Princess Bones: Part Four
There was a strange kind of bustle in Brightvale. It was busy, but definitely not chaotic, as if everyone in the city had a purpose and knew exactly where they were heading. Rina looked at it all in amazement, watching finely dressed men and women stroll along the flagstone streets laden with scrolls and books and an assortment of other things.
“Come on, Rina,” Mr. Milleran said, looking up at the sky which was tainted with smears of pink. “It’s getting late. We need a place to stay for the night.”
The green Zafara nodded mutely, still glancing around. “I haven’t been here since the Eyrie Cab collision,” she said, following her teacher through the network of clean streets. The houses she passed were built close together, but decorated with stained glass windows and flowers. It was the perfect blending of a city with nature.
“Well, we can’t really go sightseeing at night,” the green Draik said, weaving his way through the streets, knowing exactly where he was going. He turned to her for a moment, a sad look in his emerald eyes. “Despite its looks, there are still bad people here, lurking beneath the shadows. Sometimes you can’t trust anyone, Rina.”
“I know,” she said, thinking of Dr. Renwick with a shiver.
Mr. Milleran ended up finding them some lodging for the night in a local tavern. Rina stepped inside the establishment a bit wary, but was surprised to find that it was scarily cozy. The bottom floor that served grog and other drinks was littered with wooden tables and chairs as well as a burning fire that flickered in the fading light. And the people inside all seemed civil enough, unlike the crowds that flocked to the raucous taverns on Krawk Island.
They headed up a flight of stairs to their rooms. They were small and empty, filled with just a simple twin size bed and a side table for personal belongings, but they were clean and warm and that was good enough for Rina.
She bid Mr. Milleran a good night and disappeared into her room, changing into some pajamas that her mom had thrust at her before she left the house. She hadn’t brought a brush, so she merely raked her fingers through her long hair before turning the lights out and settling into the bed.
But she couldn’t sleep.
After an hour of tossing and turning, Rina finally sat up and slipped out of bed. She found some spare neopoints in the pair of pants she had been wearing earlier and decided to head downstairs to the tavern and ask for some water.
The green Zafara cautiously padded her way down the wooden steps until she reached the lower tavern. At this time of night it was just about empty. It seemed as if most Brightvalians took the old adage to heart: “Those who think best, at night take a rest.” However, the bartender, a Halloween Bori, was still there, wiping down the counter with a rag.
There was also one other patron in the room, a green Draik with a vest on seated by a table near the roaring fire: Mr. Milleran.
Rina frowned to herself. “Guess he can’t sleep either,” she murmured softly. She got herself a glass of water from the Bori, served in a large grog mug imprinted with the Brightvalian flag, and then headed over to join her teacher.
“Hello, Mr. M,” she greeted him.
The green Draik’s head snapped towards her in surprise. “Rina!” he exclaimed, his eyes widening. He immediately reached for a piece of paper that had been out on the table and slipped it into his briefcase.
“What was that?”
“Oh, just some school paper I needed to grade,” he said, fiddling with the snaps on the case. “Just because I get dragged into a conspiracy against the Crown doesn’t mean I get to quit my job.” He gave her a shaky smile.
Rina grinned back and sat down across the table, sipping her water and watching her teacher. “Are you alright, Mr. M?” she asked, concerned.
“Tomorrow’s a big day, Rina,” he said quietly, his eyes locked on the flickering flames behind her. “Everything hinges on tomorrow when we visit King Hagan.”
Rina stared at her mug, her finger tracing the rim absentmindedly. He was right. Tomorrow was a big day.
“We’ll be able to stop him, though,” the Zafara said decidedly. “Dr. Renwick won’t stand a chance. I refuse to become a princess.”
The Draik turned to her, a bit startled. “Really? I haven’t met a single young lady who has said that... besides you.”
“Probably because no one else ever thought it through,” she answered, looking at him straight in the eye. “It’d mean that I’d be stuck here in Brightvale without my friends. Without my mom.” She frowned gently. “And I’d be locked up in a stuffy castle all day doing princess-y things. No more sunsets. No more nature. I wouldn’t be able to draw anything except stuffy portraits or bowls of fruit.” She shivered. “I’d choose my normal life any day.”
Mr. M seemed to have lost his ability to speak. The teacher instead was back to staring at the fire dancing hungrily in front of him.
Rina downed the rest of the water and set her mug down with a yawn. “All right, I think I better go to bed.” She looked at Mr. Milleran, but he seemed lost in his own world. “Goodnight,” she said, and when he didn’t answer, she just frowned and made her way back upstairs to her room.
Mr, Milleran just stared at the flames, wishing they would swallow him whole.
The castle loomed majestically ahead of them. White stone glistened in the morning sun, while the turrets were topped with green shingles and flapping flags.
Rina fiddled with her shirt sleeve self-consciously as she followed Mr. Milleran through the bustling streets. He was walking briskly, and at times she almost lost him in the thick crowds. But then she’d spot his blue argyle sweater and deep brown briefcase and quickly regain ground.
“Bennie!” Mr. M hailed once they reached the base of the castle. There was a yellow Techo stationed in front of the moat as a guard. He glanced up at the call of his name and then his face broke into a smile.
“Lyle!” the guard greeted, shaking Mr. Milleran’s claw. “I haven’t seen you in a few years. How are you? Teaching in Middleway now, correct?”
“Yes, Bennie,” the Draik said with a quick nod. Rina couldn’t help but note that her teacher looked a tad nervous; obviously he was thinking about the looming coronation as much as she was. “Anyway, we need to pay the king a visit. Do you think we’d be able to--”
“Don’t say another word!” Bennie exclaimed. “It’s good as done.” The Techo clapped his hands together, and the drawbridge slowly lowered until there was now a path to cross the churning moat waters. “On you two go!”
