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Royals – 01: The City of Secrets

Get it while it’s hot! A day early because I couldn’t wait to share it with you – here is ‘ROYALS!’
Now this is a parallel serial if you will. It’s set in the same world as ‘Hearts,’ and you may run into a familiar character here and there, but I wanted to tell this story separate to the series and give you a tasting of what the Deck of Cards world looks like. So here it is! Le me know what you think and enjoy!
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J. R Knight White BGround Tag Dark Black

01. The City of Secrets

“I find it rather naïve of those who think that their plane is the only one in existence. Such petulance, such small minded thinking. The city exists, in any country or in any place rather, it’s just blanketed. From those who are too narrow in comprehension to ever think it’s exists. That they exist, but they do.”
– Frederick Haus, translated from ‘Secret Cities: London,’ 1934.

Nethul gasped awake. Seconds before reaching consciousness his dream reached it’s climax; his brother’s blackish hands around his neck, his teeth as long as fingers bare and ready to penetrate his flesh.
Sweat covering his forehead, his muscles tensing from the distress of his nightmare he steadied his breathing and glanced down at his feet. Nishan, his older brother, was asleep. Covered by the blankets that Nethul has wrapped him in the night before, it appeared as if he had rested without disturbance or complication. That was good.
Glancing around, Nethul rubbed his fists into his eyes and yawned, and staring back at his brother once more he was comforted by the fact that he wasn’t, indeed, on the verge of tearing through his flesh. A huff escaped him and his face relaxed; it was just make believe.
The small house that they were in was unique in character, and quite unlike any other house Nethul had been in. The owner Henning was out, possibly foraging for some food or canvassing the streets to see if suspicions were rising. Turning on his back and sitting up at the end of the bed, Nethul stared directly into a mirror that hung on the wall in front of him. The mirror had many layers of glass, almost as if the person who crafted it had the ability to transcend dimension and manipulate even the most ordinary of materials. Concentrating, Nethul just saw him however, just him. There was nothing too special about his reflection
He was once a healthy young man, no older than seventeen. Oak skin, warm brown hair and light chestnut eyes were among many of his notable qualities. His cheeks where hollow though, his lips dry. Dark rings from exhaustion and malnourishment encircled his eyes, and he had a look to him, a cowering posture and defeated demeanor that evidenced the toll the last couple of years had on him.
Although the curtains were drawn, morning light escaped under the door and in-between the spaces that the fabric couldn’t cover. Gulping, Nethul put his head in his hands, the memories resurfacing. It would happen every time he woke. Their faces whipped under his eyelids. Their faces before they died, the last breaths they took, his hand wrapped around his that lost life. Her last breath. The tears the welled in her eyes that never managed to slip down her tiny, inflamed cheeks.
He moved his legs out of the sheet and he sat on the edge of the bed. It was surprisingly comfortable considering how makeshift it was, or perhaps it was just the sincere sensation of feeling relief from a nights rest. Henning was used to curling in a large basket, which beside the door. His stare comfortably rested on the door, and both waiting and a comforting uncertainty overcame him.
It was only there second day in the City of Secrets and for once all was calm. They had been fed and shelter had been provided for them and it had given Nethul a chance to tend to his brother, a growing anxiety that he was trying to control.
“It’s just me,” the door nob turned swiftly before Nethul even had a chance to realise what was happening. As quickly as the door opened it was shut again, “don’t fear.”
“Ah, what time is it?” he rustled the hair out of his eyes.
“My bedtime,” he replied, a twinkle to his eyes, “nevertheless, guests do supersede necessity.”
Henning was an elf, a Seelie elf to be exact. He was a foot or two shorter than Nethul, with long wispy limbs and pointed ears that were covering mostly by his wild white blonde hair that reached his shoulders. His chin was sharp; his eyes were boarded with thick long white lashes. Nethul was momentarily taken aback by how compelling he was; the exact colour of his irises were entirely mesmerizing and as they changed all the time.
“I must thank you again,” Nethul stood, held out his hands and took the sack off Henning’s shoulder.
“It’s nothing,” he smiled at him, his hands resting on the sack for a moment before he turned to take off his coat. “I’m afraid I don’t have the best news, yet we’ll get to that in a moment, first we’ll eat.”
Nethul took the sack to the bench. Henning came up behind him and put his hands out.
“No, no, please sit. Sit. You and your brother have been through far too much, it’s nothing really,” he unlatched a buckle, “sugar berries, some mushrooms. I’m rather fond of tree bark, yet I assume as much that you weren’t acquired to the taste.”
Nethul blinked and nodded as the corners of his mouth lifted, “can’t said that I’ve tried it.”
Henning looked back at him and pulled out a cloth bag, “water’s scarce at the moment and I do wish I could wash them.”
“Don’t think on it,” Nethul pulled the chair out for him, “you’re too kind.”
Henning sat and inched in, splaying out the berries and mushrooms that he had spent most of the early hours of the morning finding for them. Taking one he hovered it over his mouth and looked to the bed, “should we wake-”
“Oh no,” Nethul leaned in, “Nishan needs his rest, I’ll save him my share, you should eat as much as you need.”
