Actions

Work Header

Fractured Bonds

Chapter Text

In my life, I have had many titles. So many things that people have referred to me as. So many terms that have been used to describe me.

Princess of Attilan. Sister of the King. The Child Princess. The False King’s Heir. Pariah. Sociopath.

Monster.

The last word is the one that always amuses me. Monster. A word that has always been synonymous with evil. Monsters are the creatures that live under the beds of small children. The beasts that creep through the darkened streets, the devils seeking only to destroy. Monsters are the ones who lie, steal, cheat, and even murder, with no hint of conscience or remorse.

Monster has become a favorite way for people to refer to me as. More than any other of the titles I listed. And I know why, too. It’s because they’re scared. Scared of my powers. Scared of my views. Scared of my mind. Scared of what lurks behind the porcelain facade that I have been cursed with.

Scared… because for them I represent a hideous truth. The truth that the psyche is a dark and dangerous place. I, and my powers, are the proof that walking the line between sanity and madness is like walking on a tightrope. You can be as careful as can be. You can practice balancing for years, decades, and never make a mistake.

But it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, one wrong move and you’ll find yourself tumbling into the abyss below.

I don’t remember the exact moment that I lost my mind. My memories after being locked in the Dark Place are hazy at times. Trapped in solitude as I was, with nothing but the morbid pictures created in my mind, with no interaction, with nobody to come and bring me comfort, time and sanity ceased to matter.

For how long had I been locked away? A minute? A month? Ten years? Some other measurement of time entirely? At times, it feels as though I’d spent only a fleeting moment of my life in the Dark Place — and at other times, it feels as though I have been there forever. When you’re lonely and in pain, your concept of time ceases to have any linear meaning.

They abandoned me. My family. The people who were supposed to protect and care for me, every single one of them turned their backs on me, right at the time that I needed love and support the most.

Black Bolt. Medusa. Crystal. Karnak. Gorgon. Triton. People that I had once considered family, people that I once would have done anything for. We may not always have seen eye-to-eye, but they were my family, and I loved them. Loved them with an intensity that could be matched by no other.

And I thought, perhaps foolishly, that they had loved me, too. Sure, maybe I made some mistakes in my life, and maybe my Terrigenesis ceremony had granted me powers that I struggled to control, but I was still a member of the royal family. A sister. A friend. Deserving of love and compassion, or so I thought.

But no. Those traitors had seen it fit to abandon me, and to do so at a time in my life when I needed them most. For my own good, Black Bolt had said. They needed to protect me from the consequences of losing control, and they needed to protect the people of Attilan from those consequences, too.

They treated me like a caged animal, and then had the gall to be surprised when I lashed out like one.

Monsters are not born, after all. No child begins life with hatred in their hearts, no person starts out wanting to kill or cause destruction and chaos. Every monster is the byproduct of the people who made them into this.

I am no different.

Of course, I know that some who read these words will not believe me. Some people will always think of me as a heartless beast. Some people will never understand. Some may even call for my blood.

That’s fine. Whatever. I know I cannot change these people’s minds, nor do I want to.

But for those willing to stay, all I ask is that you read these words with an open mind. This journal may be the last relic I leave behind for people to understand who I truly am. What you are about to read is completely, utterly, true.

I will not sugarcoat anything within these pages. I, Natalia Boltagon, am willing to spill every dark and sordid detail of my life — for all those brave enough to hear it.

This story is not written to be shocking. It is not written for me to be controversial. It is not written for me to elicit sympathy from the world. Perhaps it could be seen as a confession for the crimes I have committed and will commit in the future, but that does not mean I desire my “family’s” forgiveness for any of it.

We have gone so far past forgiveness, after all.

I write these words for one person, now, and one person only. The person who saved me when the rest of the world turned their backs. The person I would willingly give up my life for. The person I would burn the world for without a second’s hesitation.

Maximus Boltagon. My brother. My favorite person. The only one who this ice-cold heart of mine finds myself able to harbor any affection for, now.

As I write these words, I am alone on a quiet beach in Hawaii. The sun has set, gentle waves crashing and breaking against the golden sand. It’s a beautiful, idyllic scene, and one that, if this were in better circumstances, I would find completely and utterly serene. But as my gaze is drawn to the moon, so far above me, I am only reminded of all that I have lost.

I am so far from Attilan, now. So far from my home, my brother, my dreams. Yet it wasn’t always like this. There was a time, not so long ago, when my life was different. A fleeting moment when I was happy. When Max and I ruled our kingdom and sought to bring the Inhumans into an age of peace and prosperity. A time when perfection seemed an attainable goal.

But now… the world has all but torn those shreds of hope away from me. Now my dreams seem so far out of reach.

Now I’ve been torn away from the one person who’s ever truly cared about me. Of all the things that my family could have done, this one is the worst.

I love my brother so much. How could they force me to abandon him like this? How could they leave him to rot in that bunker? How dare they make me turn my back on him?

I just want my Max to love me. I want us to be a family, for things to be the way they were.

So I’m going to go back to Attilan. I’m going to find a way, no matter what, to get up there again. I’ll find my brother, and we’ll take back what our family has taken from us. I’m going to save him, like he saved me. I’ll punish each and every single person who dared to take him away from me. I’ll protect my Max.

We’ll be together, we’ll be a family. Forever.

In the meantime, I write these words as a testament to relationship we shared. A relationship that the world destroyed and that I will do anything to mend.

This is my story, starting from the moment of my Terrigenesis Ceremony, all the way to when Attilan crumbled, and everything in between. This is my confession note.

And if the rest of the world calls me a traitor, then so be it.

Every monster has their breaking point, and this is mine.

Chapter Text

It has, I will admit, taken me a while to figure out at what exact point I should begin my story. There are so many things in my life that I could talk about. So many memories that have made me into who I am. So many choices that I have made, or that people have made for me. So many ways that I could begin this story.

But… I must choose but one beginning. Every story must start somewhere, and this is mine. The moment when I began my descent. The moment that my destiny was chosen for me. The moment that I began to go from being a shy-yet-happy teenager with a regular life (well, as regular as the life of a princess could be), to the slow and steady loss of any normality that I may have had.

A day that should have been one of great joy and prosperity for me, but that has become one of the worst days of my life. A day that, if I had the chance and ability to, I would go back in time and prevent from happening. A day that began my downfall, and perhaps the downfall of everything that I have ever held dear.

My Terrigenesis.

How I remember that day as though it were yesterday. The Terrigenesis Ceremony was the hallmark of the Inhuman society. It was the way that people unlocked their hidden potential, unlocked the power that they were born with. Each Inhuman went through their Terrigenesis at around the age of fourteen or fifteen — it was a huge deal for everyone, most especially because a person’s Terrigenesis would determine the place that they would have in the caste system.

Those who were gifted with a good power, such as flight or telekinesis, went to the top of our society. They were the lords and ladies, the rich, the powerful. The people who were considered to be the ‘better’ class. These people were considered to be the higher status, second, of course, only to the royal family. They were the people who ended up becoming the members of the Genetics Council. Being granted strong powers was the one, if not, the only, way for someone to raise their station in life.

Yet… there was a darker side to the Terrigenesis ceremony. And that was what happened when someone did NOT get a good power. For those who, unfortunately, lost the genetics lottery and ended up with a bad power — like the young man who’s Terrigenesis last month granted him with claws for hands — they would be sent down to the mines.

The mines were located deep under the ground. I, myself, had never actually been down there, as it was not the place for a member of the royal family to be — but I had heard the whispers about them. People would speak in hushed tones about the suffering that they went through. When they thought that my family weren’t listening, they would speak about how awful the caste system was. How it was keeping the people, our people, in perpetual misery.

And… there was a part of me, however small, agreed with this. In the fourteen short years that I had lived, I had, of course, borne witness to a lot of Terrigenesis Ceremonies. It was a part of my royal duty as a princess of Attilan to be there when other Inhumans took their place in the society. Each ceremony had been different, and yet with each one there was always that undeniable and fundamental truth.

Someone’s life was going to change. Whether that be for the better or for the worse. Nobody could control what powers they were going to receive, nor could they control the impact that such powers would have on their life. The moment they allowed themselves to be exposed to the Terrigen crystals, they would forfeit any rights that they had to choose what their lives would be like. They were accepting their place in our world. And perhaps it could be argued that they no longer had the right to complain if things went wrong.

But… I’d seen the reactions people had when they stepped out with crap powers. I’d seen the freak-outs, the tears, the pleading. Sometimes, family members had even tried to step in and get involved, only to be held back by royal guard. I’d seen the awful deformities that some Inhumans had been cursed with. Some of the most grotesque things, such that would make even the most strong of stomachs feel queasy.

You could go in there being ‘normal’, with all the hopes and dreams of a brighter and better future for yourself, and once the ten minute ceremony was completed? Heavens only knows what you would end up looking like or being. It truly was a roll of the dice and nobody knew where those dice were going to land. All that anyone could do when they stepped through those doors and into that chamber was to hope for the best and pray to any higher power listening that things would work out alright.

Since it was my fourteenth year, I was now of the proper age to undergo the Terrigenesis Ceremony. With all that I have spoken of regarding such a turbulent time, can you blame me for the anxiety that I was feeling at the time? For the nervous apprehension that had me pacing back and forth in my room, wringing my sweat-covered hands together, and biting my lower lip to keep from crying out in despair? From pleading with any kind soul who would listen to lift this burden from off of my shoulders. Just for one more moment. Just for one more day. One more day to enjoy the normality of my life before it all got torn away.

A loud knocking on the door broke me out of my reverie, causing me to almost jump out of my skin. So lost was I during my anxious inner ramblings that this was an incredible jolt back to Earth. Now, who in the world could this b— wait. No, please. Tell me that it is not time already. I’m not prepared yet!

With shaking steps, and a heart beating like a hammer against cloth in my chest, I slowly made my way over to the door to open it. My fingers fumbled with the lock for a moment, almost expecting a Council Leader standing there, waiting to escort me to my future potential doom. It took a few tries, but I managed to open it, and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight before me.

Standing there, her auburn curls framing her face, was my best friend — Camelia. The friend that I’d had ever since I was young. A member of a noble family in Attilan, she and I were as close as could be. In fact, we may even have been distantly related, cousins, perhaps, but this is something that I am unsure is true or not. The sight of her easily alleviated my fears. A sense of relief washing over me — here was a bit of normality. A calm before the storm, so to speak.

Beside her stood a young servant-boy, about twenty-years-old or so. The second that I opened the door, he tilted his head down slightly, placing a hand upon his chest in a gesture of respect. He gave off an extremely nervous air and I wondered if he’d ever really had much of an interaction with a member of the Royal Family before. Perhaps not.

“The Lady Camelia Ivanskiar is here to see you, Your Highness,” the servant said to me in a deferential tone. I refrained from rolling my eyes at the formality; yes, I could see that, did he need to announce it? Putting on an air of propriety, I managed to find my ‘Princess Voice’ and speak.

“Thank you, Alexei.” That was his name, I was thankful that I’d managed to remember that, what with everything going through my head at the time. “You may leave. Lady Camelia, please, step inside.”

Alexei bowed again and backed out of the room in a half-stooped posture before turning around to leave. We heard his footsteps fading away as I motioned for Camelia to step inside. She did, and I pushed the door shut again, reaching up to shut the lock with a click once more.

“Sit, Cami,” I said, motioning towards the bed. Cami was my nickname for her, the name that I had been calling her ever since we first became friends, back when we were five and six respectively. She gave me a half-smile and moved to sit down on the edge of the bed, placing her hands on her lap. It did not take a genius to see that something was weighing on her mind, and it certainly did not take one to see that it was the same thing weighing upon mine.

Sitting beside her, I tilted my head back to glance up at the ceiling. Silence reigned between us for a moment before Camelia spoke, her voice hushed. “Have you been here by yourself all morning, Natalia?” she asked, in an almost scolding tone. She was sort of the ‘mom friend’, the one who always wanted me to come out of my shell and socialize a bit more. Something that, for one reason or another, I preferred not to do unless I had to.

I shrugged. “Well… I did go and grab some breakfast earlier,” I teased, playfully rolling my eyes. “And then I think there was a royal meeting or something, but you know how those bore me, so I wasn’t going to be involved in that if there wasn’t a need for it.”  Smirking, I flopped back onto the bed and closed my eyes and poked my tongue out at her.

Camelia leaned on her elbow, poking me in the stomach. “Now, now,” she laughed, wagging a finger in my face, “don’t you go calling these most Esteemed Meetings boring, Princess Natalia,” she warned, but I could easily hear the mirth in her voice. How she was trying not to laugh. “What in the world would the people of Attilan think if they heard such words from your mouth? The scandal!”

I grabbed a pillow from off the bed and playfully hit her with it. “Oh, give over, Cami!” She burst out into laughter, then, and so did I. It was amazing, really, how just a few minutes with Camelia could take away the worries, wash them away like rainwater. But then again, she had always been easy to talk to. Easy to get along with. The kind of girl for whom making friends seemed to come easily. She never seemed to care that I was a princess and she was merely a lady. We’d been friends for so long that the social difference between us never mattered. Around her, I was just Natalia. Not Princess Natalia, or Your Highness, any of the other titles that people were expected to address me as. We were just Natalia and Camelia. Best friends, as close as sisters.

“In all truth, though…” I muttered, rising into a sitting position and running a hand through my tangled black hair. “There is another reason why I’ve decided to stay in seclusion this day. And I am sure that you can figure out what that reason is. I’m sure that it must be weighing upon your mind, too, Cami.”

“The Ceremony.” Reaching over, she took my hand in hers, intertwining our fingers together. “Yeah… I know. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it all morning. That’s why I came to see you. I figured, well… I figured that we could help each other face that fear together. Just as we’re facing the Terrigenesis together.”

“I’m glad you’ll be going through the Ceremony with me today,” I told her, squeezing her hand. “I don’t… I don’t know what I’d do if I had to face it alone. I don’t know if I COULD face it alone.”

Camelia pursed her lips, deep in thought. How I wished that I could read minds so that I would know what she was thinking. Was she calm and collected about this? Or was she as nervous as I was, but merely holding it together for my sake? “Well, you’re the one who pleaded for months for us to be allowed to go through it together, Natalia.”

My lips twitched slightly, as I recalled the countless minutes, hours, and days that I had spent wearing down Black Bolt — my eldest brother and our king — to allow Camelia and I to undergo our Terrigenesis Ceremony on the same day. The time that I had put into convincing him that this would be a good idea.

Normally, members of the Royal Family underwent the Ceremony separately to the rest of the Inhuman Society. Something about a status difference, ensuring that we were always seen as a cut above the rest. More important. More special. If Terrigenesis was a big deal in the eyes of a ‘normal’ Inhuman then it would be an even bigger deal to a royal. In that way, I guess it made sense for more fuss to be made when one of us went through it.

But… Camelia and I had done everything together. Attended lessons together, played together, learned about the world together. In all but blood, she WAS a member of my family. There was no way that I would go through this without her, not if I had anything to say about it. And after those months and weeks and days and hours of pleading, I’d finally manage to break through the walls of my brother’s stoic defences and convince him that allowing us to go through the Ceremony together would be a good idea.

