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Empress Miko Moon: A tale from Taraushi

Empress Miko

A tale from Taraushi

 

Why can’t they just slip into the river and float away? she thought. Empress Miko Moon, eyed her family spitefully. The Lotus Palace garden gave her a clear view of the white river located just outside the palace gates, where her husband and two children played.  The three of them were so close to the edge, the softest breeze could blow and knock them into the water. She closed her eyes and prayed for a strong wind. Or better yet a tidal wave or a monsoon. Stranger things had happened in that river. She knew her husband would probably survive but her children would not. Her husband, Emperor Pan, would probably be so distraught over their deaths he’d kill himself. Miko smiled at the thought.

A breeze did come. After her family moved to a tree away from the edge of the riverbank. Miko sighed. The wind whipped through the trees and carried pink, purple and white blossoms to the clear water of the lake. The smell of jasmine wrapped around her. She sat on a marble bench in the middle of the garden under one Piat tree and one Lithe tree. The vibrant green bark of the Lithe tree was a strange contrast to the black bark of the Piat tree. A plum-colored flower fell from the Lithe and landed in her lap. She brought it to her nose as she stared at the river.

They seemed so happy. Her children’s laughter filled the air as her husband chased them around a tree. Miko glanced away in disgust. What right did they have to be happy? She balled up her fist.

“Aren’t you a peculiar mother,” commented a familiar voice from a hidden source.

“It’s not like you to hide.” Miko glanced around the garden. Trees, black and green, outlined the garden. Flowers were in full bloom and the shrubbery was well groomed. There were many places for someone to hide. If they could get pass the water giants at the gates, protection spells and scale the azurite walls to get in the garden.

“Didn’t want your family to see me.” Rabe stuck his head out from behind a tree in the far corner of the garden.

“What do you want?”

“I was sent to check on you. How are your plans? Any pro—”

“My plans are fine. Tell him not to worry about my plans. I know what I have to do.”

“We were just checking.”

“What about Haven?” asked Miko. She glanced at Rabe before turning her attention back to her frolicking family.

“We are working on getting rid of them. First the parents and when the girl comes into power she will be next.”

“Why wait? Why not just kill them all at the same time?”

Pan waved and smiled at her. She returned the wave and gave a half smile. She rolled her eyes when he looked away.

“Reasons. We just need—”

“I know what needs to be done. And it will be. Stop worrying.” Miko glanced back at Rabe.

“Just making sure you weren’t having second thoughts.”

“Don’t worry about my thoughts. I suggested it, I will do it. It’ll be done soon. Now go before someone sees you.”

Rabe gave a short bow before disappearing.

How dare he question my commitment? Her part of the plan had been her suggestion. And it would get done. At the right time. After all, killing one’s family could not be done impulsively. Planning had to be done first.

 

 

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“What was the meeting about?” she asked her husband. Her handmaids swirled around her, tucking her into her red and black kimono and pinning her hair.

“Nothing to worry your head about.” He gave her a light pat on the head. “Just Emperor Prin trying to get me on board with his horrendous agenda. Nothing for you to think about.”

“But don’t you think—”

He husband turned to face her and smiled. “Miko, darling, it’s not for you to think about.”

“I was just—”

He placed a finger to her lips. “I won’t hear anymore. It’s no business of yours.” He slipped on his shoes and headed for the door. “I will be late for dinner. Do start without me.”

“Yes dear,” she replied with slumped shoulders. Miko clenched her fist. She took a deep breath.

“Empress?” asked one of her handmaids.

Miko eyed the girl carefully. “Leave me. All of you.”

With short courteous bows, the handmaids left the room. How dare he treat me like a child. Miko sat on the edge of the bed. It had always been like that. Since they married when she was sixteen. She never wanted to marry. Him nor any other man. Her parents in their infinite wisdom arranged the marriage with his mother. And how lucky was she? To marry the Emperor. How lucky indeed.  Miko seemed to be the only one who knew she wasn’t lucky in her marriage. She was married to a man who she was smarter than but insisted on treating her like a child. He never listened to her or her ideas. His favorite phrase was ‘stay in a woman’s place.’

