Secrets and Magic Ch. 01bysavannuh©
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Prince Aden grimaced as he waited for his ship to be ready. The trip to Earth was going to be lengthy and would undoubtedly make the pain in his back and legs worse. He shifted slightly in the hover-chair, trying to keep his muscles from becoming too stiff. Having to sit for long periods of time was something he wasn't accustomed to. He glanced down at the sleek piece of machinery encasing his lower half. The hover-chair was a dull silver color and shaped in a rather oblong fashion. It completely covered his legs, leaving only his upper torso free. How things had changed.
Aden watched as Merced, his newly appointed assistant, approached him. "Your Highness, we are almost ready. Is there anything you need?"
"No. I am fine until we board."
"Very well," Merced bowed slightly and went back to supervising the preparation of the ship. Aden looked on as the young man directed the crew, using his hands to help explain what he was saying.
Eventually, his mind to drifted toward his homeland. Just like oil added to water, the bitterness shot to the surface. In his mind's eye he could see his father and brothers presenting a strong front to their people, pretending like everyone was okay. By now word was probably circulating that after leading the kingdom to victory, he had decided to travel the galaxy on a vacation of sorts. His father, their beloved King, would play the part of the proud and loving parent and express how much Aden deserved and needed such an excursion. As it was, only those close to the royal family knew the truth. And all those involved in transporting him to Earth were handpicked and trusted not to speak to anyone regarding their departure. Aden more than understood why it was necessary he leave, but a part of him felt like a bad stain being covered up. It helped little that no one came to see him off.
Merced approached him once more, this time with a smile on his face. "Your Highness, everything is in place. We are finally ready to leave."
Aden nodded, "Then let's not waste any more time." He took a moment to glance around the terminal then glided up the ramp of the ship. He wanted the next part to be over as soon as possible. Merced, and another man on staff, would have to lift him out of the hover-chair and place him in the space-recliner ordered specifically for their trip. It didn't matter how much he anticipated the pain of being moved, the reality of it was always worse.
Minutes later, Aden was situated with a blanket over his legs. He rested his head on the support-cushion and closed his eyes. The hurt had lessened sooner than usual, so he took that as a good sign. Maybe he was getting better after all. He hoped. The healing process wouldn't be easy, but that wouldn't deter him. He wouldn't stop until he was walking without pain. Once he was whole again, the rest of those responsible for starting the war would be hunted down and captured. And if he ever came face to face with the one to blame for his current incapacitation, may the Maker of Stars forgive him.
The ship's thrusters powered up, followed by a slight jolt. Aden looked out the window and no longer saw the inside of the station. His journey had begun.
Jack walked through the doors of the one-story clinic in a pretty good mood. Her house was finally clean, all her bills were caught up, and she had just purchased a brand new Infiniti G35. It wasn't the dream car of most, but she had been in love with the sleek black sedan ever since she first laid eyes on it. The car was jam-packed with a long list of amenities, but none of them compared to the feel of the soft leather seats.
She grinned as she made her way to the changing room. So this was what it felt like to have things going her way. And thank goodness, because for a time it seemed her grandmother had been wrong about hard work paying off. She sighed as she changed into her lavender scrubs. Time to start the day.
She slammed her locker shut and made a beeline for the break room. Trying to get through the morning without coffee was pointless. "Good morning, Chris," she said in her most cheerful voice. Truth be told, she couldn't stand him, but at the moment that didn't seem to matter.
"Um, hey. Good morning." He shot her an odd look before leaving. What was that about? Jack shrugged her shoulders. Whatever. She supposed he was shocked she'd actually spoken to him. Normally she tried to do that as little as possible.
Jack opened the cabinet above the coffee maker and took down the mug with her name on it. It was a hideous brown color with yellow flowers on it. When her co-workers gave it to her for Christmas, she'd thought it was a gag gift and even said so. It wasn't. That had been awkward.
