Macek and Doll both arrived with the news trucks. Overnight, Archer’s secret base had become Attania’s newest town. The Sons of Men weren’t quite sure what to think, especially when the news crew zeroed in on the factories which made the flitters.
“Were these what we saw over the King’s mansion in Darcy?” asked one perceptive reporter. She had a cameraman behind her as she walked down the snow-covered main street. Flitters in various stages of assembly could be clearly seen through the factory windows. The workers who had so recently returned to work stared out at the Family news crew, before coming to the oversized doorway to see what was going on.
Merrell fielded her question and told her cameraman to turn off his camera. There would be time for questions later, and all would be revealed. Clearly disappointed, the reporter turned her attention to the parking garage built into the hillside where Jet, Archer, Ben and Aylard waited for their arrival. Jet fidgeted a little, pulling down on the bottom of his shirt to make himself look more presentable. Merrell had stressed the importance of this interview. All of Attania would be watching.
“Jet!” Doll jumped down from the news truck and ran past the reporter, catching Jet in a big hug to the amusement of the news crew. Macek hopped down and followed more slowly. The news crew let him through, halting just before the wide entrance at Merrell’s direction.
The woman news reporter just had to ask. “Is that what you prefer to be called, King Roderick?” she called out from her spot still some distance away. “Jet?”
Jet, his arms full of Doll, glanced up distractedly, but Merrell had already intervened. He did come in handy. The news woman grinned ruefully, not at all put out. She would have her turn during the interview.
“I’m so sorry,” Doll whispered into Jet’s shoulder. “I heard about your father.”
Doll was the only one who had said anything at all to Jet about his loss. Jet hugged her tighter. “Stay by me,” he murmured, holding her loosely around the waist as Macek, then Merrell approached. They would hold the news conference here, at the entrance to Archer’s Cave. Behind the news crew, the factory workers filtered out to make a ring around the reporters. Cameras swung around to get a shot of them before swinging back for the interview with Attania’s new King.
With Merrell and Macek at his left, and Archer, Ben and Aylard on his right, Jet faced the cameras. Doll stood with him, prompting another question before the official interview even began.
“Is she your Queen?” A different reporter asked. “What city is she from?”
Jet smiled, looking down at Doll. “If she’ll have me, then yes, she will be my Queen.”
Doll tensed, unsure whether to smile graciously or shrink behind Jet. She glanced around Jet to see the Enforcer’s reaction to Jet’s impulsive statement, but Merrell gazed impassively straight ahead. Macek, her traveling companion, who usually was a stickler for proper Family protocol, gave her no indication of how she should respond, either. Swallowing nervously, Doll nodded. Jet bent down and kissed the top of her head.
“Do you still plan to take a Queen in every city?”
“What will happen to Queen Sephira now that the old King is gone?”
It looked like the news conference had started, whether they were ready or not. Merrell stared grimly ahead but didn’t prevent it. Jet seemed an unlikely candidate for King. Nearly as tall as his father, and slim rather than gaunt in his grays, Jet’s many small braids hung down around his face, not as long as they once were, but another sign of his difference from the rest of the Family. Having obvious non-family as part of his interview was another major difference. The news had been full of reports about the mysterious “Sons of Men,” but up until now, they had no clear picture of exactly who the Sons of Men were. That was about to change.
Jet indicated the people standing with him. Attania was familiar with the Enforcer, and the Enforcer’s son, both in their grays. They did not know Archer or Ben or Aylard, who also still wore his grays. Apparently, neither Archer nor Ben had bothered to inform the leader of the Sons of Men about the significance of those colors. The news crew were confused, too. Aylard looked like Family, yet he stood with the non-family leaders.
Just inside the cavern entrance, Reg, Ricky, Daniel and Pat waited with the rest of the Sons of Men, listening without revealing their presence just yet. They were a mixed group also, if you counted Daniel, the only Family among them. Yet Daniel seemed completely at ease, as did the other three young men, all friends now although Daniel had enormous power and could squash them at a moment’s notice.