Which was his way of saying shut up, bear my children and never have any thoughts of your own unless they involve making me happy. How could anyone live like that? She never even wanted children. She didn’t even like them. Not her own or anyone else’s. They were just a nuisance. A contractual obligation. Her life was a contractual obligation. Her smiles, her courteous behavior, her kind words, every ounce of the façade she had to wear daily was part of her obligation.

A knock at the door spurred her form her thoughts. “Yes?”

“It’s time for dinner.”

“Thank you.” Miko stood up, dusted off her Kimono and sighed. Let’s get this over with.  Lotus Palace was a series of flower-lined hallways. She followed white lotus flowers to the dining hall.

In the middle of the large room sat a large brass table littered with hot dishes. The walls teal and gold. As the sun began to set the candles on the table and in the lanterns on the walls lit themselves. She found her seat at the opposite end of her husband’s royal chair. As soon as she sat next to her father the servants put the last dish on the table and left the room so the family could dine in peace. Her daughter Aiko smiled at her. Her big opal eyes twinkling in the candlelight. Miko returned the smile and gave her a light pat on the head, messing her jet-black hair. Her son Ken sat next to his grandfather, reading a piece of paper. The twins looked alike but couldn’t be more different. Where Ken was outgoing and loud, Aiko was quiet and observant.

“Mommy you should eat,” whispered Aiko.

“I’m not hungry. You go ahead.”

“Sorry I’m late,” announced Pan as he stepped into the room ten minutes later. He sat at the head of the table and immediately shoved a dumpling into his mouth. He looked up at Miko. “Not eating?”

“I’m not hungry dear.”

He nodded as he stuffed a piece of fried pork into his mouth. Her family ate and ate as she watched. She took a sip of piat flavored wine and leaned back.

The children were the first to go. Their nine-year-old bodies slumped against the table, blue and cold. Then her parents. Then Pan’s parents. His sister and brother went soon after and his uncle followed. The poison came upon them so fast they didn’t realize they were dropping like flies until it was too late.

“What. Did. You. Do?”

“What needed to be done.”

“The children,” Pan gurgled.

Miko glanced at her children There was nothing. Not a tear, not a tug at her heartstrings. Nothing. “They were never mine.”

And they weren’t. Yes, she had watched them grow up, but she didn’t give birth to them. She had only pretended to be pregnant and bought a baby from a pregnant girl who already had five children and couldn’t care for the one in her belly. It was only supposed to be one but when twins came it made her husband so much happier. To fulfill her marriage contract she had to give her husband an heir and she did. No one said she had to give birth to the children and technically they were hers. She bought them, she owned them, they were hers. “They weren’t yours either.” She smiled.

Pan gurgled in response.

Miko stood up and sauntered over to him. “You should have taken Prin’s deal. This wouldn’t have happened. But you not taking it works out great for me because now your whole family’s dead. Your whole line. So now I rule. We destroy the leaders of Haven, Prin get’s what he wants and then I get everything I have ever wanted.”

“Not. The. Whole. Line.” His lips quivered into a blue smile.

“What do you mean? Who else?”

His eyes closed but the smile never left him.

Who? Who else is there? Miko knew her husband’s family. All of them. His father, mother, sister, brother and his uncle. That was it. Everyone else was dead. Who else could inherit the crown instead of her? Miko searched her brain and came up with nothing. “Unless—”

 

“Is it done?”

Miko spun around and stumbled back. “Yes Rabe. You can tell Emperor Prin it’s done.”

He stood in the far corner of the room, shrouded in shadows. “Well all hail the Empress of Taraushi,” he gave a low bow.

Miko nodded.

“Shame about the children though.” Rabe nodded towards the table. “And he has no other family?”

“Right, everyone’s dead. It’s just me.”

