We’ve rescued the Queen, we defeated the High Priest, but Istere wants to continue while her adrenaline is still going. Faladel reminds her that everyone here is running on about three hours of sleep, none of us are at our best, and technically the only reason we’re in such a hurry is because we wanted to avoid detection. If we go out now, when we aren’t at our best, we’re far more likely to be caught than if we take a couple of hours to rest and recuperate.
After that, we all agree that it’s probably best to rest for a bit before trying anything else.
“We’ll all be in a better position to get things done after a nap.” Faladel promises.
However when we wake up around noon, we wake up to another crisis.
“What do you mean Blix has been kidnapped!” Istere shouts at the young, frightened guard in front of her. Her hair and fake beard are frazzled after she slept on the couch, and that, combined with her pissed off face, is more than a little scary.
“I–It’s not just C–Captain Blix, almost all the other guards are also missing or were found dead.” The guard stutters, “Your father claims to have the missing ones in captivity. Here’s the note we found.” Hand shaking, he holds out a rolled up piece of parchment, which Istere snatches and tears open. Briareth pops up and peers over her shoulder at it.
“Jeeze, ‘I know you and your new friends are behind all the chaos that’s going on. You’re a traitor and an elf lover, and if you don’t come out and surrender for punishment, I will kill one of your little mercenary band members every day, starting with their Captain.’ That’s not very original is it?” Briareth says, reading the message aloud. “Different wording, but the same sort of thing the High Priest tried to pull.”
“Except this time it would be a lot more difficult and dangerous to try and rescue them.” I say frowning. “They’re probably being kept under heavy guard in the same prison we were in.”
“Where did you find this?” Istere asks the guard, her voice is more controlled now, but the missive is completely crumpled in her clenched fist.
“This one I found when I was on patrol, it was nailed to an announcement board in the servants quarters on the castle grounds. There’s probably a lot more of them out there.”
“He’s making it an open challenge.” Istere hisses, “If we try and rescue the prisoners–”
“We look like we’re guilty of whatever he accuses us of.” Faladel finishes, more calmly, but I catch an edge of worry in his voice. “And if we turn ourselves in nicely there’s no way the trial would be fair, right?”
“Of course not, if he had any evidence of my wrongdoing, he wouldn’t bother with this shady wording. He’s acting on instinct right now, probably feels left out of all the drama and can sense me making some sort of moves behind the curtains. He’s lashing out blindly, but he managed to strike gold by kidnapping all those members of the PPG. That’s where all the soldiers were last night, they were waging a silent war within the castle grounds! I knew something was wrong, why didn’t I guess–!”
“Look on the bright side, at least he looks like a crazy idiot right now.” Briareth says. “I mean, posting this all over the castle? With no evidence or announcements? Surely the nobility will mostly laugh it off.”
“They may laugh and question his mental capabilities,” Istere says, “But that will all be behind cupped hands and closed doors. Nobody would dare question him in public yet. And if a trial goes through and declares me guilty, that will be the end of it. Even if such a trial was obviously rigged. Even if he has no real evidence against us.”
“So,” I ask, looking at Istere, “What’s our plan? If going directly against him makes us look guilty to all the nobles–.”
“It does. Going against the church is one thing, they only had a few mercenaries, and we can mostly cover that up. This would lose us practically all of our legitimacy and would basically be admitting that the king is right. The only way I can see this ending is in our crushing defeat since he would have the entire army, the nobility, and the commoners on his side. Trying to rescue everyone would be suicide. Turning myself in, even if I don’t bring you guys along, is also suicide since he’d use the trial as an excuse to get rid of me…” Istere’s voice trails off as she starts brainstorming.
“I–If I may,” A stuttering voice chimes in. I glance over, and flinch, I’d forgotten the guard who delivered the missive was still here. “C–Couldn’t you try to buy time? Say you’ll go and talk to him? Ask for a private audience or something? Please, I really don’t want to see any more of my friends die. You could use the time that gives you to come up with a better plan to save everyone.”
“That’s actually not a bad idea.” Briareth says, glancing over at Istere.
Istere stares at the guard, who fidgets nervously. “What’s your name?” She asks.
