49- In Which Plans Are Formed

Elena woke up to the sound of an oppressive CRUNCH. She rain had stopped, but it was still dark. She stood up to inspect the crunch and soon found the crunch was from a large Kingdom crushing trees as it descended. And it was still moving.

She ducked back and explained what she had seen to Lawson, and he looked relieved. Phinn was no longer there, and it looked as though the flattening of the trees had begun to wake up Hayden. He was dazed and uncomfortable, wincing as he sat up, and putting a hand gently on the back of his head to check for blood.

"Stay still," Elena advised him. He peered at her curiously, and didn't respond (though he did stay still as instructed, which was nice). She looked back up at the Kingdom and asked, "What Kingdom is that?" (There was no way for anyone else to know just yet.)

The Kingdom stopped descending about twenty feet off the ground and hovered in place. It was only a matter of time before she saw a rope ladder.

With the trees pushed aside like that, she could see it wasn't actually dark outside—it was just very cloudy and the trees had been covering up what little light remained. Maybe it would start raining again soon.

Phinn suddenly jumped down from the tree. He didn't say anything, but he did look rather proud of himself. It was safe to assume he woke up at some point earlier and had been very motivated to do something about their situation. And, judging by the Kingdom acting as their rescue party, it was also safe to assume he had been successful.

"Can you stand up, Hayden?" Phinn questioned, holding out his hand to help Hayden up.

"I think so," Hayden said absently. As he reached out for Phinn, he winced at the movement in his arm, perhaps forgetting his injury, prompting Phinn to withdraw.

"Maybe you'd better not, right?" Phinn concluded.

"Phinn should you even be up?" Elena asked.

"I'm fine," Phinn snapped immediately. "I fixed things, didn't I?" He gestured over at the rope ladder that had dropped from the Kingdom. Lawson pushed himself up against the tree, trying to sit up straighter so he could see who was going to come down. Elena wondered if he was able to actually see that far.

She judged he could, because there was disappointment when he saw Quentin. While Lawson may have been disappointed to see Quentin, Elena was extremely relieved. He skipped the last few rungs and jumped down, approaching the group with caution, as if they might attack him.

"You guys are in rough shape," Quentin evaluated.

"We were attacked," said Elena.

"By who?" Quentin asked.

"Everyone," Phinn answered. "Judge Hunt was there, you know?"

"We haven't confirmed Judge Hunt is our enemy," Quentin said.

"He was there," Hayden said, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular.

Quentin didn't have a quick retort. "You're sure?"

"Yes. It was him." Hayden turned his head to the side, squinting his eyes. Elena tried to look at what he was looking at, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in front of him.

Quentin took a deep breath, shaking his head. "Once we're on board, tell me exactly what happened," he said. "Everyone should hear this, and you all need medical attention."

"Which Kingdom is it?" Elena asked.

"Sage's," Quentin answered. "It's the only one we could get off the ground, and we didn't want to put Ryder in danger by taking Snow. It'll be all right, though." He knelt beside Hayden and inspected him for injuries. "Phinn, can you carry Lawson?"

"Yeah, no problem," Phinn said. Before even acknowledging Lawson, Phinn grabbed him under his arms and practically flung him around, easily lifting him into the air. Lawson groaned in protest but Phinn ignored him.

Quentin steadily started to help Hayden to his feet. But, when he was about halfway up, he began to wobble, then his legs collapsed underneath him and he went completely limp, and Quentin tried to catch him as he fell. Elena covered her eyes as Quentin instructed Phinn to come back with a vessel. Phinn didn't argue and climbed the ladder with Lawson over one shoulder.

"What exactly happened to him?" Quentin asked as he gently lay Hayden down and looked him over more carefully. "Start to finish."

"Uhh…" Elena stuttered, trying to remember the start. "We fell from the Kingdom. We all kind of crash landed. He said he blacked out for a bit, but I didn't see. He was bleeding a little bit from the back of his head. Then the Others came. We ran, but he had to fight them all."

"The claw marks," Quentin concluded.

"He also fell on a rock and hurt his back," Elena went on. "Then we came here to look for Lawson. Judge Hunt was here. He's controlling the man who's been poisoning all of you. He shot Hayden—Hunt did. Then the other man knocked him out."