“You know I wasn’t about to go through any of that alone,” I told her, getting off the bed to resume my pacing around the room. “And... and that I wouldn’t have let YOU go through it alone, either. Not if I had any say in the matter.”

Camelia didn’t respond, deep in thought, it seemed. Her green eyes flickered with an emotion that I couldn’t quite name. Was it nervousness? Trepidation? Fear? All the above? Was she, like I had done, thinking of all the potential issues that may arise and everything that could go wrong today? Or was I just a pessimist and these thoughts never entered her mind?

Placing my hands behind my back, I rocked on my heels. “Penny for your thoughts, Camelia?”

“What do you think you’re going to get?” she asked.

I must admit, it took me a moment to understand the meaning behind her words. “Uh, power-wise?” We’d discussed the upcoming Ceremony before, but barely. I guess neither of us really wanted to think much about it. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.

She nodded. “Mhm-hm.” She made a soft clicking noise with her tongue, as it darted out to lick at her lower lip, a habit that she often used when she was nervous or deep in thought. “I’m kinda hoping for flight.”

Not surprising, really. Flight was an extremely popular power, one that it seemed most people aimed for. It got you a decent place in society — flight ranked above super strength, for example — and if you were fortunate enough to be granted wings, too, then your place would be almost certainly be cemented.

“There are other fliers in your family, right?”

She nodded once. “My cousin on my mom’s side was one; with wings. I know it doesn’t really make much odds, honestly, but maybe these genetics will be a help to me. But what about you? What do you want?”

I thought about it, tapping a finger against my chin. “Invisibility,” I finally said.

“Really?” Camelia almost seemed surprised by my admission, if the tone of her voice and look on her face was anything to go by. “Invisibility, huh? Honestly, I don’t really see the appeal.”

“Well….” I began, drawing the word out, tongue in cheek, “just think about all of the private conversations I could listen in on. Think of all the court gossip I could glean, more than I already do, I mean. Think of the secrets I could glean, the information I could get. With nobody to see me, you and I both know what people talk about when they think they’re alone. Just…” I clasped my hands under my chin, “just think about EVERYTHING that I could share with you, Cami. The possibilities… the possibilities are just endless.”

It seemed that she was taking my words into account. “Well, I suppose that when you put it like that, it does sound pretty interesting. And I mean, if I get flight and you get invisibility, then we’d make quite the team, wouldn’t we? More than we already do, I should say. But, really, Natalia, I’m happy with whatever power I get. As long as I get something.”

Her tone shifted once she said this, and I knew that things were going to take a turn for the serious once again. Isn’t it strange how people’s moods could shift on a dime? That see-saw, rollercoaster of emotion. I know that I for one can attest to this.

“You’ll—” I started to say but was cut off by another knocking on the door. This time louder and more pronounced than the one before. With a sense of more urgency. Before I even had a chance to take a step towards answering it, a voice called out.

“Princess Natalia Boltagon and Lady Camelia Ivanskiar?” came a voice from the other side. A male voice, once that I did not recognize. “It is time for your Terrigenesis Ceremony. Please, come and follow me immediately.”

Time already? It couldn’t be! Surely… surely it had been but a half-an-hour, maybe even less, since Camelia entered my room. They couldn’t be ready for us now, I hadn’t been expecting to be summoned until at least this evening. A few more hours, just a few more hours to prepare, that was all I asked for. Could I not be granted this one small mercy?

I began to sway slightly, my body moving from right to left as the feeling of panic bubbled to the surface once more. Camelia stood up, answering the man outside when I failed to formulate any bit of a coherent sentence.

“Yes, we will be with you momentarily. Thank you.” It was amazing how she seemed to slip back into prim-and-proper ladylike protocol when the need for it arose. Maybe it was just one of the side-effects of hanging around me so often, though right at that moment I felt anything less like a princess. Or a lady. Or like any functioning being at all, really.

Camelia came to my side and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Right,” she said, her voice wavering, “let’s… let’s get this over with, shall we?” It wasn’t hard to hear the resignation in her tone, the way that her shoulders seemed to slump. It was as if she, too, were battling with her own Terrigenesis related demons. All the confidence we may have shown earlier was certainly not helping us now.

As if on autopilot, I adjusted the collar of my dress and smoothed down my skirt — perhaps on some level thinking that looking the part would make things go smoother for me. Then, with Camelia’s hand gently placed upon my shoulder, I walked towards the door and opened it.

Standing there, was a tall, dark haired man with tanned skin; one of the Council Leaders. One of those who’s job it was to oversee the Terrigenesis Ceremonies and escort those who’s turn it was to undergo said Ceremonies to the designated rooms. He bowed deeply to me, muttering a soft, “Your Highness,” before inclining his head with a “My lady” to Camelia. On any other circumstance I would have acknowledged him or said something, but I was far too caught up in my own thoughts to do anything other than trudged after him like a zombie.

Through the corridors we walked, each step bringing me closer to either my unbridled freedom or my unending doom. With each passing moment, it felt as though I could faint at any given second. Really, though, would you blame me for feeling this way? Thought not!

Camelia kept a firm yet gentle grip on my arm as we walked, perhaps afraid that I was going to faint dead away due to the stress. She was showing far more decorum than I, or maybe she merely wanted to ensure my health and wellbeing before she thought of her own. That was my Cami, though, always thinking of others before she thought of herself. Truly a generous soul, she was.

Still… she could not completely hide her feelings. The twitch in her eye, the way she seemed to be walking at an odd pace, shuffling her feet, as though she wanted to get this over and done with, yet at the same time, wanted to drag it out for as long as possible. Her bright, green eyes shimmered with a nervous apprehension. The fear that she felt was palpable. She looked to be as nervous as I felt.

My destiny, my fate, my role in Attilan’s society… it all rested on these next few moments. So did Camelia’s. So did the fate of every single Inhuman exposed to the Terrigen crystals. Could I be blamed for the feelings of anxiety, those terrifying ‘what-ifs’ that filled me up from the inside out and threatened to spew forth like bile from my mouth? Could any soul lurking upon this world dare to pass judgement upon me for feeling the way that I did?

“Whatever happens,” Camelia’s voice broke me out of my reverie, her soft tones laced with an undercurrent of fear, “whatever happens, Natalia… I… I want you to know that you’re my best friend in the world, and I’ll be here for you through everything, okay?” Her voice shook, her resolve tested. It hurt me to see her so worried.

“You say that as if you fear the worst, Cam,” I said, a half-laugh escaping from my lips. I glanced up at her — Camelia had always been a few inches taller than I, even though there was only a year’s age difference between us. “Come now, it… how bad can it be? It… Both of us will get a power, and then, then we’ll find a good place in society. Remember, I told you that Black Bolt swore to make you my lady-in-waiting if all goes well?”

My words may have been but empty promises, all things considered, but I wanted to comfort my friend in the same way that she was doing for me. I wanted to be a shining beacon of hope to Camelia Ivanskiar just as she was mine right now.

“Your lady-in-waiting,” she mused, reaching up with her free hand to brush a red lock back behind her ear. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that to me before. I would be most honored… Your Highness.”

There was a teasing, light edge to Camelia’s voice, her eyes shining with a hidden mirth behind the worry she obviously felt. She was my best friend, as I’ve said before. My dearest friend. So, of course I would ask my brother to give her a job working closely with me should her Terrigenesis prove favorable. It had naught to do with wanting her as a servant; I had plenty of those. But I simply wanted my Cami to be close — as my lady-in-waiting she and I would be able to spend tons of time together. More so, perhaps, than we already did, which would be saying something. 

Alas, there would be little time for talk now, though there were still so many things I longed to say. So many words of reassurance, so many promises, so many words of gratitude for all that she had done for me. For every moment she had been my friend. No, no more time for that. No more. All I could do was give her hand one last, reassuring squeeze, before letting it go, and walking together into the Grand Hall as we arrived at its large, double doors.

Steeling myself, I glanced around at who had come to witness our Ceremony.

There was Black Bolt and Medusa, obviously. My eldest brother and his wife, the King and Queen of Attilan. Medusa with her long, flowing, prehensile and deadly red hair, hair that she was capable of controlling with her mind — an impressive power and certainly a force to be reckoned with. The corners of her mouth moved slightly, and she mouthed a soft, “good luck,” to me. I numbly nodded my thanks.

Black Bolt… didn’t say anything. Just kept staring ahead, his expression almost blank. Not that I had expected him to. For you see, my brother had been granted one of, if not THE deadliest power in all of Attilan’s history. His voice was so powerful that even one whisper, one simple clearing of the throat, could level our entire city to the ground within the blink of an eye. Because of this, he had taken a vow of silence, only communicating through a special sign language that Medusa translated.

Karnak and Gorgon, heads of the Royal Guard and my cousins, were here too, though I didn’t pay them much attention. We’d never been close, not often exchanging word beyond a few pleasantries here and there, and a few words when circumstances brought us together. I knew that to them, I was still little more than a child, and that was fine, too. Instead, my eyes landed on the one person.

Maximus. My second eldest brother, the outcast of the royal family. The… human amongst Inhumans. The one on the complete opposite end of the scale to Black Bolt.  My dearest and most loved brother, his Terrigenesis made him a human, effectively destroying any Inhuman gene that may have once lurked within. That, I was aware, was the worst possible outcome of Terrigenesis — to come away with nothing. Indeed, the only reason that Maximus wasn’t sent down to work in the mines with the others was because of who our brother was. Black Bolt showed him a mercy, in some strange way, letting him remain in the royal family.

Yet… it seemed unfair, did it not? For I was no fool, I saw the ways that people treated my brother. The cruel stares, the whispers behind his back, the mocking words, everything they did to him boiled my blood. Max was good, Max took care of me and was there for me throughout thick and thin. I loved him and to me it mattered not if he held all the power in the world or none at all.

How I longed to know every detail of what must be going through his mind right now. What did he feel, I wondered, seeing his little sister’s Terrigenesis ceremony? What would he do if, like him, I ended up with nothing? Would we both be shunned, then? Would pity be taken or would we forever be doomed to a life of ostracization?

Or… perhaps a worse thought then entered my mind. What… what if I were to gain a power? A gift that would, in theory, put me far above the pecking order where my brother was concerned. A gift that would, in the eyes of the Genetics Council and every Attilian out there, make me better than him. What then?

What would I do then? Would Max still love me? Would he still want me as a sister? Or would our relationship be forever tainted by the hideous jealousy of contempt? Would we no longer be as close as we were? No longer bonded by blood but instead torn asunder by Terrigen crystals. Would Maximus resent me for gaining what had been denied to him?

The mere thought of such a thing happening made me physically ill. I brought a hand up to my mouth, as if trying to force down this awful imagining. ‘It won’t happen,’ I told myself, shaking my head, to purge the thoughts from my mind, ‘this worry, it is all in your head, Natalia. All just the ramblings that come with nerves. Your Terrigenesis will be fine. Today will be just another reason to celebrate when you finally gain your powers. And Max… Max loves you. This won’t change that, nothing will. Keep your head up and you’ll get through this. Keep your head up and be the princess that you are. That’s it. You can do it. You can… you can get through this. You HAVE to get through this.’

Perhaps it may seem a bit foolish to give myself this pep-talk, but given the current circumstances, I could use all the comfort I could get, even if it did come from myself. Right now, I wanted nothing more than to run over to Max and hug him and plead with him to take me away from all of this, but I knew there was no time for any such thing.

One of the members of the Genetics Council stepped forward, beckoning both Camelia and I to make our way towards the Terrigenesis chambers. I felt like a robot as I walked forward. Left, right, left, right, left, right… the mantra repeated over and over in my head, fearing that if I stopped, I would forget how to walk. Every moment seemed to last an eternity, every step felt like sludging through quicksand.

I felt as though I would fall flat on my face and make a right fool of myself in front of everyone. Damn it, couldn’t my feet just do as they were told without putting up a fuss? Brain, body, engage, for crying out loud! Eventually, though, I climbed inside the Terrigenesis chamber without incident, hearing the click of the door as it shut behind me.

This was it. Now that the door had been shut, there was no going back. There could be no reprieve from this… from what would soon be a heaven or a hell. I could hear the same speech that was given for every Terrigenesis Ceremony.

“Esteemed members of the Royal Family, Genetics Council, friends and guests… Blessed are we to witness the Terrigenesis of Camelia Ivanskiar, and Her Royal Highness, Princess Natalia Boltagon.” I felt my back tense as he spoke my name, and the title that came with it. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, the worrying thought… would I still be a princess if this all went wrong? The speech continued, “the sacred touchstone of our civilization that elevates us above all others, that allows the true nature of the individual to be revealed.”

There was a flurry of activity that I could barely make out from the corner of my eye. A flash of blue. The Terrigen crystals. They were, I knew, preparing the crystals for the ceremony. How funny it was that something that seemed so simple could hold within it the power to change a destiny… to change a person’s life for better or worse. They were tiny yet horrifying all at the same time.

“This holy ceremony, has been the touchstone of our people…”


‘Come on, please,’ I thought, clenching my hands into fists, my teeth digging into my lower lip so hard that they bled. ‘Come on, come on, come ON. How long does this speech take? Just… I want to get this over with.’ My mind had already drowned this man out as he seemed to go on and on and on and on… Would it never end?

“We are ready to proceed with the Ceremony.”

I felt both immense relief and immense fear at those words, wanting to both suck it up and deal with it, and to dive out of this chamber and run far, far away where nobody could find me again. That sense of panic was only heightened the moment that the ceremony began.

And with that… smoke filled the small, cramped chamber. It filled my lungs, burned through every bone, every fiber of my being. Each one of my veins seemed to be changing, twisting, pulling, turning… every atom within me being made to manifest whatever power the crystals would unlock. I threw my head back, my mouth dropping into a perfect ‘o’ as I mouthed a silent scream. The pain was intense… was it meant to be like this? Was this what all Terrigenesis was like? Or had something gone wrong?

It felt… dear God… it felt as though every bone in my body were breaking and reshaping. As though the very essence of my soul, the very fibres that made Natalia Boltagon were being torn, twisted and moulded like clay. Tears streamed down my face as my breath became more ragged, choking on this mist, pleading with anyone who would listen to just let me get a bit of air. It was worse than I could have ever imagined it would be. Would this be how I died?

No. No time to think! No time! There was little else that I could do other than to let nature take its course. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling the power manifest within my body… feeling… feeling my body begin to change both in mental and physical ways. Why? What was happening to me? What did this mean? What did any of it mean? Won’t somebody please let me out of this thing?

Did they not see? Could they not hear? Were my cries falling upon deaf ears? God… fuck… they had to let me out of this thing. I was breaking apart before their very eyes, and yet nobody was doing anything! Just… just standing there seemingly unaffected by all the pain and the suffering that was being forced upon me right now.

And then... Mercifully, it stopped. Just like that. As though a switch had been flicked, everything seemed to come back to relative… normality… once again. The smoke cleared from around me, and the door opened. I heard a voice. “You may step out and fully reveal yourselves.” There was our cue. In the back of my mind, I wondered what power Camelia had gotten. Would she have wings, as she dreamed of?