“Good then. We will be in touch.” Rabe disappeared as quickly and as quietly as he had appeared.

Miko glanced around the room. She clenched her fist as she stared at her husband’s body. She wanted to hit him. Punch him right in his smug mouth. He had another heir. But who and where were things she would have to figure out later. She picked up a piece of fried pork and took half a bite. It was enough. Just enough to make her sick but not kill her. Now she had to put on her best performance.

“Help! Help! They’re all dead. Someone help me! Save my children,” she sobbed.

Servants rushed to her rescue just as the small bite of poisoned meat sprang into action.

 

A tale from Niarus : Emperor Prin

Prin

 

 

As Emperor Prin rested his arm on the ledge, a perfectly round drop of fire landed on his wrist. Dawn had brought black clouds and resounding thunder in lieu of the sun. It was a drizzle at first, then a downpour and back to a drizzle. Merchant stalls outside of the Midnight Palace had packed up but would return when the storm was over. As the stormed loomed over the capital, a scorching breeze that carried the smell of ripened fruit, spices, cooked meat and rotting flesh blew through the throne room. Prin stepped back from the ledge. The droplets rolled down his arm and hit the floor with a sizzle.

The throne room of the Midnight Palace, with its black onyx and gold walls, was so dark he could barely see his way back to the throne. It didn’t help that there was only one window for the entire room.  He clapped twice. With a loud whoosh, twelve lanterns were lit. That’s better, he thought. With the new light, Prin found his way to the throne. As he sat down he felt the coolness of it through his tunic and sighed. The solid red onyx throne sat on a dais of black onyx and gold embellishments. The chair was carved to resemble a firebird taking flight. Its wings outstretched, head pointed up, ready to take to the skies. The window was directly behind the throne so when the sun hit it, it truly looked like a bird on fire.

While waiting for his chief advisor to appear, Prin made a mental note of his plans for the day. Once the business with the boy is taken care of I can move on to more important things. With the Sapphire Queen dead, Emperor Prin could meet with other island leaders and continue with his plans. He had nothing against Angela just like he had nothing against her parents. They were just a means to an end. He hadn’t liked the idea of blowing her up nonetheless, it was a way to kill two birds with one stone. Get rid of the ruler of Haven and frame the Revolutionary Army. It was a win, win. With his plan and the help of both his advisor Rabe and the Sapphire Queen’s advisor Hermon, everyone would get what they wanted, in a sense. The Revolutionary Army would be destroyed and he would be the main ruler of all islands. Not just the main ones, all of them. A smile crept across his face.

He took the fiery crown in one hand and scratched his head with the other. His orange hair was unruly and would need to be combed before his next meeting. He hadn’t bathed in a couple of days and knew today would have to be the day for that too. Rabe had woke him just before dawn with a message from the seer. It all had to be done as soon as possible. Preferably under the shroud of the storm.

“They are on their way.” Rabe, his chief advisor appeared in front of him and gave a short bow. His black hair and dark robe made him look menacing in the moderately lit room. A flash of lightning lit the room. A booming roll of thunder accompanied it.

“It’s about time.” Prin sat the crown back on his head. It was gold with five points. Each point had a single flame rising from it. A breeze blew in through the window. “Are the men we hung still outside the gates?” The stench of rotting flesh mixing with sweet fruit made his stomach twist into itself. He had been hungry but with that smell floating in with every hot breeze, eating would be impossible. At least in a room with a window.

“I believe so.” Rabe pulled his dark robe tighter around himself.

“They need to be cut down.”

Rabe bowed. “As soon as we are done here.” There was a light knock at the door. “It is time.”

“And you’re sure this is what the seer says has to be done?” he asked.

“Yes. She foretold because of the boy your reign will be short. And everything you are working so hard for will never come to fruition.”

“Alright,” he sighed. “Let’s get it over with. Bring in Bastian and his son.”

Two guards walked in. Bastian and his son trailed behind them. The guards stood next to the throne while Bastian stood next to Rabe.

“Good day my king,” Bastian said with a humble bow.

