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Paper Kingdom

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Ray and Bob stood before Master Manson, who kept them waiting in a long stretch of disappointed silence. He watched both assassins carefully, from the patient, unafraid stance of Ray to Bob’s jittery, anxious one. Manson sat forward in his chair, leaning onto the desk in front of him.

“You didn’t bring me any Ways.” He said, his voice quiet and low.

“Not this time, Master.” Ray said stoically.

“He’s still in the castle!” Bob said hastily. “The king has both of the Ways, all we have to do is get them back from him, and they’re ours!”

“And how, exactly, are you expecting to do that while you stand before me with your hands empty?” Manson snapped. “I knew that if you couldn’t apprehend them now, you wouldn’t be able to collect them for me after. Once inside that castle, they’re nearly impossible to get to. Don’t you think if it was easy to break into that castle I would have gotten Gerard a long time ago? No, we will have to resort to much more complicated methods.”

“Like what?” Bob asked.

“Oh, I can’t tell you that.” Manson said. “You’ve failed me enough now. I’m not going to take the chance of either of you messing up my plans again.”

“What!? We don’t get to be involved anymore!?” Bob exclaimed, disappointed.

Internally, Ray was panicking. He needed to know what Manson was going to do, so the Ways could be one step ahead of him. But at this point, Ray wasn’t sure if he could even be much help, seeing as Mikey had been his only connection, and now he was somewhere unreachable in the castle. He knew it was a bad idea for the kid to go that day, he just wished he could have done more to convince him. Ray just hoped wherever he was, Mikey was alive, and at least safer there than in Manson’s hands.

“Absolutely not.” Manson said. “Both of you will return to taking regular jobs once you’ve properly healed from your punishments. I would like to have you back to work in two weeks, but we will see how that goes.”

Bob whimpered, and Ray closed his eyes, letting out a harsh breath from his nose. Manson’s lips curled into a sinister smile as he made one last remark.

“I am very angry, after all.”

~

Gerard and Frank wove through the crowds of people, heading through the central city towards the docks. They were taking a ship to Torvia. It wasn’t one of their ships, however. The Torvians had made it clear that the last enemy ship that would pass freely through was the one that brought Patrick back home, and they’d only been so kind to use him as a messenger. It was lucky Patrick was back in one piece based on how that trip went.

Because of that, Frank and Gerard were getting smuggled across the sea on a pirate ship. It was a very dangerous method, they knew, but it was much better than showing up with their sigil on the sail, and getting blasted down immediately.

Usually, when walking through the central city, nobody paid Frank much attention. But with Gerard at his side, he realized he was getting a lot of glares and jealous looks, while his companion was being ogled by just about everyone who passed. A street vendor made a crude comment that had Gerard chuckling and rolling his eyes, probably because he knew what that vendor did not.

“People seem very interested in you.” Frank muttered, uncomfortable under the hateful stares he himself was getting.

“Yeah.” Gerard said. “You might not notice it usually, but women get that all the time around here. That’s why girls always come to the city with their husbands, fathers or brothers.”

“They need that kind of protection around here?” Frank asked, alarmed and disgusted.

“Let’s just say if you weren’t here I’d probably have to punch someone for getting too touchy.”

“Yikes.” Frank said. “Well, if anyone pulls anything, I’ll kick them in the groin for you.”

“Aw, you would do that for me?” Gerard asked, smiling. “How gentlemanly of you.”

“I might do it to you if you don’t stop teasing me.” Frank decided to add.

“I’m flattered that you see me as deserving of your violence.” Gerard said. “Unfortunately, it would blow our cover.”

“Might be worth it.”

Gerard laughed.

“You’re probably right, Frankie.” He said, and Frank didn’t comment on the nickname this time, just smiled a little and shook his head.

“Come on, we’re almost to the docks.”

~

“Pete, what good am I as your advisor if you never listen to a word I say?” Patrick asked, following his much too determined king into the throne room.

“Well, you’re very good at warning me of the dangers of every decision I make.” Pete suggested. “I don’t always go against what you say, just when I don’t like what you say.”

“Well, can you listen to me for once and try to understand that you’re messing with something greater than all of us, and more dangerous than you think?” Patrick asked.

“The assassins aren’t ‘greater than all of us’. If they were, we’d all be dead already.” Pete said, rolling his eyes.

“I was talking about Torvia, but I think the assassins are concerning as well.” Patrick corrected. “Don’t you remember what happened to the Aylasanian king?”

Of course Pete remembered; it happened when he was young, and the story haunted his nightmares for days after he heard. The king of Aylasan liked to keep exotic pets, one of which was a wolf. She didn’t trust him at first, but eventually they became inseparable. She was with him through all of his travels, meetings and negotiations, and even had a place in his bed. He became a very powerful man with her at his side. Her presence intimidated enemies and put allies at ease. A wild animal had become his protector, and his best friend. One night a servant entered his room without proper warning, and spooked the wolf. She didn’t know what was happening, and thought her master was in danger. She flung the king out of the bed, into the corner of the room, putting herself between them and tearing apart the servant. She didn’t know, but in her attempt to protect her king, he hit his head on the corner of a side table. His guards tried to get past her, but she was so intent on keeping them away from him that by the time they did, it was too late. The impact had broken his skull and he bled out before he could be saved. Having killed two people, one of which was the country’s king, the wolf was executed by guillotine, the same way a human criminal would have been executed. Nowadays, the Aylasanian banner bore a red wolf, in honor of the late king and his protective companion.

