Friday, September 6, 2013

The Scion's Ascension

So, what's up guys. If you haven't checked out the new tiny little piece of The Scion's Ascension located in the back of the re-edited Twined, then LOOK NO FURTHER. For I am a bringer of merry times and sudden solutions.

Basically, I'm going to post it up on here. See if you like it. The book is my next project once Scarlett's is completely re-edited.

Yeah, the first time through some complications took place and the book didn't get properly edited. So I'm giving it a makeover. It's about giving people something to enjoy. The first priority is to the fans.

Anyway, here's the piece of The Scion's Ascension.


Chapter 1: Duty Bound, Turncoat Crowned

            He traced his fingers lovingly over the cover of the text cradled in his lap. Cisaro could recite nearly all its contents from memory. Every phrase he’d ever recited, every vow he’d ever pledged, every oath he’d ever sworn, all of it birthed from this very book. It was his prized possession, given to him from his father, passed on through the generations of the Episcopo bloodline. If things went his way, the position as Head Allegiant of the Misercordia Family would be no different.
            Cisaro gazed up, towards the sun bleeding through the overlapping treetops. With all the instruction regimens, the newfound duties as DeMarcio’s Second, the not-so-gentle “easing” into a position of extreme consequence, Cisaro marveled at how much he missed having time set aside for personal ventures. Typically, if not sated with some meaningful task to sponge up his freer hours, the young Twined would have gone insane from lack of purpose. Now, with purpose abundant, grass was a greener tincture on the fence’s other side—if he ever found a moment to notice it.
            And a moment he found indeed. It was an hour and a half until Cisaro was to send for another Illusionist. Argrant, one of the older Secretant, had fallen ill and declared himself unable to carry out his daily obligations. If even one Secretant failed to add their contributions to the Greater Illusion, Scollant Sanctuary would be visible to the human world. Grave repercussions would undoubtedly recur.
            Until duty beckoned, however, a book, a breeze, and rays of the sun were his only companions. Cisaro rested his head against the grassy slope of the hill, his textbook perched on his stomach.
            A cracking twig, dried from recent lack of rain, caught his attention.
            Perhaps nature was not his only companion.
            A figure rushed Cisaro from behind. Years of honing Twined skills granted him with reflexes swift enough to lash out with his book and crack this creeping assailant in the shins. The figure flew forward, tumbled down the hill, and disappeared into the patch of undergrowth circling the trees below.
            Cisaro would recognize such graceless acts anywhere, even if blindfolded and liquored to oblivion. “An ambuscade. Kelder, truly? When will you learn I outmatch you?”
            A knife hovered beside Cisaro’s throat. The Twined’s eyes widened. He heard nothing that suggested another attacker. An auburn-haired boy snickered behind him.
            Cisaro sighed. “Feign-born bastard.” The one ability he constantly overlooked when fighting Feign-born—Warping.
            “Come, Cisaro. When will you ever learn I outwit you every time?”
            “Kelder Castile, the day you outwit me is the day I rescind my wishes to become Head Allegiant and banish myself from Sanctuary with an incredulous moxie.”
            Kelder roared. The knife glistened as it moved with each laugh. “Your sweet talk is cold and appealing like the many frozen treats you owe me.” The weapon caressed the surface of Cisaro’s throat. “Admit it, Episcopo. I caught you by surprise.”
            Cisaro scoffed. “This tactless ambush? You think me blind, deaf, and excessively oblivious?”
            His “assailant” brought the knife down to poke at Cisaro’s shoulder blade. “Remember what Drago says, Cisaro. ‘Kind thoughts are the Death Knight’s shield, kind actions are his blade’.”
            Cisaro moved in the blink of an eye. He shifted his body, leaned backwards, and pinned Kelder’s blade-wielding arm at the elbow under his armpit. Cisaro then used momentum to flip Kelder over his hip, causing them both to tumble down the hill and into the shrubbery below.
            The Twined kicked his assailant out of the bushes and into another clearing behind it. Kelder moaned, his rear end sticking up in the air as he clutched at his stomach.
            The knife was thrown, impacting the soft, grassy patch right next to Kelder’s ear.
