To Become a Hero

Chapter 2

There was a splash of water and the unpleasant sensation of it climbing up her nose. Aurora snorted and gasped, reeling at the shock of it. A hand pushed the sopping hair out of her eyes.

"Wait, she's coming around now. That's it, wake up!"

Her vision was blurry and unfocused; feeling the beginnings of an almighty hangover pulsating between her temples, she groaned and internally attempted to edge back towards unconsciousness. But the gruff voice was having none of it.

"No you don't. You can do better than that, now wake up." A hand lightly slapped her cheek, stinging her and making her hiss between clenched teeth. A wave of aggression washed over her, followed by the familiar crackle in her palms.

"Bloody hell, how was she even standing up? She smells like a brewery."

Another male voice, slightly lighter than the first, chuckled appreciatively. "I have to admit, I'm impressed."

"Well, I'm not. Her mother would be appalled. Running away like that and then wasting her talents on engaging ruffians and drinking whisky. I'll tan her hide once her head heals up."

"You might want to make sure she can't set you on fire first. She seems especially fond of doing that."

"Aurora, open your damn eyes."

The wall and floor were purgatory against her aching limbs; everything smelled wet and salty, even briny. She felt a cold nose nudge her hand, which was followed by a soft, beseeching whine. A velvety tongue licked across her fingers. Aurora sighed; that was one being should simply could not deny. With reluctance and wincing against the stabbing pain behind her eyes and at the back of her head, Aurora forced herself to come back to the world.

"Urrghh," was all she could say. The world swung around in a nauseating dance.

"About bloody time," Walter, her mentor and dead mother's oldest friend, blurred into focus. He appeared mightily displeased. "I have a few words for you, young lady."

"I've been listening to them for about six months now. All I can say is you're not missing anything." The second man was one Aurora didn't know; he was harder to see as he was standing further away. She got the impression of a lot of blond hair swept rakishly to one side and a thick leather vest over a white shirt. The sleeves were rolled up; not far behind him, she caught sight of a sword and pistol thrown over a chair. They looked like they were army-issue. A soldier?

"You keep your opinion to yourself," Walter reprimanded, his heavy eyebrows stern. He'd always had the appearance of a bear, with his woolly beard and thick walrus mustache, but right now she wouldn't have been surprised if he'd actually growled. She'd never seen Walter so angry.

"WhermI?" She mumbled, her head lolling. Walter yanked her up by the shoulder and pulled her to her feet, pinning her against the wall. Surprised, Aurora could only gasp, wincing as her head connected with grainy wood.

"Walter!" The soldier tried to stop him, but the older man stayed him with one hand, his scowl focused on the closest thing he'd ever had to a daughter.

"You're sailing back – back to Bowerstone. The resistance needs your help."

She glared at him with one eye, the other closed against the painful needle of light shining through the window. Some part of her realized she was on a ship; there was the buck and sway of the open sea, and the cramped confines of a poorly- tended cabin.

"Is that so?" Her voice was still a bit slurred, but the defiance shown through. A flash shot through Aurora's mind: a woman screaming as Reaver shot her through the head in Bowerstone Industrial. The way she'd vomited in the bushes after she'd killed a guard. Failing to kill Reaver. Then running - running for her life.

"Yes, damnit!" Walter shouted, his mustache trembling dangerously. "You can't just turn this one down! You're not just a princess anymore, you're a Hero! So act like it!"

This was a fight they'd had before. Aurora hadn't known of her power until her sixteenth birthday – the day that everything changed. For the first time in her life, she'd stood up to Logan – only to find out how gruesome he had truly become. After making the hardest decision of her life and being thrown unceremoniously into the castle dungeon, she was freed by Walter, who smuggled her from the castle. Between his and Jasper's efforts, they had managed to gain access to the Hero Queen's tomb, where they had descended into the bowels of the earth to discover if there was one sliver of hope left for Albion.

Jasper had barely been able to contain his nerves – he was only a butler after all, not exactly hired to take on such adventures as treason. She would never forget the ashen look upon his face as she had picked up the Guild Seal in her shaking hands. Walter had been intent, his whole being focused on whatever came next, all his hopes hinging on this one chance – the chance Aurora might be a Hero.

At first, nothing happened; the Guild Seal stared blankly back at her, as if it were dead. Then, a thrill of energy unlike anything she had ever before experienced swept through her body, leaving a powerful burning sensation in its wake. After a moment of blinding light and excruciating pain, the Guild Seal clattered to the ground, where Aurora had fallen to her knees in supplication to this new, awesome power.

