Sunderland Magic Ch. 05byclassymissm©
The room Alison had been led to was quite intimidating. Lined with dark wooden shelves filled with antique books on the kingdom's history the room took on a musky, old-library smell. She had been told to sit in the chair to the immediate right of the head of the large rectangular table that dominated the meeting room. The table was long enough to seat at least ten people per side and had small green-shaded lamps running down its middle.
Alison's stomach growled and she could hear the echo reverberate against the high, arched ceiling of the room. She was beginning to regret skipping breakfast earlier, but at the time she had thought she would vomit if she ate the pancakes her sister had made her. She was incredibly happy Alexa had decided to come, even if her culinary skills were somewhat lacking. Alexa had been a pleasant distraction from both the presentation and missing Braden the night before. She had forgotten about the presentation for hours, and the twinge in her chest over missing Braden had been slightly relieved. Alexa's school ran all year, but every six weeks they were given time off to 'find inspiration'. Alexa had been on such a break when their father had called to tell her about Alison's exciting news, and being the good sister she was, she had decided to come to the capital for moral support.
Alison jumped when she heard the large double doors of the room open. She could smell the tea before she saw it and was glad that the person entering the room was a kitchen maid named Beatrice and not the council. She was still getting control over her nerves and would need to get used to the ominous room before she would be able to professionally give her speech. The stout, older woman offered her a cup of tea and then began to carefully place cups and saucers emblazoned with the royal crest at each seat. Alison was so nervous she had finished the tea before Beatrice was even halfway done with the table. Alison had finished her second cup by the time Beatrice had properly arranged the tea pitcher on its warming plate surrounded by bowls of sugar and jars of honey. And by the time Beatrice had carefully arranged the outlines and notes that Alison had so meticulously prepared for everyone, Alison had had her fourth cup.
After insuring that everything was properly in its place, Beatrice nodded farewell, and Alison was once again left to her solitude. Five minutes passed in silence, and then five more. Alison started to feel the effects of having just downed fours cups of tea and grew concerned that the king would frown upon her needing to use the restroom during the middle of the meeting. So she stood and walked towards the door, looking around her as if she was breaking some unspoken code to stay where she was put. As quietly as she could, she opened the door and step outside the room. She had no idea where the nearest restroom was but she thought that if she just chose a direction she would eventually run into someone and they could tell her where to go. She decided to head to the right and made her way down a crimson carpeted hallway. Portraits of nobles and royals hung on the wall and sporadically a bust of an historic general or war hero would appear. She had been walking for a few minutes when she heard a voice coming from a room whose door stood slightly ajar. She knew she shouldn't eavesdrop in the castle, but the man was talking so loudly she couldn't help but overhear him, or at least that is what she had told herself later that night.
"What have we heard from Aster? Has our venture been fruitful?" The voice that had asked the question was mid-ranged and obviously belonged to a young male. She would have considered it seductive if it wasn't for the raspy, airiness that accompanied it.
"We received a letter from him two days ago. He had been pleased with his troops; the struggle over the border town had gone as planned."
"Excellent." The first voice replied. "And what of our other project?"
"Taken care of milord. Your father is in a meeting with her as we speak."
"Very good Stephan, very good. Find a way to keep her in the capital for the time being. She will be most useful."
"Consider it done milord."
Alison heard footsteps approach her from inside the room, and she quickly ducked behind the nearest stone bust, hoping to remain unseen. The man who emerged had hair so short he almost appeared bald. He was of middle height and stocky build, and his thickset frame and broad shoulders awkwardly filled out the black suit that was common issue for members of the security staff at the castle. Luckily for her, his dark eyes had remained focused in the direction of his issued task, and once she had heard the man's footsteps fade away into the distance, she was able to safely leave her hiding spot. Her shock at what she had overheard had caused her to momentarily forget why she had been out in the hallway to begin with. After another few minutes of searching she had found her original destination. Upon exiting the overly decorated ladies room she suddenly realized how long she must have been gone, and quickly made her way back to the meeting room.
By the time she had gotten back, the council had arrived and was waiting on her. Embarrassed, she respectfully curtsied to King Medeas before re-taking her seat, intentionally avoiding the gazes of the other men by playing with her fingernails.
"My dear there is no need to be shy." The king then turned to Beatrice who was standing against the bookshelves, "See that Ms. Morris gets a cup of tea. She looks flushed and the tea should do her some good." Focusing back on Alison, he continued, "Now my dear, why don't you tell us about your research. We are all very interested in what you have to say."
