Horotone Harbor, Southern Argania
There was first a shadow and then an unquestionable fear. The kingdom of Argania had fallen with royal blood spilled upon the throne; the altar darkened by their royal sacrifice. The once noble and bold province’s descent into chaos would start there as evil prevailed; destroying old masters and setting forth a new rule, a theocracy of prominence’s demise.
It has been a decade…
The night was forbidding as a storm raged. Thunder crackled while a sailboat rocked against the docks. A hooded figure approached it, dashing in the rain, trying hard not to slip into the crashing tides below. After crossing the bridge, the figure opened a door and entered the ship’s hull.
“This hail…” The figure complained, tearing his robe from his face. He was soaked and tired from running. As he caught his breath, he turned his head towards an oil lamp which he hastily turned on, his green eyes glistening in the flame light. The light revealed a young man; lean, handsome, and tall for his age. His hair was long and tied to the back.
Sighing, he quickly felt for the key deep within his pocket.
There was a rattle in the darkness ahead. His eyes darted forward; suspicious. He pulled the lamp by its handle as he stepped into the blackness. He could hear nothing but the rock of the boat as the waves fell against the walls of the ship’s exterior. Holding out the lamp, he spied the edges of the light, looking for shadows.
Then, from the side, a sound of steps stammered in the distance. Quickly, he turned, holding his arm out in the darkness, taking hold of something firm before slamming it against the wall. He brought up his lantern. Panting, he stared fiercely into the brown gaze of his grinning shipmate. “Damn it, Russell!” He groaned. “You had me spooked.”
The matted haired boy burst into laughter, reaching out behind his neck, and giving it a quick rub. “You’ve got to watch that temper of yours, pal. You nearly broke my neck.”
“You shouldn’t be sneaking up on me!”
“Oh, right… I’m sorry. The poor prince gets nervous.” He chuckled yet again before getting down to business. “So, did you get it?” He asked eagerly.
“You’re damn right I did!” The figure replied proudly. “It took me quite awhile, but I think this is the key the boss was talking about.” He withdrew the golden chunk from his pocket. Encrusted on its handle was a cascade of multi-colored gemstones, and at its center was a glyph.
“Holy! That’s it, Ethan! I recognize it from the sketches on the map!”
Taking the key, Ethan pointed its tip directly at his chest. “That’s right! Thanks to me, we’re all going to be flipping rich.”
“How much do you think it’s worth?” Russell reached forward to touch the key, but Ethan was too quick.
“Keep off! I want to show it to the boss myself.” Ethan then looked to the light of the lantern, “Where is she?”
“She hasn’t returned yet. I was told to stay up until you got back. She’s checking out a new lead in town.”
“And the guys?”
“There in the back asleep.” Russell sighed. “I suppose you can hold on to the key until the boss gets back. You should get some rest, though. Hopefully, the boss’ lead checks out so we can set sail tomorrow.”
Ethan yawned loudly, stretching upwards. “Right. I’m growing bored with this place. Its reeks of crustaceans.”
There was a clap and a crescendo of thunder that echoed about the air. Ethan shuddered beneath his soaked clothing, feeling something cold rise from beneath his skin as if something was not alright. He could feel his weariness come over him once more before deciding. “I’m heading to bed.”
“I think I’m going to stay up for a bit. There’s just something about the rain that soothes me.”
Ethan scoffed. “You never fail to surprise me, Russ.” He trekked forward, placing the lamp on a center table. The light of the lantern stretched farther, exposing the rest of the ship’s hull.
A mission, a goal, a puzzle to complete; three parts to an unknown story. Could this be the key to everything? Would redemption lie in the revelation of a responsibility? With crimson stains upon the walls, the fire still burns while lost people die; left forgotten.
“Aaaah!” He awoke screaming, sweating as always. The nightmares yet again, always returning.
“Hey, shut it will ya!” The snarl came from across the room. After a heavy cough and wheeze, it rose up again. “Do I really gotta hear this every night? Geez.”