"Bloody hell, it worked!" Walter whooped with triumph, pumping his fist and trying to do a jaunty two-step with Jasper, who was all but faint with relief.

"Are you alright, Princess?" Jasper went to her, joined by a tentative Roosevelt, who lovingly licked her right ear.

"I'm fine," she breathed. In fact, she'd never been finer in all her life. The sense of power was overwhelming; suddenly, rocks looked a little fragile against her strength. She felt as if she could disappear with speed; every sense was heightened so that it seemed as though colors burned like lanterns and every noise reverberated through her skull. And then the magic came.

The first spell she cast was one of fire; without the channeling gauntlets, it had been a messy business. In order to leave the tomb, she would have to activate a cullis gate with her magic. After a moment's concentration, she felt the pressure build, and then an enormous release. She imagined the sensation was akin to what birds experienced while in flight: a combination of unadulterated joy and the possibility of boundless freedom. As if nothing could touch her; as if nothing could get in her way.

That had been something Aurora always craved: freedom. Freedom from the confines of what it meant to be the daughter of the Hero Queen. She had loved her mother, make no mistake, but it had not been easy living in her considerable shadow. Elizabeth had died when Aurora was twelve; though her hair had silvered and a spidery web of wrinkles had begun to form around the corners of her eyes, she had still been a strong woman. Her death had been unexpected and swift; it did not come by the violence her mother so often faced, but quietly in the night, like a cat burglar. One day Elizabeth was there and the next she was gone.

The kingdom's grief had been immense; Aurora's own feelings were conflicted. Elizabeth had been a spectral presence, in and out of her daughter's life as she flitted from one Hero's duty to another. Logan and Aurora's father had perished shortly before Aurora was born; he had been a great love and therefore irreplaceable, so Elizabeth had never bothered to remarry. As a result, when she sailed or rode off into the sunset to address yet another cry of her people, her children were left to be raised by servants and, occasionally, Walter. Walter had been a soldier once, but a bad knee injury in one of their wars against Samarkland had put him out of commission. He had regained some of his previous stamina, but no longer accompanied their mother on her more dangerous trips, instead electing to become her most trusted advisor and friend. Aurora had often wondered if they were also lovers.

Now, Aurora did not relish the thought of carrying on her mother's Hero torch. When she had first discovered her hidden talent, she had been thrilled. It had been a wonderful feeling to be drawn so close to a mother whom she had never felt she really understood. But once she got a taste of the responsibility involved, she felt hopelessly unequal to what was being demanded of her. How could an inexperienced princess with no army training beyond the sparring she had done with Walter lead an oppressed nation into victory?

That night at the factories had confirmed her worst fears; after being cajoled and encouraged by Walter for three months, Aurora moved on their plan to try and take out Reaver. He was one of Logan's strongest allies, and certainly the most evil. Aurora knew of him from the stories her mother had told; the Hero of Skill who had mocked Elizabeth's abilities while shooting three men with one bullet. Despite the fact that her mother was the only living Hero with all three talents a Hero can possess – strength, skill, and will – Reaver was undaunted. He was also mysteriously immortal, something of which her mother had never been willing to speak. Elizabeth had obviously seen something of the power that maintained Reaver's youth and, whatever it was, it had alarmed her enough that she never again dared challenge it.

The result was that Reaver continued to thrive long after the Queen was dead, whispering poisonous ideas into Logan's all too willing ear. Reaver had grabbed the industrial revolution by its skirts and hoisted them above the head of every merchant, engineer, scientist, and worker in Albion. Now, children as young as six toiled 12 to 16 hour days in his factories for the equivalent of pennies, some dying from exhaustion where they stood. Whatever agreement Logan shared with this abominable man had made the kingdom a considerable amount of money – loot, if you were going to name it properly – and if that river ran dry, so would a great deal of her brother's power. They just hadn't been counting on Reaver.

"The resistance is better off without me," putting some of her special brand of brawn behind it, Aurora shoved Walter's hand off her shoulder. He grunted as he struggled to withstand her push, but was unable to steady himself without letting go. Furiously, he huffed.

"That's bollocks and you know it."

The blond soldier tsked disapprovingly, his tone bright and mocking. "You shouldn't say 'bollocks' in front of a princess, Walter."