I stepped out, gingerly, and very nearly missed the step, almost falling to the floor. It was… there was so much of a gap between the step and the ground, that it was odd. I hadn’t noticed it being that large before. And… I also hadn’t noticed everyone being so much… so much taller than me…

Glancing around, I was immediately met by the shocked stares of my family. Each one of them looked at me with a strange expression on their faces, as though they simply could not believe what they were seeing. Even Black Bolt, though he kept his visage stoic as always, could not help but to raise a brow in silent surprise. Well. Damn. This couldn’t be good.

“She’s tiny.” Medusa spoke up. She was trying to remain level-headed, but I could tell that even she was a bit taken off-guard by what had happened. “Look at her. She’s a child, she doesn’t look a day over eight.”

“What… what do you…” I began, tripping over the words in my hesitation to get them out. “What do you mean? What are you talking about? I’m not a child, I’m… I’m fourteen! What’s going on? Did something go wrong with my Ceremony? Someone… somebody answer me!” Glancing down, I looked at my hands, and my eyes widened in shock. They were tiny. Gone were the hands of the fourteen-year-old that I used to be, and in their place? In their place were the small, dainty hands of the eight-year-old child I now was. Terrigenesis had… had de-aged me.

Perhaps not only in body but also in mind? For while, for the most part, I felt almost the same… there was still that part of me that felt like a lost, scared, hurting child. That felt alone despite being in a room full of people… that part that wanted to cry, to scream, to be held and comforted.

Now, more than ever, I wanted to run across the room to where Maximus was standing and throw my arms around him, beg for any form of comfort that he would be willing to offer. But there was no chance of doing that, so instead I wrapped my arms around my own waist, hoping to bring myself some level of comfort from that.

“What’s… happening…” I stuttered, taking a few stumbling, fearful steps forward. “The meaning… what is the meaning of this… what’s wrong with me? WHAT IS THIS?!”

That’s when it started. At first, it was just a sound. A keening, pitching whine that seemed to echo from the deepest recesses of my brain. Then, the headache came. A powerful migraine attack that made my eyes blur and sting, so agonizing that I could no longer stand on my own power. With a scream of pain, I fell onto my side, crashing to the floor with a thud.

I bent and clutched at the fabric of my dress which had, by some miracle, shrunk to fit my little form. Grabbing at strands of my hair and tearing little black curls out. My head was pounding, the horrid ringing noise in my ears growing so loud that I feared it would deafen me. Nothing mattered anymore. Not Camelia. Not my family. Not Maximus. Nothing mattered but the pain and making it stop.

“Ahhh…” I wailed, tears streaming in the corners of my eyes. The pain was intense, moving to the back of my eyes, making me blind and deaf and dumb to the world. Dear Lord, what was happening to me?

The pictures came next. Oh, would that there were words in any language that could aptly describe them to you. No phrase in Attilian, English, or any other language known to man or beast could ever do justice to the horror that entered my mind, then. Even to this day, I know not how my brain could have conjured up such gruesome images. Maybe these were the first hints that there had always been something wrong with me; I do not know. All I know is that they were terrifying.

The blood… the faces twisted in silent screams of horror. Maggots falling from their eyes, mouths stretching to a limit that was not possible, the keening whine being ever louder, mingled in now with the sound of bone snapping as the jaws of these faceless… monsters… snapped. The smell of fire. The blinding flash of blue light, the cry of a lost child, the smell of burning sulphur and rotting flesh. My faceless foes, how they writhed in agony, their flesh beginning to melt and peel away from their bones, sliding off in slivers.

What was this? Was this to be my power? Trapped forever in my own, tainted, twisted hell? For what purpose? What had I done to deserve this… why did the Genetics Council put me through this? Didn’t they see? Didn’t they know the pain they were causing? I was their princess! How dare they put me through this? How dare they see fit to make me suffer in such unbridled and unyielding torment? How DARE they treat me this way? I would not… I could not… let them get away with it!

Another scream. This time, from far away, and not my own. No… it was a man’s voice… low and scared… his words, I could barely make them out. “Stop, stop, please, make her stop… the fire… the pain… the pictures… make it stop!” His screams were becoming more pronounced, and somewhere amongst all this horror, I could make out the sound of footsteps. “Please, no!” the unknown man screamed again. “Please, I’ll do anything! MAKE HER STOP!”

The feeling of hands on my shoulders broke me out of my hell, snapping me back to some small semblance of reality. “Natalia!” Maximus was speaking to me, but I could barely hear him. Certainly not enough to acknowledge what he was saying. Was that… was that my name he was calling? It sounded so far away. Like he was trying to call out to me whilst I drowned underwater.

“Natalia!” There he was, then, kneeling in front of me. He grabbed my arm and tried to manoeuvre me back into a sitting position, while I swayed from left to right in a dazed stupor. “Come on, sister, just… sit up.” Maximus placed his hands on either side of my face and made me look into his eyes. “Listen to me, look at me, breathe, okay? In and out, it’s alright, you’re alright.”

I raised my head to meet his gaze, my eyes pooling and shimmering with tears, “I… I… I…” The words, the apology, the questions, anything and everything that I wanted to say… it would not come. It seemed I was incapable of speech, incapable of doing little else than opening and closing my mouth, as though trying to emulate a dying fish. “M… Ma… Max… Max…”

From the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the Genetic Council members had fallen to the floor and was retching, his countenance one of pure, unadulterated fear. He looked white as a sheet, as though he had just seen a ghost! Around him, I could barely make out the blurred figures of my family, trying to guide the shaken man back to his feet. He was retching and gagging, as though about to throw up.

“The pictures…” he whispered in terror, “the things I saw… oh the horrors…”

I tried to crane my neck to look over to them, see what was going on, but Max grabbed my chin again and turned my face back to his. “Don’t look at them, Talia, just… just keep looking at me, come on, it’s alright. Don’t worry about that right now, you just look at me, listen to my voice, it’s okay, little sister. Calm. Calm now, it’s all okay.”

“Maximus.” Medusa took control of the situation, because I suppose someone had to. “Take Natalia out of here. She’s in far too much stress right now.  Bring her back to her chambers. The council will discuss this, and she will undergo genetics testing later. There’s no time now, we still need to determine the results of Camelia’s Terrigenesis.”

Camelia. Oh, my poor Cami. She hadn’t even stepped out yet. She must have been so scared. Did she hear what was happening outside? Well, of course, she wasn’t deaf and both me and this Council Member were making enough noise to wake the dead. How fearful she must have been in that moment. The guilt was sickening.

I had forgotten her, as had everyone else, it seemed. They were all too concerned with… whatever happened to me… to bother checking up on my friend. ‘I have to make it up to her somehow,’ I thought.

Maximus offered a hand to me. “Come on, Natalia.”

I tried to take it, really, I did, but I could barely lift my body from the floor before it came crashing down again. The weight of everything and the shock were not allowing me to stand upon my own merit. Again, I tried to stand, with my brother offering me assistance once more. And again, down I fell, back onto my ass. I stared up at Maximus with a dazed expression.

“Max…” My voice was a broken whisper, but his attention was directed elsewhere.

Maximus looked over at Black Bolt, who motioned towards him, and then towards me. Seemingly, he did not need Medusa to translate this for him. He bent down and, in one fluid motion, literally scooped me up into his arms and carried me out of the room, while I hung lifeless like a rag-doll, offering no form of resistance whatsoever.

This was yet another thing to offer me cause for concern — I had always been somewhat short for my age, a few inches or so shorter than other teenagers, but it was never to the extent to where my brothers could have lifted me up with the ease that Maximus just did. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this, though I was thankful that it was Max who was bringing me back to my room — this was a small mercy, if anything.

Not a word was spoken between my brother and I as we made our way back to my chambers. My mind was in far, far too much disarray to even begin the arduous task of forming sounds to words, and I knew that Maximus obviously still had much weighing on his mind. Besides, out in the open did not seem like a good place for a chat, especially not about something this vital.

There were some whispers in my general direction from confused passers-by. “Is that the princess? She looks so young. Is that what her Terrigenesis did to her, is it like youth potion? What’s wrong with her?” were just some of the things they were saying. Along with, “can she not walk anymore? Why does she look so scared?”

Part of me wanted to tell them to mind their own business, but I was in such a state of emotional and mental shock that any words coming out of my mouth would no doubt have been little more than messed up garbled nonsense. So I just ignored them, drowning out their words. They were just confused after all; they didn’t mean to be rude to their princess.

We were nearing my room now. Maximus set me down on my feet, keeping an arm around my shoulder. “Can you walk?” he asked, steadying me as I wobbled. “it’s just a few more minutes, can you walk the rest of the way? I’ll hold your hand.”

“Yeah…” I managed to get out, my throat aching. “Yeah, I… I think I can manage.”

I clung to my brother’s hand tighter than I think I ever had before, and we finally reached the door to my room. Maximus pushed it open, ushering me inside. Once I had stepped inside, and he’d followed after, he closed the door with an audible click. He motioned for me to sit down on the edge of the bed, but I had other thoughts, the terror still controlling my mind.

“Don’t leave!” Was that my voice? So childish, so desperate, so… so innocent. I sounded like I was going to cry at any minute. I felt like it to. Tears were stinging at the corners of my eyes, my breath coming in short little gasps. “Don’t… please, Max, stay with me! I don’t want to be alone!”

“I wasn’t planning to,” Maximus placed a gentle hand on the back of my head, making me look up at him, and wiping a tear away from my face. How I welcomed such a loving gesture at this time. “Sit down, Talia, okay?”

The use of my favoured nickname — the one that only Max was permitted to call me — was enough to bring some sense of peace to my frazzled existence. Finally, I moved to sit down on the bed, staring at my brother with wide, helpless eyes. “Max….” I whispered, reaching my hand out towards him, desperate for any kind of human contact.

Through teary-eyes and with a shaking voice, I asked the question that had been eating away at me ever since I stepped out of that Chamber. “What’s wrong with me?”

Chapter Text

Somehow, I doubted that there was a word that could truly describe the fear that I was feeling at that moment. The unbridled trepidation that started from the bottom of my toes and ran all the way up to my spine, tingling, leaving Goosebumps on my skin, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The awful feeling in the pit of my stomach, as though there several poorly trained acrobats were attempting to do some epic summersaults but were instead failing and tumbling into a deep pit of acid. How was I supposed to vocalize any of these feelings? Did my fears make sense or was I simply overreacting? Dare I say it, was I losing my mind?

From my place on the bed, I was afforded no comfort. My fingers dug into the sheet, feeling the soft, satin material that kept me warm each night. I lay on my side, wrapping my arms around the pillow and bringing it close to my chest, in a desperate attempt to quell the beating of my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes, stinging as they rolled their way down my cheeks. Tossing and turning, this way and that, I tried to do something, anything, that would let me force the pain that I'd been put through the back of my mind, at least for the moment. For what purpose would it serve to wallow in the past? What good would come of fearing the worst when nobody even knew the outcome?

Yet there was no freeing myself from the confines that my brain had locked itself into. With a cry of frustration, I tossed the pillow to one side and leapt from the bed, my body almost reacting on its own accord to whatever shock I was feeling at that moment. I began to pace. Up and down, up and down, my fists clenched behind my back, fingernails digging so hard into my flesh that it was almost painful. And still, I almost welcomed that pain — at least it was distraction from whatever else I'd been feeling at that time. It wasn't supposed to be like this!

God damn it, it was NOT supposed to be like this! My Terrigenesis was meant to be the hallmark of my introduction into the Inhuman society. Camelia and I, we were meant to be taking our place in the world together. We should have been celebrating with our loved ones, basking in the congratulations and well-wishes of friends and family. We should have been laughing and planning new adventures to use our powers together — as we'd planned to. Instead of trapped in whatever levels of Dante's inferno that this was!

I turned my attention onto Maximus, staring at him with wide-eyes and a pleading expression. 'Tell me,' I thought, 'tell me everything is going to be alright. Tell me that this is just a normal reaction to the Ceremony and that there's nothing wrong with me. Tell me that this just a little blip and we can fix this — that the Council will find a way to make this right again. Tell me… tell me that I'm just over-reacting. Tell me that you know what this is, and you can help me fix it! Please, Max, just… please!'

The words, again, seemed stuck on the tip of my tongue. Part of me wanted to throw my arms around my brother and cling to him like the scared and hurting child I must have now become, and yet another part, the more mature part, told me that I should not do so until I had gleaned at least some answers about what was going on. An understanding of the powers that I'd been 'gifted' or rather, cursed with. Whatever was the point of undergoing the Ceremony if the result was just going to be me being pushed aside and not told what was happening? That was no way to treat anyone, much less the Royal Princess of Attilan! And maybe the panic that I was feeling would subside if I could just get an answer to the burning questions eating away at my very core.

In all truth, I would have settled at that very moment just for an explanation of the horrific pictures that had formed in my head. There was no way that I could have seen them before; the faceless, screaming creatures, the flesh melting from their bones, the maggots eating them down to the bone. Even the memory of it was enough to make me feel sick. Was THAT what I had shown to Council Member Viktron? Was that why he had reacted in the way that he did?

"Max…" My voice came out as a terrified stutter, fixing my brother with a horror-struck gaze. I took a step towards him, each movement feeling like lead under my feet, like I was dragging myself through wet cement. "Max… Max… Max…" It was all I could say, repeating my brother's name over and over, as though it were the last source of comfort that I could find.

"Natalia, listen…" Maximus started to say. "It will be okay, there's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. I…" He was trying to comfort me, I know, the wonderful and caring brother that he was, he would no doubt be saying words to soothe and console his little sister after her ordeal, but he could barely get another word in edgeways before I began to ramble at a mile a minute. Panic-Speech — something that I was no stranger to in a time of crisis.

"What have I become?" The melodramatic question fell from my lips before I'd even had a chance to formulate a more cohesive response. "What is this? What… what… what…" I was getting worked up, my breath coming in large gasps, chest heaving up and down, every word desperate to spill out and yet caught in my throat at the same time. My throat burned as I continued forcing myself to talk. "What the hell was that, Max? Why did this happen to me? It hurt so much, brother, it… my head… the sounds… the pictures… the… the… the… just EVERYTHING… is this what's meant to happen? Or is this just a bad reaction to the Terrigen Mist? Has this happened to anyone else before? Do you know? I can't remember… I just… I need… I need… Max… I… what the hell is going on?"

My brother lifted up a hand to stop me in my tracks, presumably so that he could gather his thoughts and respond somewhat coherently to my incoherence. He crossed to the middle of the room and placed his hands upon my shoulders, grounding me back into reality. "First of all," he said, his tone soothing yet firm at the same time, "stop getting yourself worked up. It won't do you any good to get so upset." How I wished that I could heed such advice. "Take a deep breath and think before you panic, alright? This isn't something that can't be fixed, understand?"

"But WHAT is it?" I shot back, in a harsher tone than I'd wanted to use. Maximus arched a brow at me and I glanced down at my feet, "sorry. It… I just… what is this? Nobody is telling me anything; and I just want to know what's wrong with me." God, I felt as though I were about to burst into ugly sobs at any given moment. "I feel cursed… all I want to know is what the curse is…"

"You aren't cursed." Maximus kept his hands on my shoulders, preventing me from the return to the Epic Pace Around the Room that I had been partaking in. He leaned down so that we were on an eye-level, steadying my trembling form. "Now, I don't know what happened in there. Or what powers you developed — that's something that the genetics council will have to determine later. Really, Talia, I'm just as stumped as you are for an explanation as to what went on in there. But that explanation will come, understood? You just have to be patient and calm and wait for it."