Quentin didn't say anything as he pulled at the cloth Elena had crudely tied around Hayden's arm where he had been shot. As soon as the wound was fully visible, Quentin let out a loud, long and defeated sigh.

"What is it?" Elena asked. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No," Quentin said, softly reaching down and touching the strange white substance around the bullet hole. "You did everything you could."

"What happened?"

He turned and looked at the place that Hayden and been watching so intently. "He was hallucinating," he said quietly.


"Hayden was poisoned."

"Poisoned? How?"

"The gun. The bullet, that is."

Elena waited for him to keep going. "He'll be okay, right?" she finally asked though she was reluctant to hear the answer because of how pessimistic Quentin's expression looked upon this recent discovery.

Quentin bit his lip and assessed the damage. "It's the Others' poison, not the special poison they're using to put us in comas," he said.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

Quentin only turned his head a little in response.

"He'll be okay?" Elena repeated.

"This long without the treatment, it's a wonder he's alive," Quentin said honestly. "So I don't know. But Hayden's been poisoned by the Others many different times, so maybe he'll do better than a first timer. We have to work quickly and get the treatment in him as soon as possible."

"But Hayden's strong. He'll be okay."

Elena wished it had been Quentin who said the words because it would have sounded much more believable coming from him.

When Phinn returned, Quentin explained what had happened, and Phinn appeared to have the same outlook as Quentin concerning how well this would turn out for Hayden. They carefully got Hayden into the small boat, and all climbed in as well.

The boat rose straight up to the hospital room window, which was already open. Cole, Ryder and Sage were all in there, undoubtedly expecting there would be a necessity for it. They helped get Hayden through the window as tenderly as possible as Phinn excused himself to go retrieve Lawson. Turner watched from one of the beds, looking more pathetic than even before (Elena didn't think that was possible) because he was starting to get weak again after two days of not eating following his recovery. For someone with such a narrow build as Turner, it was already apparent that he was going to get worse very quickly.

Quentin began to hook up all the necessary machines and tubes to save Hayden, but he was frowning disapprovingly all the while. Based on Sage, Ryder and Cole's faces, they also didn't expect Hayden to recover. Turner sighed deeply, watching them scramble to do what they could. Elena hoped the ever-optimistic Turner might at least give her a look of reassurance, but he was understandably at a bit of a loss for optimism at the present moment.

A few minutes later, Phinn reentered with Lawson. Cole managed to get out one half-hearted mocking laugh at Lawson's most recent misfortune before he went somberly silent again. The chains on Lawson's wrists had been broken (no doubt Phinn's clever doing with some kind of tool he had found on the way) but of course nothing could be done about the binding on his face.

"So Judge Hunt is our enemy, then," Sage reiterated, following Elena's explanation of the events. "He's a demon."

"Hayden didn't seem to think so," Phinn interjected.

"He said Hunt was using dark magic," Elena added.

"So who is the guy who's poisoning us?" Ryder asked, pulling regretfully at her short hair (recently styled in a much cuter fashion following her surprise haircut).

"Hayden recognized him right before he was attacked," Elena said. "But he didn't say who."

"What did he say?" Quentin pressed.

Elena looked to Phinn, hoping he remembered everything in greater detail. "Something about the King telling the truth, right?" Phinn tried, looking to Elena for confirmation, but she shrugged helplessly (honestly, she was a little fixated on what Hunt had said to her rather than anything else). "He said 'neither story was true' or something like that, didn't he?"

"What does that mean?" Cole wondered.

But no one else knew.

"Hopefully Hayden will wake up," Quentin said. "Not just for his own sake, but for ours as well."

"Hunt said he didn't want to kill Hayden," Elena said firmly. "He said he didn't want Hayden to come back as a demon to kill him in return."

"Hayden would never do that," Ryder said in a voice that suggested she was angry at Elena for even bringing up the idea.

"Hunt also said that Hayden looked like his father," said Phinn. "I don't know if that means anything, all right? But that's what he said. Right before he shot him." Then he uncrossed his arms and glanced around the room. "Where's Anya?"

"She wanted to stay in the Storms," Cole answered. Phinn looked oddly disgruntled by this news.

"You were all able to get rid of the Others?" Elena asked (no one had really explained how all that had been resolved).