            “Do not,” Cisaro towered over the downed boy, brushing dirt and leaves off his navy blue shirtsleeve, “quote my own father to me.”
            Kelder held up both hands, his face buried in the dirt. “I yield, I yield.”
            Cisaro raised an amused eyebrow. “To yield, one must first pose a threat.” He offered his hand, which Kelder took.
            “Damn,” said the Feign boy, cracking his back. “Excessively violent as always, my friend.”
            “To match your excessive stupidity,” said the Twined with a smirk. “Don’t you have something better to do with your time instead of bothering me?”
            “I can entertain myself. I’ve been running errands for Gallant Episcopo the better part of the morning.”
            Cisaro blinked. “My father sent you?”
            “Indeed. Interested now, ass?” Kelder picked a twig from his auburn hair and stuck the end in his mouth. “I suppose Feign nature makes me the ideal errand boy. Being able to Warp from one end of Sanctuary to the other proves a useful skill. Plus, he claims I always know where to find you.”
            “I would believe so, considering you stalk me constantly, Castile.”
            A coy shrug. “Stalking implies I try to hide it.”
            “What did my father need?”
            “Merely to inform you that the task of locating a replacement Secretant for old Argrant has already been taken care of. Your attention is no longer required.”
            “Really? Who did they send for?”
            “Oh, no one cares, Cisaro,” Kelder exclaimed in vexation. “You’re off duty for at least another couple hours. Take pleasure in that.”
            “My duty is my pleasure,” Cisaro said, wiping off his retrieved textbook with his sleeve.
            Kelder picked the book from Cisaro’s grasp. He held the thing beyond the Twined’s reach, who grabbed at it. Kelder smiled, teasing his friend all the while.
            “Kelder, when I strike you, do not claim I offered no admonition!”
            “Cisaro Episcopo, you are sixteen years hopeless and have yet to even attempt having a good time. One day, when you’re old, empty, and cursed with an abundance of wasted moments, you’ll look back with consternation at all the things you wished you would’ve done.” Kelder eyed Cisaro down, suddenly very serious. “Have you ever even kissed anyone?”
            “How is that remotely important or any of your business?”
            “Well, how will I ever brag that I was your first unless I know it’s true?”
            Cisaro, taken aback, ceased reaching for the textbook. “What?”
            Kelder closed in. “Come on, Death Knight. Let us roll down the hill again, only this time sans clothing.”
            Cisaro let his fist fly into Kelder’s chest, half-seriously. Kelder let out a yelp of pain, falling to the ground and clutching himself while kicking at the air.
            “It’s pretty brave to flirt with someone holding the title of Death Knight, you thick.” He rolled his eyes. “Enough with your obnoxious theatrics, Kelder.”
            As if on cue, Kelder let his arms flop out by his sides. He watched the treetops sway in the wind, a leafy blanket pierced by beams of sunlight.
            “I want to go outside.”
            “You are outside, fool,” Cisaro huffed.
            “I meant outside the city walls. I want to see the world and sit on a beach with someone I love. I want to meet a human. See how different we really are.”
            Cisaro paused, thinking of the images he’d seen of beaches. All on paper, all lacking the same life he’d heard described in the stories told by people who’d seen them for real. And, yes, he also wished to meet one of the beings he would one day be required to Join with.
            “We cannot leave the city,” Cisaro whispered. “At least, not permanently.”
            “Not at all. I’m Feign, Cisaro. I don’t need a human to survive. I don’t get to leave on Pilgrimage, even for a little while.”
            “If you truly desire to leave, why not Warp from Sanctuary’s domain?”
            “And let my uncle lose his possessions, the status he worked so hard to keep?” Kelder scoffed. “For an Allegiant candidate, you sure are unfamiliar with the rules. Those who abscond rescind their status here. The family they desert will suffer the accused one’s consequences in their selfish wake.”
            “I know the law, Kelder. I was merely attempting to sate this ridiculous fantasy of yours.”
            “You think I can be glutted by pictures and stories? I cannot.” Kelder huffed. “I crave touch, taste, and feeling. I need the true experience.”
            “You are acting like a child.”
