Two Hearts: an excerpt from Bloodbound

Horotone Harbor, Southern Gracile – Tempesto Island

There was first a shadow and then an unquestionable fear, one that shook the whole of a country as it was divided, torn apart by its civil strife.The kingdom of Argania, the largest and most industrialized of all of Terestria’s provinces had fallen with its throne now anointed with royal blood; its altar darkened by a cursed and most wretched sacrifice, one that would haunt its people for the better part of a generation. 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 foreboding 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 a lamp which he hastily turned on, his green eyes, like peridots, glistening in the flame light. The light revealed a young man; lean, handsome, and tall for his age. He shook cool water droplets off the mahogany-colored tips of his hair as he wiped his face.

Sighing, he quickly felt for the key within his pocket. He hesitated.

There was a rattle in the darkness ahead. His eyes darted forward; suspicious. He pulled the lamp by its handle and 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, but saw nothing. 

Then, from the side, the sound of steps stammered in the distance. Quickly, he turned again, holding his arm out into the darkness, taking hold of something firm before slamming it against the wall. Thunder sounded as he brought up his lantern. Panting, he stared fiercely into the brown gaze of his grinning shipmate. “Damn it, Russell!” He groaned, loosening his grip and throwing down his arm. “You nearly spooked me.” 

Curly-haired Russell burst into laughter, reaching out behind his neck to give it a quick rub as it cracked. “Watch it, young Ethan. You nearly broke my neck.”

“You shouldn’t be sneaking up on me!” Ethan snapped, holding the blood within his fists. “And don’t you dare patronize me.”

“Oh, right… I’m sorry. The poor prince gets nervous.” 

Ethan caught himself a bit, blinking twice and guiltily lowering his brow. “Sorry,” Ethan said. “The day’s been endless. Almost as endless as this rain. Too long.”

“Cheer up mate. I’m only jokin’.” Russell said. Ethan cleared his throat while Russell tapped him on the shoulder twice before sitting down. He was ready to get down to business. “So, did you get it?” He asked, his tone serious. 

“Aye,” The prince replied proudly. “It took me 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 purple-colored gemstones and at its center was a glyph. He ran his thumb over the relief of a horse’s head. The coolness of the metal was oddly energizing. 

“It damn sure looks like the sketches on the map.”

Taking the key, Ethan pointed its tip directly at his chest. “Indeed it does and someday soon, you all will be feasting at my expense. There will be fortunes to behold…” Ethan delivered a believable performance, his enthusiasm looking to be almost genuine. Was there a hint of depth beneath the shallow exterior of this shell he projected? No one could ever tell. He perked the right side of his lip up a bit as he shifted his gaze to the floor and then back up again. “All because of me.”

“Keep tellin’ yourself that, prince.” Russell pulled a pipe from his pocket and rubbed a pinch of a teal herb into it. He then hit a match against the wood of the nearby table and hovered it over the patch of moss, inhaling until it brightened as brightly as the flame that lit it.

“How much do you think it’s worth?” Russell reached forward to touch the key, but Ethan was too quick, drawing it back and safely within his view. 

“Keep off it! I want to show it to the boss myself.” Ethan awkwardly shuffled the key within his fingers. He then looked at the light of the lantern before asking, “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.” Russell said. He puffed his pipe yet again and then scratched the pricks of gold on the base of his chin.

“Is she now,” Ethan said curiously. “And the others?”

“They’re asleep,” Russell sighed before releasing an unsatisfying groan. “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 soon.”

Ethan breathed a sigh of relief. “Aye, I hope so.” He said, dabbing his face. Water was still dripping down the sides of his cheeks and onto his chin, his eyes still watering from the intensity of the tempest ravaging the air outside. “I’ve grown bored of Horotone and its smell of crustaceans. ”

It had been eight long months since they first settled into the small fishing village of Horotone Harbor. It was the closest thing Ethan had to a home, for he and his crew never stayed in any one place for long. However, their time in Hormone was unprecedented for good reason. Before Horotone, Ethan and the rest of his band of brigands had gone on numerous adventures, seeking whatever treasures and bounties they could find. Their latest score was to be their biggest one yet, but it was also personal, one Ethan hoped would be his last.

There was a clap and a crescendo of thunder quaking through the air. Ethan shuddered beneath his soaked clothing, feeling something cold rise from beneath his skin as his head pounded. He could feel his weariness come over him once more before deciding. “I’m going to bed.”

“Aye, you do that.” Russel responded before stepping back. “I think I’m going to stay up for a bit. I’m gonna miss the sound of this rain.” 

