Recent Statuses

4 days ago
Current On the lookout for a partner or two for a couple MxM plot ideas.…
1 mo ago
Everyone in my house is saving up to buy a nice one, but we probably won't get it before this winter ends. Every store here is sold out, and delivery trucks haven't been able to get up the mountain.
1 mo ago
My lower back needs thoughts and prayers with all this damn snow shoveling
1 mo ago
Husband: "Oh my god. Look at the Google search history of this guy who murdered his wife." / Me: "That looks like my search history when my character needs to hide a body." / H: "...Oh my god."
1 mo ago
My city's set to hit 100 inches of snow by the end of next week. The reign of terror needs to end. My nightmares are filled with ice berms and snow shovels.


Personal Profile

Name: Taylor
Pronouns: They/them
Age: Mid 20s
Relationship: Married (happily, I might add)
Time Zone: Arizona (we hate daylight savings, so it's MST year-round)
Writing History: I've been on a number of different roleplaying websites for over a decade and a half
Hobbies: Writing, fitness, driving/exploring, hiking, camping, traveling, tabletop games, anything NEW (I love trying things I've never done before)
Roleplayer Profile

Format: 1x1s only. Maybe I'll try a group RP again someday, but I've never had one last longer than a few months
Posting Speed: Depending on my schedule, I can usually post at least once per week
Favorite Genres: Historical, Romance, Action/Adventure, Horror/Dark, Fantasy, Slice of Life, Dystopian, can be convinced to write some Sci-Fi
Hard 'no's: Fandoms. Sorry, but I can't maintain interest in characters/worlds I didn't build with my partner
Template: Public threads or PMs. I prefer to keep all my RPs in one place, so no emails or G-docs or the like
Rating: Comfortable with 18+ content, but it's not a necessity and I prefer not to center a plot around explicit scenes
Level: Advanced. Will consistently provide around 400-700 words per post, but can occasionally leap to 2000+
Character preference: One main character, but large side casts are greatly enjoyed. Because I write long posts, I prefer not to double
Gender preference: Male. You'll be hard pressed to convince me to play a female that isn't a background character. It's just not my forte
Romantic Relationships: MxF or MxM (currently prefer MxM)
Character Images: Faceclaims or detailed descriptions only. I envision the characters like real people in my mind, so I can't take anime seriously
OOC chat: Yes please! I'm a total extrovert who loves to get to know the amazing minds behind my partners' characters

Most Recent Posts

All thoughts of Otto and the warning he’d tried to give had fled from Crow’s mind as he rode on Baine’s back through the trees. His heart thudded against his ribs, and his eyes swept over every bush and stone he passed in search of the missing princess. He didn’t know how much time had passed since he’d seen her take a sword to the midriff, and he didn’t know what he was going to do if he found her bleeding out somewhere, alone, on the forest floor. If she lost her life on this trip, it would have been his fault. After all, he was the one who’d insisted she should come with him to Younis, had convinced Albin to let her be one of his guards, and had let himself get too relaxed to notice the mercenaries on their tail. If he’d just let his father organize his entourage like he’d wanted to, then maybe—

“Collin, over here!”

His spiraling thoughts were interrupted jarringly by the sound of Rayner’s shout. Veering his mount to the left, he didn’t even give himself the time to call back a response before he hurried toward the source and found the knight dropping to his knees beside the fallen princess in a small clearing. Since she’d disappeared, she must have toppled from her horse’s back while it was still running, he pieced together as he jumped down from his own steed to rush to her side. The other horse was nowhere to be seen.

“Naida!” Barking her name, he dropped down next to her, his eyes sweeping from her pale face down to the gaping, bloody gash in her side. The mercenary’s weapon had cut deep, and he could feel the color drain from his skin as he stared at the gruesome wound. Suddenly, he felt lightheaded, and he forced himself to look away, swallowing hard. Even though he’d known she would be injured when he found her, he hadn’t braced himself to actually see her with a chunk of flesh taken out of her midriff. The sight was dizzying.

“Collin?” Weakly, his half-sister opened her eyes and made an attempt to lift her head off the grass.

“Don’t move, princess,” Rayner jumped in quickly, pressing his hands down over her gash to slow the bleeding.

She groaned and squeezed her eyes shut again. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

Crow and Rayner exchanged a glance, but when no one answered her out loud, Naida spoke again, more nervously this time: “A-am I going to die?”

“No,” Crow said reflexively. Turning back to her, he was careful to avoid looking directly at her side. “You’re going to be fine. We just need to get you to the next town, and they should have a physician who can patch you up.”

“Actually… I have supplies in my saddlebag here,” Rayner posed, lifting his gaze to meet Crow’s with a frown. He leaned back slightly, lifting some of the pressure off the princess’s wound, and dark red blood seeped between his fingers. He grimaced. “I can get them now, but Collin, you’ll need to take my place here to keep her from losing any more blood.”

“Me?” The word slipped out before Crow could catch himself. Clearing his throat, he glanced at the knight’s waiting horse at the edge of the clearing. “Shouldn’t I get the things you need while you keep applying pressure?”

“Do you know what you’re looking for?” Rayner knitted his brows.


