[font "Times New Roman" [center The Kingdom of Haelalith has been undergoing a power struggle for the last half decade. The [b King] is holding a tighter and tighter grip on his lands while his position is under attack by rebel forces. Rebels are turning up in the most unlikely places and being dealt with in the cruelest manners. The King struggles to avoid total war with his own people.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center The leader of the rebel movement alleges that the King has abused his power. He allows famine and poverty in his streets, trusted officials to be above the law, and children to be led to war and die. The [b General] leads missions to unseat and overthrow the King one piece at a time.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center This story follows the [b Queen] of Haelalith. Married to the King when he was still just a prince ten years ago, she has been with him since the difficult beginning. She is his counsel as well as his wife even though she holds no place on the battlefield.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center We will also follow the second-in-command of the rebel movement. The [b Colonel] assists the General in all duties and even carries missions out herself. She is the most decorated in the rebellion's militia.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center The [b Queen] and the [b Colonel] have been orchestrating the downfall of the Kingdom for over a year now. Through carefully planned sabotage, misinformation, and skewed mission objectives, they have managed to shift the tone of the pseudo-war. Things are becoming more tense than ever.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center Once the dust settles, people will be dead as unfortunate collateral damage. But with the [b Queen] and the [b Colonel] in power, the sun will rise on Haelalith again.]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b Notable:] The [b Queen] and [b Colonel] are main characters, but the [b King] and [b General] are playable, and [i important], sides. The genres will be drama, suspense, action, slight romance , and slight fantasy . I expect someone that can put more than 2 paragraphs together; at the risk of sounding pretentious, I must say [i literate]. Pictures are preferred to be real if they are used. Choose either main role you want and we can go from there. Please PM me with any interests, questions, and concerns. More elaboration can be found there.]
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[font "Times New Roman" Emere considered what Alex had said as she waited in the kitchen. [i Was] the General able to be converted? She'd never considered it too hard...]
[font "Times New Roman" Well he probably wasn't, otherwise this whole thing would be completely unnecessary. Just like she couldn't change Gianni. It was almost disheartening... She really did love him. She figured some part of her always would, but she had an obligation to Haelealith that outweighed the one she had to him.]
[font "Times New Roman" Impulsively, the woman pulled out her holophone and sent him a quick message: [i "I hope you're safe and being smart... miss you x"]]
[font "Times New Roman" He didn't often reply in a timely fashion because his phone could be the last thing on his mind, so she just put hers away again and waited patiently for Alex. Emere smiled at her friend as he came jogging around the corner, his red hair flopping out of place.]
[font "Times New Roman" [center 2 Days Later]]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere knocked on the door of the dirty room, two of the Queensguard directly behind her to the left and right. The heavy metal door swung open after some effort from the guards on the other side.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "What has he said?"] she inquired immediately. There were no politics down here, no need to be nice.]
[font "Times New Roman" The man she was questioning had blood up and down his simple shirt and uniform pants. He had been completely devoted to the extraction of information from the captured rebel for the past couple of days. He had only taken minor breaks. Emere respected him immensely for it. [b "He told us their numbers but no major information. He doesn't know the next mission plan. He's just a grunt."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Okay..."] The woman chewed her lip thoughtfully as she considered her options. [+tomato "And what have you gotten from the other one?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "She's a scout. Sent to count and gather what little she can without fully infiltrating the castle. She was recording little bits of upcoming missions and such."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "And?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "She has two hundred thousand troops, and that we move against the General of the rebellion in two weeks. She doesn't know in what manner."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Perfect. Take his head, send her home with it."]]
[font "Times New Roman" He faltered, a second of confusion falling over his features. [b "Queen?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I want her on her way home before nightfall. Make sure that's where she's going outside of the city, but do [i not] follow--that is a direct order. Send my love."]]
[font "Times New Roman" He nodded to signal his acknowledgment as she turned around to leave. Her glorified bodyguards followed after her. It was nasty business, but she had an image to uphold. Ruling did not come without ugliness in some form or other. It benefited her anyway because the scout was grossly mistaken if she thought they only had two hundred soldiers and it would falsely inform the rebellion so they'd plan around it.]
[font "Times New Roman" Ideally, that was how it would work out. Pascha knew Emere had much more than that.]
[font "Times New Roman" The queen exhaled a forced breath as she rejoined the upper levels of the castle. She'd spend some time in the garden to take her mind off things.]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy had a cramp in his neck from his place on the ground, his binoculars extending out under his holograph of camouflage. To his left, Court was laying down with a sniper rifle pointed at the encampment. To his right was Pascha, and behind the three were Biggs, Drill, Fausto, Vic, and Stace, surrounding their area to be on guard.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Note two in the guard tower at eight o'clock on the far side of the encampment,"] he whispered to Court as he adjusted his own scope. [+navy "There are a total of twelve in rotation in the immediate perimeter of the guard tower. 50 meters. Note that the opposite side of the water treatment plant is unable to be seen from this point. Have you spotted the king?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" Court looked through his scope silently for a couple of minutes before shaking his head. [b "Unconfirmed. But all reports say he's still here."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Keep looking. Colonel, anything--"]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy was interrupted as he heard a familiar female voice in his ear. It was Stace. [i "Got two coming our way. Don't seem to be looking for us, but doing a sweep. May be more. Both are armed. What is the move?"]]
The cold way she said 'I see' made Alex furrow his brows. What? Was he mistaken in some way? It couldn't be... was Emere siding with those rebels? No. His Queen wouldn't...
No, she wouldn't. He couldn't even imagine it. In fact, how dare he? It had to be something else, then. The camp... there'd been rumors about the magicians being treated poorly. Perhaps they were correct? He twisted his lips thoughtfully. Maybe he'd look into that. Anything that injured his Queen, had to be removed from this world.
"Perhaps," he allowed, "but what if we managed to convert them? It would be the end of the rebellion for good, if their leaders were to see the err of their ways, as opposed to being made martyrs for the cause." He shrugged, a playful grin on his face. "Not likely, I suppose, but a man can dream."
As he'd feared, she led him to a dumbwaiter. He gave the little box an uncertain look. He'd never be able to fold up that small, and that was assuming the thing could hold his weight. He wasn't overweight, but being tall came with a few extra pounds, and the fragile-looking box seemed a dangerous place to put them.
"You know what, I'll go around the long way," Alex offered. He knew where the kitchen was, after all. "No one will take notice to little old me walking the halls, will they? I'll make sure no one catches on and meet you down there."
The doors closed behind her. Alex hustled away, hurrying through the halls. Rather than attract attention by dodging the guards, he simply walked past with his back straight and his shoulders squared, moving as though he owned the place, and no one questioned him. Everyone knew his face, after all; why would they? He spent most of his time in the palace.
And besides, he had a few secret passageways of his own.
A dusty old spiral staircase wound the way down, deep, deep into the castle. Only his footsteps broke the dust, a series of shoes he'd worn marked into the debris. It wasn't secret so much as forgotten, tucked away in the shadow of a pillar and half-obscured by a wall-hanging, and it seemed he had it all to himself.
At the bottom, it was a short jog down to the old kitchen, where Emere was already waiting for him. "Hope I didn't keep you," he said with a grin. "So where to?"
She felt something like regret when Remy just got up instead of returning her banter. Maybe it'd been a bit harsh after all. But honestly, his first comment had ignited a fire she thought she'd all but forgotten deep in her soul, dredging up memories of a time when she'd been much weaker, so she wasn't too regretful. [i Little lady.] She'd thought he'd known her better than to say that. It was everything she wasn't. Everything she refused to be, summed up. [i Little lady,] a gruff voice called from deep within her memories, and she clenched her fist under the bar. A lifetime of working her way up a male-dominated world, of being weaker, of fighting off her own weaknesses and daring to believe that she could be just as strong... but in the end, she was still a woman. It was a bitter pill to swallow, made none sweeter by the fact that it was true and there was nothing she could do to change it.
