March 22nd, Year P-132.
Colony 1’s Capital City, Sunder.
Relaxing in the back seat of my white limousine, I rested my cheek on my right palm and watched the world pass by outside of my window.
Two silent Royal Guard members sat across from me, a too-tall Earth user who had to lean forward to fit in the car and a smaller Lightning user who was absentmindedly playing with a bolt of electricity in his right hand on his lap. I didn’t know their names, and at this point, it would feel awkward to ask, so I didn’t.
The seats they were in had room for a third person, but that was directly across from me and left empty. The left side of the interior was mostly seat, while the two doors on the right side were just past where their respective seats ended.
Between the two doors was a glass mini-bar of sorts, stuffed full of ice and assorted beverages I liked. A mostly-empty bottle of root beer rolled across the white, carpeted floor.
There hadn’t been a word since I’d entered the car. We’d been on the road for about thirty minutes now, driving through the city of Sunder, and the previously-comfortable silence had grown thick and uncomfortable. I contemplated my plans in silence, my Guard couldn’t look me in the eyes, and I couldn’t shake a feeling of rising anxiety.
I also felt…lonely. It seemed like the only real connection I had made lately was with a man who, at the time, had been trying to kill me. Despite my Guard and my advisors and servants, I still didn’t feel like I had real connections that weren’t my father and mother. The only time I hadn’t felt like that recently was when I was with Michael, and…
I sighed and shut my eyes.
What are you thinking?
We passed under a bridge, and for a moment the car was bathed in shadow.
When the light returned, Ruin was sitting in the empty seat to the right of the Earth user. He mirrored my pose on his side of the car and sneered at me.
I kept watching the road.
“So you’re going to see his girlfriend?” Ruin asked, “How boring of you, Nalia.”
She’s his ex. I corrected internally, then scowled at myself. That doesn’t matter. Also, ignore him.
Ruin sighed, looking at the Earth user to his right and waving a hand in front of his eyes. The Royal Guard member looked ahead obliviously, glancing at me occasionally but usually staring at his hands or the floor.
“You don’t want them to think you’re crazy.” Ruin noted, “Also boring. I think they’d be much more entertained if they knew how often their prince talked to himself.”
I glared at where I thought his eyes were behind the scarlet bandages. He frowned. “If looks could kill, Nalia. I don’t know why you’re so hostile with me,” he sneered, “I’m just trying to help you.”
I shut my eyes, hoping it’d make him go away.
“I think you should kill her.” he continued, “String her up. Make sure Michael knows before you execute him. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
If I kill anyone, it’s going to be you.
“Of course,” he sighed, leaning back into his seat, “If that attitude of yours says anything to me, it’s that you’d kill me instead. But if you do that, Nalia…”
He paused, then leaned forward, matching the pose of the Earth user in the limo and grinning maliciously at me, “You’d really only be killing yourself.”
There was a long silence. I kept watching the scenery pass by outside- sunny morning, other cars passing by, tall buildings, hole-in-the-wall restaurants…anything but him.
We passed under another bridge.
Ruin was on my side of the car now, and leaned his head on my left shoulder.
I can feel him.
What the fuck!?
Ruin cuddled up against me. I shivered in disgust.
“I’m right here, Nalia.” he muttered, placing his hand on my chest, “Do it.”
He whispered hotly in my ear, “Kill me. Kill me! Do it! Kill me!”
“Get off!” I screamed.
The limousine screeched to a halt. My guard jumped to alertness, looking around the car frantically.
“Are you okay, your Highness!?” The Lightning user asked.
Ruin was nowhere to be seen. I gulped.
My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I was having trouble breathing.
“It was just-” I gasped, “Just a bad dream. I’m sorry.”
“Do I need to take you home?” called the driver from the front of the vehicle.
“No, no.” I insisted, “I’m fine. Just a nightmare. We’re almost there anyways, right?”
The driver didn’t respond, but started the car back up. We started moving again.
I took deep breaths in an attempt to calm my anxiety.
It wasn’t working.
Season One: Recursion
Episode Sixteen: From Above
As a member of the Ancient Lane Family and a descendant of Sokudo Lane, Aiko was able to afford certain privileges and had some influence. The Lockhearts and Lanes were renowned for their work in starting the Royal Guard a century ago, but while the Lockhearts had firmly embraced their role in the Royal Guard since, the Lanes had started to distance themselves from the Royal Guard and put their focus on politics and the arts.
