Part One : Beginnings
RuneShine and all related characters are copyrighted to Matt Bartlett
The sun doesn't seem want to rise up over the land this morning. The town of Kiaku is silent and still. Almost like it has died over the current years. The town is now flourishing with business and inhabitants but somehow is still unperturbed. Few movements are made on the streets, and the people on the streets are mostly beggars or street urchins. A small quantity of buildings litters the landscape. One mainly sticks out, however, and that is the church. With its large golden bells and gleaming white color, it almost looks out of place here. Inside, however, seems like a different story altogether.
"You're prayers are done, young man, please get up and let's get back." A young boy kneels at the altar inside the church. It is beautiful with a long red velvet carpet and intricately designed pews for sitting. The young boy, looking more like a young man, stands from his position. He is wearing basic street clothes like the beggars outside, but an aura of warmth flows from him. He doesn't move from the altar and continues staring into the stain-glassed windows, which line the opposite wall. Designs of angels and heavenly figures press from the glimmering cage.
"Matthew LaCroix! Let us go, now! You shouldn't be here right now!" The young boy turns around to a man in a seemingly glowing outfit. It looks like Matthew's clothes, however, so the man doesn't seem too authority like. Silently, the teenage boy revives from his entrancing and walks to the man. The man directs the boy out of the chapel and they leave.
Matthew and the man make an odd pair walking down the street. Matthew looks disappointed. The man sympathetically stops Matthew by standing in front of him. The dusty dirt road makes the man cough with his sudden stop.
"Matthew? What's wrong?" Matthew looks on earnestly.
"Why can't I stay and worship the god I believe in?" Matthew asks, "Mother Superior wouldn't mind, I'm sure. Besides, I don't want to go back to that orphanage."
"Why must you be so difficult?" the man asks, "What is this sudden liking of the worship of a higher power?"
"I don't know what you mean," Matthew says innocently, "Isn't this what you want me to do?"
"Yes, but somehow your intentions seem impure…"
"Luke! I can't believe you, of all people, would think that my meanings are anything other than obeying!"
"Are you sure it has nothing to do with the young lady there?" Luke Trinity, the man, asks.
"Well…." Matthew walks past Luke, ashamed that he's figured out his plan.
"I knew it!" Luke exclaims triumphantly, "Matthew, you're in love with her, aren't you?"
"Maybe I am…" Matthew continues to walk faster as Luke runs to him. He looks at Matthew apologetically.
"Matthew, I'm sorry," Luke explains, "I just think it has been ages since you loved anybody at all. Ever since… well, you know." Rage flares in Matthew's eyes. He looks almost as though he's going to lunge at Luke's throat and slash away like a leopard. Repressing the anger, Matthew continues to walk in the direction of the orphanage. Luke, still persistent on following Matthew, walks a distance from him, but still walks with him. He knows he has sparked something in the young man, as he runs his hand through his black hair. It is unruly and tousled. In fact, Luke hasn't gotten a wink of sleep for the last three days.
Matthew walks on, unaware that Luke is still behind him. He can see the orphanage up ahead. A young woman stands outside of the door. She is dressed in a plain pink dress, which looks dirty and worn. A basket hangs from her wrist and even from the distance he is standing, Matthew can see the emerald green facets the girl's eyes hold. Her blonde hair hangs limply to her waist and is tied off neatly with an elegant red ribbon. She spies Matthew and walks over to him.
"Excuse me, sir," she says, smiling, "I'm selling flowers." She tips the basket just enough for Matthew to see a batch of beautiful flowers laying stacked on top of each other. "They are only five bits each. Would you like to buy one?" Thinking it over, Matthew wonders what is behind this girl's peddling. No doubt, he thinks, she is poor. But why flowers when runids are so much easier to find nowadays? The flowers are beautiful, though, and so is the girl. Matthew searches his pockets and pulls out the last five bits he has with him. He shows them to her and she smiles again. A white gleaming smile, Matthew notices. Her features twitch ever so slightly as she reaches into the basket and pulls out a rose. It is a lovely red color. Almost the shade of rubies.
"Please accept this in my utmost thanks," the girl spouts out, "You are the only one who hasn't either ignored me or was ashamed for me. You see, I have no place to sleep, nothing to eat. My parents died recently, leaving me with my little brother."