She added sugar and cream and was just about to pour in the coffee, when her supervisor walked in. "Good morning Sandy," Jack glanced over her shoulder and smiled. "I got to work earlier than usual. Can you believe it? I can actually go fast enough now to risk speeding." Sandy laughed, but Jack knew her well enough to know it wasn't real. She put the final touch on her morning fix then turned around.
"Jack," Sandy started but stopped.
"I know, Sandy. I didn't turn in my timecard yesterday. I really meant to, but I guess I got distracted. Don't worry though, I'll have it to you in five minutes." She would have to get better about that, as it was, this was her fourth time forgetting. The last thing she needed was a reprimand.
"No, it's not that. I mean, you still need to turn it in, but that's not why I came to get you," Sandy nervously brushed a red lock behind her ear. "Listen, why don't you come to my office? We'd have more privacy there."
Jack tried to ignore the way her heart began to pound. So they needed privacy, that wasn't a big deal -- at least that was what she was going to tell herself. "Uh, sure. I'm right behind you."
They left the break room and walked down the hall. Sandy's office was at the end and tucked right in the corner. Jack had been in it several times, but right now she couldn't remember it being less inviting. "Close the door and have a seat," Sandy said as she took her place behind her desk.
"Okay, spill it. What's going on?" Jack asked as she perched on the edge of her seat. "What's with the need for privacy?"
Sandy sighed as she ran her hands across the top of her thighs. "You're being let go."
Jack's heart threatened to jump out of her chest. "I'm being what?" Surely she'd heard wrong.
"I'm sorry Jack," Sandy shook her head, "Times are tough these days and the clinic is close to running on deficit."
This could not be happening. "But... why?"
Sandy ran her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. "You know how it is. When you're the last one hired..." Her voice trailed off.
"You're the first one fired," Jack finished for her. Well hell, so much for her good mood. She had finally finished her schooling, her training, and her assisting. She was finally able to have patients of her own and was being let go before she even hit the ground. Fantastic. And what about money? What was she supposed to do for that? She had a little saved up, but it wouldn't last forever.
They looked at one another for a moment before Sandy spoke again. "If it makes you feel better, I tried to get them to axe Chris instead." She rolled her eyes, "That guy's completely useless."
Jack felt a little better after hearing that -- but only a little. "You know, he gave me the weirdest look when I spoke to him this morning. Do you think he knew?"
Sandy let out a sound of disgust, "It's possible. I learned long ago there's no such thing as a workplace secret."
"Yeah, I guess not," Jack's shoulders slumped. What was she going to do?
"Look," Sandy tried to smile, "I'll write you the best letter of recommendation ever. You deserve it. I honestly think you would have been the top physical therapist here in no time."
"Thanks," Jack let out a deep breath. She should be angry, but what was the point? Even after she yelled and said her piece, it wouldn't change the fact that she was now unemployed. Plus, it wasn't Sandy's fault anyway; she was just the messenger.
"There's some paperwork you need to fill out and sign, then you can be on your way," Sandy shot her a sympathetic glance, "I know you probably want to get home."
"Yes," the resignation was already in her voice, "I do."
His father's home on Earth was the perfect location for convalescence. Several layers of protection spells kept it hidden from uninvited guests. The house was on the west coast of the United States and was close enough to the water to hear the waves break. Aden had visited a few times as a child and he never forgot the fresh salty smell of the ocean. Even now, as he sat in a chair on the front deck, his nostrils tingled at the crisp scent.
A blast of wind hit the deck, blowing long black strands of hair in his face. Aden grabbed the leather band from the table next to him and secured the locks at the nape of his neck. As he settled back into his chair, the sound of footsteps reached his ears.
Merced came to stand in front of him, adjusting the thin silver bracelets adorning his wrists. "Your Highness, there is news from home."
Aden tried to keep the look of disgust off his face. They had been waiting two months to learn why he couldn't be healed magically. And every time a report came in, it revealed little to nothing. How much longer would he have to stay hidden? "What did they say?"
Merced recited what he'd learned only moments ago, "The reports from home indicate they are still studying the residual energy that surrounded your wound. From what they can tell so far, the Shadow Mage who attacked you exhibited an output far beyond his rating."