“Bastian,” Prin returned with a nod.

“Is everything okay?” Bastian looked around the room.

Prin could see the uncertainty in his eyes. “The seer has come back with some news.” He adjusted in his seat. He didn’t think it would be this hard.

“Good fortunes I hope,” replied Bastian with a weary smile.

“For some.” Prin’s eyes fell on the boy. He must have been no older than four with his mother Myis’ dark hair and almond-shaped eyes.  Poor boy he thought. His small stoutly frame shivered against his father’s leg. I wonder if he knows. The boy was obviously afraid. Maybe he could sense something his father couldn’t.

“She says we must kill the boy.” While Prin searched for a delicate way to reveal the news, he realized there wasn’t one. There was no gentle way to tell someone you were going to kill their child.

“What?” Bastian backed away from the throne. His lips quivered. He pulled his son behind him.

It struck a heavy blow to Prin’s heart. Bastian had been good to Prin. They had been friends since they were boys, just as their fathers had been. And now he must kill his only son. Prin knew how important it was for a man to have an heir, a boy to teach and lay claim to his land when he died. He, himself had no such heir. He never had a son. And when his daughter was kidnapped he refused to pay the ransom. Nothing could be done for the girl. Now if she had been a boy well then that would have been a different story.

“We all must sacrifice for the good of the kingdom,” replied Prin.

“But he is my son!” Bastian wailed. His body shook violently as he collapsed to the floor. Pulling his son to his chest.

“We all have sacrifices that must be made. And if the seer tells of a problem with the boy in the near future that will shake the kingdom and stop our plans than he must be dealt with now. You could have another. At least I am coming to you now so you can say goodbye rather than sending someone like a thief in the night to put you all down.”

“Wait!” Bastian screamed.

“Wait, nothing!” Prin yelled clenching his fist. He grew tired of the exchange. It had to be done. “This will be done. Say goodbye to the boy. Commander draw your sword.”

As Prin stepped down from the throne he could hear Bastian’s sobs. This must be done, he thought. It must be.

Bastian gave his son a kiss on the cheek and held him close. So tightly the boy struggled against him.

“Let him go now and bring him here,” Prin ordered.

A guard went over to them and ripped the boy from his father’s arms. He dragged him over to Prin and placed the boy’s head on a block of wood and held him there.

“Close your eyes,” Bastian whispered. The second guard grabbed Bastian and pinned him to the floor. The boy gave a little whimper and closed his eyes.

Commander Seyferd had been a dutiful soldier since Prin was a young man. He served his father doing anything he asked of him no matter how horrifying the task. Now that Seyferd was older Prin promoted him to Commander of the palace guards so he could stay close to the palace and not have to see so much bloodshed up close. Until this day. Seyferd stood a foot taller than the other men in the room. His hair mostly the color of raven’s feathers rested at his waist. Even with being late in age he still stood tall and could move as stealthily as any of the men half his age that were under his command. Known all over Niarus for his skill and ruthlessness in battle, Seyferd was still a man to be feared regardless of a few strands of gray hair.

Commander Seyferd brought his crescent-shaped blade up in the air and held it there. Prin turned away.

“He is just a baby. There must be an easier way. Maybe Ash would be more suitable,” commented Seyferd.

Prin heard the sound of metal hitting the floor and turned around. Seyferd had set the blade on the ground. “You may be right. At least this way his father can hold him in his arms. Rabe get some.” He walked back to the throne.

The boy was released from the block. He ran to meet his father’s arms. They both cried. Bastian’s was a cry of sorrow while the boy’s cry was a cry of uncertainty and fear.

It puzzled Prin as to why he never thought of that. Surely poisoning the boy would have been easier than taking his head. Not only easier but more humane. Yet it never crossed his mind. The child was just something on a list of problems he had to get through.

