2- In Which Elena Faces the Sons
It took a while to muster up the courage, but Elena eventually did leave the bedroom. She had only been in the Kingdom of Mist once before, and the only part of it she had actually seen well enough to remember had been the dungeon. There were a lot of windows in the blue-themed Kingdom, which surprised her because Sage, owner of the Kingdom, seemed to be a very private person. Not that she was shy (because she definitely wasn't) but that she didn't share her feelings. She normally opted to use violence or profanity when she felt her initial explanation of things was insufficient.
Sage wasn't terribly difficult to figure out. Out of all the Seven Sons, Elena had probably interacted with her the least. That that was partially both their faults. Sage didn't like anyone (or interacting with anyone), while Elena found Sage scary when she was angry (which was basically all the time).
And it wasn't only her personality that was callus and unapproachable, but her entire demeanor and appearance as well. Although her natural body type suggested she was a delicate ballerina, Sage actively worked against that by wearing men's clothes and cutting her hair like a boy. She wasn't a girl with a boyish haircut—she deliberately put no effort into her potentially adorable appearance. Then again, maybe she put effort into making sure that her potentially adorable appearance remained only potentially so.
Recently, any time Elena had to find anyone, she just headed to the hospital room since there was always someone injured to be found there. But, on her way, she came across the aforementioned Sage who looked very much like she was on her way to visit Elena. It wasn't difficult to figure out why, because Sage had been the biggest advocate for Elena's "early retirement." So, she was probably coming to find out if Phinn had done the deed or coming to yell at Elena if she had already learned that Phinn had not done the deed.
Elena supposed the conversation wasn't going to be very awesome either way.
"I guess you heard the news already that, as expected, my father has not come back to Dorn in the short time we've been away," Sage said very aggressively.
"Phinn told me."
"And how did you manage to make yourself so undesirable that even Phinn couldn't get it up for you?" Sage questioned.
"Do you realize that we're all teetering on the edge of death while we wait?" Sage demanded. "Our only hint is that book, and the sooner we get it, the less of a chance we have of dying, or extremely painful poisoning. We don't have time for you to be shy!"
"Phinn said he couldn't do it."
"Don't try to blame Phinn. This is on you. If any of us get hurt from this point on, it's on you, got it?"
Elena remained silent. She knew whatever she said would just be ridiculed.
"We're on our way to Cerah, and there's only a chance he'll be there," Sage went on. "So whenever you get your nerve, make sure you let Phinn know. In the meantime, Cole's been missing for an hour. We're checking around for him. He might be glued to a wall somewhere, after all."
She turned her back to Elena, but Elena called out, "Let me help look for him!"
"The only way you're useful to us right now is on your back," Sage snapped. "So have a worthwhile vision or give it up. Those are your two options."
Elena was trying to be nice to Sage (because this was her Kingdom) but she wasn't sure how long how she would be able to keep it up at the rate the rude things were spewing from Sage's mouth.
Sage crossed her arms as she started to depart. "Hayden woke up for a few minutes," she reported, sounding a little more forgiving. "He was hallucinating, though. He didn't say much. Quentin just put him under again."
Sage didn't offer anything further, and backed up, returning in the direction she had come, leaving Elena standing there alone in the hallway. She had to debate whether she wanted to investigate the hospital room or if she wanted to start blindly searching around in the Kingdom for Cole.
Elena didn't have a very high opinion of Cole. He was whiny, selfish, judgmental and an all-around unpleasant person to have a conversation with. Even as she actively thought about it, she couldn't recall any redeeming qualities he had ever proven he was hiding away. Then again, he was only fourteen years old, and never had anyone to raise him or teach him any manners (his mother died when he was born). Elena guessed those were good enough excuses for being such a dick, but sooner or later someone would have to educate him on how to positively interact with people.
Despite not being part of his fanclub, Elena did have to admit that Cole was downright precious looking. Though he was fourteen, he could have easily passed for eleven. He had big, round eyes that made him look innocent, and his entire wardrobe was considerably too small for him (attributed to his recent growth spurt that made him about Elena's height). He was very cute, which made it difficult to detest him sometimes because Elena would rather pat him on the head and read him a bedtime story. She wished his personality could be as sweet and charming as his appearance.