Pascha sucked down another sip of her beer and sighed out. Ruined her plans, really. Now she was in a terrible mood, and vaguely guilty for it. Ah, what the hell. Fuck her for daring to dish it out as good as she got, huh? Guess a woman had to be the softer gender, even when it came to wits. Oh, Remy could insult his superior, but the second she dared call him out on it, he slunk off like a little skink. Made her wish she'd made him drop and give her fifty on the spot. Would've improved her mood, at least.
Oh well. She finished her drink, dropped the money on the bar and walked off. She'd go watch the sunset instead. Wouldn't run into any irritants out there. Maybe she could still rescue the night, after all.
[font "Times New Roman" Emere nodded in acknowledgment as Alex expressed his opinion on the rebellion. Well there was no way in hell she would tell him now, but it seemed like he only hated the rebels cause they opposed [i her] specifically. He didn't seem to care that they were after Gianni's head.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I see,"] she distractedly said as a buffer before an actual reply. The camp could be handled much better. Alex was brainwashed by her husband's propaganda.]
[font "Times New Roman" Shit. [i Their] propaganda. Her name was just as attached to it as his.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "The rebels would be too dangerous to keep in the camp; they'd just use it to swell their ranks. I would never have the General in there. I'd have him killed to teach them a lesson... maybe the Colonel too. They both have too much sway."]]
[font "Times New Roman" She slowed as they neared a door at the end of the passageway, her steps growing lighter just in case someone was on the other side. The smaller woman put her ear to the door gently, and after a minute, opened it when she was sure no one was in it. She crept quietly around the room and gestured to her friend to be quiet. She walked over to a wall with said dumbwaiter, pulling the aluminum doors open and looking inside. It was regularly maintained because staff never let anything fall into disuse... even though they didn't use it anymore. The commercial level electric dumbwaiter could probably carry both of them weight-wise.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Jeez, Alex, do you think you can fit in this?"] Emere muttered as she inspected it. It was big enough for her to get into and had a little extra room--it was built to hold a five course meal--but wasn't so confident in him folding his body in anymore. It had been bigger in her memory.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I'll go down first, then see if you can follow. Be careful, though, they might figure out you're in here."] The caramel-skinned woman gave him a bright smile and slid the doors closed, pulling the doors closed and pressing a button inside to send it to the bottom level. It would end up in an older version of the kitchen that was rarely used.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere hurriedly pulled out her holophone, accessing an encrypted version of a web browser that Pascha had given to her. It was their only way of communicating when apart and used in emergencies only because there was the everpresent threat of being found out.]
[font "Times New Roman" But then she put it away. She wasn't even sure what to say or why she was thinking of the woman in the first place.]
[font "Times New Roman" The Queen of Haelalith sighed, rubbing at her eyes tiredly. She was a mess.]
[font "Times New Roman" The dumbwaiter finally stopped, and after a moment of listening just in case, Emere got out and sent it back up. There was only one floor below this one, which barely anyone knew--she found out after years of living in the castle--that was used for emergencies that included interrogating rebels.]
[font "Times New Roman" She knew what she'd do to the rebel that had come to kill her. It was gruesome and made her stomach churn a little, but it had to be done.]
[font "Times New Roman" Well. It would be done after she had her outing with Alex. Already it was weighing on her conscience.]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy cringed when Pascha growled at him, instantly realizing calling her that was a huge mistake. He was almost guaranteed to pay for it later. [+navy "I didn't mean it like that,"] he almost whispered. He knew she didn't want to hear it and didn't care but at least he still tried.]
[font "Times New Roman" The man reached up and touched his hair self-consciously. [+navy "Haaaaarsh, Colonel."] He finished his drink and ordered another, raising his hand toward the bartender. [+navy "I see you're not really feelin' my jokes today."] He downed the second drink and got up from his seat, feeling a little hurt. Weren't they friends? Or was he too annoying to her? [+navy "Just wanted a drink with my ol' pal Pascha, but I'm gonna fuck off. See ya in the morning."]]
[font "Times New Roman" The man saluted her halfheartedly and laid a bill on the counter before leaving the bar. Truth be told, he was just a little lonely and he liked being around Pascha. He knew how she felt about leading a bunch of men--it was written all over her demeanor; she didn't have to say it--and completely understood. He had only ever tried to make a pass at her when he first joined the rebellion because he didn't know she was the damn Colonel. Never tried it again because he was too scared.]
[font "Times New Roman" His feelings were a little hurt, but he planned to shake it off. Remy didn't often mess around with the known whores, but it was true that his relationships didn't always work out. It wasn't always his fault, though, and to bring it up was unfair.]
[font "Times New Roman" Whatever. He pulled out his holophone and texted one of his exes. Some of them he was still on cordial terms with and, shit, maybe they'd let him spend his last night in a while in their bed. Otherwise he'd just go home and sleep it off.]
[font "Times New Roman" What was Pascha's problem today, anyway?]
No... guards? Alex cringed internally. Well. Hopefully the Queen wouldn't die under his somewhat worryingly inferior watch. He was willing to lay down his life for her, but he'd rather put that off until the last second. And all it took was two men, and his willingness to die meant nothing.
Luckily, he'd seen the forecast and brought his own raincoat, though it was a conspicuously un-stealthy bright yellow. Oh, and he didn't exactly want to be caught 'kidnapping the Queen' [i and] 'stealing castle property.' "Lead the way," he said, with a grandiose half-bow and gesture. When he straightened back up, he gave the security cameras an apologetic look and a little wave behind Emere's back, where she couldn't see him. Hopefully they wouldn't ream him out too badly for this little excursion. He could already hear the security chief screaming at him, taking out her anger on the one who wasn't the Queen. It'd happened before, and he wasn't exactly eager to live through it again, but what could he do? He was helpless against Emere.
Through the back passages. He took careful note of the entrances and how they worked, watching with legitimate curiosity. If he knew the way in, then maybe one night, when she was lonely--
No! He couldn't think of that. Not while she still loved Gianni. Never. No, it'd be... if, if she was in danger, he could use the passageways to rescue her. Yes, that was it. It was all noble.
"A dumbwaiter?" Alex filled in her missing word. Were they going to ride a dumbwaiter? The Queen was small enough, but, well, he wasn't the kid he once was. He'd be surprised if he fit.
Well, he'd keep following her for now.
Wait... rebels? When had the conversation steered around to them? "They all deserve to die," he said solidly, not dumb enough to risk his entire career saying anything different. "How dare they oppose your Highness? And releasing the magicians from the camp? Don't they understand that the camp is for their own good, a place where they can practice and learn without putting anyone else in danger? Honestly, a few of them belong in that camp, especially their General and Colonel. The sooner we can catch them, the sooner we can put this whole ridiculous mess behind us." He shook his head, dismayed at the very idea of the rebellion. How dare they oppose Her Majesty. It was simply wrong-headed. If they really wanted change, why not petition their nobles instead? There were plenty of legitimate routes.
Ah, shit. Came here to enjoy a quiet last drink, and what did she get but Strawhead McScarecrow coming here to chat her up. "Who's a little lady?" she growled, giving Remy the stinkeye. Someone had just signed up for another hundred pushups tomorrow morning. No, make it five hundred, and two laps around the camp for good measure.
"It's better than having hair that looks like piss," she grumbled, sipping her beer. She rolled her eyes at the next statement. Like beating Court meant shit. The guy could barely keep anyone in a proper hold; if he got up close and personal, his opponent had better be a kid, or maybe one of those court ladies who'd never held anything heavier than a salad fork in their whole lives. "You askin' to be made a little lady, is that what you're after?" she asked, making a short, sharp gesture downward with her fist as though she was holding a knife, imaginary knife aimed towards his crotch. Insulting her, asking her to spar... who the hell did Remy thing he was?