            “You should try it sometime.”
            “It is not our place to question the Sanctuary’s laws.”
            “Are humans truly so bigoted, Cisaro? I have difficulty believing that. Will they really cast us off at first sight once they learn of our existence? For Cordelia’s sake, we look exactly the same.”
            “It is not that simple, Kelder,” Cisaro reasoned, feeling a hint of understanding towards his friend’s yearning. At the very least, Cisaro inwardly admitted, he had fallen curious of what sat outside the Sanctuary walls. The closest he ever got to “leaving” was if an outsider Twined in a nearby town began causing trouble, and even then he was to report straight back to Sanctuary afterward.
“We hold powers of great destruction,” the Twined went on. “Powers those humans cannot and will not understand. You are not the only one forced into hiding. Even those born on the outside must conceal what they are. Revisit the lessons of Salem if you forget our people’s history.”
            “You cannot give a textbook answer to a dreamer’s query; they don’t mix right and everyone ends up pissed off in the end.”
            “That’s certainly where I’m headed.”
            “I don’t agree with the Separatists, I never have. They dally in lies and secrets. Did you know the Twined word for separate, secronair, is derived from a dead human dialect? ‘Secrete’. It means ‘to hide a thing away’, as if we are the planet’s shameful little clandestinity.”
            “No, it isn’t. Secronair stems from the Latin adjective ‘secretus’, which means ‘set apart’.”
            “What’s the difference?”
            “Purpose. We do not separate ourselves from the world simply to be enigmatic and secretive. We act with surreptitious caution to ensure balance. To avoid startling the dominant human population by brewing a storm we could never hope to contain.” Cisaro’s eyes fell onto a hummingbird sucking nectar from a nearby flower. “When the world is ready for our revealing, that is the time our people will shamble into the light. Until then, this is the way things are. You would do well to appreciate that.”
            “You don’t get it,” muttered Kelder, which captured Cisaro’s attention. “You’re a pureblooded Twined, and a noble Death Knight besides. I am Feign. I am half human.” He looked up at Cisaro with a sadness the Allegiant-to-be could not decode. “And that is all the citizens of Sanctuary will ever see.”
            Guilt, summoned from an unknown place for ambiguous reasons, crept from his stomach up into his throat. “When… when I called you a Feign-born bastard, I merely meant—”
            Kelder laughed in the softest way. “You’re at a loss for words? How infrequent. No need for fiddling apologies, Cisaro. I am not so easily offended.” Quick as a whip, Kelder was up on his feet and that all-encompassing smile replaced his dismayed expression. “Tell me, future Head Allegiant—if I succeed in finally surprising you, then will you fall madly in love with me?”
            Taken aback, Cisaro said, “What? Kelder, I don’t like what that implies. I sense you intend to do something reckless.”
            “Something as reckless as attacking the highest-scoring fighter in the training academy ranks armed with nothing but a butter knife? No. When compared to such feats on a scope of foolhardy grandeur, my future plans don’t seem reckless at all.”
            Cisaro sighed. “You are vague, devious, and that worries me.”
            “Flattery simply encourages my behavior.”
            A female voice echoed throughout the woodsy area. Cisaro and Kelder exchanged a glance.
            “You did not come alone?” asked the Death Knight.
            “I was about to ask you that,” replied the Feign. He reached over and grabbed Cisaro’s shoulder. “Hang on.” In a flash of light, Kelder teleported the duo back to the top of the hill. There, they were greeted by three individuals. A compact, sinewy, olive-skinned young woman with jet-black, shoulder length hair, a large ox of a teen that had his head shaved so far down you couldn’t tell the color, and a very dark-skinned boy with short, bleach blonde hair swept to one side.
            “Cisaro,” said the young woman. “What happened to you? You are a mess.”
            He glanced in Kelder’s direction. “I tripped down a hill.”
            “Tripped? That hardly seems like you.” She too glanced at Kelder. “But that seems exactly like something you would do.”
            “I have a balance disorder,” claimed Kelder. “The most curious thing, really, it seems to plague me only after I’ve sauced myself with an exorbitant amount of alcohol.”
