Your brother was rambling again; a pastime he managed when not surrounded by council or anyone but yourself, in reality. It would start of with normal conversation, discussion of business and reminders to maintain a well versed tongue when in the presence of others, conversations like this were pleasant and easy to navigate. When his speech would lower and his neck bend down oh so slightly, you already knew that it was starting. His words were far more jumbled, paranoid and angry anecdotes about plots to overthrow or assassinate other land's royal families. This was also simple to
ignore, because you knew he didn't want your opinion or your thoughts, he'd already forgotten you were there. You weren't concerned with his words, your brother may be insane, but he wasn't stupid. If anything his caution and paranoia made him all the more better to rule, always strategizing and plotting new endeavors with the singular goal to create a Kingdom powerful and strong.
The two of you had just concluded a trade agreement with Jake and his own council, which had been far more productive than expected. It was still hard to comprehend, Jake being King of an entire Island. Your close friend had been devastated when his grandparents were killed, it was good to see him in such high spirits now.
You followed your brother passed the main hall, the stone still moist with dew from the outside, causing the air to be thick and making it hard to swallow. The main hall was directly connected to the aquifer underneath the castle after all. Despite the many lanterns breathing light into the area it remained dim, shadows bouncing off the wall and following us as we made our way down. You knew already where your brother was headed, it was were he'd go after every encounter with another Kingdom; just as you knew that you had to follow him, for he would notice if you weren't there later, and that would not be pleasant.
It still smells musty.
You grimace when he opens the door, the papers littering the wall rustling when the door slams closed, leaving the two of you in the dark. Your brother was not dumb by any standards, in fact, you would bet he'd be one of the smartest men in all the lands if it were not for his condition. He was genius scholar, someone who'd travelled to all the Kingdoms in his youth, conversed with Alternians and Carapacians alike, even fought in several wars. No, he was by no means someone to underestimate. When he was clear headed, focused, as he usually was, there was no denying his prowess was admirable..
"Dirk." He calls, maneuvering into his chair. He did not need light like so many others, including yourself. Your brother prides himself on his adaptability, not that anyone would counter his claims. You grunt an acknowledgment, not speaking until he finishes talking. You learned that lesson a long time ago, he was not one for interruptions. Instead you light a candle, using the short flame to guide your way through the room, and placing yourself beside your brother and his mutterings. He'd added more plans to the walls, scribblings of possible battle formations or ideas for invasions. Oh, it would seem even the Kingdom of Prospit was now enemy number one. You can't help but silently scoff at your brother's odd ideas. Prospit was the Kingdom of non-violence, or the 'Kingdom of Wusses' as your younger brother had so eloquently explained to his best friend when he was seven. Funny enough, that friend just so happened to be the Prince of Prospit.
Part of you was relieved that your brother still had the sense enough to keep these outrageous theories private, another part wished so desperately that everyone could see just exactly what their King they so revered was up to most nights.
"...and that boy-king Jake, he must be stopped before he takes me and mine. I see it, there in his eyes, a desire there, to destroy good Derse. Let him come, come, come! I will see his blood upon my carpet spilt."
There he goes again.
You almost can't contain your eye-roll at this point; he always starts speaking like some ancient idiot before he calms, and it's annoyingly eerie; especially with his dead eyes reflecting the candle flame as he stares off into god knows what.
He is silent for several minutes, glaring off into nothing before you finally find the courage to speak up.
You are cut off by the light of candle being blown out, engulfing the two of you in complete blackness. You sigh, already fiddling with your pockets to find the matches when you hear it; the footsteps.
They were not your brothers.
No, your brother was still next to you, though now standing and silent as could be. You get up quickly, fumbling with the chair as you stand upright. They were getting closer, and it was obvious what was happening now.
In that split second of realization you hear it; the sound of a knife being unsheathed. It was a sound you'd been taught to recognize quickly. You felt them brush passed you, and you're between your brother and the assailant before you take another breath.
Your brother leaps back away from you, rushing for the door to open it. The outside light pours into the room in a solid column of luminescence, and you are right in the center of it. The knife had slid easily into your side, its blade digging into your flesh with a short gasp passing through your lips.
"Dirk!" Your brother shouted from the doorway, his voice sounding a fair bit more worried than you expected.