She gestured vaguely at him with the mug. "This your idea of sucking up to your superiors? Talking down to them and insulting their choice of drink? Here's a free tip: that ain't the best strategy."
Pascha shook her head and took another sip from her beer. "What're you doing here, anyways? Aren't the rest of the boys hitting town, getting laid for the last time in a while?" She gave him a look from the corner of her eye that warned him his answer better not be that he was hoping for the same. It just pissed her off, really. All the work she put in to be the best, the strongest, the most dangerous, and the men still saw her as a damn sex object, no better than a fucking whore. It was enough to make a lesser woman puke. "Go on, shoo, shoo, I'm sure there's a whore who's missing you." She waved him away like a fly.
[font "Times New Roman" Emere's eyes sparkled when Alex mentioned getting out. Of course she knew there was plenty to do in the castle; the royalty never had to leave it in their entire lives and could be fully satisfied, but she got bored of it sometimes.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Let's go. I don't want to tell anyone, though; the guards kind of cramp the mood, you know?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" She rose from her seat on the bed and gathered all her hair as she traveled towards her vanity for a ponytail holder to put it into a sloppy bun. She didn't feel the need to get all dressed up just to go play outside like a child.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere quickly opened one of her wardrobes and dug in for a rain jacket, pulling out Gianni's favorite: a blue one with a rather large hood. The buttons looked almost like diamonds. She found the matching boots and was almost excited to go somewhere with them on. Gianni would never let her do it if he were here; he lost his father to an illness and now the man feared everything... Well, everything except for war, apparently.]
[font "Times New Roman" The former island resident's thought landed and idled on the Colonel. How was she continuously so mysterious? Of course the court had files and information on her, but she was so much more than her pages... It was crazy. The holographic mugshot of her wasn't necessarily flattering, and up close the Queen could barely tell she was taller than Pascha. That would've been at least something to make her feel better because while the Queen had a greater status and things related to it, Pascha could end her life in less than three seconds. She didn't know why she wasn't more afraid of that fact.]
[font "Times New Roman" Black strands bounced as Emere shook her head like it would jostle the thoughts about until they were coherent. No such luck.]
[font "Times New Roman" Pascha seemed dangerous. More than just physically.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "We'll take the back ways. They don't think I know this old shack has secret passageways,"] she whispered to her friend as she took point on escorting them out of the room. Luckily, there still weren't any guards outside--yet. As soon as they realized it was her on the security cameras, they'd come running. [+tomato "Have to put some pep in our step, Al."]]
[font "Times New Roman" The world-recognized queen peeked her head around the corner as if she were in a cartoon before carrying on. She silently navigated the hallways until she came to an inside movie theater. Her feet scurried all the way into the back, behind the huge screen and into seemingly pitch black darkness. Emere felt along the wall until she came to a groove that didn't match the overall texture. [+tomato "Here we are."] She pulled on the door, trying to be quiet, but since the door was so old it was also squeaky. The woman shivered and cringed several times before it was open to a point she and Alex could walk through.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere produced her holophone to shine a light on the hallway ahead. [+tomato "This leads to an old maids' quarters. There's one of those little elevator things that used to be used to send food up or down... At least I think that's what it was for."] After they walked for a couple more minutes she posed a more serious question but presented it in a soft, conversational tone: [+tomato "What do you think of those rebels"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Once Remy got all of his things in order, he set out to remind the Colonel. At this point of the mission, she was probably partaking in her usual ritual: some last drinks before departing. He couldn't blame her for it.]
[font "Times New Roman" The tall blonde man walked into the bar, waving and greeting anyone who said something to him. He spotted Pascha at the bar and slid into the stool two seats down. [+navy "I see you're enjoying yourself, li'l' lady,"] he commented in a foreign accent as he nodded at her glass. When he was tended to he just ordered another one for her and a different drink--whiskey--for himself. [+navy "I don't know how you do it; beer tastes like it's a couple ingredients away from bein' piss."]]
[font "Times New Roman" The Lieutenant quickly thanked the bartender and took a drink from his glass. [+navy "Everything is prepped and ready for the mission. I even did some target practice."] He smiled a little to himself. [+navy to "Boy's getting better and better with knives. One day we'll have ourselves a nice little match. Whaddaya say? Unless you're scared. I [i destroyed] Court last sparring match."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Truth be told, he was at the moment and knew he would be scared in the future. Pascha was absolutely unbelievable in close combat. It looked almost fucking inhuman.]
[font "Times New Roman" A part of him envied her for it. But he had nothing but absolute respect for his Colonel.]
Alex smiled lightly, tilting his head just a little in acknowledgement. Back then, his parents had been part of the Haelalithian embassy to Emere's islands, so he'd spent a good deal of his childhood with Emere. She'd been refreshing to him; not that she'd known it. The other noble children looked down on his family for being mere emissaries to a lesser-known country, one that seemed meaningless to Haelalith at the time, and he wasn't allowed to 'stoop' to playing with the commoners. It'd been nice to play with someone who'd treated him as an equal, even though she was so much his better.
What did he want to do-- his mind went wild for a second, thoughts spooling beyond his control, but he managed to clamp down and stop himself before it went too far. "I'd suggest going out, but..." he gestured at the window, where at that very second, lightning forked across the sky, dividing the rain that poured down in sheets. "But there's plenty to do indoors. Or would you rather go out on the town?" It'd take some doing, but they could gather the bodyguards, prep her car, even send a team to check out her destination just in case.
Alex smiled at his Queen, gesturing gently towards the door. "Or shall we go dance in the rain?"
There wasn't really anything to pack. Pascha paced around her room a few times just to be sure, but she used her pack as storage, and what little she'd unpacked--mostly toiletries--was easy enough to pick up again. She'd just been on the road for so long--living this life for so long--that she couldn't imagine anything else. Before the rebellion, she'd been a mercenary, and before that, she'd been training. Even her childhood had been on the run. Her parents were refugees from some political crisis or another, bumped from one camp to the next, unable to settle down. Settling down was a foreign concept to her.
Sometimes, she wondered if she would, one day. If she'd settle, have kids. With who, was the question. She'd never met a man worth that much to her. The General she respected, but goddamn was he insufferable on a personal level. And the rest were all... her men. Remy, for instance. He looked like a damn scarecrow. And what, she slept with him, what then? Then he'd look down on her for the rest of her life. Then he wouldn't be a subordinate anymore. She wasn't going to let that happen.
Nah, if it was going to happen, it'd be someone she hadn't met yet. And that was even if she decided she did she want to settle. She didn't, not yet. A kid was a million-and-a-half obligations she didn't want. A kid was the end of her life, an 18-year jail sentence for the crime of lust. Better to keep on fighting the good fight, until she died, if she had to. That was the kind of life she wanted. Let Queens worry about heirs. Soldiers thought of the next battle, and she was looking forward to hers.
She moved her bag closer to her bed, then moved to the door of the house she'd occupied for the last four years--the longest she'd been anywhere for a while, now that she was thinking about it. Might as well say a proper goodbye. With that in mind, Pascha walked towards town square. She'd drink a few last beers, wander the town, and say farewell.
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "They're adorable!"] Emere smiled openly when he pulled up the video, watching in awe as the puppies tousled over each other. She could really see herself with one, even if it wasn't necessarily a poodle. She wasn't sure if she wanted something like a cute, helpless dog or a strong, protective one. In fact, she wasn't so sure if she wanted one at all. There was a reason she didn't have any at the moment.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "You're actually right, Alex..."] The queen rubbed her chin as she considered his proposition. [+tomato "I have to get the right tools. I haven't told the gardeners yet or else they'd try to do it without me."]]