So that Aiko was staying in a fancy hotel in the city didn’t surprise me. She had made it clear last time we met- crossing paths after I visited Michael- that she had his best interests in mind. So it made sense that she wanted to stay close in case he needed something. What did surprise me is what I saw when I arrived at the hotel and went to meet her at the indoor pool.
She was speaking to a tall, thin man with his back to me, wearing only swim trunks. He had medium-length blonde hair, and they were speaking quietly, almost whispering. They were standing in the back of the room, behind the pool. They seemed close.
My heart sank on Michael’s behalf. She already moved on? That’s going to be a bitter pill for him to swallow.
The man turned to the right, walked away and left the room before I could see his face. She noticed me and walked across the room, a fair distance from the edge of the shimmering waters of the pool. She wasn’t even dressed for swimming- in fact, she was still wearing jeans and an electric blue T-shirt- so why we were meeting in an indoor swimming area was a little bit beyond me.
She stopped and crossed her arms over her stomach.
“You’re here early.” Aiko stated.
I nodded. “Sorry about that, tight schedule. If I’m going to speak to everyone I want to speak to today, I’ll have to be quick.”
She sighed. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I’m tracing Michael’s steps in reverse,” I explained, “I want to find out how he knew where I would be that day, and what he might be planning next.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know what to tell you, your Highness,” she said, “He didn’t contact me at all while he was on the run. I hadn’t seen him in months, then I find out that he’s landed himself in prison.” She went silent for a moment, turning to my left to stare at the rippling waters of the pool, “If I knew what was going on with him, I’d tell you. I don’t want to see him get himself killed.”
I considered asking her about the man I’d seen her speaking to before me, but I thought better of it. Her personal life was her business, and I really didn’t want to step into what could be a potential short-fuse situation between her and Michael.
“Well rest assured,” I said, “Michael is safe where he is now. Once I find his siblings and we straighten all of this out, he’ll be a free man again and you can catch up with him outside of a visitation room. You two used to be close, right?”
Aiko nodded. “We were best friends until we decided to screw. Things got all messed-up and confusing after that. I don’t think he could handle it.”
For the briefest moment, I imagined the two of them…together and squirmed uncomfortably.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I replied, “Thank you for your time. But I have to ask…why the pool?”
She perked her eyebrows. “Oh, you mean why did we meet here?”
“Because I like the water.” she replied, “And if you tried to pull some shit, I was going to push you in and electrocute you.”
She said this unflinchingly. I winced.
Well, at least she’s honest.
“I’ll be…going now.” I said slowly.
She turned her back to me and waved half-heartedly. “Later, your Highness.” Aiko said.
Inside the largest of the White Mountains.
After my meeting with Aiko, I returned briefly to the Palace to grab overnight materials prepared by my personal manservant. Dante had prepared a fresh change of casual clothes and had washed and renewed my black traveling cloak since its…damage in my fight with Michael. After that and a short meal, I was on a private jet to the Colonies in the White Mountains.
Later that afternoon, I arrived in Trine’s most ancient library, Verloren. Verloren was a library built inside the largest of the White Mountains, and was notable for many reasons. Namely, the dark caverns beneath the library that one could fall into if particularly careless, and the library’s restricted-access knowledge. This had been the last place Michael was sighted prior to his battle with me, and today I wanted to figure out why exactly that was.
Inside Verloren, three Royal Guard members patrolled each of its eleven, white-grated floors. After Michael’s break-in, this made sense- from what I had heard, only two Royal Guard members had been present when Michael infiltrated Verloren, and he had made short work of them. The only person present who hadn’t been harmed was the current librarian, a woman named Jeane.
I met Jeane on the second floor of Verloren, the one dedicated to Darkness and, by extension, the Lockheart Family and my mother. Jeane stood in front of Vincent Lockheart’s infamous “Sword Wall”, an installation of bladed weapons that he had collected from opponents defeated in duels, as well as ones of his own creation. Vincent’s weapons are distinctive due to their craftsmanship, but most particularly their usage of enchanted Moonshard, a material considered nigh unbreakable.
“These swords are falling out of maintenance,” Jeane mused, “Vincent wouldn’t be very happy about that…”
“To be fair, none of these are actually his.” I pointed out. The weapons that Vincent himself had crafted- sans Murzim, which I currently had on my person in a scabbard over my back- were all absent from their places on the wall.