“U–uggard Talk.” The dwarf mumbles, glancing down at his feet.
“Stand up straight, Mr. Talk, you’ve had a good idea that you should be proud of. Don’t be afraid to throw your opinions out there, especially when the decisions that are being made could affect you or your loved ones.” Istere scolds him, but smiles, her fist unclenching just slightly around the missive from her father.
Turning back to the rest of us she says, “That’s the best idea I’ve heard yet I should probably give an immediate reply so he can’t monopolize the story. If there are no objections or flaws that anyone wishes to point out?” She hesitates, waiting for us to give any input we have.
“Go for it, hopefully we can get a twenty-four hour delay on the first execution at least.” I say.
“You’ve got to announce it in a way that makes it seem like you have no clue what’s going on.” Faladel says, “Say that you want to have a talk with him about these ridiculous accusations before you put yourself under arrest. Make the nobles doubt him more.”
She nods at us, and says, “Briareth, Faladel, you’ll have to stay behind. Balderk, if you want, put on one of the uniforms of my guard, that way you can join us without it seeming strange.”
“Wait, us? You want to take me with you?” Uggard asks, “But I only finished training a few days ago.”
“Based on your actions and the fact that Blix saw fit to admit you, you’re a good person, Uggard, and I want good people by my side.” Istere smiles at the nervous kid, and I see his spine straighten a little. She knew just the thing to say to boost his confidence. I smile, Istere is truly a remarkable leader.
After quickly getting changed into the uniform, we head out. Istere had grabbed some bread to share with me for a quick midday/breakfast snack, and I’m halfway through my slightly stale roll when we step outside into the bright afternoon sun and it starts raining paper. Uggard and I stare up at the paper, as it flashes into existence with a bright red light hundreds of feet above our head, and slowly drifts downwards. Istere however, is less stunned by the falling sheets, and snatches out a hand to grab one of the– fifty? No, more that, but I don’t know how many– papers that are slowly drifting down across the castle grounds. Over the wall I can see them falling in the rest of the city as well.
“‘The Prince’s Secret Plot?” Istere reads the title aloud, sounding more than a little shocked.
“What does it say?!” I ask, terrified that we’ve all been found out.
Ludgera– about four hours ago
“We’re behind schedule.” I say, pacing worriedly and chewing at my nails. A bad habit, but one I have no intention of wasting my time trying to change.
“We can’t help it.” Agnark says, frowning. “The guards have been all over the city since that bright flash of light early this morning. They’re saying” his voice dips, “That it was magic.”
I spin on my heel and stare at him. “You don’t think it was Istere and the elves, do you?”
“That’s exactly what I think. They must have done something big. And now they’re being hunted.”
“There’s no way they took out the king already.” I return to my pacing.
“No, I would guess they tried to rescue the Queen.” Agnark’s long slender fingers fondle a black pawn on the chessboard on my bedside table. It’s the only clear spot left in this room. My bed is rumpled, my writer’s desk is a mess, the bookshelves never were clean in the first place, and the floor is cluttered with all the failed versions of the flyers that I’ve yet to burn. The final design, each of the ten copies painstakingly handwritten, is stacked neatly next to the chessboard.
“The Queen?” I ask Agnark, “Why would she need rescuing?”
“You know how I told my father a lot of stuff.”
“You’ve said as much. Did he end up telling the High Priest Istere’s identity?”
“Yes, although he told the fool not to do anything about it, the High Priest though is a bit of an unpredictable partner…” Agnark trails off, and I get the picture.
“Of course, and everyone knows the Queen would trust him, even if he said the sun would rise in the west tomorrow. With knowledge of Istere’s real identity, if he saw her threatening him as an affront to his pride, of course he would do something drastic.” I groan and tilt my head back, staring at the blue ceiling above us with tired eyes. “I should have seen this coming. I should have warned her!”
“I should apologize to her.” Agnark sighs. “I can tell you I’m not looking forward to that interaction.” He drops his black pawn, and picks up the black queen, smiling sardonically. “Both the High Priest and my father are proud. My father, in that he cannot stand to bow to anyone. The High Priest, in that he sees almost every interaction as a ‘disrespect’ to himself, his position, and the church as a whole.” He drops the queen, this time touching a white knight. “They’re honestly quite similar. Narcissistic scum who believe the sun rises at their say so. My father just sees a bit further ahead, which makes his moves more logical, more predictable.”