Patient and calm? Was there any way that I could be either of those things? Patience was a virtue that had long since left me, and could any person be expected to remain calm when they'd just gone through such an ordeal? Would you have felt anything of the sort if you were in my position? No, I didn't think so! But I knew my Max was only trying to comfort me and make me feel better about all that had happened, and for that I felt grateful. He was the only member of my family that was bothering to show any concern at this moment — but that was nothing new; he had always shown me a level of compassion that everyone else appeared to be at a loss to express.

I took a deep breath. Then another. Then another. In-and-out. In-and-out. Once, twice, three times. Inhale, exhale. Feel the carpet under my feet, focus myself on the here and now. "Thank you, brother," I said, even managing to force the smallest bit of a smile for him. "It… I'm just scared… I don't… This wasn't what I was expecting to happen — I thought things would run smoother. I didn't expect to…"

A quick glance down at my hands, so small and dainty now, brought yet another thought rushing to the forefront of my head. "I'm so small…" I mumbled, perhaps more to myself than to my brother. "I'm so tiny… Medusa said I look like a child, but how can that be? I'm fourteen, that's… that's not a child. But then, if that were the case…" My eyes met my brother's again, "you wouldn't have been able to carry me like you did, Max, would you? I mean… if I hadn't shrunk in some way. What do I look like? Is… have I mutated? Am I hideously deformed? Everyone was staring at me, Maximus, tell me what I look like. Please, spare me the comfort and just get right to the point. What's been done to me?"

Maximus, his grip still firm on my shoulders, turned me around and pointed in the direction of the walk-in bathroom adjoining my room. He pointed in its direction. "You want to know what you look like? You have a mirror in there, don't you? Go in there and take a look for yourself. I can promise you, Natalia, it's not nearly as bad as you're making it out to be." I hesitated, fearful of what I would find, but he pushed me forward, "go on, I swear that it's alright. Trust me."

With awkward and lumbering steps, I made my way across the carpet and into the bathroom. The door shut behind me and I turned the lock with a trembling hand, leaning my palm against the door, head resting against it. I wanted to afford myself just a small bit of privacy in case of any future meltdowns. Surely, I had embarrassed Maximus quite enough already, he didn't need to see this, too. I clenched my fist and closed my eyes, breathing deeply. My left hand grasped on the doorknob, the right palm pressed against the doorframe.

All it would take was but one second to turn it again and step out without going through with this. Something it was better NOT knowing the truth, after all. Could I handle what lay waiting for me through the mirror's glass? The creature that would be staring back at me, mocking me. Could I handle what I would find? Or would this just be something to further break me? My mind flashed back to the stares of my family and the councilmen as I'd stepped out of that Terrigenesis pod. I wasn't ready for this. But then…

I couldn't go around avoiding mirrors for the rest of my life, could I? Sooner or later, I would have to confront my demons and look at what I'd become. Face the mirror, and everything that it represented. Why not do so now, in the privacy of my own room, when there was no-one here but my Max, the one person that I knew would not pass even the tiniest bit of judgement upon me. It would be better to get this out of the way now lest I be forced to face the truth at another, more inconvenient time. What was there to be afraid of, after all?

'Max says it doesn't look bad,' I told myself. 'He says you look fine, remember? You're probably just over-reacting about all of this, Natalia. Come on now, if you were disfigured or deformed then everyone would have had a much worse reaction than they did. Your thoughts, they are merely running away from you in your nervous state. Come on, get this over with. If you can't trust yourself then at LEAST trust your brother. Would he lie to you? Try to lead you astray? When has Max ever done such a thing, when WOULD Max ever do such a thing?'

Inch by inch, my hand lifted from the doorknob. I took a few steps away from the door, in so doing cementing my decision to stay in here and look at myself. There was no point in hiding from the truth any longer, no matter how ugly that truth may turn out to be. I had to do this. For my own peace of mind, for to have but ONE explanation of what had happened to me today. This was… surely this would be the easiest part. Swallowing back the lump in my throat, I turned around. My eyes scanned the room for a moment, this way and that, before stopping on the floor-length mirror that stood in the corner of the bathroom. There was a shape there, a person, a person that looked oddly like… me… but it took me a little while to understand what I was looking at. And when did, oh, let me tell you… nothing, and I do mean NOTHING could have prepared me for what I saw.

There was… a child in the room with me. Someone else had managed to sneak into my chambers, perhaps cloaked with the powers of invisibility that I had longed for. Whoever they were, they had undergone Terrigenesis far, FAR too young. I felt a pang of guilt for them, for this stranger, this nameless child. But what to do with them? What do to? Call for Maximus? Yes, yes, that seemed like the best course of action. I'd have to get my brother in here and tell him that some genetically enhanced child was after sequestering themselves into my bathroom and could he please make them leave?

That was the only option. That was the only explanation. This child, this girl, whoever she was, had snuck in here unannounced and without permission, and she would have to get out. Really, she had some gall wandering into the private chambers of a royal, didn't she? Yes, yes, she did. This girl, this little girl, the second person in the room with me. The second person who HAD to be in the room with me. Because the only other explanation that my mind was conjuring up was that the girl staring at me was…. Me. I took a step forward, towards her. In the back of my mind, I almost expected her to move too, to run, to dart away from me and give weight to my theory that this was someone else. Yes, it might have been a shock to the system, but I could handle that. Handling the opposite, on the other hand, was proving to be a bit more difficult.

The little girl hadn't moved an inch from her place in the glass. Her face was frozen in an open-mouthed expression of fear and awe, her jaw dropped, eyes wide. She tilted her head to one side, slightly, and it took me a moment to realize that I had done the exact same. I straightened up… and so did she. Still with that same dumbfounded look on her face. This child looked as perplexed as I felt. Coincidence? God, how I hoped so!

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, in a rhythmic motion I crossed to the mirror, now standing almost nose to nose with this little girl. She was pretty, I had to admit that. Her long, dark hair hung in ringlets down her back, soft curls framing her face. Her eyes were a deep brown, almost black in colour, ever so expressive. Her skin was a pale, porcelain colour like that of a China doll — tiny freckles dotted on her cheeks and on the bridge of her nose. She looked like one of those dolls that I had seen Crystal — Medusa's younger sister and the other Princess of Attilan — playing with on some occasions. Almost surreal.

She was short, too. Maybe even shorter than the average eight-year-old. She took up not even half of the mirror, only around four foot or thereabouts. She looked like a cherub, an angel. Far too gentle and innocent to be anywhere near this place. To have gone through the same painful process that I had just suffered. Who… who had put such a child through the Terrigenesis Ceremony? Who would be so cruel to do such a thing? Where were her parents? Where were her family? Was… was it falling to ME to offer protection to this child? How I wanted more than ever than to call for my Max, but I felt this was something that I had to do alone.

Lifting my right hand, I placed it against the glass, as if hoping to offer some comfort to this girl. I felt a strange pang of both guilt and fear while looking at her. Like I had to make right the wrongs that had been done to her. Like it was my royal DUTY to make right everything she had gone through. But as I raised my right hand, so too did the little girl raise her left. Our palms met, separated only by the glass.

I tilted my head, and Mirror-Child did the same, long curls falling over one shoulder. To the other side, and she followed. Back straight again, and again, she followed. Left hand up for Natalia, right hand up for Mirror-Child. Head down, and she copied. Head up, and she copied. I opened and closed my mouth, again and again, and she did the same. No matter what I did, this child copied. She copied and copied and copied. She copied so much that I could no longer refute the thoughts that were bubbling at the recesses of my mind. That this child, this girl, was me.

"What the fuck…?" I mouthed, in complete shock. "What in the name of God is this? Is… is… that me? No, it can't be!" You can't even imagine the feelings that I was going through right at that moment. Okay, maybe it wasn't disfigurement as I'd feared, and maybe my new child-form WAS quite cute, if I did say so myself, but at the same time, was this the body that I wanted to be trapped in? I was a teenager, for the love of all that was right and just in the world! Just last year I had gone through puberty and all the painful experiences that brought along. Now… that was gone.

Would I have to go through it again? To grow from eight to fourteen once more? Or was this it for me? Forever trapped as a little girl, never growing or changing physically while my mind grew and my needs and desired changed to those of a woman. Doomed to be seen and treated as a child for the remainder of my life. The very prospect seemed almost mind-boggling. Infuriating. All of the above, all at the same time. I raised a clenched fist at the Child-Natalia staring at me from the mirror, perhaps with the thought that if I could get rid of her, I could get rid of everything else that had gone wrong.

But no, no I couldn't do that. Couldn't shatter that glass, couldn't break the illusion. For what good purpose would it bring for me to hurt myself and cause my fingers to bleed? That was not the correct way for someone of my ranking to behave in a crisis, no, no it was not. Had to just breathe, calm myself. Take it all in and then assess the situation with a clearer and more rational head. I turned away and bit down on my closed fist, teeth scraped against my knuckles. I bent over, head on my knees, and swallowed back a wad of phlegm. Calm, calm, calm… have to be calm… have to stay calm… have to relax… stay in control… I have to get out of here!

Unable to stand the sight of Child-Natalia any longer, or to feel her beady little eyes boring into my soul, I made a mad dash towards the door. In a fit of panic, I struggled and pulled on the doorknob for a few moments before my stupid brain managed to remember that I had, in fact, locked it before turning to look at the mirror. "For crying out loud!" I scolded myself. I fumbled about with the lock in desperation before it finally clicked, and the bathroom door swung open, setting me free.

Out into the bedroom I went, tripping and stumbling over myself, almost falling right onto the carpet. I felt as though I were about to faint dead away! As though I were about to collapse onto the ground and let it swallow me up, swallow my traumatized soul and leave my body numb. My body moved from left to right, each step like dragging my aching legs through quicksand. Had I lost the will, the ability to engage my brain and my body? Was I losing the very will to live and function as a normal Inhuman? Was I, dare I say it, was I losing my mind?

My eyes settled on Maximus, who had taken a seat on the edge of my bed. He patted the space beside him for me to sit down. I nearly fell over myself in haste to get there. Some gentle contact and reassurance were exactly what I needed right at this moment. After that revelation. I lowered myself into the seat next to my brother, grabbing onto his hand and holding tight. My fingers were clammy, my hands shaking. I made a pitiful little croaking sound as I leaned my head against my brother's shoulder, desperate to be held and comforted. How much like a child I was behaving in this moment, I thought with a shudder. How much like a scared, lonely, helpless child.

"Oh, Max…" I whispered, tears blurring my eyes and clouding my vision. I tried to look up at him, see the expression on his face, see what he was thinking. But I couldn't see for shit with the tears stinging me. Max lifted his hand and ran it through my hair, while I tried to gather my thoughts enough to speak. But he beat me to it, cutting right to the chase before I had the chance to unleash another tirade of a rant and start babbling like a crazy person.

He wiped away a tear that I hadn't even noticed falling. "It isn't so bad, Natalia. It really isn't. You're don't look nearly as bad as you could. Remember, you could have turned into an animal or something. Or merged with the furniture." He pressed a kiss to the side of my head. I managed to a soft chuckle at the mental image of being merged with furniture; not from finding the prospect funny, per se, but from the sheer ludicrous of the thought. Or maybe I just needed to laugh, needed a bit of light-heartedness, even for the briefest of moments. "You're still you, Talia. You're just… just a little bit shorter than usual. That's all."

I lifted myself from off of Maximus' shoulder. I brought my hands up to run through my hair, bringing them back onto my face. "But that's not just it, is it Max?" I asked through my palms, in a muffled tone. "It's not just about what I look like now. It's about what happened there in that Ceremony. What I saw. What I did… What I did to Viktron." The mental image of Viktron writhing on the ground in pain, the fear on his face, the screams and moans. My family lifting him back to his feet and looking at me as though I had just begun to violently beat him in front of them. Their judging eyes, I loathed to stand it.

Maximus rubbed the back of my hand with his thumb. "Talia…"

"I'm sorry…" I hung my head down, shame filling every fibre of my being as my gaze became fixated on my shoes, toes scuffing the carpet. "I… I don't know what happened to me. I didn't mean to make that… that… I didn't mean to make Viktron sick like that… I didn't mean to attack anyone! I swear it, I PROMISE! My mind just… acted. It hurt so much, the pictures, the images. And I was so angry with the Genetics Council for putting me through it. You have no idea… I NEVER meant to hurt anyone, Maximus, brother, please, you have to listen. You HAVE to BELIEVE me."

Perhaps it could be considered strange for me to unleash such thoughts out into the open. Once they were out, there could be no taking them back. No putting the truth back into its little box. There it was, spoken. My feelings, my anger, my reasoning for doing what I did. Dare I say it, the justification behind the attack on Viktron. Trust me, if this were ANYONE else, I would not have said a word. I would have been silent and let the secrets fester within me until my dying day. But this was Maximus. There was no one in Attilan, in the universe, that I trusted more than I did him. I knew that he would never judge me or make me feel bad for what I had done. He would be understanding.

And, like the paragon of wonderful brothers that he was, Maximus immediately understood my plight. "You were reacting out of fear, little sister." He tucked a strand of crow black hair behind my ear. His voice was soft, his accent soothing. "You had just gone through a traumatic event, and you were scared. It's not uncommon for new Inhumans to lose control of their abilities at the start. Yours are probably just based on your emotions, so are a lot of people. That is why we have training for Inhumans to control their powers. Don't fret about this. I understand, the Council will understand, and the rest of our family will understand as well."

Still… despite his words, I could not help but to keep thinking of the worst possible outcomes. Yes, I had Max's reassurance, but still another, even more awful thought entered my mind. So much worse than the thought of hurting a council member. "Max, what if they take me away?" I asked, beginning to panic at the thought. "What if the council decide that I'm not good enough to stay or that I'm too dangerous or that I'd be better off in a different caste and — and — what if they take me away from you?" I didn't mention the rest of my family. While I loved them, cherished them, cared for them deeply, it was my Max who my heart would shatter to leave. "I don't wanna leave, I... I swear I'll be good. Please don't let them take me!"

I clutched to Maximus' arm with both of my tiny hands, staring up at him through teary eyes. I felt embarrassed to be making such an almighty show of myself, but in this moment, with all the emotions that I was feeling, did I even have a choice? Still, that didn't stop me from mentally berating myself. 'Why must you act like such a child, Natalia? Just because you LOOK like one does NOT mean that you have to ACT like one. Do not be such an embarrassment on the Boltagon name by acting in this manner.'

Maximus tried to comfort me, rubbing circles into my back in a soothing and soft motion. "You haven't even gone through the genetic councils testing, and already you're concerned about being taken away?" he asked. From his tone, I could tell that he thought I was overreacting. Not that I could blame him. "Come now, Natalia, there's no point in getting upset over something that hasn't—"

I stiffened, and he amended his words. "Something that WON'T happen. Natalia…" Maximus lifted my chin up and made me look into his eyes. "You are the Princess of Attilan, royal by blood. No matter what happens, the Genetics Council can't do anything would the royal seal of approval. And you know as well as I do that Black Bolt doesn't send his family away, right?"

