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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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25. "Saviours come in all shapes and forms."

 

TWENTY TWO

“Saviours come in all shapes and forms."

“Even those you don’t even expect.”

 

Two months ago

A lake in the countryside

 

In truth, they would have liked to say that they would’ve known about the speeding and then sinking car. But they didn’t, they couldn’t know everything, and so it took them a while to find it. A while for them was admittedly faster than the authorities or any normal perception, but it was still a while. They were panicked when they found the evidence of a sunken car. Their movements were hurried. They couldn’t let the King die.

A man in a hood pulled off his attire and dived into the water. He hurried and pushed his limbs to their full potential. Another person joined him and together they swam down to the sunken car. The windshield was cracked and close to shattering under the pressure exerted underwater. Cassiopeia was leaned over the steering wheel and Hadrian was folded in the chair, contorted weirdly. Together, the two of them tried the handle of the car and failed to open it. Their fists came up to pound at the windshield and the extra pressure caused the glass to give way. Together, the two of them dragged the bodies up through the water. Together, they panted for breath as they tried to get their oxygen supply back. In a panic, one of them started to pound the chest of the King in order to rid the water from his lungs. The other one went over to Cassiopeia and started the same motions. Cassiopeia came up first, coughing violently and nearly throwing the other person off of her and to the side. She hadn’t been harmed first though and she was disorientated. Hadrian was more of a problem, as the blood loss was more substantial than the drowning. He expelled the water from his lungs in some time and then passed out again.

“We have to get them to safety,” the second one said and they didn’t care that their disguises had come loose. Their patients weren’t able to identify them anyway due to their injuries. The first one would have preferred to be recognized though to be honest.

Cassiopeia passed out somewhere in the journey. The car that the figures had owned sped through the streets to their hideout. Their medical team would have to save them and they would have to fuss with getting the blood out of the interior.

Cassiopeia woke to deathly silence and a pounding head. It took her a second to remember what had occurred and then the panic set it. In the placid atmosphere of the room she felt uncomfortable, since the last thing she remembered was the deathly cold of the water. She lurched up and found that she couldn’t move. Her heart battered against her ribs as she fought to open her eyes and rid them of the crud that had lodged them together. Above her there lay wooden slats arranged in a triangular roof. An attic she supposed. A strap lay across her stomach and she knew that she was confined. “It’s for your protection.” A voice said and it held a terrifying note of familiarity. The President.

“Get away from me! Get away from – “ She tried to move violently. He was sitting on a sofa some meters away from her but his presence in the room was enough to make her skin crawl.

“President I think you should leave,” someone else inputted, “She is clearly distressed and that is not helping her concussion.”

“You don’t tell me what to do boy,” the President growled and staggered to his feet with the help from the nurse. He passed someone else and slapped them on the shoulder. Cassiopeia couldn’t see who, they must have been out of her field of vision. She didn’t want to turn her head to see him leave.

“He’s gone.”

She swiveled her head the other way and she knew who she was looking at. Hadrian was laid on the bed to the left of her, and the man sitting in between their beds was someone who she had once followed and never truly found. Nox. The man looked angry and sad all at once, managing to look torn on what he should feel.

“I knew there was something up with you,” she stated and tried to get up once more. But like last time she had no success.

“I know,” he said as he got up from his chair, “You followed me once.” For a breath Cassiopeia felt bashful that she had been obvious enough to be caught. Nox then put his hands on the strap across her waist and travelled it down to either side of the bed. With a quick flick of the wrist, the strap was torn off.

“Why was it even across me anyway?” Cassiopeia asked as she finally sat up and cracked her back. Her head still throbbed and she wanted it to go away. She sounded childish when she put it that way. Oh well.

“For your protection.” Nox said bluntly and went to sit back in his chair.  She decided to let it go, she wouldn’t get more information than that from him - the stubborn, stoic bastard.

“How is he doing?” Cassiopeia asked as she stared at Hadrian. It hurt to get out of bed but she managed to turn and face him. Asleep he looked better than he had been when they were in the car. The wound on his shoulder was wrapped up properly, covered by a bandage that spanned his chest and shoulder like a sling. He was bare chested obviously and Cassiopeia supposed that he might be cold – the thin cotton sheets could only do so much.