“Come around to this side.”

Rayner gestured at the empty space beside him with a nod of his head. The former thief glanced there hesitantly for a moment but followed the order. If his sister’s life depended on his involvement in her treatment, he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. So, when Otto’s son leaned to the side to give him room to come in next to him, Crow took a steeling breath and rocked up on his knees to position his hands over the princess’s side, pressing them down as soon as the other man pulled away to stand. Instantly, he felt a shiver zip up his spine as her blood coated his palms, sickly warm and viscous, and he winced as she whimpered in pain.

“Just stay still,” he murmured, half to himself, as Rayner hurried off to dig in his saddlebags. “You’ll be alright soon.”

“Are you sure?” Naida looked up at him through squinted eyes.

He nodded, turning back to meet her gaze with a forced half-smile on his lips. “You will. A wound like this… It’s like a rite of passage. Every knight gets one at some point in her life. And when we get back to Brerra, you’ll get to tell everyone at the castle about how you fought a mercenary in Younis and survived.” As he spoke his smile turned slightly more playful. It was easier not to think about the gash in his sister’s side when he kept himself talking, and he could see her light up a little as well.

“Yeah. Right,” her lips curved upward, though he could see her throat move in a nervous swallow. “And father will see I was ready to handle a real job as a knight.”

“Exactly, so that’s why you need to just lie still and let Rayner patch you up, okay?”


Giving the princess a break from conversation, Crow lapsed into silence and looked up to count trees until the other man returned with the supplies he needed to close her wound. When he came back, Rayner knelt to take his spot, and the viceroy gladly got up to give them space. He removed himself from the vicinity to pace along the edge of the clearing, doing his best not to feel squeamish as Naida occasionally moaned and whimpered through the painful treatment. His hands felt sticky from her blood, but he hadn’t quite calmed down enough to take the time to clean them off, so he just tried to ignore the feeling as he walked along the tree line.

After a minute or so, he noticed movement in the distance, coming from the same direction as he and Rayner had earlier. Stopping in place, the former thief watched until he recognized the faces of Preston and Percival riding with the rest of the Younisians in tow. “Over here!” he called, waving a hand to flag them down. “We found her!”

The other men noticed him and hurried over on horseback. Without waiting, Percival dropped to the ground and jogged—or rather, limped hastily—over to Rayner to ask if there was any way he could offer assistance, while Preston hung back by Crow’s side, watching the scene with a scrunched face. “Is she going to be alright?”

“I don’t know yet,” Crow murmured, avoiding his servant’s eyes. “She’s coherent enough to talk, but she’s lost a lot of blood.”

Preston nodded. For a few beats, they both fell quiet. Then, his servant spoke up again.

“Do you need help getting cleaned up?”

Crow blinked and glanced down at himself. He hadn’t noticed it before, but while he’d been keeping the princess from bleeding out on the forest floor, the red stains had reached more than just the palms of his hands. Reluctantly, he let his attendant scrub the drying blood off his skin and clothing until Rayner announced that Naida was stable enough to transport, and they all pitched in to create a makeshift sling between two horses, which was then used to carry her into the next town ahead of them.

Along the way, Crow and Percival offered their limited knowledge about the mercenaries to the Younisian knights, who planned to pass word along to the other nearby guards in the hopes that they could catch the ones who had escaped. The knights also assured them that they would increase their security measures along the major roadways to the capital, so they could rest easy knowing that they would be safe from ambushes for the rest of their journey.

Crow wasn’t convinced they would be able to hold the mercenaries off forever, but he thanked them for their vigilance before he parted ways with the rest of his group to settle in at an inn.

For good measure, Rayner ventured out into the village to look for a physician to evaluate Naida’s condition while the viceroy and his entourage brought her up the stairs in her makeshift sling to their shared room for the night. Once she was lying on the bed closest to the door, Crow sat down heavily on one of the free cots near the back and stripped off his surcoat and undershirt to assess the damage from his earlier fall off Baine. His side hadn’t stopped aching since the adrenaline of the fight had worn off.

And the pain made sense to him when he saw the mottled green bruise that had taken up residence on his ribcage. He brushed it gingerly with his fingertips and hissed at the tenderness.

“That looks painful.”

Lifting his gaze, the former thief found Percival standing over him with furrowed brows. With Preston sitting in Naida’s company, the knight had stepped away from her to make good on the promise he’d made in the woods before. “If you’d like it, there’s a salve in the medical supplies that should take the edge off.”

“Please,” Crow nodded. Exhaling slowly, he leaned back on the palm of a hand while the knight dug in a leather bag until he retrieved a small sealed jar. Percival handed it off to him, and he twisted the lid off with a word of thanks, applying a dab of the cream inside to his bruise.

For a minute or so, they sat quietly. The only sound in the room was that of Naida and Preston having a hushed conversation at her cot. Percival watched the viceroy treat his own wound, reclining against the bed across from him with his hands clasped loosely in his lap. His lips were pursed and his eyes thoughtful, and when Crow was done with the salve, the knight looked up to catch his gaze. “So… about Otto.”