“Of course,” Ethan scoffed. “You never fail to surprise me, Russell. Goodnight,” 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. His eyes hardened. He bowed his head to give the key a glance. Would this be it? He thought. Will this buy my freedom? He knew that he was owed that much. Especially after all he’d been through, after all he lost, or perhaps better said, all he never had. There was a debt to be paid. Ethan rubbed the base of his neck, unaware of love’s true price. 

Despite his deepest hopes, in the face of all he lost, this key would not prove to be enough. For there was a destiny he was unaware of, one of which he did not choose. A destiny bound by the blood within his veins. Regardless of his mission, there was a puzzle to complete; three parts to an unknown story he was fated to bring full circle. But so oblivious to this calling, he wondered to himself what future this key might mean for his future. Would redemption lie in the revelation of a responsibility he had since placed into a past he wholly rejected? With crimson stains upon the walls, sheltered deeply within his memory, a passion burned within his soul, connected to the lives he lost and long forgotten. 


“Ugh…ah…Aaaah!” Ethan awoke screaming, sweating as always. The nightmares, yet again, always returning. The latent memories bubbling, finding their way to the surface. There were heavy waves beneath a darkened sky. They crashed against a tall snowy cliff. Ethan squirmed as he felt the air rip from his chest, almost as if he were drowning. Yet again… it came. The stark terror that cut like a spear of ice, wedged into crevices of his ribcage. Ethan froze as he was forced awake, unable to move. He laid there helplessly as it hovered there, within the silence. The familiar shadowy figure crept forward, swaying through sprinkles of light that dripped from over the boards above his head. 

He wanted to close his eyes then. He always wanted to close his eyes… But the dream wouldn’t let him. The dread swarmed up his body and latched to his throat. Ethan felt the grip of the shadow as it ripped away his breath. The air flowed like a rasp caught within a heavy moan as Ethan jolted upwards. His head was shaking as a vision of bats bursting from a low-hanging canopy of dying fig tree played out within it. There were also whispers only he could hear. A low voice, almost hollow, echoing eerily as the bats surrounded him, hitting the sides of his face. He could see her scarlet eyes watching him struggle. “Love…” He heard as his lungs filled with air. Ethan lost his foothold then and faded back into reality, where there was no sign of the things he had seen.

“Hey, shut it will ya!” The snarl came from across the room. After a heavy cough and wheeze, it rose up again. “Seriously, must I hear this every night? For fucks sake…” 

Ethan’s legs were slick and his body drenched. He wiped the sweat off the base of his chin with the top of his hand before laying back down, his mind fully alert and his heart still pounding “I’m sorry.” He whispered, closing his eyes as he tried to remember the vision. What was he doing? Walking upon the sand towards a dying oasis. Impossible. He told himself. These dreams… Could they be pieces of my memory returning? Figments of the past I left behind?

Eventually, after things calmed and the sound of the rain brought upon a sudden comfort, Ethan’s eyes felt heavy once more; his worries leaving him for a brief moment. His nightmare passed with not a thing left to think about. There was nothing he could do to keep his trauma from manifesting this way. And though it troubled him, Ethan chose to ignore his thoughts and wait. For he soon had a prize to claim. “Tomorrow will be the day,” he told himself. “Another adventure awaits.” For this was the life he loved. A life so free; a life he has lived for the past ten years. A life bound to nothing but his own passion.


“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. “Milo, get the door!” Ethan quickly pulled his cover over his head, just as Milo rose from his with a wild look painted upon his face. Ethan sighed, peeking above the blanket. “I haven’t slept a wink.”

Milo’s arms stretched upwards over his matted jet-black hair. “Damn it.” He muttered. Streams of light leaked up from above.. “Daybreak already?” He complained. 

The pounding continued. “I can hear your lazy arses in there. Open up! There’s work to get to! Get movin’, you ingrates.”

“The boss is mad again…” Russell stated between snores. “Somebody, anybody, please  move!” He whined.

Ethan groaned. “Damn it… I’ll get it!” He jumped from his bed while grasping for his cloak. He threw it over his back, hurried towards the door, and unlocked it.

“Boys, you better hurry up and open this damn door or you’ll be sorry!” 

Ethan pulled it open, revealing Hestia’s face, cut like a ruby, with her eyes sparkling within a scarlet fury.. . “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.“Aye, the prince is always screaming.” Spoke Henrik finally, the eldest of the crew mates. He stretched his arms upwards before rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “He needs to quit that dreamin’ of his already.”