“He’ll survive.” Nox offered and they both stared at him with relief. Nox knew that the King was vital to their operation and Cassiopeia was ashamed to admit that she had protected him enough for her loved ones not to be harmed.

“When will he wake up?” Cassiopeia asked him looking at him intently.

“You’re guesses are as good as mine,” he replied nonchalantly and they waited together for the King to awake.

The time allowed her to take in her surroundings and Nox looked amused that the girl was so curious and wide eyed at it all. The hideout was positioned in the open, right in the heart of Irille's capital of Queens, the top floor of a previously abandoned building. It was rather stereotypical for a not so secret anymore organization. The attic was like those in many dwellings in the neighborhood in that it was tall and fully boarded. Sure it was difficult to stand right at the edges where the roof sloped down, but there was plenty of room even for the tallest of adults. But unlike the others, rather than being full of junk it had been slept in every night for the winter months. Cassiopeia knew this because it wasn’t just another attic that still held relics of its time of being uninhabited. It looked lived in, almost like a home. “How long have you been living here?” She questioned because it looked to be a while.

“For longer than you think actually. Close to a year now I think, we’ve had other hideouts though, temporary ones and we’ve always came back here when desired.” It was vague enough for Nox to be truthful with his answer. Cassiopeia was shocked by it as she hadn’t expected it to be that long; they had been there longer than she had damnit.

Nox left the girl to look intensely at the King and went to a table adjacent to them. The newspaper lay on the table, curled and with teeth marks from a street dog. Nox looked down at it like it was week old pasta, his mouth scrunched and eyebrows arched. Then with a “pock, pock” noise that he made with his lips, he moved on to the kitchen to brew coffee. There was nothing right with chewed up news, but the newsworthy event mattered more than the bite marks. They could have prevented this event if they hadn’t been occupied with hurrying his partner into protective services and preserving her true identity. They really needed better disguises but an organization that was focused on preventing corruption didn’t get much funding. He had to grab the article from a stubborn stray dog that morning and its contents were shocking enough for them to stick in his head. He couldn’t not see them, they could have prevented it from happening.

 

CRIMINALS STORM MEETING AND FORCES KING TO FLEE!

This afternoon a crime group marched their way into the Guild Hall while King Hadrian was hosting his second public meeting. It started with one person entering with a gun and then it escalated into a group of six. The first man, whose name is not being disclosed at present, shot eight people dead before being shot by the King himself. Witnesses recall that King Hadrian encouraged others to flee the hall before someone grabbed him and drove him away. This person isn’t known at present either. We do not know the King's whereabouts or the circumstances of his departure. What we do know however, is that the six other criminals took the hall hostage calling for a ransom of a million coins. Prince Lucian was called, in the King's stead and took charge, trying to negotiate with the criminals.

From Prince Lucian’s account the criminals did not waver but they did send out two hostages in reprieve. After a half sum of the ransom, Lucian was able to gain access to the meeting hall. He and the palace guard killed four of the criminals who raised weapons and the other two were apprehended. They are currently held in The Cellar awaiting interrogation and then trial.

After this, Lucian revealed knowledge of the drug known as SIE, this is new to the public eye but was held back in order ‘to protect the people and ensure their ultimate and vital safety.’ SIE is a drug that…

 

It went on and on and Nox was somewhat proud to know the knowledge of SIE was revealed so that the cover up didn’t add to the corruption. He wasn’t sure however, if it was the best option as the curiosity generated would only up the customers for the pills.

 

Waking up was no longer the pleasure it was, Hadrian noticed. There was a fleeting moment when he was whole again but it evaporated faster than summer rain off that year. Irille didn’t do well in heat and it thrived in the long periods of cold. Then his eyelids, that were previously drooping and leaden with sleep, snapped open violently as the realization crept in. Water, gunshot wound, pain, cow, Cassiopeia. The memories came back suddenly like a lightning strike and his brain became overwhelmed with sensations as if it was new and raw. He wasn’t in the water any longer as he couldn’t feel the cold water on his skin. He wasn’t in his bedroom either because the sheets were too thin. For a moment he wanted to linger in the blissful ignorance that was sleep but then he reminded himself that he couldn’t, he couldn’t afford to. He was somewhere he didn’t recognized and panic swelled in his chest.

