With the release only months away I thought I might tease you all with a little insight into The Monarch’s Ring with chapter 1… If you haven’t read The Chain Between Worlds do not read this post as it contains spoilers, so come back after you’ve read book 1 🙂
To say the last month had been a mess would’ve been a major understatement, yet for El each day seemed harder than the last. To find out that she had been living under the same roof as the man who’d orchestrated her parent’s death had spiralled her into a psychological pit of darkness. Aloysius Harksmear, the head of the New York Castellum, a respected man amongst the Ascendant community, had been a liar, a traitor, and a murderer. It made her feel sick even thinking about it. Because of his now criminal status and connection to El and her brother AJ, they were under house arrest, prisoners in the Castellum in which they had once lived in ignorant bliss. Her only escape was the roof, her once favoured spot. The view out into the city at night used to calm her, but now it served as more than just a place for solitude. It was a sad reminder. A reminder of what she’d lost. It reminded her of him. It was the spot where they’d first kissed, where she let her guard down. Where she allowed herself to be vulnerable, to be happy. But he was gone now. She had pushed him away. The last time she saw him, he was falling into a void, with his arms wrapped around another girl.
It dampened the memory of their moment on the roof but nonetheless it calmed her. Up on the roof, amongst the stars and city lights she felt free and closest to him. She was free of the Magisterium, the Legionnaires, and the now tainted halls of the Castellum.
After Harksmear’s betrayal, she and her brother had been labelled as co-conspirators. Subject to endless interviews and constantly under surveillance. The whole process had angered her. How could they think she would help the man who had her parents killed? For weeks Legionnaires had been in and out of the Castellum, using it as their base of operations as they searched for Harksmear, Nox and the rest of his men. Only recently had they moved on, following leads elsewhere. But El wouldn’t know where, the whole time she’d been kept in the dark. Her name had been cleared, but suspicion still loomed over her.
The worst part was that they had no interest in Harksmear’s motives. She had told them about the chain, the ring, and his plans to raise Gedeon, but they couldn’t care less, they were only interested in arresting Harksmear for his connection to Nox and his illegal use of daemonic artefacts. Everything else had been brushed off as myths and the hysteria of a distraught sixteen-year-old girl.
She had told them about Lincoln. She had pleaded with them to send out parties to search for him, but he was considered ‘low priority’ and ‘a lost cause’. She had been furious when they refused to look for him. What made matters worse was her house arrest. It meant that even if she did sneak out of the Castellum to find him, she couldn’t stray too far, or her absence would be noticed.
She had prayed the unstable portal had kept him in the earthly dimension, but that was a feeble hope, everyone knew the likelihood of an unstable portal keeping you in your own dimension was rare. The Legionnaires had told her a search was pointless, either the portal had killed him, or he was lost in Nowhere. She had to believe otherwise. But after a month of no news, she was losing hope.
She only had herself to blame, she had lost focus, trusted the wrong people. Her best friend turned out to be a traitor. She should have known Ben would be loyal to his father. If she had seen through his lies Lincoln would still be here with Harksmear and Nox rotting in a cell.
It was colder than usual tonight, but she stayed put, anywhere was better than being in the Castellum. Since the position of Castellum Head was now vacant, Head Legionnaire, Marshall Aldelfos, had left his two sons, Monty and Hyde, in charge until a replacement was found. She couldn’t stand walking through those halls under their rules. Monty, who was only two years her senior, was unbearably suspicious, and spent most of his time questioning her, trying to find holes in her story, trying to prove her non-existent guilt. Hyde on the other hand couldn’t care less, which aggravated her more. Not only was he her age and given the responsibility of running a Castellum, but he treated it all like a joke, which infuriated her. He would laze around most of the day watching T.V. The only other being she had met lazier than Hyde was his Phoenine cat, Hypno.
She heard a familiar screech as a large hawk circled above, before landing on the roof across from where she sat. It was Argus, Monty’s Phoenine, and just like his owner, he’s just as unbearably watchful.