            The woman laughed. “Let’s hope you Warp better than you walk, Castile.”
            “I had no idea ‘tripped’ meant ‘failed to be seduced by a human fool’ nowadays,” the ox teen said. Cisaro could feel Kelder’s face flushing red, clearly uncomfortable. How was it that the Feign was so openly vocal about his affections when he and Cisaro were alone, yet not around anyone else? But it was the girl who beat him to the punch when she snapped, “Seek a quick silence, Tyrade.”
            “Yasu feels sorry for him,” Tyrade said with a laugh. “Poor Feign thick.”
            “What a trite slur,” Kelder replied. “It’s better fit on Cisaro’s tongue.”
            “I’m guessing that’s not the only thing on Cisaro’s tongue, is it?”
            The blonde boy laughed. “Yes, what exactly were you two doing in the woods alone?”
            With a roll of the eyes, Yasu strutted towards Cisaro, placed a hand on his collar, and met his lips with her own—a long, passionate kiss that deterred the eyes of all who thought to observe. Kelder was the first to look away.
            “Is there a reason you’re here?” Cisaro asked when she was done. His words were laced with a kind patience directed towards Yasu and restrained agitation directed at the other two. How one could convey both at once, Kelder did not know.
            Tyrade stuttered. “We, uh, just wanted to…”
            “There’s a situation,” Yasu said, straightening the collar underneath Cisaro’s navy blue shirt and ignoring the party as if the two of them were holding a conversation in private. “A Maddened Twined on the outskirts of the nearby town, Ledger Hills.”
            “Subspecies?” he asked.
            “Bloodmutt. An outsider must have reached his limit and fallen into a blind frenzy. There have already been several human casualties—a number that will undoubtedly stack should this issue remain unresolved.”
            “Has my father been notified of this?”
            “He has. I saw to it personally,” said the blonde boy.
            “Thank you, Dellyn. We will take on the task immediately.” He looked over to Kelder, who, strangely, hadn’t said a word in over five minutes. A record.
            “Hey, Feign, we require your services,” Tyrade ordered. “And not the kind you’re so freely willing to give, mind you.”
            Kelder muttered something aside.
            Cisaro sighed. Kelder and Tyrade had never gotten along. The latter believed that even his daily stool required praise. “Kelder, I’m asking if you would mind Warping us to the armory? It would save us the time wasted walking there.”
            He grumbled something, lifted his hand, and a bright light joined the sun’s as they were suddenly transported in front of the metal door to the armory, located within the High Riser building on the west end of Sanctuary.
            Cisaro blinked, eyes adjusting to the new darkness. “Thank you, Kelder.”
            Tyrade unlocked the armory door with a series of keys. It opened, the exposed gears turning until the entrance stood clear. Tyrade and Dellyn began to collect their weapons. Cisaro turned to thank Kelder, who was already walking away.
            “Whoa, hold there. Are you not well?” Cisaro asked.
            “Cisaro—” Yasu started.
            “I’m fine,” he muttered, pulling away. “I need to get home. My uncle will be livid to hear I journeyed so far west, even for the Gallant.”
            “Alright.” Guilt still stung the inside of Cisaro’s throat. For what reason, though? “We will meet up later, perhaps?”
            “Perhaps,” was Kelder’s quiet response before he Warped from sight. Now gone, the boy’s absence left Cisaro with the strangest numbness.
            Yasu placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. It was always she who knew the inner workings of Cisaro’s feelings, at times better than he did. It was as if they themselves were Joined, despite the impossibilities of it.
            “I am sorry,” she said. “I displayed affection to end the goading. Hurting Kelder was not my true agenda.”
            “Of course it wasn’t.”
            “Though, I have to say, there’s something about the way he’s always grinning. Those smiles he puts on… they’re the kind of smile you hide things behind,” said Yasu.
            “I believe I need to check on some issues once this mission is complete,” Cisaro said, his eyes still trained on where Kelder disappeared. “Do not let me forget, please.”
            Yasu met him for one more tender kiss. “I won’t.”
            “Good,” he replied, gently tracing her cheek with his curled fingers. With a fiery determination, he announced, “Now, let us fulfill our oath to the Misercordia Demansch.”