He flailed and tried to escape. It was useless and soon there was hands on him, begging him to be calm. He could hear Cassiopeia, “Hadrian, you’re safe, calm down.”

Another voice mingled in with hers, “If you don’t stop moving, you’ll tear your stitches.”

Wait a minute, he knew that voice too. “Nathaniel?” Hadrian croaked and Cassiopeia looked confused.

“Who the hell is Nathanial?” She questioned, “Is he brain damaged or something?”

“That’s my real name, Nathaniel Owen Xavier.”

“That’s a stupid name,” Cassiopeia answered shaking her head profusely. It was the first thing that leapt out of her mouth from her disbelief. You would have thought that being deceived would have more of an impact on her but it was only shock that she felt. She didn’t know every life story of her customers and she hadn’t bothered to try.

“Thanks.” Nathanael replied sarcastically and Hadrian was so confused that it made his brain hurt.

“Hadrian, you had fourteen stitches to close the bullet wound in your shoulder, it didn’t do much damage except just literally tear through you. You’re in a compound, an attic to be exact, and I am otherwise known as Nox, a member of the Sect.” He said is so honestly and clearly that there was no distrust in his voice. Every word was truth and it was said with so little care. Hadrian was given time to digest that information and it took him awhile for his brain to come online.

“The Sect? Like the organization that’s been terrorizing the elite, stealing items and scaring them. Even terrorizing the Brickell’s most recently?” He questioned and tried to get up. He couldn’t be down at the moment, he had to walk around. But the strap across his waist hindered him severely and he looked like a grumpy cat with the glare he sent the other man’s way. He was a King and he should not be held down by something so meagre.

“That’s the one,” Nathaniel – Nox – replied and again the sentence carried no care whatsoever.

Nox just couldn’t be bothered to muster up strength to care. Caring meant that he would convey the emotion that they wanted. Hadrian was confused, terribly confused, and the meanings behind the words suddenly had ten different meanings at once. His mind was still a spiraling perplexity when he tried to get up once more.

“You’re still injured Hadrian, lay down for now.” Cassiopeia reminded him and he did not pay attention to it. Looking right he saw the bed that Cassiopeia must have lay in he saw latches at the side. Her bed didn’t have the strap on and it must have been taken off for her to get up. Quickly moving his hands, despite the sharp pang that it caused in his shoulder, he searched for his own latches and flipped them up. Sitting up hurt, and by hurt Hadrian meant truly hurt. He was sure that he wasn’t looking good as he did it as the swift movement turned his face from having colour to being a blank canvas.

His eyes were frozen over for a minute, like a surface of a winter puddle robbing them of any warmth whatsoever. He was detached from himself for a while, trying to not allow the tears to spring into his eyes. He was a ghost in human form. “Fucking Hell,” he muttered briefly before the white noise invaded. Ring; ring; ring; ring. A relentless high pitched buzzing noise like a bee lodged into his brain. It was maddening and he must have blacked out for a second, stars invading his eyes and matching the static of the noise.

Hands on his forearms were evident and someone was holding him firmly into position. The noise faded like a firework, high pitched at first and then gently fading into the blackness.

“We told you to lie down, and what did you do? Don’t lie down and instead sit up quite fast.” Nox sarcastically spoke and he was the one that was holding him close. Cassiopeia looked worried off at the side and something told Hadrian that that expression had been on her face for quite some time. “You’re an idiot,” Nox continued and then looked at him.

Cassiopeia looked as ashen as Hadrian felt right then which was not good, “Are you alright?” she asked and they were so close to the bed now, practically on top of him. Hadrian nodded with a dazed look in his eyes.

“T – Tell me what’s going on? What are your organization really doing? What happened in the Guild hall?” He demanded and Nathaniel – Nox – scoffed and rolled his eyes. This was one sarcastic fellow and Hadrian was amused that he never really new the other man as much as he thought he did.

