Greetings, again, readers. I apologise for the serious lack of effort on my part, school and work got in the way of MUCH of my writing time. But now I am finding some more time to actually put forth some effort, and I hope it pays off. Here's chapter two. Enjoy and tell me what you think
Seraph tugged at her cowl as she made her way through the streets of Industrial. Accustomed to palace life, the various stenches threatened to overwhelm her. She coughed, her eyes watered, and at some points where it was really bad, she found herself gagging. But finally she made it to her destination: the Reaver Industries main factory. As she approached the imposing metal gates, two guards blocked her way with musket barrels. Seraph took this moment to uncover her head, and the response was instantaneous. Without a word, the guards stepped aside and lowered their firearms simultaneously. Seraph tried the gate, and with a forceful shove, it opened. She noticed the gate connected to an iron spiked fence that encircled the perimeter of the property. She found herself standing in a main courtyard of sorts, but it was no pleasure to the eye. The grass was gray with deadness, and the fountain in the center had rust stains and seemed to no longer work. Turning toward the building, she noticed the dingy windows were fogged up as she approached.
Pushing open the door just enough for her to slip inside, Seraph was immediately aware of loud raucous noises coming from all directions: the cranking of heavy machinery, the clacking of keys, the grinding of gears, the whooshing of belts, and the yells of children. The children who worked this factory. She didn't like it, but she understood that with the crawler at large, the kingdom didn't have much choice but to put money into the military first and foremost. Although the prospect seemed savage to the citizens of Bowerstone, they didn't run a kingdom, didn't know the imminent threat upon them all, and so couldn't make the best decisions for it. It was temporary, she reminded herself. As soon as the threat of darkness was obliterated, money would go towards bettering the lives of the Bowerstone citizens. Soon, thought Seraph. Just hang in there a little more. Seraph grabbed the attention of the nearest child she could find. He was a young boy of about nine or ten, with bright blue eyes and grease smudges on his face. His hands were coated with dust, and his clothes needed a good wash.
"Excuse me child." She said kindly. The boy was transfixed for a moment; it had been a very long time since anyone had said anything to him…kindly. For a moment he didn't know how to respond. Then he reminded himself that he was face to face with the princess, and hurriedly attempted an awkward bow.
"M-my lady. However may I be of service?" he asked.
"I was wondering if you would happen to know where I may find the man named Reaver. I heard he occupied this building during the weekday hours. Where might he be?" Seraph asked. The boy pointed up a flight of steps.
"Go all the way to the top, down a short hallway there will be a door. He's in there I think." He said.
"Thank you very much." Seraph replied. Quietly so none of the other kids would see, she slipped him five gold pieces from her dress. The boy's eyes widened, but Seraph put a finger to her lips and winked. Understanding, the boy nodded, bowed again, and returned to his work.
Seraph began to climb the metal staircase along the side of the building. It was a lot of steps to the top. As she got closer to Reaver's supposed location, she found herself thinking about him. She had only ever seen him from a distance, as she had no reason to speak to him directly about matters of any real importance; that duty fell to Logan and occasionally, Lucinda. Seraph shuddered at the thought of her older sister. To be honest, Seraph couldn't stand Lucinda. She was so self-idolizing, even around Logan, that she wondered how even Logan put up with her. It couldn't be because he had to. He was so quick to execute insurgents that it came as a surprise to Seraph that Lucinda hadn't been quietly dealt with yet. But she pushed those thoughts aside as she found the hallway, and soon, the door. She wondered how hard she would have to knock with all the roaring machinery downstairs echoing throughout the building, but then she noticed a shiny button right next to the door frame. That was convenient. Also, it looked to be the cleanest thing in the entire factory. Bracing herself for the meeting, she pressed the button.
A scrawny man with red hair opened the door, sneering at Seraph enough to make her cringe a little.
"And what the hell do you think you're doing here? Shouldn't you be working?" he spat. Seraph narrowed her eyes at his disrespect as he quickly realized his mistake.
"Oh, well if it isn't the princess herself? My apologies. Wasn't expecting a royal visitation today." He laughed, amused, as if unafraid of punishment for his slight.
"I'm here to see Reaver. Is he in there?" Seraph asked, peering around the thin man.
"Maybe he is. What's your business then? Reaver doesn't usually entertain guests without an appointment, or the coin," the man said. Seraph was in no mood for teasing.
