Terribly sorry about the delay on this one... I left my house yesterday with the intention of getting home before work so that I could send this chapter out. Well, that didn't happen so... here it is.
“Your heart must be pounding,” Justine said to him during their late night stroll down the halls of Kalia Palace. “Your inauguration is what, three days away?”
“Four,” Koston Donnick replied as the gleams from the navy blue crystals twinkled in his kind eyes. “Surely you haven’t gotten your days mixed up!”
“I couldn’t even tell you what year it is anymore,” Justine readjusted her silver robe, retying the belt of white crystal beads so that she didn’t reveal her bodice to her cousin. “If you think that being Captain of the Guard keeps you busy, just wait until you become an advisor or a monarch. I’m so busy that my servants sometimes have to remind me when to eat and sleep. Even in a quiet city-state like Kalia, I’m constantly working on something.”
Koston didn’t deny that part of the reason he had gone to visit Queen Justine Illa of Kalia had been to get advice about the next step in his career. However, he also chose to spend his final vacation halfway across the world so that he could clear his head. It was hard enough to concentrate on just leading the Knights of Cardeau. Being a Donnick and becoming Queen Kallisto’s advisor would cast him and his son beneath an even greater spotlight than they were already under. The blaring lights as bright as three Hela’s were too much for his liking as it was. Kalia Palace had always been a great escape for him, but the knowledge that he was leaving before tomorrow’s end made it seem like he hadn’t taken a vacation at all.
Justine stepped forward to get a look at his face. He bore the looks of a man younger than his forty years. His golden hair curled and tickled the back of his neck, though traces of gray were starting to become prevalent. His eyes and mouth remained very soft. The shadow of crow’s feet had only just begun to appear on his face. Despite his gentle appearance, Koston was a man of over six feet and wielded the strength of any two knights in his Guard combined. “You seem pensive, Koston.”
“I am,” Koston admitted as the two entered another grand hall. The crystal pillars that held up the thin ceiling looked like they reached to the sky, where the moon and the stars were easily able to shine through. A set of guards remained on both entrances of the hall, but they were mostly there for ambiance.
“I still don’t understand,” Justine said as she gave him a careful inspection. She knew him well enough to disbelieve that her cousin asked her on a stroll in the middle of the night without reason.
“I…” his voice trailed off with his thoughts. He again contemplated what to say, and how best to say it. When they approached the middle of the room, away from the hearing range of the palace guards, he spoke. “I don’t know if I’m making the right decision.”
“What are you talking about?” Justine asked. “Of course you are. The citizens of Cardeau have been celebrating in the streets ever since the announcement was made. They’ve been hoping for this for years.”
This was true. It was one thing to be the grandson of one of the greatest Monarch Superiors of all time. It was another to be Koston Donnick, for he was the man who donated all of his family's riches to charity, only to soar through the ranks of ennoblement via his own talents and then (coincidentally) made back most of his wealth. He’d been born into greatness and made his name great yet again. He grew up being loved by all and now he was exponentially more so. After all of these years, he still didn’t know how to handle it.
“Are you worried about Marquez?”
“Of course I’m worried about Marquez,” Koston replied. “I’m also worried about the path I’ll be taking. It’s one thing to be the Captain of the Guard. Without joining the ranks of the Serenity Seekers and becoming a commander, there’s no other promotion in sight. By switching gears and delving into politics—”
“People will expect you to become the king, and then Monarch Superior.”
“But that’s not a secret, Koston. You knew that long before Kallisto offered you the position.”
“I did,” Koston said. “I don’t know if I’m ready for it.”
Justine almost burst with laughter. Koston shot her a bewildered look, but it didn’t stop her from nearly doubling over. When she was finished, she readjusted her long silver hair and gave him a soothing smile. “I’ve never met a man who is more ready for this than you. Your story is beyond inspirational, and more importantly it’s relatable. The whole world stopped when Jessa… The public loves you. The Monarchical Board loves you. Even Monarch Superior Donavont inquired about your inauguration at the last board meeting! You are ready for this.” She sighed. “It’s Marquez whom you should concerned with.”
“And Kallisto herself,” Justine added with a slight sneer.
Koston nodded cautiously. He knew all-too-well to what Justine was referring.
“Monarchs are elected, but advisors are selected. I heard that the opposing party just had their primaries.”
“They did,” Koston said. “Chiron Roltare has been nominated.”
“Again?” Justine asked. “He tried to run against her years ago and lost tragically. You would think that her opposition would learn to get more creative with their nominations.”
“He could win this time,” Koston said. “Kallisto has lost too much popularity, especially after the Red Fever incident. It’s the only reason she reached out to me. With me at her side she gets the votes back that she’ll need in order to maintain her throne.”
“I’m glad you’re aware of that.”
“I hate politics, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand them.”
Justine was frowning. “You’re not doing this because of what happened with Jessa, are you?”
Koston opted out of responding, but the answer was obvious.
“That was fifteen years ago, and Kallisto was a very different woman back then.”
“Sixteen, actually, and she might have changed, but my debt remains. I never got the opportunity to repay her.”