Rabe entered quietly and handed Bastian a vial of the poison. Gray in color and tasteless. Ash came from a rare plant called Death’s Kiss. The plant was black with a single blackberry growing from it. Less than a handful of its victims survived. Although how they survived was not known. It was a gentle poison lulling you to sleep before it stopped your heart.

Bastian fed his son the poison with trembling hands as Seyferd and his crescent blade towered over him. Bastian kissed him gently before placing his son in his lap and rocking him in his arms. He stroked his cheek and whispered to him. The child closed his eyes as Bastian rocked and sang to him until the fire left him.

“Weigh the body and give Bastian the equivalent in gold,” Prin said to Rabe before picking himself off the throne and resigning to his chambers.

He had worked too hard to let anything get in his. Just a little longer.  There was still much to do before he could fully put his plan into action but everything was coming along nicely. He and the leaders had an arrangement and he was working on his back up plan.

Emperor Prin believed in always being prepared, and for that, he needed the phoenix. If he had that he could harness the power and control everything. But he had to find it before she did. The Blood Queen. Who gave her that name? The previous queen of Malius was on a mission for the phoenix only she was going about it in a more direct way. Finding the person who exhibited strong fire magic and taking their blood. Usually killing them in the process. She had yet to find it which meant he still had a chance. Her quest for a portal to the human world didn’t concern him one bit. He didn’t care about humans. They were stupid. They thought his people and the inhabitants of the other islands were myths. He had no time for that kind of stupidity. Ruling over the Triangle, alone, would be more than enough for him. As long as he got his hands on the phoenix first, his dream would come true.

 

 

Coming Soon: A Fiery Revolt series

In the north, water bleeds under the smiling moon. In the east, a revolution steams ahead on mechanical wings. In the west, Mother reigns supreme, ready to harvest her spoils. While in the south, fire rises to kiss the sky and devour the land.

A darkness descends on the Triangle. Ready to destroy all who live inside until she gets what she wants.

Coming Soon

Fallen Queen on Crystal Lake

The third and final novella in the Moon Investigation Series

 

Hazel is drawn into a dark family tradition. The Mason Family were cursed hundreds of years ago. In order to stop the curse from activating a child must be sacrificed every two hundred years.

When the mother of ten-year-old Sarah Mason comes to Moon Investigations, Hazel will do everything she can to help her. The case to break the curse becomes a missing person’s case when Sarah disappears. Now Hazel is in a race to not only find Sarah before some family members sacrifice her but to find the descendant of the woman who cast the curse in the first place.

As if Hazel didn’t have enough to deal with, a queen descends onto Crystal Lake with one thing on her mind. Hazel’s blood.

The Sapphire Queen

The Sapphire Queen

Another tale from Haven

 

 

The clock airship floated by the Ivory Palace for a third time.  When it darkened her window, Angela glanced at the large brass clock that hung from the bottom of the ship. As it passed, and the morning sun filtered back into her room, she continued her routine of getting ready. She had been up since dawn dreading the day’s agenda from the moment she opened her eyes. It had been the same since her parents died. Meetings with her council, meetings with other leaders and meeting with potential suitors. She didn’t mind meeting with her council. They told her what was happening on the islands. It was the potential suitors that irked her. Although she was only sixteen, the number meant she had to get married so she could produce an heir. Of all the things she wanted to accomplish in her life, getting married and having children were not high on the list. They weren’t even on the list.

“So is the life of a queen,” her chief advisor Hermon would say whenever she brought up not wanting to get married.

She fastened the sapphire encrusted collar around her neck. It was heavy on her shoulders, but it was the last thing her mother had given her. She wore it as frequently as she could. Angela had grown accustomed to dressing herself as it was the only quiet moments she seemed to have. The pure white skirt was easy enough to slip on, but the matching corset would need an extra pair of hands. She moved on. Sitting at her dressing table she tied her ice blue hair into a tight bun and applied a dark blue shade of lipstick that one of her handmaids had bought from a merchant from the Light Isles.

“Your Grace?” said a voice accompanied by a soft knock.

