Chapter 1: The Contract
It was of common opinion that the royal gardens, which usually surrounded Bowerstone Castle in a peaceful sea of green, were truly eerie at night. Fog cloaked everything; turning the plants into lurking creatures and making even the most normal of statues appear suspicious. The city of Bowerstone, and its many ports, lay hidden behind a shimmering veil of murky white that seemed to have bathed the castle in silence.
Several of the castle's guards shifted uncomfortably. This sudden, strange quiet didn't sit well with them; they couldn't fathom what exactly it meant. Add in the broken window of the princess's chambers, and the lack of guards by her door, and "uncomfortable" didn't even begin to cover how they felt. After all…what if something had happened? What if the princess was dead?
High above the streets of Bowerstone, a lone tower's windows shone with a dull golden light. The tower itself was an oddity, rising up impossibly high and only accessible through the fragile-looking ivory-stoned bridge connecting it to the castle proper. Though it was older than even the most aged of those living in Bowerstone, dating back to before even the Fairfax family owned the property, and it still looked nigh impenetrable. And, yet, it was here that a young woman, barely the age of twenty, could be found. The princess was worse for wear; her pale, calloused fingers traced a symbol carved into the stone floor with cracked nails. Her brown hair, scraggly from a lack of proper care, cascaded over her shoulders to brush her waist. Despite her youth, her eyes were haunted with memories of things better not seen.
She hated it here. The time she had spent imprisoned felt unending. The empty, torturous days, the bleak eternity of night—both were laid bare before her and Victoria was convinced that soon she would lose her mind.
If she hadn't lost it already.
Hence the window incident (as she was sure it would later be referred to). Truth be told, she hadn't actually intended to throw herself out a window. All she'd wanted to do was escape, and so, when all other means had failed, she'd used one of the tools beside her fireplace to break the window, climbed out onto the ledge…and then her foot had slipped on the rain-slick stone and she'd fallen right onto the glass-littered bushes and wisteria vines below. Well, she'd never said it was a foolproof plan. It was a couple hours later that a gardener had discovered her, fractured bones and all, and she honestly felt for the poor man—if that hadn't been mind-scarring, she didn't know what was.
The princess sighed, her fingers momentarily stopping in the midst of their tracing. She glanced around the room almost suspiciously, as though she expected something to be lying in wait to take advantage of her situation. Victoria wasn't certain, but she thought the round-walled room had once been a study. Bookcases lined the walls, crafted to fit the curve of the walls, and a stained-glass window rose up gloriously beside her. However, the comfortable-looking leather armchair and solid oak desk, like the small iron-framed bed, were bolted down, and the dust-cloaked bookcases were empty, ruining the illusion of peaceful seclusion.
Victoria shot the heavy, re-enforced doors a dark look. Those helped ruin it, too, seeing as she had yet to find a way to open them. Bloody doors.
Her expression shifted to somewhere between thoughtful and disinterested as she turned back to the window. Her fingers resumed their tracing. The princess attempted to see through some of the lighter panes of glass, but failed since the fog and the darkness obstructed her view of both the sea and of Bowerstone. A memory came to mind and, instantly, guilt clawed at her gut. It was all her fault. She remembered it all with the clarity of a much-feared nightmare. Major Swift standing before Logan and the crowd, another soldier's gun to his head. Ben's expression a mix of horror and fury. He'd restrained himself, and she…well, she couldn't just let the Major die. She'd tried to stop the execution. And then there was no way for them to escape; or, at least, not without a lot of people getting hurt.
Poor Ben…it wasn't fair of her to get him caught with her. She wasn't sure she believed her brother that Ben was fine and merely incarcerated. She wanted proof. Better yet, she wanted him free. She wanted to know what happened to Page and Walter. Had they come after them? Were they free or were they as captive as she was? Did they know Swift was dead? Was the revolution continuing? Was all her worry for nothing?
Frustrated, Victoria rested her forehead against the cool glass, clutching her arms about herself. What a vicious cycle this was. And, thinking only of her tattered alliance, all she wanted was a way out.
Logan paced the war room, the flickering light of the fireplace across the room his only companion. He'd been doing that a lot lately, using the pacing to coax his mind into a higher gear if only so he could think faster for a brief second. He felt like he was missing something; a rubbish notion, he knew, for kings did not simply miss things. But still…something was off.
