I am

"She was made out of pure spirit and life. A star on earth. Yet a hurricane in space. Cassiopeia Turow was different."
I am a girl who dared to dream. I am someone who sought adventure. I am a person who will learn and thrive and satisfy curiosity. These are all qualities most people share. But most people can't say that they overthrew a monarchy or helped burn down the world.


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33. "This was everything."

 

THIRTY

“This was it.”

“This was everything.”

Two weeks ago.

The Market Plaza.

 

It took some time to realise that Cassiopeia was missing. Nox was ashamed of that. He was too busy dancing and having a good time with Hadrian to be aware of his surroundings much. He knew that the suspected drug dealers were where they were before Nox began dancing but that was it.

It was Samantha who noticed first. She deftly picked her way through the crowd and held the note out for Nox to take as soon as they were in range of each other. He and Hadrian separated, the King looking down to avoid Samantha’s gaze

“I didn’t write this.” Nox muttered, slightly impressed that it looked like he had.

“But someone wrote it to look like you had, maybe I or Cassiopeia was the target but Cassiopeia isn’t in the Jut I’ve checked.” Samantha replied and grimaced.

“Fuck, we’ll check again,” Hadrian swore, scratching the back of his neck with a single finger.

Cassiopeia wasn’t in the Jut. Everything was locked up and boarded as though nobody had been in there for quite some time. Hadrian swore again.

“How did this happen?” Nox wondered and felt panicked. Cassiopeia could be enduring anything right now and they were almost powerless to stop it, they knew next to nothing.

Hadrian called a guard over and asked if he had saw anyone with Cassiopeia’s description, the guard answered no. He then asked the Guard to escort Lisa and Bruce over to the Jut.

The pair did not take the news of their adopted daughter’s disappearance lightly. Lisa was still kneeling on the floor with her head tilted downwards. Bruce was still trying to comfort his wife while swearing continuously.

“I kidnapped her for you and now you’re saying that you’ve lost her?” Bruce angrily retorted and Hadrian looked at Nox with a bewildered expression.

“That wasn’t my idea,” Nox started and was interrupted by Lisa.

“I knew you were a bad egg.” Lisa’s spat words didn’t affect Nox as he thought they were reasonable considering the situation.

“We need to regroup and discuss everything, we need to go over everything we have about the dealers, and they can be the only people who could have done this.” Samantha shouldered her way into the conversation and made a lot of sense. Nox was about prepared to finally corner those drug dealers he had seen before and interrogate the information out of them.

Hadrian lost his head a little, if he had lost Cassiopeia then that could mean other people were affected too. He didn’t want to think about what was happening to her at that moment, it hurt to conjure up the gruesome possibilities. He asked the Guard where his brother was, concerned that he had never seen him for the majority of the festival.

“Last time I saw him he was with a blonde woman my lord,” that meant that Lucian was with the same woman he had been sticking his tongue down her throat. At least Lucian was having a good time at this festival, he usually just sat in a chair for the whole night.

Then a crackle of a microphone could be heard. It was an odd sound since it was an old world device, there was really no need for most technology anymore since the Founders believed it prevented good breeding. “You disgust me with your celebrations!” a man’s voice rang out.

God what was happening now?

Nox looked at where the drug dealers were posted and was not very surprised when he found that they weren’t there either. “This has to be something to do with SIE,” he thought aloud to Samantha who cocked an eyebrow.

“You think?” she hissed hugging one of the walls.

“Why should we celebrate something that destroyed us?” The man went on, Hadrian couldn’t see him from this vantage point it was too secluded from the main part of the plaza. He pictured him standing somewhere high up, maybe on one of the high tables or poles to allow his voice to carry to all the people below him. “The Founders only wanted us to kill ourselves by staving off the benefits of life. You endorse this and therefore you endorse your own murder.”