I lean over, looking at his placement of the pieces. The pawn and the queen are still on their sides, rolling slightly. “Were you hoping for a game? We really don’t have the time you know. We should get out of here before any maids come in to wake me up. Even if there are still soldiers out, it’s better to be out there than in here. The city should be awake now, and that print shop you mentioned is definitely open.
Agnark stares at the chessboard for a while longer before sweeping all the pieces into their drawer, leaving only two white knights untouched. “No, not a game, just trying to get my thoughts in order. You’re right, we should go.”
He stands up, and, like a gentleman, leaves the room via the secret passage in my wardrobe as I change myself into my street outfit.
Finally, after two hours of searching for Agnark’s one particular friend– apparently he’s switched printing shops a couple of times after getting a promotion, we arrive at the correct store, only to be disappointed.
“Why not?!” Agnark asks indignantly. “I got you this job, Vulnark, can’t you even repay the favor?”
“This would cost you way more than a favor, brat, depending on this here paper’s response, I could be killed! Executed! Head. Gone!” The young man makes a slicing motion across his throat and spits out his tongue, a crude imitation of a dead person. “You get me?” He asks, staring down at us.
Agnark stares back stubbornly. “Yes it’s dangerous, Mr. Pottakin,” He says icily, reverting to formality after being called a brat. “But I thought the press was in the business of telling people things. Especially true things. Especially especially true things that sell.”
“But even more importantly, true things that don’t get you killed.” The man says. “Look, I’m not some dumb sixteen year-old desperate for a job with no resume but big dreams. And you’re no longer the naive eight year old who thought he could fix all the problems in the world with his dad’s influence. My dreams have settled, your naivete has gone down. But apparently it’s not low enough if you expect me to publish this– this treason just because I owe you a favor.”
“You’re not doing it just because you owe me a favor. You’re doing it because it’s the right thing.” Agnark said.
“Years ago, when I didn’t have the experience I do now, I would have agreed with you. Sure, printing this could be called ‘doing the right thing’ if it’s true, and ‘doing the right thing’ is certainly good in almost every scenario. But things have changed since I’ve started out. I have bigger things to worry about than global right or wrong. I have a family right here in this city that depends on me. If I print this, I’ll die, nothing will change, and they will starve.” He says bluntly. Agnark looks like he’s about to protest again, but he’s interrupted.
“BIG NEWS!!” Someone shouts from inside the shop. “THE BLOOD QUILL IS WRITING SOMETHIN’!!”
Vulnark’s head twists around, almost a whole one-eighty, “LE’MME SEE THAT!” He shouts, running into the shop and abandoning us and our flyers in the street. After exchanging a curious glance with Agnark, I push open the shop door, ignoring the bell’s tinkle like everyone else so I can squeeze into the crowd next to a tiny device.
It’s a quill, floating in the air, detached from any hands or strings, slowly, ponderously writing down something on a formerly blank sheet of paper.
Breathlessly, we watch the red liquid scrawl from it, instantly hardening into a crusty brown as it hits the page. “Sorcery?” I whisper to Agnark.
He nods. “The quickest way for minor city outposts like these to get news from inside the castle. Someone is spilling three times that much blood in realtime to cast it.”
“The King has openly accused the Prince of treason, insinuating that he has rescued the Elves that arrived months ago on a diplomatic mission, were quickly imprisoned, and just as quickly escaped the prison.” Vulnark reads, following the Quills work. “A Diplomatic Mission? What sorta Diplomatic mission?! When did that happen? Why did we hear nothin’ about it?!” He asks the room as a whole, and his subordinates shush him as the quill continues.
It Also accuses Him of being “Behind all the Chaos” that has been taking place, which presumably includes: The Fighting of Unidentified Forces Within the Castle that took place Shortly Before the Prince stopped appearing for many major Meetings. The Flashing Light over Abahak last Night that Blinded the Sky. And the Fact that the High Priest has been Reportedly Absent from all Duties this Morning and No One can Find him.
