Chapter 2: Scheming and Failure
By: Nova Rose
The next afternoon...
Aurora came into his room to collect his dishes from breakfast and do a quick clean-up. Rakar decided to take the opportunity to learn more about her, to see if there was something he could use.
"Aurora, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself." He made his voice sound as smooth and inviting as possible, although she didn't seem to notice or care.
"So, let's get one thing straight. You want to learn more about me, then see if you can use any of the information to force me to help you escape, yeah?"
Rakar barely managed to keep the surprise out of his expression. He replied coolly, "Perhaps, perhaps not."
She chuckled. "You know what? I'll humor you. For now. What do you want to know?"
Rakar asked, "Do you know magic?"
She replied, "Yes."
"What's your element?"
"I'm a light/nature mix."
"Hmm. Interesting combination."
"So I've been told."
"Why don't you show a little of what you can do?"
She raised an eyebrow at him, then said, "I'll show you, but only if you promise not to do anything stupid, such as try and use your Royal Gift on me. You know what'll happen if you try that."
He rolled his eyes. "Fine. I promise."
"Swear on your mother's grave."
"Do you want me to show you or not?"
"Fine. I swear on my mother's grave not to do anything... irrational."
She nodded, then began. Turned out she knew a lot of the more advanced things with her Light Element, such as light-honing, bending light to make something invisible, even melting into her Element to become part of it for a short time. She couldn't do as much with her Nature Element, but she knew how to use it. Like Athena and Darren, she specialized in vines, and she was very good at getting them to do what she wanted.
When she had finished, Rakar asked her, "Where did you learn? Very few peasants are that skilled."
She looked away. He smiled nastily to himself as he realized he'd struck a nerve.
"Come on, it can't be that bad. I'll keep it between us."
She looked at him with an unreadable expression on her face. "Promise?," she asked.
He nodded. "I promise."
She took a deep breath, then began. "When I was eight, I snuck into a magic class that was nobles only. I was wearing my best dress at the time, and I told the instructor that it was my dress for getting dirty in. To my surprise, he bought it. I learned a lot that first class, andI wanted to learn more, so I started sneaking into other classes, and by the time I was discovered, I'd learned pretty much everything I could learn. I spent the next year or so honing my skills on my own, and I got really good. So, yeah, that's the secret behind my skills."
Rakar stared at the wall for a little while, contemplating how he could use this information, when he noticed Aurora shaking out of the corner of his eye. He gave her a confused look, then she burst out laughing, which only heightened his confusion.
When she had regained enough control to speak, she said,"How stupid do you think I am, Rakar? Not stupid enough to trust you, that's for sure. That story you just heard? I made it up. The whole thing. I know how you operate. Learn about someone, then use that information to manipulate them into doing what you want. My mother warned me about people like you. She always said to keep your secrets secret from people like you."
"So, there is a secret?"
She nodded. "And it's one I'll likely take to my grave untold."
Rakar looked at her with something almost touching on respect. Aurora was not as easily fooled as other women he'd encountered. He'd have to be careful with her, and he'd also have to find out if there was anything about her or her past that he could use. He was going to get out of there if it was the last thing he did.
4 mornings later...
Aurora came in with his morning meal. As per usual, he was lying on his bed, looking incredibly bored. She set the tray down on the nightstand, then looked down at him.
"You know, I could ask King Kaze if I could bring you some books, if you want."
He glared at her. "I don't need you to do favors for me."
She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm only asking because you look like you're about to die of boredom," she replied candidly.
Suddenly, he jumped up and grabbed her shoulders in a vice grip. "Scream and you're dead."
In a low tone that was surprisingly calm, she asked,"What do you want from me?"
"I want you to get me out of here."
"While there a handful of others who could aid in my escape, they are next to impossible to contact from in here. You are quite frankly the easier option."
"And if I refuse?"
He smiled at her evilly. "You don't have a choice in the matter. If you don't struggle, I might let you live."
He slowly moved his hand down her arm, seeking the end of her sleeve. She looked into his eyes for a moment, then seemed to fade away into nothing. He cursed, realizing what she had done. She reappeared a few feet away. Her hands began to glow green. He felt, rather then saw the vines that grabbed him and pinned him to the wall. As he struggled against them, he felt them sprout thorns.