“Something tells me that there’s a speech coming up?” Cassiopeia uttered and sat down. Hadrian maneuvered himself to lean back against the headboard, hissing in between his teeth at the pain. It hurt to move, and Hadrian hated it.

“You need to prepare yourselves really,” Nox whispered and stood with his arms crossed. He looked bored, as if what he was about to say was something that he had said with constant rehearsal. “When the eyes of a baby have the worry of the old they are in pain. No infant should know trauma or hunger. More than that, babies are sponges for the emotions around them, as are children. If the parents are stressed or in pain, the child will know instinctively and feel stressed also. Can it be justice to be born into such pain? Can it be justice to live in violence, in a constant hurricane of hurt that shatters the soul? How can we accept hollow eyes in children, wherever they are born? Every girl is our daughter, every boy is our son, no matter who their parents are. It is time we found a way for those people who only want to live a life for love and nurturing to help those in pain, to heal them with something real. Professional care isn't love and so its benefit is limited; only those strong in love can turn this world into the paradise it was always meant to be, a heaven on Earth. But the people entrusted with transforming this planet don’t care for anyone, only themselves. They are corrupt and their hearts are black with self-absorption. They are sponges for themselves and so the people they rule over are children sensing the hurt and pain of everyone around them and themselves. They are suffering and hungry, and they will never be fed.”

Nathaniel took a long winded breath after the paragraph. His eyes looked hard and tired. Cassiopeia looked angry, because she knew that it was near enough true. Since coming to Irille she had saw that, she had past the Cracks where the homeless dwelled. They were hidden from the rest of society and they were forgotten about.

“You weren’t kidding when you said that they needed to prepare themselves. God that was boring as hell.” A woman entered and she was fair and small. Despite her size she looked fierce and Cassiopeia wouldn’t want to encounter her in the dark. This woman could certainly defend herself if she so wished.

“Samantha? Not you too,” Hadrian groaned and placed his hands over his eyes. Even his tattooist was in on this organization and therefore he couldn’t trust anyone anymore. Was everyone he had ever encountered a part of this organization? He supposed that he was being dramatic but he had a right to be.

“I’ve been a part of this for over a year now Hadrian, you probably don’t blame me for leaving it out of our correspondence.” She said and looked him straight in the eye. He would never have guessed that the girl who was drawing and looking after her mother the same time even had time to be part of a secret group. Maybe her whole family was in on it and it had been a cover up to last the ages, betraying their family for who knows how long.

Samantha came over to him and patted the bandage on his chest, her touch was so light that it didn’t even register through the padding. “No blood has seeped through it, our healers did a good job on you.”

“Why are you here?” Hadrian asked with a closed mouth. He was angry that this had been thrown under his nose for so long when he knew pretty much everything else to do with Irille and its crime circles. How had this happened? What had he done wrong?

 

“You want to know why I’m here. Why I wanted to join this organization even though you wouldn’t expect it?” Samantha stated and descended into a tangent.

“Let me tell you a story. A man stepped from the shadows, a man too thin and gaunt to be from this neighborhood. How he'd evaded the security I'm not quite sure. You see if the homeless are seen from the general public they are shunned and turned back. They are harshly removed and taken back to the Cracks. But let me continue, his eyes were the same brown as my father's but his skin was tanner, not the definite pale of people born here, and more deeply wrinkled too. He dropped a package of photographs – photographs! And he was arrested in a couple of minutes. Why was he arrested? Because the photographs were treated as suspicious and he was carted away like an animal. A man appeared out of the shadows and therefore he was shunned. That isn’t right. It’s not. Irille is messed up and I have to change that, I have to do something to change that. That is why I joined. I joined to fix a broken land.”

“A good lot of success we’ve had then,” Nox murmured and Hadrian couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic again or not. He was probably being sarcastic since it was his default mode nowadays and since the eye roll from the smaller comrade signaled it.

“Is there anymore secret agents that I should know of, maybe one with direct links to the palace hmm?” His patience was wearing thin and if his whole body didn’t hurt he would have got up and walked out of the attic.

