Riselle quickly asked to be excused for a moment, then ran outside before anyone could stop her. Her heart was beating quickly in her chest as she glanced in both directions. To the left, Sava was sprinting down the pathway. She's too far away! She was roughly shoved aside as a blurry figure whipped past her and down the pathway towards Sava. The other girl didn't even have time to shriek before Ryken grabbed her and brought her back into the house. Riselle picked herself up off the sand and followed him in, closing the door behind her. Sava was already sitting on the ground in the middle of the others, her eyes wide with fear.
Marin glared at Riselle, her green eyes practically sparking with her anger. "Did you bring her here?"
"No." Riselle said. "I don't know why she's here."
"I followed you." Sava piped up.
"Shut it!" Jaday growled, his voice harsh and unyielding. Sava flinched.
"Stop it," Riselle growled at him. She knelt down in front of the frightened girl. "Sava, why did you follow me?"
Sava shrugged. "I saw with her," She gestured to Fay. "And heard that she gave you a job. I was hoping I could catch up to you after the airtaxi to see if I could get one too. Del and I really need the money."
Riselle looked up and saw Marin's face soften. Kal, however, was furious.
"What did you see and hear?" He asked menacingly.
"N..nothing, I swear!" Sava stammered.
Marin placed a hand on Kal's arm. "Relax. She isn't a spy."
"You don't know that!"
"Kal, look at her. She's a child. A very scared one, at that."
"Marin, now is not the time to be lenient! This is getting out of hand! Everything we've worked for is in jeopardy!"
"I know we can't just let her go," Marin squatted down beside Riselle, looking thoughtfully at Sava. "But, we can give her a choice. The same one I'm going to give you, Riz. You can either join us, and be given a free room in my house, free food, and a job, or we will hold you prisoner until our time here is over."
Riselle stared at Marin in shock, but the young woman merely returned the gaze. The former princess realized that the calm woman she was staring at would have no problem locking her, Sava, and Del up. She would sleep easy at night.
"Can I think about it?" Riselle asked stupidly. She was trying to buy time. She needed a few days to go over everything in her head and decide if she wanted to be loyal to the Crown.
Marin slowly shook her head from side to side, her eyes never leaving Riselle's. Riselle glanced around. All of the other people were stone faced, ready to grab the girls should they refuse the offer. Jaday looked as though he was relishing the thought.
"I guess I'll join then." She responded glumly.
Sava nodded. "I'll join too. But, I have a little sister. She needs to be part of the deal."
Marin glanced at Kal, who shrugged. "Fine, she can come too. But she cannot leave the house unless either myself or Kal are with her."
"Deal." Sava said earnestly. "When can we go get her?"
"Right now." Kal said. "Ryken and Fay will accompany you back to the shelter to collect your stuff and your sister. Then, you're going straight to Marin's house."
Riselle's heart was sinking. This was all happening so fast and everything was spiraling out of her control. She had only met these people last night and now she was going to be living with them? She had only known Sava and Del a few hours longer. What kind of mess did she get herself into? Marin seemed genuine enough about everything, but mostly everyone else besides Fay and Ticor had seemed cold towards her. Especially Ryken. The thought of his eyes staring at her with such intensity gave her goosebumps. He was most likely trying to intimidate her, and it had worked. She was frightened, on a strange planet far from her home, and surrounded by people she didn't know. And now she had just thrown in with traitors to the crown. She hadn't even been on the planet for 48 hours, for crying out loud! It was just too much to handle, so she put her head against the window of the hovercar and fell asleep.
The next thing she knew, Del was next to her and the hovercar was coming to halt outside of a house. She sat up quickly and looked at Sava.
"Did we already stop at the shelter?"
Sava nodded. "You were dead asleep and we didn't want to wake you, so Del and I just packed for you. I hope you don't mind."
Riselle shook her head, yawning. "No, not at all."
"Why do you have such pretty dresses, Riz?" Del asked.
She looked down at the girl in confusion. Then it dawned on her. "Did you look in my suitcase?"
Del's eyes got really wide. "I just wanted to see."
"It's because she's the princess." Ryken said, opening his door.
Riselle glared at him, but he just smirked. "I'm not the princess. At least, not anymore."
"Oh my gods, it all makes sense now." Sava whispered. "You're Princess Riselle. I had heard rumors." Del just sat there with her mouth open.
"Rumors of what?" Riselle asked curiously.
"About what happened at the last Court. How you set fire to the Queen and were banished from Luminaria. I should have known when you told us you could shoot fire out of your hands."