She knew he wasn't good in crisis situations, and he had already spent some time once with his hand nailed to the wall until he was rescued. If he was restrained by the Stranger's odd binding substance—alone, silenced and immobile—she imagined he was freaking out. Though, Elena had to admit that she wouldn't be too upset if his mouth was bound shut like Turner and Lawson's. He often said things that didn't need to be said.
Well, in the end, she supposed it made more sense to go to the hospital room to get more details (a lame excuse, yes, but it works). So, still hardly able to believe what had almost happened less than an hour ago, she began the hike up to the hospital room in the Kingdom of Mist.
Elena wasn't sure if she was supposed to knock. The door was open, so she only stood awkwardly in the doorway until Quentin looked up and acknowledged her presence.
Quentin was powerful and strong: very tall and sturdy, and he bore the strongest resemblance to the King (their father). He was also intelligent and resourceful, and remained patient for a very long amount of time. However, when he finally did become stressed out, his frustration manifested in the form of violence he always tried to justify. He presented a specific persona that was carefully crafted to depict him as respectful and pacifistic, but he was really quite the opposite of that.
Still, perhaps he was the most rational of the Sons. And the only people he ever seemed to expel his anger towards were his brothers. All of his siblings disliked him the most (even though they had much more obvious character flaws) simply because it appeared as though he might be the most fit to take the Kingship. After all, he was already married and none of the others ever indicated that they even had a significant other. He was married to a woman named Jennifer (Jenny) who had been a Chaste Beauty two years ago, and was currently somewhat pregnant. She supported Quentin entirely and was blind to his secret nature, fully believing he would take the Clouds. Elena wasn't sure who she felt would be the best King (or Queen) but she maybe didn't necessarily think it was Quentin.
Sure, he had always been very kind to her and patient (and rarely became frustrated with her questions) but she didn't know if his approach was sustainable in a world where people came back from the dead for revenge. Since the beginning of the insanity with Judge Hunt and his most powerful servant, the Stranger, Quentin had been the most consistent and the most objective to the actions that needed to be executed in order to keep everyone safe.
All this was admirable. But still…he was missing something.
He swallowed hard and waited for her to speak. She could tell he was eagerly waiting to hear the good news that Phinn had done—well, you know.
She broke eye contact with him and looked around the crowded room. Too many extra beds had all been shoved inside in order to keep everyone as together as possible. Hayden was in the corner, asleep and breathing steadily. Then there were two empty beds, one of which looked slightly disturbed like someone had been laying in it recently, and then Lawson was in the last bed, rolled over onto his side so he wasn't facing her. Since she hadn't said anything yet, it was possible he didn't even know she was in there.
Lawson wished he was complicated, but he really wasn't. He was extremely handsome and charming (and fully aware of it too). When Elena first came into this world, he had been the first to kidnap her and introduce her to the concept of flying Kingdoms and demons existing. At first, he hadn't been terribly personable (partially because of the demon that was sucking out his ability to sleep and he had gone several nights without doing so) but, over time, he became progressively warmer and accommodating.
He was competitive, though. Elena began to suspect that his half-hearted maybe-proposal of marriage to Elena had only been because he wanted to have a wife. He was envious of Quentin's marriage (not because he loved Jenny—only of the fact that Quentin had a marriage at all) and felt he needed one too in order to even the playing field. This was all conjecture, of course. Elena never got a chance to ask him because of the initial encounter with the Stranger.
The Stranger introduced bullets filled with the Other's poison. But it was different somehow. It wasn't the same poison Hayden was infected with. It was slightly altered so it wasn't deadly. Hunt wanted the Sons alive, but only just barely, so the new poison was designed to induce a coma that probably would have been permanent if Quentin hadn't found a cure. The coma had left Lawson extremely weak, however, which made him vulnerable. And, as a result, he had been abducted by the Others and subsequently subjected to the binding across his mouth, which was the last thing he needed right now. His health was frail and his spirit was extremely shaken. He was accustomed to being strong and confident all the time, and all his handicaps humiliated him likely more than it would have done to another man.
Elena knew Lawson was prideful and a little self absorbed at times, but she had distinct affection for him. She wouldn't call it "love" and she certainly wasn't actually considering marrying him. It did hurt to see him so broken and depressed. Over the short weeks she had known him, she believed they had become close friends, and she wouldn't want to see any of her friends in such pain, whether they happened to be extremely attractive or not.