"My business is nothing that concerns you. And of course I have the coin! I'm the fucking princess!" she shouted. The man flinched a little, not expecting that response perhaps. But he recovered quickly. He smiled, about to say something else, when a white-gloved hand suddenly appeared on his shoulder.
"Barry, who are you talking to?" a cultured voice asked. Barry was pushed aside to reveal the man himself. "Well, Princess Seraph. What a wonderful surprise to find you here…" he trailed off, as if choosing not to complete that sentence.
"Mr. Reaver, it's a pleasure. I wouldn't normally skimp on the pleasantries, but I have a very important favor to ask," Seraph said. Reaver held up a hand.
"Just Reaver is fine, coming from you, my dear. Now please, do come in and elaborate." Reaver stood aside, allowing Seraph to enter his posh office. She turned at the sound of the door closing, seeing Barry standing beside it.
"Um…" she began, unsure how to proceed with an audience.
"Barry, absent yourself. You're making the princess nervous." Reaver commanded. Barry's permanent sneer faltered for a moment, before he grudgingly obeyed.
"As you wish, Master Reaver," he replied, exiting. Seraph turned back to Reaver, astonished at the quality of soundproofing within the room. The sounds of the factory outside were almost nonexistent. She decided it was nice to be able to hear herself think. Reaver had a tea tray set up on his shiny black desk, the pieces crafted from polished silver. She went and sat across from him. He poured a steaming up and handed it to the princess.
"Thank you," she said, tentatively taking a sip. It was exquisite, and instantly calmed her.
"Now, my dear, what is it you wish to discuss?" he asked, his voice silky and suave. Seraph gently set down her cup.
"My sister is at it again with her dark sorcery. She's using my beloved like a slave, until she can sacrifice him to gain power for herself and become a heroine by defeating the crawler. I need your help to free him," she said. Reaver's brow raised, instantly curious.
"And why would you come to me for assistance? I'm sure you know my methods are not what most would think of as noble," he said. Seraph momentarily looked down at her hands.
"Because I don't know who else to turn to. I know you hold a lot of sway with royal matters, and my brother listens to you. None of them will listen to me. At this point, I'm willing to fight dirty," she said, grim determination gracing her features. This time both of Reaver's eyebrows went up.
"My, my. You must be at your wits' end." Seraph gave him a blank stare for stating the obvious. "Yes, my dear, as it happens, I just might be able to help you rescue your prince charming. After all, I know you'd do me a favor in return, wouldn't you?" he asked, his intense eyes capturing hers.
"Of course. Anything," she said, as if it were the most obvious answer. Reaver leaned back in his chair, getting comfortable.
"Now, how to dispose of your sister?" he mused. Seraph cringed at the careless tone he expressed when speaking so crudely about her sister. Seraph by no means liked Lucinda in the least, but she never thought of the prospect of her sister's death with quite that level of carelessness. Having nothing to say, she let Reaver continue. "I have been planning a ball at my humble residence for some time, and I would be delighted if you could attend," he said. Seraph was confused.
"What? A ball? What does that have to do with anything?" she asked.
"You asked so kindly for my help, and I'm willing to assist you. But who goes to a ball alone? Won't you accompany me?" Reaver asked. He reached across the desk to take Seraph's hand in both of his. Seraph couldn't help but notice the warmth through his gloves, and the surety of his grip. She looked down at their clasped hands and smiled.
"Alright, why not?" she said, chuckling. "But really, what is the plan here?" she asked. Reaver clarified,
"I intend to invite your sister and her…charge as well. I'm assuming at this point you don't care if she dies?" he asked. Seraph said,
"Well, maybe at first, but considering what she and my brother have done to Ben, and others in the past, nothing would please me more."
"Then it's a date," Reaver said, smiling as he raised her hand to his lips. Seraph drew in a breath at the contact. Not allowing herself time to think about the action, she quickly stood, thanked him for the tea, and took her leave.
Seraph was careful to hide her excitement upon returning to the palace. She snuck in by the servants' entrance. Misty, the servant girl who poured the wine last night, was the one to let her in. She promised not to say a word. She made her way to Jasper's quarters, and they sat and talked for a bit.
"Are you feeling more at ease, Your Highness?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. Actually, I'm quite excited," Seraph said, smiling.
"Oh? What's happened, then?" he asked.
"The family has been invited to a ball at Reaver's estate." Jasper's face lightened, then fell at the mention of Reaver.
"I see. And how did your meeting go?" he inquired. Seraph sobered.