Then the crackle of the microphone screeched off and the man’s voice could not be heard again. Hadrian crept to the entrance of the Jut and looked out, he craned his neck just to see the man step down from a pole, unhooking his feet to allow him to slide, and dropped the microphone. This elicited a high pitched whine and made Hadrian grimace. Hadrian couldn’t see the man anymore having become lost in the thick of the crowd. The crowd booed and him, threw drinks and food at him in hatred. This was a Founder's festival and Irille was a proud nation when it came to its Founders. Then in the centre of the fray a white smoke pooled around bodies, twirling around them like it was alive. It got darker the more people it touched.

Then people started to cough, covering their mouths as they knelt to the ground. The smoke spread further, getting darker still. Hadrian saw the first body drop, slump to the side as the smoke invaded them.

He was horrified.

“Don’t let the smoke touch you,” he called back into the alleyway. Nox joined him on looking out and promptly swore.

“We could have done without that to be honest,” Nox said casually and Hadrian threw him a look which told him that the other man saw through his calm façade.

“You know the Sect’s clauses’,” Samantha mumbled watching as the smoke spread and the plaza grew hazy. More bodies dropped, you could just about see the fading outlines as they slumped to the side. “If in a main public event with field agents on the ground, the Sect will operate a Siege mission until completion. That’s clause 21.” Samantha stated this covering her nose already to prevent any stray tentacles of smoke from invading it. It hadn’t reached their part of the plaza yet but it was nearing. It looked like a dominating fog, growing darker on the perimeters.

Nox swore again. This was not what they needed right now.

If he closed his eyes he could imagine what would happen in a few minutes, members of the Sect which had previously awaited in the nearby buildings keeping surveillance, would storm out of said buildings in their robes and hoods with gas masks on. They would quite a sight as they would handle as the situation with whatever weapons they held.

“A Siege to clear the scene right?” Nox asked being naïve for just a moment.

“No, a Siege to full completion, didn’t you hear what I said?” Samantha looked at Nox as though he had went dumb. He knew what this meant, it had been covered many times during training.

“Shit.” Nox uttered and Hadrian laughed.

“Have you just grown a potty mouth or…?” Hadrian looked aloof and happy and Nox almost wished he could keep it that way, even though he knew that he wouldn’t be able to.

“You don’t want a full Siege,” the way Nox said it implied that Hadrian wouldn’t be happy with it.

Hadrian wasn’t going to be, that was for sure.

Within minutes the fog had swarmed on them, pooling around their bodies like murky waters and licking at their skin as if asking for permission to enter every pore. They knelt to the ground, holding their noses and breath, wanting desperately to keep it out.

Within the same moments the Sect appeared in the gas masks and robes of Nox’s imagination, wading through the smoke towards them. The King was their priority and then they could move on to other things. One attached a gas mask to Hadrian allowing his lungs to be relieved and then more were passed around.

“A full Siege needs to be operated,” one of the members said and Samantha was already pulling herself into action, taking her knives out of the hidden holsters at her waist.

Nox was more hesitant. He looked at Hadrian and Hadrian looked back at him not knowing the full extent of the Siege.

“A full Siege needs to be operated,” the member said again and Nox was torn away.

“I’m sorry,” he said to Hadrian and pulled his sword from his holster. He would have preferred his staff but this would have to do.

Within minutes the people who had fallen had risen once more. Within seconds they began to claw at each other, punch at one another, kick and scream, they were bodies of anger within the mist. The mist had caused resentment and fury to rage within them.

“Stay here and keep hidden,” Nox uttered to Hadrian before wading through the mist hitting someone with the butt of his sword as they came rushing at him.

Snarl. Splutter. Clutter. Crumble. That was what was around them, people gorging at each other eyes and mouths, rushing to throw them into tables or poles. Kick. Punch. Growl.

Nox hit out with feeling, his gas mask made it impossible to breath in the smoke but he could still smell it, something fake and fiery.

Nox didn’t want to hurt these people, it wasn’t their fault so the sword was only used as a precaution. Heave. Shriek. Crash. Nox was tense as he plunged his sword into a tent, allowing the ruins to cascade on a fighting couple.

Nails gripped his shoulders digging in, drawing blood. It stung. Nox threw them off with a violent, abrupt motion, snapping to the right quickly. His muscles tensed.