Jeane turned her head to look over her shoulder at me. Her eyes were a piercing, bright green, and her hair was flowing and brown. “Your Highness,” she nodded, “I apologize, I would’ve met you at the entrance if I’d known you were coming at this time.”
“It’s 9PM,” I replied, “This is when I planned to meet you.”
“It’s eight, your Highness,” she corrected, turning to face the Sword Wall once more and placing a hand to her chin in contemplation, “Time zones, remember?”
I sighed. I did have to take a jet here.
“Of course.” I responded, “My apologies. Is now a bad time?”
“Not at all.” Jeane responded, “What is it you wanted to speak with me about?”
“Michael Lockheart,” I replied, “Shortly before he fought me on the floating islands, he was here. Do you know what he might’ve found to take him there?”
Jeane turned to face me completely, her eyebrow raised in interest. “I believe he was on this floor when the Guard noticed him. He had been reading through books concerning the history of the Lockheart Family.”
He must have realized that Michelle was being drawn to Vincent. That’s why he came rushing to the islands, he could feel the same pull…that’s why they lived there to begin with.
I nodded. “I think I know why. But there is a question that I still don’t know the answer to.”
Jeane shrugged. “Shoot.”
“I met your grandmother when I was a child,” I said, staring directly into her eyes, “You remind me of Zephyr. She was a trickster, wasn’t she?”
Jeane smirked. “Grandma was mischievous, yes. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Why didn’t Michael attack you?” I asked.
Jeane froze for a moment.
“His business here was done,” she replied, the playful smirk dissipating, “And I didn’t fight him on his way out.”
I stepped toward the librarian slowly. She backed up until she was against the Sword Wall, and I looked down at her darkly. “You didn’t engage a known fugitive, and you didn’t alert the authorities.” I growled, “We weren’t alerted of Michael’s presence here until one of the Guard regained consciousness and he was long gone. I know you’re strong and I know you’re smart, Jeane, so tell me…what am I thinking?”
Her expression shifted from downcast and submissive to firm and aggressive as she glared back up at me, pressing her chest to mine defiantly. “I can read every book in here, but I can’t read minds, your Highness.” she replied.
“I think you let him get away.” I muttered, “I think you let a violent fugitive escape, and on top of it all, aided him by giving him a certain charm. May I see that amulet around your neck?”
She glanced downward at the Vaten Family amulet on her neck, a wing of emerald on a chain, then back up at me. “The only way you’re getting this is if you take it from me.”
I didn’t need to. I could feel the strong Wind energy emanating from it- the same Wind energy I’d felt when Michael had mysteriously healed while half-dead and plummeting from the sky at terminal velocity. One of these had clearly been responsible.
I backed away from Jeane.
“Why did you give him one of those?” I asked.
“Grandma wanted him to have one,” Jeane responded, clutching hers, “To protect him. Why do you ask?”
“I nearly killed him twice when we fought,” I replied, “And the first time, an amulet just like that one healed his wounds and nearly allowed him to turn the tides. If he had succeeded in killing me, you would have been an accessory to high treason.”
“Why aren’t I now?” Jeane asked.
“Because he isn’t being charged,” I said, “So it wouldn’t be fair to charge you. I am going to leave you with a warning, though. Regardless of your family’s status, your position here is not a guaranteed one. The next time you aid a criminal, there will be consequences.”
A cold, impossible wind passed through Verloren.
At first, I thought it was Jeane, but she perked up in surprise when it passed.
“Who turned on the AC?” She muttered to herself.
Out of the corner of my eye, a man in white chuckled to himself.
He was gone by the time I glanced in his direction.
“Do you understand, Jeane?” I asked, turning back to face her.
She crossed her arms across her midsection and stared back at me.
“Yes, your Highness.” she responded dully, clearly unintimidated.
I spent the night in a hotel in Colony 18. Colony 18 was one of many human Colonies surrounding the White Mountains, and it was mainly comprised of a college town called Pallidus. It was the last stop of my trip- from my studying of Michael’s notes, the last place he’d been in prior to his first meeting with me was Dion’s Bar. I couldn’t be sure of the exact date, but I had a strong feeling that this was his first stop after escaping from the islands.
