A Bad Feeling
A Bad Feeling
All alone in the bowels of the palace, Edgar Laurence had plenty of time to reevaluate his life choices. He did not deserve this. None of this. Ten years ago, he was the trusted personal assistant to the king—King Callum of the House of Beaumont. He did such a stellar job that the king appointed him to be the assistant to his sole living heir, Princess Vega.
“She’s lost her mother,” the king said. “I’m too busy to teach her these things,” he said. “Teach her to be a royal, Edgar. Serve her as faithfully as you did me,” he insisted. And the payment Edgar received for his faithful service? A death sentence. He had served his princess faithfully and was rewarded with a swift ticket to the dungeons. And a date with the firing squad.
Some of his coconspirators—as labeled by the king—had already kissed the gun. Palace guards, Stone and Silver, and interrogators Oaks and the Duchess, whose only crime had been serving the princess and dutifully keeping her secret. Edgar would be joining them soon.
He patiently awaited his turn, even now, as he remembered that faithful night when Princess Vega came to him, tears streaming down her delicate cheeks. “She’s alive, Edgar! What am I going to do?”
“Who’s alive, Princess?”
“My sister. Astrid’s alive, Edgar. What am I going to do?”
“Who’s been telling you these lies, Highness? You know your sister was murdered with your mother.”
“No!” The princess grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “That’s the lie. She was not murdered. I saw her with my own two eyes on that island. She’s one of them.”
“One of who?”
“The Underground. All this time, she’s been living on that…that island of freaks. Mother must have arranged it before she died,” Vega said. “She’s probably up in heaven laughing at me, right now. She always hated me.”
“Your mother loved you, child,” Edgar replied, even more confused by the direction of this conversation.
“Then why is she still punishing me all these years later.” Vega whirled around. “Did I tell you she has a voice now?”
Vega nearly blew her stack. “Keep up, you idiot!...Astrid! Astrid has her voice.”
“That’s impossible. How could that be?”
“It could be because she’s been living on that island of freaks, with their witchcraft.”
Freaks? Witchcraft? Little girls coming back from the dead? He was afraid some sort of fever had overtaken the princess while she was on that island. But when Vega brought him to that room, that little room on the lower level of the palace, Edgar nearly fainted. There she was. Lying unconscious on that sliver of a mattress. The spitting image of Princess Vega—except this unconscious girl’s hair had not been dyed candy red like Princess Vega.
“Believe me now?”
“Unbelievable!” Edgar replied, in a state of shock. He reached down to touch her, but caught himself, as it was forbidden to touch royalty without permission. “Is she alive?”
“For now. I didn’t know what to do with her. She could ruin me, Edgar?”
He tore his eyes away from the unconscious twin and fixed them on the frantic twin. “How?”
“How?…B-sh-she…because she has a claim to the throne,” Vega sputtered.
“Hardly. She’s deficient.”
“I told you she can speak.”
“But her birth record still says deficient. Once deficient always deficient. Do you seriously think the Citizen’s Council would want a deficient ruling over them? That would be scandalous!”
“I don’t put anything past that council. They’ve never liked me. And what about the Underground?…They’re all sorcerers. They could use their witchcraft to influence the council.”
“Princess, I think you’re being a little—"
“I’m not being dramatic, Edgar.” Why was everyone always accusing her of being dramatic? “I saw it with my own eyes. She had us under her spell. There was a room filled with her friends right before our eyes and we couldn’t see them. Until we shot her with that serum…”
Vega rambled on. “…And I think she even had Chance under her spell while he was there too.”
“Is the lieutenant all right?”
“He is now. Now that he’s with me. But you see now, Edgar, don’t you? I need your help. Please?”
What else could he do? He helped. With the assistance of his most trusted guards, Silver and Stone and a few others, they hid Princess Astrid—right there in the palace, right under the king’s nose. Edgar knew it was dangerous, but his responsibility was to Princess Vega. And he was hoping to buy some time to come up with a better solution—one that didn’t involve the murder of a royal. At the same time, Vega was not just interested in keeping her sister a secret, but also to get her hands on that magical elixir that had restored Astrid’s voice. Apparently, Princess Vega detested magic, unless it benefitted her. This healing water, Vega hoped, would make her military unstoppable. Chance had told her about it, and she was desperate to find it.
But time ran out. Chance, apparently still under Astrid’s spell, had helped her and her friends escape, somehow the king got wind of it, and now here Edgar sits, biding his final hours in this black hole at the bottom of the palace. He would have it no other way. He had done his job. And if the reward for doing his job well was a death, he would proudly accept his trophy.
“You’d think they’d at least give me a final meal,” he said to no one. His stomach growled so loudly that it echoed through the dark empty chamber.
The growl lasted a little too long. Edgar realized the sound he heard wasn’t his stomach at all. It was the scraping of a heavy metal door.
They were coming for him.
His heart started racing. He wasn’t ready to die. Even at sixty-three, he was too young. He had so much to live for.
Footsteps grew closer, as did the clanking of the keys. There was another loud scraping sound as second heavy door was yanked open. Next came the ultrabright light from a flashlight that flooded the cell.
Edgar cowered in the corner with his eyes shut tight. “Don’t!...Please, don’t kill me,” he whined. “I throw myself on the mercy of the king!...Mercy! Mercy!!!”
“Are you finished?”
He recognized that voice. “Highness?”
“Yes, you whimpering coward, it’s me.”