“You’ve been her Captain for more than half of her reign.”
“And what a dull reign it’s been! Thankfully so, of course, but there’s been no real need for me and we both know it. If I didn’t have my grandfather’s name, people wouldn’t know that I was Captain of the Guard at all.” Koston went to say more, but the vibrations in his pocket cut him off. He let out a groan long before even bothering to look at his telecom. There was only one reason for him to be contacted that late at night. The identification number on the screen was one that he didn’t recognize, but in his son’s case, that didn’t mean anything.
It was no surprise to Koston when his son appeared on the screen. His hair was disheveled and his eyes glossed over. “Father, I need you to pick me up.”
“You have got to be kidding with me.” Koston’s eyes narrowed in on his. He grasped the telecom in his hands, threatening to break it under his might.
Marquez did his best to ignore his father’s burst of anger, which included an avoidance of eye contact. “I’m at the Seeker station two blocks from the palace.”
“I…” Koston bit down on his tongue almost hard enough to draw blood. He didn’t want to say something that he’d regret. He’d done so to Marquez before and it nearly broke his heart. Through clenched teeth and a reddened face he said, “I’ll be right there,” and shut the telecom off before risking a tirade.
Justine frowned. “He’s going to be a problem for you when you become Advisor.”
“When I become Advisor?” Koston said with a laugh, “Do you have any idea how much of a problem he is for me now as Captain? Just last week I was running a meeting on palace safety when I was notified that Marquez was bungee jumping from the roof! The other week I got a disturbance call and found him drunk trying to fornicate with one of the queen’s handmaidens—one of the few that he hasn’t defiled already! There’s no end to his tomfoolery, and frankly there are times when I’m embarrassed for him. I’m sorry, but I have to go pick him up now.”
“Wait—before you do.”
Koston got so caught up in his son’s latest debacle that he’d forgotten about the conversation that he and Justine were having before getting the call. He wouldn’t dare walk out on the queen without listening to what she had to say.
“Marquez will be a problem for you, but your real battle is going to be with her.”
“I know her in ways that you do not. She’s a political strategist, and definitely one of the smartest. If you absolutely need to help her win the election to repay her for what she did, I understand. But you also need to be careful around her. She is not so giving these days. She will do whatever is necessary to stay on the throne. With one of the world’s most popular men at her side and no more debt to repay, she will want to ensure a victory against you when the time comes.”
Koston understood. He knew that he was just a short-term solution for his queen’s long-term plans. “Well then it’s a good thing that I don’t want to be King. If I refuse to run, I am no threat to her.”
Justine nodded cautiously. “Make sure she believes you. A lot can change between now and then. Don't forget: I never intended to become anything more than a district representative. Fate had other plans.”
Koston nodded, but had nothing more to say. His mind had left the conversation the moment that Marqeuez had entered it.
The security guard stood up in awe when Koston came barreling through the front door of the Kalia Serenity Seeker Department. It wasn’t every day that an overnight guard got to meet a celebrity. That night he got to meet two.
Koston was used to seeing that genuine look of surprise whenever someone new cast eyes on him, as if they were staring at one of the gods and not a man. When he spoke, he used the calmest tone he could muster. It was the best way he could think of to counteract his reddened eyes that oozed with fury and exasperation. “I’m here to pick up Marquez Donnick.”
The guard’s eyes remained as wide as his pudgy stomach, while traces of dinner trickled down his thin lips.
Koston withdrew his badge, which bore the emblem of Cardeau: a string of progressively larger blue diamonds with the words ‘Freedom, Respect, Equality, Excellence’ written underneath them. He knew that showing his credentials was overkill and that the guard knew who he was before the triangular doors even parted. It was still the most effective way to get him out of his trance.
“Of course, Sir,” the guard responded promptly. He sat back down and accessed his telescreen. Koston got a glimpse of an image of a dark skinned woman with braids in a Seeker uniform on the screen, but couldn’t make out the background. “Moira, please escort Marquez Donnick to the waiting room.”
“Will do,” he heard Moira say. The telescreen went blank.
Koston cocked his head. “That’s it? No fines or bail or anything?”
“Not for a first offense in Kalia. There was no reckless endangerment since the air shuttle was parked at the time. The people that called it in didn’t see any indecent parts of him or either of the girls. The reason your son was apprehended was because he was an intoxicated minor. The charges could have been more serious, but given the circumstances he got,” the guard began to snicker, “lucky.”
Koston gave him a stern glare that evaporated the humor from the guard’s face. He walked over toward one of the chairs in the waiting area and took a seat. He was the only person there besides the guard, for which he was grateful. He didn’t want the press to see him, or for anyone else to recognize him.
Koston examined the room while he waited. The ground was made up of crushed blue crystals, much like the ground outside. There were two-inch deep streams connected through the bottoms of the outside walls that ran all the way over to a small pond right beside the front desk. On the opposite end of the pond were tubes embedded in the walls where water ran up to the ceiling and was disbursed into a maze of pipes, lighting the white hanging lights above him. Nowhere else in the world had architecture quite like Kalia. It was a city-state that earned the tourism it brought in.