“What the absolute fishhooks.” Somebody mutters.
“How did we hear about practically none a’ this?!” Vulnark asks, infuriated. “And furthermore, where’s the evidence?! Surely he needs evidence before he can convict his own son of treason!”
The quill however, is apparently done writing the message, and settles back into its holder at the top of the paper.
“If I may.” I break in. “Doesn’t this change the battlefield a little? He has no evidence, just paranoia. This would reveal that to everyone. His own announcements already support a conclusion like this.”
Vulnark looks at me, actually looks at me for the first time since Agnark and I have arrived. And he hesitates, I can see the twist in his eyes, the urge to agree. But then it fades, and he looks at his companions.
“You always surround yourself with strange companions, my young friend.” He says, patting Agnark on the shoulder. Agnark frowns at him, clearly displaying his disapproval both of the action and the slight towards me.
“She is far more than strange. She is brave, honest, and bright. I treasure her like I would my other half.” His voice contains a slight threat that I don’t miss, and I roll my eyes. I doubt Vulnark has realized who I am, and, even if he did, he wouldn’t release us to the gossip columns. He may be belittling and a jaded jerk, but he knows that he owes Agnark something. Even if it’s not worth risking his life for. Even if that risk has gotten significantly smaller with the King’s most recent behavior.
“Come on.” I tell Agnark. “We need a new plan, we’re just wasting our time here.”
Agnark stares at the ‘Blood Quill’ as the reporters here had called the strange device. “I’ve got one, but you might not like it. I’ll tell you about it on our way back.”
“Are you sure about this, Agnark?” I ask, “I don’t like it. Sorcery just feels so– so wrong.”
“It’s our natural talent. Besides, it will only hurt me, so you don’t have to worry too much.” Agnark says. “My father wasted a lot of money bribing a priest to teach me outside of the church, so I may as well use that investment for something. Besides, we need this. It’s the only way we’ll be able to make things right before it’s too late. We have to act now. Capitalize on the chaos that the King’s announcement has surely caused to spread our own version of the events.”
Agnark stares at the ink lines he’s drawn on paper. Runes that will supposedly multiply and teleport copies of our flyer hundreds of feet above the city, including inside the castle’s boundary. “We should have just asked to use Vulnark’s press to print more copies. That would nearly halve the blood cost of this thing.” He sighs, “but that would have cost more time, dammit. It’s already nearly noon.”
“If blood runes take so long to draw and have to be perfectly stable, why would anyone want to use them in battle?” I ask, morbidly curious. “It seems like a terrible risk.”
“Yeah, it would be.” Agnark chuckles a little “But true sorcerers don’t need runes. They use proper spells. Mostly verbal and mental components, along with the blood cost of course. As I said, my dad wasted a lot of money bribing that priest, who only taught me the least useful parts of sorcery. Honestly, a lot of the runes he taught me didn’t even work. They just exploded in my face. But since he taught me the basics of creating runes, I made a few adjustments to these boys, added some dampeners to the magic, and they worked okay. Well, they did at smaller scales. I’ve never tried anything this large, obviously.” He laughs again. Rambling and nervous laughter? He’s terrified, but trying to not let me see it.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to–” I start.
“No, it’s not okay.” He shuts me down. “I have to do this, to make up for my mistake, to help save your brother, to help save us, to help save this kingdom.” He grabs his dagger and doesn’t hesitate as he slashes his palms in a violent X motion, “Remember,” He says, “whatever happens, don’t interrupt the spell.” and then presses his hands down on the matching center of the rune. The blood seeps into the paper beneath, and speeds across the design, following the twisting and curving lines all the way out to the border.
The whole rune flashes a blinding purple, and the singular copy of the flyer we put inside the rune catches fire, eerie black flames consuming it and the upper part of Agnark’s fingers. He howls. He jerks his hand, as if instinctively trying to get it away from those–those Wrong flames. But his hand won’t move, like it’s melded to the papers.
