Delta Thread, chapter 2
She stood silently in the rain, letting it wash over her as she watched Masa and his underlings scurry away like whipped curs. She brushed the hair out of her eyes, then turned to walk over to Seth’s fallen form.
“Fool.” she muttered as she leaned down to inspect his wound. She rolled him onto his stomach to get to the shaft in his back, then silently pulled it out, rubbing her free hand on the wound to seal it. She shook the second bolt clean, and slid it next to the first. “I’ll save that for Obsidian.” she commented to herself quietly as she brought Seth back to consciousness. He rolled over and sat up, then reached for his weapons when he saw her. He stopped, his hand hovering above his sword, and looked into her eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked, slightly confused. “And why am I not dead?”
“You almost were dead, actually.” she said, smiling. She stood up from off her knees, brushing off the dirt quickly, then flicked her head to get rid of the excess water. “You can call me Raven.” she said, watching him as he slid his sword into its sheath and his shield onto the strap on his back.
“You don’t trust me with your real name?” he said, looking up as he let go of his shield.
She simply smiled and cocked her head to one side. “Now there’s a funny question. What is my real name? But I would think that you would trust me, since I just saved your life.”
“I do, and for that I am grateful.” Seth said. “And since you seem so eager to help me…”
“Looks can be deceiving.” she interjected.
“Well, despite your looks then, do you know if Enna is safe?” Seth asked, trying to keep his emotions in check.
“She’s fine for now.” Raven said, spinning on her heel and walking towards the palace. “And she’ll stay that way as long as Sonny keeps his head on straight. But Shadow’s there.” she added thoughtfully.
“Who are they?” Seth asked, running to catch up to her.
“You don’t know them?” she asked, surprised. “They guarded your wife when she was in the dungeon, when Obsidian had put her there.”
“Caden’s brothers?” Seth asked.
“Among other titles.” Raven said, wiping the rain off her forehead. “I’m surprised they didn’t stick around to meet you.”
Seth shook his head. “They were gone when I arrived.”
“Well, maybe you can meet them this time.” Raven said, a mischievous grin breaking out over her face.
“What do you know that I don’t know?” Seth asked, seeing her expression.
“You’ll see.” she said teasingly. “You’ll see.”
Kira sat at dinner, Caden silently standing guard behind her. She’d developed a reputation for dismissing any and all waiters from her presence while she ate, unless she summoned one to bring her anything the meal required, which was rare, since she ate light meals on all but the most special occasions. Caden, who had remained as her protector since the uprising had been stopped, was the only one she allowed stay with her when she ate. Any could come in and request an audience during her meal times, but she typically ate alone, preferring the solitude of single dining over the turmoil of court banquets, or ‘civilized chaos’ as she’d referred to them multiple times. Often she spent the meal discussing her plans for the kingdom with Caden, since he was always available and completely trustworthy. He’d established a habit of having finished his meal before she began, so he could completely focus on protecting her, or give advice when the need arose. It was an enjoyable arrangement for Kira, and it gave her a sense of security to have Caden present at all times. Recently, he’d proved his worth in dismissing the countless suitors that had crawled out of the palace crevices, seeking the new Queen’s hand in marriage. Many thought it more fitting for a King to lead the country than some ill-prepared girl, but Kira had been firm and had proven her abilities countless times.
So now she sat at dinner, eating peacefully as she listened to Caden’s steady breathing behind her. If it had been any other elf standing behind her, whether or not she were eating, she would have asked them to move a long time ago, but there was no one else she wanted at her back more than Caden. She felt more at home in the palace she grew up in when she was with Caden than without, a fact most likely due to his being her guardian and protector, as well as constant companion and friend, since her birth. She knew there were those in the court who weren’t to be trusted. She had seen it in their eyes, but more importantly, in their hearts, with her special vision that Caden continually referred to as ‘insight’. But she knew better. She had thought her abilities lost when Obsidian had joined all three Keys and unlocked the Portal, transforming himself into a Moderator, but she had been pleasantly surprised to find her unnatural insight, which came from being the Soul Key, had not abandoned her. She had been concerned when she realized that Obsidian’s advanced intellect may not have left him either, but Caden had explained that, with the changes Obsidian was now able to make on himself, a high level of intelligence was the least of their worries. He had reassured her, however, that she would be perfectly safe, since it would take Obsidian finding two Moderator allies just to match Caden and his brothers’ abilities. Not only that, but he had hinted at the presence of other Moderators still in her realm.