Riselle grimaced at the awed whisper Sava was using. "I don't really want to talk about that. That was the worst moment of my life." She exited the car to find Ryken standing right in front of her with her suitcases.
"What was the worst moment? When you burned the ridiculously expensive dress the Queen was wearing, or before that when you knocked her and the future Queen down the stairs?" He grinned sardonically. He set the suitcases down on the sand in front of her as she glowered at him. "Here you go, Princess."
"Don't call me that," She snarled after him. His laughter was the only reply she received. How did he know about that? She thought to herself as she picked her suitcases up and followed the sisters into the house. Fay was close behind.
"Don't worry about Ryken." She advised. "He's a little rough around the edges, but you'll get used to it. His uncle is the same way."
"Who's his uncle?"
"Kal. Can't you tell? The looks and the sour attitudes give it away."
Riselle chuckled, despite herself. When she walked into the kitchen, she found Marin and Kal sitting at the small table together, talking quietly. Upon seeing the three girls enter, they both stood.
"Hi girls. Welcome to my home. Would you three like to share a room, or do you each want separate?" Marin asked.
"Separate." Riselle said. "No offense, Sava."
"None taken. However, I think Del and I would like to stay together, at least for now."
Marin smiled. "As you wish. Kal, can you show them to the bedroom on the second floor at the end of the hallway?"
Kal turned on his heel. "Come on girls." He said. Sava and Del followed him excitedly. Riselle however, was a little more subdued. Marin sat back down at the table and gestured to the other chair.
"Have a seat, Riz. Do you mind if I call you that?"
Riselle shook her head as she sat. "No. I prefer it actually."
"Great. Now, Riz, tell me what you know about us."
"You all have powers like mine and you plan to overthrow my mother."
"Broad, but correct. You have to understand that we are not the bad guys here."
Riselle's chin raised. "I think that depends on who you ask."
Marin pursed her lips. "I suppose that's true. But we're trying to help, not to take the crown. The crown doesn't matter to us, but lives do. And so many are being lost simply because your mother refuses to be rational. Trillions of people could live modest lives with all the taxes your mother collects and yet she still raises them, year after year."
"That's her business, not yours. Who cares what she does with the taxes?"
"The people dying. And children are being forced to get jobs younger and younger. It's almost slave labor."
"Slavery was outlawed centuries ago. What my mother is doing is perfectly legal."
"It's close enough. But that's not all. She has secretly been having members of the Board assassinated. And this we cannot abide by."
"Wait a minute." Riselle held up her hands. "So this is the main reason as to why you want to overthrow her? Not because of dying people or child laborers that you were preaching about, but because you think that she's killing off your people!"
"It was the straw that broke the camel's back." Marin admitted. "But we were preparing to step in soon anyways. Your mother won't have anyone left to rule over in ten years at this rate."
Riselle just shook her head. "You don't know that it was her."
"We do. We have evidence."
"What evidence?" She asked skeptically.
"We caught one of the assassins alive, with the orders in his pocket naming who to kill and signed by Valya."
"Anyone could put her name on that document." Riselle sniffed.
"Could anyone have given him five golden diamonds stamped with the regal seal from the royal treasury?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Only my mother has access to the treasury." She whispered.
"We know." Marin said. "Face it, Riz, your mother ordered those hits."
"We can only guess at that for now. She may have caught wind that we were planning on stopping her activities, she may just be striking out because she wants to expand her kingdom. We really don't know. We just know that it did happen."
Riselle couldn't process the information. "It must have been someone else! Nikileri, or one of the handmaidens. My mother wouldn't do that."
Marin stared hard at her. "Riselle, she sent you away, just for being a little different. Because she didn't want her image tarnished. And you are her daughter. Why are you so surprised that she would order the deaths of people whom she has never met and deems a threat to her kingdom?"
"She's my mother."
The woman grabbed Riselle's hand and held it. "I know this has to be hard for you. The truth often is hard. But the choices you make after you know the truth, that defines who you are. Not the title of Princess, not where you live, not what you can do. Your choices. And you have to live with your choices forever."
"I don't know what to do." Riselle whispered. "In the past week, my life has changed so much and now I find out that my mother is a killer, or at least close to being one. I just feel so lost."
Sympathy radiated from the woman's eyes. "You don't have to do anything, if you don't want to. I just ask that you work the hours that you're assigned at the Immigration Office, and just watch our practice sessions in the evenings. And if you need to talk about anything, you can always come to me."
"Thanks." Riselle said, just feeling incredibly sad and tired. "Actually, I do have a question. Why are you all here on Wess?"
Marin smiled. "Where else would we find more people like us?"
"We call them Talents. Pelia was the newest until you came along."