Another flash, this time green, and I realize that all the papers have in fact molded together into one giant parchment. The flyer is completely consumed by now, and the black flames are edging towards Agnark’s palm, which is still bleeding hot and fresh blood into the glowing lines of the runes edge. Some of those lines deviate from the original design, making their way to the individual words written into the rune and causing them to light up and catch fire as well.
My eyes flick between the rune and Agnark. The black flames have completely surrounded his palm now, and are licking towards his elbow. He’s stopped yelling but his eyes are still wild with pain and he’s hissing through gritted teeth. He said strange things might happen, especially since he’s never tried combining two runes like this before, but this is more than strange. This is outright dangerous!
I can’t wait any longer. I step forward, ready to grab him and pull, until he’s completely separated from this spell. But as soon as my foot hits the ground behind him he shouts “DON’T!” eye’s flaring even wider. “IF YOU TOUCH ME, IT WILL SUCK YOU IN AS WELL!”
I freeze. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS MUCH LONGER!” I shout back.
“IT SHOULD BE NEARLY DONE!” He hollers, and then the whole rune catches fire– real flames not the creepy black stuff, and he falls over backwards, passing out.
“M’lady!” Kat bursts in through the locked bedroom door, “The sky! It’s raining paper!” She freezes, seeing the fire, seeing me desperately trying to drag Agnark out of the flames, and dives in to help out.
But the fire suddenly extinguishes, the blood source that was powering it gone, leaving only the scorched papers, the floor, Agnark’s clothes, and all our memories.
As we drag Agnark’s unconscious but seemingly completely and bewilderingly unscathed body– well, besides his still bleeding cut–towards the bed, Kat says, “You have a lot of explaining to do, Mi’lady.”
“What does it say?” I ask Istere again as we duck back into a nook in the castle so she can read in peace. She reads it once. And then a second time. And then chuckles. It’s not an amused chuckle, it’s a relieved head in your hands chuckle, and I feel my shoulders untense.
“Someone had some nerve to title it like that. I thought we were goners at first, but it’s actually brilliant!” She offers the flyer to me, “take a look, it exonerates us from everything!”
I stare down at the flyer.
“The Prince has long wanted this war to end. He has personally felt the loss of close friends, people he considers kin. He understands the pain of our people, and wants to end it. But the war, even though every year we say we’re closer to victory, will never end without drastic measures. We’ve all suspected it, and, looking down from the palace as battle lines stall, he could confirm this with his own eyes. So, he waited, hoping that one day he’d be able to do something to help our brothers, husbands and sons on the front lines. One day, he was delighted. An Elven diplomatic mission came in to offer peace, they had good terms and were open to negotiation, but the king wouldn’t even hear of it. He threw them in prison indefinitely.” I pause, “Wait a second, this sounds accurate, if it a bit flowery. Who wrote this?”
“I don’t know.” Istere smiles. “But they’re good! Continue, continue.”
“Now, something you must know, dear readers,” I slowly start again “Is that the Prince and the King have never been on good terms. In fact, the King tried to kill both his children years ago– some sort of paranoia telling him that they were turned against him. It is an open secret in the castle. The princess died, the prince survived, and the King–with the help of the High Priest– tricked the Queen into becoming an addict and a laughing stock, so she could never protest against the murderous way he ruled his family.” I frown. “Now that’s just going off the deep end.” I say, Uggard looks at me, confused, and I explain. “It was just the High Priest, the King had no part in that.”
“That we know off…” Istere mutters, but I ignore her, my eyes drawn to the next line of text.
“However, despite their sordid history, the Prince still reached out first, attempting to communicate with his father, to find the reason behind the spurning of peace that would save thousands of lives and bring prosperity to both kingdoms. The King cut him off, of course, his suspicion thicker than the blood in his veins.
“Through his own guard– a gift of the king from a more peaceful era in the castle, the Prince came to realize that the King did have a plan. Not of peace, but war. More war. Lots more war. The corrupt High Priest had brought him a mysterious weapon, that would release an eternally expanding poisonous gas once used. The goal was to drive all elves back across the mountains, deploy the weapon in their territory, and utterly destroy them, sacrificing all our kin sent to hold the border.”
