Chapter Eight: Roxy

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The following day I met Avery in one of the camp's large lounges to catch up. She was scheduled to start her hike the next morning, so it was our last opportunity to chat for a while. We lounged out over the large, squishy armchairs next to the room's roaring fire.

We were desperate to find out why our grandfather had really organised the visit. I had one of Dr Scott's books open in my lap, which I had been flicking through for inspiration. Unsure of what I was really looking for, I opened the book to a random page and started reading:

The Midnight Era came to an end at the creation of the second sun. The Helian Protectors of the time, who possessed far more power than their contemporary counterparts, combined their powers to make an immense ball of flames in the sky above them. It was an extraordinary task, taking almost a week to complete, but it has hung there ever since, providing eternal light and heat to the Helian Realm.

Interesting, but not very relevant here, I thought. I marked the page and then skipped forward a bit in search of something useful, reading odd lines aloud to Ave:

"King Nero X first introduced the sewer system to the Helian Realm in the year 773. Before this time Helians would dump their excrement-"

"Ew, no. That's really not what we want to be reading up on!"

I laughed. "No it's not! I'll flip forward towards the end of the book. Hopefully it will centre on more recent, post-sewer-invention, history. Oh, this bit sounds promising:

Even before the Occupation, relations with the Brizan Realm simmered. They were reluctant to trade with us, though they had thriving businesses with the other two Realms. In hindsight, we now believe that this was due to the Brizan Protectors, some of whom could occasionally catch glimpses of the future in their dreams, so it is likely that one of them knew about the Occupation years before our officials had even begun to plan it (which was, incidentally, in response to their cold behaviour).

Such persecution of our Realm, before we have done anything wrong, is a common feature in Helian history: in 256, when famine broke out, none of the Realms sent aid to us, as they had done when famine struck the Arcan Realm three years prior (though we had sent as much food there as either the Brizans or Sephans had). Furthermore, when war broke out with the Sephan Realm in 943, both the Arcans and the Brizans sided immediately with them, even though it was they who had stolen from us to begin with.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where this animosity first originated from, but it is there none the less and has done little to promote feelings of good will towards the other Realms among the Helians. Once, in the year 889, King Nero XIII tried to arrange a meeting of the Realms, during which the Helian Realm would host delegates from the other three Realms for two and a half months. It was hoped that the Realm leaders would use this time to try to settle their differences and create a new, more stable society.

Unfortunately, soon after the meeting was proposed, rumours began to circulate that King Nero XIII was actually intending to take the opportunity, when all the leaders were gathered in one place, to murder them and launch simultaneous attacks on the three Realms at once, conquering everything.

Although he denied such rumours, the other leaders were unsettled enough to refuse their invitations to the meeting, especially after intelligence reached the other Realms of an increase in Helian military activity. King Nero XIII was also supposedly caught trying to buy highly poisonous snakes from the Sephan Realm, though he always denied such unfair rumours profusely.

Hmm, mass annihilation of state leaders, that sounds more up Grandfather's street."

"Definitely. Although I'm not sure how that would work if neither the Arcan Realm nor Brizan Realm are sending their actual leader across. Still, the idea has promise."

I nodded. "Yes and it would mean that we got to put our powers to good use."

"That really would be good. Although the kitchen staff have rather different ideas - I heard them gossiping earlier and they seem to think that an inter-Realm marriage is on the cards, to create ties with the other Realms. Unfortunately, the unlucky sacrifice is you. They're adamant that you are going to be married off to the Arcan Prince."

I recoiled in disgust. "No way! They wouldn't be so cruel. That's disgusting - Grandfather wouldn't marry me to one of those things. Besides, that would put the Air-Head Arcan in line for our throne - it would make a lot more sense to sacrifice you Ave."

She shuddered. "Not a chance. It's way too cold over there. I could not cope living with Arcans; they're so dull."

"Religious prudes."

Avery nodded in agreement. "Totally. It would mean never being able to have fun, ever again."

"Or be warm."

"Or sane!"

We laughed, content in the knowledge that the kitchen staff were idiots and there was no way either of us would be married off to anyone from another Realm. That kind of thing just wasn't done.

The door slammed open with a crash, interrupting our discussion, as Cinaer stormed in.

I had never seen him look more dishevelled. His clothes were muddy and torn, his arms cut and his hair a complete state. He glared at me through sleep deprived eyes. "Enjoying your nice, cosy relaxation?" he sneered.

"Yes actually," I replied casually, still flicking through the book. "If you hadn't been such an idiot during the task you would have been too - Vincent only left you to trek back as a punishment for breaking the rules."

He scowled but didn't respond, showing that he knew I was right. He dragged one of the empty chairs closer to the fire and threw himself down in it, sighing as he sunk into its softness. "I was only trying to liven things up a little, Rox, those tasks are so dull."

"Well I'd appreciate it if you didn't consider attempting to kill me a cure for boredom... In a few weeks you'll have plenty of other victims for that."

"You meant the visit? That's very true - Arcan flambé would certainly be entertaining." Flames burst from his fingers, shooting up towards the ceiling like fireworks.

"Roast Sephan?" I grinned, flames flaring up at my own fingertips.

"Mm delicious." He smiled wickedly at me and I couldn't help but feel a little better towards him.

"I'm fed up with training for nothing. It will be great to finally use our powers properly." The flames in his hands made his face glow menacingly.

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