Alison did not immediately notice that the king had directly addressed her, for Beatrice had been standing next to the stocky man she had just seen exit that room. The man was standing with his arms clasped behind his back. He suit coat lay unbuttoned and she could make out the hilt of a pistol holstered to his side. What do these people want with me? Why do they need armed security here?!? The silence in the room had snapped her attention from the security officer, and she realized that the king had asked something of her. The king was a tall, muscular man in his late 50's, with dark hair that was fighting with all its strength to combat the grey hairs threatening to usurp it. He stared expectantly at her, and looking into his eye, she saw that even if he wasn't the king his mature handsomeness and self-possession would have captured everyone's attention in the room.
Realizing that the king expected her to begin, Alison rose from her seat and stood so that she could clearly be seen.
"Umm..." She nervously began. Every seat at the table was filled, and there were even more people who stood along the walls, anxious to hear her speak. Not wanting to make a poor impression, she pushed down the fear she that had started to rise inside of her and began her speech. "Good morning. My name is Alison Morris and I'm here today to talk about my work in the emerging field of biomagical research. I've been working on this project since I was an undergraduate student at the University of Sunderland. I had been taught my freshman year that biology stopped where magic began and I just couldn't believe that..." She continued to speak for over 30 minutes about how she had managed to find the Fire gene and the steps she had taken to isolate and express it. She then briefly discussed Braden's work and concluded with the next steps in the research process and their hopes of eventually applying it to the medical field.
"That is most impressive Ms. Morris, especially for one so young. You are truly a remarkable woman." King Medeas motioned for her to re-take her seat and opened the floor for questions. The king's advisors bombarded her: Could this be done with Water and Earth as well? How long does it take to make these extracts? Could they be mass produced? How long would testing on mice take before you could move on to testing people? What kinds of side-effects could possibly result from exposure? And so on and so forth. Not wanting to let on that from personal experience she knew exactly what would happen if people were exposed to the extracts, she had only one answer for them, 'I don't know yet. More research is needed.' Sensing a pattern in her responses the king finally interrupted the council's inquiries.
"Well, I very much like what I've heard here today. It seems incredibly promising. I am sure we can come to an arrangement that would be equally beneficial to us both. Let's set up a meeting for Friday where you and I can discuss the budget and future of this project."
"Friday?" She asked, quickly becoming alarmed. Why keep me here? What do they really want with me?
"Yes, we'll meet right here; let's say around 9:30 Friday morning."
She couldn't argue with the king, and so she was forced to consent to staying in the capital for four more days. Alison was then quickly shown out of the room, put in a rather fancy looking golf cart and driven back to her father's estate.
Her father was not home when Alison arrived, which for once she was grateful for. She was in desperate need of some quiet time to contemplate what just happened. Not even bothering to go inside the house, she took the small stone pathway that twisted around the back of the main house and headed straight for the gardens. She loved her father's garden. Tall green hedges sectioned off different areas that all had their own unique theme. Her favorite section was the lily section and whenever she visited she made sure to stop by and take a nap on the cushioned bench that was found there. It was luxuriously relaxing to simply lay there and breathe in the scent of flowers and fresh air.
Today, however, her mind was in a whirl and even meditating on her favorite bench didn't seem to be helping. The men she overheard in that room wanted to keep her around for whatever they were planning, but what was it and how did she fit into that plan? She felt incredibly vulnerable and wished that she had insisted that Braden come with her. She knew she wouldn't be questioning her safety if Braden was lying on the bench with her, securely holding her.
It was then that she remembered the cryptic warning Braden had given her the night before. She had found it incredibly odd at the time that he had told her to be careful at the meeting, but the excitement of seeing her sister had made it slip her mind. Was this why I needed to be careful? Am I really in danger here?
Braden had spent the majority of the morning anxiously pacing in front of his couch. He had contemplated going into the lab to work, but he was half-way out the door when he realized that he would get nothing done and his living room had more space to walk out his frustration. He had started pacing when the meeting was scheduled to begin and had continued to do so for the next two hours.
He had thought about spying on the meeting, but in the end had restrained himself from doing so. The people he hated most in the world would all be in that room and he didn't know if he could control himself from attacking them right then and there, even if Alison was in the room. So he decided to wait for Ali to contact him. He had moved all the candles he had in his apartment to his living room and stared at them each time he passed by, waiting for her to send him a sign that she was waiting to mentally talk to him.
After another fifteen minutes of inane pacing one of the candles lit. Braden's heart lurched, and he had to calm himself before he grew too excited over the flame. It wouldn't be the first time he accidentally lit one of the candles himself out of frustration. He expectantly stopped guarding his mind and reached out for Alison. Alison had not yet learned to protect her mind from the invasion of others, and when he found her, it was obvious that she had not expected him to be there.
"God, I wish Braden was here. He would protect me. He would take care of this. Why do they want to keep me here? Will they ever let me go home?"