“Wait, wait, holdup a second–!” Uggard says, “Is that one real? Is there really such a weapon?”
“Yes, now hush!” Istere scolds him. Seemingly enjoying the reading even more than I am, even though it’s her third time.
“Of course,” I continue, “Such a big goal requires even larger sacrifices. They would need more troops, more bodies to throw against elvish armies to drive them back. They would need massive manpower to scour the land for any last elves to extinguish. And knowing that they had already taken all the men of age there were to be had–” I flip the paper onto it’s back. “The King and the High Priest determined that the duty to be arrow fodder should fall upon the children. They created a policy, that they have already passed, where children– our children, as young as thirteen will be sentenced to the front. The Prince was the only desperate dissenter on the council. The rest were cowed by the fear of the King’s wrath.
“In one last desperate move, the prince set the elves free, begging them to go home and find a way to neutralize the weapon. Because he had caught onto what all the priests, the council members, and the other nobles and even servants were too scared to tell the king. What happens when the ever expanding poisonous gas rises higher than the mountains? When it spills over, back into our territory?
“What happens, when the King’s weapon comes back to bite us?
“There isn’t enough room in the palace– with its magically clean air– for even a fraction of all the dwarves in this city.
“Of course, the King was more than a little upset by this, and his overwhelming belief that everyone is out to get him didn’t help at all. He called the prince a traitor to his people, an elf lover, and said that he would kill one of the very same guards that he gifted his son long ago, –now his only friends and allies in a castle that swears allegiance to his father– each day that the prince doesn’t come out and give himself over to the tender mercies of a heavily biased court with a man who has tried to kill him multiple times at it’s head.
“So the prince remains in hiding, plotting to save his country’s children, his country itself, his own people, his true family, from the whims of his paranoid father, who can’t see any problems with wiping out everyone except himself and his cronies, simply because he has failed to conquer anything in his extensive lifetime.”
Everyone is silent for a few seconds, just absorbing the impact of that last paragraph.
“Wow.” I finally say. “It’s a bit melodramatic, but good. Really good.”
“I know, right?!” Istere says. “It completely changes the playing field! Anyone who reads this will think the King is insane! And his announcement just spurs that onwards!”
“We have to go back to the others.” I say, “We need a new plan. You don’t have to risk going to him right away anymore. There’s no way he can execute your guardsmen when they are ‘a gift’ from him and ‘good friends’ of yours and not ‘mercenaries’ like he’d said in his announcement.” I unconsciously mimic Istere’s habit of using air quotes, and then flush pink beneath my beard as I realize what I’ve done. She beams at me.
“You’re right.” She says, “We need to rethink our strategy.”
It takes about an hour to explain everything to Kit, and another two for Agnark to wake up. The first thing Kit says to him is, “You are either a very good liar, a brilliant storyteller, or have latent mind-reading capabilities.”
“What?” Agnark stares at her, zero comprehension in his eyes. “Wait, who even are you?”
“This is Kit, my maid and confidant.” I say, introducing her to Agnark for the first time. Somehow, although she’s known about him for a while, and he knows about her in passing, I never got the chance to introduce them. Once I say her name though, a light dawns in his eyes.
“Oh…you’re that Kit.”
“I also” Kit announces, “happen to be the sister of one Smedigan Blix, my full name is Katrina-Beligrasse Blix the third– you can see for yourself why I chose to be called Kit instead of that nasty mouthful. Anyways, I know for a fact that the Prince never told you over half the stuff that you put in that pamphlet.”
“Wait, you never told me you were Blix’s sister!” I stare at her, shocked and a little wounded. “You haven’t been spying on me this whole time, have you?”
“No, no, no! Of course not.” Kit says, wide eyed, leaning over to grab my hand reassuringly. “I’ve never told a soul what we’ve discussed Mi’lady. Smedigan knew I worked here, but he was more busy complaining the few times he met to bother asking questions. And you know my fascination for stories, so I just, well, pulled them out of him. He was definitely holding some things back when he would tell me what was going on, and he would always swear me to secrecy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if about three quarters of the things you put in that pamphlet are real. How did you end up figuring it all out?” She looks at Agnark expectantly.
