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"She was made out of pure spirit and life. A star on earth. Yet a hurricane in space. Cassiopeia Turow was different."
When Cassiopeia leaves her small island of Sars for the continent Irille she's in for more than she bargained for. Between seeking out adventure and making a tenuous friendship with the King, she has a drug that grants superpowers and the elusive Sect organisation to deal with.


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26. "... it put her on the right path."

 

TWENTY THREE

“When did she realise?”

“Not for a while after that, but it put her on the right path.”

 

Two Months ago

A town house attic

 

After her training Cassiopeia felt drained. Her muscles ached pleasantly but annoyingly too. It was late and the clock in the main room had stuck night. She also had the feeling that the Sect wasn’t done with them yet and so right she was. She had been sat down in the chair across from Hadrian for a while, some water and pastries in front of her. But she would have been there longer if Samantha hadn’t decided to get up and have a rushed, quiet conversation with Nox. They seemed to spar verbally back and forth and it seemed that Samantha had won.

“We have a series of recordings to show you,” Samantha beckoned as she steered Hadrian out of the basement and up a ramp. Nox took Cassiopeia’s arm and pushed her in the same direction, they passed the main room (a comfy room filled with tables and couches) to a barely noticeable side room. It was a square padded room, which neither Hadrian nor Cassiopeia had been expecting. Cassiopeia had expected a library and Hadrian had wanted a study. He would have done anything to sit down and study some maps, anything useful to getting back to the palace.  In the center was a tape recorder and Hadrian suspected that there were speakers in the wall to amplify the sound that would be played.

“What about?” Cassiopeia asked from next to Nox’s side. She no longer looked at Hadrian with worry because she knew that he was on the mend and no longer feeling quite in pain due to the series of drugs he was administrated.

“About King Alexander,” Nox replied bluntly and went over to push a button. Hadrian tensed because if this was an organization that fought corruption, they would try to convince him that his father was corrupt too. They would try to distort the image that Hadrian and the public of Irille had of him.

At first there was only static but then it gave way to voices.

“King Alexander, we have heeded your warning on the thousand strong army that you post on our door step. We will scale back our attack in due course.”

“King Alexander, our army has been disbanded due to our prior discussion. I believe that that is enough reason for your military to retreat back to Irille.”

“King Alexander, your army is still here and posing as enough threat to our community. As a peace offering we offer our commodities in the form of seeds from the vaults; they have many healing and health benefits which you will find useful.”

“King Alexander, your army has not left and my people are scared. I apologize for any grievance committed in the past but you will possess my greatest gratitude if your army were to leave my territory.”

“King Alexander….”

The transcripts went on and on and many voices filled the spaces with varying degrees of desperation. Cassiopeia could imagine the proud army of Irille parading across different borders and staying there an ever present threat. Like statues they would remain and not attack, allowing the possibility of terror rain down on the populace until the elite caved and gave anything and everything to get the army to leave. It was the height of corruption and she was sickened to hear the distress in everyone’s voices. How could the King do that? Preserve his own country and build up a reputation of being heroic and peaceful and then behind the scenes be the tyrant that everyone was scared about? It was no way to live.

At first Hadrian couldn’t believe that the people were addressing his father and shattering the memories that he had had of him. A pair of tears rolled down his face as his father was revealed in a true light. He was a horrible man, and the information opened up the list of potential suspects as to who could have murdered him. The way in which his father had died was almost justified by the acts that he had kept secret. Hadrian’s face was white with disbelief, “These can’t be true, this is fake, this has to be.” He stammered and was rewarded with charts in front of him. The army of Irille was said to be all at home, only dealing with disputes within the country itself. Without a conflict to fight, their army was the safest one to be a part of. But the charts in front of him showed that on the borders of the surrounding countries, a line of military was stationed. Five hundred men and then a thousand. Hadrian had never known them to possess an army as big as the numbers foretold. But he couldn’t deny concrete evidence and it was from that point that Hadrian knew that his father had kept secrets from him in the form of an army. An army that was frightening foreign countries into an alliance with Irille on the basis of not being attacked. His heart went out for those countries who would no doubt live each day in fear.

 

How could his father allow that? How could he do that?

 

“Are they still there?” Hadrian croaked out and all he could look at was the tape recorder.

“The contract is still active we believe, one of the clauses that is talked about is for it to be disbanded by the King, and since there is no record of it being signed by your father and you haven’t signed it that means that they are still there.” Nox answered and bile rose in Hadrian’s throat. Everyone must have been so frightened of Irille and the persona of a peaceful nation was destroyed. Irille was the worst country you could get as no one should rule by terror, but respect.

Cassiopeia looked ill next to him. “How do you know about this?” Hadrian asked the pair and Samantha pulled a book out of her pocket. Hadrian was not surprised that the rather large cardigan could conceal such an item, since Samantha’s outfit of cardigan, denim pants and combat boots exuded confidence. Now he knew what to look for, it was no wonder that she worked for the Sect.

