Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Michael angrily wrapped his fingers against his desk in Asterin's palace, impatiently awaiting the text from Asterin that would alert him--
Michael glanced at his phone screen, stiff jawed.
He's here, Asterin texted him. Be ready.
Michael stood, back aching, and walked out of the door to his suite.
"Down the hallway," he muttered, "up three floors, head south... north... How can she get around this place?"
After almost half an hour of being lost, he finally made his way to Asterin's throne room. Some of the other leaders had come to Nesrin just to see how things would play out.
On a raised platform, Asterin sat upon the Nesrin throne, regally glaring at anyone that dared look at her-- barring Sinestra, who was glaring at everyone just as angrily. Michael caught a glimpse of Queen Cynthia and a man named Loni, a yellow-skinned fellow from Campaignia. Not far from them stood Queen Ismelda of Allegoria, her granddaughter Elizabeth, or Lizzie, at her side. Michael walked around the room to stand with them.
"Aunt Ismelda," he said quietly, "Lizzie, I didn't know you would be here."
"I told Asterin to keep it a secret lest I ask Sinestra to cane her again," Ismelda answered, a smile hanging at her lips. The old woman's pale gray hair lay neatly down her back, her dark teal dress resting about a foot behind her. A golden tiara rested upon her head, and she wore a silver ring embedded with emeralds and sapphires upon her left hand.
Michael glanced at Lizzie. "Are you treating your grandmother well?"
The little five-year-old nodded happily. "Uh-huh," she said. "Memere and I take really good care of each other since Maman passed."
"Good," the Belecthorian said fondly. "Have you heard from your Oheim Jaques?"
"Staying busy," Ismelda interrupted. "Now, hush, someone's arriving."
Just out in the hall, a woman's flats tapped the polished floor with a quiet, unhurried step. Natalia appeared in the doorway in an elegant burgundy dress, glancing around the room as if making sure it was the right place before entering. She wasn't very tall anyway, but the high doorway dwarfed her.
As soon as he saw who it was, Michael offered her a small smile, slowly motioning for her to come stand with him. She smiled back and crossed the room to stand near his side, glancing with a friendly look at some of the others.
When she was close, Michael said, "Aunt Ismelda, Elizabeth, this is Chief Emissary Natalia Whitestar of Misericord. Natalia, these are Queen Ismelda and Grand Duchess Elizabeth, her grandmo--"
"Michael," Ismelda snapped a little hastily.
The king smirked. "Yes, O Queen."
Ismelda muttered, "Belecthorians," in reply.
Natalia looked between the two of them with a soft smile. She touched her chest with a small bow of her head to Ismelda. "I'm glad to meet both of you."
Lizzie looked up at the Misericord that towered over her. "Memere likes to say she's not old cause Grammy Sinestra is more than a hundred."
"Twelve and a half decades," a voice muttered from behind them, making all of them jump. "Oh, calm down, it's just me."
Sinestra had somehow snuck up on all them.
"Good morning," Natalia said with another small tip of her head as she collected herself.
"Stand up straight, Natalia, a limp becomes more obvious if one slouches," Sinestra replied.
The young woman's eyebrows immediately shot up. She opened her mouth to reply, but closed it again as a pink color rose to her cheeks. Her weight shifted slightly from her left to her right with an awkward nod.
"Better," Sinestra said. "Elizabeth, dear, feet together. Ismelda, chin down. Michael."
The Belecthorian smirked.
"Keep up the good work."
Evidently then, this was usual. Natalia glanced at Michael and Ismelda quickly and inhaled to try to drive the heat from her face. There was a limp, yes. A small one on her right side that she didn't think anyone had been able to notice. Natalia looked down as Lizzie tugged at her dress. "Cousin Michael is Grammy Sinestra's favorite. It's not you, Miss Natalia, don't worry."
Natalia laughed a little through her nervousness and looked up at Michael.
"She didn't even like my mother," Michael said, "and everyone loved my mother. Even the Thirans."
"Michael," Ismelda scolded.
"...fine," the Belecthorian admitted. "Some of the Thirans."
"It wasn't that I didn't like her," Sinestra said, moving towards a wide-eyed Asterin. "She played with her Brussels sprouts as a child, just like her mother did."
"Is-- Michael the only one you like then?" Natalia asked hesitantly.
"For now," Sinestra replied before she was finally out of earshot and scaring Asterin half-to-death.
The young woman slowly turned a questioning look up to Michael, who merely shrugged. "Don't look at me," he said. "I don't know what I did."
"Hush," Ismelda said. "I think this is... him."
The doors opened once more, and an older man with a uni-brow walked in. He had thick sideburns and wore a monocle, which sat just above his giant nose. "Your Imperial Highness," his high-pitched voice squeaked, "I am Quailstorm Shrekling, Acting President of the Belecthorian Repub--"
"I ought to have you dragged to the dungeons, rebel," Asterin snapped. "What business have you in Nesrin?"
From the side, Natalia studied the slim man with a neutral expression as he waddled along.
Shrekling looked in Natalia's direction, but it was not her that he was looking at. "Him," he avowed, pulling something from his pocket. "I have here a warrant for the arrest of Michael Dragonheart son of Rorimac, the pretender to the throne of the Belecthorian Republic. He has been charged with many crimes and misdemeanors, and was found guilty of fifty in absentia." The man smirked. "The courts have sentenced him to death by hanging."