Adrenaline surged, why did it have to be adrenaline? Adrenaline kept you alive but it didn’t improve your fighting skills, it hindered it. His mind cluttered, the fog clouding up his brain. He pushed through. Knock. Hiss. Splutter.

His wrists hurt from flicking the sword to and fro to trap people in tents or tables. His knuckles split from punching people. Blood smarted on his hands from where they had come into contact with someone else’s wounds.

Sweat. Gore. It was all around him, clouding his vision, distorting his view.

Snarl. Shout. Cry. Anger. These people were so angry, attacking each other with violent passion. It was a good thing that they didn’t have guns.

Someone hurled a piece of fruit at Nox’s head, it knocked him askew for a moment, clinging to his hair and senses. The smell threw him, it no longer smelt like battle but of fruit. He knocked a person away, his sword scraping skin as they rushed at him again.

His shoulders still stung.

His knuckles still smarted.

At the center now, the man of the hour – the one who had released the smoke – was being forced down by arrows, one protruding from his back. He was on the floor, screaming and wiggling his fingers, releasing even more smoke. Nox stamped on the fingers. The man recoiled, drawing his body into himself to shield himself from the pain. A member of the Sect knocked Nox away telling him to move on. Nox had no choice but to leave the man.

Onwards and forwards he moved. To the palace. That was the mission. It broke his heart.

 

At the palace no one was under the influence of the mist. This was not a provoked fight but a fight which had meaning for the Sect. The headache Nox had ached and pulsed distracting him for a moment. Shouts were raised from the palace, Nox quieted the one that raised them. It was a flick of the wrist, sword rushing out. There was no strategy, just wounding the people he came across. Mostly he gave them headaches of their own, going for the head, pushing fists into their noses or temples. The Archer behind him, a clever member of the Sect, released his arrows without too much of a thought. The arrows plunged into walls, serving as warnings, into feet and hands preventing weapons being raised. Members of the Sect poured in, weapons raised, fighting with purpose.

His knuckles smarted.

His shoulders stung.

He had to move on.

Arrows flew past him. His sword flailed out. Adrenaline pulsed. His maneuvers got less coordinated. More people fell. They got closer to the throne room. His sword moved, cutting through flesh, not enough to kill but to wound. He became careful. His cuts shallow and weak. His feet stumbled. He fell and rose. Knelt and stumbled. He gathered his wits. He moved on. He had to keep going.

His shoulders stung.

His headache intensified, a heartbeat in his head.

This had to be done.

Knock. Shout. Shoot forward. A twang of an arrow. A cry. A shout. A fist meeting flesh. It faded into the background.

This had to be done.

A glaring light shining brightly into her eyes brought Cassiopeia back to reality. For a moment she had no idea where she was and what the hell was going on. Then it all came back, the note, the man behind her, the dragging into the tunnel, the injection of something.

Once the confusion and disorientation had settled, she groaned as the agony of weighted limbs came over her. She felt like lead, a metal human who had a head full of bricks.

There was a lantern at the edge of her view, an orange glow that lit up an edge of a door. It would be locked. Cassiopeia groaned and rolled onto her back from where she was on her side. The ground was hard and cold. The walls looked like slate, cold scales of a snake.

Cassiopeia groaned.

“What did they do to me?” She thought aloud lolling her head to the side, her ear meeting cold ground was enough to lighten her body just a little. The words stretched and curled around her head like someone stretching bubblegum languidly. Her voice felt off, squashed or compressed.

How can words sound compressed?

They just do.

Her brain couldn’t comprehend thoughts or memories. Everything went dull and orange, reflected in the glow of the lantern by the door.

“It’ll wear off,” a voice whispered, quiet and stretched. Cassiopeia jerked, tensing her bodies to sit up. The room span, the orange glow overtaking, wind rushing into the room and spinning it. Then it settled. Cassiopeia settled into a cross legged pose, blearily holding her head up.

How does my neck do this?

There. That was where the sound came from. A grate in the floor, near one of the far edges, a small window barred with steel. Cassiopeia crawled, her legs shivering with the cold.