He was referring to his own situation, I knew. To the fact that the Genetics Council had wanted to send Maximus down to the mines when his own Terrigenesis rendered him human. Something that Black Bolt had prevented from happening, allowing our brother to stay a part of the royal family. A decision that I would forever be grateful for. "Besides," Maximus continued, "do you really think I'd let them take you? Hm? That I would let them take my little sister?"

"Little being the operative word," I replied, finally, finally letting a small laugh of… relief… escape my lips. My chest deflated as the breath that I'd been holding in for seemingly so long was let out. My Max was right, as always. There was no point in 'crying over spilt milk' as the saying went. No point in being worried when I did not even know the outcome. What would happen, happened and I would find a way through it when it did.

I pulled away from my Max and smiled as best I could. "You're right, Max. You know what? You're absolutely right about this. I'm just overreacting. But there's no point in worrying about something that hasn't happened. No point in making a fuss over what could be nothing. Either way, what the Genetics Council find when they test me will be what they find, and I will deal with it when that time comes."

Were these words me trying to reassure my big brother, or was I trying to reassure myself? Who knows? They were bringing some tiny semblance of normalcy back to my life and for that I told myself that I would believe them. Perils are only made worse by the mind's darkened imaginings, are they not? Thoughts of optimism or pessimism can truly make or break a scenario.

"That's it, Talia." Maximus wiped away a tear on my cheek that I hadn't even noticed falling. "There's the fighter I know." Oh, how I adored how he could make me feel better no matter the situation. No matter the issue, Max always knew what to say. Was there ever a greater love than that which beat through my heart for my dearest brother, beating in with me with a fierce tenacity that could be matched by none!

Finally, that sense of peace seemed to return. We remained seated together, not talking to one another anymore but enjoying the simplicity of being in one another's company. There were no more words that needed to be spoken. No more offerings of comfort to give. I knew that, no matter what, so long as I had my Max, everything would be okay.

Knock! Knock! Knock! The pounding on the door yet again jolted me out of my thoughts. I jerked suddenly, head darting every which way, hair whipping across my face. "Princess Natalia?" came the voice of a Genetics Council Member. "It is time for you to undergo the Genetic Councils testing. Please open the door."

I glanced to one side at my commlink that sat upon my bedside locker. It hadn't beeped once, but then again, given my title, it made more sense for me to be fetched personally for my testing. For all of my previous bravado that I'd exerted a minutes ago, the helplessness was once weighing down upon me. In a daze, I brought a hand up to my head and rubbed at my temples. Well… the man on the other side of the door didn't sound as angry as I feared he might have been given what I'd just done to his colleague. That was good. Yet I still could not seem to bring myself to open the door, not wanting to leave the sanctity of the peace I felt here in my solitude with Maximus.

"I'll get it." Maximus stood, crossed to the door and opened it. There, in all their terrifying glory, stood two Genetic Council members. Their faces were stoic, hands clasped behind their backs like security guards.

The taller of the two gave a curt nod to my brother. "Maximus," he said in an almost… disappointed tone. That was it. Just 'Maximus.' Not 'Your Highness' not 'Prince Maximus' not anything indicating the respect that someone of my brother's royal ranking should have been afforded. Just 'Maximus'. I bristled inwardly at the lack of respect being shown to my Max, a slight buzzing sound in my head, but forced myself to brush it to one side.

Both he and the shorter, lighter-haired member of the Genetics Council walked directly past my brother as though he were nothing, instead focusing their attention on me. "Princess Natalia." The taller one bowed his head in respect, one closed fist resting upon his chest as a gesture of deference towards my place in the royal family. "I am Council Member Dmitrius and here with me is Council Member Avram. We are here to escort you to the Genetic Councils Testing to determine the abilities that your Terrigenesis have granted to you. Please, come with us."

Frozen on the spot, I glanced back towards Maximus, staring at him for what seemed like eons before turning back to the Councilmen. I wanted to ask if he could come with me while I went for testing, but I knew that this would be refused. This was something that I would have to undergo alone, regardless of how much I craved to have my brother by my side. What choice did I have but to obey these men? A princess I may be; everyone had to bow to the will of the Genetics Council.

Maximus, Dmitrius, Avram and I all made our way out of my room and stood in the open hallway. Right. This was it. No turning back. No beating about the proverbial bush. I had to do this. I had to go through with this, sooner or later and wouldn't it rather be sooner? I glanced up at the Councilmen. "Lead the way," I told them, hoping that my voice didn't shake as much as I felt it was. Trying to sound as regal and proper as I could.

Dmitrius and Avram seemed satisfied by my answer, as they both began leading me away. Before I walked away, I glanced back to my Max, who smiled and mouthed the words "good luck" to me. I smiled and mouthed a quick, "thank you" back in his direction, before allowing the two Genetic Councilmen to lead me way.

Down corridors we went, through a large set of double doors and up a flight of stairs. I had never actually been the Genetics Council Testing Chambers — while I was expected to attend the Ceremonies in the Grand Hall, the follow-up testing was something that was done privately with the Inhuman that had undergone the Terrigenesis. So, this would be a first for me. We rounded yet another corner and went down another flight of stairs. Nobody spoke, not that I expected them to. What could these men say to me? What DID you say to a princess who had just gone through the biggest moment of her life? Were there any words?

But then, my mind formulated a burning question, one that I'd not thought of yet, being so focused upon myself. "What happened to my friend?" I glanced up at Avram, trying to read his expression. Easier said than done. "Lady Camelia Ivanskiar? She underwent Terrigenesis with me. She… she hadn't come out of the pods when I'd left the Grand Hall. Do you know what happened to her? Is she okay? Has she got powers? Has she gone through testing? WHEN will she go through testing? Is she—" There I went again, rambling at a mile a minute.

Avram looked down at me for a moment. In that split second, an emotion flashed across his face that I could not recognize. Was it sadness? Guilt? Something else entirely? But then it was gone, and he fixed his gaze ahead once more. "The Lady Camelia…" he began, then paused. His tone, his mannerisms. It was as though he were trying to explain to a very small child that their goldfish died. Patronizing yet gentle all at the same time. "Well, to be blunt with you, Your Royal Highness, she collapsed after her removal from the pod. Her family has taken her to the Medic Bay to receive medical attention and she will be undergoing the Testing once she has made a recovery and is up for it."

He didn't say another word after that, and our journey continued in silence. A crippling sense of remorse overwhelmed at the prospect that, had I not made Camelia go through the Ceremony along with me, then mayhap she would not have ended up fainting. What if such an outcome had a negative affect on her powers? What if she didn't GET any powers? Would she be doomed to a life in the mines?

'No!' I thought, feeling the panic rise like bile in my throat, 'I won't think like that. I won't freak out about Camelia when nothing bad has happened to her yet. And even if she does not get a power, well, I'll be there for her either way. Best friends through thick and thin… best friends through everything… Besides, I'm the Princess of Attilan. Sister of the King… if I ask, then surely Camelia will be allowed to stay as a servant for me… It'll be okay, Natalia, now purge any bad thoughts from your mind… purge them from your heart right now, for they will never come to pass!' The rest of the walk was done in total silence… neither Avram nor Dmitrius could think of anything to say to me, nor I to them. What could they possibly say? What comfort could these strangers offer? How could they offer even the slightest bit of comfort or reassurance?

It felt as though they were leading me to the gallows. As though every step we took drew me closer and closer to my impending execution. The Genetics Council were the ones who held true power in our society. It was they who determined what rank a person would have within the society… they who could bestow upon an Inhuman a blessed life of luxury, or a cursed life of misery and servitude down in the mines. All would depend on the level of power that a person displayed, and whether that power was seen to be useful in our society.

If my family were royal, then these men… these Inhumans with the power to make our break our destiny, felt, in my mind, as though they were Gods. So, you can understand, I think, the level of fear that I have for them, the terror that I cannot help but to experience even to write about them. The hidden loathing, I felt within my body, my very soul. Even to this very day, the fear I held of them still rings palpable and true as the ground beneath my feet.

We reached the Genetic Council's testing chambers. Here I would face the Council Leader, Kitang. A man who held the balance of all fates within his hands. Avram stopped outside the door. "Please, Your Royal Highness, please step inside." He said, pushing the door open and allowing me entrance. With the politest smile that I could muster, I slipped into the room.

Kitang stood there, awaiting my arrival. He bowed to me but really, I could have forgone the formalities. As with my Terrigenesis, I just wanted to get this over and done with. Bite the bullet and dive into the shark tank. I felt so completely trapped in here. Trapped. Trapped yet again. That seemed to be the story of my life right now, didn't it? These four walls… they seemed as though they were little more than a prison cell. How I wanted to turn tail and run, but I knew that I could not. This was my destiny, and I needed to face it.

"Welcome, Your Royal Highness," Kitang said, gesturing to a small seat across from him. "Please, have a seat." I did as I was told, smoothing down the back of my skirt and lowering myself into the chair, wringing my hands nervously, tiny fingers rested upon my lap. This felt like an interrogation, as though I were a common criminal who had done something wrong and was being brought to trial.

"You don't need to be nervous, Your Highness," Dmitrius seemed to have read my mind. "There is nothing to fear. This testing is a right of passage for all Inhumans, but it is not as bad as it may have been made out to be. Just relax. All that we wish to do is determine the extent of the gifts that your Terrigenesis have granted you. Be calm, Princess. There is no need to fear."

I managed a half-smile. "I know. I… I can't help but to be a little nervous." My voice came out like that of a child — nervous, scared, fearful and timid. Oh, how I hated the way that I now seemed to sound. Was I ever going to be taken seriously now that I was trapped in the body and mind of a child? Or would I always be known as the 'Child Princess of Attilan?' God, I could almost hear the mocking nickname become a reality in society… forever whispered behind my back.

"Understandable." Dmitrius smiled. Behind him, Kitang was preparing something in the corner of the room. I refrained from craning my neck to see what he was doing. I was, in fact, somewhat grateful to Dmitrius for his kind words. If I could not have my Max, then at least there would be someone here who understood my plight.

Kitang walked back over to us. "Now, before we begin, we first need to take a sample of your blood so that we can have it tested. This is something that is done after each Terrigenesis, but most often when a Ceremony causes a severe… physical change… in a person." He looked at my child-form, not needing to explain himself further. "I hope you understand."

"Of course." I extended my arm, pushing the sleeve up to the elbow. Kitang bent over, needle in hand. His grip on my wrist was firm. I turned my head to one side, not wanting to see the needle entering my skin. I chewed on the inside of my lip, closing my eyes. The prick of the needle entering my skin felt like a bee sting, and I hissed in pain. Refraining from letting lose an unladylike swear.

I hoped that this would be the worst part of the testing, a mere needle to the arm. Something that would sting but that I would forget, that I was already beginning to forget. And at least I could find some miniscule comfort in the fact that at least my physical appearance had not changed TOO much by my Terrigenesis. As Maximus had said, it could have been a lot worse. I was not hideously deformed or made into some sickening amalgamation of a piece of furniture and a human being. That was a small mercy that I was grateful to any higher being that existed for.

Kitang handed the vial to another Council Member, who walked away to do the relevant testing on it. I couldn't help but to stare at the red liquid inside. My blood. Still the same colour as it had always been, I wondered if its properties had changed at all. How DID Terrigenesis affect the body, the bloodstream? It was a question that I was actually quite interested in the answer to, because despite having borne witness to many, and understanding the importance of it, I still did not quite fully comprehend the process behind it.

Had this been any other circumstance, I felt I ought to have asked Kitang or Dmitrius or Avram about this, but this was no doubt not the right time or not the right place. I rested my chin in my palm as I silently waxed poetic about that vial filled with my blood and the changes that may or may not have been made to it. My thoughts were broken, however, when Avram spoke up, directing my gaze back to him.

"Now, Your Highness," he said. "This is the part where we discuss your newfound power and try to determine the full extent of your abilities. This, along with your blood test, will make up the majority of the testing. We will be asking you a series of questions regarding your Terrigenesis and what happened there. All that we ask is that you can be entirely honest with us, with everything that we ask. Can you do that?"

Any questions? ANYTHING? Then this meant they were going to be discussing what happened with Viktron. Discussing the fact that I had just ATTACKED an esteemed member of the Genetics Council. Had just hurt someone who was considered to be in high social standing and esteem in Attilan's society. Something that was considered to be a huge faux-pas. That, had it been anyone else, I knew would have landed them in some serious hot water. Alas, I could do naught but acquiesce in the matter.

"I will answer anything asked to me." My voice may have been clipped and formal, as though I did not care one bit about any of this, but this was the opposite. If there is one thing that being a member of the Royal Family had thought me, it was the ability to hide my feelings when necessary. The ability to lie on command and pretend that things were okay. Diplomacy, it is something that all those of royal blood are wont to learn, is it not?

Honesty would have to be the best policy here. What choice did I have? If I were to lie, if I were to try and bend the testing to my own will, then I would be found out. And if that were to happen, then I could think of no words or pleas that would save me then. The truth or a lie could be the difference between a life of luxury or the life trapped digging in the mines. A life of suffering or a life of joy. A life, oh, how I shuddered to even dream of it, a life without the ones I loved. Between being with my Max and being taken away from him forever. Between climbing the ladder to the highest heaven and tumbling screaming down into the darkest hell.

Kitang seemed satisfied by this answer as he took a seat across from me. It was clear in his movements and mannerisms that he was the one in control here. I shifted nervously in my chair as he began the interrogation. "Your Royal Highness, what we wish to discuss with you is the incident that happened immediately following your Terrigenesis. By this, I am of course referring to the incident with Council Member Viktron. We need you to talk us through what you were feeling there. Start from the beginning and do not leave anything out, do you understand? Can you do this?" His tone was a bit too strict for someone addressing a princess, but I didn't dare to speak up for myself. Not the time, not the place. I took a deep breath.

My lips parted and I gripped tightly onto the edges of the chair, fearing as though I was going to end up falling out of it and onto my ass. I lifted a finger to my mouth and bit down on it, trying to formulate a proper answer. A cohesive answer that would make them understand the reasons that I'd done what I did. These people were, after all, not like my brother. They were not understanding; they were vultures.

"It was…" I began, fixing my eyes on Dmitrius. He seemed to be the most understanding person here, and therefore I would focus my attentions on him. As the one source of comfort that I could find in this room. "While I was in the pods, all I could feel was pain. It was like my bones were breaking and being reshaped. And then when I came out, everybody was staring at me. It felt so very strange. I—" I paused and had to gather my thoughts for a moment before continuing on. "I didn't know if something had gone wrong or not. Nobody told me about what was going on. They were just staring at me and I heard them talking about how young I looked. It was then that the headaches started."

Avram was writing something down on a notepad. "The headaches? Please, elaborate, Your Highness."

"It…" How was I going to describe the headache? "At first, there was this buzzing sound in my head. Like a ringing in my ears. That, uh, that's the only thing that I could hear. I thought that I was going deaf." I paused again. The unfairness of the moment, the fact that I was being asked to recount the traumatic ordeal that I had just been through, so soon after I had suffered it. Anybody with some compassion, even the tiniest bit of compassion, would have been greatly appreciated. I mean, it would not have gone unnoticed one bit. Still, deep down I understood that there was no way anything of the sort could be offered to me. I just continued to speak. Get this over with. "Then… and then I got this awful headache. It was so terrible, so painful, that it brought me down to my knees and I collapsed."

