A/N: Hi, everyone. It’s a little early to be posting so soon. But… since am a little down and find myself free for the week, I’ve uploaded another chapter for you and me. 😉 We’ll be seeing a bit of James’ family here. I do love writing about them from time to time. Their relationship is kind of ideal. Are there actual couples who are like them today? I wonder… 🙂
Silence stretched between James and Fred. The novelist returned to his desk. His back hunched, fingers tapping on the glass table top in a tap-tap-tap rhythm. He was upset. Fred couldn’t fathom whether it was because of the spy or Mr. Roucan. James’ dislike of Louis’ father has been obvious since they were students. The way his best friend’s expression would turn cold whenever Mr. Roucan was mentioned proved it. Nevertheless, he still cared for the siblings. He had welcomed Louis in his home and sought the spy to find out the truth about Electra.
“Does Cheska know – did this Gerard tell Cheska her real identity?” James asked.
“No. Her memories returned. It was probably triggered when we were attacked on the road,” Fred replied.
“Attacked?” James’ head snapped towards him.
“Fortunately, Gerard was there – working for them. He saved us.”
“Wait a second,” he faced Fred, raising a hand. “Let me get this straight. He attacked you then saved you?”
“James, this isn’t about Cheska anymore. We have a bigger problem. And, I think, I was led here for a good reason. We need your help.”
“Okay. That,” James pointed a finger at him, “doesn’t make sense.”
Fred sighed. Explaining himself was becoming a routine whenever he came here. For the second time that day, he told James what had occurred after he left Cheska with the novelist’s wife.
“Right. Louis and his old man are in a truce because of this impending doom. You want me to find out our imperial-aspirant’s military movements and hand this intel to your guardian friends.” James paced back and forth. It was clear that his anxiety had risen a few notches in the way he phrased words with such drama. He stopped, head bent down and hands on hips. “You can’t ask me this. I have a family now that I intend to keep for a long time.
“James,” Fred started.
“Listen,” James said. “I’m not invincible. One way or the other, someone with better skills will detect me. They’ll track my IP and know my location – my family. Diana and David are the only family I have left. If something happens to them…”
The torment in his eyes made Fred pause. James had lost his father through a mental illness before death eventually took him. The mother, overcome with grief, soon followed her husband to the grave. The son was left under Alfred Roucan’s custody. The Roucans were the sole reason James was able to continue his studies – that and his intelligence. He had a full scholarship that paid for his living expenses and school fees in Roucan Academy. It was always a mystery what he did after school and away from his friends. The funds James used for purchasing his expensive toys were even suspicious back then. Now Fred had an idea what those activities were and was probably his friend’s source of income. James had done it to avoid being indebted to his guardian more than necessary.
Fred steeled himself. In another circumstance, he could afford to sympathize with his best friend.
“James, I don’t know what the guardians are planning but the tyrant in Libya is a real threat. He wants to build an empire and he’s got an army to do that. Using the tunnels to infiltrate countries is just an advantage to them. If it fails, he’ll just use a different method to achieve his goal…” Fred trailed off. Method. What could he possibly do next?
“I don’t know, Fred. Why don’t we let the guardians do their job first? See how it’ll pan out.”
His jaw slackened as realization hit him. He put his head between his hands.
No. He reviewed the personalities of “his guardian friends” as James called it. Electra wasn’t heartless. She guarded the tunnels and guided those who lost their way towards the exit. Louis for all his threats and violence didn’t look like someone who’d kill. His actions were rooted on pent up frustration and want for filial love. Zafeera, on the other hand, could. She was a resistance fighter. It was either to kill or be killed in a skirmish, but she was more inclined to preserve life than to take. Most of the guardians at the Roucan’s didn’t look like warmongers. Their main task was to protect the tunnels from falling to the wrong hands. Could they be relied on to topple a political leader?
“Excuse me,” Fred said. He strode from the room to speak to the prince.
The prince had a pendant dangling out of little David’s reach. His head snapped to the doctor. Gaze wide with panic, he subtly shook his head.