"Quentin, Ryder and Sage showed up a few minutes after you went over the edge and Hayden went down to get you," Cole said. "We were fine."

Phinn stood still, still looking at everyone else in the room with just his eyes. "I'll go back later," he said defensively, as if expecting to hear an argument for his decision.

Elena was glad he decided to stay. Everyone needed to be together at this point, especially Phinn since he and Elena were the only ones with the first person account of what had happened with Judge Hunt. Even though they'd already explained everything, there wasn't a way to know if they'd forgotten something important that they hadn't recognized the importance of at the time.

Hayden let out a long but quiet moan as Quentin extended his arm and began to clean the wound created by the bullet. "That's actually a good thing," Quentin told them in response to their worrying about what that sound meant. "It shows that the pain in his arm is worse than the pain created by the poison. Trust me, when they poison is in you, there's nothing else but that. So, he might have a higher immunity to the poison than I thought." He turned the dial on one of the machines (perhaps increasing the painkillers). "He might live through this after all."

Elena sighed with relief that none of the others followed up with, but she knew they were all happy to hear the news.

"Phinn," Quentin started, "Ms Elena tells me you received a blow to the head and spent some time unconscious. Is this true?"

Phinn stood up straighter and looked fully prepared to deny it happened. Then he glanced at Elena with a complicated expression. Finally he faced Quentin again and said, "Yeah. I feel okay now besides a headache. But I'm gonna lay down, okay?"

Every pair of eyes in the room got a little wider after that statement.

"Just to be sure," Phinn mumbled, looking down so no one could see his face.

"I'm glad to hear that," Quentin said after an uncomfortable and extremely awkward silence (on everyone's part).

Elena was very glad to hear it. Phinn got a boatload of bonus points from all his brothers and sisters just then when he displayed the ability to honestly report, gauge and treat his own injury, as opposed to yelling that he was fine (as he did to Elena earlier). Maybe this would lead to less forced sedation "for his own good." Or maybe Phinn had begun to learn and understand the basics of interacting with people. Maybe his day stuck to a wall with the inability to speak forced him to listen and think about things.

He was annoyed with how everyone was reacting, though, so he gestured grandly at Lawson and Turner. "What are we going to do about them?" he demanded. "Is our plan still the same? We're going after that book or what?"

"We were hoping the book had some way of getting rid of that stuff on them," Elena explained to Quentin, Sage and Ryder (apparently, Cole had explained most of the events they had missed, but Elena was just making sure he hadn't left out that part).

Quentin raised his eyes across the room to where Turner and Lawson were. Both of them looked completely disengaged. Even when their fate was being discussed, they didn't look up. Lawson had turned onto his side and was staring blankly at the floor, and Turner appeared halfway between asleep and awake. It looked like they didn't care.

Maybe they were too weak to care. Maybe they had given up.

As Quentin moved across the room, Turner's eyes vaguely followed him, but once he blinked, he was ready for a nap. Lawson didn't even bother pretending he was interested, even when Quentin left the room. The others looked at each other, then tentatively followed after him, figuring he had more to say.

When they were out into the hallway, Quentin was leaning against the wall opposite to the door. He gestured slightly to Sage (who was last out of the room) to close the door. She glanced back skeptically, and he nodded, so she closed it.

"Is there a secret you want to keep from them?" Cole questioned.

"It's not a secret," Quentin said. "They know the situation."

"What's the situation?" Elena asked (since apparently everyone knew but her).

"Hayden was going to guide us to the Clouds," Ryder explained.

"Oh," Elena said, realizing the fault in that plan now.

"We have to discuss alternative possibilities," Quentin suggested.

"He would never call to us," Sage said firmly, referring to their mutual father.

"There isn't another way to find it," Ryder said.

"What about…?" Phinn started absently, stealing a quick glance at Elena.

"No," Ryder interrupted him. "Not an option."

Surprisingly, Phinn lowered his head and didn't pursue whatever he was going to say. The rest of them seemed to know. Again, Elena was the only one in the dark. And whatever this mysterious method was, it must have concerned her because they were all looking at her.

"We can try going to Dorn and asking around there," Quentin said quietly.

"Right!" Ryder agreed. "We can see if the Clouds passed through there since we left. And Cerah, the Imperial City." She was now looking to Elena for confirmation. "Our father docks there sometimes."