Bound in red leather, cracked and dry with age, the thin volume smelled faintly of pipe tobacco and dust. The pages within were brittle and what remained of the books original stitching was barely holding it together. 

A faint scrawl on the inside of the cover declared that the journal once belonged to Noah Brickell, the father of the current Brickell who was the financial expert under the reign of Alexander Wyrick. With trembling fingers, Hadrian picked it up and opened it. Some pages looked to be nearly falling out and the writing was pale against the yellowing pages. But he could still understand the writings, half of it facts and figures and the other personal diary entries depicting conversations with his father. “The thing you want to read is on page sixty seven,” Samantha urged and Hadrian flicked to the page indicated.

…Post men on the borders of countries in order to appear triumphant and militaristically talented. Avoid future attacks from other countries and therefore improve foreign relations.

Public must not know…

Contract to be written up about details and held in official documentation, signed by the King in order to be placed in effect and cancelled in future if so needed.

His nerves were frayed to their ends and he couldn’t look at the book anymore. Hadrian gave it back to Samantha, he couldn’t hold it anymore. It made a cold and constant monster crawl onto his back. “This is what you went to the Brickell’s for, they didn’t tell me.” Hadrian answered in a small voice.

“They wouldn’t, they are paid for not telling about the mere existence of the thing.”

“By who?” Cassiopeia asked for him, Hadrian couldn’t form the words even if he dared. No wonder Brickell had been able to buy Marianne off of his brother.

“A payment out of the royal banks were given directly to the family, every two months a lump sum is doled out for them and deliberately left out of the Bank Statement delivered for that three month marker.”

His father had been supplying the family with the money to weaken his brother from the very start. In addition, this money could have been used on other means such as feeding the people of Irille.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Hadrian muttered and hastily drew a hand over his mouth. Samantha rushed towards him and steered him out of the room, quickly a waste basket was located and Hadrian’s mouth filled with the bitter acidic taste of medicine and bile.

Cassiopeia and Nox could hear him from the next room over and Cassiopeia couldn’t blame him. The King had been through an ideal that day, going through and learning so much in just a few hours.

“The King will probably sleep today’s horror off and we’ll regroup in the morning.” Nox was again nonchalant and he moved towards the door. He could hear Samantha direct Hadrian towards the lift and he knew that she would need some time to get the King settled. “Now how about a cup of tea?”

Cassiopeia could never deny a cup of tea.

 

When Nox knew that both the King and Cassiopeia were asleep in their beds in the attic, he sunk himself into a chair in the main room. The two medics, which they had called on the way over to the town house, had long since departed back to their own safe houses and it was just the four of them in the house. He supposed that he would sleep on the floor since Samantha would undoubtedly claim the couch whenever she was able to. Sleep would evade him for some time and it would more than likely be early morning before he would find peace. Too much had went on that day.

Samantha entered the room and sat down next to him. They were both as tight as coiled springs and neither of them knew which direction to go next. Samantha’s identity was blown in the Brickell mission and she couldn’t leave the house without risking being caught.

“The girl’s guardians are going to be worried,” Samantha said without looking at him and Nox had already solved that problem. He told her how just earlier he had gotten Cassiopeia to write a letter home saying that she would be staying at a friend’s house for a couple of days and to not be worried. He had then gotten someone to personally convey the message to the tavern.

“That gives us a couple of days to train her before we set her loose,” Samantha replied to his story and Nox sighed, when phrased in that way it made the girl sound like she was a fish and not a human being.

“Even when we ‘let her go’,” his mouth turned when he used the phrasing, “she will work for us and our plans will still go ahead even with your house arrest.”

“How do you know that she will still work for us? She hates the mere idea of the President after that kidnap and blackmail session. She’s scared of us.” Samantha only told the truth, Cassiopeia had appeared unafraid when alone with them but that was probably due to the presence of the King with her. By herself, she would constantly be reminded of the risk to her family and friends.

“I will convince her that we are not all like that, she will come round eventually,” Nox sighed and knew that he was putting another job onto his pile of things to do.

“We don’t have much time,” It was a sad fact and they both knew that they were running out of time before everything went to chaos and beyond.

To jump into that void was disconcerting.

“Now go watch over our two guests or something, I want to sleep,” Samantha grumbled and hauled the blanket off of the back of the couch. Dismissed, Nox stood and Samantha swung her legs to fill the gap that he had left.

Before he had even reached the lift he could hear the soft snuffling of Samantha and he grinned to himself. She may have been stubborn but she could get to sleep quickly when she wanted or need to. At least one of them was getting the peaceful slumber they deserved.