“I don’t care if he was dreaming, screaming, or doing Light knows what else. 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 raged. 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 Hestia 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. Memories of his dream still haunted him. The shadow, the tree, the bats, and the oasis… What could it all mean?He made his way to the Captain’s quarters. She was sitting in front of a vanity 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 doe-eyes watching him carefully. “I thought I told you to get on deck.” She whispered.

“I know, but I need to speak to you first.” Ethan responded, his eyes soft.

“What is it, dear? Are the boys giving you trouble?You know I don’t like them calling you ‘prince.’” 

Ethan shook his head. “No, it’s not that.”

“Is it about your dreams? Boy, you’ve always had them. Considering all you’ve been through, I understan-”

“It’s not that either.”

The Captain squinted, her interest piqued. She turned her body away from the vanity to face him. “Then what is it?”

Ethan’s eyes rose. He could not hold back his grin as he held out his fist. Solwly, he opened it revealing the key with its violet gemstones sparkling beneath the light of Hestia’s lanterns. 

“Heavens, could that be?” She gasped as she laid her eyes onto the golden structure. She reached for it, pulling it into her fingers. “My boy, how did you… Where did you… ”

“I admit, it wasn’t particularly difficult, but…” Ethan started before moving to Hestia’s desk where a map laid open. “I decoded part of the map. You see here. There was an image of a stallion over the graveyard’s location. At a glance, it might look only to be decorative but it was familiar to me. So I went there last night and what did you know… There was a mausoleum in the Horotone Graveyard with the winged-horse carved into its doors. It was easy to spot. The family crest… I immediately recognized it.”

Hestia blinked wildly. “But how did you get in? The mausoleum must’ve been sealed shut?”

Ethan paused, taking a moment to think. “I don’t know…” He shook off this itch before continuing. “The doors just opened. It was as if they were never sealed to begin with.” Ethan bit his lip as he tried to remember the events as clearly as he could. A sharp pain pierced into the palm of his right hand. He held his breath as it subsided.

“How strange…” Hestia whispered. Her dark eyes shifted a bit beneath the sparkle of her eyeshadow. “I’m so very proud of you. In truth, you are indeed my boy, no matter what anyone says. You’re just like the rest of ‘em. Your blood doesn’t change that. Your ways are like our own! I can say that much,” Hestia reached out to caress the key with the tips of her fingers. “Do your brothers know?”

Ethan welcomed her praise with a smile. He nodded. “I told Russell, but not the others. I have a hunch that Henrik might not like the fact I went about finding the key on my own.”

“Ah! You needn’t worry yourself on the thoughts of your brothers. We both know what this means, for all of us. They’ll see that in time.” 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 Infernia all the more worthwhile.” She peeked back to Ethan. “I got another lead on the location of the royal treasure.”

Ethan’s eyes went blank. It crept up his body then, just as it did the nigh before when he was immobilized in his sleep. His voice nearly tripped as he uttered the name of their next destination “Infernia? You don’t mean to tell me… We’re going to the desert…” He swallowed as the fear started to form beads on the side of his face. He was slightly light headed as he remembered his dream. “Why would it be there?”

“Well, why wouldn’t it be?” Hestia replied, opening a canister before brushing her cheeks with makeup. “ Last night, I saw him again. Do you remember? The gentleman I told you about. The one we met at the inn off the west bank around the time Milo had met that floozy who stole his favorite watch.” Hestia was touching up her eyebrows with a pencil before grabbing a tube of lip-stick and running it over her thick pink lips. “Anyway, I ran into him last night at the pub. Turns out, he once held a high-ranking position within the castle before-… you know. How he escaped or why he was even telling me all this, I’m not sure. Perhaps he was drunk or high off bubbles. Light knows, but he spoke of this old wives’ tale about a secret vault hidden, locked away on one of Gracile’s islands. 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. The location of this vault is said to be a carefully guarded secret, entrusted to few by the Arganian royal family. Of course, they’re gone now, but we found the key didn’t we? Who’s to say we can’t also find the vault it belongs to?”

Ethan’s sweat thickened on his brow.

“So you believe this vault could in fact hold the treasure we’re looking for, the treasure of the First King? And that this vault’s in Infernia… Are you sure about this?” Ethan prayed it not be so.