The cat Fe silently padded over to her and jumped up into her lap. She smiled. She had more friends than she’d ever hoped to have after Obsidian’s rebellion. Caden walked over and set a hand gently on her shoulder. She smiled again. For such a big elf, he was very light on his feet.
“I have a bad feeling right now.” he said, and her smile vanished. She turned in her seat to look at him, but he came around and kneeled beside her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, watching as the cat jumped down and padded away. When she looked back into Caden’s eyes, she saw they were filled with concern.
“I don’t know yet.” he said, his brow furrowing. “I sense something that I can’t quite place, though it feels vaguely familiar.” He stood up and walked a few paces away, placing two fingers in his left ear as he spoke in undertones to apparently himself, but Kira had spent enough time with him to know he wasn’t alone in his conversation. After a brief moment he let his hand fall to his side, and he expelled a quick, frustrated breath of air.
“Well?” Kira asked politely, knowing she probably wouldn’t like the answer.
“My brothers sense it as well.” Caden said, swiftly walking to the opposite side of the small table Kira sat at. He pulled out the other chair and joined her, resting his elbows on the table. Kira knew that was a sign that he was very agitated, and he rarely let himself get that way, for her sake. “Shadow is investigating, which leaves Wildfire on guard duty.” he said, shaking his head as if to dispel the annoyance creeping into his voice. “Shadow thinks it might be Moderators, and he’s probably right.”
“Which ones?” Kira asked. “Are they on our side?”
“We don’t know.” Caden said, frowning. “Right now it’s just speculation. Their presence doesn’t match the feel of a Moderator, even if they were previously unknown or from a set outside our jurisdiction or experience.”
“That was a little redundant.” Kira commented softly.
“I know.” Caden said, sitting back and placing his hands on the top of his head. “If we’ve never met them, then how would we know them? It makes sense, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have no idea what we’re facing here.” He stopped, and looked around her quizzically, then glared at whatever it was he’d seen. “You are very helpful, Fe, now go away.” He sat and listened for a moment, and Kira glanced at the cat sitting in the corner of the room, a little sad that he’d excluded her from the conversation. “No, I don’t think that all the time,” Caden continued, “Only when you insist on making those sarcastic, unhelpful remarks. Things would run so much more smoothly if you actually spent your time helping me, instead of making fun.”
“I take it he’s not being much help today?” Kira asked when Caden looked back at her.
“No, he’s not.” he said, frowning at the cat. “But that doesn’t…” He was interrupted by four elves who burst into the room. Caden jumped up, drawing his sword. Kira stood up, stepping behind Caden.
“How’d you get in here?” Caden growled, as the four elves looked around, somewhat dazed.
“Well, that was an unusual way to travel.” One of the four said, apparently their leader.
“I’m glad you think so.” Caden said, quickly tapping his left ear and practically snarling as he spoke with the person on the other end of his conversation. “I’ll ask you again, and then I’ll stop asking questions: how’d you get in here?”
“Well, I have a friend who was so kind as to escort me through the Overlay Region, since you’re so curious.” The leader said, and Kira recognized him.
“Masa.” she said, more of a statement than an accusation.
“My dear Kira, what a pleasant surprise.” Masa said, bowing low. “I heard that you were in search of a suitable husband, and I thought it fit that I present myself as a candidate.”
“Nice try, Masa.” Caden said, his left hand, the one not holding his sword, inching towards the knife in his belt. “Now why are you really here?”