Henning’s brows lowered, “you know I saved you because I wanted to bring you both to health. I’m fortunate to live the way I do, I can’t say the same for you.”
Nethul rubbed his lips together and a frown deepened on his forehead, “why did you save us Henning? I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
His head turned to the side, as if he has quite a lot of water in his ear that he was trying to get out. Munching, his gazed all over Nethul’s features a moment, “a valid question,” he pressed his fingers against his thumb, “I guess you’re unfamiliar with Elven politics?”
“I can’t say that I’ve every thought of it to be honest,” Nethul picked up a berry and held it in his hand.
“Well I shan’t bore you with the intricacies,” he inhaled and bunched a hand over his shirt and brought it to his nose, “however there are two main types of elves. Seelie, Unseelie. It’s all rather messy, and much more complicated than I’m making it out to be, but Seelie is a good elf,” he raised his hand and smiled, “Unseelie is a bad elf,” his eyebrows pinched together and he brooded.
Nethul could help but smile and crinkles in his face formed. He pondered this a moment, wondering when it was the last time he had smiled – the muscles in his face felt instantly sore from being awakened.
“I am a Seelie elf, yet I was born into an Unseelie court, some 84 years ago,” he stroked his chin.
“Why, you looked no old than I,” Nethul blinked.
“It must all come as a surprise for you,” he nodded, a sheepish smile to his cheeks brewing, “yet in human years, I should be no older than you.”
Nethul ate the berry and savored how sweet it was, allowing to chew and to chew until it practically dissolved in his mouth.
“So when I saw you and your brother, well,” he leaned back, his head shaking, “stranded, on the street, on the verge of life itself ending I found myself being responsible,” he blinked furiously for a moment, “responsible to ensure that you didn’t die.”
Nishan gulped, and closing his eyes he savored all he could of the flavor of the berry. It was the first sweet thing he could remember tasting since it all happened.
“May I ask?” Henning fingers hovered over his lips, “you haven’t any more family?”
“The plague,” Nethul’s shoulders dropped, “my father was the first, my mother. My sister was the last.”
It was as if the air had turned to ice, Nethul shuddered at the memories resurfacing to the forefront. Sniffing, his eyes winced and feeling Henning’s long thin fingers atop his. He looked to the elf and was temporarily soothed.
“I know all about loss,” Henning nodded, “yet yours is fresh, wounds are still tender.”
“The scabs on Nishan’s thighs are beginning to fester,” he cleared his throat – the mood still and intimate between them, “aren’t you worried you’ll contract what we have?”
“The immune systems of humans and elves are very different,” he applied pressure before releasing, “I can’t catch what you have, however I can assure you that the City has noticed your arrival.”
He tried to steady his breath, feeling already the mounting concern rise in his chest, “this city, this place?” he looked to the door, “where exactly are we?”
Henning shifted in his chair and glanced behind him and at the space of light in-between the curtain; turned back he leaned in.
“Since the beginning there has always been a division. A faction if you will, humans who have the ability of complex thought and feelings, and then those who go beyond that. The mythic, the powerful.”
Nethul put his hands on his chest, feeling now the air tighten between himself and Henning, it were as if the elf had cast a spell before them, his eyes were now blue, the colour of an ocean – it was unlike anything Nethul had ever seen before.
“Here a human soul is one the most desired thing,” Henning placed his hands firmly on the table, “the very richness and complexity that a human soul possesses is rare in itself, but it’s how the souls are extracted that makes the powerful even more ultimate.”
“Souls are currency?” Nethul shuddered.
“Yes,” Henning nodded, the waves in his eyes dulling, his bottom lip flaring outward, “it’s a inhumane thing, yet given the occupants of this city,” he glanced away, “those who come are destined too, but that doesn’t mean that they belong.”
Like a match being struck the air was lit and a fire almost burned between them.
“The Sielancer Demon,” Henning whispered, “is bound to this plane, bound to the City of Secrets. An old African native whose seeks out human souls, Unknowns they call them – you. The Sielancer Demon seeks out those who have entered the city and, upon uncovering them, consumes their soul to restore the balance.”
Nethul leaned back in his chair, his chest puffed out. As he cast his eyes downward he couldn’t help but allow defeat to anchor him, it felt like a slab of marble in his stomach. He returned his gaze to Henning’s, whose eyes now were as vibrant and as green leaf in the sun.
“You tried,” he bowed his head to him, “you tried to save us from London, the plague, yet I fear that our destiny wants us to die.”
“You’re safe here,” Henning reached back for his hands.
Nethul glanced at his brother before accepting, tears that he would never allow him to shed welling in his eyes. Lips thin he let out a long breath.
“An elves scent masks a humans,” Henning whispered to him, their hands entwined, “there almost so much so alike that if you stay here and rest and allow me to bring you food you will not be harmed. The Sielancer Demon shall not find you.”
“Yet Nishan?” he grunted, taking his hands back, “I too must be affected, the plague-”
“A solution will come,” Henning’s fingertips danced in the air, his eyes morphing into a sensation of purples and pinks, “it just has too.”
Momentarily taken aback by how breathtaking his eyes were, Nethul calmed himself a moment and took another berry.
“We really were quite lucky to have found you.”
Henning waved a hand at him to put the berry into his mouth, “eat and rest, I think it’s my bedtime now too.”