Aden frowned, finding this new intelligence interesting. "If done legally, something like that could take years." He glanced at Merced, "But we both know the people we're dealing with have no regard for our laws."
"True," Merced replied. "I'm told there are several tests they still need to run to help determine the source of the Magic; I've asked they notify me immediately when an answer is found."
"Excellent." His father wanted him to concentrate on getting better, so Aden knew no one would contact him directly with news of developments. Instead, information would be funneled through Merced with the understanding he was only to pass on what he was told to. None of this surprised Aden, but he was pleased Merced was keen on sharing everything.
He looked out across the ocean and breathed in the scent once more, "You may go." Merced nodded and turned to leave, as he did so Aden noticed the young man fiddle once more with his bracelets. "Are they unpleasant?" he asked.
Silver eyes looked at him with surprise, "The MEDs are a bit... constricting. But wearing them in your service is a small price to pay."
Aden snorted derisively, "Is it? You think there's honor in serving a broken Prince?"
Merced's normally placid features colored with concern. "There's always honor in serving a hero of the people."
"But do they know of how their 'hero' can't take even the smallest of steps? Do they speak of how I rely on man and machine to move from one place to another?" Aden continued to let his anger show, "Tell me Merced, do they speak of how the royal physicians -- the best in the land -- can't heal me? Do they speak of how I can't heal myself?"
"Your Highness," Merced began, "it follows tradition these things be kept secret. To even mention them would ruin appearances."
"Of course," Aden said tightly, "I wouldn't want to do that." He adjusted himself in his chair and was silent.
"Very well, then." Used to his abrupt ways, Merced knew he was dismissed. He performed his customary bow and headed back inside the house.
Aden watched the tide roll in and thought about what Merced just relayed to him. If the Shadow Mages were attempting to increase the force of their Magic, then by their very disposition it had to be through black means. And though his power was strong, fighting Dark Magic without knowing its source put him at a severe disadvantage. Not only that, until they knew more, the majority of his people were dangerously vulnerable.
So things weren't terrible, not yet at least. It was true her savings was practically gone, and that pretty soon she was going to have to choose between the rent and her car note. But she wasn't ready to label the situation hopeless. She would save that for when she was living under an overpass fighting over discarded recyclables.
Jack got up from the kitchen table and walked into the living room. She plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. Escape through entertainment was necessary at this point, and anyway, who knew how much longer she could keep the cable on? It was best to take full advantage while she still could. As she sat there in her pajamas absorbing the mindless antics on screen, her eyes began to drift close. No sooner had she decided her job hunt could wait until after she napped, the phone rang. Jack's eyes popped open and zeroed in on the disturbance. Should she even bother? Exerting any kind of energy at the moment seemed too big a chore. In the end though, she stumbled her way over and grabbed the receiver.
She cleared her throat before speaking, "Hello?"
"Jack? This is Sandy. Hi," That was enough to wake her up completely. Did she have a job again? Was she saved the prospect of selling her blood to buy dinner?
"Sandy! Hey!" Excitement raced through her veins, "How are you?"
The laughter on the other end made her smile. "I'm fine. But I need to make this quick. Has your email address changed?"
"I just got a call from a guy. Apparently he needs a physical therapist willing to freelance their services. As you know, our clinic doesn't allow anything like that," She took a breath and went on, "I told him as much, but he still wanted to know if I could refer him to someone." There was a pause, "I went ahead and gave him your information."
"Yeah, don't mention it," Jack could hear her typing in the background, "I'm sending you the details now. The pay is pretty good, substantially better than what you would have made here."
That last part made hear heart skip a beat. "You don't know how much I need this. Seriously. Thanks."
"No problem," the typing stopped, "But I wasn't joking when I said not to mention it. I could get into a lot of trouble."
"That's the last thing I want to happen," Jack said. "You can rest assured I'll keep this between us."
"Yeah, yeah," Sandy sighed. "You know, this place just isn't the same without you. Chris is back to thinking he's God's gift again."
Jack rolled her eyes, "No surprise there." She leaned against the counter, "I hate that guy."