“I’ve already told you about my involvement,” Cassiopeia said and looked at him intently, “I think that is it for secret agents right?” She addressed the question to the other two people in the room and they both nodded. “Let’s move to what’s going to happen now, yes?” Cassiopeia was desperate for the negative atmosphere to dissipate as she didn’t like how Hadrian’s eyes reflected a dominant storm. The newspaper that Nox had been reading before was passed around and Hadrian’s eyes grew in their intensity. He was angry at what had happened and maybe angry that Cassiopeia had saved him and not the people inside.

“How many are dead?” He said with a hoarse voice, and he didn’t mean the dead criminals who had fallen in the pursuit of justice. He meant all of the innocent lives that he had left behind to die.

“They believe that it is sixteen out of the forty five other people that were there alongside you,” Samantha whispered and they all watched as Hadrian tried to keep his guard from falling and revealing a near broken face. Hadrian felt guilty and the feeling uncoiled like a gargantuan dragon in his chest he only good thing about it was that it dulled his physical pain somewhat.

“I’ve been declared missing haven’t I?” Hadrian asked and he received another nod for that. “Lucian should serve the temporary throne well, but I have to get back on my feet as quick as possible.”

“As soon as you feel up to it and you can actually move, we’ll transport you to the healer’s quarters across the city and you can begin physiotherapy to keep your shoulder in shape. It won’t be for long don’t worry, just a couple of days. In the meantime we have time to debrief you fully on what we have been doing here.” Samantha hesitated before she launched into an explanation that she couldn’t quite hold back. Getting the King on their side was a huge risk but it would be a massive reward if he was able to put his differences aside. They would have to work with Cassiopeia to win back her trust and after that maybe she could help convince Hadrian that what they were doing was actually a good thing.

“A couple of days!” Hadrian tried to lunge forward and was stopped by a hand on his wrist by Nox, “I can’t spend a couple of days in bed while my country suffers.”

Spoken like a true King, Cassiopeia thought, “Don’t you trust your brother to rule in your stead?”

Now that was a question, Hadrian trusted his brother with the world but the Crown was something different, something more personal to him than anybody else. He needed to get back on the throne as soon as possible. His brain hurt just from thinking of the all the logistics of what could happen while he was away from the throne.

“What are you going to do with Cassiopeia in the meantime?” Hadrian asked, because Cassiopeia hadn’t been mentioned in Samantha’s plans.

“I’m going to train her up, so she can be as fighting fit as us,” Nathaniel – Nox – smirked knowingly. Hadrian reciprocated the smirk, thinking back to the clash of swords and sweat on skin from battle. Cassiopeia had to admit that she was a little unnerved by the knowing grin on both of their faces. What had gone on between them for them to form a string of a relationship, and this string was thickening with every interaction.

“I’ve already been trained thank you very much,” Cassiopeia retorted to Nox, pricking her head up just slightly. Under the tutelage of Avery she had refined her skills from nothing to something, and that made all the difference.

“By that sea captain? No, that’s not proper training, there’s a fine art to training. You’ve learned how to play dirty, now it’s time for you learn skill.” Nox’s eyes were gleeful and Cassiopeia groaned inwardly.

...

Hadrian was politely asked – more like forced – to sit in a wheelchair while he accompanied Nox and Cassiopeia to the basement. He should have been privileged that he was even being allowed that, and if Cassiopeia had had her way he would have been chained to the bed again like a dog. He was a King Damnit, he should be inserting the rules here not some girl. The loft had a lift which Samantha escorted him into and in the rickety cage Hadrian was allowed to think that he had never once been in one of Irille’s town houses. He had only been in the districts with the houses with balconies, or extravagant porches or gardens. He had come to see Irille through a narrow pin point where only some districts were seen, such as the high street, the palace and the Quarters (where the more affluent Lords and Ladies dwelled). His mind had completely shut out the Cracks or the Narrows (the nickname for the dwellings of everyone else). Hadrian had never been aware of such divisions in his mind before and he worked to correct them. A proper King viewed his country as a unique whole, not as a definite select place where the dirtier parts of the city were dismissed. He quickly decided that he would have to pay a visit to the Shanty’s, the North of the country more populated by snow and log cabins than it was by anything else. If the winters had been bad in his area than they must have been even worse for his people up there. The lift came to a jangling halt, the final jolt as it landed made his hands leap for a second. Samantha did not spare him a glance, she hadn’t for the entire way down. He wondered whether it was because she was aware of the acute betrayal that she had done to him. Never once in her contract had she alerted him to being a part of this resistance, anything could have happened while he was in her care, in her hands as the marks were placed. It was a damn right security risk and Hadrian could have her executed if he wanted to. He didn’t, but he was sure that she was aware of it, even frightened to the bones of it. Who wouldn’t after all?