“Come in.” Angela stood up as her handmaid opened the door.  It was Isabel this time. The maid was younger than Angela by four years. Isabel had become one of her favorites for her efficiency, her punctuality, and her quietness. Isabel never gossiped like her other maids, nor did she ask a lot of questions. The maid was an interesting looking girl. She had soft dark brown hair and almond shaped eyes and the palest skin Angela had ever seen. Skin so pale Angela could clearly see the blue in the veins on her neck.

Isabel laced the corset with speed before helping Angela with her white stockings and shoes. They laid out a dress for Angela to wear when it was time for her to meet potential suitors. A mechanical owl flew in from the window. It perched on the back of the chair in front of her dressing table.

“The council awaits your arrival,” it announced. The metal bird was painted white by Erica Payne, builder of all technology within the palace. Erica gave the owl sapphire eyes so Angela would know the owl was hers.

“I’m on my way.”

Angela took one last look in the mirror before heading to the council room. The Ivory Palace was a maze of white hallways and secret doors. As a child, Angela would break away from her nurse and run through the palace. Each day finding something different. If only she could do that outside. At sixteen she had never been beyond the palace gates. She had no real friends and no contact with the people she was supposed to be ruling over. It was stifling. On more than one occasion she woke in the middle of the night with her chest so tight she could scarcely breathe. The walls felt like they were closing in on her.

One day I’ll be free, she thought. Even if she had to run away.

She walked the white marble halls to the other side of the throne room. The council room was where her council and her chief advisor met to talk about the important matters of the island.

While the five main islands had their own ruler, it was the Haven king or queen that was the overseer of everything. If an Emperor on Niarus wanted to change how he ruled his people or wanted to make a big change that affected other islands, it had to be cleared with the king or queen of Haven. Which meant Angela had to govern over four leaders and the people on her island. She was thankful for her council. It was made up of six members who also served her parents. Megan Norvo, Allister Verne, Henry Watson, Elizabeth Norton, Johnathan Forough, and Ryan David.

Angela stepped into the room and the council stood. She walked to her seat at the head of the white marble table. The room hadn’t changed much since her father sat in the same chair. White walls, white floor, white table, and chairs. The only difference were the portraits of her mother and father hanging on the wall. As soon as she took her seat, they followed. Hermon, her chief advisor sat to her right.

“What are we talking about today?” Angela folded her hands on the table.

Words blended together as everyone spoke at the same time. Angela, unsure of who to follow, glanced at Hermon. The old man cleared his throat. Hermon was a tall man. Even while seated he was taller than everyone at the table. He flicked a strand of black hair out of his face, pushed his spectacles up his nose and unfolded a sheet of paper. “First things first, the Revolt.”

Megan and Elizabeth sighed while John stone-faced, giving no hint of his feelings.

Henry slammed his fist on the table. “I am tired of talking about those people. We find them, take them to prison and make them talk. And if they don’t want to talk”—Henry hit the table with his forefinger— “they hang. Simple as that. What else is there to say?”

Such anger, thought Angela. Henry was definitely one of her more passionate council members. Elizabeth patted him on the hand, and he leaned back in his seat and took a breath. Although his face was still red, he seemed to have regained his composure.

“It’s not that simple.” Allister turned to Angela. “It’s the reason behind the revolt that needs to be addressed. If you just round everyone up and throw them in jail or kill them, then more will rise in their place. That’s just common sense.”

“It’s a bunch on ingrates that need to learn their place. That’s what that is,” remarked Henry.

“Hermon?” asked Angela.

“Well, your grace”—he folded up his glasses and set them on the table—” I believe they are both right. The reasoning behind the revolt is important, but we must show that you can’t just riot and bomb cities. There are proper protocols to be taken.”

“So how do we fix it? What is the problem?” Angela asked.

The members of the council glanced at one another, but no one spoke up. Angela stared at them. Did they even know what the problem was? The revolutionary army was getting out of hand. They had bombed an Industrial factory on the island, a school on Niarus and a city on Taraushi. The casualties were starting to pile up. Three hundred in all.