“Of course, I am. Who do you take me for?” Hestia smiled. “I mean, what better place to hide a vault filled with riches than an island covered in sand, within the hottest desert in all of Terestria? It’s beyond genius. Also, if the vault is as old as he claims it is, there might be something more to discover. Something historic! 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 trembling lip. “I do, but who’s to say this vault exists? It is just supposed to be some ‘old wives’ tale’ after all.”

Hestia rose from her chair. She faced Ethan as he thought. “Because, there is no such thing as coincidences. Sometimes it’s just a hunch. But once you see how everything falls into place, just like the door to that mausoleum opening on its own, it becomes something much more than that. In your hands, you hold the key to something, surely. But what if you found it for a reason? Not because you were smarter than your mates, no… but because it was your destiny to find what we’re after.” Hestia smiled. “It could very well be your birthright…” Hestia brought her hands to the sides of Ethan’s face as he remembered, his eyes moistening at the thought. Hestia peered deep into those caverns of green earth, watching as they sparkled in the lantern light beneath the snow of icy clear tears before calling out his true name. The name of one of the last heirs to the throne of Argania, “Prince Amadeus.”


Argania Castle, Capital City of Alessandra, Central Argania – Northern Continent

“This has to work… Or else…” The princess. whispered to herself, shuttering as she paced within her bedchamber. The walls were eerie, coated with flaking paint the color of rust with a mixture of violets and tainted greens. A flash of lightning slashed across the sky, cutting through the clouds as the night ushered in a ghastly blizzard. The violent flashes of the distorted lighting blasted through the window suddenly, causing the princess’ heart to skip. Such a dreadful sound it was, the thunder. It was abnormal, sounding less like a beating drum and more like a rolling trumpet.  Amarisa shut her eyes, letting her fingers tighten around a flask in her right hand. It was filled with a murky blue liquid. “What other choice do I have…” A sigh fell from her lips with the tilt of her head. The storm continued as ice fell upon the castle’s contemporaneous windows. The snow was etching the edges of the stone, cut ornately with its many curves and edges. The girl attempted to drown out her doubts as she looked into the density of the white walls outside the pane of glass. The clouds appeared to be descending upon the castle. Amarisa decided then to take a seat, hoping to collect herself as her worries run rampant within her mind, quickly placing the vial into a drawer before taking up her quill. 

As she often did when her mind was troubling her, the princess tore a page from a golden framed diary at the edge of her table and started to write. Her green eyes were fixed upon the pages as she pushed locks of her auburn hair from her eyes with the top of her quill, concentrating intently and writing quickly as to expel the thoughts that caused her anguish and finally release herself of the torment of her inaction. The maiden bit her lip, struggling to find the words she longed for, the answers to the questions that bound her mind within the shadows. But, deep within her heart, she knew exactly what she longed to hear. These words she dared not speak. 

Though I am trapped here, I try to find solace in the thought that I may someday be free. Despite the Sanctum’s efforts to eradicate all those who may threaten the Czar’s claim to the Arganian throne, I know my brother still lives and that he will someday come for me. But for so long I’ve waited. Too long perhaps. Which is why I must leave this place… To continue to be their prisoner… There would be no better way to fail my family, my bloodline, and my homeland. This is my greatest shame. My life has never felt so meaningless, yet I endure it. Stripped of my nobility and used only for the sole purpose of holding the affection of a dying nation. Why must I live under the tyranny of a cult bent on perverting the light’s sacred doctrine into something unclean and impure? And at what cost to whom? To sit here, waiting for him, my dear brother… Whom of which I barely remember… Of whom I know truthfully I cannot trust?

I know I shouldn’t think such things. 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 Amadeus may be. I ponder his worries, his joys, and most of all whom he loves. What does he feel for me, his dear sister? His twin… Doesn’t he love me? What about our dear province? Argania is at their mercy…

 All I know is that I can no longer wait. As the rebels continue with their attacks, I feel that I must join them. How and when, I’m still unsure… But I won’t play this part much longer. I pray brother that we may someday meet. I have so many questions I must ask you. However, until then, I will fight. I will place my faith in myself and use my love to find you. I know now it is not your fate to save me from this wretched place. For I long for nothing more than to be among family and find my home among them. And that responsibility should be my own.

The girl sighed again before folding and placing it inside the book with a quick snap. She peered out the window, leaning onto the palm of her hand as the snow blanketed the last bit of hope she had left. You would think her sorrow would bring tears to her eyes, that her world would break her as the hopelessness set in. But it wouldn’t. The Linolm dynasty ended before the dear Princess Amarisa could even remember her parent’s faces. This life was all she knew and it didn’t take long for her to desensitize herself to the grief of losing her family. Although she could not remember her parents and what they looked like, she could still see his, the face of her twin brother, Amadeus Linolm, who had been placed into hiding shortly before the Sanctum had executed her parents.