Ethan wiped the sweat off the base of his chin with the top of his hand before laying back down. “I’m sorry.” He whispered, closing his eyes as he tried to remember. What was it he had been seeing beneath the sands of his own mind? Could they be pieces of his memory returning? Figments of the past he left behind?
Ethan’s eyes then felt heavy once more; his worries forgotten. His nightmare passed with not a thing left to think about. There was nothing left to do but wait to claim the praise he so craved. Tomorrow would be that day. Another adventure would await. This was the life he loved. A life so free; a life he has lived for the past ten years.
“Rise and shine, boys!” The crew’s quarters erupted with the sound of a horrendous pounding. Ethan’s head was throbbing as he rose. The pounding continued. “Wake up and open the damn door you halfwits!”
Rubbing his eyes, Ethan looked around. Russell was sound asleep, snoring loudly over the quake of the Captain’s fists.
“It’s Hestia!” Ethan called across the room. “Robin, get the door!” Ethan quickly pulled his cover over his head, just as Robin rose from his with a wild look painted upon his face. Ethan sighed, peeking above the blanket. “I haven’t slept a wink.”
Robin’s arms stretched upwards over his red hair. “Damn it.” He muffled. Streams of light leaked up from above, through the boards of the ship. “Daybreak already?” He complained.
The pounding continued. “I can hear your lazy asses in there. Open up! There’s work to get to! Get moving, you ingrates.”
“The boss is mad…” Russell stated between snores. “Somebody move, pleaaaaaaaase!” He whined.
Ethan groaned. “Fine, I’ll get it!” He jumped from his bed while grasping for his cloak. He threw it over his bare back, hurried towards the door and unlocked it.
“You all are going to be sorry once you open this door!”
Ethan then pulled it open, revealing Hestia’s flushed-red face. “It’s about time! It’s dawn and we have stuff to do! Why aren’t any of you up yet?”
“I don’t know how you could expect any of us to sleep with the poor prince screaming all night.” Russell taunted between yawns. “That boy has a set of lungs.”
“Damn right he does.” Spoke Tristan finally, the eldest of the crew mates. He stretched his arms upwards before rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What the hell were ya dreamin’ about?”
“I don’t care what he was dreaming or why you couldn’t sleep. When I say get up, get the hell up!” Shouted the Captain. “And I told you to stop calling him “prince”. He’s just as much my son as any of you, and it’s about time you started treating him like it!”
“But he is a pri-”
“Shut up!” Hestia shouted. Her face then suddenly calmed before sighing. Sweetly, she continued, “Now, get to the deck. All of you. I have news.”
The crew mates hurried to get dressed as tired as they were. Ethan, however, had other plans. He snuck off with the key firmly within his right hand. He needed to speak to the boss privately. He could have waited. There was no reason for him to be acting so strangely secret, but something was troubling Ethan, something he could not quite put his finger on. He made his way to the Captain’s quarters. She was sitting in front of a mirror. The boat was rocking and Ethan could see how her earrings dangle back and forth as she placed them into her lobes. She spotted him in the mirror and smiled before turning to face him, her grey eyes glistening. “I thought I told you to get on deck.”
“I know, but I wanted to speak to you first.” Ethan responded, his eyes soft.
“What is it, dear? Are the boys picking on you again? You know I don’t like them calling you prince.”
Ethan shook his head. “No, it’s not that.”
“Is it about your dreams? Child, you’ve always had them. Considering all you’ve been through, I understan-”
“It’s not that either.”
The Captain squinted. “Then what is it?”
Ethan’s eyes rose. He could not hold back his grin as he held out and opened his fist, revealing the key.
“Heavens, could that be?” She gasped as she laid her eyes onto the golden structure. She reached for it, pulling it into her fingers. “Where did you…”
“It was tough, but I decoded part of the map and located it in a tomb in the Horotone Graveyard.”