Two issues dominating the forefront of his mind, he turned, walking past his map table, out of the war room, and into the study.
Answers, Logan knew, could sometimes be found in his father's journals when he could not find them himself. Granted, the likelihood of him finding both a way to get his sister safely away from the mess that currently was Bowerstone (and the remnants of the rebels that still hid there) and to save Albion from a creature that none of its other inhabitants even knew was coming was slim to none. Going through his desk in search of the aforementioned volumes, he knew he would need nothing short of a miracle. But he was a king, for Avo's sake, and he'd be damned if he let his worry show.
Finding a journal he'd not yet gone through, he flipped it open and began reading. Sparrow's writings were very…odd. There was neither rhyme nor reason to the way the entries were made; one entry would be business-like, the next comical, as if Sparrow had simply opened the journal to a random page and wrote down the first thing on his mind. Even when Logan employed all of his concentration, this made for difficult study as Logan tried to match dates with those of conflicts he'd learned of. Despite the fact that the journal appeared to be from his father's early years as a king, when there had been the most and only conflict under Sparrow's reign, there was very little mention of war or battles. It was strange to say the least.
Then, just as Logan was beginning to consider switching journals or hunting down old militial schematics, a strange phrase caught his eye. "A deal with Heroes"?
He brought the book closer and looked to the beginning of a section of carefully written text that filled most of the small page with black ink. Words cannot describe how frustrated I now am at being right, Logan read. While I, thankfully, didn't underestimate the other's choices, I'm finding I'm nearly out of ways to repay them for the bloody Spire 'incident'. Two of the contracts have been resolved, but the third is being…obstinate. I wonder now if this was really that good of an idea. Who ever knew making deals with Heroes could be so difficult?
A few numbers followed the paragraph and Logan recognized them as reference numbers. The rest of the entry was entirely unrelated, and, after realizing such, Logan laid the journal down on his desk and closed it. Logan traced the edge of the journal thoughtfully. He wondered what his father had meant.
Of course nearly everyone had heard of what had transpired between Sparrow and Lucien in the Spire (despite the fact that so very little was known about the other Heroes involved), but the rest…what was all this talk of contracts and choices? How could a contract be obstinate? Though his mind encouraged him to return to the truly pressing matters at hand, curiosity, it seemed, was indeed his family's curse. Rising from his chair, Logan made his way over to a cabinet full of his father's old papers.
The folder in question was astoundingly thin and sandwiched between an incredibly thick folder on Faraday/Reaver Industries and an only slightly smaller one on Oakfield trade. It was almost painfully obvious which saw the most use. Carefully, so as not to disturb the order of the other files, Logan removed the one he'd come for and began flipping through them with a mixture of intrigue and blatant curiosity.
There were a surprisingly small number of documents within the folder, he noted, removing the various papers and spreading them across the desktop. The contracts in question were the first three documents. The first two bore red wax seals, denoting their completion; the third, however, did not. Logan supposed that that had been the troublesome one. Logan read it over with great interest, finding that it was between "Sparrow of Bowerstone and Reaver of Bloodstone".
Reaver's name caught him up for a second as he wondered if it was the same man with whom he'd been recently conducting business. Then he decided that had been a rather ridiculous question. After all, how many people out there had Reaver's name? It wasn't something most mummies and daddies would call their sweet, innocent little ones. Granted…the fact that it was the same man was odd; the industrialist didn't exactly look old enough….
But, alas, he digressed.
Logan's eyes narrowed the further along he read. His mind whirled into thought. An idea was creeping up on him with all the subtlety of a flaming hobbe; it was something bold and, most likely, would be exceedingly controversial. The king placed the contract down before him, pondering it as though it were some great work of literature. To follow through would cause (even more) scandal, but it would probably be a large enough shock to distract a good percentage of Albion while he prepared. And it would keep his sister occupied, as well as a good deal safer than any other plan he'd thought of previously.
Well…that settled it, then.
Drawing out some heavy parchment and a fountain pen, Logan began to think of how to word everything. Somehow…he had the satisfactory feeling that his request would be well embraced. No one would ever dare refuse the King of Albion. All he needed was a simple "yes" and things could move forward in no time at all.
One down; one to go. Things were looking up.
Of course, that was usually when the floor fell out from beneath someone.