Janna stared at the castle. It was built into the city wall. It didn’t make much sense, for a castle to be so accessible from the outside. She looked at it for a long time, and then,
“Hey Drake, do you think I should go to the castle doors, or through the town gate?”
Drake looked at her.
“It’s obvious what you want to do. Just do that.”
Janna walked to the large double doors.
“You know what, I’m sick of all this timidness.”
She pushed them open and stepped in like she owned the place. Standing there was her sister, Natasha. For some reason, she wasn’t in her guard uniform. She was wearing a white frilly top, and she towered over Janna.
“I have been expecting you.”
“Damn.” Janna said, “That was fast. Ever vigilant, sister.”
“I will allow you to do what you must so that I don’t have to.” Natasha told her, implying something.
“Yeah. I was prepared for this.”
Janna put her arms out and hung her head. Behind, Drake stepped into the castle. He realized quickly what was going on, and so he jumped into place next to Janna and did the same.
Natasha put cuffs on Janna’s arms, and then closed them with pins. Then she turned to Drake.
“I forgot about you. You’ll simply have to follow me.”
She brought them down into the dungeon. It was down a staircase, underground off to the east. It wasn’t underneath the castle for obvious reasons. Instead, it was under what is now the guard’s district.
Natasha brought the two to a cell and put them in together, removing Janna’s restraints.
“You will likely have trial tomorrow. There is a very strong chance that Chloe will either fight against you or represent you in the coming days. I know not where her mind is now.”
“Not all of your charges have been documented, and a lot of it might not be accurate, as it was gathered from secondary sources. As you know, the Solune Agents are dispersed throughout many regions. We have been collecting data on you for quite a while.”
“So? Of course I know, I’m an agent.”
“Yes, well, I will leave it to you as to whether you wish to admit what you’ve done or not. I would that you fill in the blanks but of course, I am used to criminals wanting to keep their counts to a minimum.”
“Yeah well, we’ll see, alright? Actually, what do you have on me anyway?” Janna asked.
“Sure, there is murder, obviously, and you have a few counts of assault, and quite a long list of battery, as this is easy to prove. You were reported mostly in areas to the north, but in between at some point you were in the Djeb, which makes no sense geographically. Can you change locations at an instantaneous speed? Perhaps you are intending to escape using this method.”
“Yeah well, it’s not within my ability.” Janna shrugged as if teleportation was normal.
“Very well. I trust that as you turned yourself in, you will remain under the same reasoning.” Natasha said.
Drake spoke, “Hey Natasha, if you see us gone in the morning, don’t worry we just went to the vendors for snacks.” Then he winked.
Natasha raised her chin, looking down on him indignantly. Then she promptly left.
“Why do you always pick on her? You’re usually so quiet.” Janna said.
“I don’t know. Some people get offended easy, and I like to pick on those people. Call it a compulsion. Anyway, now she thinks that I was the one that sent us to the Djeb and back.”
Drake laughed, and Janna did too, but mostly at him.
Chloe had just graduated, and she sat on the elevated garden outside her university, holding her poet degree and law qualification rolled up in one hand. She was looking around wistfully. She knew Janna was coming, but she wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Chloe was certain that she and maybe even Natasha would have their hands fairly deep in her fate now.
She also knew that Janna would likely serve any number of years she was forced to. Even though their father, the King, considered her the primary heir, he would not go against his own law unless it was to permanently alter it. Chloe wondered if Janna would remain the primary after this. She couldn’t tell.
Chloe never understood. It wasn’t because she health herself wanted to be the heir, but rather, Janna seemed unfitting somehow. Her mother had said that Janna was just going through a young adult phase, and that all her troubles, her hardship and mistakes would eventually turn to wisdom. If was true then Janna had given herself quite a lot to think on. Chloe had asked her father why Natasha was not the primary heir instead. The two were very alike, and Chloe was certain Natasha would run the kingdom just as well has he had. The King told her that Natasha was in fact, too similar. He had created and maintained a wonderful kingdom, but exposed to the outer world it felt stagnant. He was old and stuck in his ways, and he understood this. He recognized Janna as someone with great potential for change, the kind of change the Solune Kingdom needed. Chloe didn’t quite comprehend what he meant by this, but she knew that as the youngest, wisdom was something she lacked in comparison. She would learn in time, she was sure.
It was not quite midnight when Janna was visited by a second apparition. It was a young women with porcelain skin and blonde hair that fell far past her back and down to her thighs. She had a young face, but right now it was twisted in frustration and anguish.
“I can’t believe you.” Chloe said from the other side of the bars.
Janna looked up at her younger sister, not bothering to move her hair out of her face. She had a feral, uncaring look.
“What.” She stated.
“I, I was going to argue for you, to be your poet in this trial!”