[font "Times New Roman" She had thought about the hedge maze and entertained the idea for the last few months. Of course, it could have other uses other than just a fun gardening project. It could serve Gianni and the guard by being full of traps and such--but then, she'd like to be able to wander her own maze without getting killed. Maybe she could make them automated...]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Of course I remember, Alex, don't be silly. It was the time of my life. I was actually thinking about it a couple of months ago and that's when I decided I wanted one, if you can imagine. And I have more space here, more staff to tend to it. Do you ever miss it? Us in those days, I mean?"] It brought a nostalgic grin to her face as she remembered herself always managing to get him into trouble. A wave of embarrassment swept over her as she thought about how their relationship had changed so much that she was afraid to tell him about the biggest thing in her life: the fate of Haelalith.]
[font "Times New Roman" [i It's for his own safety,] she reminded herself. [i And mine...]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I would love that. Just you and me and--"] Emere started laughing [+tomato "our hedge maze. But tonight. What do you want to do? I'm sick of being cooped up all alone in here."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "The guards being brought in is both a disadvantage and an advantage. We don't know how long the King will be there, so we can't say how long things will be like this. There are separate variables that can be dedicated solely to his visit."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy strained to see what the map was. He was sure that if he was meant to know, someone would tell him; after all, the entire conversation was above his paygrade. ]
[font "Times New Roman" The captain marked the outlook on the map and folded it up. [b "Yes, ma'am. I'll report it to the general right away."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Yes, ma'am,"] Remy echoed with a salute as he followed behind Pascha out of the captain's quarters. [+navy "Five of my best guys, no sweat. Easy day."]]
[font "Times New Roman" His fingers were alight with electricity as he parted ways with his friend. He loved going on missions. There was an adrenaline high like no other that came with being a rebel. Maybe it was the danger. Maybe it was the fear of death. No matter what it was, it left him feeling light on his feet and extremely excited as he went back to where his platoon was stationed. He brought his chosen men to the side and told them the plan and to be tightlipped before sending them off again.]
[font "Times New Roman" He didn't have anyone to say goodbye to. That was generally what people did before a mission: say goodbyes to loved ones. Remy had grown up with his grandfather who eventually fell ill and died as the rebel reached his teenage years. Remy had even spent some time working as a soldier for the crown, where he learned all his military knowledge, before learning about the rebellion and deciding to do the right thing. But through all of that, he hadn't managed to bring anyone along.]
[font "Times New Roman" Sometimes he thought about his chances with Pascha. Other times he came to his senses. After all, he didn't even know if she liked men.]
[font "Times New Roman" Whatever. He had other options.]
He sighed at the thought of Emere with a puppy. It'd be about the cutest combination to ever walk the earth. If he saw it with his own two eyes, he'd be able to die happy. "You should absolutely take a look. I don't know if you'll be able to say no if you do, though," he said. "They're just the cutest. One second..."
Alexander nodded along about Jack and his boring name as he fiddled with the holo-phone until he finally found the video function and passed it to her. Puppies squirmed just above the little clip of metal, little helpless lumps of white down-fluff projected into midair. Alexander snorted at the sight. "She's named them all, but god knows I can't tell them apart."
Grafting? "Ambitious," he said, raising his eyebrows. That was no amateur technique. But Emere had always been so passionate about the garden. At this point, she might even be skilled enough to do something so complex.
He folded away the holo-phone and gave her a smile, ignoring her invitation as casually as possible. If he climbed into Emere's bed... it might prove too powerful a temptation to resist. "You could always use a young plant and a clipping from the older one--that way you don't kill anything important by accident," he suggested.
"A--a hedge maze?" he asked, taken aback. Medieval was a good word for it. He hadn't pegged her as the type. But then again, they could be fun. "I remember we went to one of those when we were younger, in the islands somewhere, on one of those old plantations... do you recall? It had a lovely hibiscus in the center. I think you could make it work, for certain."
She'd have to expand the gardens, but when had that ever seemed a negative to her? If there was one thing he knew Emere liked, it was her flowers. "We could make a weekend of it, go out and till the land," he said, moving to the window. He leaned against the sill and stared out at the garden, the storm, the world. In the distance, lightning forked across the sky and thunder cracked; he sighed then reached out and closed the windows. Best to close them before the rain came in.
"What, because you break them?" Pascha asked, legitimately confused by his chain of thought there. Oh well--some things would always be opaque to her.
It wasn't a long walk to the captain. She nodded a hello to him as she entered, then moved closer. Ha, seemed like seconds ago the Queen had been showing her some similarly marked-up documents. She spread the map out on the table to get a better look. The three marks were in almost a triangle each about the same distance from the camp. "If the guards have been pulled closer, that's good for us, for now--means we can get closer without being noticed," she said, tilting her head to get a better look at things.
Three options, three circles. The one across the lake was no good. They'd be sniped to death before they got anywhere near the camp. The slums... sure, they could blend in better amongst people, but one loyalist--or enterprising citizen out to pull some bounties--and everything would come crashing down. Which left only one option.
She tapped the first option, the outlook. "We'll have to make the trek. Compared to the other two, it's the superior choice, both from an assault standpoint and a stealth standpoint." She glanced at Remy, then nodded. "We'll move in trickles, a few at a time so no one notices we've left. Remy and I will lead the first wave; Captain, you'll be in charge of the next." And if it turned out to be not an option, too run down or occupied by the guards, they'd have invested less if they moved fewer men at a time.
"Remy, get your men ready," she said, turning to the blonde who was currently pretending to be part of the wall. "We'll leave at first light tomorrow. No excuses."
With that, she turned on her heel and walked away, out of the room. Where was the General, anyways? Where'd he been lately? It was concerning that she couldn't keep a close eye on him.
[font "Times New Roman" Emere settled back on her bed and listened attentively as Alexander talked. She offered him an encouraging smile as he went on, hanging onto every word. It made her feel... less queenly when he told her about small things such as this. It took her mind off the heavier things.]
[font "Times New Roman" A giggle bubbled from her mouth when he mentioned the poodle puppies. [+tomato "Could you imagine [i me] with a puppy? Maybe I'll get one. And that old man knows he could've given his grandson a more exciting name than [i Jack.] Like come on."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Part of her yearned to ask him if he also thought negatively about the fact that Haelalith was currently without an heir. Sure Gianni had a younger brother and two sisters, but they were still a long ways away. Once, he had expressed fear that if he were to die Haelalith would fall into the hands of his less capable family and crumble therein.]
[font "Times New Roman" But it was just pillowtalk.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I was in the garden this morning!"] Her tone took a turn for the excited as they got onto a subject she was passionate about. [+tomato "They're [i beautiful], aren't they? Growing nice and strong. Listen, I was thinking about trying grafting... do you think I could do it? I would hate to accidentally kill them or something."] The Queen sat on her bed and gestured to it so that Alex could take a seat if he wanted. She began running her hands through her hair and separating the tangles. [+tomato "Ooh! And I was talking to the gardeners about the possibility of a [i hedge maze]."] A light laugh escaped her at the thought. [+tomato "But is that too medieval? Gianni lets me do what I want with the garden but I don't want to go through all the trouble of having one if it won't look right here."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Even though they had at least a dozen gardeners, she preferred to be digging in the dirt and tending to the flowers herself. She was sure the staff changed or fixed things if she was away or messed up something, but still, the garden felt like it was hers for the most part. It was one of the only things she had any control over.]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "My boots wouldn't have been dirty if I wasn't journeying across the layers of the earth to find you,"] Remy joked halfheartedly as he resumed step beside his friend. [+navy "They're not broken, jeez. This is why we don't have nice things, Pascha."]]
[font "Times New Roman" The taller man eyed the back of the Colonel's head. Sometimes she disappeared like that, but she had a right and usually he just minded his own business. The good thing was that she seemed to be in a pretty good mood, so he had nothing to question her about.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Dunno what he wanted, just that he was looking for you."]]