Kitang looked at Avram and gestured for him to write that down. "Go on." Kitang said. "What happened with Viktron? Can you explain that to us? He spoke to us of hallucinations and images. Perhaps you could shine some light on that?"

This was going to be the hardest part. Explaining the pictures. Explaining the horror that I had just undergone. There did not appear to be any words to describe them, but I had to do this. There was no choice but for me to answer them. "Well," I began, "I saw these… these pictures. In my head. Pictures of fire and blood, and things like that. I don't quite remember exactly. But I didn't make them, I SWEAR it! I didn't intend to create such awful things. It's like, it, it, it, they just WERE. It wasn't my fault, really, I had no idea what I was doing. I swear to you that I didn't mean to hurt anyone, I didn't mean to hurt Council Member Viktron, honest. I'm really, really, really sorry. Will… will he be okay?"

In all honesty, I wasn't too sure how I felt about this. On the one hand, there was that sense of guilt that my actions had caused pain to another. That empathy for Viktron and the pain I had caused him. On the other hand, part of me couldn't help but to wonder if Viktron had deserved it in some way. He was a member of the Council, of the society, that had put me through that in the first place, after all. His smug face as I lay there on the ground, screaming out for understanding but receiving none. It was because of him and his actions, in part, that I saw those disgusting pictures. Perhaps I was right in what I had done to him. Perhaps this was a justified punishment. Was it? Were my words of apology sincere or just a white lie to preserve my own life?

"He will be fine." Avram said, "it was just a shock to his system, that's all. But you may rest assured that he will make a full recovery."

I bristled at his words. It was a shock to VIKTRON'S system? What the fuck? What about the shock to MY system? Me, the person who had gone through this, the person who was dealing with these powers. Not for a day, not for a moment, not for a split second. For the REST of my LIFE! Would they not afford me even but one word in sympathy? But as I was thinking this, Dmitrius reached out, as though he wanted to pat me on the shoulder, to offer some level of comfort. However, one glance from Kitang stopped him, his hand falling limply back to his side once more.

It was frowned upon, after all, to touch a member of the royal family without a decent probable cause. Still, there was a part of me, no matter how miniscule, that did appreciate the gesture. I may not have liked the Genetics Council but perhaps Dmitrius was one of the 'good' ones. Someone who would be willing to show some care towards this petrified little girl. If Maximus could not be here to support me through this, then at least I was grateful that someone else was willing to impart some kindness towards this lonely child facing this daunting prospect.

Kindness could not last too long, though. Kitang rose from his seat and walked over to a small table. He looked around for a few minutes before finding what he was looking for. He returned back to me and extended a small wooden plaque to me. No idea what it was for, but I would soon get an answer to that question as he began to speak again. "Princess Natalia, do you think, is there any possibility that we could ask you to create another picture? If you concentrated, could you place an image from your mind onto this piece of wood here?"

The question seemed to throw me off guard a little. I had only just developed these new mental abilities and now they were expecting me to do this again? Had they no consideration for the previous incident? Did they hold no self-preservation? No worry for the prospect of things going wrong? If I were to lose control now and hurt one of them. If I were to hurt Kitang, or any of these men, then who knows what to expect. What would be done. It felt bitterly unfair to put me through these hoops like some show dog doing tricks.

"Just for a few moments, that's all. We only wish to get an indication of the type of power that you've gained, and the strength from it. Can you try to show us a picture?" Avram was speaking down to me the way that you would a child, his tone almost sarcastic in its sweetness. Again, what choice did I have but to obey them? These leaders, these men who were almost like gods in our world. These men with the power of life and death or so it seemed. I knew that I had no choice but to do exactly as they asked. But the question remained... Could I do it?

I closed my eyes tight, fists balled up on my thighs. Picture, picture, picture. Show them something, Natalia! Show them something. Anything! This is the make or break of your life. You have to do this. Come on, now! The images began flashing through my mind, quickly, quickly, then slowly. They were strange shapes, flashes of fire, and then… an image of the Terrigen crystals. An amalgamation of everything and nothing all at once. My head began to pound, the ringing in my ears becoming almost unbearable. My knees buckled, and I almost spilled out of the chair onto my face before the men. It was only the firm grip of my fingers, so tight that my knuckles were white, that prevented that from happening.

"Look!" Dmitrius' voice broke me out of my reverie. That was it. As though he were flicking a switch, the headache stopped, the ringing ceased, and the room flooded back to normality. I lifted my head from where it rested on my chest and stared open-mouthed at the piece of wood. Where there had once been nothing at all, there was now an image of a Terrigen crystal burned onto it. The exact same one that I had been imagining earlier. Did I do that, I wondered? Did that come… from my mind? Was that… me? I couldn't understand it, and yet at the same time, I made a silent thanks that the image had not been something worse.

Both Dmitrius and Avram seemed to be a little shaken with what I had done, though Kitang displayed no emotion. Dmitrius had a hand over his heart, his eyes closed, head bowed. He muttered something under his breath that I could not quite make out. Had I shown him some horrific vision in the same way I did to Leader Viktron? The thought did make me feel a bit guilty, if only for the kindness he had shown me earlier. Still, I was quick to brush it off. No, if I were to have done that, then wouldn't his reaction have been something worse? Surely, he would not be standing, given the effect I'd had on his colleague. Kitang rose from his feet and indicated for me to do the same. "Interesting. Very, very interesting. Just a few more tests and we shall be done, Princess Natalia."

The prospect of undergoing more tests was a numbing one, but I didn't dare to speak up or argue about it. I just allowed them to perform test after test after test upon me. It felt as though it were taking hours. Or some other measurement of time entirely. But finally some mercy shone upon me and we were done. "Very well, then," Kitang said, "Alright. Thank you, Your Highness. Your time is much appreciated. You may leave now. We will discuss the outcome of your testing and return with a verdict at the earliest convenience. Thank you for being patient with us. You may leave now."

Having been dismissed (finally), I got to my feet and bowed slightly, leaving the room as the door clicked shut behind me. I almost wanted to cry, both in delight that it was finished, and terror of what to expect next. Who knew when the testing would be over? Who knew when I would have the results that I needed? Well, apparently those results would take about a week to arrive.

They certainly did have to go through every little detail with a fine-toothed comb, didn't they? But eventually, though, the council came to a decision. I had developed psychic abilities, the most prominent of which was called what I believe you would know as 'nensha' or 'projected thermography'. Kitang said that it was the ability to create powerful visual and auditory hallucinations and to impart these through telekinesis. To burn them from my own mind onto surfaces and even onto the minds of others. Given what had happened to Viktron, it was decided that I would be attending personalized tutoring to ensure that I would be able to control these powers so there were no more mishaps of this sort.

Just my luck, I thought, more lessons. What teenager wanted to go through that? Still, I knew that the outcome could have been a LOT worse. Maybe things were looking up for me after all.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since my Terrigenesis Ceremony. I was spending this morning with my family, each of us seated around the table in the dining room. A room where we both ate and held important royal meetings, discussing the business of running our kingdom. In fact, it was one of these weekly meetings that I had the privilege of attending this very morning.

My tiny hands smoothed down the front of my dress as I glanced around the table at the faces of my family. Black Bolt and Medusa sat side by side, canter-stage as always. Medusa’s long, red locks fanned around her shoulders, the queen radiating with power and majesty. Every so often, she and my brother would glance at one another, their hands so close they were almost intertwined. Their looks were, obviously, silent, but in their eyes volumes were spoken.

I couldn’t help but to admire the love that they shared for one another. It was so plain and edifying for everyone to see. Unlike most royal marriages in Attilan, which were chosen by the parents, marriages where the husband and wife to-be did not spend much time together before the wedding, apart from with an escort, Medusa and Black Bolt had developed a friendship since they were teenagers — a time when I was but a little girl. Everyone knew of how she had stepped into the Quiet Room where he’d locked himself away and had seen the person behind the Silent King.

Quite romantic, really. Despite the way that my feelings developed towards my eldest brother and sister-in-law, I at least was able to appreciate a nice love story when I saw one. Turning my focus from them, I looked then at Karnak, Gorgon and Triton — my cousins and other members of the Royal Family. Though I suppose that calling them ‘members’ of the Royal Family was a bit of a stretch, considering they weren’t, in fact, actually royal. Still, their talents and abilities made them trusted and valued advisors for my brother, and henceforth they got to take part in these meetings, too.

I, of course, took pride-of-place beside my Max. No matter the situation, whether it were dinner, a meeting, or anything else, I always sat next to my brother. It had been an unspoken rule from the time that I was but a tot. The seating arrangement of everyone was always carefully planned out. In a way, it was like a smaller representation of the rigid system that we lived in anyway. Everybody had their place, and that was that.

These Royal Meetings, in which the state of affairs on Attilan were discussed, as well as any other important business, were a weekly thing. Bi-weekly, sometimes, if the need for it arose. This wasn’t a first rodeo for many of the people here, by any means. Each of them had been attending these meetings for several years at least. But I, on the other hand, was something of a different story. Oh sure, I’d gone to one or two of these meetings before.

Back when I was a little girl and my parents were alive, I’d often sat on Father’s knee while he spoke on and on about important ‘adult’ topics that my tiny mind could not have hoped to comprehend. As I got older, though, the idea of having a child involved in these meetings became a bit of an issue, and so, I’d be left in the care of royal tutors.

Aside from those few times, I never really participated. At least not to the extent that the rest of my family had. But now, that was about to change. Being that I’d gone through the Terrigenesis Ceremony and had been granted powers — dangerous though they were — I was now expected to truly take my place within the system of Attilan’s society. Expected to step up to the plate and behave as the Royal Princess I was. To understand politics, understand the world that we lived in. To act always for the greater good of the people and of the Inhumans.

Still… I couldn’t help but to wonder, sat here, absently picking at the food the servants had set out for me… if the reason that I was allowed to attend these meetings now was simply because I’d gone through the Terrigenesis Ceremony. Was it because I was now, officially, classed as an Inhuman? Was it because I’d gone through that horrific ritual (a ritual that I still had nightmares about, thank you very much) and now I could be classed ‘worthy’ of attending a royal meeting? Or perhaps it was merely that I had been too young before, naught but a teenager? Nobody told me the real reason behind it, and I suppose now they never will.

That might’ve been the reason that Crystal wasn’t here. Crystal was Medusa’s little sister. Once her sister married the King, Crystal was elevated up to a status of great privilege. She was the youngest of us all, too young to have gone through the Terrigenesis Ceremony yet. She was a sweet girl, innocent, and with a kind heart. Yet still, not considered old enough or ‘worthy’ to be present at a Royal Meeting. At least, that is the thought that I had on the matter. Now, as I write these memoirs, I can’t help but to be curious about such things. Had I any shred of love within me for Crystal anymore, I would ask her about it, but alas… such is the way of life.

Medusa and Karnak were in discussion. I could make out their mouths moving and heard… something… that sounded akin to words coming from their lips, but it was as though they were talking in a completely different language than anything I’d ever heard before. Try as I might to read the situation and what they were saying — this might have been an awfully boring meeting, but I figured that I ought to pay SOME bit of attention, right? — there was just no use. No hope. I tried to read their lips to understand a bit more, but it was all naught but white noise for me.

Even when Black Bolt lifted his hands to join in with his sign language, I was far too gone into the recesses of my own mind to respond. Now, normally I could understand my brother’s signing, even without Medusa’s translations (though to be fair, I still sometimes needed her on hand to make it easier). But this time was different. The sense of boredom that ran through my psyche at that moment in time was causing me to zone right the fuck out. Why couldn’t this meeting just be over already? Were there not more important things that everyone here could be doing? I just wanted to be reading my books or listening to music or spending time with my Max.

‘Oh, come on, how much longer can this meeting go on? How long have we been here already? An hour? Two hours? No, no, it can’t have been that long, can it? You’re just overreacting, Natalia, it can’t have been more than ten minutes. But what is taking so long? God, Medusa, Karnak, are you still talking? Why did I agree to come to this meeting? Oh, how I WISH I’d had the foresight and sense to come up with some excuse to not attend.’

My meal was half-finished on the plate. Picking up my fork, I stabbed it into the food a bit more, pushing it around and around. Back and forth. I cut a piece of meat and put it to my lips, but then, let it fall back onto the plate again. Try as I might, I wasn’t that hungry. Perhaps I would regret not eating breakfast later, but I could make up for it by lunchtime if I wanted something.

My tongue moved from one side of my mouth to the other, forming a bulge in each side of my cheeks as I did so. Realizing that my attempts to eat were futile, I loosened my fingers’ grip around the fork and let it fall back to the plate with a small clang.

There was a small vase of flowers within my direct line of vision. I rested my hand upon my chin as I stared at them. Pinks, purples, blues and reds. A cornucopia of colours, each blending in perfectly with the other. The servants had done a good job in decorating this morning, I thought, the corners of my lips twitching in the slightest hint of a smile. After all, a nice centerpiece always makes things look that much more professional, wouldn’t you agree? I continued to stare at the flowers as the meeting continued.

‘If things are going to be as tedious as this, then I won’t be going to any more of these fucking things,’ I groaned internally, though deep down, and loathe though I was to admit it, I knew that I would HAVE to attend more and more of these meetings as I grew older. After all, what with Maximus being deemed ‘unfit’ to rule due to his ‘human’ status, I had become the de-facto heir to the throne.

Until such time as Medusa and Black Bolt had a child of their own. If they didn’t have children — a son, to be more specific — to take over from them when the time came, then I knew that I would have to step up to the plate. So, with that being the case, I knew that these meetings would become a more prominent part of my daily life.

Most especially as I got older. Ha! “Got older”, what a phrase to use, given my current size. I had to hide a chuckle at the thought. Such a bitter irony, that I was to be granted so much more responsibility, yet at the same time, trapped in this innocent form, never to age. Never to grow. Never to TRULY become a woman in the way that I ought to have done. At least, that is what the Genetics Council have said to me. The blood tests taken during my Testing showed that my body’s DNA was now fundamentally changed, fundamentally regressed. This meaning of course that I would forever be trapped within this tiny, 4’0 frame. Forever be frozen at the age of eight.

Of course, I reconciled myself with the understanding that there was really no way to fully know what was to be expected. After all, I had only gone through the Terrigenesis recently — perhaps instead of halting my aging process, it had merely regressed it. Perhaps I WOULD grow up, but at a much smaller pace than that of another person. Perhaps, I mused, it may become the case that I would be end up being a forty-year-old woman with the body of a twenty-year-old, or so on? I mean, that wouldn’t be quite as bad, would it? I imagine that most women would KILL to have such a gift. Decelerated aging. It would be a far better talent than the alternative, now wouldn’t you agree?

A sharp jab to my torso caused me to hiss in pain. I lifted my hand to rub at my side, head turning to the source of said pain. Maximus had elbowed me. And quite hard, to be honest. Had that been ANYONE else, I would have glared at him, and asked him what in the sweet name of fuck he thought he was doing. I wasn’t going to do that, though. My Max always got different treatment from me compared to everyone else. So, I fixed a confused expression on my face, and whispered, in hushed tones, “Max?”

