16 Chapter 10: The First Mission: Elyeria
I hear the knock on the door, "it's The Marquis" he calls through the door, I open the door, with an expression of sadness hidden by a fake smile "hey" I purposefully make my voice shaky "are you okay?" he asks, he seems genuinely concerned, it's working "I'm fine for someone who's being held hostage" I chuckle with faked fake happiness
"I'm going to keep asking until you're honest with me" he leans against the door making himself comfortable, I can't just be fake honest yet, he'd expect me to resist "I'm fine seriously"
"I'm fine, just go" I insert a slight tone of anger
"I know that we haven't known each other for long but I'm probably the only one that comes close to or will come close to caring about you," he said, "What do you want me to tell you?" I made my voice break, I managed to bring tears to my eyes, the worst thing was that they were genuine "that I was sent to some cold wasteland where at least I had a chance of seeing my friend and my father again, but then I get taken from my home forced to sleep on the floor of a ship, then I'm taken here as a hostage, wait no a guest until your mother deems me fit to leave" The Marquis was becoming blurry "I obviously not a hostage because that would incite a war that was going to happen anyways but it's fine" my sarcasm was poignant through my breakdown "it's great that I can't go home, that I'm never going to see my best friend, I was never going to be there when I help her court her crush, I was never going to see my mentor the only person who earned their title as my father, it hurts so much that can't breathe without feeling the lump in my throat that makes me want to scream, but I'm fine" I breathe and wipe the tears from my eyes "that's what you wanted to hear wasn't it?" he says nothing "did you even know what you were going to say?" he stayed silent "no, of course you didn't, you tried being a good person and now when you have the opportunity you don't know what to do, maybe you don't even care you just wanted the satisfaction of knowing that you made someone sad feel better" he stares at me "you can leave, I won't hold it against you" I say.
"I won't leave" he said, I wanted him to go, I couldn't feel vulnerable, this wasn't how it was meant to go, I wasn't meant to feel anything, it was supposed to be an act, but I couldn't breathe, I feel the air being pulled from my mouth. I hugged him, he slowly embraced me, I was okay again I just wanted to enjoy it for however long I could, for however fleeting it was going to be "thank you" I rest my head on his shoulder and smell the flower water he wafting up from his neck, "you're welcome" he says I feel his breath run across the back of my neck.
"seriously, I'm fine now"
"I know," he says and then he holds on for one more second, then he leaves.
I'm resting in my bed hoping that I get sent home, I'm okay now so I make an attempt going outside. I walk through the hallways not really caring whether or not I get lost it just meant another route I learn. I walk through the winding hallways, after reaching multiple dead ends, the castle started to feel like a labyrinth. I found myself in the garden, the sun lit up the place giving everything colour, instead of heat. I wore a jacket to keep myself warm, the wind had a chill to it. I walked through the gardens and looked at the auburn tulips and golden roses of the coming fall. "I couldn't help but see this and think of you" I turned to Vios and couldn't help but smile, I look at the dark red rose, "it was just sitting there in the fall flowers" he hands it to me "its the last of its kind" I looked at the rose, it was black at the tips and the part of the petals that touched the stem to reached a dark red in the middle. "thank you" I give him a wide smile
"I plan on having dinner on the balcony if you care to join me" he requested. He was trying to court me, no that wasn't possible his mother would never let him. It was just friendly, he knew I needed someone, he wanted to be that person "I don't know my way around the castle yet, so I may just be a bit late" I said
"are you saying that just so you can take two hours to get ready?" he smirks, I couldn't help but laugh "ha, very funny" was the only thing I could retort with.
It was time for the dinner I think, I get on a black and gold dress, someone knocks on my door. I open it, to see a serving girl. "The Marquis requested that I lead you to him," she said "I can wait"
"no, it's fine" I look at myself to make sure I was ready "I'm ready". The halls were now lit by the fire of the torches, instead of the fire of the sun. I looked out the window to see that the sun had already disappeared under the horizon to be replaced with the moon and stars, little blemishes that pocked with light. I followed the woman through the hallways and up the stairs, then around corners, through more corners and even more stairs. I reached a set of double doors, the serving girl opened the door for me. The room has golden walls, the floor was brown, the bed was orange and red. I walk to the balcony, I see Vios sitting in a chair in front of food that was probably getting cold. The serving girl leaves, I sit in front of him, I didn't really know why he invited maybe to get me to trust him, he is a Ristikos. I look down at the food to distract myself from the uncomfortable silence "you should be careful, you might give a girl the wrong idea, inviting her to your room" I say making an attempt at conversation, I never had to work this hard to talk to him, then I remembered he was the one who did the work, "technically it's my balcony" he rebutted "what if I wanted her to get that certain idea?" he said looking at me with a smirk"what if a girl was to be married to Davin Dachou?" I get up to leave "sorry, I'm not going to toy with your feelings, thank you for the dinner" I get up
"you're not married though" he said, he was right, but I wanted to go home, that was the real reason, "what if a girl doesn't want to be a hostage?" I ask
"Whose fault do you think that is?" I knew what he was implying "how do you think that the nation with the strongest military, just happened to have the weakest castle defences, on the day that you were kidnapped?" he questioned, I couldn't believe it, "all those who wear their honour proudly, could just as easily betray, when they speak words and say they follow in imaginary footsteps of heroes that never existed who came from a time that was never was, if given enough they'll do anything even make sure that you fall" it seemed that my true father would whisper in my mind every time that I needed to remember a lesson. I balled my hands into fists, I was losing the ability to breathe, again I was filled with so much rage it was suffocating, I turn around moving to the exit, I hear footsteps behind me "don't" I hear him stop in his tracks "I need to be alone now". I find my way back to my room, I close the doors, I jump onto the bed and bury my face in my pillow and scream into it, it does little to help me. I just lie there shaking. Realisation, when the anger fades into nothing, the revelation dawns on me, Ristikos could go to war, they could have the largest military in the known world at their side and storming my nation's castles and burning its villages, enslaving its children, they could win.