"I'd stop struggling if I were you," Aurora said.
After a moment, he stopped. "I underestimated you," he said.
"Yes, you did," she replied, "but being underestimated is how I've managed to stay alive all these years." She paused. "Rakar, I think it's time to accept that this is where the path you chose and the choices you made have led. You're not getting out of here anytime soon, if ever. So you'd best just try to accept that this is where you are and this is where you'll be spending the rest of your life."
She retracted the vines. He fell to his knees. Without a word, she turned and walked out of the room.
Some hours later...
Aurora walked in, a stack of books in her arms. Rakar was sitting on the bed, still pondering how this had happened. She walked over to the bed and set the books down next to him.
"To keep you occupied," she said.
He gave her a look that said, 'I'm sulking right now. Go away.' She rolled her eyes and left.
After about a half hour, he reluctantly picked up one of the books. He quickly became engrossed in it. It was one of the novels he'd loved when he was younger. He glanced at the rest of the books on the stack, and saw they were all books he'd read and loved when he was younger. How had she known? Maybe she wasn't so bad after all... Maybe... He shook his head.
^Stay focused,^ he told himself, ^I have to stay focused. I still have to find a way out of here.^
He tossed the book aside and stood up. He began to pace.
Two hours later...
He stopped pacing and flopped down on his bed. He still didn't have a clue how he was going to escape. His eyes started to get heavy, and before he knew it, he was asleep.
And for the first time in many years, the nightmares returned. The nightmares about the day his parents had died. The sound of his father's last blood-choked breath; the sight of his mother being run through; the searing pain as a sword cut into his scalp; the scars from the souls of the bandits he'd killed. All of those horrible images and memories replaying in his mind over and over again. Everything was shaking around him.
He heard a voice calling his name, "Rakar? Rakar! Rakar, wake up!"
His eyes shot open and he sat up. He was shaking, drenched in sweat, and breathing hard. Aurora was looking at him with her hands on his shoulders.
"Let go of me," he growled.
She let go of his shoulders and stepped back. He slid his legs over the edge of the bed and sat there.
There was silence for a while, until he asked, "What were you doing?"
She replied, "I was trying to wake you up. I came in to check on you, and you were thrashing around in your bed and mumbling things like 'No! Stop! Leave my mother alone!'" She paused. "Rakar, were you dreaming about the day King Negolas and Queen Priscilla died?"
His answer was barely above a whisper. "Yes."
He hung his head. She took a step forward and lifted his chin so he had to look her in the eyes. And what she saw in his eyes was pain; pure, unbridled, unfiltered pain. She knew now that she was seeing the hedgehog behind the mask; that, underneath all the darkness, all the threats, he was just a man who'd suffered a great deal and had looked in all the wrong places to fill the void in his heart.
She spoke to him gently, as she would a child, "Rakar, I know it hurts. Believe me, I know. But take it from someone who knows, it's best to leave stuff like that in the past. Regret and revenge will eat you from the inside out. The only way for you to be at peace with your past is to let it go. Otherwise, you're going to wake up one of these days and realize that you wasted your life, and by then, it'll be too late."
She withdrew her hand. There was silence for a little while, then Rakar looked at her. The mask was back on.
He said, "I have no regrets. Everything I did, I did for the good of Cosium."
She asked, "Even murdering your own brother?"
He replied, "Mortesen was going to send teachers into the towns to show the peasantry how to use their magic. His actions would have led to the dissolution of the monarchy." At this point he stood up, a wild light in his eyes. "I never wanted to kill him! He was my brother, my best friend, my idol! But that simpering queen of his made him soft! I would much rather have killed her, but it wasn't that simple! Everything I've ever done, I've done with Cosium's best interests in mind. WHY CAN'T ANYONE SEE THAT!?"
She looked at him with an unreadable expression on her face for a few moments; then, out of nowhere, she back-handed him in the face! He stared at her, shock showing clearly on his face.
She glared at him then yelled, "DO YOU EVEN HEAR YOURSELF!? YOU HAVE A SERIOUS PRIORITIES MIX-UP!!! LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU GET THINGS STRAIGHTENED OUT!!!!"
She stormed off in a huff, leaving Rakar to wonder what in Cosmos was his world coming to.
TO BE CONTINUED…