I may not have been outright rude, but I am sure it was clear from my tone that I wasn’t too pleased with my brother elbowing me like that. Maximus placed a hand on my back and leaned down to whisper in my ear. “Sorry, Talia, didn’t mean to elbow you that hard,” he apologized, and like that, the tiny bit of irritability that I felt melted away like butter. I could never hold a grudge against my Max, after all. “But you’ve been completely zoned out for ages now. We’ve all been trying to get your attention.”

All? Shit. Had I been stuck in a daydream while the rest of my family called out for me? Had I been so far gone into my own psyche that I didn’t even notice that I had become a part of the meeting? How long had I been sitting there, ignoring everyone as they spoke my name? Crap, that wasn’t good, was it? Earth to Natalia, come back to reality, why don’t you? I muttered a quick, “don’t worry about it, sorry for ignoring you” to Maximus, before turning my gaze away from him. I lifted my head and my gaze fell on Medusa, seated across from me.

She had a look on her face that I have now come to refer to as her ‘Disapproving Queen’ look. Her eyes narrowed, chin tilted down, arms folded across her chest. This was the look that she often got whenever someone displeased her in some way. Usually, though, this glare was saved for servants or members of the household staff, and not members of the royal family. Now, I find that look a bit idiotic — and I scold myself for how I reacted to seeing it — but back then, when things were relatively ‘normal’ within my family, I still felt two-foot tall under the hardened gaze of my queen and sister-in-law.

I chewed on the inside of my lower lip. “I… I zoned out,” I murmured, glancing down at my feet. “I was… I was in my own world, I guess. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” Well, that was at least somewhat true, right? The time that I had spent zoned-out was far more enjoyable than whatever was being said there, but there was no need to voice these thoughts aloud, was there? I figured that I was in more than enough bother for this in the first place. No need to add to the situation. I braced myself to be openly scolded in front of everyone — something that I HATED to have done.

Much to my surprise, and relief, though, Medusa’s expression relaxed. She leaned back in her seat, unfolding her arms and letting them rest down by her sides. Though she was still staring intently at me, it was far less cold than it had been before. “Please pay attention, Natalia,” she reprimanded me, sounding like a mother scolding their unruly child. “I was calling your name for ages before Maximus finally managed to get your attention. If you’re going to be at these meetings then you need to focus, understood?”

Yeah. JUST like a mother scolding their defiant and unruly child. Maybe she thought that she was to take on such a role to me now, considering my own parents were no longer with us. Maybe this was what being a queen meant, bossing people around and speaking to them like they were little more than your spoiled brats. Looking back on it now, I am filled with a bitter sense of anger at just how Medusa used to speak to me, used to speak to EVERYONE. Every time she spoke, it was like a drill sergeant was barking orders left, right, and center. She just LOVED to toss her royal title around the place.

There I go, bitching and moaning again. My apologies. Medusa’s attitude has always been such a touchy subject to me. Not that I could have done anything about it right there. Not without getting myself into a great heap of bother. Something that I did not need. No, it was best for me to just bite my tongue and put forward a façade I’d managed to perfect over years of trying. I bowed my head in deference, fumbling with my joined hands. I bit on the inside of my lower lip. “I apologize,” I muttered again, taking on the persona of a scolded child. “Such an occurrence will not happen again. Forgive my disrespect.”

She nodded, satisfied by my answer. I felt so degraded to have been spoken to in such a manner. A slight buzzing noise rang in my ear, a whistling sound that grew ever-louder. ‘Don’t lose control, Natalia, DON’T lose control.’ I thought. My nails dug into my palms, so hard it was almost painful. Maximus, noticing that I was somewhat in distress, placed his hand over mine for a moment and rubbed it with his thumb. I relaxed, coming back to normality, the whistling sound declining so that it was little more than a faint humming. My Max always knew what to do or say to make me feel better. Always knew how to calm my hair-trigger temper. He was a true gem in that regard.

Black Bolt signed something to me. I couldn’t quite make out what it was, maybe about ‘education’ or something of the like? I furrowed my brow, mouthing a ‘what?’ under my breath. Medusa, of course, took note of this and translated her husband’s words. “Natalia,” she said, “since the results of your Genetic Testing have come through, we’ve been trying to find someone to train you in how to use your powers. It’s taken a bit of time, we know, but today we’ve finally managed to get everything finalized. Therefore, this afternoon, you will be attending your first lesson.”

Oh.

I hadn’t been expecting THAT. My first lesson? The concept of that left jitters in my stomach. Lessons. The bane in the life of any teenager. These weren’t just any old lessons, though, were they? They weren’t math or reading lessons. These were for the sole purpose of me learning how to control the powers that I had been granted. Powers so deadly that they required special treatment to help me learn to control them. I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of nervous apprehension at being told this news. Of course, I knew that this day was coming, but I didn’t suspect that it would be so soon. Everything seemed to be happening so fast.

I did have one important question, though. “Uh, what’s my tutor’s name?” I asked. Of course, I wanted to find this out, wouldn’t you?

“His name is Samuel,” Medusa replied. Then, even though I hadn’t asked such a question, she carried on by saying, “according to our records, he possesses a number of psychic gifts himself. The most potent of which is the ability to create an extremely powerful shield to block out other attacks, be they physical or mental. He’s well-known in helping to work with other Inhumans who have developed dangerous powers — which, of course, is the case with you. He will be starting lessons with you this afternoon, Natalia.”

It didn’t take a moron to figure out why they had requested someone with a mental shield to be my tutor. Someone who would be able to block me out should I lose control over my power and start burning gory images around the place. Someone who would be able to defend themselves against me. We did not need a repeat of what happened to Council Leader Viktron, did we? No, we didn’t. That would be very bad for business, and reflect poorly not only on me, but on the entire royal family in general. And that, dear reader, is something that we could NOT have. Image is everything in this line of work, after all.

I had my own image to maintain. Pleasant and sweet Princess Natalia. I smiled ever-so-sweetly at Medusa and Black Bolt. “I understand, and I appreciate these lessons being arranged for me. I know it takes a lot of effort, truly, and it means a lot. I’ll do my best to make you all proud.” I gave a sweet smile to the faces seated around me at the table, though, of course, that statement was reserved for my Max, the one person there that I TRULY felt I should make proud. The one who’s opinion meant more than every star in the sky to me.

Black Bolt and Medusa both seemed to be satisfied by my reply. At long last, miraculously, then, the meeting was at an end. My brother and his wife pushed back their chairs and rose. They were always the first to be seated and the first to rise during a meeting or any other such gathering. It was just the ‘courtesy’ that was to be adhered to. I guess that’s just the way things were for royalty. Either way, the rest of us waited a moment before we also got to our feet. I went first, being the heir, followed by Karnak, Gorgon and Triton, with my Max standing last.

The king signed and his queen translated for him once again, though she need not have bothered this time, considering I could understand what he was ‘saying’, and I assumed that the rest of the family understood, too. It didn’t take a genius, after all. “The meeting is now adjourned,” Medusa said, “thank you all for attending. Natalia,” she addressed the conversation towards me, no longer translating for my brother. She came around the table to place her hands upon my shoulders, looking down at me. The height difference was a bit daunting. “Your training starts at two this afternoon.” She notified me as to where the lessons would be held. “Don’t be late.”

As if I were going to walk in there at three o clock? Come on! I almost rolled my eyes at being spoken down to like a little girl, but I managed to shrug it off. I figured that I might as well get used to the idea, though. I politely bowed my head in Medusa’s direction, my curls falling over my face. “Of course.” I replied. “Thank you again.” Without waiting another moment to have another patronizing comment thrown my way, I turned on my heel and left the room. There was far too much on my mind.

Later that afternoon, I was stood on a balcony overlooking the city. There was several of these balconies dotted all around the palace. A way for the higher classes to look down at those below us. I placed my hands on the ledge of the balcony, looking over it. I came up about chest height or so to the balcony — just barely enough for me to glance over its edges. This was a peaceful way for me to gather my thoughts and just be in solitude as I looked down at the people of Attilan. My people. My subjects.

Men, women and children milled about in the streets down below. Some looked fairly humanoid, like my family and myself, while others were a lot more… unique… in their appearance. Several with deformities that humans would only have heard of in their ‘horror films’. They were just going about their own business — without even being aware that their princess was standing above them and watching. People-watching was always an interesting hobby for me to engage in. Maybe I sound rather nosy stating such a fact, however, but that was just the way that I was.

As I watched over the balcony, my attention was drawn to something in the far distance. Something a little bit off to the right. I focused on it. I knew exactly what it was. The entrance to the mines. To the place where so many of the lower caste were forced to toil and slave away for the benefit of those of us in the higher class. Several men and women were coming in and out of the entrance. Those who exited were covered in dirt and dust, their faces gleaming with sweat. The simple clothing that they wore were filthy. They wiped their faces on their sleeves. Was this their first time seeing the light of day in hours?

I did not know. How long, I thought, how long did a day in the mines last for these people? When did they begin their work, and when did it end? I’d heard rumours whispered from servants that those in the mines were roused at unholy hours of the morning by guards and herded down there like cattle to toil the hours away until dusk. I’d also heard rumors that slacking off was punished severely and that those Inhumans who were granted any form of physical strength by their Terrigenesis — no matter how minuscule that strength may have been, were forced to carry huge loads on their backs.

Of course, hearing about all of this and experiencing it for oneself is quite the different situation, though, isn’t it? There was no way for me to know for sure what life down in the mines was like unless I went down there myself. And considering I was a member of the royal family? The likelihood of that happening was slim to none. The horror stories still resonated with me, though. I suppose that is to be expected.

The sound of footsteps coming up behind me took me out of the recesses of my mind. I turned to see my Max approaching. A smile lit up my face at the mere sight of him. Maximus got closer to me. I wrapped my arms around him and cuddled against his waist. As always, a sense of peace washed over me whenever I was in my brother’s presence. Maximus lifted a hand to run it through my crow black hair. “I thought I’d find you out here,” he said, and I smiled. “Penny for your thoughts, little sister?”

I hummed, a soft, pitchy tune. I licked my lips. “I’ve been people-watching,” I said. Untangling myself from my brother’s embrace, I stepped closer to the balcony yet again and gestured towards the people walking around below us. “I mean… I figured that I might as well, you know, before I have to go to those lessons.” A feeling of unease washed over me, and I turned to face Maximus with a raised brow. “Uh… I haven’t lost track of time, have I, brother? You haven’t been sent out here to fetch me, have you?” Not that I wouldn’t be happy to see Max under any circumstances, but if he were here to tell me I was late for my first lesson… I knew it would case a bit of upset amongst others in the family. As well as for my tutor.

Maximus, thankfully, shook his head. “No, nothing like that, Talia. You have time, plenty of it, in fact. Don’t worry.” Good. At least for that I could breathe a sigh of relief. At least I could have a few precious moments with my Max. I don’t think that I ever cherished those times we spent together enough. The old adage is true, isn’t it? You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But in that moment, I was just content. I felt happy. I felt as though nothing in the world could touch me. Not a word was spoken between us. Max and I just stood together, looking out over the balcony. Ah, but as with every peaceful moment, the mind of yours truly MUST concoct a worst-case scenario situation to bring it crashing down.

That was EXACTLY what happened to me as I stole another look at the mine’s entrance. A thought occurred to me. A thought of something, and someone, that had been lurking within the deepest and most hidden parts of my brain. A ‘what-if’ that I tried to conceal from myself. But what good would it serve me to keep it all inside? I knew that would only make me go mad. “Max,” I began, my breathing labored, “I… I have to ask you something. Something that’s been on my mind for a while, now, and I’m far too afraid to voice it. I mean… I’m not sure if… I want to know the answer. But… well…”

“Well?” Maximus asked. “Come on, Talia, what is it? You can talk to me, you know that. What’s on your mind?”

This was it, I thought. It was now or never. I inhaled and held it for a count of ten, gauging up the pros-and-cons of asking this. I decided that it was best for me to just get it over with. “Where is Camelia?” Ah yes. That was it. The question that I’d be thinking of. The girl who had been locked in the back of my mind. I’d been trying so hard not to think of Camelia, though I couldn’t stop myself from being worried about her. I didn’t WANT to worry about her. Yes, that may sound selfish of me, but I feared that if I worried about Camelia, if I allowed myself to think of the worst-case scenario, then that was what would happen. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

See no evil, hear no evil, know no evil. There was a profound silence that hung in the air between my brother and me. I didn’t even have to look at Maximus to know that he was hesitant to answer. Was it because he didn’t want me to know the truth? Was there something that my brother felt it unnecessary for me to know? Some dark facet of reality that he was attempting to shelter my fragile psyche from? I would not allow my question to go unanswered, though. I HAD to know what was going on. I already felt selfish enough for not having asked about Camelia before this, but I had been so busy.

I took my brother’s hand in mine and looked up at him. “I need to know. I haven’t seen her since we went through the Terrigenesis Ceremony together. I’ve heard that she’s sick… I’ve heard that she hadn’t gone through the Testing yet.” I took a deep and shuddering breath, “but part of me can’t help but to fear that she may have been sent down to the mines. I think if I knew the truth, I may have peace of mind. So, please, Maximus, just tell me where she is? Nobody else will be honest with me.”

Maximus sighed. He tore his gaze away from the balcony and faced me. He placed his hands on both of my shoulders. I tilted my head to look up at him. My brother’s expression was unreadable, something that caused yet another shudder to run down my spine. “Camelia’s Terrigenesis didn’t go quite as… well… as yours did,” he told me. “I mean, you are aware that she collapsed after being let out of the pod, aren’t you?” When I nodded, he continued. “She got sick, and don’t ask me what exactly happened in that regard, because I know as little as you do. But what you need to know is that she had been unable to go through the Testing due to her illness.”

A pang of guilt seized hold of me, a large hand clutching at my stomach and twisting it, nails digging into my intestines. Here I was, worrying so much about my own problems, when my best friend was going through her own pain. I couldn’t help but to fall into an awful sense of despair over what Maximus just told me. I mentally scolded myself for being such a selfish twat. Camelia was, after all, a close second to my Max when it came to the list of people that I cared about. “Can…” I started.

My throat was dry. I coughed to clear it. “Can I see her? Can I visit her? Can I talk to her? Can I… please? I need to…” My voice trailed off. The questions were running through my mind on an endless loop. Camelia was sick? She was going through more tests? What kind of sickness? The thoughts continued to run in a constant loop. “I feel so bad, Max, please let me see her.” Though I left the words unspoken, part of me couldn’t help but to wonder if it were MY fault. After all, I had badgered and pleaded and begged for Camelia to go through the Terrigenesis Ceremony with me.

Had I not done that, perhaps she could have been given more attention after she stepped from the pod. Perhaps she would not need to have been left in that pod for so long, if I wasn’t there. If such a fuss weren’t made over me. As I was thinking all of this, my Max spoke again. “It would be best for you to give her and her family some time, Natalia.” Wait, what? He continued on. “They’re going to be a little stressed over what’s going on at the moment, so they will need time, space and privacy.”