Chapter 2: Love and Shiv, Note to Give

            Kelder, hands in his pockets, trudged home. The afternoon sky shined beautifully in the distance, mostly blocked out by the Sanctuary wall looming so disapprovingly. No artist, he thought, would ever want to paint a picture of the horizon with a giant wall encompassing most of the view. Painters would want pictures of crystalline oceans, lakes, or verdant hills, not the stony prisons meant to keep you from them.
            Speaking of stony, the ice pop vendor, Tamrath, was re-opening his shop today after a structural issue plagued him for over a month. Kelder, with a grin, strolled over and purchased a blue double pop from the shop window.
            “How are you today, Tamrath?” he asked.
            “One problem after another,” Tam moaned. “At least now my roof will not collapse in on itself and crush me underneath.”
            Since Kelder had lived in Scollant, namely all his life, he’d never once seen the ice pop vendor smile. He imagined you could drop three barrels of honey, wine, and money at his doorstep, and you wouldn’t get so much as a quiver of the lip.
            “One of these days, I’m going to make you smile, Tamrath. I swear it.”
            Tam let out a long, dejected, uninterested sigh.
            “Right,” Kelder said, eyeing the large man. “Perhaps another day, then.”
            As he turned around, to his surprise, three young kids stood in his path. He recognized them from the youth school up the street. Hyperactive Niall, sandy-haired Orlanna, and shy little Beyr. Their daily route always seemed to take them right past his house, so the four had become quite familiar.
            “Why do you keep buying double pops when you’re always alone?” Niall asked.
            “Is it because you’re hungry like a pig?” Orlanna asked.
            “Is it because you can’t count?” Beyr asked.
            “Not at all, irksome fledglings. I eat alone simply because I have yet to coerce my love to share these treats with me,” he replied.
            Orlanna let out a childish, sing-song coo at the mentioning of love.
            “Does she not love you back?” Niall inquired.
            Kelder avoided the child’s wide-eyed, invasive stare. “No. She doesn’t. Not yet, at least.”
            “Perhaps you should try singing to her,” suggested Orlanna.
            “Woman, have you heard me sing?”
            “Then we’ll sing to her!” offered Niall. “All we ask in return is for you to buy us ice cream.”
            “Why you shrewd little…” Kelder cleared his throat. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Niall. You’ll get fat.”
“Will not!”
Kelder chuckled to himself. Then, with a sadder tone, he asked, “Have your parents told you about me, yet?”
            “Why do you always ask me that, Kelder?”
            “Oh, merely because you’ll hate me when they do.” Before Niall could ask what he meant, Kelder split the light blue ice pop in two, which caught all three of the children’s attention. “Here. No singing required or desired.”
            “Truly?” Beyr asked.
            “What must we do to earn them?” asked Niall.
            “Enjoy them together, I suppose.” He gave one pop to Niall, who licked the treat before it had even shifted in ownership. Kelder then gave the other one to Beyr. “Orlanna, you’ll have to promise to ask Beyr to share it with you.”
            “Why?” Orlanna asked.
            “Because you’re fascinated with Niall, and Beyr is fascinated with you,” Kelder thought. “Because I only have two, and Beyr is the elder in this motley trio.”
            “Just by a few months,” added Beyr, sheepishly. “Don’t worry; I’ll split it even down the middle, Orlanna.” This brought a smile to the girl’s face. If only love were that simple, Kelder thought. If only affection could be split down the middle.
            “Now, run off. If I miss curfew because of this, I’ll hunt down all three of you and hang you by your pants from my rooftop.”
            The boys ran off, squealing in delight at Kelder’s faked threats. Orlanna, a few paces behind them, stopped to turn around.
            “Kelder, we could never hate you,” she said, kindly.
As much as he wanted to believe the foolish girl, he couldn’t. “Why do you say that?”
Orlanna smiled, as children often did when they noticed things that adults could not. “There’s too much sunshine in your eyes.” With that, the girl sped off after her two companions, shouting at Beyr to abstain from eating the entire pop by himself.
            “And too many storm clouds in my heart,” he whispered after her, bitter smile fading fast.
            Kelder arrived at a lush hillside several minutes later. He stood by the mailbox that had “Castile” written across the side. Cars passed by here and there, their drivers glancing at him as they sped by. He wondered if they ever realized how ridiculous they looked. Stopping abruptly in the middle of the road, nearly causing rear-endings and various other accidents, simply to peer up the street where the Feign boy lived. What idiots.
            “Kelder.” A black-haired girl, same age as him, appeared at the boy’s side. She wore a charcoal sundress and sunhat, and a parasol, colored the same, obscured her face.
            “Deyanna,” he said in greeting, but she merely nodded and started silently up the road.
            Kelder followed after, ducking under her parasol. But the girl shifted out of the way.
            “Woman, your mother gifted you with gorgeous looks. You should be taking advantage of them, showing them off.”
            “Are you implying I act promiscuous, Kelder Castile?” she asked, not unkindly.
            He scoffed, hands in his pockets. “I’m implying that you’re ashamed.”
            She turned with a sharp look in her eyes. “How dare you,” she snapped, this time unkindly. “I am the spitting image of my late mother and have much pride in it.”
            Kelder, not amused in the least, flicked his wrist up and caught the parasol on his thumb. The wind took control after, and blew the thing into the overhead tree branches with a powerful updraft. Deyanna yelled out in distress.
            “I meant you’re ashamed of me,” he said quickly. Deyanna pulled her black hair from her face, refusing to look Kelder in the eye. “Nothing? Not even a little verification? Fine.” Kelder started up the road without her. “You may drop the invisibility field, Dey. By the time you retrieve your umbrella, I’ll already be in the house.”