Crow paused in the middle of setting the jar down beside him. “Right,” he mused. Now that things had calmed down and Rayner wasn’t with them, it was the perfect time to discuss the other man’s father. Glancing at Preston, who had looked up at the sound of Otto’s name, he frowned as he thought back over the run-in he’d had with the baron in the woods. “Not long after the mercenaries attacked us, I noticed him standing off in the distance, watching,” he started, turning back to Percival. “I don’t know exactly what he was doing there, but I didn’t want to let him get away from us again, so I went after him.

“He tried to run, but I caught up to him and tried to make him tell me what was going on… I didn’t get much out of him before one of those men showed up and put an arrow through his head though.” He wrinkled his nose at the mental image. “All I managed to wring out of him was that he claimed he was being forced to help someone and that there was some sort of change to their plans.”

“What does that mean?” Percival asked.

“He said something about a different trap for someone before the king chose to send me to Younis instead of Gorm. Apparently when that changed, I became the target instead.” Crow studied a crack in the wall to his right idly. “It sounds to me like whoever was pulling the strings behind this attack really doesn’t want our two kingdoms to be negotiating right now.”

“But this war has been hard on everyone,” Preston suddenly spoke up from across the room, wearing a perplexed expression. “Why would anyone, Brerratic or Younisian, want to stop us from ending it?”

Crow lifted his hands in a broad shrug. “Beats me, but whoever it is was apparently desperate enough to blackmail Otto into helping by threatening his family. He said that if he refused to do what they wanted, Rayner and his wife would have been killed.” He paused as another piece of the conversation came back to him. “And he also said he wasn’t the only one they’re using. There was someone else in the castle that was relaying orders to him… I think it’s someone close to the king.”

“That isn’t good,” Percival exhaled anxiously. “If there’s a traitor among King Albin’s circle, he needs to be made aware of it before they do any more damage.”

“But how?” Preston shook his head. “It’s not like we can just send him a letter. If this person has informants, they’ll intercept it for sure.”

“We just need to wrap up this trip and get back to the castle as quickly as we can,” Crow said, glancing at Naida, who seemed to have fallen asleep at some point during their conversation. “For now, we focus on getting to the Younisian king, negotiating for a truce, and keeping a lookout for mercenaries until we’re safe in our own land again. Ending the war is top priority.”

“Agreed,” Percival nodded, standing up from his bed. “And on that note, I will wait up for Rayner and the physician, so the two of you should get some rest. I have a feeling we’re going to have a long ride tomorrow.”

“Probably,” Crow sighed, turning to lay down on his cot. Taking the knight’s advice, he and Preston both settled in for bed, and Percival put out the oil lamps everywhere in the room except near Naida, so the physician could see her when he arrived.

As the room darkened, the former thief closed his eyes and rolled over to face the back wall, shifting to make himself comfortable on the thin mat underneath him. Now that they’d been attacked once, he didn’t know what to expect for the rest of the journey. He just hoped the mercenaries were only after him and that Penelope was safe in the outer villages. Pulling the sheet up over his head, he sent a prayer to any god that would listen that she would be left alone and that he and his group would make it to the Younisian palace without any more ambushes.
Events at the palace were always extravagant, but the yearly banquet was a creature all its own. Every spare room in the building had been filled the night before with guests from around the continent, rich and royal supporters of the Aspirian monarchy, while the on-site servants had been hard at work decorating the ballroom. Every table, chair, banister and wall was practically dripping in luxury by the time they were done with it, and visitors were already milling about admiring the sights and sampling the hors d'oeuvres before the party. Both the men and the women were dressed in expensive, colorful dresses and suits, washing the ballroom floor in painted fabrics that created an impressive tapestry from above—which was where Caspian found himself at the start of that evening.

Once he’d settled himself over his appearance in his room, Harry had stopped by to let him know it was time for him to make his grand appearance for the banquet. With one last glance in the mirror, Cas had followed him and two other guards out to the top of the staircase, where he hovered as his presence was announced to the crowd below, and he stood with a forced smile as the sea of politicians applauded as if he was a celebrity. He’d never liked all the pomp and pageantry at these things—showing up for a rooftop party with a bunch of people his own age was much more appealing—but he just grinned and bore it until the clapping tapered off, and he could descend the stairs while everyone else resumed their mingling.

It felt a little surreal to be back in front of a capital crowd. The last time he’d seen this many people gathered in one place had been his father’s funeral. He swallowed as the thought threatened to stir up unwanted memories of Atlas. Of Iris. Her face flashed through his mind again, and he felt his lip twitch, fighting against the frown that tried to take over. He still missed her deeply, but he couldn’t think about that now. There was nothing he could do to bring her back, he reminded himself for the thousandth time, and fixating on her would just exhaust him. Right now, he needed to get through the banquet, make his rounds among the invited guests, and find Suphate King Quincy to talk about his proposition.

Who knew? Maybe somewhere along the way, he would even start to enjoy himself.

That was what he hoped for as the evening wore on, and he circled around the ballroom, greeting people he hadn’t seen in a year and answering questions about his plans as the new ruler of Aspiria. Everyone seemed most curious about his agendas—and about whether he had any plans to find himself a queen. He knew why they were asking, of course, since he was acutely aware of the fact that the entire royal line hinged on him now that his father was gone, the rest of his extended family had been cut from the will, and he had no siblings or heirs of his own. If anything happened to him, the monarchy would crumble, and Aspiria had no backup plan in place.