Aurora was angry; she was tired of having this argument and tired of being the Princess. She felt trapped somewhere between living and death; as if she had lost an essential part of herself and couldn't quite move on without it, but couldn't go back either. Ignoring the momentary flash of self-awareness that told her she looked like a rat that just crawled out of the gutter, she drew close to the other man and snarled in his face. "Who the hell are you?"

"Captain Benjamin Finn," he replied smoothly, not seeming the least bit bothered by her appearance or her stench. "But most people just call me Ben. I'm Second-in-Command to Major Swift. I know you've heard of him."

The name recalled the image of a middle-aged man with a mustache even more impressive than Walter's; she could remember his voice: slightly pompous, but well-meaning. A nobleman who believed in protecting the people, always seen with a cigarette gently smoking in his right hand. He had been one of her mother's most loyal soldiers. Aurora snorted.

"So, you brought one of the rebels along, did you? Well, you're wasting your time." Aurora shoved past him to get to the door, hoping she might be able to pay someone whatever gold she had left to take a smaller boat ashore. Maybe they were close enough that she could row back to Bloodstone. Before she could exit, however, Walter appeared as if out of thin air, slamming the door shut again. Aurora glared at him.

"You should get a look at yourself," he whispered, his tone menacing. Aurora felt a cold trickle in the pit of her stomach that told her Walter was disappointed – and so was she. For a moment, her temper deflated. "Hiding from your problems in bottles of whisky and ale; fighting bandits and mercenaries! And for what? A bit of coin? A bit of senseless escape? You'll never escape what you are, Aurora: your mother's daughter."

Just like that, her fury came roaring back. Without thinking, she threw her hands up, creating a small explosion of force that shoved Walter off his feet. Breathing hard, she ignored their shouts of surprise, glaring down at the man who had once been her closest friend.

"You just don't get it, do you?!" She shouted; it felt good to shout. She'd been quiet for so long, feeling herself slowly sliding down into the pits of her own personal hell, unable to stop herself and knowing it was wrong. It felt good to release her anger on someone else. "I'M NOT MY MOTHER! I WILL NEVER BE MY MOTHER! SHE'S DEAD!"

The silence that followed rang with her proclamation; Walter stared at her as if he'd never seen her before.

"You're right," he replied hoarsely a few moments later, "You're not her – she would never have run away to begin with. She would have fought. She would have stayed."

That hurt more than Aurora liked to admit, but she rallied. "Well, then you have your answer," she spat, once again turning the knob on the door. "You might as well leave me here and find someone else to lead your bloody resistance. I'll just botch it." The door slammed shut behind her.

Once he was sure the princess was out of earshot, Ben sighed and shook his head. "That didn't go well, mate, in case you were wondering." He helped Walter to his feet. Walter still couldn't believe it.

"I don't understand," he told Ben, his forehead wrinkling with confusion. "Why is she doing this? Why won't she fight?"

Ben hesitated; Walter and he had a strict policy of how they expressed their friendship: berating; insults; jeers. To pause in their usual friendly, acidic exchanges in order to provide real advice - well, that was unprecedented. Not to mention awkward, considering their age difference and how much more Walter knew about the princess than Ben did. But Walter was a good man and someone whom he considered to be a friend. He could do what he liked with what Ben had to say and so be it.

"Maybe, mate, you should try helping her find a reason to do this other than be like her mother."

Unsurprisingly, Walter's brow furrowed even further, this time with building thunder. "And what do you mean by that? Her mother was the greatest woman who ever lived."

Shrugging, Ben replied, "Well, yeah, that's kind of the problem isn't it? That's a lot to live up to. Aurora didn't even know she was a Hero until you had her try to use the Seal. Now, she's got all this power without any idea of how to use it and everyone is expecting her to just overthrow a tyrannical king? Who also happens to be her brother, by the way," Ben clapped Walter on the shoulder; the older man now looked less mulish and more concerned as he processed Ben's words. "That's quite a tall order. If I were her, I probably would have buried my face in vats of whisky too."

Walter took some time to consider this; finally, he heaved a gravelly sigh, looking chagrined. "Maybe you're right. I should go talk to her."

"That's the spirit!" Ben encouraged, not wanting to get involved in the least. Let Walter sort this one out; he certainly didn't relish the idea of being burnt to a toasty crisp. "I'm going to go see if they've got anything to eat around here. I'll leave you to it."

Ben exited the room, making a jaunty pace down the hall and whistling some tune to himself. Behind him, Walter hesitated, then made up his mind and set off to find Albion's last Hero.


