FINALLY managed to sit down and finish this one. I know I said double release, but given how long it took to get this out and that it's so close to Christmas, I thought I'd put this out now. Wheels are being put in motion, I just need the time to sit down and write them all... Enjoy the chapter! * KINGSGUARD Chapter 64: Queen’s Palace May 1st, 2256. 9:56pm. Dreamcorp – Headquarters. Dream slammed his fist angrily in to the desk. “You’ve got to be joking me. These underworld people are here taking us for suckers, and all you can do is sigh at me?” Sitting opposite him was a young man in a black hood. “When the trail goes dry, it goes dry. Nothing I can do, Persephone’s one step ahead of us.” he replied, his posture relaxed. “Listen here. I know you don’t give a shit about your job. But just remember what’s on the line here.” Dream replied. “You think I give a fuck about your pride?” the hooded man retorted angrily. “I’m not talking about what’s at stake for me. I’m talking about what’s at stake for you.” Dream answered. “I don’t care if it costs you your life. I want you to find the people who think they can just waltz in here and steal my shit, and bring me their heads.” The hooded man paused for a moment, seemingly contemplating a lot. “Fine. I’ll return underground tonight.” As the hooded man took leave from Dream’s office, Anthropos entered, a pot of tea in his hand. Pouring it for Dream, he placed it in front of him on the desk. “Young Master. All this stress is bad for your skin. You have everything under your control. Without doubt, this world will soon be yours.” Anthropos said, his voice soothing. “I know… everything is in my favour right now, but… I can’t help but think about the card reading you gave me the other day. I don’t want anything to go wrong. Not when I’m this close…” “There are several interpretations to each card.” Anthropos replied. “There’s no need to worry.” “It’s that combination of cards.” Dream answered. “I can’t help but…” “Perhaps if we looked at the cards again, we can work out their meaning?” Anthropos suggested. “Sure.” Dream answered. “Anything to keep my mind busy.” “Very well.” With a wave of his hands, Anthropos summoned his two fortune-telling decks, one containing the major Arcana, the other containing avatars of the Twelve Olympians. “Now. If I remember correctly, the reading showed these three cards…” Anthropos summoned the Huntress from the Olympian deck, and the Star and the Hierophant from the major deck. “Now, let’s get to analysing, shall we?” * May 4th, 2256. 6:45pm. The Underground City – An abandoned room beneath Lark Eleazar’s apartment. Chirch and Fourth are sparring against Rose and Hercules. Hercules picked himself up, taking a moment to catch his breath. He’d just taken a powerful shot from Chirch, and was a little dazed. “You okay to continue?” Rose asked. Hercules breathed deeply. “Yeah. It’s just… I don’t think I’ve ever taken a punch that’s stung that much before.” Rose chuckled. “Well, that’s Chirch for you. She doesn’t go easy, even in training.” “If you two are done chatting, we’d like to get back to sparring.” Chirch interjected, her stance unwavering. Hercules assumed his guard once more, ready to go once again. “Bring it! I can feel myself getting stronger already.” Responding instantly to Hercules’ prompt, Chirch charged straight for him, launching a powerful kick at his head. As Hercules leant back, he was met with a blow to the side from Fourth. As he flew across the room, Fourth gave chase. As Chirch glanced quickly to see what her partner was doing, Rose made her move. “You’re wide open!” As she charged in with a flying fist, Chirch could only raise her hands in front of her face to guard herself. As Rose leapt back, she invited her opponent to attack. Chirch obliged, charging forwards at Rose, whose eyes were now closed. “Sixth Sense.” Her mind no longer burdened with distraction, Rose visualised Chirch’s aura in front of her. Intuitively predicting each movement, she effortlessly dodged each of Chirch’s attacks, moving like a feather in the wind. “Wow, Rose. Even though we’ve barely fought down here, you’ve gotten a lot stronger.” Chirch said, pausing between attack rushes. Rose opened her eyes. “Training all of those guys helped me realise a few things about my own fighting style, you know?” As they squared up to each other, they were interrupted by Hercules flying past them, Fourth giving chase. Rose quickly moved to intercept him with a punch to the head. Fourth ducked out of the way, and as he moved, Chirch leapfrogged him and hit Rose with a powerful kick