“That is a good question, your grace.” Hermon slid his spectacles back on. “We are not sure. They haven’t given us demands as of yet.”

“Oh.” Angela leaned back in her chair and bit her lip. “What are we supposed to do?”

“There’s not much we can do right now. Except round up all we can to make sure they don’t hurt anyone else. Wouldn’t you agree? I would hate for another school to be bombed.”

“Your right. We should round them up and talk to them. So, no one else gets hurt.”

Alister sighed.

Hermon nodded. “Now on to Emperor Prin—”

In a flash, there was a loud bang and a bubble appeared around Angela. She slammed her fist against it, but it wouldn’t pop. There was a loud bang. The ground beneath her chair shook violently. “Hermon!” Trapped inside the bubble Angela watched as everything burned away. The walls to the council room broke apart and started flying all around. A large brick hit the bubble and bounced off. It fell to the ground, but the bubble was unharmed. The marble floor disappeared from beneath her. She hung in the air as the rest of the castle turned to rubble. Slowly she descended to the ground. When she landed, the bubble popped.

In her white skirts and sapphire collar Angela stood in a pile of rubble and dead bodies. “Hermon,” she said weakly.

“Are you sure about this?” asked a voiced behind her.

Angela spun around. Her maid Isabel stood alongside a woman with grayish white hair and pointy ears. A centaur trotted up beside her. “The queen?” he gave a short bow.

Angela was speechless. The only words she could manage were, “Hermon?” She glanced at the rubble.

“You were right Isabel. Good work.” The centaur nodded at her handmaid before breaking into a full gallop in the opposite direction.

“Where’s Hermon? What happened?” Angela searched the faces of the people who stood in front of her. Besides Isabel, she had never seen them before inside the castle. There was a look in the elf woman’s eyes that sent a chill down Angela’s spine.

Isabel walked up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Hermon just tried to kill you. He escaped before the bomb went off. He’s gone. And you’re coming with us.”

 

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The room came into focus the fifth time she blinked. It was a cold, dark and damp room. Angela had no memory of how she got there. The last thing she could recall was her handmaid Isabel telling her Hermon tried to kill her. And then it all faded to black. Hermon wouldn’t do that, she thought.

Hermon had been her most trusted advisor. Her friend since her parents died. Her only friend. He had always been there for her. She trusted him implicitly. They were lying. They had to be. They were the revolutionary army. They were the murderers. They had bombed the palace and tried to kill her. It was them, not Hermon.

Angela sat up on the cold hard floor and dragged herself closer to the wall. The ananite cuff around her ankle scraped against the floor. I can’t use my powers, she thought. How am I going to get out of here? As if someone had read her mind, there was a loud click on the other side of the room. After a scraping of metal, the door opened. Light poured in. She blinked twice, adjusting to the light.

“Get up.” The elf woman from before walked into the room and yanked Angela to her feet.

“Wher—”

“Shut up and move.” The woman stood behind her and pushed. Angela stumbled forward, and the woman pushed again. “Walk.”

Angela stumbled out of the room into the hallway. The woman pushed her against the wall.

“Trying to escape would be beyond stupid. In case you were wondering.” The elf started down the hallway. She stopped and turned around. “Am I going to have to drag you?”

Angela inched forward, slowly. She was trying to take in her surroundings. Having never left the Ivory Palace everything was so new to her. Where she was being kept was dark and dingy. The floor was some kind of metal, the walls were just as dark as the floor. The only light came from two windows at the end of the hallway.

She followed her captor down a series of dark hallways to a room with a small group of people, huddled over a table. When she stepped inside, the room fell quiet. They all turned to stare at her. The elf woman led her to a chair in the middle of the room. Angela sat quietly. A shiver ran down her spine. With the exception of Isabel, the group stared at her with a look she had never seen before.

“This isn’t how we should handle this.” A man rolling up a sheet of paper walked towards the elf woman.