“How did you…”
“I’ll explain when we get upstairs. It reeks down here.”
That was all Edgar needed to hear. He scrambled out of his cell door on his knees then struggled to get on his feet. His back had stiffened while being stuck in that cold, cramped cell. He rocked side to side, hoping to roll himself onto his feet.
“For the love of God! Here.” Vega reached down and helped hoist him up.
“Thank you, Princess. Thank you, so much. Thank—”
She waved him off. “You can thank me later. We’ve got a coronation to plan,” she said, leading him out of the dungeon. “And a body to dispose of.”
The stench of rotting garbage was the first clue that Astrid was entering Oceali waters. Just three miles off the coast rested the enormous barge that held the bulk of the nation’s refuse. A few minutes later, the cruiser washed up on the southern shore of Oceali. All of the ports were closed due to the king’s memorial. The southern coast was the most remote, only inhabited by a few wealthy families who owned stately homes that dotted along the coast.
Mitsi docked the boat near the home of a family that was very loyal to the Underground. They could be counted on for a closed mouth and an open dock—as well as a storage shed full of food and other supplies. The boat made a dull thud, bobbing against the dock, while Misti tied it to the post. The thud was enough to wake Astrid, but Alfred was still sound asleep.
She didn’t realize how tired she was. Astrid barely slept the night before, waiting for the perfect opportunity to sneak away from the hideout and hijack this boat—hijack Mitsi to hijack this boat. Alfred must not have had any sleep either, because he slept like a rock, even as Astrid lifted him out of the boat and laid him down on the dock.
“Thank you,” was all she could say to Mitsi, because she wasn’t sure what else to say to someone she had just used her power on to coerce into stealing a boat and bringing her and Alfred to Oceali. “Go back now and—” she started to give Mitsi a new command, but Mitsi put up her hand and silenced her.
“For the record, kid, your powers stopped working on me two hours ago.”
“They did? Then why did you…But you brought us here anyway. Why?”
Mitsi smirked, as she made her way to the shed at the other end of the dock, “Let’s just say, it wasn’t just the children who were cheering you on during your little speech, yesterday.”
A fact that Astrid had not been aware of. Her little speech. As Dr. Grace, the interim head of the Underground, laid out the plan for them to abandon the Isle of the Never Mind and search for a new home, that plan didn’t sit well with Astrid.
“Why should we remain in the dark?” she demanded of Dr. Grace. “Why keep running? Aren’t you all tired of hiding? We’ve done nothing wrong. Why should we have to live in fear all the time?”
Dr. Grace wasn’t at all bothered by Astrid’s outburst. She actually seemed to welcome it. Dr. Grace said nonchalantly, “Sounds good. What are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting we fight.”
Astrid’s words were met with a raucous cheer by the other kids. She thought it was only kids. But apparently, at least one other adult in the room quietly supported her opinion.
Even if Mitsi and the other children supported Astrid, Dr. Grace shot her down immediately with four words. “Queen’s Order Number One.” Vega’s plan to destroy the Underground after obliterating the Never Mind. They had no choice but to flee their home, even Astrid had to admit that. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t return to Oceali and fight on her own. Which is what she fully intended to do.
She had a plan. Steal a few vials of healing waters. Hi-jack a boat. Hi-jack Mitsi to drive that boat. Sneak into Oceali with her sidekick Alfred—well Alfred wasn’t part of her plan, but he came along anyway, so Astrid incorporated him into the plan.
“So, what’s your plan?” Misti asked. She had retrieved a couple of canisters of fuel from the shed and was now in the middle of refueling the cruiser. “I’m assuming there is an actual plan.”
“Oh, there’s a plan, all right,” Astrid replied, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “But it’s probably best if I don’t tell you…For your protection.”
Mitsi’s eyes lit up. “My protection? But the kid, here, can handle it.” She gestured toward Alfred, who was now awake and highly offended.
“Hey!” he said, mid-yawn.
“Take care of her, little flea…” Mitsi reached down and patted Alfred on the head. “…And yourself.” She popped the top on the empty fuel canister and set it back inside the shed. When Mitsi returned, she announced, “Well, since I’m not needed here, I guess I’ll head back to my post.”
“Thanks again for your help.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Mitsi hopped back into the cruiser.
“Hey! One more thing…” Astrid reached into her knapsack and pulled out Dr. Grace’s fancy tech-watch. “Can you show me which number belongs to Russell Bitters?”
“Where did you get this?”
Astrid grinned at her, proud at how she easily she was able to lift that watch off of Dr. Grace under the pretense of an apologetic hug.
“Forget I asked.” Misti snatched the watch from Astrid’s hand and scrolled through a series of four-digit numbers. “This one. 0415. Everyone picks their own number. I forget what Russ’ number—”
“It’s his son’s birthday.” Russ—Uncle Russ to Astrid—the man who had cared for Astrid after her mother was killed, during the failed escape. He too had lost everything that was dear to him because of the Royal Proclamation—the decree that required all deficient, including Astrid, to be sent to the dreaded facilities at the age of six. As a longtime member of the Underground, Russ was no friend to the royals—except for Astrid. She knew she could count on his help. “Thank you,” she said again to Mitsi, taking the watch back from her.
“Sure thing.” She tugged on the loose wires of the hotwired cruiser and the motor sprang to back to life.
“One more thing,” Astrid said, raising her voice to be heard over the motor.
“Yeah?” Mitsi yelled back.
“Do you have any money?”