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What Was Once the Kingdom of Fire

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Leo Valdez walked into the ballroom, his mothers hand on his shoulder.

The cavernous room was extravagant, with white polished floors, creme walls, and gold and dark red fixtures and designs. In the middle of the wide expanse of the ceiling hung a gold chandelier that held little candles, sending the light playing around the slightly dim room. It had a warm feeling to it. Regal, but warm.

People wearing swooping dresses waltzed around the room with men in embroided tuxedos. Piano was being played in the background, and the light sound of chatter drifted across the space. Guards in imperial uniforms were stationed around the perimeter of the room, not out of place and blending in easily.

Leo knew a number of the guards personally, and he actually had one walking beside him right now. His personal bodyguard, who usually accompanied him to events of such nature, Beckendorf. They were close enough to be family, and it seemed like he was always there. He was tall but muscular, and did his job fairly well if Leo could say himself. Once they were attending a charity event when a guy had grabbed Leo's arm from behind them and yanked him back. The prince barely had time to yelp before Beckendorf had the man pinned to the ground. He was that good.

As soon as they entered, the chatter picked up a bit, and then dwindled. He saw eyes on him, and raised his chin.

He looked up at his mom when she squeezed his shoulder. She was beautiful. Queen Esperanza. Her curls were half up, pulled out of her face and cascading down her back. She was wearing a crimson gown, which billowed and flowed out of her corset. It complemented the Latina's skin tone perfectly. A delicate, gleaming gold crown rested on her curls, and she smiled down at him before turning forwards the king. His dad.

Hephaestus was a burly man, with a thick brown beard. He was like man meets lumberjack meets king. His thick, calloused hand gently went to the the small of Esperanza's back, and they made their way towards a throng of nobles, the little prince trailing.

He wished the Family of Caelum was here. Jason came enough were they were beginning to become close acquaintances, and he was bored. It was common for royals from other kingdoms to travel to and from, dealing with foreign relations. Especially those from Caelum, as they were taking part in a vital business deal. But, he was on his own for tonight. He drifted around the edge of the room, Beckendorf''s hand on his shoulder, being bowed and curtsied to by nobles that he's never met before.

His mouth was starting to hurt by the time his mother met him, indicating that they could go. "You're Father's just going to finish up some things here, but we can go."

Nodding, Leo followed her out of the ball room, leaving the crowd of people behind and entering empty, echoing hallways. Esperanza's dress trailed behind her as she ruffled Leo's curls, smiling. "It's late. What about we finish that book, my lion?"

The prince looked up at her, smiling. "Please. My face hurts”. She laughed, shaking her head and staring down at him, her eyes gleaming.

They make their way to the royal wing of the palace/castle, and go through big, wooden French doors, and step into a large, cozy library. It had maroon walls lined in wood, wooden bookshelves, and a big fireplace. It was one of the few places of this whole castle that wasn't technically advanced. And they loved it.

Every night, Leo and his mom came here and read, going through book after book. Beckendorf stationed himself outside in the hallway, nodding, and they closed the doors behind them, Leo making his way to the couches. Esperanza grabbed the book and settled down next to Leo, pulling the little boy close. He sunk into her dress and leaned into her, closing his eyes as she opened the worn book. It was always around now that he seemed to crash, his mass amounts of energy suddenly dwindling. He listened as his mother read, starting to drift off.

And then there was a loud clang. And the screaming of guards. Leo felt his mom stiffen, and then blinked blearily, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

Esperanza was alert, standing up and grabbing Leo, pushing him behind her. They could hear screaming coming from outside the doors, and the princes heart sped up, unsettled. The door opened, and Leo jumped-he couldn't help it. "What's going on?" Esperanza demanded, stepping forward.

"We need to go. Now, My Lady”. Beckendorf said urgently, striding into the room. The queen's grip tightened on her sons hand. "What. Is going on”. She went to continue, but faltered when she saw smoke starting to collect outside of the hallway.

Letting go of Leo's hand, she sped walked to the door and peered into the hallway. She stiffened and froze, her back straightening. "Your Majesty-"

"Hephaestus. I need to get Hephaestus”.

"You can't-"

"Take Leo. Get him out of here”. Said boy was freaking out. He quickly ran out the door before either could protest, and stopped dead once he got in the hallway. A fire was billowing from the end of the hallway, leading out of the royal suite.

It was growing, eating and devouring at anything it could get a hold of. His heart stopped. His mom mentioned Hephaestus-his dad. His dad was that way. He made a move to run forward, to find his dad, do something, when his mom caught his arm.

Firmly, she took him and turned him towards her. "I need you," she started, "to go with Beckendorf”.

“But-" Both her son and the guard protested.

"I need," she said shakily, "to find your dad. I can't leave him”.

"Momma," Leo was about to cry, realizing what she was saying.

"I need you to be brave, my little lion. I need you to go with Beckendorf, and be safe. I love you. Te amo, mijo. So so much”. A tear ran down her face, and she bent down, hugged him, and then kissed his forehead. Leo was shaking, being rocked by sobs.

"No, you can't-" He wouldn't let go of her. She looked Beckendorf in the eyes.

"Take him. Go”.

He bowed his head, and complied. He had to tear the little boy away, who was now kicking and screaming and bawling.

Esperanza gave one last long look, and then turned towards the flames.

"NO!!!!" Leo was hysterical. Beckendorf hitched him over his shoulder and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction, his arm on Leo's back.

That was the last time that Leo Valdez saw his mother.