to the chest. Rose flew backwards, hitting the wall. “How did you get there so quickly?” Fourth asked Chirch, surprised at her speed. “Dunno. Somehow, I just knew what you were going to do, and I reacted to that instinct.” Chirch answered. The more she thought about it, the weirder it was. She’d never had a feeling like that whilst fighting before, not even with Rose. But somehow, she felt a strange synergy with Fourth. As their opponents picked themselves up, Lark entered the basement with refreshments. “I think that’s enough for today,” Lark said, handing out drinks. “Me and the boys have an early start tomorrow… and the girls have their big fight at Queen’s Palace in the evening. Wouldn’t want to risk injury before that.” “Speaking of that fight,” Fourth interjected, “Do you have any idea about the format?” Chirch shrugged. “Dunno. We got a card sent to us at work the other day with a time and venue on, but no information about the fight itself. We’ll find out more on the day, I guess.” * May 5th, 2256. 9:45pm. Queen’s Palace. Located in the centre of what appeared to be a waste sorting site, it contrasted greatly from its surrounding area – grand gates and a lush garden were seen in front of a grand, elegant palace. Chirch and Rose approach the palace gates. “Damn. I didn’t think we’d see a place this fancy-looking down here.” Chirch commented. “I know what you mean… it’s like we’re at the doors to a fairy tale palace.” Rose said, in awe of what she was seeing. “It kinda reminds me of Commander Rio’s house.” Chirch joked. “If our house looked like this, I’d never leave,” Rose replied, chuckling. As they gazed up at the large, silver gate, Rose pulled out Queen’s calling card to see If there were instructions on how to get in. “Hmm. I guess we just wait here? That doesn’t seem right, though…” As the girls looked around for signs of entry, Chirch noticed that two of the rails on the fence were bent, leaving a gap large enough for a person to enter. “Rose, look down there.” She said, pointing to the broken fence. Rose looked in the direction Chirch pointed out. “Huh… that doesn’t seem right.” “Should we check it out?” Chirch asked. Rose nodded. “I don’t think we have a choice.” Chirch and Rose ran down to the bent fence rails, and climbed through one after the other. Strangely, the courtyard was completely empty, with no sign of life anywhere near. Both girls on high alert, they cautiously made their way towards the palace doors, which were ajar, almost inviting them to walk in. As they walked forward, Rose felt something touch her foot. Looking down, she covered her mouth to stifle a scream, her expression suddenly becoming one of fear. Tugging Chirch’s shoulder to get her attention, she pointed at the floor. A trail of unconscious bodies littered the path up to the palace door. As Chirch looked at the path of destruction, she felt her hands begin to tremble. Was this what they were in for at Queen’s Palace? As they advanced, now more tentatively than before, they checked to see if some of the laid out fighters were still breathing. Some were, some weren’t. As they followed the blood trail, the confidence the girls had built up through training was being sapped by the fear that they could end up like the fighters in the palace gardens. As they approached the doors, they carefully peered inside. To add to the dozens of fighters laid out in the gardens, there were dozens more in the main palace, littered across the floor, some slumped over the bannisters of what was once a spotless, regal staircase. “Do you have your weapon with you?” Rose whispered. Chirch nodded. The girls both placing their hands on their weapons in anticipation of an ambush, they fully opened the doors, waiting a second before they walked in. As they did, a group of heavily injured men covered in blood charged at them, unarmed. As they swung wildly at Chirch and Rose, the girls effortlessly ducked. Sensing little to no threat from them, they refrained from hitting them. Eventually, the men fell to the floor, exhausted and gasping for breath. Chirch knelt next to them. Before she could ask them what was happening, the man nearest to her threw a feeble punch. “Stop… leave us alone…. We told your friend we didn’t know anything…” Chirch was confused. Had one of the guys done something without telling them? “What are you…” “We told that guy in the hood we knew nothing! Why’s he…” “What guy in a hood?” Chirch asked. Before she could get an answer, the man swung wildly at her again. As Chirch moved out of the way, a svelte, elegant woman wearing a silk cloak and