His heart was fluttering as Hestia cried out with joy and embraced him. “You are my son, no matter what anyone says. Remember that. You may not have my blood, but you have my ways. Just like the rest of them. Wait until the boys hear about this!”
Ethan laughed. “Russell already knows. But I do feel Robin and Tristan might feel a tad bit burned once they know I decoded the map without them.”
“Ah! Let ‘em.” She turned back to her mirror. Hestia unfolded a bandana with a wave of her hand before pulling back her hair and tying it to the top of her head. “This is going to make the journey to Gracile even more worthwhile.” She peeked back to Ethan. “I got another lead on the location of the royal treasure!”
Ethan laughed beneath his breath. “Gracile? The Desert Isles?”
“Yup.” Hestia replied, opening a canister before brushing her cheeks with makeup. “Remember the man we met at the tavern near the old inn off the west bank not too long ago? I think it was around the time Robin had met that floozy who stole his favorite watch. Anyway, I ran into him last night at the pub. Turns out, he used to be part of the royal guard before… you know. How he escaped or why he was even telling me all this, I’m not sure. He was drunk, of course, but he spoke of this old wives’ tale about a secret vault hidden and locked away on an island someplace. It’s only a legend, but it is said that this vault’s rumored to hold artifacts unlike any we could ever see, older than civilization itself.”
“So you believe this vault could in fact hold the treasure we’re looking for, the treasure of the First King?”
“Precisely. I mean, what better place to hide a vault filled with riches than a desert on an island? It’s beyond genius. Also, if the vault is as old as he claims it is, there might be something more to discover. Don’t you think this is incredible?” Hestia clapped her hands together, her thoughts getting lost as she peered off into an unforeseen distance.
Ethan brought a finger to his lip. “I do, but who’s to say this vault exists? It is just supposed to be some ‘old wives’ tale’.”
Hestia rose from her chair. She faced Ethan as he thought. “Because, there are no such thing as coincidences. Sometimes it’s just a hunch. But once you see how everything falls into place, it becomes something much more than that. In your hands, you hold the key to everything. You found it for a reason. Not because you were smarter than your brothers, but because it is your destiny to find what we’re after. It is your birthright…” Hestia brought her hands to the sides of his face. She peered deep into his green eyes, watching as they sparkled in the lantern light. “…Alexis.”
Argania Castle, Central Argania
“What am I to do?” she whispered to herself. The maiden shuttered as lightning flashed across the sky. A sigh fell from her lips with the tilt of her head. The storm was heavy as it fell upon the windows of her chambers. With her quill, she stroked the pages of what appeared to be a diary. Her green eyes were fixed upon the pages as she pushed locks of her auburn hair from her eyes, concentrating. The maiden bit her lip, struggling to find the words she longed for, the answers to the questions that bound her mind within the darkness. But, deep within her heart, she knew exactly what she longed for.
Though I am trapped here, I try to find solace in the thought that I may someday be free. Despite the Emperor’s efforts to eradicate all those who may threaten his claim to the Arganian throne, I know my brother still lives and that he will someday come for me. But until then, I must be his prisoner. I hate my life. I’m an orphan, imprisoned, and used only for the sole purpose of holding the affection of a dying nation. I know I should be hopeful but I can’t help but lose faith as the years go by and the days grow shorter. I wonder where poor Alexis may be. I ponder his worries, his joys, and most of all whom he loves. Oh please, dear brother, return to me. Save me from this wretched place. I long for nothing more than to be among family… Home.
The girl sighed again, closing the book. She peered out the window, leaning onto the palm of her hand as the heavy rain seemed to wash away the last bit of hope she had left. Tears formed in her eyes as she tried to remember a time before this. But she couldn’t. The Linolm dynasty ended before the dear Princess Armarisa could even remember her parent’s faces. But she could see his still, that of her twin brothers.
There was a knock at her door suddenly which caused Armarisa to jolt upright. Quickly, she grabbed her diary and hid it beneath the pillow of her bed, before blowing out her candle on her nightstand. She kneeled by her bed, clasping her hands together.