[font "Times New Roman" As they approached the man's quarters, Remy straightened his hair and smoothed out his uniform. While the captain was below Pascha, Remy was still a lieutenant and would therefore be the lowest ranked in the room. Promotions could be slow coming. ]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Captain,"] he said in greeting as he entered the man's office space behind Pascha with a salute. He stood at attention near the door. [+navy "The Colonel."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "At ease,"] the man said dismissively with a wave of his hand. He saluted to the Colonel. [b "Sorry to bother you on your day off, but the scouts are back. The General wants your recommendations first and this is time-sensitive information."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy looked between the two of them, wondering if he should leave. He didn't bother to interrupt the moment and instead opted for blending in with the background.]
[font "Times New Roman" The captain pulled a map from a file in his desk and spread it out in front of the two. On it were marked red circles and Xs he gestured to when he spoke about them. [b "Here are our options as far as getting close to the camp. This one here is the farthest away from us now, but it provides an overlook. We could possibly take out guardposts from above if we hold this position. This one here is a slum more or less uninhabited, but the point is that there are people there that could try to trade information about us. And [i this] one is across the lake from the plant. We would have to get vehicles to cross the lake or worry about trying to get to the plant another way. Guards had been pulled closer to the plant because of the King's presence, so we are currently unsure about how surveillance and security are looking. What do you think?"]]
Still strongly against her attacking the camp? It didn't surprise her. Going for the camp was a bold move. It'd more-or-less be all-out war at that point. They weren't ready for that. But they were ready for the first step in that process--moving closer. Well--the Queen didn't need to know too much.
Pascha gave Remy a sharp look. Like flattery would do him any good. Still, at the sight of him cowering, she snorted. Ah, Remy. Good-naturedly, she reached out and scruffed the side of his head. "Yeah, yeah, well, it's not an insult if it's true, huh?" she joked good-naturedly. "Next time, wipe your boots first, alright? I don't have time for mopping up your muddy footprints."
Cleaned her weapons for her? My, my. She cocked an eyebrow. Had Remy always been this much of a brown-noser? Or was this some half-cocked attempt to sleep with her? Either way, she wasn't interested. "If they're broken, you better pay me back," she said, shaking her head. Not that she didn't have faith in Remy's skills, she just didn't want him getting the wrong idea.
"What was the captain after me for?" She outranked him, so she didn't much care about leaving him waiting, but... what had he wanted? She didn't have any appointments today, no meetings, nothing. It was her day off, which was why she'd gone to meet the Queen today in the first place. Pascha started towards the captain's quarters, gesturing for Remy to follow her. She'd go have a word with this captain about sending her men to hunt her out.
Emere looked slightly panicked when she opened the door, but that all changed when she saw him standing there. Alexander returned her smile, but couldn't help but be worried. What had been bothering her so? That woman she was talking to earlier? Or... wait, was that just the television? Oh--she must have been watching a horror movie or something. His smile gentled, became more earnest. Good. He'd hate if she was bothered in any way. It hurt his heart to see her in even the slightest pain.
"Oh, not at all. I understand; you had to make sure he was prepared." He resisted the urge to push back her hair by stroking back his own red hair, then gave her a smile. "Well, Lady Nabben's poodle had puppies; they've been the talk of the court the last few days. So cute, you should've seen. She might still have them, if you want to go see them. And Lord Samuelson, that old fogey--his daughter just had his first grandchild, a lovely son... Jack, I believe they named him."
All fluff, no politics. But with Gianni gone, he could imagine she was feeling lonely, and wanted a friend more than an advisor. Of course, if he was wrong, he could shift course, but he hoped he wasn't.
"Have you seen the garden lately? All the roses are in bloom," he said, moving deeper into her room to her windows to look out. The storm was swirling overhead, growing darker and more ominous with every passing moment, whipping the flowers to a state of absolute frenzy. It felt like the whole world was tensing, frozen--like something had to break.
[font "Times New Roman" The tension between the Queen and the Colonel was almost tangible. The air in the room felt thick with words left unsaid and disparaging looks meant to say more than words. They exchanged enough to have some to spare.]
[font "Times New Roman" But Pascha had a point when she mentioned Aikland and Oni's rivalry. Emere herself had forgotten it because things had been relatively diplomatic during Gianni's reign and his father's. While Haelalith [i was] stronger than both countries separately, even if they decided not to work together but to wage war at the same time, the kingdom would be at a major disadvantage. Even a two-front war, Haelalith could win. But it was up to chance on Aikland and Oni putting differences aside to fight.]
[font "Times New Roman" How could Aikland still be sore over Gianni's choice in marriage? She subconsciously put a hand over her own stomach in an instance of embarrassment. The Hakulani Islands were a more strategic resource for Haelalith at the time; it was barely personal. And it wasn't like they weren't trying for an heir... At least, they used to try a lot harder before the rebellion took over every aspect of her husband's life. It was safe to say it was a sore subject.]
[font "Times New Roman" [i "Don't you worry your little head about that."] left a sour taste in her mouth. Not only did she feel patronized, but it seemed to be something important the Colonel wasn't telling her. She didn't like not knowing, but she didn't bother to pry. She'd just end up getting ignored or disappointed. ]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I am not one of your soldiers,"] Emere reminded her solidly. [+tomato "Mind your tone."] She clipped the documents back together and prepared to return them where they went. As she moved the table back, she shot a wild look to her counterpart. [+tomato [i "Attack the camp?] I heavily advise against it. Measure your steps very carefully, Pas--[i Colonel]. There is no cover, nowhere to hide anywhere around the camp. It's the water treatment plant, the one that's been decommissioned for the last thirty years. Have you--"]]
[font "Times New Roman" She started a little when she heard the raps at the door. Her gaze traveled to Pascha briefly before she crossed back to her bedside table and turned the TV on, waving her dismissal to the Colonel as she left however she did. Her steps to the door felt light and slightly fearful.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Alexander!"] Emere's entire demeanor lightened as she recognized her friend. She opened her door enough to let him through, taking note of how there still weren't any guards outside of her room.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I'm so happy to see you, old friend,"] she announced as she led him deeper into the room. She hoped if he'd heard anything he'd pass it off as the TV. [+tomato "How have you been? It's been the longest--how long? Three days? I apologize; I was so busy preparing for Gianni to go that I... Well. You know."] The woman shrugged, her delicate shoulders rising and falling lazily. [+tomato "Catch me up on all I've missed."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy was still laughing with his friend when one of his subordinates ran into the armory to announce that the Colonel was shouting after him. He instinctively cringed before going out to face the terrifying woman.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Hey, uuhh, Colonel."] He offered her a smile as he approached, rubbing the back of his head bashfully. [+navy "I'm not perverted! What're you--oh, [i that]!"] Suddenly he felt like shrinking. He knew she probably felt like beating his ass because somehow she could tell he'd been in her room. [+navy "That's not at all why I was in your room... Your skin is [i glowing] today, Pascha."]]
[font "Times New Roman" As he got closer to her, the blonde man lowered his voice to regular talking level. [+navy "The cap was looking for you. I even cleaned your weapons and you repay me by calling me a [i pervert]? Haaaarsh."]]
All dressed down, without jewelry, hair coiled into a bun, the Queen still held a seemingly-untouchable air of aristocracy. It got under Pascha's skin in an indescribable kind of way--and she knew she'd sound insane if she tried to explain it. It wasn't anything the Queen did. Just the way she stood there, imperious, as if nothing could ever touch her; it felt arrogant. But it wasn't even a look, not even a gesture, just a way of being. She couldn't explain it, so she didn't.
Pascha snorted. "I'm sure Arthur's kept your men busy enough for you to know that." If the Queen was going to be clever with her, she'd be clever right back. Not that she could win that kind of battle, but it didn't keep her from trying.