"Elena?" Quentin coaxed in a hushed voice. Lawson didn't move.
Elena only raised her head to acknowledge she heard him.
He wasn't going to ask, and Elena knew it. He cleared his throat awkwardly and turned his attention to some machines that probably didn't really need his attention at all.
"Where's Turner?" she whispered, figuring he was keeping his voice down for a reason.
"Showering," Quentin replied, looking up from the machines.
"Alone?" Elena questioned. "Is he strong enough for that?"
"He insisted," Quentin said. "With no doctors on board, it would have to be me or Ryder or Sage to help him. You can see why he might be trying to do it himself first."
Turner had received a dose of the coma-inducing poison as well, but he received the antidote before the coma took effect. Like Lawson, it left him weak (though not nearly as much so). He was close to recovery when the Stranger bound his mouth shut (and his wrists to a bedpost) and, since then, he had only been getting worse. Elena thought she could probably attribute his rapidly declining health to his small build. Although Turner was tall, he was very skinny, and he had been wearing the binding on his mouth for more than two days. He was not doing well.
Turner was fairly different from the rest of his siblings in that he showed no interest in taking the Clouds, or even fighting for it. Elena might accuse him of having no fighting ability whatsoever, but she had occasionally seen glimpses when he was forced to defend himself. Though, up against some of his more versed siblings (which was probably all of them), he was the obvious loser in any fight. Turner was more interested in having a good time. He liked to party and he loved to drink, although he had made a recent declaration that he was giving up drinking. So far, he had stayed true to that declaration but that was more attributed to the lack of opportunity rather than actual will power.
In addition to not behaving like his siblings, he also didn't really look like them either (with the exception of Sage, since their mothers were actually twins). He had bright blond hair and bright blue eyes, in direct contrast to the five others who had darker features. He was definitely the one that didn't belong among the group, and that showed because he rarely was acknowledged during group conversations. None of the others took him seriously or put any value in his opinion, which was a shame. Even though Elena didn't trust him due to his tendency to lie, she felt he had some valid opinions. If the other six were not willing to explore the non-violent option, then someone had to be there to voice the possibility of solving the problem with defense rather than offense.
All of that was silenced, of course, since the Stranger saw to it that he wouldn't be able to speak anymore.
"How's Lawson?" she asked Quentin.
"He's sleeping," Quentin replied.
It was hard to tell if Lawson was legitimately sleeping or forced into sleeping (since Quentin did that so often).
"And what about Hayden?" Elena went on. "I saw Sage in the hallway. She said Hayden woke up and he was hallucinating."
"Yes," Quentin said, nodding. "Intuitively, I know that seems like a bad thing, but it's actually very good. He was hallucinating a little bit when we found you, but it was so weak. It was stronger this time."
"You think he'll be okay?"
"I think so."
Generally, the Sons liked Hayden. They seemed to view him as a friend and appeared legitimately saddened when faced with the possibility that he might not live. Lawson was the only one who didn't share in these feelings. After all, Lawson's biggest claim to the Clouds was that he felt he deserved it simply because he was the oldest. However, Hayden was nearly five years older than him. Hayden said that Lawson probably felt threatened by the potential that Hayden might be his older brother.
No one knew for sure if Hayden really was another Son. Well, there was one person, but she was dead (which meant there was no one): Hayden's mother. She claimed to have a relationship with the King and kept it secret until Lawson was born, and then came forward. People speculated that she only noticed her son bore a resemblance to the King and made up the story. Hayden said he didn't really care because he liked his job as the Captain of the Guard and didn't want to be King.
Hayden looked just like Quentin, who looked just like the King. It was possible he was a son of the King.
Oddly, when Judge Hunt saw him, Hunt made a passing remark that Hayden looked like his father. So, this meant Hunt knew who Hayden's real father was. Or maybe he thought he did. Or maybe he was referring to the King even though the King wasn't officially his father. Or maybe he was just saying that to be confusing.
Quentin sideways glanced at Lawson, then nodded to the hallway while making eye contact with Elena. She guessed he was going to ask what happened, but didn't want to do so in front of Lawson in fear that he might wake up and hear what the answer was. This meant Lawson was likely just sleeping.