I fell asleep in my dress, I got up from my bed, I change into something else. I do my typical morning rituals. I sit in my room. I'm not okay anymore, I try to appreciate the happy times, a lesson from Sheera "be sad if you need to be sad, but still celebrate their memory" I could hear her voice in my head, I missed it, it was so happy and full of wonder, it was innocent, I felt the need to protect her, she was my sister, no, we were closer than sisters, I think about the about the happiness try to lose myself in them but reality's grip on me is too strong, I still try, I think of the first day I met her: I was sitting in the corner, using my fork to toy with it, removing crumbs from my slice of the birthday cake, it was my eldest sister's birthday she was turning fourteen. Sheera came up to me "hello I'm Sheera, what's your name?"
"Kaalan said that I shouldn't talk to strangers" I respond, I was seven so I wasn't really able to make my own judgement on her, I go back to toying with my cake "It's only for adults," she says
"I still don't know you," I say
"I'm a good stranger," she says
"prove it," I said
"I'm the only one who saw that you were sad and wanted to make you feel better" she smiles, showing her missing front tooth
"I'm Elyeria" I extend my hand and she extends hers and we shake them, I don't really remember what we talked about but it was still one of my favourite memories, tears started to well up in my eyes, it didn't help it just reminded me that I might never get the opportunity to make more, to make her uncomfortable when I'd abandon her with her crush to "run an errand" when I was really just spying on her, her showing one of her paintings or secretly laughing at people who embarrass themselves and then start cackling at how evil we were for it.
I go for a walk in the garden, there were a lot more people there than there were before, more people than I wanted there, but this wasn't my garden, I heard whispers "did you hear about the terror attack on The Divide?" there were mentions of this rebellion growing "these peasants should just go back to the mines where they belonged" one said "they should know their place, if they want to be angry at someone then they should be angry at their ancestors for not winning The Dance" opinions and gossip flowed through the garden. There was one girl, who sat on a bench looking at the view beyond.
I decided that I wanted something different, I climb back up the stairs back into the castle. After getting lost multiple times, I find my way to the exit "sorry but the Marquess Mother doesn't feel that you've recovered" I was stopped right at the exit, I remember that I'm a hostage, "one of us could escort you around the city, those bandits could be anywhere, ready to snatch you back up" one of them said, they probably thought I was considering their offer or asking questions in my mind when really I already had the answers, I just took the time to appreciate their acting skills or The Marquess Mother of Chrysia's ability to lie, "never mind I was questioning leaving anyway" I turn around walking back into the garden knowing that this was the closest thing to freedom that I was going to get for a while. I see that the girl is still sitting there, staring at the view, she had my interest and I was bored so I went to her. I went to her and see that her facial expression was normally worn by someone who wasn't really here, I sit down next to her "you're the Meldavorni hostage aren't you?" she kept looking at the view of the Mudlands in the distance, I got the feeling that there were those staring back, "yes"
"I thought that the Maléna couldn't become any more of a vile bitch" she said, I couldn't help but chuckle "first creating The Golden City also known as The Mudlands where thousands work but they could barely survive" her voice sounded angry then it went blank "I could help you leave, if you wanted" she looked at me now
"What is it that you want?" I ask, knowing that someone wouldn't offer a stranger something like this in exchange for nothing, "I want to help me take down this house"
"Who's in there?" I look into the horizon
"There has to be someone in there that you care about or you'd be just like the others treating this as a news story," I said
"Yes, my family, while all I can do is sit here watching they mine for hours trying to avoid disease "
"How did you get from there to here?" I gesture to the Mudlands on the horizon
"Marriage," she said, I assume not wishing to go into detail
"What do I have to do first?" I ask
"Imagine that the people's anger is a river blocked by a dam, all I need you to do is make the river's current stronger so it breaks through the dam and washes Ristikos away" she looks back at the horizon "the terrorist attack, that was Maléna's way of keeping people in line, keeping them afraid, the sheep flock to the shepherd when wolves are running about" she said, "you think that the terrorists are working for Maléna?"