"Did you know I was coming?"
"Yes, we had heard. That's how we got Kal onto the ship so fast."
"Are you staying here?"
"Not for long." Marin admitted. "Another week, maybe two. Our extraction is going to be tricky though."
"Why?" Riselle asked, her eyebrows drawing together.
"If you saw a ship wanted to land on Wess from one of the Free Planets, knowing about all the tension, would you let it land?" Riselle shook her head. "Exactly."
"So how is it going to get here then?"
"Just let us worry about that, Riz. It's been a long couple of days for you, so I know you need to get some rest. Why don't you follow me to your room?"
Riselle followed Marin up the central staircase, down a long hallway, and up another flight of stairs. There were only two doors up there, one on the right, and one on the left. Marin opened the room on the left and led Riselle in. It was very basic, with a bed, a dresser, and a bedside table. Two windows faced outwards towards Longhue. Riselle sat her suitcases on the floor and through herself down on the bed.
"Breakfast is at 8, and your shift is from 9 to 12." Marin said. "Good night, Riz." She closed the door behind her.
Riselle put her clothes away in the dresser, then opened the other suitcase. The first dress was the light green and gold one she had worn over a week ago. Laying on top of that was the picture of her and Elimar together. She felt a pang of sadness. She would probably never see her childhood friend again. Once the picture was set up on the table, she went about hanging the dresses from the rods that hung the drapes for the windows. She had brought four with her, the one from a week ago, a scarlet and gold dress made from velvet, a light blue dress with silver trimmings, and a white and purple dress. She looked at them and sighed. She would never have a chance to wear them again.
"Mourning your past life, Princess?"
Riselle turned to see the door wide open, with Ryken standing in the doorway, hand on his hips and a smirk on his face.
"Ever hear of knocking?" She snarled.
"Well sure, I've heard of it, it's just the practice of it that I have trouble with."
"Go away." She grabbed the door to slam it shut, but in the next instant Ryken was by her table with the picture of Elimar in his hand.
"Who's this? Your boyfriend?"
"No, he's just a friend!" She grabbed the picture from his hand and then he was in front of the dresses. "Ryken! Get out!"
He turned to regard her, suddenly serious. "You know, just one of these dresses would have fed my family for an entire year."
She was taken aback by the tone in his voice. Frustrated, she responded, "What do you want me to do about it? It's not like I bought them."
"No, but you wore them. You lived in the palace day in and day out, with enough food to fill your bellies, a roof over your heads, and enough money to last multiple lifetimes. Meanwhile my mother starved to death because she couldn't make enough money to feed all of us and pay taxes. She fed my brother and I while she slowly wasted away."
She put Elimar's picture back on the table, then walked up and touched the fabric of the green and gold one. It was soft. She dropped her hand and stood next to the tall boy, staring at the remnants of her former life. The dresses hung there, resplendent even in the light from the lamp.
"I thought you were born on one of the Free Planets?"
"My Uncle Kal was. His mother and father, my grandparents, moved to Ransour before they had any kids. Both Uncle Kal and my father were born on that planet. My father, however, had a job that required him to travel and one day he traveled to the planet of Kolaw. He met my mother and fell in love, but my other grandparents wouldn't let her or I go with him back to Ransour. They were vile people, my other grandparents. Sometimes I think they just wanted to see us suffer. They died a few years before my mother did. Somehow my grandparents and Uncle Kal learned about this and snuck into Kolaw to get my half-brother and I. I learned upon meeting my uncle for the first time that my father had been killed leaving the planet after spending three years with my mother. Something my other grandparents had had done to insure that we would remain on Kolaw. We went to the authorities, but we were laughed at. We tried to petition the Queen, your mother, but weren't even granted the courtesy of an audience. As if my father's life was nothing."
Ryken turned to face her. "You know what the worst part was? Seeing my mother's ribs sticking out so prominently, looking into her hollow face as she tucked me in at night, seeing how weak she was. It didn't take long for her to be unable to go up and down the stairs to our house. In the end, she didn't even look like my mother anymore, she looked like a skeleton. Can you imagine watching your mother waste away day in and out and know that there is nothing you can do about it? Hearing the rattle from her throat as she inhales her last breath?"
"No," Riselle answered. Ryken turned his intense gaze back to the dresses.
"It was the worst moment of my life." He echoed her earlier words.
"That's awful, I'm so sorry.
"I don't need your pity. Pretty much every kid on the planet had at most only one parent. The other would die from starvation or disease. It is common throughout the Thirteen."
"I didn't know things were so bad out there." Riselle admitted.
"Well now you do, Princess."
And with that, he was gone.