li member, a man whose entire body was hidden beneath a dark, hooded cloak. All that could be seen of his face was a pale, pointed chin and slow, cruel smile.
And that was the last anyone had ever seen of our baby sister.
I was shaking with fury when Lucien had, at last, told me all that had transpired that last, terrible day. “Doesn’t that make you angry?” I snarled. “That man – he’s no father of ours. He chose his own greed and desire for power over us! He saw what the King was, the monster who was ruling over our country, and he sided with him! He turned his back on Meira, and threw out Mom like she was a piece of trash!”
“Of course it makes me angry,” Lucien whispered. I looked at him. It was the first time I had seen my brother shaking like that, with a barely suppressed, helpless fury. “But if I know Father, he’s going to regret this for the rest of his life. He won’t be able to enjoy his precariously held-onto power with the weight of what he’s done hanging over him.”
I clenched my fists. “That’s not good enough.”

“I wanted my father to pay for what he’d done,” I said out loud to Lyren now. “I was young back then, and foolish, and all I could see was that man, enjoying his life of luxury while we starved on the streets. No one would take us in, offer us shelter, for to associate with Mom was disgrace in the eyes of the King. But I kept it to myself, at first, because I could see how much our anger was hurting Mom. She still loved him, despite everything… and she never truly recovered from his betrayal. A few months after we were banished from the Capitol, she got sick.”

She grew paler, and weaker, as the winter months drew by. We tried everything, spending what few coins we could save up on herbs, apothecaries, anyone who would answer our begs for help. Even the ones kind enough to offer aid avoided looking us in the face, and were in a hurry for us to leave their shops.
Until one day, Lucien returned to the dingy alleyway where Mom and I were huddled, pressed together for warmth. For the first time in months, he was smiling.
“I found a place where we can go,” he said excitedly. “There’s been a group of people who have been fighting the Dai Li, trying to save as many Gifted children as they can. They call themselves the Clann – and they’ve agreed to take us in.”
Mom smiled, squeezing both our hands. I barely felt it, that was how feeble her grasp was then. “Good,” she murmured. The hollows of her face stood out starkly. She was so thin and ragged then, all skin and bones. “I’m glad… you two will have a place to go. Now I can finally go… in peace.”
The next morning, when we woke up, she was gone.

“After we were banished, Lucien became obsessed with finding out as much as he could about the Gifted,” I said. “He discovered what you did – that they weren’t monsters or demons at all, but children like any other. It seemed to light a fire in him – he wanted to do all he could to save them, pull them from the ruthless grasp of the Dai Li… help them like he couldn’t help Meira. Like he couldn’t help Mom.” I smiled sadly. “So finding out about the Clann was like a new awakening for him. Finally, he had purpose again, a way forward past the shadow of this grief. I, on the other hand… I wasn’t so good at moving on. All I could see was the past, while my brother was looking towards a better future. For us and for all of Alagaesia. I’m sure that’s what Mom would have wanted… and Dad too. Or rather, the father that we’d once had.”
I sighed. This was the part that would be the hardest to tell. “So we parted ways,” I said bitterly. “The first in a long string of terrible choices, that I can never take back. I abandoned my brother, my only family, when he decided to join the Clann.”

I left in the middle of the night, so I didn’t have to say goodbye. I knew Lucien - he’d find a way to stop me, to convince me to stay. But the rage that had simmered in me for far too long had blazed into a raging inferno after Mom’s death.
Lucien,
You might be able to move on, but I can’t. I can’t live with myself, knowing he’s still out there, laughing and eating at the King’s table. Bowing and scraping at the feet of the man who destroyed our family.
I can’t get back at the King, but I can give the man we once called father what he deserves. I’m going to destroy him, Lucien. I’ll make sure he loses his lands, his influence, his precious place on the Council, the things that he decided were worth more than his own family.
Don’t come after me. You won’t change my mind.
After it’s done, after it’s all over, I’ll come find you.
Ansell

“So I joined a rebel gang,” I continued. “I watched as they took over the city’s underbelly, the dark corners and alleyways. I knew they weren’t good people, beating up and stealing from other poor and homeless people, terrorizing any who crossed into their territory. I didn’t join in their violent activities, but it’s not like I did anything to stop them. You see, in their spare time, these kids launched sabotage missions against the Dai Li and members of the King’s court. It started with little things, a rock through a window of a lavish estate, stealing the jewelry off some noblewoman. Then it turned into spy missions, intercepting important messages and relaying them to other rebels fighting against the King. Then sabotage of the Dai Li’s missions, and guerilla warfare. They worked with the Clann, sometimes, and many of them were Gifted who were angry and wanted to get back at the Dai Li. The difference was, they were far more willing to cross lines and use brutal force to get what they wanted. I would turn them in once they helped me bring down my father, I told myself. I thought it would be worth it. As long as they could help me get revenge.” I smiled bitterly. “In the end, it wasn’t worth it. In the end, I lost the only family member I had left… and, for a time, I lost myself.”

I glanced up then, seeing that the moon had reached its peak in the darkened sky. “It’s late. We should get to bed, we have to get up early if we want to catch the Noor scouting party. Let’s… let’s continue this another night.” I stood up, but before I could walk away to get our bedrolls, Lyren reach out and pulled me into a hug.
I let the warmth of her embrace wash over me, keeping at bay the chill of those long-buried memories. “I will tell you everything,” I whispered into her hair. “I promise.”
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Old 03-23-2020, 06:40 AM
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