“Pri—” another headshake. “Noriden,” Fred recalled. The prince paled, stepped back, eyes darting to the floor. Fred suddenly remembered and stopped in his tracks. He broke into a sweat. The prince’s reaction had him imagining the worst when those protective barriers activated. Focus, Fred! Don’t think about that, his inner voice told him. He took two steps backward.
The prince visibly relaxed.
“Noriden,” Fred started again. “Do you know what the guardians are supposed to do if a man decides to use the tunnels for personal gain?”
“I don’t understand,” Noriden asked, perplexed.
“To gain power by invading other countries.”
“Usually, the guardian in charge of that territory is tasked to alter the person’s memories. Often enough, Serrans – surface dwellers like you are overwhelmed when faced with the impossible. Their mind simply denies what they see; it makes up a more possible scenario, instead,” Noriden replied, cocking his head to the side. “Something that is within logical thought – in the Serran standards.” He returned to little David’s side. The prince dangled his pendant again at the child. “I do not know how they will solve this problem in Libya. I heard the guardians speaking that this situation is a new development. Father thinks so, too. It’s rare to receive a message from the Messenger himself requesting guardians to gather in the Assembly hall.” His brows knitted together, he added: “It has been over a century since the Messenger appeared in our world.”
The Messenger spoke to them too, Fred thought. He came back after a century. What had happened before? The highlight of that period was the deluge that swallowed up a third of the land mass and brought the Mysts to surface. He assumed the mysterious figure only came on the advent when the existence of mankind was at peril. The Messenger couldn’t save mankind. He only sent the message. We’re on our own.
“Will the guardians help if war breaks out?” the doctor asked.
“The guardians protect the tunnels from bad people. They are not allowed to participate in,” Noriden frowned, “wars.”
“Zafeera’s part of the resistance.”
“Father says the Council had no choice. Her family was the only one left with a drop of Uruimethian blood in that area. And she was the only person qualified for the position.” The prince bowed his head. “I have said too much. I will have to speak to Father about what I’ve done.” He looked up at Fred then James who had quietly followed and listened to the whole exchange. Noriden began to glow. “I must go now. It was a pleasure to meet you, doctor, Mr. Hydleburgh. Please relay my apologies and thanks to Mrs. Hydleburgh. I’ve had a wonderful time here with your son.” The light emitting from his body grew stronger.
“Noriden,” Fred called. “Libya will use the virus to win his war. We need your help!”
The mention of the sickness had an effect on Noriden. His frown deepened making him appear older. “I will tell Father. That is all I can promise you.” By then, the prince had vanished, leaving a disembodied voice behind. It said: “I’m sorry.”
“That is one weird kid,” James said. “What do you think he’ll do when he finds out you told me his real identity?”
“If you mean his father, I don’t know. Haven’t met him,” Fred replied absently. He brows furrowed. “James, you heard him. There’s no guarantee that they’ll help.”
“I gave you my answer.” Fred opened his mouth to argue, but James held up a hand. “But biological warfare is a tricky business. Can you tell me more about it that the news reports haven’t?
Expect James to downplay genocide. Fred closed his mouth.
“Let’s go back to the study. I don’t want David feeling your anxiety – and mine.: James had turned when a glimmer caught his attention. He walked towards his son. “Hmm.” He studied the child.
“What?” Fred’s eyes flickered from James to David.
“He should’ve been crying by now.” David waved his arms around and that’s when they noticed what he held. The tear-shaped amethyst Noriden had been baiting him with was enclosed in his chubby fingers. He returned his father’s gaze and gurgled happily. “What have we here?” James crouched and touched the stone. He blinked. “Really weird.”
“What’s weird?” the doctor approached, interested at what had put James in awe.
The novelist cleared his throat and said, “Your prince gave my boy a present.” He stood.
“What present?” a feminine voice sounded behind Fred. Diana smiled at the, holding a plate of biscuits. Eyes searching, she asked, “Where’s Noriden?”
“He had to leave.” James took the plate and set it on the coffee table. “The pri – Noriden was sorry he couldn’t stay longer, be he said he had great time.”
