✵ 𝒩𝑒𝓌 𝐸𝓇𝒶 ✵

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     The passenger car of the stately train creaked and swayed as it rolled along the worn metal tracks to the oceanside city of Blumont. There, thousands of Endorrians were anxiously waiting for its arrival, or more accurately, the safe arrival of their new King.

     Running shaky fingers through his blue-black hair, the lone car occupant finished reading the glowing notes on the floating holo-screen for his upcoming speech. Whipping his hand through the air, the holo-notes faded from sight, and he moved in front of the gold-framed, full-length mirror.

     Placing a sad smile on his face, he colored his words with remorse, "My loyal subjects, it is with a heavy heart that I take my father's place on the throne..." He trailed off when staring into the cerulean eyes that were a common trait in all the Rodricks.

     He swallowed the bile that worked its way up his throat as visions of the former King begging for mercy as he was being ripped apart and devoured by demons sprang in front of his eyes.

     Shaking the images away, he sucked in another breath and froze again as an unsettling chill blew across the back of his neck.

     Cocking a dark eyebrow and crossing his arms over his chest: he watched the reflection of a shimmering smoke flow through a nearby open window and meld into a woman's voluptuous form.

     "Vivian, I didn't expect to see you until things settled down," he clipped, barely masking his irritation.

     The eerie coal eyes burning in the gently curved cornflower hued face that peered around his shoulder seemed out of place. The small woman's hands ghosted around him and began tugging here and there— adjusting his attire.

     "It's lovely to see you as well, King Kassius." Her insincere chuckle sent icy chills along his spine.

     He took several deep, calming breaths before asking, "I take it, you came to make sure I haven't changed my mind about our arrangement?"

     "I'm hurt." She covered her chest with her long-fingered, dark-blue, hand. "I was going to ask how you're doing after seeing the Rodricks get eaten."

     His stomach rolled as a flash of the bloody assaults burst to life in his mind once again. "Sure. I'm great, thanks for pretending to care."

     She chuckled before continuing to straighten his apparel. "You can't blame a girl for checking on her investment, can you?"

     He shook his head, dislodging the gruesome images. "I'm disgusted with your inability to trust me to do something I've been doing for years as heir-apparent without your hand-holding."

     "Oh, I have the utmost confidence in you, Kassius."

     He clenched his jaw at her use of the informal name but remained quiet as he inspected his attire.

     She ran a firm hand over his uniform— removing the last little crease. "I trust that you know you'll die a most unpleasant and humiliating death if you happen to screw this up."

     "You're threatening me?" His eyes cut to hers after pulling a piece of lint from his royal-blue velvet cloak.

     She shook her head. "I'm not who you need to worry about."

     "Why don't I believe you?"

     In the blink of an eye, the witch moved, glowing, blood-orange, eyes as if embers in a fire menacingly hovered in front of him. Her magically enlarged hand locked painfully around his skull with talon-like fingernails drawing blood.

     The King squirmed in pain, pushing at her hand with all his strength.

     "Because you're a smart little boy who knows the public will make or break him within seconds if he fucks up," she hissed.

     The train's brakes squealed as they slowed the spinning metal wheels— lightly pulsing to a stop at Blumont Station.

     He cringed at her sulfuric laced breath, assaulting his nose. "Careful Vivian," he growled deeply. "You don't want to damage the new King's pretty face just before he's seen in public, now do you?"

     "Pretty?" Vivian scoffed and shoved him away. He thudded against the wall. "Just make sure I won't have to replace you, Your Majesty."

     His bright blue eyes widened in surprise. "You can't replace a lifetime of grooming to be the King of Endorria at a whim."

     "Oh, really?" Her chilling laugh unsettled his composure, and his pulse quickened.

     Vivian snapped her fingers, and he shuddered as the cuts on his face mended with a chilly-tingle.

     She pointed to the ceiling, immediately he came to attention. "Let your flock know how awful it is that King Lucius died." He slightly jerked forward as her small hands yanked on his black jacket. "Reassure them that you will right the injustice for his murder along with the rest of the royal family's deaths."

     "I know, I've been going over and over the speech since leaving Manatil." He groaned.

     Ignoring him, she continued with her instructions. "Most importantly, promise that you will lead Endorria through another hundred years of relative peace and prosperity by closing the vortexes plaguing your world."

     "I know!" he snapped. "And you better keep to your part of this deal or—"

     She held her hand up, and his mouth snapped shut. "I don't take kindly to you thinking that you have any power to harm or keep me from taking what I'm owed. Lucius tried and look what happened to him."

     "You wouldn't dare."

     "I'll see you soon, King Kassius." With that, she dissipated from the train the same way she'd arrived.

     He shook uncontrollably in the empty caboose, doing his best to calm his heavy breathing and rapid heart rate as the train came to a full stop.

     Minutes later, he cleared his throat, checked his reflection in the mirror a final time, and made his way to the door of the compartment. Three figures appeared at his side, and he looked them over before nodding in approval.

     "Here we go, fellas," he stated before pushing open the door and stepping into his new life.

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