“You shouldn’t mess with dangerous things.” Patrick warned. “You’re putting yourself in a very risky position.”

“He’s not a wild animal, Patrick. He’s just a man.”

“A man who wanted to kill you, what don’t you understand about that?”

“I understand that his brother is more important to him than some grudge against my father.” Pete said. “Regardless, I’m being careful, but I’m also giving him a little bit of freedom to show that I can be trusted.”

“Pete, you don’t even know why he hates your father.”

“Well, I’ll find out, eventually.”

“You say ‘eventually’ and all I can think is ‘too late’.” Patrick sighed.

“Tonight, then.” Pete decided.

“What?” Patrick asked.

“I’ll find out tonight.” Pete said. “I know I can get him to talk to me. I just need to approach it in the right way.”

“Are you sure?” Patrick asked. “Maybe you shouldn’t push it with him.”

“He talked to me a little today. Maybe I can gain more trust.” Pete said. “I hate having to keep him locked up.”

“I know you do, and that’s why I’m so worried.” Patrick said.

“You have nothing to be worried about. I am capable of taking care of myself, you know.” Pete assured him.

“I wish that made me feel better about this.”

~

“This is the ship.” Frank told Gerard, stepping onto the dock and approaching a crew member that was leaning against the hull of the ship.

“You’re Frank?” The crew member asked gruffly.

Frank nodded. The crew member looked Gerard over once before turning and starting up the gangway.

“Come.” He said, and Frank and Gerard followed, both a little uneasy. “Stay on the deck. I’m going to fetch the captain.”

Frank and Gerard watched as the crew member disappeared onto the quarterdeck, soon emerging with a very tall, dark haired man.

Gerard swore under his breath.

“What?” Frank whispered nervously.

“As it turns out I’m going to have to play the part of a woman longer than expected.”

“Why is that?”

“Oh you know, it’s just that we’re being smuggled across the sea by a pirate who I may have been involved with in the past.” Gerard said. “And by ‘involved with’ I mean ‘killed the love of his life’.”

“Dear gods, Gerard.” Frank said. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, you never told them who we were or why we needed to be smuggled, did you?” Gerard asked hopefully.

“No.” Frank said. “I never told them.”

“Well, then.” Gerard said dramatically, already formulating a story in his mind. “I am the daughter of a rich nobleman, and you are my poor farm boy love interest. Daddy doesn’t like that I’m settling for someone of much lower class than I, so we are escaping together.”

“Why do I have to be a poor farm boy?” Frank frowned.

“Because you have a scruffy little rat-catching dog.” Gerard said, dropping the dramatic story-telling voice. “Do you ever see nobles with scruffy rat-catching dogs?”

“She’s beautiful.” Frank said defensively, hugging Sweet Pea closer to his chest.

“Of course she is, dear.” Gerard said, smiling cheekily. “Oh, and you’re going to have to let me have a knife.”

“Why? That’s a terrible idea.” Frank said. “I told you, no weapons. You’ll just try to kill me in my sleep. Or when I’m awake. You’ll try to kill me regardless.”

“I don’t need it to kill with.” Gerard huffed. “We’re going to be on this ship for a long time, and if I’m going to pull off being a lady, I’m going to need something to shave with.”

Frank hesitated.

“Listen,” Gerard said. “If I wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t ask for a weapon, I would make one myself. You know that, you’ve seen me do it. Also, I’m not stupid. I know I have to be on my best behavior if I want to see my brother again. Like it or not, Frank, we’re on the same side now.”

“Well, all I can say to that is I sure hope he believes your story.”

“So do I.” Gerard muttered, as the captain approached them.

“Hello,” The captain grinned widely. “I’m Captain Biersack. Welcome aboard the Black Veil.”

~

Mikey lay awake, staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep if he tried. The bed was much too comfortable for what he was used to, plus he couldn’t stop thinking about the Black Parade. He usually tried not to remember the day his parents died, but the memory was always there, haunting him with its gruesome details.

There was a faint knock on his door, and Mikey looked over as it opened and Pete entered. It wasn’t very surprising, the king seemed to come around all the time.

Mikey sat up in bed, feeling awkward laying down, and Pete immediately apologized.

“Were you sleeping?” He asked.

“No.” Mikey said, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“Okay.” Pete said, taking a seat at the little table by the fireplace.

“Do you need something or…?” Mikey asked, confused.

“I was going to ask you something but now I’m kind of afraid to hear the answer.” Pete admitted.

“Oh.”

“I’ll leave if you want to sleep.”