walked slowly down the stairs. “Stand down. Those two aren’t here to hurt us.” “Queen….” As Queen reached the bottom of the staircase, Chirch noticed she was clutching her side, blood dripping from in between her fingers. “You’re the new girls Jack sent… correct?” Queen asked. “Then again, even if you weren’t… I’m in no state to fight now.” “I guess this isn’t what usually happens around here.” Chirch replied. Queen chuckled. “No. Quite the opposite, actually.” “What happened here?” Rose asked. “Well, just before people started gathering, I had a visitor who had a few questions for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the answers he wanted… not that he cared. He did everything he could to get the answers out of me. Unluckily for him, fighters started showing up as he tried to get answers out of me… but in the end he made pretty light work of them. I guess he figured he was in the wrong place when that happened, because he didn’t come back.” “What was he asking you about?” “Well…” Before Queen could finish speaking, she felt her vision begin to blur. Her legs wobbling, she fell to the ground. The sound of the girls asking if she was okay began to distort as she blacked out. * 11:25pm. Dr. Red’s Clinic. Queen wakes up, Chirch and Rose sitting at her bedside. “Ugh… where am I?” Queen mumbled as she sat up on the clinic bed. Inspecting her surroundings, she gagged. “A back alley clinic. Filthy.” “You’re welcome, by the way.” Chirch replied coldly. “Oh, you two are here!” Queen exclaimed. Frantically searching for a mirror to fix her appearance, she placed her hands on her head. “Oh, my wig!” Rose handed Queen her wig back. “We brought it here with us.” Queen thanked Rose, and placed her wig back on her head. Using the reflection on the metal table next to her bed, she adjusted and fluffed it. “Thank you, girls.” Queen said, satisfied she was looking proper again. “I don’t remember much past seeing you arrive, but I guess you brought me here. So, I owe you one.” “How did this even happen?” Rose asked. Queen, still somewhat groggy, thought for a few minutes before answering. “Well. As I told you before I so unfashionably collapsed, I had a little visitor. He had some… questions for me about a certain Queen of the Underworld.” “Meaning you?” Chirch asked. Queen chuckled gently. “Honey. I may be a Queen in certain corners of this place, but he wasn’t visiting me for pleasure. He was after the woman at the top.” “Persephone…” “But this poor baby isn’t from around here, so when I said I wasn’t the person he was looking for, he took it personally. We ended up having a little fracas in my quarters, and…” Queen looked down at the wound dressing on her abdomen. “Well. You can see how that ended.” “How strong was he?” Rose asked. “Oh, girl.” Queen answered. “There’s only a handful of fighters down here that can even hope to touch me in battle. And there’s even fewer that can give me a good fight. But never did I think there’d be someone who would be able to wound me like this without me even realising what happened.” “Seriously?” Rose replied. “Do you have any idea who it was?” Queen shook her head. “Never seen him before, and I sure as hell don’t want to see him again.” “Was he really that strong?” Chirch asked, a hint of nervousness in her voice. “If he’d really wanted to… he’d have killed every single fighter in my Palace without blinking.” “What does he look like?” Rose asked. “So we know who to avoid.” “I didn’t really get a good look at his face.” Queen answered. “He was wearing this hooded cape that made it difficult to see.” “It might be difficult to avoid a guy who we can’t identify.” Chirch replied, “but we’ll do our best.” * A few hours later. A dimly lit bar in the Underground city. The man in the cape is swirling two ice cubes around in his glass. “Another drink?” the bartender asked. “No thank you. That’s enough for today,” the man in the cape replied. “Rough day at work?” “You could say that.” “Well. I guess we all have those days. It’s tough to make a living down here.” “It seems that way.” “Oh… are you from above ground?” the bartender asked. The man in the cape nodded in response. “Why the hell would you come down here to work, then? Better pay?” The man in the cape put his glass down and sighed. “I have a debt to repay.” “Sounds dangerous.” the bartender replied. “You getting close to repaying it, at least?” The man shook his head. “Not even close.” Placing his money on the bar, he walked out. END To be continued in KINGSGUARD Chapter 65: King's Hall Character(s) Debuted: Queen: The very definition of elegance.