The Queen retrieved a few documents from a hidden space under her table. Pascha moved closer and peeked at them. A map, a couple of letters sent back and forth between the countries... she skimmed them while the Queen explained. Looked rough, two big powers starting to take attention to Haelaith's little camp. She snorted at the Queen's suggestion, though. That was a way it might play out, but it wasn't the [i only] way.
"And do you really think Aikland and Oni will ally together? They've been at loggerheads for centuries, ever since that trade war over iron way back, and sure, they're patching things up, but hardly enough to go to war together. Haelaith is still strong enough to hold off either one of the countries, our little rebellion aside. Have you seen his tests? If he deployed the magicians from that camp in battle, there'd be nothing left of either country's army." She shook her head. "That's just a load of hot air from the both of them, trust you me. They're just putting a bit of pressure on Haelalith to see if it deflates, or if it's really as rock-solid as it claims to be. It'll come to nothing in the end."
Oh--she was worried about Haelallith allying with-- she chuckled and shook her head. "As for allying, we can rule Aikland right out. Your Gianni was offered their princess' hand in marriage, but he turned it down for you. They're still offended over that, and, well..." her eyes slid to the Queen's slim belly. "...you haven't produced an heir to patch it up yet."
"As for Oni," she continued, tossing her hair, "don't you worry your little head about that." She smirked to herself. The Queen wouldn't know, but Oni's government had been secretly dealing with her and the other rebels for a while now. Rather than allying to wipe out the rebels, they were more interested in fanning the flames of the rebellion to see if we can't burn Haelalith out from the inside, so they could come in afterwards and conquer the ashes. And the rebellion still hadn't weakened Haelalith enough, so any mentions of an alliance against the rebels would be no more than hot air.
"Now, do keep an eye on the both of them," she added. "Just because it's impossible now, doesn't mean things won't change in the future." If Haelalith weakened, or any of the three countries patched things up... but for now, there were no worries. "Keep me posted on how things go at the meeting."
What--one of hers? She frowned and crossed her arms. "Not one of mine. Maybe one of ours..." What would Arthur gain from killing the Queen, though? Certainly, she was one of the 'corrupt upper crust,' but even he understood that any act against the royal family was more likely to turn the people against them than make them sympathetic towards their cause, for now. She shook her head; no, more likely he was one of those extremists, the crazy idiots who thought they were rebels but had never bothered joining up. "Kill him. If he's mine, he broke orders. If he's not, I don't give a fuck."
She shook her head. "As for us, we were planning to make a move on the camp soon," she said. "We're still too far away to possibly attack it. We were planning to move a little closer, to a more strategic location. Somewhere we could actually threaten the camp from." Pascha gave the Queen a hard look. "I'm counting on your silence, as ever. It might appear that we haven't made a move--that's what we're counting on. Attacking the camp is a serious possibility, once we move in. Not immediately; but soon enough."
They'd have to be more careful than ever, if the Queen was telling the truth. If the countries were getting uncomfortable enough to posture, they'd have to be careful with maneuvering around the camp. Capturing it might be enough to push them over the edge, either to attack or ally with Gianni. But she couldn't ignore that camp forever.
A knock came from the door. Pascha went utterly still, one hand reaching to her belt where her knife was hidden. She couldn't be caught now.
"My Queen?" a male voice asked from the other side.
Pascha glanced at the queen, then backed up towards the window. "Then, until next we meet," she whispered. The second she was out of the queen's sight, she put a bit of magic into the black stone and vanished, back to her quarters.
She appeared in the corner. The opposite corner from where she'd disappeared. Pascha tensed; someone had been in her room. She dropped to her knees and examined the floor, looking for boot-prints. Who dared? Who dared--
Wait a minute. She recognized those boot-prints.
"Remy! Get your perverted ass out here!" she shouted, stomping outside. "The fuck're you doing in your boss's room when she ain't here, huh?"
Alexander hurried up to his Queen's room as fast as possible, but the castle was huge. It took him about fifteen minutes just to reach her chambers, and that was taking the shortcut. By the time he arrived, he was downright out of breath. And that simply would not do.
He took a deep breath and slicked his hair back, putting it perfectly back into place, then adjusted his jacket and his pants. Everything had to be in place, just right. He wouldn't dream of showing Emere anything less than his best.
Voices. Alexander stopped, then frowned. Voices? But Emere... she should be alone. And that... was it a female voice?
No, no, he was being stupid. She had a phone, didn't she? She could be speaking to one of her friends. Or one of her handmaids. There were all sorts of possibilities. And--how dare he eavesdrop! She was his Queen, his lovely Emere! How dare he disrespect her like that. He knocked loudly, and the voices stopped. "My Queen?" he asked. "Did you call for me?"
[font "Times New Roman" Too many times Emere had tried to ask her counterpart how she managed to sneak into the palace. Her heart would skip whenever she knew they had to meet because what if the rebel got caught? Would she confess to save her own skin? Well, there would be no point in that. She had to know the guard would kill her whether she talked or not, right? Surely she knew at least that lest the queen be dealing with an optimistic child.]
[font "Times New Roman" The woman cracked her neck, releasing tensions in the base as she rolled her shoulders back. She was much overdue for a massage; arguing with Gianni before he left had taken its toll out on her. That and the painting.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere stripped her jewelry, laying it on her vanity calmly. Next she took down her long dark hair from its high bun and massaged her scalp. She'd have to wash it tomorrow. ]
[font "Times New Roman" The royal chambers for the King and Queen of Haelalith could've been damn near a mansion on its own. It was almost a chore to walk completely from one end to another. It was full of almost redundant accommodations such as there being a separate room for a shower so a bath wouldn't look cluttered with a showerhead hanging over it. The bed was huge--they could both spread out eagle on it and still have extra space. At the foot of the bed there was a couch. Set before it was a coffeetable and chair opposite. The bedside tables at each side of the bed were personalized to fit whoever's side it was. The room almost had too much. Often she prodded at him about the fact that they could theoretically never leave the room if they just had someone deliver food.]
[font "Times New Roman" Her vanity sat on the far side of what had managed to become [i her] side of the room. Here she kept various plants, the paintings she hadn't come to hate, two of her wardrobes, a multitude of photos, and various other things. The bath was also on her side. For some reason, though, the Colonel always managed to appear beside one of the huge windows on her husband's side.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere was seated before her vanity when she heard Pascha's voice. She started, turning abruptly with her brush still mid-stroke in her hair. Her eyes were widened a little before they returned to their normal size. What time was it? Had she lost track?]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Colonel,"] she said in greeting, offering a nod of acknowledgment. [+tomato "You never cease to amaze me with your visits."] She set the brush down neatly on the table. [+tomato "It has been quite a while. You know how he is, or we wouldn't be meeting, would we?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" Last time they were together the queen had lightly suggested she be kidnapped just to test the waters. She just wanted to know what Pascha would say, and she got what she thought she would. It was too brazen a move at this point in their plans. Gianni would go in full force to get her back and the rebellion wouldn't stand an ice cube's chance in hell. It was a smart move to say no on Pascha's part. But a staged kidnapping could prove strategic later on down the line. They could lure Gianni into a trap.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "How's up high on your end? Still making him dig his own grave?"] Emere grinned a little at her own cleverness. [+tomato "Pleasantries aside, I have some new things to tell you."]]