There was a knock at her door suddenly which caused Amarisa to jolt upright. Quickly, she grabbed her diary and hid it beneath the pillow of her bed, before blowing out the candle on her nightstand. She kneeled by her bed, clasping her hands together. 

The door opened, revealing the body of Gabriel Kuzman, the Czar of Argania and archbishop of the Church of Northern Light, a powerful religious sect originating from the distant region of Gracile. They had taken power over her kingdom some time over a decade ago. Muscular and ominous, the armor cladded sentinel entered the room with heavy footsteps. His gray eyes traced the room suspiciously as two soldiers followed in from behind him. 

Amarisa blinked within the shadows of her room, sighing as the Czar 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. “Amarisa. It seems that there has been another attack.”

“Attack?” Amarisa asked, rising from the side of her bed, seemingly clueless. She knew very well what kind of attack he spoke of. After all, the rebels had been causing trouble for sometime now. She smiled for a moment before returning to her stoic exterior, tilting 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 are at it again, aren’t they?”

Kuzman relinquished his breath. “Yes… These… so called ‘Valorant’. They dare make a mockery of our sacred virtues and use their perversions as a means of insurrection against the very force that freed them from the oppressions of their nobility.” He replied deeply. “They set fire to the eastern coal mine causing yet another explosion, compromising the stability of District Two and Four. With the west and east mines now compromised, the northern and southern mines are 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 way of life? ”

“I don’t know, Master.” Amarisa responded, her voice hollow, seemingly void of emotion. Cold. “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 Amarisa. He approached her slowly, his shallow breath hissing as he approached her. He peered directly into her eyes while she remained motionless. “As I see it, you bear some responsibility here. As these are your people and you are their princess, correct? It is you who speaks on their behalf as their voice in times of need. So now, I need you to do something for me. The stability of the province could solely depend on it.”

“Yes?” Amarisa asked shakily. 

Kuzman smirked before stroking the side of his shallow beard of light blonde hair. “In two days’ time, Sanctum troops will escort you to the city square on the pretenses of announcing your engagement to Count Valentiz Rochefort, son of Governor Veniti Rochefort of Glacia.”

Amarisa blinked, breaking her composure. It hit her like a wave as a rush of chemicals filled her cheeks. “Engagement? As in marriage?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She knew nothing of this Count. But then again, recently there had been many strange people roaming about the castle. Men and women of different sorts. She could remember in particular a woman with black hair, dark as night, with eyes as red as garnets, glowing like embers. Who was she, the princess wondered. She shook her head, banishing the thought, before returning her focus to the issue at hand. “What does this have to do with the rebels? How is that supposed to promote stability amongst my people?”

“It provides the perfect opportunity for you to condemn the actions of the rebels and announce that any further motions taken against the Church of Northern Light will be met with force of the Sanctum Army… For Argania’s sake of course. Long-live our holy empire.” Kuzman sighed. 

“Pardon my saying, but your answer is insufficient. You haven’t explained why I’m being married.”

“It’s a shame that after all we’ve done for this country, there are still those that oppose the Valorant’s teachings. Even with you, serving as the peacekeeper, our mercy is perceived as weakness.” Kuzaman’s voice started to rise as his pride overwhelmed him. “Announcing your engagement will bring happiness to the people, knowing that your line would continue and in tandem with House Rochefort. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Even if I did marry…” Amarisa could feel her voice shake as her whisper sharpened, “If I bore a son, he’d only be a threat to you. The people would want their king.”

Kuzman’s smirk grew into a horrendous laugh. He calmed himself down a bit before replying. “When you marry Count Valentiz, you will also forfeit any claim you have to Argania’s governorship along with your name. Thus not only bringing an end to this civil strife, but Argania’s nobility as well. You’ll be stripped of your title of Princess and become the Countess of Glacia where you can rule however you see fit.”

The heat of her anger rose in her voice. “What else are you planning? I know you well enough by now. The Rocheforts wouldn’t have agreed to such terms without something in return? What do they hope to gain from all this?”

Kuzman released a sigh of disappointment “Blessed be you to remain so naive to life’s dark history. It’s been long known that the Rochefort and Linolm lines have always been connected. After all, the first queen of Argania was a Rochefort and the king, a Linolm. Whereas now that the Linolm line has ended with your brother, you may now return to the Rochefort line. They’re your family.”