I must have tensed up, because he lifted his hand from off of my shoulder and cupped my face. I leaned in to his touch. “I know you worry, little sister, I can see it in your eyes. Everything will work out for the best, though. You just concentrate on what you need to do and give Camelia and the rest of the Ivanskiar’s the time that they need. All will be well, Talia, alright? Can you trust me when I say that?”

I relaxed somewhat. “Of course I trust you, Maximus.” I closed my eyes and a soft sigh escaped from my lips. Yes, I was STILL concerned over my friend’s wellbeing. I was STILL worried about what was going on with her. Voicing it only brought those horrific thoughts to the forefront. There was nothing I could do about that — save for pushing the thoughts away again, but I felt that this was going to be selfish of me, and I’d been selfish enough already. At the same time, if Maximus said that everything was going to be okay, then I would believe him. I trusted my dearest brother more than I trusted even myself. If Maximus stated that the sky was neon green, then I would believe him.

For this, I could afford myself a sense of peace. Everything would work out for the betterment in the end. Everything would be okay. If those words came from Maximus’ lips, then how could anything else be true? ‘I’ll give it a bit and then ask to visit Camelia again’ I told myself, closing my eyes, ‘we will be reunited once more. But not now, Natalia, all in due time,’ I reminded myself.

The brief tranquility of the moment was broken when my comm-link began beeping on my wrist. I lifted my arm to look at it. 1:30, the reading said. It was alerting me that it was time for me to get going to my first lesson. I felt upset at having to be torn away from my Max, but there was nothing for me to do about it. “I have to go, brother,” I said, “I’ve got to go to my lessons. I’ll see you around, Max.” My arms found their way around his waist again, I hugged him for a split second to give myself a bit of courage for what was to come. “I love you.”

I never wasted an opportunity to say that to my brother. Even if I may not have been incredibly forthcoming with those words, I was ALWAYS going to tell it to my Max no matter what. Lord knows he needs someone out there to treat him properly. Maximus held me for a moment, placing a hand on the back of my hair. “I love you too, Talia. Now run along for your lessons. And good luck with them.”

See? How in the world could ANYONE dare to say that my Max was a lesser being when he was capable of treating me with such tenderness and compassion as this? When he showed me all the love in the world? When he cared for me in the way that big brothers were SUPPOSED to care for their little sisters? But that was just the way it all fell into place, though. Max and I were always the closest of the Boltagon siblings. After our parents died and Black Bolt was locked in the Quiet Room, all that we truly had was each other. Maximus truly did take on the father figure and brother role to me.

It took me about fifteen or so minutes to get to the room that had been set out for me to attend lessons in. It was large and classroom style. There was a desk in the middle of the room, a board across from it. The walls were a tranquil white in color. I knocked on the door, though it was open, out of politeness, feeling a sense of apprehension as I did so. ‘Get it together, Natalia,’ I thought, ‘it’s just a lesson, what’s the harm? You’re a princess, you need to behave like it. You represent the Boltagon family name in all that you do.’

“Enter.” It was a male’s voice, one without a noticeable accent. I pushed the door open and stepped inside. The man that leaned against the desk was tall, about 6’2 in height. His hair was a sandy blonde in color, cropped short. He had green eyes, and a warm, friendly smile on his face. Seeing that smile, it made me relax. A friendly face definitely makes a nerve-wracking situation feel better, now wouldn’t you agree? I steeled myself. Game. Face. On. The man turned to face me. “Ah, welcome. You must be the princess, yes?”

“Yes,” I replied, extending a hand to him, “my name is Princess Natalia. I hear your name is Samuel?”

We shook hands. Samuel stepped away and bowed before me. “That is correct,” he said, “I will be your tutor for the foreseeable future, Your Highness,” he said. He sounded almost… giddy… when he addressed me by title. Another ‘royalist’ perhaps? Another sycophantic Inhuman devoted to those who sat, or would sit, upon the throne? His next words confirmed this thought. “And please, before we begin, let me just say what an honor it is for me to be teaching a member of the royal family. A true privilege. I hope that I can do justice to both you and my king and queen.”

‘Well, Black Bolt and Medusa aren’t attending these lessons, so you don’t have to worry about them, do you?’ I thought, but of course didn’t say the words aloud. I kept a sweet and demure smile on my lips. “I’m very thankful that you’ve agreed to teach me, sir,” I told him. “It’s appreciated.” Yes, that’s right. Stroking egos was something that would get me to have my way. This is an important lesson that I’ve learned over the years and one that I’ve tried to hone into perfection.

“Please, Your Highness, just call me Samuel. Sir is far too formal, and besides, it makes me feel old.” Samuel chuckled.

“Of course, Samuel.” Despite his desire for me to be ‘informal’ when addressing him, I wasn’t about to tell him to address ME by name. Samuel may have wanted to be casual, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still a princess. It didn’t mean that I still ought to have been respected and treated with the level of deference that ought to have been shown towards me.

Samuel gestured towards the seat and desk across from his own. “Please, be seated, Your Highness,” he requested. Feeling a sense of apprehension that the tutoring was now about to begin, I went to the seat, pulled it out, and sat down. I folded my hands one over the other on the desk, straightening my back. Focusing all of my attentions on Samuel as he spoke. “Princess Natalia,” he said, measuring his words carefully, “before we begin with our sessions together, please be aware that King Black Bolt and Queen Medusa have informed me of everything that has happened during your Terrigenesis Ceremony.”

The instant those words left his mouth, my heart began pounding in my chest. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I felt my insides begin to shrivel up with the anxiety. He knew, I thought, staring at the man stood before me. He knew about what I’d done to Council Leader Viktron. Oh, I suppose that I shouldn’t have been too surprised, right? After all, the attack of a Genetic Council member by the Princess of Attilan was BIG news.

Yet even as I tried to rationalize these thoughts, I couldn’t help but to be concerned about whether or not what Samuel would think of me. “I…” I started to say, in an attempt to… to apologize? To speak up for myself? To make him understand my side of things? To do all of the above?

But Samuel kept a patient and understanding look on his face. He noticed the fear that must have covered my face and smiled reassuringly. “It’s quite alright, Princess. You do not need to worry; I am here to help you, and not to judge you. The king and queen merely informed me of what happened so that I could better understand the work that we will need to do.”

“I…” The words fell from my lips in a stutter. “I r-really didn’t mean…”

“It’s okay, Your Highness,” he repeated. His voice was soothing. “As I said, I am not here to judge or to make you feel at all uncomfortable. All that I wish is to help you to better learn to control your powers. To understand from your perspective so that together we can prevent what happened during your Terrigenesis Ceremony from happening again. There is no need for you to feel shamed here. I promise you, that whatever you say within this room will NOT be spoken about with anyone else. You can speak to me in confidence, Your Highness.”

Speak to him in confidence? Even as young and inexperienced as I was, I understood that this would not be the case. Samuel was working for the royal family, and with Black Bolt and Medusa being the heads of that, he would no doubt go back and report to them on the progress that I’d been making. If, indeed, I was to make any progress at all. At the same time, part of me recognized that Samuel was trying to make me feel more comfortable and at ease, and I guess I could be grateful to him for that. We were somewhat far off me actually TRUSTING him, however, but we could make a decent start. I told myself to allow that.

“We will not do anything too heavy in this first lesson,” Samuel informed me. “Today, what I want to do is to grasp a better understanding of your powers and to help you to understand them, too. I believe that if you know what drives you to use your powers, and what brings them out of you. In doing so, I hope that you’ll learn how to control them… rather than them controlling you.” He paused for a moment. “Princess Natalia, are you aware that many psychic gifts are based on the emotions of the user?”

I chewed on the index of my index finger. “Oh?”

“This is not always the case, of course,” Samuel said, “but through my understanding and research in the matter, I have learned that many Inhumans who first manifest psychic abilities, find that these powers are tied heavily to the emotions that they are feeling at the time. This is, and forgive my assumptions, Highness, but I believe that this is the case with you. From my earlier discussion with the King and Queen, I believe that your powers, and most notably your power of Thoughtography, is based on how you feel.”

I remembered the fear. The pain. The unbridled RAGE that I felt towards the Genetic’s Council. The bubbling anger at being left to cower on the floor with nobody offering me even the slightest hint of understanding or compassion. I thought about how I wanted nothing more than to make the people who had done this do me SUFFER. I thought about the buzzing and whining noise in my head that came up every time I felt even the slightest bit annoyed. Samuel’s theory made sense, in my opinion. It did seem as though my powers could be drawn from the emotions that I was feeling at the time. Though, this did not explain the horrible images that my sick mind cooked up.

“You believe that my powers can be… that I can learn to control them if I learn to control my emotions, then?” The question may be simple, I may sound like an idiot for asking it, but I wanted to be sure that we were on the same page there. Controlling my emotions would be a lot easier said than done. There were certain things in life that made my blood boil, and I knew that trying to remain calm in the face of THOSE situations would be rather difficult. In the back of my mind, I prayed that Samuel wouldn’t offer me some bullshit theory such as to count to ten or hold my breath. Those things never worked, did they?

“That is exactly right, Princess,” he said. He went around behind his desk and removed a stack of white paper. He placed the paper down in front of me. “For your first lesson, we’ll start out with something simple. All that I want you to do is to try to put the images in your mind onto these pages. Don’t try to think of anything specific. Just… let anything that comes to your mind go down on the paper. I want to get a sense as to what your subconscious mind will come up with. Next week, we will discuss these and what you think they may mean. Can you do that for me, Your Highness?”

I nodded. It was all I could do, although this was reminding me far too much of my Genetic Testing. What was it with people and wanting to SEE the horrific images that came from my mind? Were they as masochistic as I seemed to be sadistic? Or was it something else entirely? Some other form of sick and twisted “interest” in the gruesome pictures that I concocted. I could only hope that the pictures I gave to Samuel would not be as awful as the ones I’d shown to Viktron.

“Thank you, Your Highness. When you have finished, please inform me, and I shall collect the images from you.” This made me feel a little unsure. What was he going to do with these pictures once he’d collected them? Show them off to his friends? Use them to have a gossip? ‘Oh, look at the pictures the princess made for me, isn’t she a right little freak?’ Yep. There went my mind, bitching and moaning and coming to the worst conclusions as always. I mentally scolded myself for that before putting my focus and concentration on the task at hand.

Closing my eyes, I placed a hand upon a sheet of paper. I concentrated on burning pictures from my mind. Nothing happened. I tried again. And again, nothing happened. I began to feel a bit frustrated with myself. Why did I even HAVE to go through with this? To stop me from hurting another Genetic Council member? To prevent what happened to Viktron from happening to anyone else? I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of frustration boiling my blood. Again, it felt as though I were the one suffering the most.

This may sound selfish, it may sound completely wrong, but over the past week I had managed to convince myself that Council Leader Viktron deserved what he got. He deserved for me to lose control of my newfound powers and lash out at him. He deserved to hurt. He deserved to be tormented by nightmares of the images that I had placed in his head. He deserved to see what it was like to be me in that moment. He deserved to go through my pain, to see the ramifications of his actions. After all, what comfort did he offer me?

Did he go to pick me up from the floor? Did he soothe me while I cried? Did he offer a hand to lift me up? Or did he merely stand there like a load and stare as though he were looking at a freak-show attraction in the circus? Staring at me with wide-eyes and a cold expression on his face. No compassion, no empathy. Not one ounce of either of those things did he bestow upon me, so why then should I have shown any to him? See, that’s the simple logic of the situation, isn’t it?

All the same, I knew that I would have to make the effort to control my powers. If not for myself, then for the safety of the ones that I DID care about. It was very easy for me to rationalize hurting a council-member, after all. Whether or not you agree with my thoughts on Viktron, they did come from a logic and sound fallacy of reasoning. I would be able to defend my actions against him until the cows came home. I knew that I would be able to rationalize this in my mind and heart to stop myself from feeling guilty about it.

Yet if I were to attack a member of my family, then I knew I would not be able to assuage the guilt that I’d feel. That feeling of remorse that came from hurting someone I loved, a remorse that I knew would not be so easy to just ‘get over’. If I lost control of myself and did to one of my family what I did to Viktron, then I knew the guilt would just eat me up alive. It would swallow me up like a black-hole and there would be no escape from it. None whatsoever. And heaven forbid, if I were to EVER hurt Maximus…

Even the mere thought of using my powers to harm my brother was enough to make me feel sick. That had been a horrifying prospect that haunted me from the very instance that I’d seen Viktron lying on the floor. From the very second, I had been told how dangerous my powers were, and the damage they could potentially do to a person’s mind and brain should they get out of control. If anything were to happen to my Max, if I were to even give him just a tiny migraine, oh, I shudder at the thought. I would rather give my own life than ever hurt him. I would rather spend a MILLION years slaving in the mines than even entertain the thought of bringing pain to my Max for a split second.

‘Come on, Natalia! Come on, you can DO this!’ I looked over at Samuel who was seated at his desk and writing something down on his notes. I placed the palm of my hand to my temple and pushed in, hard. ‘Damn it, I have to do this. For my family. For my Max. Come on. I have to do this NOW!’

The pictures, after some time, finally began to show themselves. It started with the horrendous headache and the buzzing sound that deafened me. Then, the images. The pictures that filled my mind. Such awful and gruesome things again — dead corpses, rotting flesh, bloodied and burned flesh. The sight of Attilan on fire. The Genetic’s Council burning alive, oozing and bubbling blackened flesh. My stomach churned as they came before my mind. One, two, three, four — on and on again. I clutched at my throat, covering my mouth as I felt I was going to retch. What in the name of HELL was wrong with me?

Then, mercifully, the images stopped. The buzzing sound became little less than a faint humming before it cut out entirely. My mind was my own once more. I stared in open-mouthed shock at the pictures that had been burned onto the paper before me. They looked, for all the world, as though they had been taken with an expensive camera. But no. They had come from my mind. “What the fuck, Natalia?” I whispered, shaking my head in disbelief. Why were the worst of the worst images coming forth into my psyche? This was madness.

“I…” I stood up and gathered the paper into my hands. “I-I’m done.” I glanced at the clock on the wall. Forty minutes had passed. It was coming up for three o-clock. Had it taken me THAT long to activate my powers? Why, when it only took me mere seconds to hurt Viktron? No matter now. I simply extended the paper to Samuel, my little hands trembling.

He took the paper from me. His expression was stoic as he looked down at some of the pictures I’d created. Oh, how I wished that I could read minds so that I could get an understanding of what he was thinking. Of how the images I’d created made him feel. Did he seem a little pale, or was that just my imagination? Oh, how I hoped it to be the latter. Samuel placed my “creations” down on his desk and faced me.

“Thank you, Your Highness. I will take a look at these, and next week, we shall discuss them further. I will arrange another time for us to meet. In the meantime, I want you to concentrate on being aware of your emotions. Every time that you may feel that you are going to lose control, or every time that you DO lose control, I would like you to take note of what you were feeling at the time. We will then discuss this next week, so that I can gauge whether there are certain triggers that may hinder your control over your powers.”

I nodded, feeling almost numb. Samuel and I exchanged a parting few words of thanks, and that was it. My first lesson, done. Somewhat easier than I’d been expecting — though in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but worry about what the next session, the next day, would bring…