[font "Times New Roman" She crossed the floor on long, delicate legs that had never seen anything harsher than a Haelalith winter. Sometimes she tried to imagine battle and it made her stomach churn. She moved her husband's bedside table, dropping to her knees to pull a small floorboard up. It was hollow and inside it were several documents and a couple of items. The queen quickly reached in and pulled out several pages paperclipped together and replaced the floorboard and table.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "As I'm sure you know, there are talks of war with Aikland to the south and Oni to the west moves aggressively. Haelalith has allies but instead of engaging in peace talks early with both, my husband has decided to put more resources into his little--"] her voice took a turn for the disgusted [+tomato "[i magic people camp]. Aikland and Oni have both taken the camp as a sign of war or of Gianni losing his mind under the pressure of a rebellion."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere unclipped the pages and spread them out on her bed, pointing to a map when speaking of the countries and gesturing toward other pages that had to do with diplomacy regarding the two countries.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "I know you must be wondering what this has to do with you. Well consider this: if Gianni stops trying to have a pissing contest, he'll realize he may need allies to help take out the rebellion. So he may sit down and explain to the King of Aikland and the Emperor of Oni exactly [i why] he has the camp in the first place. They could send their own forces to hunt and eliminate your people. Gianni could be at the camp either telling them to prepare for battle or to de-escalate their uses at the moment. It's truly a wild card."] She shrugged, brushing a few strands that had fallen into her face behind her ear. [+tomato "The way I see it, either way it goes, you lose. I've sent for the King and Emperor to indulge me in peace talks, but I'm unsure."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere stepped away from the bed, her deep brown eyes studying the woman for a reaction. [+tomato "And Colonel. Last night we caught one of yours trying to sneak in to 'slit my throat', as he said. What would you have me do with him?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy was exasperated by the time he'd returned back to the captain to report on his search. He'd looked for the better part of an hour to no avail, and her quarters had been empty, anyway. There was never any way to tell if she'd just been there or hadn't been present in days because of how little shit she kept there. It was frustrating.]
[font "Times New Roman" He saluted as he approached the captain's table. [+navy "Sorry to interrupt, sir. No sign of her anywhere."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "Damn it."] The man rubbed his temples as he tried to think of his next words. [b "Whatever. We tried. Your men ready for the assault?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "We stay ready so we never have to get ready, sir."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "That's what I like to hear. Go."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy turned away and left the chow hall. He had lunch on a different rotation so he wouldn't be eating for at least another hour. He went instead to check on his loadout in the armory. He had a very specific preference for his weapons and so did the Colonel, which he was careful to maintain unless he wanted his soul separated from his body. Happened once, he never wanted it to happen again.]
[font "Times New Roman" The man ducked his head instinctively as he entered the doorway. He wasn't tall enough to hit his head--this time--but standing at six feet and three inches could be a dangerous sport sometimes.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Yoooo, Kev, what's goin' on?"] The man jokingly said as he entered the small two-story building. The other guy smiled and shook his hand. [+navy "Tell me you got the good stuff."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "Don't I always?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Alright, show the Colonel's first--I gotta clean it and shit."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "Of course you do, water boy."]]
A rare quiet hour. Pascha wandered through the camp, nodding at her men as she passed. It'd been quiet for a while. They were preparing for the next assault, so they had to be quiet for the time being. If the army caught wind of them now, it'd all be up in smoke.
And she wasn't sure she wanted that yet.
It was a good plan, surprisingly. Arthur had been getting a little too big for his britches lately, but this plan was... well, grounded. They were still a relatively small rebel army, and he had to remember that. If they faced the King and his army head-on, they'd lose, no questions asked--[i especially] with that damn camp still well within the King's grasp. She'd heard rumors of what the people that camp produced could do. Entire platoons, just destroyed. Enemy encampments wiped off the map. That kind of power couldn't be drawn without some kind of backlash on the users--if they could even survive that kind of output.
It was terrifying... and also frustrating. All those poor magicians, locked away where they couldn't reach them. Where she could do nothing about them, because they had been trained to use their magic so recklessly that they would kill everyone who tried to rescue them, or, if the rescuer was powerful enough to not die to such reckless tactics, could only watch the same magician they were trying to save kill themselves drowning in power. She clenched her fist, frustrated. It was a catch-22, and it was killing her. It was useless to even think to try, but to think about them suffering...
Argh! So annoying. But that was why she liked this plan. It made sense... and it was a step closer to the one thing she wanted more than anything.
She ducked into her room. It was simple, a bed, a bathroom, a single bag still packed in the corner. As long as they'd settled here, she still couldn't settle down. It still felt as though they could up and move any moment--and they could, and they might have to. And if things went well...
There was no point just thinking about it. She fiddled around in her bag until she found it; the paired marbles.
It was gorgeous. Light swirled in the depths of the seemingly depthless glass, an ocean, a galaxy, a boiling star. Enchanted objects like it were rare; it took a magician more skilled and of a more subtle ability than hers to create such a masterpiece. She'd come across it and its siblings looting a higher-up's mansion. They'd been displayed like they were no more than art, but the noble hadn't been a magician; he hadn't been able to sense the power dwelling within. And what a magic. There were four marbles in total; two clear, two black. The paired marbles called to each other across any distance, allowing the holders to instantly move to the marble's pair. The black one she left in her bag at all times, and the clear one she'd hidden at the Queen's place. As long as she had both clear and black marbles, she could move instantly between the castle and her camp, as the clear marble called to its clear brother and the black one called to its.
Of course, she hadn't told the Queen about it. Better to keep her mysteries. Keep the Queen guessing as to exactly what it was she could do.
Suddenly, a familiar voice called her name. Pascha ducked instinctively, dropping below the level of the window. Shit! What the hell was Remy doing, looking for her now? Wasn't it lunch break?
He hadn't spotted her yet. Still in the clear. She closed her eyes and fed a tiny mote of magic into the clear gem--
In an instant, she was in the castle, standing slightly behind the flowing curtains by the open window directly over where she'd hidden the other clear gem under the carpet. It was a dramatic place to make an entrance, and she did like to make an entrance. Course, she'd used this one about... three times already, so it was probably about time for her to hide the marble somewhere else before the Queen caught on to her little secret.
"My Queen," she said, a note of mocking in her voice. The wind stirred, sending her dark hair swirling as the curtains swelled and billowed about her, the deep purple fabric a dramatic counterpart to her simple brown clothes. "Been far too long. How's your husband? Kill him yet?"
Alexander wandered the garden, watching the flowers and bushes dance with the wind. It was gorgeous in its own way, the interplay of the delicate, beautiful flowers at the whim of the heartless, powerful wind, the stormy sky a dark backdrop for their pale beauty to stand out even more than usual.
It brought to mind Emere. The stormier things got--the worse the rebel invasion, the cooler her marriage, the further her allies retreated--the more beautiful she became, a counterpart to the ugliness of this world that only grew more beautiful as the world withered and shriveled around her.
He sighed out, staring out at the darkening sky. He could write books on her loveliness, poems about her face, songs about her eyes alone. What on earth was his King thinking, treating her so coldly? Could he not see the perfection that was Emere, her caramel skin glinting in the late sunset, the delicate smile touching perfect lips--
No, no, no, those thoughts were downright seditious! Alexander shook his head and wiped his face down. He needed to cool his head. Emere was lovely, but she lived in another world than him. He stood no chance. Even if the princes in the neighboring Aikland were marrying commoners for love, his dear Emere was married already; he had no chance at all. And yet she was the only woman for him. Now and forever, it was the one truth in his heart. But he was content to die alone. He had been for a long, long time.
"Alexander, your Queen calls," a familiar voice said.
He looked up, startled from his reverie. His queen? "I'll go right away," he said, glancing up at the windows to her chamber.
To his surprise, he saw someone standing there--a silhouette in the curtains. Alexander's brows furrowed, and he stepped forward. His Queen? But no... something about it was wrong. It didn't look like--
A hand caught his arm, and he looked down, annoyed. "What?" he asked.
Malcolm gave him a longing look. "Alex, last night--" he hissed, stepping a little too close.
"I must go to my Queen," Alexander replied stiffly, yanking his arm out of the other man's grasp as he marched away. These meaningless flings--sometimes they came back to bite him. There was only one woman for him, but a man couldn't go without a lover's touch his whole life. Usually men were smart enough to know a one-night-stand meant just that--but apparently Malcolm wasn't one of them. He sniffed. That'd be another of the Queensguard in his black book. What a disappointment.