Sandy chuckled, "You and everyone else. But listen, go ahead and check your email. I gotta go."
"Alright. Talk to y-" she didn't get to finish her goodbye before the line went dead. Jack smiled, that was Sandy for you.
She returned the phone to its base then hurried to sit in front of her computer. It felt like ages waiting for the Internet to boot up; once it did she quickly logged into her account and saw what she was looking for. There, sitting at the top of her inbox, were the details of her mysterious new assignment.
Jack parked her car in the driveway and hopped out. She grabbed her bags from the passenger side before taking a moment to check out her surroundings. The house wasn't quite what she expected. Her temporary home looked more like it belonged on a farm than on a beach. The outside was a dark blue color with white shutters on the windows and there was a large porch that wrapped around the front. It didn't exactly fit the location, but it looked comfortable.
"So here goes," Jack said to no one in particular as she approached the front door. During the drive over her nerves had remained calm, but now they were starting to get riled up. She paused in front of the entrance and took a deep breath; it was now or never. Just as she raised her hand to knock, the door was opened revealing the most exotic looking man she had ever seen.
"Good afternoon, you must be Miss Devons." The man was tall and had skin the color of smooth milk chocolate. His eyes were silver, as was his hair, which looked to be bound in a long plait that fell down his back. The shirt he wore was sleeveless and displayed muscular arms, but Jack could tell his body fell more on the lean side.
It took her a moment to find her voice, "Yeah. That's me." Unsure of what else to say, she just stopped there.
He gave her a hint of a smile, "My name is Merced. Come in. I'll show you to your room then introduce you to --- Aden." Jack was certain he almost called him something else.
"Nice to meet you Merced," She returned his smile and followed him. The room he led her to was upstairs at the end of the hallway. It wasn't overly large and had a window that offered a beautiful view of the ocean. The bed was on the adjacent wall and looked to have been freshly made; and opposite to it was a small desk stocked with an assortment of office supplies. Jack placed her things on the bed and turned to see Merced idling in the doorway.
"I'm sure you would like to settle in, but Aden would like to meet you as soon as possible."
"Yes, of course." Apparently unpacking would have to wait.
She trailed behind Merced as he led her back downstairs, through the living room and into an exercise room. The hard wood floor was spotless and looked to have been freshly waxed. One of the walls held a large mirror that reached from floor to ceiling, giving her the impression of being in a dance studio. There were mats stacked in a corner, several pairs of dumbbells lining one wall, and even a small bench.
When her eyes fell on the man tucked in the corner, a gasp escaped her before she could stop herself.
He didn't look like anyone she'd ever seen before either.
Though he was sitting, there was no doubt he towered over most people in a room. Jack eyed his broad chest and shoulders and wondered what they looked like bared. His face had high cheekbones, a strong jaw line, and lips that appeared incredibly soft -- even his nose was perfect. Dark eyebrows arched flawlessly over thick lashes surrounding an emerald gaze. And judging by his expression, he was anything but happy to see her. Oh well, Jack mentally kicked herself. The first thing she needed to do was stop gawking.
"Sir, I present Miss Jack Devons, your new physical therapist."
Aden's jaw clenched as he eyed the woman in front of him unsmilingly. Hiring her hadn't been his idea; frankly he didn't see how she could help him. He'd been willing to wait until the physicians provided more information from their research, but his father thought it was prudent to explore alternative methods. And now, thanks to that parental insistence, he found himself confronted with a new employee who managed to pique more than just his dislike.
She was... attractive, and not at all what he expected. Her skin was lush and the color of caramel, an earth dessert he'd sampled once. The brown eyes trained on him were wide and expressive -- they would be even easier to read for someone like him. Her nose was small and sat above the fullest mouth he'd ever seen. And her body... was she deliberately trying to hide it under those loose-fitting clothes? Try as she might, the garments did nothing to conceal her curves or the gentle swell of cleavage. Her hair taunted him, too. The light brown curls were tightly secured in a band, but Aden wanted to know how they looked unbound. He also wanted...