“We can’t do it your way. If we did, it would make us no better,” said the elf woman. She glanced back at Angela. “This is how it has to be.”

The man, a few inches taller than the elf woman, had opal colored eyes and a pure white beard. He looked to be the same age as Angela, maybe a little older. He pulled a watch out of his pocket, glanced at it and then back at the elf. “Fine.” He walked towards Angela. “You won’t make it here.” As a parting gift before he left the room, he dislodged a wad of snot and spat at her. It landed on Angela’s cheek and slid down to her chest.

“That was uncalled for.” Isabel ran to Angela and wiped up the spit. “I keep telling you all it’s not her fault. Not completely.”

It was in that moment Angela realized what the look was. Hatred. They hated her. Why? She had never done anything to them. She didn’t even know them. None of them. Except for Isabel and she was nice to her. She liked Isabel.

“Why am I here?” Angela’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Mostly”—the elf woman grabbed a chair and placed it in front of Angela— “because Isabel didn’t want you to die.” She sat in the chair and crossed her legs. The elf woman had eyes the color of bright green grass. She smelled of grass too and flowers.

“Why? If you were going to blow up—”

The room erupted in laughter. “We didn’t blow anything up. That wasn’t us,” said a girl at the back of the room.

“Then who?” Angela glanced around the room.

“Hermon, your advisor.” The elf smiled.

Angela shook her head. “No. You’re lying. He wouldn’t do that.”

“He and the other rulers wanted you out of the way. You see they have plans and having a ruler to rule them was getting in the way.”

Angela shook her head again. “No, that’s not true.” Hermon was her friend. He was chief advisor to not just her but her parents. He wouldn’t hurt her let alone lie to her. It was them who was lying. “You’re a liar.”

“She’s not lying.” Isabel kneeled in front of Angela. “I heard him planning it. That’s why I got Erin involved. So, you wouldn’t be hurt. Emperor Prin wants to rule all the islands, and he’s made deals to do so. But to do that there can’t be a ruler on Haven.”

Tears stung Angela’s eyes. It was hard to tell who was lying to her. Was it Isabel? Or was Hermon hiding things from her?

“He wouldn’t do that,” Angela whispered.

Isabel stroked her face. “But he did.” Isabel stood up and held out her hand. “Come on let me show you something.”

Angela eyed Erin carefully. She took Isabel’s hand and stood up. The room was quiet as Isabel led her into the hallway. In the opposite way she had come there was a large metal door with a black handle. Isabel pulled it, and the door opened to the outside.

The first thing to hit her was the smell. It was an assault to her senses. A mixture of smells mingling together and none of them good.

“Where are we?” Angela stepped onto the dirt and looked around. They were surrounded by buildings, some metal some not. People passed by in torn up clothing and either barefoot or wearing shoes so torn to bits they were useless.

“This is Haven. The real Haven.”

Angela stared at Isabel in disbelief. From the Ivory Palace, her island didn’t look like this. There were people begging in the streets and children crying. It was horrible. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s hard to see from the palace, but this is what it really looks like. Everything’s not all white and clean and happy.”

“No one ever told me.”

Isabel cocked her head to one side. “Did you ever ask?”

Angela glanced at Isabel and then quickly looked away. Isabel was right, she had never asked about the people. Whatever her council told her was what she talked about. She never had her own questions or her own thoughts. She let Hermon handle everything. Angela had never wanted to be queen in the first place. If her parents hadn’t died, she wouldn’t have been, and then none of this would have happened. “This is why there’s a revolution?”

“Yes. And it’s not just here. We have a headquarters on all the major islands. People are tired of being ruled by people who don’t care about them and their struggles. Rulers who treat them like crap and use them or who don’t think about them at all.”

Angela turned around and went inside. She walked back to the room where Erin sat waiting for her, grinning.

She sat down and sighed. “What do you want from me?” asked Angela.

“While we aren’t going to kill you, someone obviously wants you dead. So, the way I see it, you only have two choices. Us or death. Which will it be?”