Agnark glances at me before replying. “Most of it was educated guesswork, and information I’ve overheard in my father’s household.” He tries to sit up and sways woozily.
Kit pushes him back down without hesitating. “Down boy. You’ve lost half your blood for goodness sake! Oh, what sort of servant am I, I should have gotten you some medicine. Mi’lady, please don’t let him sit up until I get back. We can continue this conversation then.” With that quick turnaround, she hurries out the door, the skirt of her black and white uniform billowing out behind her.
“Are you okay?” I ask Agnark.
“I feel like I was dragged through a bed of needles, and I’m completely exhausted, but other than that I’m fine.” Agnark attempts to smile at me. It falls more than a little flat when he winces in the middle of it.
“That spell, it wasn’t supposed to be that dangerous was it?” I ask, “I was so worried, but you said not to intervene, so I really couldn’t do anything, but I wanted to pull you out of the flames so badly! I–I–” I start tearing up, now that I’m outside of the stress, and seeing Agnark not dead before me, all the emotions are coming back. The stress, the desperation, it’s choosing to hit now, and it’s hitting me hard.
I sniffle, trying to wipe away the tears before he can see them. “Just–” My voice chokes up and I clear my throat. “Don’t do that to me again. Don’t cast spells or runes or whatever if they’re so dangerous. I don’t like seeing you hurt. Especially when I can’t help.”
Agnark gently pulls my hands away from my eyes and kisses one of my tearstained palms. “I’m sorry.” He says. “I know that we needed that spell, but I wish it hadn’t hurt you like this.” His soft blue eyes meet mine. “The spell wasn’t supposed to be nearly that bad, I promise.”
I stare at him. “If we have to do it again for some stupid reason, let me share the blood cost. That way you won’t have to hurt yourself as much.”
Agnark draws back, stiffening up and trying to rise again, but this time he can only lift his head off the pillow. “No way am I doing–!” He starts, but Kit bursts back in the room before he can finish his sentence.
“YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT’S HAPPENING OUTSIDE!” She shouts excitedly, dropping a bottle of medication on the bedside table, and slopping a dose onto a spoon which she shoves unceremoniously in Agnark’s still gaping mouth. “Riots in the streets! Mobs at most of the major nobles’ city dwellings! There’s talk of storming the castle gates! Your pamphlet even made the evening news! Here it is, fresh off the presses, ready to be spread all over the country!” She gleefully drops a paper on Agnark’s lap. “Everything is spiraling wonderfully! Even the army wants nothing to do with this scandal now! The King’s reputation is in absolute tatters! Oh, I am so excited to live in these times!“
I look at the front page. Sure enough, there’s a copy of our flyer, and beneath it a copy of the King’s earlier announcement. Flipping through the pages, I see interviews with prominent generals, merchants, lower nobles, even my parents! They all take a negative point of view on the newest decrees, decrying the age lowering and the poison weapon. There’s a whole section devoted to dubious dealings and blatant corruption that people finally feel allowed to talk about. Some people even question the King’s mental stability, and admit that they’ve felt like this for years now.
I start reading aloud, sharing some choice pieces with Agnark and Kit, but Agnark quickly interrupts me.
“Wait– go to the open letters for a second.”
“Where’s that?” I ask, confused. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Page A20, it’s near the back, so most people don’t care enough to read it.” Agnark explains, as I dutifully flip the pages. “I want to confirm something. Check for a letter to Mr. Aye.”
“Yes, there’s one. ‘Dear Mr. Aye, My debt is repaid. Vulkin.’“ I hesitate, “Vulnark Pottakin?” I ask Agnark.
“Yep.” He grins stupidly at the ceiling. “I knew he’d come through, no matter what he said. There’s no way he could leave a story like this lying down.” He twists his head to look at me and Kit.
“Do you think this makes up for the mess we– well, I– caused?”
“Are you kidding?!” I exclaim. “The Prince should come to us with flowers and on bended knees to thank us for this one!”
Agnark frowns slightly, much to my surprise. “I could have done without the mental image of His Highness on his knees before you and offering you flowers.” He says, and Kit starts laughing her head off while I stare confusedly between the two of them.