“Yes. Was. That’s past tense. I learned about tenses in school.”
Janna felt a pit in her stomach. “What… made you change your mind?”
“I saw the list, Janna. I read how violent you are. Janna, how can I possibly represent you?”
“But honestly?” Chloe huffed, “I don’t know what to do. You did all these things, didn’t you?”
“Probably they missed some.” Janna liked to tease her sister, but this wasn’t one of those times. Right now she just didn’t care, her words were motivated mostly by apatehy.
Chloe looked at her mournfully almost.
“You were… You used to be my role model…” Chloe was on the edge of tears.
Janna tilted her head. She moved the hair from her face, a serious look in her eyes.
“Listen, I don’t know what you think you know about me, but hear this, if you think my actions are worthy of a full punishment, prepare to be surprised.”
Of course she didn’t understand. Still a complete airhead, thought Janna.
“What I’m saying is that what is there is likely enough for an execution, or a life sentence. One might incorrectly think this is the end for me. But, my poet would have it down to five years, maybe half that. Maybe I’ll even walk out of here free, a fine or some limitations placed on me.”
Chloe was inexperienced but what Janna was saying could happen based on what she had learned.
She thought again, very hard, and then she said, “You should expect to find me opposing you and whoever is appointed to try to lower your sentence.”
Janna said, “Hmm. Call me surprised. Honestly, I hoped you’d be on my side through all this.”
Chloe closed her eyes, holding her emotions. She opened them, and then left.
In the cell, Janna leaned back.
“She’s doing something weird again.” She told Drake. “Look at how her eyes move when she paused. She has some kind of high level genius plan I suspect.”
Drake did not answer, he was asleep.
“She will learn what kind of punishment I’m actually worthy of for sure now though.” Janna mused to herself.
Chloe went up the stairs back into the castle. As she walked to the room that had become her personal library, she mumbled under her breath.
“It’s good that I, the weaker poet, should oppose her. I hadn’t even considered lowering the sentence. Surely I will not notice more things. Of course, I should not stain my name or obstruct the law in my first case. Further, I should make sure that everything that happens to my dear sister is through full justice. She doesn’t deserve my intentional leniency.”
Chloe thought on what she had just said, leaning both arms over her small reading desk.
“Maybe she does deserve leniency… I just don’t know right now.”
Chloe, like all truly intelligent people, was very open minded. She was entirely open to the idea that she may be wrong, not just in this case, but always. She sat at the desk and opened the thick law textbook. She hadn’t had to read all of it for her classes, but she figured now was as good a time as any to continue her study.
Janna’s dreams were fitful, filled with images of her sword cutting into exoskins and her laser eyes searing flesh. She could hear the sounds of meat being sliced, wet bones, usually arms but also sometimes legs or ribs, cracking underneath skin. She didn’t feel bad about the fighting, but she did have a tinge of regret. She had been on a mission, a mission from one the the planet’s many Servants.
This is where her mind took her now. Her conciousness didn’t leave her body, but it did go somewhere else, another plane of existence that ran parallel and often straight through her own. It was the plane of the Servants of Dawngale. It ignored distance, but not time. This is how Servants could seemingly influence many places at once, although in reality they had to do everything one at a time, just lile everyone else.
“I hear in your dreams that you are regretful of the work you have done for me.” A voice boomed.
It wasn’t particularly authoritarian, not like the kind of voice you’d expect from a god. It wasn’t even that deep. In fact, it just sounded like a normal man speaking loudly.
“Yeah, you know what, I do. Look, I did all these things for you and still I haven’t found Zeallott.” Janna said defiantly, “In fact, I don’t know that I’m any farther in finding him than I was before I decided to help you.
The Servant of Tendrils was a very large apparition, but other than that he appeared to just be the ghostly blue floating torso of a Solune man. In fact, he had once been a man, long ago.
Drake awoke his beside Janna feeling a chill. He looked around the cell. There was a bed; they didn’t have to sleep on the stone floor. He considered waking Janna, grabbing her shoulder. But as he felt her, he noticed how cold she was. She was actually the source of the chills.
This could mean one of two things, either she was dead, or she was communicating with a Servant. He pulled one of her eyelids open. Her irises were blue.
Janna was unique in her family in that her eyes were uncharacteristically blue. The Solune people usually had dark eyes, browns and such. Rarely, one might have other dark colours like a deep green or blue. Janna’s eyes were pale blue, a Riley characteristic. Now, however, they glowed brightly.
Surely she was convening with the Servant of Tendrils. Usually they did this together, as both of them served Tendrils.
Drake moved quickly, lifting Janna up over his shoulder, and putting her on the bed. He crawled in next to her, and tried to fall asleep as quickly as he could.