How did he do that? I wondered, There’s nothing in this journal about how he got out. Did he use an alias? A disguise? He wasn’t in any sort of disguise either of the times we met…
I sighed, leaning back into my pillow.
I have Royal Guard members stationed at the Site of Sealing, to alert me and my father if anything goes wrong. Michelle isn’t getting in there any time soon.
Michael Lockheart is in custody, and safe. The how doesn’t matter now.
What about Richter? He hasn’t been seen once since his disappearance. How much does he know about what’s going on?
I shut my eyes.
His loyalty is to Trine, I’m sure of it. He always seemed calm and rational to me- I doubt he’ll be a threat if we meet. I’m sure we want the same thing.
Still…why do I feel like I’m missing something?
March 23rd, Year P-132.
Somewhere around 1:30 PM the next day, I arrived in Dion’s Bar.
A glowing jukebox on the opposite side of the room played a gentle, serene song. To my left, Dion was behind his bar, cleaning pitchers and mugs in the sink and setting them to dry on a towel to his left. At this time of day, not many people were in the bar- a few strangers occupied the tables to my right, and one particularly determined young man was frantically mashing buttons on an arcade machine, playing some retro 2D fighting game.
The lighting in Dion’s Bar was dim, and it was a little colder than what I was used to getting in Sunder. This was likely intentional- the colonies around the White Mountains are mostly occupied by Darkness Spectrum users due to the colder climate, so this would be more comfortable for most of Dion’s clientele.
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and sighed, allowing myself to feel the cool air in the room and extend my Darkness senses.
In the far corner, a few tables to the right of the jukebox, there was a hooded, robed figure. I couldn’t see their face, and judging by what my Darkness senses were telling me…they didn’t have one.
I opened my eyes to verify, turning to stare over at the hooded figure. It turned its head to face me, and I saw nothing behind its hood.
“That’s Glod.” Dion James interjected, “Don’t worry about them. Do you need anything, sir?”
I turned to face Dion.
I moved to sit at the bar in front of him. “I do, actually,” I said, “But I’m not here for a drink.”
Dion shut his eyes and sighed. The drooping of his shoulders made it clear- he knew what I was here for.
“Good afternoon, your Highness.” Dion muttered, eyes still closed, “Are you here to ask about Michael Lockheart?”
“Bingo.” I confirmed, “You knew he was here?”
“Yes,” Dion replied, opening his eyes and wincing, “He came here for a drink. Seemed sad. I gave him a drink on the house.”
“Despite the fact that he was a fugitive?” I pressed.
“I knew his father,” Dion said, “And his brother. They used to come by here often. Richter saved my life once…I didn’t see the harm in giving his little brother a drink. If anything, I thought he would be safer here than…out there.”
Dion scowled. “I didn’t expect Michael to get so…violent. I just thought he was trying to find them…”
“He was.” I confirmed, “But he crossed paths with me while doing so.”
“Am I under arrest?” Dion asked, staring down at his hands.
“No.” I assured, “What happened between Michael and I was a misunderstanding, and he isn’t being charged. He’s just being…held until further notice. He’ll be safer there.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Dion muttered, looking down to his right.
“What makes you say that?”
“He was attacked last night.” Dion said, “Didn’t you hear? One of the prison gangs tried to stab him…”
My heart sank.
For a moment, Ruin appeared, leaning back against the shelves of bottles on display behind Dion. He sneered down at me and I glared up at him.
“Your Highness?” Dion asked.
I looked back at Dion. “I’m sorry,” I said, “What happened?”
I knew that Ruin would be gone the next time I looked.
“He got cornered by a few of them after time in the yard ended,” Dion said, “Took a shank through the hand. He fought his way out of it, rather violently, but he’s fine. I think he’s in solitary confinement right now.”
I shook my head and sighed.
He was supposed to be safe there…
I need to have him moved. Tonight, if possible.
“Thank you for telling me this.” I muttered.
Before I moved to get up, I remembered something.
“When he came here, was he in disguise? Or using an alias?” I asked.
Dion bit his lower lip and looked up, trying to recall. “He wasn’t dressed in the usual Lockheart attire at all,” Dion replied, “And he used an alias. Jeremy Fraser, I think.”
“That name rings familiar.” I said, standing from the bar, “Thank you for your time.”
“Wait, your Highness.” Dion said, pointing at the handle of Murzim over my shoulder, “Is that his blade?”