“Thanks,” Mr. M said with a nod. However, before he could step on the wooden platform, Bennie stopped him with a frown.
“Hey Lyle, are you sure you’re okay? You look a little... off today.”
“I’m fine,” he said briskly, and then turned away from his friend and strode toward the castle. Rina just shrugged at the confused guard and followed her teacher across the drawbridge and through the grand front entrance.
The inside of the castle took Rina’s breath away. As a budding painter she had always admired the architectural beauty of buildings, from the quaint farm houses in her home town to the sleek hospital. However, the castle was a million times grander and more complex. The inside floors and walls were all white marble veined with green jade that glimmered in the light. Sparkling glass chandeliers hung from the 50ft high ceilings, green rugs dotted the corridors embroidered with the emblem of Brightvale, and a beautiful staircase led to the upper floors.
“This way, Rina,” Mr. M urged from ahead. He was heading up the staircase, his briefcase swinging side to side, as if he wanted to meet with the king as quickly as possible.
Good idea, Rina thought. The green Zafara quickened her pace until she was side-by-side with the Draik who seemed to increase his speed with every step. Soon enough, it was almost as if they were running through the castle.
“Aren’t we going a bit fast?” she huffed, her footfalls muffled by the carpet.
“We need to get to the king first. Before Renwick.”
“But why?” Rina asked, jogging besides him confusedly. “Even if he gets here first, Hagan will still help us, right? He’s the King, after all.”
Mr. Milleran ignored her. Instead he continued on his run, rounding the bend in a corridor without slowing down...
...and bumping into a tall Desert Ruki in the process.
Rina stopped running and yelped. “Dr. Renwick!”
“Rina!” the doctor said, his kohl-lined eyes widening in shock. But he immediately regained his composure. “Rina, oh, thank Hagan I finally found you.” He waved a white sheet of paper in front of her, bearing what appeared to be her mom’s signature, and took a step towards her. “Your Virtu-ray exam has revealed a few problems, and we need to hurry and--”
“Stay away from me!” Rina screamed, her blue eyes wide and her arms held in front of her, trying to keep the doctor as far away from her as possible. “I know everything. About the Law of Bones, about your plan. I know what you did to me when I was in that Eyrie crash five years ago! You just want to use me to get back at the King and take over, and I won’t let you!”
Dr. Renwick’s eyes widened and then narrowed. He scanned the hall until his eyes landed on a green Draik: Mr. Milleran. Rina, however, was shocked to see that her teacher was sulking in the shadows and clenching his briefcase to his chest, trying to make himself appear as small as possible.
The Desert Ruki turned back to the confused young Zafara with amusement on his face. “Really, Rina? Who told you all of this? Your dear teacher, Lyle Milleran?” He laughed, his voice as dry as the desert sand. “Oh, you don’t know. You don’t know anything.”
“Yes, I do—”
“Rina, Lyle may have won you over with his charm, with his niceties,” the doctor hissed, “but I know him for what he really is. And he wants to be King as much as I do. Why else do you think he brought you here?”
Rina’s stomach flipped. “Y-you’re lying. He brought me here to stop you...”
“Oh, really?” Quick as a whip, Renwick rushed over to Mr. Milleran and yanked the briefcase out of his hand. A second later, the snaps were undone, and despite the Draik’s cries of protest, the doctor held out a sheet of paper towards Rina.
“That’s just homework he was grading,” she said defiantly, but a moment later she felt her throat close up. The paper wasn’t homework; it was the fake permission slip her mom had signed back when they had gone to her house the other day... but it wasn’t a fake permission slip at all. Instead it was a legitimate guardianship switch form. Her mom had accidentally signed her daughter away.
“I don’t understand,” she said, looking up at Mr. Milleran, but the Draik refused to meet her eyes. Suddenly she knew that Renwick was right: the entire thing had been one big sham.
“So now,” the Ruki said, smirking, “if you’ll just come with me...”
“No,” Rina said, trembling. “I’m still not going with you. I refuse. I don’t want to be a princess.”
“You have no choice,” Dr. Renwick said, a growl emerging from his throat as he waved his own sheet of paper at her: a guardian slip that gave Rina over to him as well. “Either way, you’re soon going to be the Princess of Brightvale. Your only choice is who you’ll be serving under. Me, your loyal doctor who has watched over you since birth, or Milleran, the man who befriended and then betrayed you.”
Rina turned towards her old teacher and realized with a start that he too was advancing towards her. “I’m sorry,” the Draik said, his eyes downcast, “but it has to be this way. I-I’ve just come too far to just let it all slip away from me now.”
The green Zafara shrank back away from them. She wanted to turn and run away, but she was shaking like a leaf. And before she knew it, she had backed up against a wall. There was a door to her left, but a quick twist of the knob revealed it to be locked. There was nowhere to go. She was trapped.
“Who will it be?” Renwick asked as he drew closer, his kohl-lined eyes menacing. “Choose, girl. Choose now.”
But Rina couldn’t choose. Her heart pounded madly in her chest, and her eyes welled with tears. She couldn’t see anymore. But suddenly she heard a sound from behind her—the creaking of a door—and someone yanked on her collar, pulling her backwards.
“Get off me!” she yelped, thrashing wildly. I refuse to be Renwick’s puppet... or Milleran’s! she thought angrily. However, a second later, she realized that whoever had grabbed her had let go. Stunned, she wiped the tears away from her eyes and realized that she was no longer in the hallway, but in what appeared to be a bedroom. Someone had pulled her away from Dr. Renwick and Mr. Milleran.
She turned in a circle, trying to see if she could spot her savior... and then gasped.
Standing no more than two feet away from her was an elegant Shadow Xweetok with startling green eyes, long black hair, and a bow perched on top of her head: Princess Saya.
To be continued...