He glanced back up at the window, but the silhouette, whoever it had been, had gone. Must've been seeing something, he thought, shaking his head at himself as he rushed off to his Queen's side.
[font "Times New Roman" She liked to paint on days the sky was overcast and preparing to shit a storm out. Was she very good? No. It was strange because she had been painting for years but completely unable to produce something beyond mediocre. She'd tried still life, scenery, her staff, even stuff she'd made up and there would be no [i way] she could get it wrong. But something always felt and looked off in whatever she produced. The image she had in her head could never completely get out.]
[font "Times New Roman" She sighed frowning at her canvas. The paint had mixed and turned into a color that made the clouds entirely too dark. She was getting at too many layers and it looked caked on.]
[font "Times New Roman" Her posture slouched in disappointment, which prompted an attendant to rush over and announce [b "It looks wonderful, Queen Emere!"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "The clouds are too dark,"] she muttered despairingly, picking the canvas up and studying it.]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "What do you plan to do with it?"] The girl looked nervous, as if the woman planned to chuck it at her. ]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Throw it away if you wouldn't mind, please."] Emere put the painting back down and rose from her seat, removing her painting smock. She'd gotten it mostly for show purposes. It made her feel more like a painter. The attendant moved quickly so as to avoid anger from her queen. Emere couldn't remember anything she had done to provoke such fear from anyone, but she figured the effect would lose its purpose if she bothered to try to correct it. ]
[font "Times New Roman" The caramel-skinned woman took her leave from the room while her companion was occupied. She could barely go anywhere in the castle without someone tagging along for one reason or another. As soon as she left the art room a soldier who was posted just outside its doors resumed step behind her. ]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Malcolm,"] was her only greeting. He nodded in return. The King and Queensguard generally did not speak unless it was life or death--her husband had tried to start having their tongues cut out to prevent spread of sensitive information or traitors. He tried to recruit young so they could train them early to live and die for the crown and he could shape them how he wanted them to be. She assured him that she would not allow something so heinous to occur under their rule.]
[font "Times New Roman" Gianni was away on business in that weird little camp he kept those magic people in. She could barely understand his obsession with it all. What did it matter if people decided to improve their lives a little dabbling in another dimension? Instead of this he could've taken her suggestions, which included just investing to offer training to people interested in using magic. She continued to push for such an idea because it was much more humane and they could quite possibly end up costing the same. He was too rough to take such delicate ideas. He loved to tell her how naive she could be even in her almost thirty years of age.]
[font "Times New Roman" Emere felt so... estranged from the Colonel. Calling them 'friends' would be an overstatement but still it felt like something was lacking. They were business partners, sure. She wasn't sure if it was just her [i craving] something more and looking too deep into her relationship with the other woman. She hoped not. It felt desperate.]
[font "Times New Roman" The queen had not looked forward to seeing anyone in the longest time. It left an almost giddy feeling in the pit of her stomach. It made her feel like a teenager again. She smiled a little to herself in spite of how stupid it all felt.]
[font "Times New Roman" It had been weeks since she'd spoken to the Colonel. Emere kind of missed her annoying ass. She was the most exciting person Emere had met since she left the Islands.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+tomato "Malcolm, please call in Alexander for me,"] she announced as they got closer to her chambers. With Gianni away she had the whole room to herself, something that was a lot more empowering than she'd thought it could be. The doors were a heavy oak with two additional soldiers of the Queensguard standing just outside. They nodded to her and then to Malcolm before resuming stoic gazes. [+tomato "Leave me."] They shot each other alarmed looks as they opened her doors for her. [+tomato "Please do not find out what happens if you decide to disobey me. I'm fine."]]
[font "Times New Roman" She pulled the doors closed behind her and exhaled deeply. Alexander could provide a good alibi while she met with the Colonel. The island woman was hesitant about telling him about her secret meetings because she wasn't sure how he would react. She could be killed for treason. It wasn't even necessarily that she didn't trust him... the power of the crown could do terrible things to people. It had warped and corrupted her sweet Gianni.]
[font "Times New Roman" On days like this, when the sky was overcast and looked like it was about ready to shit out a storm, she missed him.]
[font "Times New Roman" [center [size24 - xxx -]]]
[font "Times New Roman" Remy Mitchell was fighting a losing battle with a bunch of mosquitoes. They were surrounding him little by little and it was annoying as [i hell]. He was swatting and squishing but it was like they were regrouping and strategizing.]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "Mitchell!"]]
[font "Times New Roman" He looked up to see who had called him, standing at attention and saluting one of the captains that approached. [b "At ease. You seen the Colonel?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" He thought about it for a moment--when [i was] the last time he saw his friend? [+navy "Not that I can think of, sir. She wasn't in her quarters?"]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "I'm too damn tired to be chasing her. Tch. She's never where she's supposed to be."]]
[font "Times New Roman" The blonde-haired man smiled and chuckled a little. [+navy "Of course she isn't. With your permission I'll go check myself, sir."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [b "Go ahead. I'll be in the chow hall for the next hour."]]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Yes, sir."] Remy saluted and began walking away in the direction of the Colonel's quarters. The woman had a habit of just going wherever her heart took her, which apparently didn't always agree with her mouth.]
[font "Times New Roman" He personally hadn't seen her in hours. He had other jobs than to be a Pascha GPS. In fact, he was pretty sure he was forgetting something that was on his to-do list...]
[font "Times New Roman" To call the city "old" would be a little insulting. The home of the rebellion was more like one of Haelalith's failed conquests. It was a ghost town. The residents had been moved elsewhere due to crops not growing and irrigation a mountingly costly system to keep trying to introduce and fix. Only about two thousand or so people had lived here anyway, so it wasn't much sweat off the king's brow when it came to moving people. The buildings were more or less freshly abandoned when the rebellion took up living there about four years ago. Before that, there was a lot more sneaking around trying to spread word throughout all of Haelalith. Just finding somewhere for the rebellion to call home was much more efficient.]
[font "Times New Roman" On the downside, the king [i could] possibly know exactly where they were. On the upside, the little rebellion's town was close enough to other residential areas that if the king attacked there, the fallout would spread to cause innocent deaths and the civilians would hate him. Remy was just content with the fact that the king didn't know yet. Or did he?]
[font "Times New Roman" [i Nah,] he told himself. [i We would know.] If they didn't know from their own information, he was sure the Colonel would know. Somebody inside the royal court was a rat and they loved to spill the beans to his superior. No one could remember planting a mole that deep into the castle, but no one really questioned it anymore, either. They were taking less shots in the dark so life was going smoother. They were getting closer and closer to reaching their goals.]
[font "Times New Roman" Which were... what, exactly? Remy had only been with the movement for three years, but he was increasingly unsure what the goals were except for the overarching one: overthrow the king. Why they couldn't just storm the castle and kill him and his entire court didn't make sense. The General loved to preach about how they needed to turn the minds of his followers as well, but Remy couldn't give less of a fuck about them. They didn't need their minds changed; they needed strong leadership. They had let the king run around unchecked for this long, so what did it matter now?]
[font "Times New Roman" He ran a hair through his slicked-back blonde hair and exhaled deeply. The buildings around town were a little fucked up since looters had run through before the rebellion settled in. Not everything had been fixed or replaced since then. There were burned out cars that sat on a couple side streets, buildings that had been gutted with empty windowpanes and splintered doors and bullet holes in walls. In some places the wildlife had begun to take back its home. He still loved it, though. He'd lived in Haelalith all his life and this little place was still the only place he bothered to call home.]
[font "Times New Roman" [+navy "Colonel Ressan!"] Remy called out her name because while she could be in the general area of her quarters, it didn't always mean she was [i in] them. [+navy "It's Remy. Where you at? Blink twice if you can hear me,"] he added laughingly.]
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