“No, it’s fine. I wouldn’t be able to anyway.” Mikey said. “I’ve been thinking too much.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Pete asked.

Mikey sighed, hanging his head.

“I suppose you deserve to know.” Mikey said. “Seeing as it’s the reason why both of us are where we are today.”

“So you’ll tell me why?”

Mikey nodded.

“I’ll tell you why.” He said quietly.

~

“Gee, you’re going too quick.” Mikey said, stumbling after his brother as he was pulled by the hand through a crowd of jeering spectators.

“I know, I know.” Gerard said apologetically, ducking under the arms of a hand holding couple. “Just try to stay with me okay?”

“What’s going on? Where’s Mom and Dad?” Mikey asked.

“I don’t know.” Gerard replied, but he had an idea of where they might be that he really hoped was wrong. “Come on, Mikey.”

The boys were able to get to the front of the crowd; being smaller than the adults made it easier to squeeze through. Just as Gerard thought, the crowd was congregated around the central stage, below the golden altar that reached high into the sky, connecting the people with the gods. But it wasn’t Sunday, which meant there was no scheduled worship, and made the mass of people around the stage concerning.

Gerard pushed through a few more bodies, practically dragging Mikey through behind him, and grasping his brother’s little hand tightly so he wouldn’t lose him. When he was able to see the stage, Gerard gasped, his worst fears about what he might see confirmed.

Their parents were on the stage on their knees, bound by the wrists and ankles. The executioner’s guillotine was positioned centerstage with the king himself standing next to it. Usually kings got someone to do the dirty work for them, but he always did it himself, taking the place of the executioner. It was incredibly disturbing how much he enjoyed it.

“Do you know why you kneel before me today?” The king asked, his voice cold and gleeful.

“Please,” Donna cried. “You have no reason to believe–”

“To believe that you are a witch!?” The king cut in. “There have been plenty of reports against you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were using your disgraceful magic to try to overthrow me.”

“Magic doesn’t exist.” Donna protested.

“You claim before the gods that there is no magic, defiling their powers with your foolish attempt to be unworldly? All witches want to be gods, but the gods won’t let you. They give me the divine power to destroy you and those affiliated with you before you can steal from them.”

“I swear I would never–”

“Pete, come here!” The king boomed, and the five year old jumped, fearfully approaching his father.

The king placed his hand on Pete’s shoulder, guiding him in front of the large guillotine. He looked up at the sharp silver blade, shaking at the thought of what it could do.

“I want you to see this, son. I want you to see what the gods give us the power to do.”

Pete’s eyes widened, and he tried to step back, but his father’s hand was holding him firmly in place. He couldn’t hide in the back anymore, squeezing his eyes shut and pretending it wasn’t happening. He had to watch this time.

“Gee?” Mikey said in a shaky breath, realizing what was about to happen despite being so young. “Gee, you’ve got to do something!”

Gerard said nothing, frozen in place with terror. What could a seven year old do in the face of death? That was all he could see when he looked at that king; a purely evil being– Death himself.

He wished he could move, and get Mikey out of there before they had to witness this. But it was as though Death’s servants had taken hold of him, and wouldn’t release him until they were satisfied their master had taken what was his.

“Any final words, woman?” The king asked, towering over Donna with a malicious grin on his face.

“My boys, what kills you will be your strength.” She said, very quickly. She must have known somehow that they were there. “Remember my love for you will pierce through death.”

The blade descended quickly, slicing through the air until it severed her neck. Gerard swayed, feeling sick, and momentarily forgot his brother was there until he heard him scream.

“Mom!” Mikey wailed, lunging for the stage, but Gerard held him back, not letting him get any closer.

“The witch had children!” Someone announced, having heard Mikey’s screams. “Demon children of the night, get them!”
Without even thinking about it, Gerard picked Mikey up and ran. He did not give anyone in the crowd a chance to register what they had just been accused of. Witch allegations were serious enough, even though it was ridiculous to even think that witches existed in the first place. Enough “proof” and the king had you and your loved ones killed on the spot. But if that supposed witch had children, it was even worse. The king saw “children of the night” as sources of power that he could dissect and experiment on until he found what he wanted. It was always about more power.

Gerard broke through the crowd, hearing larger footsteps pushing through behind them, and the sickening metallic noise as the guillotine came down a second time on their father’s neck. He ran as fast as his little legs could carry the two of them, with no idea where he was going with the tears clouding his vision.

Gerard felt large hands stop him, and screamed. He didn’t know how they could have gotten to him so fast. They would have had to push through the crowd so quickly.

The brothers were pulled into a dark alleyway, and shushed by whoever had grabbed them. The person pressed them against the brick wall, hiding the boys in the shadows, and watched as those pursuing them raced by the alley. Once they were set on the wrong track, the man took his hands off of Gerard and Mikey’s mouths, and revealed himself.

“Don’t worry. You’re safe now.” He assured them.

“Who are you?” Gerard asked, his voice cracking.

“My name is Marilyn Manson, and I will be the one who teaches you how to prevent that from ever happening again.”