Jet spoke. “I am King Roderick Estee, son of Roy Estee, who named me King.” He smiled. “You can call me Jet. This is Doll Spencer, my friend, my love, and she has just agreed to become my Queen. You asked if I will be taking wives in other cities. No. I love Doll. She is enough wife for me.”
The reporters all jumped to ask, “But what about the bloodlines? Don’t you have to secure the succession? Won’t that encourage the minor Family branches to try for the throne?”
Laughing, Jet said, “Let them. But I don’t think they will.” He faced the cameras squarely. He was speaking to all of Attania now, not to the few reporters and cameramen in front of him. “I am an Elemental. For those of you who don’t know exactly what that means, I can not only manipulate my elements; I am my elements. Not all Family are Elementals; in fact, there are very few of us.” Jet indicated Aylard, at the far end of the non-human side. “This is Aylard First. He, too, is an Elemental although he says he is not Family. In fact, Aylard First is leader of the Sons of Men, a non-human group.” Jet nodded towards Ben and Archer. “These are also leaders of the Sons of Men.”
Jet waited while the reporters digested that bit of information. Until recently, no one except the enforcers and the King had even heard of the Sons of Men, although with Aylard’s entrance into the wider world, they had suddenly become more active around Attania. “The Sons of Men believe that all Family are actually Elementals. Shows how little they really know. Family can become Elementals, that is, fully able to become their elements as well as human, if they learn how. But that’s not what Aylard First wants. He wants to release all Family back to their original nature, which is pure element. It can be done. My father, your King, chose that path. He now is a part of Attania, one with the land and the water and the air we breathe. But he had to give up his self, not only his physical body but the part that made him human. It was a choice he freely made. It is not my choice. I realize that we are not alone on Attania. Non-family are as much a part of this great land as Family. Non-family have only a physical existence, therefore we must work together, Family and non-family, to each use our skills to help Attania grow so it can support all of her children.”
There was dead silence after Jet stopped speaking. He peeked to the left and right, but the leaders he had gathered with him stared straight ahead, neither confirming or denying Jet’s assertions. Finally, the woman reporter who had first spoken asked the question. “How do we know what you are telling us is true?”
Jet knew it would come to this. He stepped forward holding Doll’s hand and disappeared. The reporters were not impressed; Family were master manipulators of light and darkness. Jet’s disappearance did not necessarily mean he had released his physical body. But then Jet became flame, a solid pillar of it, blazing to the top of the garage entrance. He wrapped his flame essence around Doll, who shed her own body to become flame as well, and their flames flickered and merged. Jet had missed this with Doll and he let her know it without words. Too soon, they had to take back their physical bodies but their hands remained clasped together. “Oh, yeah. Doll is an Elemental too,” he added with a grin.
Everybody spoke at once. “King Jet! King Jet! Does this mean that Family are not human? Can anybody learn to do what you do? Why would we?” That last, from a reporter near the back of the news crew. He was older than the rest, conservatively Family.
“Family is human,” Jet said firmly. “We live, we breathe, we feel. If we are ‘released’ as Aylard wants us to be, then ‘we’ die. But the essence of us, our core, is pure element. That won’t die. It will be reabsorbed back into Attania.”
Jet could feel Aylard’s eyes boring into him. Aylard didn’t agree with him that Family were human. But then again, Aylard hadn’t been born like the rest of them.
“Are we Attania, then?” someone asked.
“Yes!” Aylard said, and Jet nodded.
“In a sense, I suppose we are. There are free elementals out there who make up Attania. We can’t interact with them anymore but all Family share a core with them—we can use the elements we were born with.” Jet didn’t mention that he now realized he could do more than that. When Jet became his elements, he could sense and interact with the free elements. He had always done so, since he was small, so it just came naturally. The free elements were his friends in a very real sense. Jet didn’t think it was the same for Daniel or even Doll, at least not yet, and maybe never. Maybe you had to be raised like that. What was certain was that Aylard no longer had that ability. He could not feel the free elements all around him when he transformed.
“What about the Enforcer? Will you be choosing a new Enforcer from among your own siblings? Or perhaps the current Enforcer’s son? What about the city leaders? Will they be replaced as well?”