 

In the attic their two guests were in the throes of sleep. Cassiopeia was on her side, her chest shallowly rising and falling in a relaxed manner. She was exhausted after their training and it would only become more intense as the days went on. After all, they had so little time to get her up to the standards that they needed her to be at.

Nox lowered himself to the floor, sitting cross legged as he observed the King. Hadrian was on his back, his arms rested over his chest as his eyes were closed. Nox had thought him to be asleep since he had gone up first but how wrong he was.

“Are you the family guard dog?” The King whispered with eyes still closed and Nox had to resist jumping a mile in the air. He was a part of the Sect and he must not be surprised by such menial things. The King opened his eyes and stared at the other man. In Hadrian’s eyes Nathaniel and Nox were two separate people blending steadily into one as he came to terms with the truth.

“No, I’m just the family spy,” Nox quirked back and a grin settled onto his face. This was easy, mimicking the relationship that Nathaniel had had with the King back when sparring and meetings in gardens were normal.

“How long have you been doing this?” The King was of course referring to how long Nox had been a part of the Sect. Sensing that Nox had a story to tell, Hadrian rolled onto his side with his back facing Cassiopeia and his front facing Nox. This way he could hear him better.

“I got wind of the Sect when I was still at home, I had retreated to my wardrobe after one of father’s punishments,” Nox could be nonchalant about his safe place being the wardrobe, but not about what his father had done to him, “and one of the maids came to me about them. She took me to a meeting and pushed me through the initiating process – basic work of spying on the elite and so on. There was a job to come to Irille and I volunteered under the guise of being able to enter the palace in my disguise of seeking out my aunt.”

As long as he could get away from his father he was pleased. But he could only think of his sisters who would all be married off to men twice their age in order to please their bastard of a father.

“How are you dealing with today?” Nox asked as he unfolded his legs to rest relatively comfortably on the wooden floor.

“With a grain of salt,” Hadrian sighed and lowered his voice just a touch, “I’m trying not to think about it, but it’s hard to deny it.” His face pinched as though he was trying to rid the knowledge out of his head. Nox thought that the other man was also trying not to cry in front of him. Nox did not think as he raised himself from the floor and got into bed with the other man. His back was against the headboard and his legs were barely touching the King’s frame under the covers.

“When family betrays you, it’s the most awful thing. I never imagined that my father was capable of raising his hands to me but when I came of age it became a startling reality. We all think our fathers to be the heroes we want to be in the future but they ruin it for us. They are our enemies, the things we must not be. It’s okay to be in pain Hadrian, you are allowed to feel pain and disappointment.” Nox’s words were barely there, so silent in the otherwise sleeping room. But Hadrian heard them and that’s all that mattered.

“But I feel so shattered, so utterly alone,” Hadrian’s voice was thick with unshed tears. Nox had no choice but to curl his arms around the slightly younger man and hug him.

“You are not alone Hadrian, you have me if that’s any consolation,” Nox whispered into the King’s neck. They were so close and the warmth was comforting despite Nox being on top of the covers. But that was all it was, a thing of comfort.

“I need to be distracted, I need to not think, I need to sleep and not be haunted.” The King was desperate for sleep to overcome him and for the nightmares to be at bay. The night terrors had always plagued him when he was troubled.

“Have I ever told you the time when I arrived in Irille for the Sect’s mission?” Nox asked and he felt Hadrian shake his head.

Nox told him the story when he turned up to meet his aunt and she whacked him on the head for not visiting sooner, she saw the bruise on his wrist from his father, a fading yellow one from a week earlier, and gathered him in a hug. She berated him and screamed at him for his insolence of never seeing her over pie. When that was done she took him into the garden and educated him on the finery that were plants. They were there well into the night and when Nox had went to bed, he had dirt caked under his fingernails and a smile on his lips. The thing that had achieved that was the fact that his aunt had called him by the nickname he had wanted to be named by – Nox – instead of Nathaniel, his father’s name.

Nox kept telling the story, of the dreams of giant plants he had that night doing battle with garden tools, while Hadrian silently screamed into the pillow and shook with sobs. All Nox did was keep telling the story and tighten his hold on the younger man. Finally, when the story was about done and Hadrian had ran out of screams, he let go.

He was about to run out of the room like a deer and back down to the main room. He was out of his depth here and he would not be caught in the Kings bed. It would have been a scandal. Hadrian must have caught on to Nox’s silence and tense frame because he knew just one thing that would convince Nox to abandon every thought.

It was one word, “Stay?” Hadrian asked into the early morning darkness. Nox could not refuse the broken hoarseness of Hadrian’s voice. Instead of running away, Nox buried deeper into the man’s back, his arms tightening ever so slightly before his head met the pillow. Hadrian may have fell asleep after Nox but he knew that he felt at peace for the first time in a long, long time.

Nox would just have to make sure that he woke up before everyone else the next morning if he wanted to avoid that scandal.

 

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