“What will wear off?” Cassiopeia slurred dragging herself to the grate in the floor. A face peered back up at her, small, dirty with blonde hair. Wide brown eyes stared at her, wobbling and searching Cassiopeia’s face as she peered down.

“It’s a mild sedative, that’s how it starts.” The voice was quiet and dim, a twist of the mouth, a slight roll of the tongue. “I’m Amber by the way, you?” The other girl was desperate for company. Cassiopeia couldn’t even comprehend that at the moment.

“Cassiopeia, what happens after that?” She didn’t really want to know but she had to. Words started to stretch out returning to their previous lengths. The sedative was wearing off, her head became clearer and yet it hurt more.

“They begin the test.” Amber was deliberately vague, Cassiopeia hated it.

“What test?” Cassiopeia uttered impatiently.

Amber looked at her with worried eyes, “We’re in a drug den what do you think?”

Great, that meant that they were going to pump SIE into her and watch what happened. Cassiopeia slumped back onto the floor near the grate and curled into herself. She was in for some great times ahead.

“How long have you been here?” Cassiopeia muttered into the grate hoping that Amber would hear her from how low her voice was.

“Nearly two weeks now,” Amber said and Cassiopeia could see that the other girl was standing on her tiptoes to reach the grate in the ceiling of her room. The ceiling must have been low because Amber looked like a small girl. Cassiopeia would have hated it she already felt cramped in the darkness in the room she was in. “I was snatched from Blackout Alley,” the girl said peering her eyes up at the grate.

Cassiopeia put two and two together, Amber was from Blackout Alley the only street which had a brothel on. It was an easy snatch, no one would miss a prostitute. It was a harsh reality.

“Amber are you…?” Cassiopeia didn’t want to ask the question, it felt impolite and harsh in her mouth.

Amber just nodded, “Prostitute’s aren’t just prostitutes though,” Amber said shrugging her shoulders.

 

The sound of a door opening could be heard, stone grating on stone. Cassiopeia shied back, keeping one eye on the grate but the other on her own door. It wasn’t hers. Amber looked back as well just as her door opened and a burly man entered.

“Time to go sweet cheeks,” he grumbled and pushed his hands out to grab her. The girl screamed and shied back curling herself into the farthest corner away from the man.

“No, no, don’t take me,” Amber was shouting and screaming trying to put as much distance between her and the man as possible. From this distance Cassiopeia could see the pattern of bruises on the other girl, a sea of blue and black and greens littering her arms and neck. Plasters covered her chest, where her top had slipped off a shoulder. The man grabbed her, hoisting her into his arms as Amber screamed. Then a needle was jabbed into her neck and it took seconds for her to flinch and slump in the man’s arms. The man then looked up. Cassiopeia had to stop herself from shying further away from the grate.

 

“Don’t worry you’ll be next,” he said up to the grate and laughed as Cassiopeia grimaced. Then the man and Amber were out of the door and the door closed with a finality. That was when Cassiopeia did shy away and curled up into a ball, hoping that if she slept the pain would numb her and eventually disappear entirely.

The darkness of the room only provoked sleep and behind her eyelids there was pain and the soft glow of the orange lantern.

Cassiopeia was awoken by a door opening. She knew it wasn’t her door, the sound was too echoic for that. It was Ambers. Peering into the grate her eyes found that Amber was being carried back into her room, the man dumped her on the floor, her limbs making a painful smack against the concrete. It was dark and Cassiopeia couldn’t see the full extent of Amber’s injuries but she was awake. Cassiopeia knew that because the other girl was whimpering and crying in short painful bursts, her lungs rattling with each one.

Amber curled up into a ball, as tight as she could, and cried.

Cassiopeia had to look away.

Cassiopeia must have slept again because she was awoken once more by a door opening. Her door.

“I did tell you that were next,” a voice called out and she knew that it was the man from before. His voice was different from her captors, more of a growl and less refined. “Now you can either come compliantly or I can carry you, whichever you prefer?”

Cassiopeia heaved her tired body up, less weighted by the sedative and through the light of the door she could see a tag around her wrist.