Still, he didn’t like feeling pressured into a relationship, so even though he understood the weight his singleness carried in the eyes of his allies, he kept his answers vague, only telling the politicians that he had some prospects on the horizon but hadn’t made any firm commitments yet. That was enough to keep them off his back, and he would move on to the next groups, repeating most of the same topics with them.

After about two hours, he was finally approached by one of his guards, who let him know that the royal family from Suphate had arrived and were looking to speak with him. Excusing himself from the family he had just been conversing with—and breathing an inward sigh of relief that he didn’t have to humor their suggestion of taking more than one bride to grow the Maydestone royal tree faster—he followed the guard over to the base of the grand stairs, where he spotted a familiar face through the crowd.

“King Caspian,” Quincy greeted him with a broad smile, one hand resting on the shoulder of a young woman dressed in all white at his side. “Thank you for responding to my letter. You remember my daughter, Raine, don’t you?”

“It’s been a while, but yes, I do,” Cas nodded, offering a smile of his own. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You as well, Your Majesty,” Raine dipped into a curtsey and extended a gloved hand toward him. Her long, dark hair had been pinned up in loose curls, framing her olive-skinned cheeks. She was short and lithe—very unlike her stout father—with a cinched waist and supple curves that had been highlighted by her fitted cocktail dress. However, the most striking feature about her were her bright green eyes, highlighted piercingly with black liner. After ten years apart, she certainly knew how to make an impression.

Following the steps of tradition, Cas placed a kiss to the back of her hand and inclined his head toward one of the drink tables near the edge of the ballroom. “Why don’t we grab something to drink while we catch up? The champagne is excellent tonight.”

“Let’s,” Quincy agreed eagerly.

As the visiting king shepherded them both over to the table, Cas could see that he was practically buzzing with excitement. He felt a little guilty for not matching the Suphates’ enthusiasm, but ultimately, their meeting wasn’t about his feelings anyway. He was considering their proposal because it was a good move for Aspiria. It was just politics, nothing more. And it was better this way. If he left his feelings out of it, like he should have done with Iris, no one else would get hurt. So, taking a steeling breath, he picked up a champagne flute and readied himself to discuss options for an arranged marriage.
With Iris looking well enough to be left on her own, Jacob returned to the palace to resume his duties as the head of security. No one seemed to have noticed his absence, fortunately, and Caspian was still locked up in his room, so it was easy to slip back into place as one cog in the royal machine. He went back to work for the next few days, only checking in on Iris as needed to make sure she was still recovering and had enough supplies to last in between his visits. And once the pattern was established, he kept it up for the rest of the following month. Every three days, he would drop by the condo to see her and restock groceries, stay for no more than one hour, and then drive back to the palace as if he had just been on a lunch break. If any of his colleagues noticed the slight change to his schedule, they didn’t say anything about it.

Meanwhile, Caspian took the same month to readjust to life as king—without Iris. Losing his father not long before her murder, it was difficult for him to pull himself out of the depression that gripped him for the first two weeks. At least with Atlas’s passing, he’d been able to grieve publicly. He had a reasonable excuse to keep a light schedule and give himself time and space away from other people until he’d moved on. However, since his relationship with Iris had been a secret, his mourning over her had to be done privately too. The only time he could let himself become emotional was when he was behind closed doors in the palace. It was exhausting, especially when he was roped into meetings that dragged on too long or when he had too many tasks to do with deadlines that were too close together.

Almost on a daily basis, he wished he wasn’t Aspiria’s king. He wished he could have been a normal guy in the capital with a normal life, normal friends and a normal girlfriend. Maybe if he hadn’t been born into the royal family, Iris wouldn’t have died. Maybe they could have been together, or, if not, then maybe at least she could have met someone else who was better for her and who wouldn’t have led her to such a horrible end. Whenever his emotions turned dark, it was difficult to escape from the guilt. He was convinced it was his fault that she was gone. As much as he wanted to choose his own life partner, he was starting to wonder if he father had been right. He should have just agreed to an arranged marriage after all. Apparently the only kind of woman he was cut out to be with was someone who already belonged to his world. It would have been a lot harder for him to hurt a princess.

Time was the only thing that helped him move forward. After the first two weeks, it steadily began to get easier for him to go about his routine. The pain of losing Iris never faded, but the kingdom wasn’t going to put everything on hold for him to get past her death completely. For the next two weeks following, he made a real effort to be the leader his country needed. It was his duty. Knowing that there were plenty of things that needed to be done, decisions that needed to be made, and legal changes that needed to be enacted, he pored over his work until the loss of his girlfriend was pushed to the back of his mind. He’d let her down, but he didn’t have to let the rest of his people down too.