Amarisa was losing her patience amidst her disbelief. Family? No. That couldn’t be it. She had no family. Not a single person. Not a single soul. No one. He was hardly family, yet he always tried to make it seem like so. But, how would he know that, she thought. That very question made her anxious, but Amarisa needed to survive this. And in order to do that, she did the only thing she could do. Lie. “I understand. However, I kindly ask that I’m provided the time needed to prepare my statement. To buy a gown perhaps?” Ironically, this was also what she knew how to do best. There was no one more alluring than Amarisa. No one is as comely, as sweet and compassionate or even respectful. She always knew the right to say, because she always held her ground. It was her only means of survival. “Will he be there?”

“Who?” Kuzman asked absentmindedly. 

Was he even listening? Amarisa held her breath, barely moving. “Who else? My husband-to-be. Will I be meeting this Count Valentiz?”

“Oh no, no. Not yet. Count Valentiz is on a mission right now in Tempesto. He’s his father’s admiral. As his wife, you’d do well to honor your husband’s duties.” Kuzman stiffened a bit as he sniffed and turned towards the window. “This is their last chance, Amarisa. Make that clear. If the rebels don’t stand down, we will have no choice but to raid every village, every building, and every home until we’ve identified and convicted every single one of those heretics. I will bleed them dry and leave them hanging in the streets like the rats they are. Do you understand, princess?”

“Yes, my Lord.” Amarisa replied as she lowered her head. Amarisa cleared her throat. “By now, I should know exactly what the church is capable of. Opposing the Northern Light is suicide, sure damnation by means of teh Sanctum.”

Kuzman smiled, pleased by her testament. “So you will do as I say?”

“As I always do, my Lord.” She responded slowly. 

Kuzman smiled, touching Amarisa’s shoulder firmly but affectionately. “I know, my girl. Your loyalty and obedience are the only thing barring me from my most primal impulses.” Amarisa turned to face Kuzman, forcing an easy-smile to her face. “My you’ve grown into a beautiful young lady. Ah, to think you’ll soon be eighteen… The years have flown by.”

“You honor me, Master. I do what I can for the glory of the Valorant.” Amarisa blinked as she almost snickered. 

Kuzman nodded. “For our glory…” He whispered before placing a palm to her face. “Now get some rest. There is much to prepare for and we need you at your best.” 

Amarisa nodded before watching Kuzman exit her bedroom. As he shut the door behind him, Amarisa’s body immediately started to shake, free of her warden’s influence. How could this be her life? To be sold away and stripped of her titles… Who was she in the abyss of all this? A piece in some war game. No… There was more to this. Amarisa was not easily deceived for she did not believe in appearances. Nothing was ever as it seemed. She learned young and she learned hard. In life, you could not trust anyone. Only your family. Yet, maybe that too was an illusion. But what could Kuzman hope to gain from marrying her to the Rocheforts? Amarisa nearly gasped. Valentiz was an admiral in his father’s army. So, what business does Glacia’s military have in its neighboring island? Strange. Amarisa thought. However, she knew very little of Gracile and its politics. The three islands it was said to be composed of have not seen war since it split from Argania centuries before she was born. The islands of Gracile, Tempesto, Glacia, and Infernia, have since existed as a single independent nation, governed by a council of elected officials. Gracile was also where the faith of the Northern Light originated. It is also where Czar Kuzman built the Sanctum Army before taking them to arms with her family’s forces.

Whatever the reason, family or not, Amarisa knew she did not belong in Glacia. Yet still, she felt, she too, did not belong here.

The rebels… They’re getting close. 

With each day, the Valorant rebels were gaining more and more widespread attention. And they knew exactly how to hit Kuzman where it hurt the most. But… Amarisa understood that the northern mine was essential to keeping the capital powered and warm throughout the viciousness of the current winter. The southern mine had the smallest power plant, so destroying it wouldn’t be practical. Alone, it could never hope to power all of Alessandra, let alone Argania’s outer territories. It wouldn’t do anything, but send a message. Whether or not she believed the rebels were acting on what they thought was best for the country or plainly out of revenge against the Church and their Sanctum, Amarisa knew that the northern coal mine could not be jeopardized. Not if they hoped to survive the bitter cold of this insufferable 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. He was incapable of mercy. She knew this. If he was, he would have killed her too, the day he murdered her family. 

Amarisa bowed her head as she started to pray for strength. “Please, brother, be safe…” She whispered. “By grace of the Light, Amadeus, please be safe.

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