“Subject 23” it read. She groaned inwardly and forced her legs to move, nearly falling to the concrete since her legs hadn’t been used in some time.

How much time had passed? She wasn’t sure.

The man took her arm roughly and steered her in the right direction. Beyond the darkness of her room the tunnels were flooded with similar orange lights, making it look like a warm summer morning. Doors lined the corridor with a big metal door at the end, padlocked and chained. That was most likely the way out. The man steered her away from that door and further down the opposite end of the corridor. More doors and more lights were interspersed here. It was monotonous. Finally they reached a room with a metal table in the center and medical equipment all around. 

This was the room she was in when they gave her the sedative. It smelled  the same and it was the only room with white lights. Cassiopeia gulped.

They laid her on the metal table. Strapped her in once more. She looked down at her hand when she could, seeing a cannula fastened by a roll of medical tape. A nurse came in, barely illuminated but with something over her mouth.

The nurse positioned an IV back into the cannula and Cassiopeia knew that the IV was empty. For now.

“It’s time,” the nurse said ominously and poured a slightly pale blue mixture into the IV bag.

Cassiopeia could feel it, the sludge coming into contact with blood and veins. She waited and she felt it overcome her, sweep her with coldness.

The world became blurry.

Then it sharpened and she could see through the darkness, see the strands of the nurse’s hair that escaped the fastener on her head. She could see how the man who had escorted her in held a clipboard in his hand a pen in the other held aloft to take notes.

Then came the pain. Knives digging in to every part of skin they could reach. She squirmed and moved but the straps prevented her from doing much damage.

The world blurred once more. Her head fought to sweep from side to side.

This wasn’t a sedative, she didn’t feel tired or like the world was falling at her feet, she felt like lightning surged through her. She felt so unbelievably cold like she had been lying in the snow for hours.

A scream punched its way out of her throat.

A mouth guard was placed in order to halt more screams from erupting.

This was agony.

Nox wasn’t proud of what he had done. The Siege had the plan of overtaking the palace and that was what they did. The President had been escorted in, his cane click clacking the floor as he entered.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for my children,” he called and appeared triumphant as he made his way to the throne.

This was the plan all along, to take possession of the throne and influence Irille that way. Nox had fought for more time, for influencing Hadrian more than physically taking over his position. But it was too late.

“Why do you look defeated boy?” The President enquired and Nox looked up, seeing the milky eyes directed his way. God knows how the President could tell his emotions even though he was blind. “This is a victory, there is no reason to be defeated now.”

The Sect around him rejoiced and Nox shrunk. Samantha was beside him, knocking her shoulder along his side as if to say to put a metaphorical mask on his face.

His mask failed as soon as Hadrian entered the throne room, escorted by two guards. “So this was the plan all along,” he mumbled looking disheartened and afraid and angry.

Nox’s emotions tasted bitter in his mouth.

“To take over my throne,” Hadrian spat, “To rob Irille from the people who knew it best, on Founders day no less.”

“You knew it best?” The President offered, “You only ruled by corruption and malice boy.”

Hadrian looked away from the Sect’s leader, “Tell that to the many in the infirmary wounded by your weapons, a dozen dead not from the SIE attack but from your own hands.”

“A small price to pay for victory my boy,” The President smiled and Nox felt sick. This was his leader and this was what he had done. “Nox talk to the boy, get him to understand.”

They were ushered from the throne room to an adjoining room.

As soon as they were alone Hadrian shot out and punched him in the nose. Pain blossomed like a star in the center of Nox’s face and he curled in on himself, his hands coming to rest on his nose. Blood bloomed out and it was all Nox could smell, copper and metallic.

His nose was probably broken and the break had been the product of his injustice.

“I deserved that,” Nox said nasally, still cupping his nose. God it hurt. It throbbed and the blood dripped onto his lips.

Hadrian wasn’t faring much better, his knuckles were bruised the skin turning darker as Nox watched. Hadrian didn’t care however, his anger had blindsided him.