I nodded. “Yes, I took possession of Murzim after our battle. I’m keeping it safe on my person until I return it to him upon his release. Additionally…” I winced, remembering Celeste, “He destroyed my scythe. So I think this is fair game, for the time being.”
“Before you go,” Dion said, “You should go over there and talk to Glod. You look like you have a lot on your mind, and they might be able to help.”
“What…are they?” I asked, turning back to look at Glod. The hooded figure was still looking right back at me, starting to creep me out.
“Glod is a spirit.” Dion said, “They’ve been here for about eight years, give or take. They started out as an imprint of Darkness energy by a traveler, and since then they’ve grown into a full-fledged spirit that’s been living here ever since. Talking…isn’t Glod’s strongest suit, but they’re very wise.”
Not breaking eye(?) contact with the spirit, I tilted my head in Dion’s direction. “Is there anything I should know before talking to them?”
Dion shrugged. “If they ask you something, and you understand them, don’t lie. They’ll know.”
I swiftly crossed the room to stand beside Glod. Indicating the empty chair across from them, I asked, “May I sit?”
I pulled out the chair and sat down, the jukebox behind me casting my shadow over the spirit. The spirit was humanoid, that much was clear- and while my senses could not detect anything resembling a face under that hood, its hands on the table were wooden and I could feel the intensity of its gaze.
“I’m Nalia Cynd.” I said, attempting to break the ice, “Prince of Trine. Pleased to meet you, mister…”
Glod shook their head.
Glod shook their head again.
“Spirit. Nice to meet you, spirit.”
“Do you talk?” I asked.
“Sey.” Glod responded, nodding affirmatively.
“What are you, exactly?”
Glod reached across the table, pressing its wooden hand- no fingers- against my chest. “Tart.” the spirit replied, “All who come.”
The heart of all who come?
Of course. Darkness feeds off of emotion, so Glod must feel the emotions of the people who come here…
I looked around the room.
Or maybe it’s a little bit more than that.
“What was Michael like when he was here?” I asked.
Glod tilted their head in a cat-like manner.
They shook their head sadly, and placed their hands over their chest.
“Das. Lone.” Glod replied.
I nodded. “What do you feel in me?”
Glod leaned closer.
After a moment of silence, they replied, “Hilt. Solum. Above.”
What is ‘above’?
“What is ‘above’?” I asked aloud.
“Above.” Glod responded simply, placing their hands on their chest again.
I don’t know what means.
“Do you feel anything else?” I asked.
“Sear.” Glod responded.
That smiling motherfucker.
“What should I do?” I asked Glod.
Glod placed their hand over mine. It felt very strange.
“Seal.” They replied.
They shook their head, then rubbed my hand, “Seal.” They emphasized.
“Feel?” I asked.
Glod put their hands on their chest again. “Above. Happy.”
I chuckled. “You want me to be happy?”
Glod nodded enthusiastically.
“Him.” Glod replied, “No arm.”
Michael means no harm.
“You think I should go get him out of there.” I said.
Glod nodded, even more enthusiastically this time.
I sighed. “Where should I take him?”
The spirit shrugged.
Apparently, Glod didn’t have all the answers.
“Thank you,” I said, nodding appreciatively and beginning to stand, “I think-”
Glod reached out an arm and indicated Murzim on my back.
“You no mister.” Glod said.
“No mister.” Glod repeated, shaking their head and indicating Murzim again, “No it mister.”
Master. They’re saying I’m not its master.
“Of course not.” I replied, “It’s Michael’s. I’ll give it back to him when he gets out.”
Glod pounded the table and I jumped back.
“No mister!” The spirit repeated, louder, a branch sprouting from its shoulder, “No! Mister!”
I backed away quickly. “It’s okay!” I said, raising my palms, “I know!”
Glod relaxed back into their seat, the spirit’s hooded head drooping downwards before it dissolved into a mist of Darkness.
“It’s okay.” Dion said sheepishly, grabbing me by the shoulder, “This happens sometimes. Glod’ll be fine. You should get out of here, your Highness.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”
“It’s no trouble,” Dion replied, “They just need to recharge. Come back tomorrow and I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you. Did talking to Glod help?”
I bit my lower lip, looking at the mist of Darkness. A small sprout, shrouded by Darkness, was growing rapidly in Glod’s empty seat.
“I think it did.” I responded, “Thank you.”