The door opened, revealing the body of Emperor Kuzman. Muscular and ominous, the armor cladded sentinel entered the room with heavy footsteps. His grey eyes traced the room suspiciously as two soldiers followed in from behind him.
Amarisa blinked within the shadows of her room, sighing as the Emperor grunted. “Yes, my Lord.” She uttered.
Kuzman made his way to her window, clearing his throat as he gestured for his soldiers to leave the room. “Armarisa. It seems that there has been another attack.”
“Attack?” Armarisa asked, rising from the side of her bed. She tilted her head slightly only to catch a glimpse of her warden. Though her body seemed relaxed, her insides were trembling. She cleared her throat. “The rebels?”
Kuzman relinquished his breath. “Yes…” He replied deeply. “They set fire to another one of our coal mines causing another explosion in the Eastern District. With the West and East mines now closed, the Northern mine is our only means of access to the deposits we need to keep our steam engines running through the winter. How can anyone expect Argania to survive or prosper when the acts of these terrorists are jeopardizing our very way of life? ”
“I don’t know, Sir.” Armarisa responded. “That is rather unfortunate. We need our engines to stay warm. This winter especially hasn’t been so kind.”
“Hmph.” Kuzman smiled softly as he turned his body towards Armarisa. He approached her slowly. Armarisa could hear the sound of his shallow breath as he approached her. “Armarisa, there is something I’d like for you to do for me. The safety of the kingdom could solely depend on it.”
“Yes?” Amarisa asked shakily.
“Tomorrow morning, a few of my men will escort you to the town square to meet with the town’s pressmen. He will have a series of questions regarding these attacks. I need you to go on the record condemning the actions of the rebels and announce that any further actions taken against the Empire will be met with force… For Argania’s sake of course.” Kuzman sighed. “It’s a shame that after all I’ve done for this country, there are still those that oppose me. Even with you, serving as the peacekeeper, my mercy is perceived as weakness!” Kuzaman’s voice started to rise as his pride overwhelmed him. “This is their last chance. Make that clear. If the rebels don’t stand down, I will raid every village, every building, and every home until I find every single one of those rats. I will bleed them dry and leave them hanging in the streets. Do you understand?”
“Yes, my Lord.” Armarisa replied as she lowered her head.
“So you will do as I say?”
“As I always do, my Lord.” She responded slowly.
Kuzman smiled, touching Armarisa’s shoulder firmly but affectionately. “I know, my sweet. Your loyalty and obedience are the only thing barring me from my most primal impulses.” Armarisa turned to face Kuzman, forcing an easy-smile to her face.
“Thank you, Sir. I do what I can for the glory of Argania.”
Kuzman nodded. “For our glory…” He whispered before placing a palm to her face. “Now get some rest. We need you at the presses early.”
Armarisa nodded before watching Kuzman exit her bedroom. As he shut the door behind him, Armarisa’s body immediately started to shake as she felt herself breakdown. How could this be her life? How could she continue to lie to the people on behalf of Kuzman, who’s only goal was to drain Argania’s resources to continue to power his steam engines and build his machines and weaponry. His conquest will never end. She thought. But the rebels… They were getting close.
With each day they were gaining more and more widespread attention. And they knew exactly how to hit Kuzman where it hurt the most. But, still… Armarisa knew that the Northern mine was essential to keeping the capital powered and warm throughout the viciousness of the current winter. Whether or not she believed the rebels were acting on what they thought was best for the country, Armarisa knew that the northern coal mine could not be compromised. Not if they hoped to last throughout the next winter. Her people were freezing and starving enough. This terrorism was no way to ensure that Kuzman would back down or show even the slightest ounce of grace.
Armarisa bowed her head as she started to pray for strength. “Please, brother, be safe…” She whispered. “By grace of the Light, Alexis, come back to me.”
Bloodbound: Two Hearts