Elena obliged. She would have to tell him sooner or later. It would probably sound better coming from her rather than Sage (who must have bumped into Phinn in the hallway to hear what happened).
She backed up into the hall and he followed her, quietly closing the door behind them. Once the two of them were standing there, Elena backed up against the wall and Quentin towering over her (at least an entire foot, she wagered), she felt very ashamed.
He read her expression well. "Don't worry, Ms Elena," he said, but it was pretty obvious he was very disappointed. "I know we were asking too much."
She had sort of wanted him to be a little angry at her (he could have just been doing a good job hiding it). For some reason, she got the feeling that she would have felt less cowardly if he had yelled. When Sage confronted her in such a mean fashion, Elena walked away feeling offended, like she had been wronged somehow. Now, as Quentin stood before her, at a loss for words, Elena felt she had wronged him instead of the other way around.
Initially, she tried to refrain from crying in front of him, but once she got started, there was no stopping it. Once she erupted, she dove at him, seeking comfort in the powerful embrace she knew he must have. But Quentin didn't like being touched, and he liked touching others even less, so when Elena wrapped her arms around his body, he immediately took her by the hands and pried her off of him. He kept hold of her hands, perhaps thinking that was a sufficient alternative, as she glanced up at him apologetically through the tears of her eyes and the frizz of her hair.
For a few seconds, she thought he might suck it up and hug her. Instead, he let go of her hands and patted her on the shoulder.
"I just—" she started stutteringly, "I just kept thinking—you know—about all the girls—who had been there before me."
"I know, Ms Elena."
"Underneath him. Underneath Phinn."
"I want to do my part. I want to help. I'm the Chaste Beauty—I'm supposed to serve the Lord, I know that. But I can't."
"You're also a human being, Ms Elena. We have alternatives. We'll try those first."
She nodded hesitantly, wondering just how mad Quentin really was on the inside.
With the conversation (apparently) finished, she started to leave, but Quentin cleared his throat to get her attention. "Ms Elena," he started, "It was Phinn who had the strange binding on his mouth first, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Elena said.
"How was it removed?"
"It just happened. Hunt did something. It all disappeared."
"And why did he remove it?"
Elena frowned thoughtfully as she tried to sort out the best way to say this rather confusing response. "Hunt wanted to ask Phinn a question about Anya," she said. "He seemed like he legitimately wanted to know about her and was hoping Phinn would answer. Phinn didn't answer, though, even when he was able to."
"There must be some charm or enchantment that can dispel the dark magic, then," Quentin concluded.
"And you said…" Quentin went on curiously. "You said that using Hunt's name did not work that time, even though it's worked every other time."
"Hunt said that he's always improving on things," Elena said. "Maybe he found a way to get rid of that weakness."
"Just like he found a way to bind our mouths," Quentin pointed out. "Whenever we discover a successful way to combat his servant, Hunt discovers a way to defend against it. The next time we develop a method to fight that demon or man—or whatever it is—we have to make sure we finish the job and kill it before Hunt can fix the problem."
Elena nodded again. She wasn't quite sure why Quentin was having this discussion with her since he had obviously already come to all these conclusions on his own. Maybe he just needed to hear it all out loud.
He gazed blankly down the hall, and then met eyes with Elena again. "Will you stay with him for a few minutes?" he asked.
"Lawson," Quentin replied. "He's asleep right now, but when he wakes up, I think he should have some company. Just in case."
"Where are you going?"
"I want to check on Turner. Unless you would rather trade jobs."
"No, that's all right. I'll stay with Lawson."
Quentin smiled a little bit and nodded his head. "He might act like he doesn't want you there, but it's just because he's embarrassed. He really does want you there."
"Do you really think he actually wants to marry me?"
Quentin seemed surprised that Elena would say that in such a straightforward manner. "I do," he said flatly (once he got over his surprise). "Do you?"
"I don't know."
"If he did…" Quentin led, "…do you suppose you would agree?"
"No. I wouldn't."
And now Quentin frowned. "Have you told him this?"
"Not exactly. I don't think he'd listen."
"He doesn't have a choice right now."
"Is that fair?"
For a few seconds, Quentin mulled over all the information he had just heard. "He's really quite taken with you, Ms Elena."
She didn't know how to say 'I know that' in a humble way so she nodded. Again.