His main agenda was the ongoing civil war. After seeing firsthand how it had ravaged the people of the outer districts, he wanted to end it as quickly as possible. While organizing the military to strike the rebels in the most meaningful points, he also worked with a well-spoken ambassador on composing a letter of peace that he hoped the leaders of the rebellion would be open to receiving. If they were willing to surrender, he could start implementing some of his plans to restore the districts that had been destroyed in the fighting. At the moment, he had no clue if they would listen though, so he didn’t hold out much hope that the letter would be received well.

Within the capital, life continued moving as if the war didn’t exist. The people went about their daily routines without fear or worry, operating their businesses, traveling to vacation spots, and organizing parties—the same parties he used to make appearances at before his father had died. It was a little surreal to see it all happening from a distance, but he was optimistic that would be changing soon. Later that evening—exactly one month after Ethan had killed Iris—the palace would be hosting its annual banquet to honor a few royal families from nearby kingdoms who had been longstanding allies of Aspiria. Cas had been going to the event since he was a kid, so he was looking forward to seeing old friends again and re-greeting the men and women his father had once seen as equals. The only thing he was nervous about was a letter he’d received from the king of Suphate a week before the event.

It wasn’t the first time the older man had tried to interest him in courting his daughter, but with Iris’s death still fresh in the background of his mind, it had almost stung to read an official proposal. Unlike the hints and prods of times past, the most recent message had been a formal offer to unite the bond between Aspiria and Suphate through Caspian’s marriage to Quincy’s oldest daughter, Raine. It had caught him off guard, and at first, he’d been disgusted that the other king would even suggest it—until he’d grounded himself in the reality that Quincy had no idea he’d just lost another woman that he cared about. He was making the offer because he thought it was a strong political move for their respective kingdoms. And, if he was honest, he could see the benefit of agreeing to the plan.

The civil war against the Scourge had been a drain on Aspirian resources for years, and an alliance with Suphate would be a powerful move against the enemies of the monarchy. It would show the people of the capital that their leadership was still strong and their country was still growing, and it would show the rebels that they were outmatched and outnumbered. Taking all emotion out of the equation, he had to admit the pros outweighed the cons. So, reluctantly, he sent an email back to the Suphate palace that he would agree to meet with Raine at the banquet.

Which was in one hour.

“Can anybody tell me where Jacob is?”

Craning his neck to peer over his shoulder, Cas frowned as the guard standing by his bedroom door shrugged at his question. He’d spent the last half hour getting ready, fussing over his clothes and hair like a teenager going on a date. All he’d committed to was talking to Quincy’s daughter, but he was still anxious about making a good first impression—Well, sort of first impression. They had met before when they were much younger, but it had been about ten years since the last time he’d seen Raine. He had no idea what she looked like or what kind of person she’d become, and he didn’t want her to think she was getting the short end of the stick if they found themselves in an arranged marriage. Doing his best to look presentable, he’d put on his favorite slate gray suit with a dark blue, silk tie and run a thin layer of gel through his hair.

“If that doesn’t impress the princess, I don’t know what will, Your Majesty,” one of the palace servants complimented when he noticed the king fiddling with his hair again.

“Thanks,” Cas sighed, frowning at his reflection. He still wished he was dressing up for Iris though. The thought of her cut him like a knife, and he took a deep breath to fight off a wince. “I hope you’re right.”
“I don’t need repayment for following orders,” Jacob said simply, folding his arms across the t-shirt he was wearing. “My king asked me to rescue you, so I did. That’s all there is to it.” Technically. Caspian had been the one to assemble the strike team and assign him to lead it, but seeing the video from Ethan and watching her nearly die in the house had been the deciding factors in the rest of his actions. In fact, he was disobeying his liege by harboring her in his condo, risking the loss of his job and even a potential prison sentence for keeping this secret from the Aspirian ruler. He never would have asked or expected a common girl from the districts to repay him for that though. She had nothing while he had everything he wanted out of life as a respected capital citizen and leader of the monarchy’s elite security team.

The anger in Iris’s voice didn’t faze the guard when she reacted to his announcement that Caspian thought she was dead. Holding her gaze unflinchingly, he just stayed where he was, leaving her to process the news however she needed to until she asked him why he was going to so much trouble for her sake. “Honestly? Spite,” he replied with a half-smirk on his lips. “I didn’t want to give Ethan the satisfaction of taking you with him when he died, and…” he trailed off, averting his gaze to look out the window with a shrug of his shoulders. “I suppose you could also say that I care when I see someone get hurt who didn’t deserve to be.”

He didn’t care to elaborate more than that though, so he turned back to her again when she mentioned telling Caspian she was still alive. “I know you won’t, because you know just as well as I do that it’s for the best that you two never see each other again.” Once again, he was blunt with her, but he’d never been the type to beat around the bush. Holding her eyes without wavering, he watched the emotions flicker across her face as the initial burst of anger faded. She might not have been capital-born, but he could tell she was a smart girl. Given time to think and process, he trusted her to make the right decision. She had been a brief chapter in the king’s life that needed to come to a close, both for their sakes and for that of the country. He wouldn’t be changing his mind about that.