"Meanwhile, we're wasting time and giving Hunt more time to mess around and poison us," Sage said gravely.

"I think we ought to just…" Cole trailed off before he finished, looking up at Phinn, and then over at Sage.

It was clear to Elena that the group was divided: Quentin and Ryder on one side, while Cole, Sage and Phinn were on the other. Those three collaborating meant the idea was probably dangerous and risky.

"What is your idea, Phinn?" Elena finally asked.

Everyone went silent, because no one wanted to be the one to say it. Until Sage realized that everyone had become uncomfortable, and she had no problem saying it (she just figured it would sound better coming from someone else). "When a Chaste Beauty Awakens, we all learn the location of our father's Kingdom," she said simply.

"You know what we'd be forcing Elena to do just to Awaken another Chaste Beauty," Ryder said immediately. "How would you like to be in her situation?"

"I wouldn't," Sage said with a shrug. "But it's not about me and I'll never be in the situation."

"Wait," Elena said. "When a Chaste Beauty Awakens, you all learn about where the Kingdom of Clouds is?"

"Yes," said Quentin in a reserved voice. "So that we may have the opportunity to claim her for ourselves. It's how Lawson was able to find you in the Clouds so quickly when you first Awakened."

Elena was initially unsure what this meant. Then it processed: there was only ever one Chaste Beauty at a time. A new Chaste Beauty Awakened when the previous one lost her virginity or died. In order to Awaken another one, Elena would have to…

Sage cleared her throat. "It doesn't have to be bad," she said in a tone that was the closest to comforting Sage would be able to muster. "You can choose. Hayden, Lawson and Turner are too weak, so it's between Quentin, Cole and Phinn."

"Wait!" Elena said frantically. "I want to check the cities first!"

"And leave me out of this," Cole said as if it was all about him. "No way I'm doing that."

"We're going to check the cities first, as Ms Elena requested," Quentin declared.

"That's stupid," said Sage. "But I'll set a course for Dorn to humor you. Fine." She looked over at Elena. "If you really care about us at all, though, you'll cut the shit and get over it. We have to move fast. That vision world is fake, so don't get all sentimental about saying goodbye and grow up. Do your duty. The Chaste Beauty serves the Lord."

"Sage…" Ryder pleaded.

"Choose someone and do it quick," Sage continued. "If I were you, I'd go with Phinn. He has the most experience." She glanced sideways at Phinn who immediately looked away from her.

Sage sneered at each of them individually, and Phinn let out an exasperated sigh at her comment. Elena already felt weary of this decision she had to make as Sage left the hallway on her way up to the Wheel Room (even though they were supposed to never be alone). Yes, Elena had recently come to terms with the reality of the world and knew all the people in the visions were only figments from a dream. But still, the thought of leaving them forever terrified her, especially since the way to do this would be very—finite.

"Elena, please know that we will not ask anything of you that you don't feel comfortable doing," Quentin said. "We'll find another way."

"That's kind of an absurd thing to say," Cole interrupted. "Sage was right. The Chaste Beauty serves the Lord. That's us."

"I think we should explore all of our options before doing that," Ryder said, glaring at Cole to shut him up.

Cole put his hands up defensively.


Phinn hardly got the syllable out before Ryder interjected with, "You don't have a say in this, Phinn. Don't even bother."

"Why don't I have a say?" Phinn questioned. "You know it's gonna end up being me, right? Hayden, Lawson and Turner can't. Cole and Quentin won't."

The way he spoke was so deductive and out of character. He called them each by their full names.

"Just stay out of it," Ryder ordered. "We'll figure something else out. All right, Elena?"

"All right." But she was barely able to hear herself produce the words.

Phinn shook his head and said, "I'm gonna lie down."

He pushed past Ryder and back into the hospital room. Quentin gave Elena a reassuring pat on the shoulder and followed him inside, while Ryder only offered a weak smile, gesturing for Cole to follow her as well.

Cole made a move for the door, but then he stopped and looked Elena up and down, adding, "You're having fake visions. We need a new Chaste Beauty at this point anyway. You might as well."

With that, he turned to go back where everyone else was, leaving Elena standing there alone, left to think about everything that had been said, and exactly what it meant to say goodbye to the first seventeen years of her life.