The weather on deck was foggy and inhospitable; Aurora squinted to try and get a better look around, but all she could catch were the smoky impressions of the surrounding ocean and the sounds of men calling to each other as they rigged the sails.

Thumping feet played an uneven tune on the floorboards of the deck. Up ahead, she could see the captain, a small, withered man with a pipe sticking out of his mouth, steering at the helm. The blue smoke of burning tobacco rose in a continuous wisp that disappeared quickly into the fog. The air felt damp on her skin; it was unpleasant on top of her soaking hair and dirty, bloodstained jacket. She heaved the coat off, shaking it out to have a look. It was ruined; blood had spattered down the front from her bar fight and the Crucible, not to mention the sleeves were burned and ragged from exposure to the fire in her hands. With a resigned sigh, Aurora tossed it overboard, clapping her hands together to relieve them of its sticky residue. Ignoring the pang she felt at the sight of her befouled palms – she could only imagine how the rest of her looked – Aurora made her way to the helm to speak with the Captain.

"Sir?"

The captain turned, one eye almost squinted shut, the other entirely too swollen to see through. She wondered what had made him look like that; his jaw also had an odd angle to it, as if he had been beaten out of joint. With one hand, he removed the pipe from his mouth and studied her shrewdly, not answering.

Aurora was mildly discomfited by his reception; "Are you the Captain?"

He did not initially reply; after a moment's consideration, he stuck his pipe back in his mouth, blowing out smoke and his answer in one breath, "Aye."

Aurora waited; when he did not add anything further, she inquired, "Then you can help me if I want to get off the ship?"

The captain turned slowly back to regard her once more, not removing his pipe.

"Because I have gold;" Aurora took out her purse and jangled the coin inside, hoping the sound was enticing. "I will pay you handsomely for a boat to shore."

The captain stood, without comment, staring at her with his one squinted eye.

Finally, he grunted, turning back to the helm and steering to the right. "No gold."

For a moment, Aurora wondered if he were simple - perhaps a first mate who had accidentally been left alone with the wheel? But then he spoke again.

"Sir Walter says you go to Bowerstone. No gold, no boat," glaring at her with his good eye, he nodded at her hands, taking out his pipe and pointing at her with it. "And don't ye be thinking that fire 'ill scare me. You keep yer hands to yerself, missy." Chewing on the end of his pipe, he rolled the end of it around in his wide, frog-like mouth for a time before puffing out some more smoke and steering. When he didn't turn back around, Aurora pocketed her wealth and went back on deck, assuming herself dismissed. There was no point if this man was loyal to Walter – she might as well swim back to Bloodstone.

For a moment, she actually considered it. If she could somehow sneak back to the Hero's Sanctuary – a place a Hero could call into being with their magic – and steal her mother's set of Vortex gauntlets, she could float across the surface of the ocean on the backs of wind giants. That would, however, require her to sneak past Jasper not once, but twice, and that would be impossible. Apart from being the nosiest butler in all of Albion, he had raised her for most of her life and therefore had an uncanny ability to sense and descend upon her exact location in the midst of any wrongdoing.

Jasper had probably been staying there day and night since she ran away – technically, he could get out through the enchanted map table without her help, but he wouldn't have allowed himself to miss the opportunity to catch her if she came back. It would be the only other way she could get across Albion if she couldn't hire a boat. He had probably waited for the last two and a half years, dusting her mother's weapons and straightening her old clothes and bookshelves, hoping Aurora would return.

Suddenly, there wasn't enough room in her throat for proper amounts of air, so Aurora went to the side of the boat and leaned over, gripping the shining wood and blinking back her tears. Poor Jasper; he'd always been so good to her. She thought of him smiling indulgently as he woke her in the castle, scratching Roosevelt's ears even though he wasn't supposed to share her bed, and felt an aching pain in the pit of her stomach. Jasper, Walter – they'd been her family, her guides, and her mentors. And she had turned her back on them when they needed her most.

Heavier footsteps roused her from her thoughts and Aurora turned; Walter was shuffling into view, his demeanor hesitant. Sniffing roughly, Aurora once again faced and sea and made her expression as blank as the white wall of mist surrounding them.

"Aurora," Walter murmured. He came to stand near but not directly beside her; he radiated heat, towering tall over her. Aurora wasn't tiny, but she wasn't as tall as her mother had been. She had nice, long legs for her height. Even so, Walter was a hulk of a man, and had always had the ability to make her feel diminished in size. Right now, she felt diminished in more ways than one.