 

 

Nishan woke to the same nightmare some hours later. Nethul’s fangs were at his neck, tearing through the flesh that was there, his eyes were red and bulging and gushing blood poured down his face.
The gasp was loud enough to wake anybody, yet as he wiped the sweat furiously off his face and focused he felt the coldest chill overcome him. He leaned back. His entire body began to shake.
In front of him was a young boy; he would have been no older than seven or eight. He looked like he was entirely taken from a photograph, there was no colour or dimension to him, and he was just shades of white, black and grey.
Feeling the anxiety riddle and overcome him Nethul cowered back into the bed, and quickly glancing to see if Henning was awake he noticed that he the door was wide open.
“P-please,” Nethul whispered out to the boy, “d-don’t tell anyone we are here, I beg you my brother’s sick.”
The boy’s chin raised high and he glanced at Nishan a moment, whose back was turned with sweat covering his face. The boy lifted his finger, pointed at Nishan and said the words so quietly that he could have believed that he was still dreaming:
“She’s coming.”

 

 

 


  • You can view the Pinterest inspiration board for ‘ROYALS’ here.
  • The feature tile for ‘ROYALS’ was designed by Vanessa Matijevic, whose Instagram you can check out here.
  • This chapter of ‘ROYALS’ was self edited – please excuse any typos and spelling/syntax errors!
  • The next chapter of ‘ROYALS’ is scheduled to be published late April. There will be eight parts!
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