            It had always been like this. Dey’s mother and father, Kelder’s aunt and uncle, had taken him in when his own mother had died from an attack back in their old town. His own father had convinced his mother to elope with him, to pursue a life of wonder outside the city walls. His father, being half-human—Feign, and his mother, a Cloaker with unparalleled mastery over invisibility, thought it would be simple for them to find a life in the human world. Against the wishes of her own parents, and the bitter resentment of her only brother, Kelder’s mother agreed to her lover’s pleas.
            Knowing the world of the humans was portrayed as colder, compared to the warmth of Sanctuary.
            Knowing that by leaving, her family would suffer punishment in her wake.
            Knowing that beyond the walls, there sat a land of wonder waiting for her.
            Torn between the love of her man and her family’s begging, Kelder’s mother made a choice. She left.
            And, before she was slaughtered by a human extremist group in the dead of a snowy winter night, she sent her newborn son back to Scollant… in order to save his life.
            Kelder shuddered, remembering his early childhood. Feign was a curse word. Feign were abominations. “Remember Salem,” he was told. “Remember the trials of Cordelia”, they said. “Remember the Blackened Plague”. On, and on, and on, he was demonized—his genes, his people, his mistakes.
            The only thing these Twined fought to see was his human blood, even if it sported no difference in tincture.
            Kelder walked quietly and quickly into the house, ensuring no neighbors caused any unnecessary clamor. The small two-story home was a nice little chalet built on hilltop. It was cozy, comfortable. His uncle usually slept in a private addition in the backyard, but at this moment, he was actually in the kitchen preparing some sort of meal—duck, by the smell of it. The only member of the household who was absent seemed to be Varrick, Dey’s twin brother.
            Oaf, their giant Mastiff hound, trotted over to Kelder and nearly sucked his face in whole with sloppy kisses.
            “Disgusting,” Kelder said with a grin. “Afternoon, Uncle. Roren.”
            Roren, Dey’s stocky, square-shouldered fiancĂ©, nodded to him from the wooden kitchen table. That was typically the only interaction he ever had with the man, aside from meaningless small talk concerning work or Sanctuary politics.
            “Uh, afternoon, Uncle Delias.”
            “Did you complete all of Gallant Episcopo’s errands?”
            “With an unparalleled haste, Uncle.”
            “And you brought home your pay?”
            “Next week,” he replied.
            His uncle grunted disapprovingly. “It seems like they push your pay day a week back every other hour. Damn whore-born Death Knights.”
            Kelder stood to his feet, wiping hound slobber from his cheek.
            “They pay me quite handsomely,” he reminded.
            “For what you are worth.”
            It was the tone in which his uncle spoke that tightened the knot nestled within Kelder’s stomach. “Yes, I suppose.”
            “There’s firewood in the back that needs chopping. You don’t contribute, you don’t eat. Remember the rules of the house.”
            Funny. Kelder never asked why the rules only seemed to apply to him. And he wouldn’t today, either. “Of course. Would it be alright if I showered first?”
            “There’s only cold water.”
            “I don’t mind. It evens out my fiery, passionate soul.” Silence. “That was meant to be a joke.”
            “If I thought you were funny,” Delias brought down the cleaver on the neck of another duck, “you would have known it by now.”
            Kelder took what little victories he could manage and moved to the steps leading to the second floor.
            “Didn’t Dey go out and greet you?” Roren asked.
            Greet. Kelder nearly laughed aloud at the word. Inward giggles would suffice. “She did.”
            “Well, where is she?”
            “Dey thought it better if I went up alone, kept a league or two between us.”
            “Ah,” Roren said. “She didn’t want you to be seen with her, I imagine.”
            “Would you?” Kelder asked, quite seriously, and headed upstairs. He hadn’t expected a true answer, until Roren thought to mutter, “Not even if the world were ending.”
            Kelder showered. Dried off. Went into his tiny room. Oaf was already on his bed, taking up most of the spacing within his personal quarters. Kelder instead opened the window and peered out over the hill. He wished he could move into a nicer home, one with electricity and carpeting. Or more than one bathroom. Unfortunately, when his mother left the walls, this was the standard she set for them. Compared to how his uncle used to live—excessively, to put it mildly—this was an insult of the harshest fashion.
            Kelder picked a letter out of his pants pocket. He fingered it gently, the broken red seal standing out like a blood wound on cream-colored skin.
            Oaf whined.
            “Yes, windbag, I broke it.” Another whine. “For I am nothing if not a nosy delinquent, that’s why.”
            He had read the letter against his inner suggestions. To defile a secretive note passed from Gallant Episcopo to his son? He shouldn’t have opened it. He should have given it to Cisaro instead of trying to stab him with a butter knife. Kelder gently tried to smoothen out the crumples in the envelope.
            “I’ll give it to him eventually,” Kelder reassured himself. “I just… I just need to have it resealed and then—”
            Wait. The seal. The Episcopo family seal. How could he get the seal fixed if the only Episcopo family seal belonged to the Episcopo family? Especially if Gallant Episcopo kept the sealing stamp on his personal desk located in his personal office?
            The Feign groaned, leaning against the side of the window. “Why am I so stupid?”
            He gazed at the letter. Discomfort swirled within his chest in a way he was not familiar with.
            “If Cisaro reads this letter, it’ll ruin everything,” he told Oaf. “It’ll change everything.” Oaf positioned himself so that his head rested under Kelder’s arm. “Or maybe it already has. If so, I guess there isn’t much to lose anyway.”