Minutes later, he appeared next to Janna in the world of the Servants. It was mostly black, with Janna standing around, illuminated by the floating Tendrils.
“…not joking around with you.” Tendrils was mid sentence, “Okay, the real reason I haven’t told you where Zeallott is is because he needs to do something before you…”
He trailed off, then something began growing out of the ground. It was a bright blue stalk, and as it grew it separated, almost like the branches of a tree. Unlike a tree, though, after jutting away from the tree, each branch would turn back upward, parallel to the trunk. It was like a hand with many blue fingers pointing straight up, all of the same size. Janna recognized this as the tendrils of time, timeline that Tendrils would read. And that’s what he was doing.
“In some timelines you kill him, and” he felt higher up the tree and then grimaced, “I really don’t like those ones. So…”
He felt other lines, “I think you should definitely capture him… It seems even letting him free for too long is troublesome, especially if he stays in contact with your uncle.”
“So you know where he is and you haven’t told me.” Janna restated.
“Right. You can’t capture him for another year or two, but you must capture him before he… Well, I’d better not tell you. But before the next five years pass. It’s a specific and important window.”
Janna put her hands on her hips and shook her head, “Man, what is this? You’ve just been using me.”
Drake nudged her.
“Us. Why should we even help you at all?” She asked.
“Well, every time you help me, you keep the Boul spinning in peace. For the most part anyway. Some things are inevitable, they appear frequently on my tendrils, and eventually they end up in all paths. Either that or I have to choose between two calamities, and often the one that has been persisting is the better option. I have to let some bad things happen for this reason.”
“Whatever. Look, I’m not really interested in all that, find someone else.”
“I’ll let you think about it.” He said.
“Eh? Well, at least let me peer into the future for a sec.” Janna said, “Tell me how bad this trial goes.”
Tendris reached his hand down, right beneath a splitting point. Janna was worried that the split represented some sort of good or bad scenario for her.
“No no, that split is not for you, it’s for the East Metch. Something about a civil war. You won’t be affecting timelines enough to make a split around yourself for a few more years yet.”
Servants could not usually read minds, but their domains within the world of Servants was an extension of their minds, therefor, a visitor’s consciousness became an independent portion of the Servant’s thoughts.
Janna didn’t know how to feel about his statement. She wondered what was going to happen in a few years, but she didn’t bother to ask. Tendrils said an awful lot about timelines and the future, but he was silent on many, very specific events. She knew this would be one of them.
“It seems between one and two years of incarceration.” Then he laughed, “And only mere months for Drake.”
Drake felt what he could only think was survivor’s guilt.
“Well, that’s on the lower end of what I guessed. I can handle a year, I think.”
“And,” He said moving his fingers slightly higher, “It seems that it’s best for you to learn this lesson the hard way.”
Then he moved his hands even higher, “Oh yes, very good.”
Janna crossed her arms, “Whatever. I’ll see you later I guess.”
“Wait!” Tendrils held her mind within his own. “I didn’t tell you the whole reason I brought you here.”
“What?” She turned only her head back.
“You will be visited by three apparitions.” He said.
“Yeah, well two of them already came.” She told the Servant.
“Umm, what?” Tendrils was confused.
He began feeling the blue lines until he found one that matched what she had said. Then he felt up it, past various splits.
“Oh, okay. Thank you for helping with the calibration. I tend to miss small changes, especially if they are beyond unusual fractures. Everything I’ve been saying applies to you in this line also. Stay well.”
And then she drifted back into her own nightmares. She watched her dreams with numb detachment. Sure she’d done these things, but it was under Tendril’s order. Was she really guilty for that? She didn’t know. She mulled this over in her dreams until her consciousness lost control of her thoughts.
The next morning had not yet come when Janna was awakened by loud footsteps. She opened her eyes, realizing she was under the covers and lying in a bed. She looked at Drake, wondering if she should wake him later so they could fool around. She figured it’d best wait until morning. Or until they weren’t in a cell anymore, but she wasn’t sure if she could be bothered to wait that long.
The footsteps were coming from the right. It was the third “apparition.” It seemed that the Servant used that term in a literal sense, as in, they appeared before her. She sat up, and pulled herself toward the wall so she could lean her back on it. Then, her father stepped in, ducking under the doorway.
He looked like a very grumpy man in his fifties. His hair was beginning to grey. In reality, the King was only forty-six adjusted years old, he was just aged by his work.
“I hear from Natasha that you have gotten yourself into a lot of trouble.” He said.
“Were you not searching for my eldest son?”
“Yeah, I was sort of lead astray on many tasks by Tendrils.”
The King thought for a moment, in instant really, “So you will be making a superior orders plea.”
It was more of a statement than a question.
Janna asked, “What’s that?”