Michael heard several gasps and noted that Sinestra had uttered something un-ladylike in an angry fashion. He himself remained silent, and he looked away from the president.
A small shock had kicked Natalia in the chest. Death by hanging? She was looking hard at Shrekling as she searched his face. "You're serious?" Her accent played a little heavier.
"Yes," Shrekling answered, not tearing his gaze away from Michael. "And any that dare protect him will be considered enemies of our republic--"
Sinestra growled, "Someone may need to take my cane away in case I attack this nitwit."
Natalia glanced at her briefly before looking back at the older man. "And what do you think to do about this paper of yours here?" she questioned rather calmly.
"A little something that gives him a choice," Shrekling said cruelly. "He may either return with me to Belecthoria, or..." The man smiled, a barbaric look plastered across his face. "The Sacred Dome will be destroyed, with every last Dragonheart inside of it."
"No!" Michael shouted suddenly, fire in his eyes. He marched up to Shrekling, inches from his face. "You wouldn't dare."
A hand touched Michael's elbow lightly before quickly drawing away as he turned away, leaving Natalia alone in front of the president. "Count the Council as your enemy, Mr. Shrekling," she said as she met his eye. "And only more if you desecrate the graves of the dead."
"Why would you care, Misericord?" Shrekling asked. "The lot of you are little more than spongy push--"
Shrekling fell to the floor, a cry of pain escaping his lips. Michael was merely smirking, and-- a cane was against Shrekling's back
"I told you someone needed to take it from me," Sinestra said calmly. "I might kill someone next time in some senile, crazed fit."
Natalia backed away a step in surprise, staring down at the slumped body of the president. Her jaw tightened and she slowly ran her hand down the front of her right leg without looking up.
The other world leaders exchanged murmurs and groans; Ismelda actually smiled. Sinestra limped back to her place beside Asterin. Michael knelt down and poked Shrekling a few times before looking at Sinestra. "Is he dead?"
"Yes," Sinestra said sarcastically. "So very dead. Definitely would die from lack of oxygen if we went ahead and buried him."
Michael's gaze turned to Asterin. "What should we do with him?"
The Empress shrugged. "Imprison him, I guess. He did kinda threaten you."
"Up to you."
"Burn him at the stake and watch his bones turn to ash!" Cynthia cackled wildly.
Sinestra cringed. "Ew... No thank you. The smell of burning skin is just awful."
Michael gave her a You know this how? kind of look before shaking his head. She was old and probably just making it up. "Imprisonment is probably what's best for him."
While they spoke, Natalia had drawn away a little further. She let her eyes glance over them and flick towards Michael, staying silent.
Michael turned to look at Natalia before looking to one of the guards. "Take him to the medical wing. After he is tended to, take him to one of the finer rooms and keep him confined there. If he asks for anything, run it by Alexia and Phineas before delivering it to him. Any news is to come only from the Belecthorian Times-- it's unlikely he'd read anything else."
The guard nodded and motioned for two others to obey him.
"Even without a kingdom, he still has authority," Ismelda whispered, just loud enough for Natalia to hear.
Natalia looked over at her with a small smile, but it lapsed into a more serious expression again. "What will happen with him being here?"
"I would assume that if things go well, he would one day be released. If not..." Ismelda trailed off. If things turned sour, Shrekling would not be so lucky.
Natalia nodded slowly as the guards carried Shrekling out. "What about in Belecthoria?"
"They'd kill him eventually," Ismelda said somewhat casually. "Belecthorian civil wars and rebellions tend to end... very badly."
Civil war... Natalia's mind tugged her back to her own country where civil war was being whispered evermore openly.
"It'll be fine, assuming Calcitrop and the Thirans don't start abusing their so-called humanitarian efforts," Ismelda said quietly.
"What do you mean? Abuse them how?"
"I'm neither a racist nor xenophobic, Ms. Whitestar," Ismelda said firmly. "But I will let history speak for itself. They are greedy, crime-ridden, arogant, weasley, pudgy fools that do everything in their power to decieve the rest of the world."
Natalia studied Ismelda, gave her a little nod, and glanced away. These were things she had never worried about in Misericord, things the Council spoke little of and worried about less. Things that were none of their business. "I suppose we will have to watch Thira then." That was what they always did-- they watched when things flared up outside.
"Always watching," Ismelda sighed. "A watchful, never-ending half-peace."
The emissary frowned a bit. "Ma'am?"
"Well..." Sinestra had heard their conversation and started to hobble over. "There was the Long Winter that ended in the early twentieth century, in which Alexia the Third and then Rorimac the Third were the next two reigning Dragonhearts. Then came Gerontius, who then-- well, to use the modern phrase-- kept the Thirans in check. Thira and Belecthoria have never been friends. As of yet, they will not be, not until some great change--"
"Michael, I think Sinestra took the wrong medicines again," Asterin interrupted.
Sinestra sighed. "I haven't, but take me to my room. I'm twelve and a half decades old, and I'm tired. After all, I need my beauty sleep-- the cameras will be here just as soon as the war begins."