"You're an orphan?" Matthew asks inquisitively.
"Yes, I am," the girl replies. Tears form in her eyes.
"Please don't cry," Matthew says sadly, 'I'm an orphan too…" The girl looks up into Matthew's icy blue eyes. She giggles through the tears.
"Maybe we have more in common than I had thought," she says relieved. Luke arrives at Matthew's side. He is somewhat out of breath, but still stands upright, instead of slouched over like would be imagined.
"Matthew, what are you doing?" Luke asks scornfully.
"I was buying a flower from…"
"You will do nothing of the kind!" Luke says, "We must get back to the orphanage!" Luke tries to pull Matthew away from the girl but Matthew practically knocks Luke to the ground. Matthew leans close to Luke's ear.
"Listen," Matthew says almost warningly, "This girl's an orphan, too. I think we should take her into the orphanage for a little while."
"But Matthew…" Luke's protest falls on deaf ears. Matthew stands back to face the girl.
"Thank you for buying my flowers but I really must be heading on…" the girl says. Matthew stops her from leaving.
"Miss?" Matthew asks humanely, "Would you like to come inside?"
"Oh, YOU live here?" the girl asks sorrowfully, "I'd have picked you to be a street beggar like me. No, please don't make the offer. You'll regret it."
"It's an orphanage. They accept people like you and me all the time."
"People like you and me?" The girl tilts her head slightly.
"Orphans. No place to go, no one to rely on but ourselves. Please do it. At least for tonight."
"I guess I could stay for a little while…" The girl thanks Matthew with a warm embrace.
"Thank you! I'll be back soon!" The girl runs away from the two men and Matthew helps Luke back to his normal state.
"Luke, I'm sorry about that…" Luke brushes himself and walks to the door of the orphanage. He turns to Matthew.
"Just don't expect me to defend you from Mother Superior!" Luke exclaims as he bolts into the building. Matthew, knowing he hit a nerve, runs after Luke.
Inside the orphanage, few young men and women are there. Most of the orphans are young children but Matthew and a few other orphans are older. The house is somewhat broken down inside but is livable. It is, after all, all the orphans have. A young girl, about Matt's age, runs out from a shadow in the room. Smiling, she stops right in front of Matthew.
"Matthew," she says, "I can tell from that fire in those eyes that you've been doing something you shouldn't have. Was it yelling at Luke because Mother Superior will have your head for that if she catches you now?"
"I got a little mad," Matthew explains sheepishly, "but nothing to get blown out of proportion." The girl runs off but not before Matthew can get in the last word.
"Claire!" Matthew yells to the girl. She turns to him. "Please don't tell anyone. I don't want to be in anymore trouble than I already am!" Claire Halliworth nods and walks over to another young woman. Matthew never noticed it before but Claire had gone through some changes since she first arrived. Her hair now shines with color, the flame red tresses flowing downwards. Her clothes look like his except feminine. Her eyes emit a strange yellow-green color, which never really showed before now. Her skin, though slightly dirty, is flawless. Matthew has never noticed this before but now has to admit that he doesn't mind it. The young woman she is with, though, is one he has never seen before. She is not happy looking or vibrant like Claire. Her fair colored hair surrounds her pale complexion. She is a somewhat heavy girl but the clothes she is wearing are very elegant. She looks towards Matthew and he sees her eyes. They are a deep crimson color. An awkward color for any eyes. Matthew ambles over to the two girls.
"Claire," Matthew says, "Who is this?" Claire turns towards Matthew, surprised.
"Oh," Claire says, letting out her relief, "This is Cleo. She's new to the orphanage." The girl curtsies toward Matthew and smiles a small smile.
"I was named for a warrior of the Killia War," Cleo explains, "It was in hopes for strength."
"I'm Matthew LaCroix, it's nice to meet you," Matt says. Just as Cleo and Matthew start with their hellos, the flower girl rushes into the building, her little brother hanging from her arm. Matt realizes he still has the ruby red rose from her and hands it to Claire.