“You can tell Monty I’m still here!” she yelled at the bird, waving her arms at it, ushering him away.
The hawk flew off, disappearing into the night. She groaned. She felt so helpless and trapped. The emotional weight of the last month bared down on her as if she were Atlas holding up the sky. She couldn’t even talk about it. The only person left in her life now was AJ and he was just as depressed as she was, she couldn’t lay her problems on him. She sighed. The one person in the world who could probably understand how she felt, who she wanted to talk to about everything probably wasn’t even in this dimension anymore.
She saw a flicker of movement in the corner of her eye. A rope was being coiled down from AJ’s bedroom window. She watched him climb down and sneak out towards the Castellum gate. He’d been doing this a lot lately. He would sneak out most nights, either looking for daemons to let off some steam, or trying to track Harksmear.
She stood from where she was perched and made her way down the building to follow him. When she first caught him sneaking out, her initial instinct was to tell him off for being so reckless while they were under house arrest, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She had tried to reach out to him, be there for him knowing he was feeling just as upset and conflicted as she felt, but she didn’t know how to help him. The last month had changed him drastically, he was quiet and distant, he seemed broken. She figured sneaking out was his way of coping, so she decided to start following him from a distance when he snuck out at night, making sure he’s safe.
As she scaled down the Castellum wall she couldn’t help but think back to the first night Lincoln was at the Castellum, how he’d tried to climb down this very wall. She caught herself smirking at the memory, before she was hit with a wave of sadness drawing herself back to the reality of the last month.
She followed her brother, keeping her distance as he ran through the empty streets of the slumbering city. She felt a nudge at her leg as Odysseus brushed past her. He looked at her briefly before catching up to AJ. Odysseus had noticed her following AJ pretty early on, but he seemed to understand her motives, so he never signalled to her brother that she was following him.
They moved through the city aimlessly. Most of the time on these walks El couldn’t tell what AJ was doing, but she didn’t put too much thought into the reasoning behind him sneaking out, it didn’t matter. She knew these trips helped him, and that was good enough for her. She was worried about him, more worried than she’d ever been. She could sometimes hear him sobbing from his room. She had tried to ask him about it, but he would deny ever being upset, claiming he was fine.
AJ moved through the city until they reached a familiar park.
She groaned. “Why here?” she muttered softly.
It was the park where she and Ben had first seen Lincoln attacked, the night they found him. She followed him from a distance until they reached Arbol’s tree.
AJ drew a sword and using the butt of his blade he thumped the tree.
“Arbol! I know you’re in there!” he yelled. “Get out here! Tell me where Ben is!”
AJ waited a few moments. “Fine!” he yelled again.
He raised his blade and at full force, swung down at the tree trunk. Unfortunately, after their adventures in Eden, Eligh had paid their debt to Arbol and protected the tree, meaning when the blade made contact a burst of magical energy ricocheted, throwing her younger brother across the park. It took every muscle in El’s body to stop her from rushing over to him.
He lay on the ground defeated. Odysseus trotted over to him before lying down and nuzzling his head into AJ’s side.
“I know boy, it’s useless,” he sobbed, before burying his head into the Phoenine.
Tears formed in her eyes, she felt so helpless, she wanted to help her brother, but she didn’t know how.
AJ got up, picking up a rock and throwing it at Arbol’s tree. “You’re a coward, just like Ben!” he shouted, before walking off.
She followed him, glancing up at the tree as she walked past it. She had a similar interaction with Arbol’s tree a few weeks ago. She hoped Ben had paid Arbol a visit after he escaped, but news of the Harksmear’s treachery spread like wildfire and Arbol was gone. Either he was complicit or scared, but either way he wasn’t going to be any help.