The door to the back office opened and the Serenity Seeker, Moira, stood in the threshold. A drunken Marquez stumbled passed her and toward his father with a widened shirt collar and an even wider grin.
“Father,” Marquez said gleefully. His vest was undone and his dress shirt remained just half-buttoned, and in all of the wrong holes. He bore lipstick stains on his neck and cheeks and what looked like the start of a hickey just below his shoulder. He was so elated that Koston had to wonder if his son had any inkling as to the degree of trouble he was in.
Marquez fell forward, but Koston caught him just as he lost his balance. He was heavy, but Koston didn’t have a problem keeping him up. “Thank you, officers,” he muttered. It was a sentence he had uttered too many times.
He wrapped Marquez’s arm around his shoulder and helped him stagger out of the Seeker station. Thankfully, the streets had emptied out that night. There was nothing that he’d wanted less than an audience as he helped his drunken son into an air shuttle.
Marquez continued chatting on like he had no idea what was happening. “It was so great, Father. The night was looking like a bust, but then on my walk back to the palace these two girls were trying to start their shuttle. Milo offered to help them, but they wanted me. I got inside then,” he snickered, “and then I really got inside.”
“Shut up, Marquez,” Koston said as he shoved him into the passenger seat. He didn’t care that Marquez buckled over and nearly fell on the floor of the shuttle. He just needed to get him out of public view. Once his son’s feet cleared the doorway he shut it and trudged to the other side as Marquez hoisted himself into a sitting up position.
“I didn’t finish, but I think it still counts.”
Koston smacked Marquez in the back of the head. He was just as stunned as Marquez as was, but he didn’t apologize for it. “What is wrong with you?! Are you trying to ruin your life, because you’re doing a fantastic job! How many more times am I going to be bailing you out like this?”
“Ugh,” Marquez said, rubbing his forehead.
“You’re nearly eighteen. You’ll be an adult before you know it—and then what? Your actions have consequences—for you and for me.”
“And that’s what matters, right?”
Koston whacked him in the head again.
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You can’t play the poor-little-rich-boy game anymore. There is no reason for anyone to take pity on you—not when you’ve been given every advantage in the world!”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” Marquez muttered.
Koston couldn’t tell Marquez’s level of intoxication, but it didn’t stop him. “Four nights before my inauguration and I’m picking you up for underage drinking in the middle of the night? The public is only giving you attention because of your name—and there’s so much else that you can do with it.”
Marquez grumbled an inaudible response.
“You have a standing invitation to the Barencos Advisory Academy, even after you slept with the dean’s daughter. Instead, you want to pursue modeling. I put you in charge of the annual Donnick charity benefit and you didn’t even show up. You can go to the greatest school in the world and become anything you want—”
“And I’ll still never be the man you are!” Marquez screamed.
Marquez leaned forward and let out a moan as he massaged his throbbing temples. The screaming must have hurt him physically about as much as it hurt Koston emotionally.
“You’re right, Father. I have everything. You’ve given me everything, but that’s because you’ve had it too. I should grow to be a better man. I know that I have that potential, but… Well, dammit, what’s the point? The more I try to be like you, the less I’ll be myself and the deeper I’ll be in your shadow, and in my great-grandfather’s shadow.” Marquez leaned his head on the window, absorbing the coldness of the glass. “You ever wonder why your father didn’t make anything of himself?”
“Don’t you dare!”
“How do you follow a man like his father? You just don’t. You can’t. There’s nothing more you can do. He understood that, and I get it too. I can’t be like you, Father, because there’s no way I could, even if I spent my whole life trying.”
Koston didn’t mutter another word. He had no idea what to say. As he watched his son struggle to recover from his evening, all he could think about was how much easier parenthood would have been if Jessa had still been around. Even though it had been sixteen years since her passing, he knew that she would’ve had the answers. After all, she was the one that had carried him out of a Seeker station when he was Marquez's age.
“There’s more to life than…” Koston stopped speaking when he heard Marquez’s snoring. The boy’s wild night must have tuckered him out. There was no reason to speak any further. If tonight had been any indication of their past conversations, Marquez might as well have been asleep the whole time anyway.
Koston felt a buzzing from his pocket again and cringed at the thought of who else might have been trying to contact him at that hour. When he saw that it was Milo, he realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised. He didn’t answer the call, but that didn’t stop his knight from sending him a message.
‘Want to come over for some after hour’s training? I haven’t felt your blade since we’ve been here.’
Koston figured that the message would be something to that effect. It was all-too-convenient that Marquez had been the one to ask Koston if his best friend could accompany them on this trip. Unbeknownst to him, Koston had already cleared Milo’s schedule so that he could steal an hour or two here and there in the absence of others.
Marquez had done too good of a job to ruin whatever mood Koston might have been in. He replied with a ‘Not tonight’ and leaned against his headrest. He wondered if Marquez had any inclination that he’d ruined his night of fun. Probably not, and it was best that it be kept that way.