“Always so suspicious.” Masa said, clucking his tongue. “What if I told you I had come for a friendly visit?”
“I’d say you’d be lying through your teeth. And I think I have reason to suspect you. You had me killed once, remember?” Caden said.
“That was not my decision.” Masa said defensively. “I was…preoccupied at the time the archer shot you. I did not clear him for that.”
“I sincerely doubt that.” Caden said. His glance shifted to the three behind Masa, who had begun to silently edge their way from behind him. “Who’re they?” he asked, motioning with his sword.
“Troops.” Masa replied.
“Oh, troops.” Caden echoed. “Well that makes everything better.” He shifted his stance, checking with his elbow to make sure Kira was still behind him. She obliged by gripping his elbow and leaving her hand there. It felt reassuring, but she told herself it was just to help Caden focus better on doing his job. “I’m going to give you to the count of three to go back the way you came, or else I’ll make you.”
“We can’t.” one of the soldiers said, frowning dolefully. “Obsidian said…”
“Quiet, fool.” Masa growled.
“Obsidian?” Kira asked from behind Caden.
“Well, now that you’ve gone and blabbed,” Masa said to the one who’d spoken, “Yes, Obsidian.”
“Obsidian what?” Caden prodded.
“He sent us through the Overlay Region, to here.” Masa said forlornly. “He said it was a one-way trip.”
“Well, I can send you right back.” Caden said, then muttered something under his breath.
“Well, Caden, since you’re so eager to help us,” Masa said, smiling as he walked towards Caden.
“Don’t take another step forward.” Caden ordered. Masa opened his mouth to reply, then noticed the cat sitting in the corner, silently watching them. He changed his mind and shut his mouth, holding his hands up in surrender.
“Fine, I’ll stay right here. But how are we going to get back?” he asked.
“You stay right there, and I’ll make sure you get back.” Caden said, then muttered under his breath again. This time Kira caught what he said, “Sonny, get your fiery behind in here right now.”
“Right here, bro.” A voice said from behind Kira.
“Get over here, in front of me.” Caden said, not looking back.
“Fine, fine. So impatient.” Sonny said, walking around Kira. “Hello, Queen.” he said as he passed her, dipping his head.
“Hello, Wildfire.” Kira replied. Sonny smiled. Kira knew that he preferred that name, since Sonny was the term his older brothers used to tell him he was being immature.
“So, what do you need now?” Wildfire asked, looking at Caden playfully.
“First, for you to quit goofing around.” Caden said, his mouth a straight line. “Second, for you ‘escort’ these four back to where they came from, then send …yourself back here for more instructions.”
“Shouldn’t we just leave?” one of the soldiers asked Masa. Their leader shot the elf a silencing glare, then returned his gaze to Caden and smiled.
“Get them out of here now.” Caden commanded, doing little to mask his impatience.
“All right, time to go to timeout.” Wildfire said, grabbing Masa’s shoulder and spinning him around. Wildfire grabbed the closest elf’s shoulder with his remaining hand, then the five disappeared.
“Something is definitely wrong.” Caden said, turning towards Kira, yet keeping his gaze where the elves had been moments ago.
“Besides the fact that Obsidian is back and sending his troops directly into the palace?” Kira asked him, gently placing her hand on his chin and moving it to make him look at her.
“Yes. There’s something definitely wrong with those elves.” Caden said. “They seemed…off, somehow, as if they weren’t really completely there.”
“Well, having brain-dead underlings is to our advantage, isn’t it?” Kira asked.
Caden chuckled, and said, “Well, it would be if I wasn’t so uncertain about what those mindless things were. I don’t think they were quite the elves we saw, and if I’m right…” he trailed off, and didn’t finish his thought. He stepped away and absently pressed the hidden headset in his ear, spoke softly, and turned to look at Kira when he was done. “I’m sorry for the disturbance.” he said apologetically. “I’ll see to it that doesn’t happen again.”