"Yes, how do you think that after the bandits took you, how do you think you ended up in Chrysia? In here no less" she said still looking at the horizon, The Mudlands they had lost colour in the distance, they were just small shapes in the distances, you couldn't really see it, but she looked anyways "I want you to prove it, find a way to get the truth out, then the dam will start to crack" she said, I get up and walk back into the castle.
I see the Marquis "um, did you find any of the bandits, I could describe one of them for you" I ask,
"it was already at the top of my agenda" he said
"so did you find anything?"
"we have someone in the dungeons"
"can I see him?"
"why is that?" he narrowed his eyes questioningly
"because" he wouldn't know that the bandits who took me and the terrorists could be the same "I saw the Sun on the emblem of one of their daggers, maybe they're from here" he furrowed his brows, I managed to not give anything away, I think. "follow me" he said.
I was in the dungeons, it was dark, the man was chained to the wall, he was bleeding and shirtless, I looked at what I assumed was the whip, he was groggy, The Marquis gave him a few light slaps to the face, he woke up, I took the torch and held it to his face, he panicked and pushed his head back against the wall, I recognise him the blond boy from the boat. "I recognise him"
"so they're more spread out than we thought"
"who are you working with?" I ask
"I won't talk and I know that you won't kill me, you need me" I hold the fire closer to his face, he doesn't react, I dig my thumb into his incision the whipping left, he winces, but says no words, then I think I won't kill him, but the people will, according to the girl they had some anger to release. I place the torch back where it belonged. I had an idea.
We were now standing in front of the people with our terrorist with us, I stood by the Marquis, we pushed him onto his knees, "people of Chrysia, I hear your cries and bring you justice" he announced not knowing what I was going to do, that when the dam was broken he was going to get swept up in when the wave rises above the bank and then pull him in he was going to drown, he didn't deserve that "this terrorist is going to announce to all of you, who his leader is", the boy is silent. I hear murmurs from the crowd, lean into the boy's ear and whisper "I may not kill you but they will" I give him incentive to speak "you're going to announce your leader to all of them or I could offer you to the crowd they'll all be struggling to get to you, to land a blow they'll claw at you and step on you until ribs shatter" I feel him shake while my hand is on his shoulder "then they'll puncture your lungs and it will fill and you'll drown in your own blood as people claw and swing at you, step and spit on you, that is how you're going to die" I stand again
"When is he gonna speak?!" somebody from the crowd said
"He will," the Marquis said "won't you?" he pulls him up from his knees and pushes him closer to the crowd "I'm sure they'd love to have at you"
"OK!" he screams "It was the Marquess Mother!" he announces
"Lies!" The Marquis says the murmurs grow louder, I go to the Marquis "He did have the Ristikos Sun" he looks at me
"It's the truth I swear, how do you think that she got The Kasfi Marquess!" he was sobbing "why would he lie when death is staring him in the face?"
"Justice for The Golden City!" someone shouted and more and more people started to chant, they tried to climb the stage. They were getting on and I could only kick so many people, I looked at the boy he was panicking, I remember having to sleep on a ship, thinking that I was going to die, so I grabbed him "have at him!" I push him into the crowd they get distracted and attack him, I hear him scream and the crunch of bones and then a few squelching sounds as I grab Vios and escape with him to the castle. People chase after us until we outrun them.
I left my room and went back to the garden I sat on the bench and waited for the girl to arrive, she does, she tucks a brown hair behind her ear "why did you save him?"
"How do you know that he didn't save himself?"
"He wouldn't be able to"
"I needed an ally one that I didn't have to hide" I explain hiding my real emotions the real reason I saved him, because I care, I shift the focus "I did what you wanted, I exposed House Ristikos, the dam is broken or whatever, it's done, now you have to deliver on my end"
"No, our work isn't done yet, the dam is cracking and you have helped it crack to the point of near collapse, near, collapse, once the Ristikos name is gone then you may go home"
"that was not the deal"
"Yes it was, I never said that you do this and you get what you want, I said you break the dam and then you get what you want, you realise that this benefits you as well, your house is indebted to Ristikos and is going to war by the looks of it, if Ristikos was gone then your debt is wiped" she looks directly at me now "Ristikos has made its move, now it's your turn" she was right I had no choice, doing this will help my family, my nation, me "dance Marquess, dance or fall" her words reminded me of my dream, having gold burn its way into my skin and into my flesh, Ristikos gold. She got up and left, then I was alone staring at the sunset.