It wasn't until the knife started to slide out that you moved, grabbing hold of the wielders wrist and the knife itself. You knew enough that if it were to come out, you'd bleed to death, and then he'd be after your brother.
You look up at the person attacking you, most of his face covered by cloth and cloak. But his eyes, they were the color of blood. He was taller than you by a great deal, but the stab had come from below. He must have crouched down, and shot up to attack with the weapon. He pulled at your grip on him, twisting the blade deeper into your body. You wince, but that's it, not feeling much pain if you were being honest. Your brother had run off, whether he was sane enough to get help you weren't sure. If he had been sane, he would have killed this person without even a weapon.
"Let go." He hissed, seemingly annoyed by your hold on him.
"No." You say, tightening your fingers around his gloved hand. If anything, you're very proud of yourself for not shaking in fear, because you were so very afraid right now. You would die, and you wouldn't get to do anything. You wouldn't leave the castle, you wouldn't visit Roxy or go have tea with Jane at her place or get to tell Jake...
You would die here, and not experience anything, that you knew for sure. But there was one thing you also knew, something that kept your voice steady and your head high.
This motherfucker was not going anywhere.
"You will die." He warned, almost begrudgingly, "If you do not receive immediate medical attention this injury will be fatal."
"You will not kill my brother." You state simply, almost shrugging in what you hoped seemed to be feigned indifference. He stares at you for moment, and before you can blink he is gone, his glove still in your hand, and his knife still in your side. You let out a breath of relief, he was gone, and your brother should be in safe hands by now.
Unfortunately for you that relief is short lived; your mind is swimming and your whole body sags to the ground in a mighty heap. You yelp when you notice that your heads on a one way course to the corner of the table.
For a split second, you think that Roxy is going to call you an idiot.
Before you lose consciousness, you could swear you could see two red eyes, peering down at you.
You feel the pain first, the burning soreness that envelops your entire right side. You slowly drag your hand over across your hip, moving up to were the pain was the most intense. There were thick leathery humps on top of your bare skin. It's disorientating, this feeling of not knowing where you are. You can't open your eyes; they're just shut, like your eyelids were being held down by some sort of weights. You pull your hand up to your head, thick bandages were wrapped over your forehead, and you can feel the sticky salve they used along the edges.
It was your brother.
"Yeah, I'm up."
"I slipped away again, didn't I?"
You could almost picture it, so clearly in your head. He rubs his hands across his tired face, he's wearing his shades, like he usually does, but no matter what, your imagination just can't come close to the real heartbreak in his eyes. You manage to pull your eyes apart just in time to see him compose himself, which you're grateful for, you never could stand to see your actual brother show any sort of weakness.
"Did I..." He gestured to your wounds and you let out a choked laugh, a bitter one.
"No, Crazy You did not stab me."
"Dirk, what happened? When I came to the guards told me they found you in the courtyard. Luckily Jake had brought Jane with him and gave you emergency treatment, but you'd lost a lot of blood."
You swallow, your throat dry and more than a little parched. Your brother noticed, bringing a cup of water to your lips and letting you drink your fill. When you finished you told him what had happened, everything up to you hitting your head on the table. His face grew grimmer with every word, and you were suddenly filled with a uncontainable gladness that he was here with you now.
"Did you get a look at his face? Anything?"
You shake your head, which causes it to spin.
"How long have I been out?" You ask, poking at the bandages and feeling more aware with each passing minute.
"Two days." He answers honestly. That's something you've always appreciated about your brother, he would never try and lie to you. It's a trait he exhibited with most everyone, despite the brutality of those truths.
"Jane says you'll need to stay there at least a month, just to make sure there's nothing damaged inside."
You gape at him. A whole month in this bed, you want explode you're so angry. You swear if you ever get your hands on that slimy parasite you were going to turn his face into mince meat. You throw your head back with a groan, a mistake you instantly regret when a throbbing blooms at your temples.
"Take it easy," Your brother orders, laying your head gently on the pillow. "the Kingdom can wait, I'll have Dave keep an eye on me until you're back to normal."
"You sent Dave away that morning Bro, he's probably half way to the estate by now. You sent away over two-thirds of our staff with him too."
"And why would I do that?" Your brother blinked, his eyebrows already knitting together at his own shenanigans.
"You told him that you didn't trust the walls and that the Alternians would keep him safe. I tried to stop you..." You offer gently, grabbing your brothers hand.