Their conversation seemed to be draining on her, and he wanted her to recover as quickly as possible, so when she requested to get some more rest, he nodded. “Please do.” Turning to the door, he took a few steps away from her and only glanced over his shoulder once more as he took the knob in his hand. “I need to check in with my men at the palace, but I left a sheet with a number you can call if you need something. First aid supplies are in the washroom, and food is in the kitchen if you have an appetite. Just try not to move around too much while I’m gone.”
At Iris’s quiet objection to Caspian’s role in her rescue, Jacob stood beside the bed with pursed lips. “No, he shouldn’t have,” he agreed after a moment, though there was no anger in his voice. The statement was made just as calmly as if he’d agreed that chocolate cake was better than vanilla. Maybe it was harsh to say so, but she wasn’t wrong in her assessment. Ethan had used her to bait the king out and exploit his weaknesses, and his plan had worked. Now, as the head of security, he was going to have to double down on his efforts to ensure it didn’t happen again, and there was a chance that Caspian had lost favor in the eyes of the military members who knew about the strike team to rescue one politically unimportant girl. The whole campaign had been a mistake.

“But he did.”

Sliding his hands into his pockets, Jacob concluded his thought in the same casual manner with which he’d spoken the first half. No matter what he thought about it all, he knew his king wouldn’t have had it any other way. Plus, he had seen the video Ethan had sent for himself. He’d only gotten a taste of the rage Caspian must have felt, and it had been enough to push him over the edge to obey the order to assemble the soldiers. “And I don’t regret saving you,” he added with a frown. “What Ethan did to you just to provoke King Caspian… it was abhorrent. I’m glad you’re away from him now.”

Watching Iris inspect the wound in her side, he hovered for a little while longer. She didn’t look like she was going to lay back down yet, and he didn’t want to walk out and leave her alone to hurt herself unintentionally. When she whispered, he shook his head. “There is nowhere else for you to stay in the capital, and I’m not going to release you back into the districts in that condition,” he said firmly. “Until you’re well enough to be on your own and no longer at risk of infection, you need to stay here.”

The question she asked next was a touchier subject, and the guard shifted his weight slightly as he considered how best to answer it. “No,” he said after another pause, lifting his gaze from the corner of the bed to the former rebel’s eyes. “The king believes Ethan kidnapped you from the capital. He isn’t aware you left of your own volition, which is part of the reason why he organized a rescue team. However… he also doesn’t know you’re still alive.”

Studying her carefully, he explained: “When my team found you, you were barely clinging to life. I wasn’t even sure if you would last the next hour. If King Caspian found out the condition you were in, I knew he would do everything in his power to bring you back to health... but he would also be so worried about keeping you alive that he would lose sight of his other duties as the ruler of Aspiria, so I made the decision to bring you back here quietly—without his knowledge.”
At the rasp in Iris’s voice, Jacob picked up a glass of water he’d left on the nightstand and offered it to her once she’d calmed down enough that she wouldn’t knock it out of his hand. All the while, he eyed the shirt she was wearing—intentionally white—for any blood spots, making sure she hadn’t reopened her wound in the midst of her thrashing. Fortunately, he didn’t see anything concerning, so he settled on the edge of the mattress and lifted his gaze to meet hers when she asked about Caspian.

“He is safe, but he isn’t here. You’re in my condo,” he answered succinctly, rolling his shoulders in a mindless stretch. He hadn’t realized how long he’d been sitting on the living room sofa, and he’d gotten a little stiff. He was also hesitant to tell Iris much more than he just had, since he didn’t want to argue with her if she insisted on being moved to see the king in the palace. Right now, all he cared about was seeing that she recovered properly and then returning her to the districts where she belonged. Caspian couldn’t know she had ever been here.

He was less secretive about the fate of her abductor though, so when she asked about Ethan next, he nodded in confirmation. “Yes, dead. I watched him take a bullet between the eyes when my strike team found his hiding place.” Technically, he was the one who had fired the shot, but he wasn’t looking to take credit, so he left that part of the explanation ambiguous. “You won’t have to worry about him ever again. He’s gone for good.” As he spoke, his eyes wandered to the room they were in. White paint, old motel-like artwork on the walls and a ceiling fan spinning lazy circles above their heads. He probably should have been more invested in a conversation about a man’s gruesome death, but his years in service to his country had made him numb to the harsher side of war. Instead, he had noticed how vacant his old bedroom felt.

As he turned back to Iris, he caught the grimace on her face and furrowed his brows. “You should lie back down. It’s only been a day since I moved you here, and you’ve barely started to heal. Some rest will do you good.” He got up from the edge of the bed again, readying himself to leave if she took him up on the suggestion. “Is there anything else you need from me?”
“Oh, what if they match us with the person we try to get rid of, if that person doesn’t leave the show?” Jett arched his brows as the idea crossed his mind. On a reality show like this, he wouldn’t have put it past the production team to try a move like that. If they did, he really hoped Madison didn’t make it past the first round of voting—or whatever it was they were going to be doing—since he already knew he wanted her gone.

When they got to the fire pit, and the next event was announced, he wasn’t at all surprised to find out their guess about eliminating another player had been right. With his hands in the pockets of his swim trunks, he listened to the host explain that one person was going to be leaving the cast, and they had ten minutes to pitch their votes—and he and Anna were exempt from being kicked off because they’d won the first challenge. At that, he turned to catch her gaze with a grin, offering up a hand in a high-five. “For real. Good job out there, partner.”