"What's this for, Matthew?" she asks but Matthew doesn't answer. He walks to the girl who has bustled into the room. She holds a single briefcase sized bag in the hand that her brother doesn't occupy. Matthew starts to welcome her back when a strange stinging feeling overcomes him. It feels almost serene but still stings him like a bitter cold. Matthew collapses into a heap at the girl's feet and everything goes black.
Matthew's eyes open. He looking towards the ceiling now, and he moves freely. The sting has subsided and a figure stands over him. He sits up, eagerly in a defensive stance. The figure backs away from him and he looks at it. It is Claire. A flash of worry tinges her olive eyes as she scans Matthew over.
"Are you okay?" she asks. Her voice also carries that feeling of worry with it. Matthew gets up from his bed.
"What happened?" he asks. He looks into a mirror and walks to it. His brown hair shines with a copper streak, which never appeared there before. His rough skin now has a small bruise on it and his forehead bleeds from a small cut. Claire comes up from behind him.
"You fainted after that girl came into the orphanage," Claire explains, "It was strange to see but it happened. Just like when you came here at first…" The door suddenly bursts open and the alarmed Matthew and Claire turn towards it. The flower girl stands at the door, her face looks apologetic but pleading.
"Sir," she starts, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make that happen." Matthew walks to the girl and Claire escapes from the room.
"It's okay," Matthew claims, "I never caught your name, though."
"I'm Cecilia. Cecilia Trueblood," the girl says, "And you are?"
"I'm Matthew LaCroix," said Matthew, offering selflessly, "Where's your brother?"
"Oh, he's out with the other kids. I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Yeah, it's happened before."
"Do you know why?" Cecilia shifts her weight nervously.
"I don't know. It happened first when I came here and met Luke, then when I met Claire. This was the third time. I felt it faintly when I met with Cleo out in the other room but nothing notable."
"I think you should lay back down, Matthew." Cecilia walks out of the room as Matthew sits back onto the bed and begins to lay back down. A sudden crash comes from outside of the room and, Matthew bolts upright. He runs from the room, not knowing what to expect behind the door. As he flings open the door, he sees something which perplexes him. Cecilia stands outside, staggering under the weight of an unconscious Mother Superior.
"Matthew!" Cecilia exclaims, "Help!" Matthew takes Mother Superior from Cecilia's shoulders and carries her into his room. He lays her on his bed, Cecilia looking on.
"Luke!" Matthew cries out, "Luke! Hurry!" Luke rushes into the room, his white robe flying.
"What happened?" Luke asks. His voice is alarming.
"She… she just collapsed outside!" Cecilia explains, "I was leaving Matthew's room and she walked towards me! She asked who I was and then fainted!" Luke waves his hand in front of Mother Superior's face, trying to fan her with air. She starts to come to as Claire rushes into the room.
"Oh my god!" Claire shrieks. She turns from the four people and tears come to her eyes. Matthew runs to Claire's side and holds her around the shoulders.
"It's okay," Matthew tries to say calmly, "She just fainted." Matthew's voice shakes as he talks, making Claire start to sob. Matthew knows how Claire feels, considering her relationship to Mother Superior.
"Luke?" It is Mother Superior's voice that faintly emits from the small group around Matthew's bed.
"Yes, Mother Superior?" Luke asks. Claire and Matthew rush over to the bed, both full of hope.
"I fear that… my time…" Mother Superior starts to cough violently. Cleo appears in the doorway. Seeing the group around Mother Superior, she joins them.
"Save your strength," Luke urges. His voice is pressing and almost as painful as seeing Claire cry.
"No, Luke," Mother Superior says, brushing the man aside, "I'm… dying now… I can feel it. The… devil has…" Mother Superior faints again. Her chest heaves with breath, showing that she isn't dead, though. Luke tries to shake her back to consciousness. Another sudden crash comes from outside of the room. Matthew, Claire and Cecilia run out to the main room while Cleo and Luke try to revive Mother Superior.
When the three teens enter the room, they are met with the screams of the young orphans. Three soldiers, dressed in full armor and weaponry, stand in the doorway. They block any way of escaping the building. One of them looks over towards the small group of teens.
"There she is!" cries a soldier, "That flower girl!" Claire and Matthew look at Cecilia as she looks at the soldier, somewhat confused.
"You are under arrest," starts another soldier, "for the kidnapping of your younger brother."