“It means you were acting under orders. It puts some of the blame, sometimes all, on your superior for issuing commands that forced you to break the law. It’s usually a military or guard’s plea, but it is valid in this case.”
“Oh. That sounds like a good plan to me.”
The king towered over her. She was sitting and he standing, but the King had continued to gain bone mass in his age, and he was now nearly five and a half cubits [8 feet].
“Of course. Most poets don’t often find themselves defending a guard, and especially not a soldier. We haven’t had an active army in nearly a millennia, that was when I built the Kingdom wall you see. They would be unlikely to think of the superior orders plea, but of course I used it before serving my time for the Solune-Metch wars.”
The truth about the Solune King was that he not only ruled, but also founded the kingdom thousands of years ago. His age was hundreds and hundreds of years higher than the forty he appeared. This was also why he was gaining so much bone mass. For whatever reason, the Solune gained bone mass perpetually as they aged. Often people died before it became apparent, growing maybe a thumb’s height in their lifetime. Of course the body adapts to such slow organic change, even in the case of the giant king.
“Hey dad?” He looked back to Janna on his way out. “Thanks.”
“Of course. Trust me, the violent acts you have committed are but a minor stain. My hands are red from the killing I’ve done in the many wars I’ve been forced into, or forced to start.”
Janna wanted to ask why he thought he had to start wars at all, but she felt this was not the right time or place. So, she asked anyway. By this time the booming voice of the King had awoken Drake, and he lay with his head to the side, eyes open, listening.
“Why did you purposely start wars?” Janna asked.
The King turned away from the door. He looked around the barren couple of cells. This was only a temporary hold, so there wasn’t much here. He saw the guard table and some chairs on the other side of the prison. The chairs were too small, so he grabbed the table in his giant hand.
He set it down and sat.
“You have to understand the circumstances.” He said. “You see, we had escaped a predator that nearly hunted us to extinction on the Underside of the planet. My and my two brothers were the first generation to be born on the Overside, and already we looked different from our father. I will leave the story of my mother for another time, she was not a Sollussa.”
“Sollussa?” Janna had never heard this term.
“That is what the Solune were before we came to the Overside.” He continued, “Subsequent generations of the Sollussa have become subjected to the hand of Mother Nature, that is the Servant of the Overside. She altered us, made us less Sollussa and more like the Riley that are native to this side of the planet.”
“Oh. Interesting.” Janna nodded.
He went back to the war. “When we arrived, we encountered a group of insane Riley outcasts. Not all Riley are insane, but this group was, and like our previous predator they found us very palatable. My father’s friend, who had lead the expedition to this side ordered we move our village to the south. During the trip, the Riley figured they would get a final meal out of us. They succeeded, some of were take, one of them the leader. I was only young then, I had just reached adulthood, but the people liked my attachment to logic. I lead us south, past a jungle to here. There were others living here, however.”
“The East Metch?” Janna asked.
“Yes. I had to drive them out.” The King replied.
“Why not just share the land?”
“Two reasons. They did not speak our language, and they were very stubborn. Maybe they even. We integrated poorly, treated as less than human [human is a blanket term for all non-Plainkind intelligent bipedal races on Dawngale.]. Eventually we began to fight over resources. I decided to wage war and drive them into the lush woods to the East. I gave them the better land. The war waged on for a long time, but we got our land. This is why the capitol is placed so close to the Eastern border. The problem was, every few generations, the Metch would figure they lost by fluke and challenge me again. At first our laser eyes worked fine them, searing skin and giving us a range advantage. However, generations passed and they built an immunity. Regardless, the wars stopped when I built the wall.”
“So the reason our Kingdom is surrounded by a wall is to keep out the Metch?”
“No, that was a coincidence. I made a deal with a protector, remember?”
“Right. Okay, so you forced a war in the name of piece. And it mostly worked. And you were tried for this?”
“Yes,” The King said, “And rightfully so. I made a war plea similar to the superior orders plea. For a decade your mother ruled the Kingdom. Shamefully, she is not a good ruler. She’d earlier went off to conquer the west and that mindset stuck in her.”
“My mother conquered the west?” Janna had never heard of this.
“You can ask her about it. I have to go now, your trial is in the morning. Do not forget the superior orders plea. And,” He looked her in the eyes, “I still consider you the primary heir.”
And then he left, leaving Janna to think. She was sort of walking in her father’s footsteps now, asking for a similar plea. And maybe she would be king too? Janna drifted to sleep with mixed emotions.
Wow, this one is long. Over twice the length of my other posts. Looks like I have a lot to live up to in the coming posts, huh. I’d really like to know if this longer form is appealing, and if the tangent about the wars is welcome or if I should cut it. It feels a tiny bit out of place to me.