"It went well. I wish not to tell you any details, not because I don't trust you, but I couldn't bear it if Lucinda suspected you of keeping secrets…" she trailed off, the meaning in her words clear. Jasper's smile returned.
"I understand. Thank you, Your Highness, for thinking of me," he said. Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of bells. "Well, it sounds like dinnertime is fast approaching. You'd best head upstairs and prepare, my lady. I will be there shortly to escort you," Jasper said.
"Of course. Thank you, Jasper." He nodded and she went on her way.
Upon entering her room, she could see that nothing was disturbed. So Lucinda hasn't remembered last night's conversation then, Seraph thought. At least, she hoped. Misty and another maid, Keesha, helped the princess dress for dinner. Seraph wore a modest evening gown of ivory, with pearl buttons lining the corset. She had slippers to match. Almost like clockwork, Jasper knocked as soon as Seraph was ready to go. The maids curtsied, and Seraph caught a glimpse of her unfinished portrait of her beloved captain on her way out, sending a pang through her chest. When Seraph entered the dining hall, she was surprised to see Ben seated next to her sister. She inhaled sharply, but he didn't even look at her. His eyes were fixed on his empty plate, and sometimes he would look up to stare straight ahead. He looked miserable behind his bewitched pasty expression. Seraph could tell he was suffering under Lucinda's enchantment. Lucinda looked toward Seraph, smiled, and slid her hand along Ben's arm to grasp his hand under the table. Swallowing heavily, not trusting herself to speak, Seraph sat as a servant pulled out her chair after Logan acknowledged her. Lucinda knows about their relationship, of course. She's flaunting Ben to get a reaction out of Seraph. She wants Seraph to know she has all the power, that she can bend anyone to her will, and that she will be queen. When the food was served, Logan and Lucinda exchanged pleasant conversation, as if they were the only two people in the room. Ben ate mechanically, not saying a word. Lucinda looked over at Seraph a few times, but Seraph always looked away. Logan was indifferent to their exchanges. Seraph could barely stomach food, seeing her love this way, but she forced herself to eat, knowing she would need the strength in the days to come.
The official invitations came not long after Seraph's secret meeting. Lucinda was overjoyed, of course, as always. She would never pass up an opportunity to show off to the people of the kingdom. Logan didn't express much emotion over the news, but seemed content for the pleasant diversion it would bring to his battle planning. The tailor and dressmaker were summoned to procure special garments for the occasion. The next day was spent with both princesses being measured and pricked. Lucinda prattled on about useless things Seraph had no interest in whatsoever, and her replies consisted of "mhms" mostly. That was fine for Lucinda. She loved to talk. She'd probably have a conversation with a brick wall, if it had any listening capability. Seraph thought. The random thought caused her to laugh a little. Lucinda noticed. "What's so funny? You think my ideas for interior redecorating are ridiculous? Just like the servants. You'd probably do better as one of them, sister. I can't see you ever becoming a queen, or even marrying, for that matter. Who would want you? I mean, even your former lover left you for me." That struck a nerve.
"You bitch!" Seraph shouted. There was a momentary silence as everyone stared at her, not expecting the outburst. "You enchanted him, and I know it! He doesn't love you and that's why you made him! It's fake! It's all a lie! And you'd make the worst queen in history," she finished. Lucinda narrowed her eyes at Seraph, her mouth a hard line.
"You know what? I think you just can't bring yourself to accept the fact that nobody loves you. Ben pitied you, sweetheart. He knows you're the ugly younger sister, so why would he want to be with you? All men want power, and I am next in line for the throne." Lucinda turned back to her mirror. "What are you staring at?!" she shouted to the maid. "I have a dress that needs making!" The maids resumed their work without comment. Seraph swallowed her tears and allowed the girls to work.
Later that evening, the dresses were made. Seraph chose a faded silver color. The dress was thin and airy with layers that floated around her as she moved, like mist. It was a very beautiful dress, she had to admit. She kindly thanked the seamstress and complimented her work. At dinner, Ben was present again. A silent tear fell from Seraph's eye as she witnessed Lucinda passionately kiss him, seeing him return the gesture with the same enthusiasm. She couldn't bear to watch. Logan had some documents in front of him, paying no heed to the other people at the table. When Ben and Lucinda separated, she noticed him wince and hold his head. He met her eyes for a fleeting moment, his expression suggesting he remembered something important, but looked away just as quickly, rubbing his temples. Please, remember me, Seraph thought.