"What?" Cecilia asks incredulously, "Why?" Two other figures, a male and female, become apparent behind the three soldiers.
"These two citizens claim that your younger brother is under their custody…"
"That's impossible! My parents are gone!"
"Please do not fight us. We are merely doing our job," the third soldier says.
"You can't…" Cecilia starts.
"Get her!" the head soldier exclaims.
Two of the soldiers dash toward Cecilia, grabbing her arms. She screams in pain.
"Stop it!" Claire shrieks as the soldiers start to walk away with Cecilia. Suddenly, Luke and Cleo dash out from behind Matthew. Luke runs at one of the soldiers and unsheathes a long white sword. He rams it through the soldier, causing blood to surge onto the floor. In doing this, Luke has provided Cecilia with enough of an advantage to escape from her captors. She runs over to Matt and Cleo as Luke slices another soldier across the chest, the armor doing nothing to hinder the sword's path. The soldier falls to the floor, dead. Luke looks toward the other soldier.
"You'll regret messing with the Crimson Rose Empire!" are the soldier's last words as he runs down the street towards the gates of Kiaku. Luke walks to the small group that has formed behind him. Cecilia is crying slightly, reeling from the experience she just had. Matthew is trying to calm her down as well as Claire, who is somewhat shaking. Cleo is just standing behind the three, expressionless.
"Are you okay?" Luke asks Cecilia.
"Yes," Cecilia says, "Thank you for defending me. I owe you my life."
"You don't owe me anything. Don't worry about it," Luke says calmly. Cecilia walks towards the front door.
"Matthew," Luke whispers, leaning towards Matthew's ear, "Why don't you and Claire go with her?"
"Can I too?" Cleo asks. She almost seems excited about it. Luke nods his head and the three walk after Cecilia.
Cecilia is across the dirt road. She stands, crying into her hands. Matthew and Claire walk up to her while Cleo hangs back at the building's door. Claire puts her arm around Cecilia's shoulder, trying to comfort her.
"What's wrong?" Claire asks her. Cecilia looks up at Claire and Matthew.
"That was part of the Crimson Rose Empire's Armed Forces," Cecilia explained through her tears, "They've been after me and my brother since my father died and my stepmother…" Cecilia can't continue, almost as though she is keeping a secret from the two people. Matthew now also tries to comfort her.
"Your stepmother…" Matt tries to continue for her. Cecilia looks up into Matthew's eyes.
"I can tell from your eyes that you really care," Cecilia says, "And you too, Claire." Both Matthew's and Claire's faces are distorted with looks of worry. Cecilia gives in. "My stepmother… she beat me. Both my brother and me. She would come home from the church each day after worshiping and would beat us. She would yell that we were sinners and Lucifer would have us as candy when we died and she obviously intended to get it into us." Matthew and Claire look horrified at this news while Cleo, still on the steps of the orphanage, watches on, wondering what the three are talking about. "One day, she had gone off to church. She had left me home alone to care for my brother since my father had died only weeks before. She had even started seeing a man. She didn't even care that my father was gone, and as far as she was concerned, I was now the biggest burden in her life! I packed up a few things and ran away, bringing Robert with me. She came home and when she couldn't find us to beat the hell out of us, she called on the police. They couldn't find us so they contacted the Armed Forces to capture me and bring back my little brother. She hated me from the start. I could see it. Her eyes weren't like yours. They were black as coal. No compassion or love… I never thought she could care about anyone, especially my brother, that way. I think it's for evil reasons, though." Cleo walks up to Cecilia and the others, now worried about Cecilia upon overhearing her problem.
"I'm… sorry," was all that Cleo could stutter out before walking back into the building.
"Well," Matthew starts, "If it makes you feel any better, the Crimson Rose murdered my mother and father." Claire looks at Matthew concerned. She knew about this but didn't think he would want to bring it up.
"Why?" Cecilia asks him curiously. Matthew, Claire and Cecilia stand frozen in time, silent. Suddenly, Luke comes running out of the orphanage.
"Is Mother Superior alright?" Claire asks before anyone else does.
"She's still unconscious," Luke says grieving, "I have an idea." The group looks at Luke with puzzlement. "Why don't you all go to the Centennial Faire over in Constantine?"