Chapter 3: Feign Born Freed, Mercy Deed

            Cisaro walked the evening halls of his prestigious mansion with a sense of pride that always lingered after a successful mission. With the help of Yasu, Tyrade, and Dellyn, his team was able to successfully take down the Bloodmutt before the beast claimed another human life. As soon as the Frenzied mutt had fallen, the Sanctuary Illusionists and Readers ensured that no humans would recollect what had happened. As far as the town’s inhabitants knew, a large truck had flipped and crashed into a nearby office building, resulting in the destructive aftermath.
            It was tiring keeping the existence of an entire species under radar. Cisaro wondered if the members of human government believed Twined were real. Every once in a while, a human would escape the reach of illusions or Reader tricks and publicly announce their belief in the Twined or the supernatural myths they represented. However, Cisaro’s father had often said that shooting down each and every isolated human claim would only result in suspicion, which achieves the opposite of secrecy’s desired effect.
            “It is not about achieving total silence on the matter. It is about picking and choosing which truths the human ear is permitted to catch.” That was his father’s last statement on the matter.
            Cisaro knocked on his father’s office door. Immediately, he heard a voice grant him entrance. Drago Episcopo sat at a gorgeous wooden desk made from a tree that exerted its own Aurora, much like how the Twined and Feign did. Consequently, the wood stood sturdy against Twined powers and quickly became the ideal material for all wooden constructions. This obviously raised its market value by an impressive amount.
             But the desk was no sturdier than its owner. With midnight-black hair wrapped in a ponytail, crisp, lagoon-blue eyes, and a body sculpted from marble, Cisaro’s father was not a man easily toppled, intimidated, or swayed. He was, however, kind, humble, and honest to a fault. Cisaro knew no pride greater than being the son of Scollant Sanctuary’s Head Allegiant.
            “Gallant Episcopo,” Cisaro said, and bowed with his hand pressed against his heart. He would call his father by his proper title, Head Allegiant, but Gallant was a Death Knight rank, which technically superseded his Sanctuary position.
            Drago raised an eyebrow. “Son, the day is over. That isn’t necessary.”
            “Actually, I have two more minutes until I am technically released from rank. Therefore, it is only appropriate—”
            Drago laughed heartily. “Cisaro.”
            The boy smiled, taking a more lax stance. “If you insist.”
            “I do.” He stood up and opened his arms, bringing his son into a warm embrace. “Your cheek,” the man observed, rubbing against a cut on Cisaro’s face.
            “Shallow. It’s not a concern.”
            “Was the Bloodmutt successfully disposed of?”
            “Yes. Fatalities were kept to a minimum. Once we arrived, no human lives were lost.”
            The Head Allegiant clasped his son’s hand. “You have again surmounted beyond the standards expected of you. Well done, Cisaro.”
            “That means the world, father.” The boy’s eyes lit up. “How is mother today?”
            “Not much better, I’m afraid.” Drago returned to his desk. “She’s been comfortable, which is the most and the least I can beg the goddess for at this point.”
            Cisaro had never heard his father beg for anything. “I would like a straight answer. Will mother ever get better? I know—”
            Drago was silent for a moment before interjecting, “Did Kelder deliver his message to you?”
            “An odd interpolation. Yes, I am glad you found a replacement for Argrant. The point I was trying to make about mother—”
            “And the letter?”
            Cisaro paused. “Letter? No. There was no letter.”
            “Ah. I see. He must have forgotten. The way he bounces about Sanctuary, I’ll never get it back from him.”
            “You trust me with the lives of both the humans in the outlying towns as well as all of Scollant Sanctuary’s inhabitants. You trust me enough to become the next Head Allegiant someday. Why can’t you trust I will be able to handle if…” his voice caught, “if mother…”
            Drago raised a hand. “Peace, Cisaro. The details of your mother’s illness are… complicated. I trust you will one day understand. What I do not trust is my ability to convey her sickness in the proper light. At least, not yet.” The man’s expression softened. “It is I who requires time to mature, not the other way around. Does… does that make sense?”
            “Yes, father.” Though, Cisaro wasn’t exactly sure what his father meant by needing time to mature. “May I ask something else?”
            “Well, the night is young.”
            “It’s about Kelder.”
            Drago let out a sigh. “Did he come on to you again?”
            “No. Well, yes. He always does. That’s not the point.”
            “I know what’s coming. Tell him no. I will not carve his face into the south wall of Sanctuary if he succeeds in belching the alphabet backwards.”
            “Was that actually a discussion you took part in?”
            “He claims the construction plans are still, quote, ‘in the works’,” the Head Allegiant replied, massaging his temple. “That boy. Some days…”
            “It’s about him being Feign.”
            The word seemed to kill the flow of conversation completely. Drago, now glancing out the window behind him with a steely expression, seemed immediately distressed. Cisaro had witnessed other people stiffen at the word, but never his own father.
            “Kelder told me today that he desires to leave Sanctuary. He said he wanted to see the human world, and I believed he was being childish.”
            Drago still said nothing.
            “The way Tyrade spoke, he acted as if being human made Kelder inferior somehow. At first, I dismissed this as a fault of Tyrade’s lackluster personality. However, thinking back, I’ve noticed others behaving the same way. People who I’ve never known to be outwardly cruel to other Twined have mocked and ridiculed Kelder in broad daylight. Some won’t even look at him.” Cisaro shook his head. “Why is this?”
            “Kelder is a Feign born,” said Drago. “Somehow, through the mixing of DNA, human and Twined can conceive half-blooded children. Many Twined see that human half as… a weakness.”
            “Yes, perhaps Kelder isn’t immortal the way a Joined Twined is. But he can Warp, a power exclusive to the Feign. I don’t see that as weakness.”