She wheeled him out into a spacious room, empty of everything but a few armchairs in the farthest corner and a punch bag hanging from the ceiling in the nearest corner.  Nathaniel – Nox – and Cassiopeia was stood in the middle, having beaten them down by taking the stairs. They were strapping up their wrists with some cotton, Cassiopeia handling hers more like a bandage covering a physical wound. Her inexperience with etiquette, and her experience with the sea was showing greatly and Hadrian was sure that Cassiopeia was proud of the little experience she had happened to gain. From what he had heard of Sars, it was a peaceful, divided country where Cassiopeia would have had a future as a Scavenger or Farmer, not a fighter or protector like she would be in Irille.

“We’re to sit in the corner and be quiet while they train,” Samantha murmured as she wheeled him around to the armchairs, “Any questions will be whispered and you will not participate with them, you are still healing.”

“Like I would be stupid enough to even try,” Hadrian grumbled as they neared the seats and Samantha tucked her hands under his armpits to lift him out of the metal chair and into the more comfy one. Samantha shot him a look, one that they knew was one of knowing. They both knew that Hadrian would have loved to fight, not only to prove his worth or for the love of the fight, but to work off the tension gathering in his muscles.

Hadrian had to admit that the chair was most welcoming, he felt more tired than he ever had and he appreciated each breath. The panic of the Guild Hall, the car ride and then the plunge into the water was taking a toll on him. It felt good to not have any responsibilities but to just sit and watch without having any background motives to the action.

 

Back in the center of the room Nox was showing Cassiopeia stances. Cassiopeia was more familiar with the usual stances, sideways, feet shoulder width apart, bouncing on the toes ready to spring. She was not ready with the simple relaxed pose of facing your opponent head on in an unstressed posture. Legs slightly bent but together, shoulders facing another person’s shoulders. Nox gathered up a pair of smooth wooden sticks from the back of the room and lightly tossed one to Cassiopeia.

“Before swords were invented, people fought with spears, first using them for their narrow points and then battling with the length of the stick. Later on they are used as training weapons so that the only wounds that one can inflict are some bruises. Nothing major,” Nox started as he held his stick across his body with the tip facing the walls on either side of him. This position was harmless, one of defense not offense. “Today I’m going to teach you some etiquette and then we’re going to hit each other with the sticks, calling upon everything you know plus the etiquette. For every hit you place you can ask me a question and vice versa. Is that okay?”

Cassiopeia nodded and changed her stance from an offensive one to mimic Nox’s pose.

She drowned out his speech and instead listed the rules in her head to make more sense of them.

1.First bow to your opponent letting them know that you’re ready to fight, this is only used in competitive bouts or training, not a real fight.

2.Place hand or hands near the middle of the stick to have more power over it. Hands won’t get whacked this way. This is only for defense, for offense place one hand on the end of the stick to have more leverage.

3.Twirl it in your hands to switch positions, this looks more delicate.

4.Footwork is key, feet pointing towards your partner signifies intent.

5.Don’t go for kill shots to the head unless absolute necessary in a fight.

6.Use a diagonal motion to block your opponents stick, this covers most of your body and is therefore a good protector.

7.Nod your head when you’re willing to start the fight, goad your partner or end the fight.

“Isn’t that last rule a bit confusing?” Cassiopeia asked, even if you had the intention of ending the fight the opponent could take it as a goad and keep going.