"That's today?" Matthew asks, somewhat excitedly.
"Yes," Luke responds, happy that he cheered up the crowd, "I think you three and Cleo should go. It would be fun and you'd get to see the king."
"I could sell some flowers," Cecilia says, "They'd sell well there."
"So it's settled," Claire says, "We'll head off to the Centennial Faire. Luke, could you get Cleo please?" Luke walks into the building and seconds later, Cleo emerges from the doors of the orphanage. She doesn't have any emotion on her face as she walks past Claire and Matthew and stares into Cecilia's eyes. She then, as though a large cloud has been lifted, smiles a warm smile and her eyes change. Somehow, they lighten or widen. Something no one can put their fingers on.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Cleo asks impatiently, "Let's go to the fair!" Cleo prances off to the fair, somehow seemingly odd. Claire walks after her and as Matthew intends to join them, Cecilia stops him.
"What's wrong?" he asks as Cecilia's thin arm couldn't actually hold him back but he stops anyhow.
"Cleo," Matthew interrupts.
"Yes, Cleo," Cecilia corrects herself, "When she looked me in the eye, her eyes turned into that coal color I had told you about. Remember? About my stepmother?"
"Really?" Matt asks, "That doesn't mean anything."
"Oh yeah?" Cecilia asks defensively, "Well, this is what happened when my stepmother's eyes changed." Cecilia turns her back to Matthew and pulls the neck of her dress down just enough for Matthew to see a large bruise running downward. Cecilia turns back to the now astonished Matthew. "The others healed already…" Neither Matthew nor Cecilia has to say anything. They can tell what the other is thinking as they walk off after Claire and Cleo.
After walking in practical silence for about an hour or so, the four reach the gates of Constantine. Screams of joy and laughter flow from inside. Cleo, with no hesitation at all, bolts into the fair. Claire stops, waiting for Matthew and Cecilia who were about a minute back. Now alone, she reaches up to her ears, pulling something back from them. Two small jewels, royal blue in color, sit in her hand, held in silver clasps. They are earrings, which Claire was given before she had ended up at the orphanage. That was what she liked to think, anyway. She looks closely at the jewels, seeing some kind of scratch in them. She tries to wipe it off but it doesn't work. She realizes that the jewels are inscribed with a symbol of some sort before but failed to find out what the symbol meant.
"Claire," a voice says. Claire looks up, seeing Matthew in front of her. "Why aren't you inside?"
"I was waiting for you and Cecilia," Claire says, "Now let's go in and have some fun!" Claire runs into the gates. As Cecilia runs into the gates after her, flower basket on arm, she can hear Matthew mutter something under his breath about needing some fun.
The three (Cleo ran off to someplace else) orphans walk over to a large crowd of people all standing around, hissing, booing, and laughing. They have formed a large circle around something that they can't quite see. Screams of pain are heard from within the circle, however, as Matthew and Claire try valiantly to look over the unruly crowd. Matthew taps a large man on the back. He turns to him.
"Excuse me," Matthew says, "What is this about?"
"Hey, kid!" the man yells out obnoxiously, "Some woman's being stoned for being a witch!" Claire decides to break into this.
"You mean they're hurting her just because she isn't like them?" Claire asks.
"Yes! Witches are evil! She could torch us or something!" The man turns back to the stoning, obviously fed up with the teens' questions. Matthew, Claire, and Cecilia try to break through the thick density of the crowd. Finding openings and small places to squeeze through, Matthew ends up being into the circle first. He can see the woman now. She is chained up and locked in stocks. Her head is down from the crowd, shielding her face from the next stone to be cast. She is bleeding extensively. Her clothing is strange to Matthew, the white tank top and blue jacket covering her upper body. Some kind of cloth around her waist, which only came down to halfway to her knees. Her auburn hair drapes down to the cobblestone. For the moment, Matthew believes she is dead. Only after she looks up at him, does he realize he must help her. Her glassy hazel eyes bore into his heart, creating that stinging sensation once again. He holds himself up as the feeling passes.
Claire and Cecilia join Matthew, seeing the behavior of the crowd.
"Matthew!" Cecilia cries, "Do something!" Matthew, now with a regained sense of strength, run over to the stocks where the girl is being held. A few stones fly, landing at his feet. Yells of protest ring out from the crowd.