Over the next few minutes, the cast members took their turns scribbling down names on slips of paper to add to a box by the center of the fire pit. For dramatic effect, they had to hold up their votes in front of the cameramen, so they could capture who had voted for whom. Jett took his turn when there was space, since he and Anna were still part of the elimination process even though they couldn’t be eliminated. Naturally, he picked Madison, tired of listening to her complain about the non-celebrity contestants, and headed back to join the others until everyone was done making their choices.

“This is gonna be heated,” Bella leaned over to whisper to him and a couple others with a smirk. “If you-know-who leaves the show, how much you wanna bet the producers are gonna get sued for defamation?”
Jacob had never been specifically trained to treat wounds, but the combination of fighting in a civil war and working closely with an ailing king had lent him the skills he needed to keep Iris from succumbing to her injuries. He worked tirelessly in the house where he’d found her, using what little equipment and resources he had available until he felt like she was stable enough to move. The open wound in her midriff had been staunched, her broken bones had been set, and he finally picked her up, carefully, off the floor to bring her down to the first working car he could find on the street down below.

He picked the door open, hotwired it to get it running, and laid Iris’s limp body across the backseat with a blanket spread over her both for warmth and to conceal her identity when he drove back to the capital. There was no getting inside the city without passing through a security checkpoint equipped with infrared cameras. There, he leveraged his status as the head of capital security to avoid having the car searched. When the border patrol questioned him about the second body in the vehicle, he explained it away as a captured, unconscious prisoner from the rebellion that he was bringing in for interrogation.

The guards took him at his word, and he was permitted to pass through, driving along the highway that would take him to his condo on the north side of the capital. When he’d accepted the job as head of security for King Atlas, he’d moved into a room in the palace to stay close to his monarch. However, he had never stopped making payments on the other unit, just in case he ever needed it. Until now, nothing else had come up, but with Iris barely clinging to life in his backseat, he was glad he’d had the foresight to continue renewing his lease.

He pulled the borrowed car around the back side of the building, where there was less foot traffic and witnesses to worry about, and gingerly lifted the unconscious girl to carry her up the back stairs to his condo. Unlocking the door was a little tricky, but he managed to get it open by using the wall as a brace for his shoulder while he fished in his pocket. Once they were safely inside, he finally set her down on the bed and set about tending to her wounds more properly than he had when they were in the districts.

The bloodstained clothing was exchanged for an old t-shirt and basketball shorts—though he left her undergarments in place, uncomfortable with the thought of removing them when she was someone important to Caspian—and he scrubbed the dried blood from her skin. The stab wound was stitched with his own kit, the makeshift brace on her arm was replaced with a sturdier binding, and when he was confident that she would start recovering on her own, he finally returned to the palace to check on his king, stifling the guilt he felt about telling the other man that she was dead when she was really locked up in his condo only a few miles away.

When he got back, he found the palace in the exact state he expected. All function had ceased. The halls were quiet, visiting representatives had been sent away, and two guards stood posted outside the doors to the king’s bedroom with orders not to let anyone inside until told otherwise. He could tell that many of the other security workers were confused about Caspian’s reaction to the raid, since none of them had known how close their monarch had been to the woman they’d been trying to rescue, but he also knew it wouldn’t take long for them to put the pieces together and figure out why he was so devastated—if they hadn’t already.

In that way, Jacob was glad he’d made the decision that he had to keep her survival a secret. If there was to be any blemish on the fledgling king’s reputation because of his affection for a rebel, it would quickly pass. That relationship was over and done with, so there would be no reason for concern among the Aspirian people that their leader’s allegiance was divided with the Scourge.

He spent the night in his room in the palace, just in case Caspian needed him for anything before the morning. However, when the sun rose and nothing changed while the other man continued to grieve his loss, he decided to return to the condo to see how Iris was doing since he’d left her the day before. He took his own car this time to make the drive back, but still parked behind the building. Inside again, he found the former rebel passed out where he’d left her, so he settled in the living room and flipped through channels on the TV to catch up on the local news, leaving her to rest in the bedroom.

An hour passed quietly while he lounged on the couch with a beer. In a way, it felt like a vacation, since he was usually busy at the palace seven days a week with security work and management, but the peace was eventually broken when he heard a faint, muffled voice cry out behind the door. He got up right away and turned the TV off, heading back into the bedroom where he saw that Iris was awake and struggling to climb out of the bed.

“Iris.” With a tone both firm and soft, Jacob stepped over to lay a hand on her shoulder. “Lay still or you’ll reopen your wound. You’re safe now. Ethan is dead.”
“Sick fuck,” Jacob curled his lip in disgust as he watched Ethan’s lifeless body crumple to the floor. While his team filed into the room to investigate it for anything useful, he lifted a hand to, finally, respond to Caspian, who had been verbally barraging him since the drone had been destroyed. “The obstacle is clear now, Your Majesty. Harry is checking for signs of life.” As he spoke, he watched the other man kneel at Iris’s side, slipping two fingers under her chin in search of a pulse.