Walter sighed; he too leaned over the starboard side, pressing his elbows into the wooden rail. Men on deck continued to shout orders and questions to each other; metal rattled against wood as cordage was pulled and sails billowed in the wind. Despite the hubbub, Aurora heard very little. Her heart picked up pace, equally torn between a desire to protect herself from Walter's disappointment and her own anger towards him.

"Aurora, I…. I'm sorry."

When the Princess turned to stare at Walter in surprise, he gave her that tilted smile she knew well – part humor, part chagrin. He shrugged his shoulders.

"You were right; you're not your mother – and you shouldn't have to be."

There was a long silence in which Aurora said nothing; her jaw tensed into a hard line, her hands clenched more tightly on the railing. Those deep blue eyes shone – with tears or suppressed animosity, Walter could not tell.

Walter continued, "I don't know why it became so important to me that you were like your mother – I was probably just afraid. Without your help, there is no resistance and so I tried to make you understand that the only way I knew how: by comparing you to Elizabeth."

"Yes, well," Aurora spat irritably, "I turned out to be a poor substitute." She pushed roughly away from the wall, making to storm off. Walter reached out to her; in a fit of pique, Aurora once again lost control, this time with electricity.

"Ouch! Bloody hell!" Walter vigorously shook his hand, blowing on the now-tender fingers.

"Then don't touch me," Aurora hissed, her hands shaking. Her body coiled like a spring. Aurora wanted badly to run from this confrontation – she had been for almost two years – but something inexorable was building. A dragon of feeling, uncoiling its long neck, the jaws yawning wide after so much time suppressed. And there was fire in those jaws.

"You ruined it!" Aurora shouted, suddenly beside herself. Walter froze; "You ruined me!" Without thinking, Aurora went to draw her sword, but it wasn't there. Growling, she clenched her fists, glaring up into his sad expression.

"You'd really kill me?" He asked, his voice gentle. Seeing red, she swung on him. Walter just barely ducked in time.

"Aurora!" Walter struggled with her, trying to keep her contained, but the Princess was beside herself. Ripe with a Hero's strength, she threw him off, her chest heaving.

"You said I could do it, you pushed me into war when I wasn't ready! And because of you, people died!"

Walter was curled on one side, gripping himself where he'd landed on the deck. He did not fight back, but breathed through his pain, listening to her.

"And because of that," Aurora whispered, the tears finally brimming, "I lost who I was, or everything I ever could be, when I had so little to begin with."

Aurora staggered back and sat abruptly down on a crate, burying her face in her hands. Walter waited to see if she was going to go on, but when she didn't, he pulled himself to his feet with a grimace and went to sit beside her. The crate elicited a dubious creak, but otherwise held.

Neither of them spoke for a time; Aurora was too overcome, while Walter had no idea what to say. What could he possibly respond with that wouldn't fall miles short of an adequate apology? Of course she was right; Aurora had not been raised to be Queen. Where Walter had wanted to teach her to fight, Elizabeth had been fiercely protective, sheltering her daughter from all matters of state and any manner of violence. It was only because Elizabeth was away so often he had even managed to get their trainings in and they had been kept a secret – until the week she died. Come to think of it, Walter hadn't been thrown like that since then – until now. The thought almost made him smile.

"Why?" Aurora croaked finally, her face still hidden. "Why did you make me go there that night, when you knew I would fail?"

"Because I didn't!" he blustered; seeing her hopeless expression, he tempered his voice. "Aurora, I truly believed in you – just as I do now."

The withering look she gave him would have surely incinerated anyone else on the spot, but he forged on. "No, I do. And not just because you are your mother's daughter."

Aurora scoffed, turning to look out at sea. Walter thought hard, a variety of openings presenting themselves only to be discarded as he tried to find something to say that wouldn't cause further offense. When he spoke, his tone was contemplative. Aurora peeked at him out of the corner of her eye.

"Your mother was so important to the world when she was alive – she changed all of us in the Old Guard. You know how loyal her men were to her, most of all me." At this, he hesitated again, before cautiously adding, "I loved your mother as much as I admired her Heroism. She was a damn fine person and will always remain our Hero Queen… but you possess merit of your own. I've always known that; I've always believed you would grow up to fill your mother's shoes. What I didn't realize when I gave you that Guild Seal is that it's not your job to fill her place – it's time you make your own."