“I know that wasn’t what he said.” His wife swatted his arm playfully. “Seriously, James, where is he?” Diana appeared concerned for the prince.
“He went home to speak with his father.”
“Oh. So they’re back. That’s good,” she said in relief.
“He left David a gift.” James held her hands, eyes shining with hope. Diana was silent, but it was evident to Fred, who stood awkwardly behind them, that she understood Her expression mirrored her husband’s.
“Ahem.” Fred couldn’t stand it anymore. The couple were gazing at each other like love struck teenagers far longer than he thought. He wasn’t sure if he should be annoyed or happy to see two people ogling at one another when the world was in the brink of being thrown into chaos. Definitely annoyed, he decided.
“Diana,” Fred said.
“Yes?” Diana replied, not taking her eyes off James.
“I’m sorry I have to steal your husband away.” He tugged James, who was still beaming, back to the study.
A trace of a smile was still on the novelist’s face as the door closed behind them. “Are you sure about what you said?” he asked Fred.
The doctor hesitated, then said: “It’s a hunch. Zafeera gave him the cure. It should’ve been enough and, yet, he went after me.”
James heaved a breath. He ran his hand on his unruly hair. The hair tie finally came loose and dropped to the floor. The owner was too preoccupied to notice. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he said quietly. “I’ll snoop around their records – medical and military.”
Fred couldn’t believe it. James actually changed his mind. They’d be one step ahead of the enemy when they got hold of the Libyan military’s plans. “Thank—”
“Don’t thank me,” James cut Fred off. His lips curled ruefully. “I have a few conditions.”
“First, I need a place to work – away from my family. The Roucan’s HQ is preferable since they’re already involved and have the equipment I need, James added with reluctance. “Second, find a way to keep my identity a secret while I’m there. If worse comes to worst, at least, my family will be safe.”
“I’ll call Mr. Roucan—”
“No,” James said sharply. “Call Louis instead.”
Louis. Fred didn’t even know if Mr. Roucan’s son had returned from the Assembly hall. It was an important gathering for the guardians. The meeting would probably take a while. Besides, going directly to Mr. Roucan was more advisable. He was, after all, the owner of the HQ in question. Irked at James’ illogical suggestion, Fred said: “Why do you dislike Alfred Roucan? I understand Louis and Electra’s issues about him, but you…” He shook his head. “Mr. Roucan isn’t just your uncle, he practically raised you after you lost your parents,” he rushed, knowing his friend would try to change the topic. Their other friends knew, but James never told him. “If we’re going to work with the Roucans or even use their technology, I have to know the reason.” The doctor stalked forward, his gaze leveled at James. “Why do you avoid him?”
The novelist had expected the question to be brought up eventually. Resigned, he answered, “I never told you because you were already close with Louis and, especially, Electra. And if I did, you’d think I’m superstitious.” Fred crossed his arms and waited. James raised a hand then lowered it to his side with clenched fist. “Truth is, my parents left me a fortune. Mr. Roucan, being a close family friend, was named as my guardian. He handled my finances for me and offered me a home. Obviously, I declined. I didn’t want to leave my family’s house and be indebted to anyone, above all, to him.
He was chosen among all mortals to receive a gift of power – of knowledge. But the price was an oath – a promise that when broken would put a curse on him.” James gazed back at his best friend in challenge with a hint of sadness. “He would watch death take all those he cared about; his wife, his best friends – my parents, Victoria.”
Fred frowned. The novelist couldn’t be serious. Louis’ mom was shot by a religious fanatic. James’ father was mentally ill and his death broke his mother’s heart. And Victoria committed suicide. Fred couldn’t see the connection and James read it in his expression. The doctor hadn’t known the Roucans as long as he did, neither did Fred live his whole life in the Mysts.
“It doesn’t matter.” The novelist shook his head. “Make the call, Fred. I’ll explain things to Diana.” He patted Fred on the shoulder and walked past.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: And that’s about it for now. Next up, we’ll be looking into someone else’s POV. Starts with… Hehe. Take a wild guess and hope it’s the right one. Who knows, I might post it very soon. 😉
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