“How could you?” Hadrian shouted his hands raising in exasperation, “I thought of all people to have an underhanded plan it wouldn’t be you!”

“I tried to talk them out of it,” Nox called back and Hadrian stilled, vibrating with his anger silently, “Even Cassiopeia tried but they wouldn’t listen to reason.”

“Cassiopeia was in on this?” The betrayal was sour on Hadrian’s tongue. Why did people have to keep betraying him?

Nox’s hand became soaked in blood as it pinched his nose in an effort to stop the bleeding. It was an opportune time to tell them how Cassiopeia had fit into the plans. “It was always a plan for the Sect to eventually take over, Samantha was all for it, she’s been told that they would rule better than the current Royals. Cassiopeia had to be told the clauses when her training started, she agreed that more members of the Sect in government were needed to turn the city in a new direction but she wanted you as the face of the movement, as the King still. I didn’t want to do it, its treason!”

Nox tried desperately to calm Hadrian down. The other man still vibrated like there was a livewire stuck under his skin but it was less so now.

“I was outvoted ten to one, Cassiopeia’s plan got a bit more support when I raised it to the President but people had less confidence in you agreeing with it. I then got assigned the job to convince you but I did it slowly, I wanted to be your friend first and then push it on you…”

“So our friendship was a lie also!” Hadrian could not believe it, the livewire was back with a startling intensity, crawling up his back and settling at the base of his skull.

“No for god’s sake Hadrian listen to me. I didn’t want to do it. People disagreed with how long I was taking even though it hadn’t barely been a month since I was assigned it. They started to listen to me less because of it. I tried to stop them I did but I failed. I’m sorry. So incredibly sorry.”

Nox finished and knelt at Hadrian’s feet, one hand still holding his broken nose.  “I hate what they’ve done believe me but I couldn’t do anything. I’ve never felt more powerless in my life.” Nox stumbled on his words, his hair flopping into his eyes.

Hadrian was surprised that tears started to accumulate in Nox’s eyes, mixing with the blood when they felt. They smelled salty to Nox’s nose but then again in its broken state his scent was probably impaired.

Hadrian knelt in front of the other man, feeling strange when Nox was presented at his feet. His anger started to dissipate slowly from his bones, ebbing away like pain relief. “I believe you,” he muttered into the other man’s hair. He could feel Nox shudder at his words but the men didn’t pull away from one another.

“How do we go on from here?” Hadrian questioned, saying the words into Nox’s dark hair. Nox’s head was bowed, leaned more towards the other man’s lap then it was his face.

“I don’t know.” Nox mumbled and that was the truth, he didn’t know what could be done to overcome this.

“We go along with it, we see if we can install myself as the face, I’ll talk to the President. I’ll comply and sort this out. Hopefully the search for Cassiopeia won’t be hindered by it either,” Hadrian sighed, “There’s too much to sort out.”

“You could sort out my broken nose easily enough by getting me some gauze and pain relief?” Nox asked, lifting his head so the King could see the spurting blood, the blood covered hand, and the saddened eyes.

“We can do that, sure,” Hadrian laughed and felt guilty for laughing at a time like this.

Nox smiled. Hadrian thought it was beautiful and then pushed that thought into the dark depths of his body. That was not what the situation called for right now.

Cassiopeia was angry. She didn’t know where the anger came from nor where it originated from. But she was angry. She felt disconnected from her body, the slightly blue sludge taking over her body, taking over her emotions.

This was hell, she knew it.

She felt like a pendulum being pulled in two separate directions monotonously. Her insides quivered as the anger turned into frustration and frustration let go into sorrow. She was uneasy and she wished that she would have been knocked out.

She could feel the mixture bathing each and every cell, taking hostage of every fiber of her being. She hated it and the anger returned.

Cassiopeia felt herself floating, her body becoming more disconnected from her mind. She stopped struggling and allowed herself to be washed away by the mixture. The mixture which most likely contained SIE.

She knew how it would turn out. She would be given some sort of power and she would be tested like a monkey to see what that was. For now she just had to keep floating her way around hell and hope that the flames didn’t drown her. 

 

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