            “Perhaps weakness is the wrong word. The Twined see humans as inferior. They do so because they are scared of them.”
            Cisaro couldn’t believe it. “Scared?”
            “The Salem Witch Trials—the prosecution of Twined by way of a religious fervor so great, it lead to countless brutal and senseless deaths. Even before that, The Black Death—a human engineered disease that eliminated one third of Europe’s population, all of them Twined.” Drago leaned back in his chair as Cisaro took a seat of his own. “And in modern times, The Cyfrit. A human extremist group comprised of beings with terrifying technology, bent on ‘cleansing’ the world of our people’s tainting influence. Humans have sought war with us whenever the option sat ready and available. Whenever confronted with a human group who had the option to either attack or converse, never, not once, have I seen them choose the latter.”
            “None of that is Kel’s fault!”
            “You need not preach the value of Kelder’s merit to me, my son. It was I who allowed Kelder to return to the safety of this Hidden Haven to begin with. We do not turn our back on our own.”
            “What do you mean by returned?” Cisaro inquired. “Had Kelder ever lived outside the walls?”
            “Do you have time for a story?” Cisaro nodded as Drago reached under his desk and poured himself a few fingers of Scotch. “Kelder’s Uncle, Delias, was once one of thirty candidates for Head Allegiant. He was a proud and respected warrior born into a kind and noble family. His sister Marlessa, Kelder’s mother, was practically royalty. Back when I was poorer, it seemed they had everything I’d ever wanted. Money, status, friends. I entered the tourney as the previous Head Allegiant’s chosen second, by some miracle, and eventually Delias and I became the two candidates most likely to claim the position.”
            Cisaro was surprised to hear that. With the little of Kelder’s uncle he’d seen, the man was not of the pleasant sort.
Drago cleared his throat. “There were three portions of the final rounds. Combat, knowledge, and the Circle voting. I had my superior knowledge from years of study, yes, but Delias had a line of sponsors and friends of status backing him. My position as the retiring Head’s second boasted a credibility to some degree, but in the end, the politics led the Circle to vote in Delias’ favor. Twenty out of thirty-five. We had tied, each claiming one victory. All that was left was the combat portion of the exam, for no Head Allegiant could be permitted to cower from the heat of battle.”
Drago downed his glass and poured himself one last finger full. “And?” Cisaro asked at length.
Drago shrugged. “I lost.”
“What?” Cisaro said with mouth agape. “You lost?”
“Indeed. The pressure, the politics, it all was so unnerving that Delias bested me in the last round of tourney combat.”
            Cisaro raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Fairly?”
            Drago let out a charmed laugh. “Allies and experience have gifted me the skill I have today. I was not born outright as the man you see before you. Though thank you for being that proud of me.” He took a sip of drink before continuing. “Even though Delias’ family was temperate and kind, the same could not be said for Delias himself. He struck me down until I could not stand, taunting all the while. The last thing I remembered was him, standing over me, his arms raised in the air and his boot on my bare chest. It was absolutely the worst beating I’d ever taken in my life. Spent weeks in the hospital afterward.”
            “That bastard.”
            “He has a temper, true,” said Drago with another sip. “Twist my arm and I won’t deny it.”
            “I don’t understand. You’re Head Allegiant now. Something must have happened.”
            “Indeed,” whispered Drago. “Kelder’s mother happened.”
            “His mother?”
            “You are familiar with the Law of Abandonment.” It was more an assumption than a question.
            Kelder had spoken them earlier. Cisaro repeated the law along with Kelder’s voice in his memories. “Those who abscond rescind their status here. The family they desert will suffer the accused one’s consequences in their selfish wake.”
            “Many Twined strive to see the outside world. To deter them from leaving, the Law of Abandonment was created. It’s an old law, an outdated law, and governing through intimidation does no one any good. However, Kelder’s mother decided to leave Sanctuary with her Feign lover. And when she did, Delias lost everything—his victory in the tourney, his nobility, everything.”
            Cisaro knew the law was harsh. A rule specifically designed so that the absconding Twined in question would be persuaded by their friends and family to stay, using the ties that bind to prevent desertion. Harsh as it may be, they could not afford to allow any more Twined outside the wall, lest the humans discover their existence.
            It explained a lot, however. Why Kelder lived in that tiny little home with no electricity or heat. The reason he never let Cisaro meet his family or any of his friends. He was embarrassed that his loved ones felt ashamed of him. “Do you think… do you think Kelder’s uncle blames him?”
            “Unfortunately, it isn’t my place to wonder that. Not as Head Allegiant.”
            “What about as a father figure? What about as the closest thing to a parent Kelder has?” Cisaro insisted.
            Drago sighed. “Honestly? Not even Cloakers can hide the bruises. And I can vouch for Delias’ intense temper, which I doubt has slackened over the years.”
            “You need to speak with him. Who knows how terrible things could be for him at home.” Cisaro’s fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white. Yasu’s earlier words only heightened his suspicions. “Those smiles he puts on… they’re the kind of smile you hide things behind.”
            Before Drago could answer, a loud, shrill alarm blared outside the mansion walls. Both father and son stood out of their seat. The sound meant an emergency.
            “Cisaro,” Drago said. “Get dressed and head to the main square. I will rouse the other teams. That alarm is not a drill.”

So, there it is! For those of you who read Embers, you get a sort of different look at Cisaro's life. Hope you enjoyed the preview!

Also, don't feel bad for Kelder. Look, Sad Owl is sad for him.

Aww... poor owl.

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