“You have different nods, the start and end nods are more emphasized, chin nearly to the chest. The goading nod is more like a tilt to the side.” Nox replied as he began to bow low to the ground. Cassiopeia took this bow as the start of the fight and followed suit.

Nox had bent straight from the waist curling the stick in between his contorted body, Cassiopeia’s was shallow compared to his the stick just barely fitting in to the shape of her body. She hadn’t been trained in etiquette since she was small like Nox had. Cassiopeia had always thought that Nox had come from a low level family not the high up one that seemed to be the case.

No sooner had she come out of her bent position that Nox had nodded his head and readying himself into position. She had little time to nod her own head before the stick came coming towards her with a snap. She straightened her arms and twisted the stick to a diagonal defense position and Nox took a step forwards and his stick came around hers and whacked her shoulder.

“A tip is to keep the weapon close to your chest when defending so that there’s no room for bypassing the stick. That was a free pass, the next time I hit you I get a question.” Nox advised and he sprang forward again. Cassiopeia had to switch her mind from the techniques she knew to etiquette and delicacy. How could being nice win a fight?

 

From Hadrian’s position in the chair he could see Cassiopeia frown, her features contracting in concentration. She was out of her depth and that was a good and dangerous place to be in a fight, he was pleased that this was only a training exercise and not a real fight. Most of the people in Irille would fight like this – their skills embedded in the delicate but deadly maneuvers. A foot dived forward, stick pointed to a chest. Block. Defense, offense.

Nox landed a hit on Cassiopeia’s wrist, her stick slow to defend the sneaky move. “What made me suspicious enough to follow me?” He asked and placed his body back in to the relaxed pose.

“Nothing sat right with you, you were too quiet, too removed, too needy for everyone to stay away from you. Clearly something went on behind the scenes to make you that way and I wanted to make sure that that something wasn’t going to impose on my tavern.” Cassiopeia replied and nodded her head to start the fight again. Defend, offend, defend. Spring forward, duck, spring backward. Stick pointed diagonal, stick pointed lengthways, the end pointed to a chest.

Hadrian thought back to when he caught Cassiopeia in a warehouse district, she must have been following Nox that day. But why had Nathaniel (Nox) been in that part of the city? Obviously the Sect had some motives in listening in to the King’s conversations with the criminals and monitoring what they would call corruption at the finest degree.

Then Cassiopeia landed a slight hit to Nox’s legs as leaned forward quickly. One thing that was the same in fighting dirty and fighting with ‘skill’ was the fact that you always had to be quick and on your feet.

They both went back to standing with heads held high and a question left Cassiopeia’s lips, “Everyone has a reason to be here so what is yours?”

“I come from a political background, everything is prim and proper there. But it’s so strict and unwavering. When rules are too strict rebellion seems like the only option and then corruption towards your own sons and daughters are expected. It’s not proper but it’s expected. No one should have to be scared of going home. So I looked for another home, one which wouldn’t look to violence to act as discipline. I fight against misdirected violence.”

Hadrian would not have thought that of the Xavier’s but he couldn’t see everything that went on behind closed doors. He would not have thought that Nathaniel was a son of abuse either, the man had hid it well. Hadrian could not wipe the flabbergasted expression off of his face, it was not one of pity although there were underlying tones of it, but it was one of surprise. He would not have never, in a million years have expected that.

The air was dense with truths as the pair stood and faced each other. Cassiopeia had to keep her face blank in order to hide her emotions. Everything was wrong with that story, what father would think of hitting their own son just because he didn’t comply. No wonder Nox had appeared guarded and suspicious of any behaviour towards him.  

Nox took a deep breath to steady himself, telling that story always made him uneasy. But the past was the past and it deserved to be left behind. Being in Irille was another story, a story of redemption for him and for the populace. He gripped his hands around the staff, allowing himself to be more anchored than he had felt before. He knew that question would have been asked. To recover he schooled his face and then he looked Cassiopeia dead in the eye.

“In time you will find your own reason to work with us and that will fuel every decision, every move that you will make from that point of creation.”

Now Cassiopeia’s future was sealed and she hadn’t even realised it. 

 

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