"Get out of there, boy!"
"Watch out! She'll fry you!"
"She's dangerous! Move!"
"She's nearly dead! Let us finish the job!" Matthew stands tall, protecting the "witch".
"Look at yourselves!" Matthew cries out, "Stoning this poor girl because you think she's a witch! Do you have proof?" A man steps out from the crowd.
"She just appeared out of thin air! We saw her! It was witchcraft!" The yells tart to rise as Matthew stands with the girl.
"So what?" Matthew asks, "Has she killed anyone? Has she done any harm? If you want throw stones! I won't stop you! I'm an orphan from Kiaku! Nothing left to live for anyhow! If you take her life, you'll have to take mine, too! The Crimson Rose Empire killed my parents! Why not take me too?" Cecilia tries to run up and help Matthew but Claire holds her back, knowing that everything will be okay. "Does anyone dare to?" Matthew's challenge makes most of the crowd back off from the circle, some still stand, looking at Matthew with dead eyes. They too join their comrades, knowing there is more strength in numbers.
Matthew starts to unchain the girl as Claire and Cecilia run over to him. Claire embraces him.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again!" she exclaims, more out of being thankful than being hateful, "They could have killed you!" Matthew unhooks the last of the girl's chains as Cleo runs up to the group.
"I just heard what happened!" she says, "Matthew, you're so brave!" Matthew continues to be silent as he picks up the girl's body.
"Is she alive?" Cecilia asks. Matthew nods his head as he starts towards the gates of Constantine.
"Where are you going?" Claire asks.
"I'm bringing her to the orphanage to see if they can help her," Matthew calls back. Without any more words, Matthew walks out of the town, the proclaimed witch slung over his shoulder. Suddenly, shouts of joy ring out over the three girls who remain and they swing around to see a large parade going down the street, people lining it like banks for a river.
Cleo runs over to the parade to see while Claire and Cecilia simply walk over, not too overly excited at the moment. As they reach the crowd, they see the King Hawthorne being carried down the street in a golden carriage pulled by two gleaming white horses. The king is smiling warmly, his thick red robe drapes slightly over the side of the carriage and his thin brown beard curves with his smile. Behind him is Queen Diane, a beautiful young lady whom seems only half of King Hawthorne's age. She has silver hair to her back and wears the same robe as Hawthorne. Those two pass on their carriage as Prince James and Princess Sheryll pass on an identical carriage. Prince James, though somewhat snobbish to many people, is smiling a warm smile. This much joy hadn't been seen on his face since he was married into the royal family. He lightly brushes his silver hair, obviously from his mother, to the side with a quick flick of his wrist. Princess Sheryll, however, had been a problem for her father recently. She has dreams, which don't settle well. Dreams of faraway lands and unexplored territory. Treasure and adventure. She hated being cooped up in the castle like some kind of prisoner (maybe prisoner wasn't the right word…). Failing to negotiate with her father, she had decided to run away before, which Claire had heard before, but she was caught by the guards at the gates and was brought back to the castle. That's why there were ten guards around the carriage instead of the four that flanked the king's. Claire began to smile. Maybe this day can turn out okay, Claire thought to herself. As if on cue, an arrow flew through the air, narrowly missing the passing king and queen. Many people turned towards where the shot had originated from, including Claire and Cecilia. Cleo kept watching the parade, oblivious to anything. The archer stood, poised to shoot another arrow towards the parade. Claire, knowing what the archer was trying to do, ran at him. She could clearly see the familiar mark of the Crimson Rose Empire on the man's chest as he pulled back the bow to launch another arrow. Many people were becoming frantic.
"Stop the king! Save him!"
"Protect him with your lives!" Claire, knowing she was the king's only hope, lunged for the archer, but not before he could let go of the new arrow. Claire watched the arrow as it flew overhead and struck, burying itself into King Hawthorne's chest. The king, not being a very strong man, fell from the carriage, immediately dead from the shot. Claire had failed, she knew, but how? How could she have missed the archer? How could she go back and face Matthew and Luke? Head hanging low, Claire walked away, Cecilia and Cleo still standing in the crowd.
End of Part One