Upon hearing her frightened and pleading voice Braden's heart began to pound in his chest and he had to sit down on the floor before his knees gave way. I should be with her! I should be there to protect her from whatever the bastards did to scare her so badly. He was shaking from anger that those people had done something to her and from guilt over having been the one to help put her in that situation. He sat on the floor trying to compose himself and figure out what to do next. It took over an hour before Braden was able to rise and put his newly formed plan into action. He was done hiding from his past. His past decisions no longer just threatened his own life; they now put Ali's life in danger too, and that was unacceptable. His agreement, while seemingly noble at the time, was a self-serving one, and it was high time he set it right. It would break Alison's heart, and he would never see her again, but she would be safe and that was all that mattered.
His plan was to head to Lutheria first thing in the morning. However, before he left he would need to stop by the lab one more time to ensure all the specifics about how to make the extracts were safely placed in the laboratory vault.
Alison hadn't realized that she had fallen asleep until she woke up to the sounds of her sister bellowing her name from somewhere near the entrance of the gardens.
"Alison! Are you out here?"
Alison made an unintelligible grunt in reply to Alexa's question and yawned, stretching her arms above her head, trying to wake herself up.
"Alison? Where are you, you silly woman?" Alexa continued to yell for her sister. Apparently Alison had not gone unmissed when she didn't immediately return to the house.
"I'm over here, Alexa. Quit yelling." A few moments later Alexa's tall, lean frame appeared at the entrance of the sectioned area.
"How long have you been out here Ali? I thought you were supposed to be done hours ago?" Alison swung her feet down from the bench and sat up running her hands through her sleep-tangled hair.
"I got out of the meeting around noon. I came out here when I got back to think and must have fallen asleep. I'm sorry if I worried you and Dad." Alexa crossed the square alcove to join her sister on the comfy bench. As she sat down she saw for the first time Alison's puffy red eyes and her checks covered with dried tracks of tears.
"Oh my God, Ali have you been crying? What the hell happened in there today?" Alexa grabbed her sister's shoulders and pulled her into a hug.
"It's a really long story Alexa can I tell you about it later?" Alison asked, as she pushed herself away from her sister.
"No you can't. You have to tell me now. I can't stand to see you upset so I have to know what happened so I can help you fix it."
"You're going to pester to shit out of me until I tell you aren't you?" Alexa grinned slightly and nodded her head.
"Well duh Ali. So save us both the trouble and just tell me now."
Giving into the inevitable, Alison proceeded to tell her sister all about the meeting and the creepy conversation she had overheard. But she didn't stop there. Once she began to talk about the questions the council had asked her, she couldn't help but tell Alexa that whole story about spilling the extracts and mixing magics with Braden. Sharing her secret with someone other than Braden was immensely therapeutic and she just couldn't stop herself from revealing every detail. When she was done Alison held her breath to hear what her sister would have to say.
"Hmm...well I have to admit that I'm very disappointed in you Ali. I can't believe you intentionally deceived me. Last night you said you were seeing Braden not that you had already slept with him." Her obviously fake distress gave way into amusement and she playfully nudged her sister in the arm "With all seriousness though. I'm glad you're ok and not hurt by the mixing of the magics. That's crazy that you can do all that stuff now. You will have to show me you new skills sometime. I have a few ex's that you could practice setting on fire from a distance if you wanted to. As for those creepy men, you'll just have to been extra careful from now on. I hate it that there are people out there who want to use you. Do you think we should tell dad about it?"
A small disturbance at the entrance of the alcove drew the girls' attention and prevented Alison from answering her sister. Rupert, the butler was standing there apparently waiting to make an announcement.
"Mistress Alison, Mistress Alexa, your father has sent word that he will be spending the night at the castle and that we should not wait for him. Thus, dinner will be served in ten minutes."
"Thank you Rupert. We will be in shortly" Alison said. After Rupert left, Alison turned back to Alexa, "Please don't tell anyone about me or Braden, including Dad. I'll tell him when the time is right. We are still learning so much about this and we could be in real danger if the public found out about us. We are worried about the implications this may have. If word got out about us, chaos could erupt all over the place over people wanting more than one element themselves."
"You can trust me Alison. I may be a flake about somethings, but when it comes to the safety of my older sister I would never do anything stupid. As far as I am concerned this conversation remains here with the lilies." Alison let out a noticeable sigh of relief. It was such a weight off her shoulders to have another confidant in the matter. She suddenly became aware of how hungry she was, having not eaten all day, and stood up, moving in the direction of their dinner. Alexa joined her sister and the two women walked side by side towards the house.
"After dinner perhaps we could go to a nightclub." Alexa suggested. "I've been dying to check out the night life here. It's one of the reasons I decided to come to the capital. After all, I am on break from school; I have to live it up somehow. Plus, dancing always makes me forget my concerns. It would be good for you after a day like today."
"You know Alexa, I'd really rather not..." Alison recognized her sister's famous, 'I won't be swayed from my goal' expression and decided not to fight her. Who knows dancing in a room full of hot, sweaty people may be just what she needed.