"Dirk, next time I'm that much of an idiot, just fucking stab me right then and there." He says, pinching his nose between his index finger and thumb. You laugh even though you know he isn't joking.
"Yeah, that's a great idea. Then I'll be hanged for treason and Dave will take over. Everybody loses."
He sighs, "That boy will be the death of both of us. He's only thirteen and already so many schemes...I swear all he wants to do is play around."
"That's what kids are supposed to do I guess."
He frowns at you, and you would have taken back the words if you had said them, but it was what was unsaid that brought upon your brothers sorrow. You had never left the castle gardens because of your brothers illness, you sole duty being to look after him. You had never gotten a childhood, and that had been your brothers greatest shame. He revealed to you one night, drunk on wine, that he'd never forgive himself for taking so much away from you.
"I...I'm going to let you rest. Don't worry about anything, I'll have two guards posted outside your door, we've also doubled security outside the perimeter. No one is getting in."
You nod, not sure of what to say. He stands, exiting the room and closing the door softly behind him. A few moments later you are drifting into a dreamless sleep.
Your eyes pop open, and you struggle to lift yourself up in bed. Fear pulses through you. There's someone holding you down, your mouth is covered by one gloved hand. You could taste the leather of his hand on your tongue. The room is dark, the only source if light being the soft glow of moonlight peaking out from behind the curtains of your windows. You soon begin to panic, recognizing those cold red eyes.
"Stop attempting to flee, the likelihood of your escape is nonexistent. If you wish not to be harmed, do not make a sound and do not try to leave."
He waits, staring expectantly at you.
You nod, and he releases his grip on your mouth.
"What do you want?" Your voice barely above a whisper.
"It would seem that you would like me to get straight to my objective for coming here, which is understandable considering the circumstance in which I am here, but I have several inquiries involving the incident that occurred the evening before last." He admits, placing himself in the same chair your brother had just been in hours earlier.
"How did you get in here? The room was supposed to be heavily guarded!"
"I have been here since the beginning."
You gape at him but he pays you no mind. There's no way he'd been here since the start, your brother hadn't noticed him at all, and there were no signs at someone else being in the room at any time while they were talking. It just wasn't possible, not without stealth that no one but a Strider could manage, this you were sure.
"Now that I've answered one of your questions, it is your turn to answer mine. Tell me, why would you not release me earlier?"
Okay, now you're confused.
"I don't understand the question."
He glared at you, and you try not to flinch back at his gaze.
"You are stalling, the question was clear. Why did you not let go of my hand when I had stabbed you? If you had it would have given you optimal time to call for help as I gave chase to your brother. Instead you held the blade in deeper, along with my own hand. It is not something I'd come across before, and thus is something I must get an answer to."
This really didn't make any sense. The answer was so obvious it felt as if the question did not even need to be asked.
"Because you were going to kill him?" You say, shrugging.
The man let out a frustrated cry, pulling the cloth down from his face. You gasp at what you see; his face was pitch black, the skin looked fake and shiny, almost like a precious gem. Thick lines stemmed from his eyes, moving downward all the passed his neck and down his cloak. They begun to glow a violent red, shimmering and illuminating the area around the two of us. He pulled back his cloak as well, his black body extending up into what almost seemed like hair, but it was stiff, cord like and rough looking. It glowed there too, red vicious light,
"You..you're...an Artificial Replica?"
"My preference is to be designated AR" He announces, still seeming to be quite irritated. "And I am not artificial. This body is far superior to the human I was based upon, and the skills I've acquired are more than enough to best any one of your species."
"...AR..." You shudder at his light, it was almost too bright to handle.
"Answer the question." he demands, glaring down at you with a malicious intent. You freeze in place, there was no stopping this guy, and he knew that as much as you did.
"I don't know what to say," you admit, trying not to squint as his red got brighter, "I've already given you my answer."
"I see," he ponders for a moment, "then until you can tell me a suitable answer for me I will not leave."
"What?! What do you mean by that?!" You can't help but yell, but he silences you with a glare. He turns away from you, pulling his cloak back on and his face hidden underneath the cloth once again.
"I will see you tomorrow night, be ready. You already know what will happen if you tell others of what you have seen."
And with that, he vanished fading into the dark with one final flash of crimson light,
Your name is Dirk Strider, First Prince of Derse, Heir to the Throne...
and you are royally screwed.