Seagulls yawed above them; the fog was beginning to lift. The obnoxious birds were almost a pleasant sight, their wings spreading wide over a sky that was turning from grey to blue. Some warmth was beginning to seep into the atmosphere, chased by the beginnings of real sunlight. Aurora did not reply, somewhat stunned by this declaration, as well as torn between the idea of herself as someone with merit and a cowardly failure who'd run away from her destiny.

"You are not just a Princess, Aurora. You're a Hero – a true Hero. If you were unable to shoulder the burden of this power, you wouldn't have been given it. I think that's why your mother tried to protect you – she always suspected you were going to follow in her footsteps and she knew that was not going to be an easy path."

This elicited a disdainful snort, "Perhaps her concern was that I was unequal to it and should therefore be prevented from inheriting her abilities."

"No," Walter disagreed immediately, placing one hand on her shoulder. "Your mother believed in you, Aurora, she just didn't want you to be stuck without the privilege of choice – as she had been."

"What do you mean?

"Your mother had a saying for whenever someone would come to her for help: 'Once a Hero, always a Hero.' Even when her closest advisors begged her to turn them away, she never could. She felt it was her duty to give the benefit of her powers to Albion's people and that to refuse a quest would be a dereliction of that duty." Squeezing her hand, he added, "Elizabeth just wanted you to have the choice, Little Bean."

Aurora jerked at the term of endearment; she hadn't heard it since she came into that overblown sense of adolescent dignity. It made her soften. Even Logan had used it, when life had been better and he had still been the brother she thought she knew. Before he emptied of humor and became a hard, unreadable man who killed his people with cold indifference.

"I don't know," she murmured finally. The wind blew a pleasantly gentle breeze around her face; it tickled and curled around her neck, as if it were a stroking hand attempting to soothe her sadness. "Maybe I'm just a coward. I don't even know where to begin, Walter. If there's anything I've learned in the months I've been away, it's that I know nothing of being a leader." She shrugged, her smile wan, "I cannot win this war by myself – I'm just not enough of a Hero for that."

At this, Walter stood to face her, his expression deeply serious. "No one wins a revolution alone – even a Hero. Your mother didn't." Walter crossed one arm across his heart and, ignoring Aurora's aghast expression, bowed to her on one knee.

"Therefore, it is with the utmost pride that I pledge my allegiance to the rightful ruler of Albion, Princess Aurora of Fairfax Court, and hereby swear to serve her unto death in her pursuit of justice, equality, and truth."

"Alright!" she muttered, trying to tug him up, "OK, I get the point!" She looked about, hoping none of the crew had seen. She'd never hear the end of their disdain and Bowerstone was at least another week away.

Walter came up slowly, still solemn. "Whether you like it or not, I'm following you in this, Aurora."

The princess didn't know what to say; she felt terrified at the thought of this responsibility, but the overwhelming sense of relief that washed over her after Walter's declaration also told her that the last two years had not satisfied her desires. She had wanted to escape, yes – but Walter was right. There was no escaping this. She had to fight for her people, even if she didn't know where to start. And she would not have to fight alone: she had Walter, Roosevelt and Jasper – she even had the help of that pinhead, Ben Finn. With them at her side, she wouldn't need to know everything – they could show her the way. And then she could blast the path clear with fire. Everybody would win.

Though she told herself all of this, Aurora's heartbeat was still pounding. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she nodded her assent and rose to face Walter, looking him in the eye. "Alright, I'll help. I'll come back and I'll see if I can help."

Before she could stop him, Walter crushed her in vice-like grip, his arms wrapped so far around her she almost suffocated in his chest. When he released her, his face contorted with emotion, Aurora staggered back, out of breath.

"Look," she went on, "I'm not making any promises. Just because I have powers doesn't mean I'm not useless. I don't know a thing about battle strategy and you might as well ask a chicken what Logan's plans are for all the knowledge I have of my brother's schemes, but I've become a much better fighter and maybe there are some missions I could do. Where, you know, I just kill things to get them out of your way."

Walter chuckled, "I'm sure you'll have a lot more to do with victory over Logan than that. You're going to lead this army, Aurora – and you're going to be Queen."

The thought of that made her feel a little sick – although, to be fair, that could have been the hangover – but she chose not to comment. One step at a time, she coaxed herself, rubbing sweaty, shaking palms against her trousers. When she saw how dirty they were, Aurora blushed.

"You know, maybe I should go back to the Sanctuary and have a bath. I'm sure Jasper will want to know-" Aurora caught the stricken look on Walter's face; her heart plummeted. "What?" She asked, not really wanting to know. "What is it?"

"Aurora," Walter was very grim, "Jasper's dead."


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