She followed her brother for a couple of hours until he decided to return home, that’s usually how these nights went. Tonight, was relatively quiet. Usually, he would go looking for daemons to fight, but this evening he seemed more interested in finding Ben. She waited until he climbed back into his room before sneaking back to the Castellum herself. She walked in through the front door; it was well past midnight, so she wasn’t worried about getting caught.
Hearing noises down the hall, she took a slight detour past the kitchen to find Hyde in the pantry stocking up on bags of chips.
“Can I help you?” he asked, mid mouthful.
She rolled her eyes – she wasn’t shocked to find him stuffing his face at this time. He was pudgier than most Ascendants and lazier, so this seemed normal for him.
Ignoring him she went to walk away but he kept speaking to her.
“How was your midnight stroll?” he asked knowingly.
This was enough to grab her attention.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied raising an eyebrow.
“I’m sure you don’t,” he smirked, before wandering off.
She groaned. With everything going on she didn’t want to deal with the pain of Hyde knowing she’d been sneaking out, though she doubted Hyde would care enough to do anything about her breaking house arrest. Monty on the other hand would be an issue. She’d have to be more careful.
As she walked through the building, she found herself drawn to Harksmear’s Sanctuary, the room where everything fell apart. For weeks it had been closed for investigation with the Legionnaires trying to work out how an unstable portal had randomly formed in the middle of a Castellum room. She told them it was Lincoln and the chain, but of course none of them listened. Her explanation had been dismissed as the rants of a sixteen-year-old girl talking about a mythical chain.
She walked in, staring at the middle of the room where the portal had been, where Lincoln had disappeared. She could spend hours standing there, staring at that spot, reliving the nightmare, thinking about how she could have… should have, done more. It didn’t matter, she couldn’t change the past. Even now she couldn’t do anything to help. She couldn’t look for Lincoln, couldn’t hunt down Harksmear, she couldn’t even do her basic duty as an Ascendant and patrol the streets for daemons. Never in her life had she felt so useless.
When she returned to her room she found Eligh pacing, looking frustrated. For the past month he’d been portalling around the world and Nowhere looking for Lincoln, but so far nothing, and seeing his body language now didn’t give El much hope. It didn’t surprise her though, as much as she hated to think it, Nowhere was unfathomably enormous. Even after centuries of exploration, the Deorum had barely scratched the surface of Nowhere.
Upon noticing her at the door he stopped pacing. “You shouldn’t be sneaking out Aella,” he said, “you know the terms of your house arrest.”
“Well technically you shouldn’t be sneaking in,” she retorted.
It was still illegal for Sorcerers to enter a Castellum without permission. And since Eligh had faked his death over ten years ago to hide the chain, they were extremely suspicious of him.
“It doesn’t matter what happens to me, so long as I know you are all safe,” he said.
Ever since Lincoln’s disappearance Eligh had become very protective of her and AJ. She didn’t know if it was guilt for what had happened to her parents, or worry that Harksmear would come after them too, but nonetheless was very watchful of them. She had even seen him following AJ when he’d snuck out a couple of times.
“I take it you didn’t come here just to berate me?” she asked, shifting the conversation.
He shook his head. “Just checking in before I go back into Nowhere.”
She couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, he looked tired and defeated, but he was determined to keep searching.
“The Elders have been assisting in the search,” he continued, sounding slightly more optimistic. “They’ve collated a map of all explored regions of Nowhere and have been researching the unknown regions too. I’ve also asked them to keep an eye on the entry island to see if he somehow finds his way there. If he pops up there, or even on the old entry island they’ll let us know.”
She nodded. It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing.
“Stay the night and rest,” she offered, for the past month she doubted Eligh had gotten a full night’s sleep.
He shook his head. “You know the rules; Sorcerers aren’t welcome in Castellums, besides I know Lincoln is out there somewhere, I have to find him.” He left , heading to the basement portal room. She wanted to go with him, she had begged him to take her with him when he first started searching, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t leave AJ, not now. All she could do was pray Eligh would find Lincoln.