They were all good questions, ones that Jet hadn’t particularly thought through. “I see no need to change anything at present,” he said. “I do have plans for Attania, though, which will involve some changes. But for the most part, I plan to leave the basic workings the way they are.” Otherwise, there would be chaos.
“What about those machines? Why are the Sons of Men building them? What is their purpose? Are the Sons of Men behind them—aren’t the Sons of Men enemies?”
Good questions. Hard questions. Merrell had swept the initial flitter attack aside, explaining it as a show. However, the news crew could see that they were being manufactured by the Sons of Men, a rebel group opposed—presumably—to Family rule. “The Sons of Men thought they were protecting Attania. We have come to an agreement and they are my allies. Together we will work for the benefit of all of Attania’s people.” Jet hesitated, then decided he might as well be frank. “For too long, Family has not allowed progress except in certain circumstances.” He indicated the news cameras ranged in front of him. “Non-humans may not control elements but they have developed machines that can do similar things. Some of these machines, like the flitters you saw today, will be a tremendous help to all the people of Attania once they are fully developed. That is why I said we must work together.”
The reporters did not want to let go of the topic, but Merrell quickly brought the interview to a close, assuring the reporters that there would be ample time for more in-depth interviews at a later date, and that King Jet had much to do in order to start implementing his policies. Then he whisked Jet and the others to the relative safety inside the cavern entrance.
“You didn’t have to tell them quite that much,” Merrell remarked dryly, cuffing Jet lightly on the head once they were out of sight of the news cameras. His enforcers would see them out of Archer’s town, but probably they would set up in Ballind, hoping for more news.
Jet scowled. “Well, sorry. I’ve never done this sort of thing before. I told them what I thought they should know.” He tightened his arm around Doll. “Are you okay with all this?”
Doll smiled and nodded. “I guess I have to be.” She spotted Reg and Ricky, and waved.
Daniel drifted over, grinning widely. “Doll! Should have known you’d come. My Queen.” He laughed at her expression. “I guess we were all wrong. But look, I can do it too now!” He transformed for her, becoming wind and swirling around and around her before transforming back, a look of disappointment on his face. “I was hoping you’d merge with me.”
Jet gripped Doll tighter and grinned at Daniel’s expression. “She’s got some other kind of merging to do first, and no, you’re not invited.” He didn’t begrudge Daniel a merging with Doll or any other Elemental. It was like nothing else, and a part of who they were. But the human merging? That was just between Doll and him. As usual, Daniel wasn’t particularly fazed by Jet’s refusal. He ran over to show Macek his newest accomplishment.
Aylard watched them all without expression. He had been mollified by Jet’s revelations and for the time being was behaving himself. Since he was still the nominal leader of the Sons of Men, he contented himself with conferring with Archer and Ben, both of whom listened to Aylard but made it quite clear their first loyalty was to Jet. It remained to be seen how the Western Quadrant would respond to today’s announcement, but Jet planned on visiting them soon and presenting his plans in person.
Daniel showed Macek his newfound ability, and to Daniel’s surprise, Macek let go of his physical body too and merged with Daniel. Jet raised his eyebrows. “When did Macek learn to do that?” he asked Doll.
She reddened. “I—ah—I might have shown some of them a few things.”
“Some of them? How many?” Jet was interested. When he’d left not that long ago, Mattie was the youngest and the best at transforming, although the other kids were picking it up too.
“Macek, Lorra. The Queen. When they realized that I, a commoner, could transform, they were determined to learn it, too. Macek picked it up rather quickly.”
The Queen. Jet wondered what Sephira would do now that King Roy was gone. She no longer had to fight for one of her kids to be King—Jet was already King. Jet had no interest in staying at the mansion in Darcy. Sephira could have it, and Daniel too, if she still wanted him, although Jet had a suspicion she would no longer be interested. “Was the Queen sad to hear about my father?”
Doll shook her head regretfully. “Not really. She was angry he had chosen to leave her, but that was about it.”
“Tell me, do your parents love each other?”
Doll blinked, startled. “Of course they do. Why?”
“No reason.” Jet pulled Doll along after him to the room Reg had assigned to him. It wasn’t a King’s suite by any means, but it was his, and it was empty. Attania could wait a few more hours.