“And?” Cas pressed immediately, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He wished Ethan hadn’t destroyed the drone. He couldn’t see anything, and the last thing on his screen had been Iris with a knife sticking out of her middle. His hands were shaking as he waited, hoping against hope that the other man hadn’t killed her—that they weren’t too late to bring her back to the palace. He didn’t know what he would do if she was dead.

Meanwhile, Jacob arched a brow when Harry said his name. He’d expected the other man to pronounce her gone, so when Harry acted like he might have noticed something, the security head stepped over to see for himself what was going on. “Stand back,” he ordered, dropping low to the ground to press two fingers against Iris’s throat. He stayed still for a few seconds with eyes narrowed in focus. Just as he was about to agree with the other man that he’d imagined a pulse, he felt a faint thump underneath his fingertips. She was still alive.

He almost parted his lips to tell Caspian, but before the words could leave his mouth, he hesitated. Iris was alive, but there had been a reason why he’d separated her from the fledgling king. Instead of reaching for his comm device, he considered the situation. Iris wasn’t going to last much longer without immediate medical attention, and he wasn’t cold-blooded enough to leave her to die. However, he also knew that bringing her back to his ruler would just put them back at square one—perhaps even lower, since he imagined Caspian would be ten times as protective of her after everything that had just happened. Even though the part of his that was bound to serving his king squirmed at the thought, he knew deep down that it was better for the people of Aspiria if their current liege moved on. He was going to have to pull some treasonous strings.

An idea formed, and he touched his device, taking a deep breath before he finally answered Caspian’s question.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty.”

“No way.” The color drained from Cas’s face, and he collapsed backwards into the seat he’d earlier abandoned. “A-Are you sure? She can’t be dead. There’s no way.”

“She no longer has a pulse,” Jacob lied. “I truly am sorry for your loss… If you’d like, I can stay behind to give her a proper burial.”

Cas pressed a hand down over his face. He didn’t want Jacob to bury her. He didn’t want anyone to bury her. He wanted to bring her back to the palace to be by his side, where she would be safe and they wouldn’t have to worry about these kinds of sick attacks by the rebellion. In the time they’d been together, she had become more important to him than anyone else, and now she was just gone? He bit down on his lower lip as it started to quiver. “This is my fault,” he whispered, unable to raise his voice any louder without breaking it. “I shouldn’t have left her all alone in that place, without anyone to protect her. If I’d just ignored the people who would protest, I could have brought her into the palace with me sooner, and she wouldn’t have ended up with him again—”

“It isn’t your fault,” Jacob interrupted his spiraling. “You didn’t know he was looking for her. No one did. The way this ended was regrettable, but you did everything you could, you hear me?”

For a few beats, Cas didn’t respond. At that moment, he couldn’t bring himself to agree with the guard. He felt like he could have done more—should have done more—to prevent Ethan from doing this. He’d let Iris down again, and this time, there was nothing he could do to fix it. “Bury her in the capital cemetery. Please,” he murmured, his voice cracking on the last word as the emotions finally spilled over along with his tears.

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

With their assignment over and the house cleared as vacant, the soldiers filed back out to the crafts they’d taken to return to the capital. On their way out, one of the men stopped by the top floor to get Jacob. “Are you coming, sir?” he asked, pointing down the stairs toward the front door.

“Go on without me. I just have a few more things to wrap up here before I leave,” Jacob shook his head. “I’ll take another vehicle back.”

“If you say so,” the soldier shrugged, turning to leave him to his business.

The security head watched him go for a few seconds. As soon as the other man was out of earshot, he spun around and took the sleeve of his shirt between his teeth, giving it a sharp tug to tear and pressing it down against Iris’s midriff, where the blood was pooling around the blade of the knife. “Come on,” he muttered as he worked to staunch the wound. “Stay with me, Iris. You just need to hang on a little longer now…”
The instant the first gunshot had been fired, every soldier in the building had changed course to sprint upstairs. Meanwhile, Jacob clenched his jaw as he watched his target’s hand fly to his leg where the bullet had made contact. It was satisfying, in a way, to hurt the man who had tortured Iris, but it still didn’t make up for everything he’d done to her. One wound wasn’t vengeance for a life lost. His eyes flicked to her unmoving, bloodstained body on the floor just as the security team’s drone hovered into the line of sight. He didn’t need to see his king to know what the scene in this room was going to do to him. That was a situation for the men in the palace to deal with.

And they did. When Iris came into view on Caspian’s screen, he had jumped up from his seat with a shouted ‘no,’ only to be restrained by the shoulder immediately by the nearest guard. All the color drained from his face, and his eyes were as round as disks as he stared at her crumpled form on the screen, the knife protruding sinisterly from her middle and the blood that had pooled around her on the floorboards. This couldn’t be real. There was no way. He refused to believe she was dead, even as Ethan grinned and said so on the other side of the drone.

He parted his lips to demand that Jacob check her for a pulse, but before he could get the words out, there was a second bang, and suddenly the screen went black. “Wait. No. What happened!?” Tearing his arm out of the guard’s grip, the king lunged at the monitor, checking it over as if he would find a loose cord that he could plug back into place to fix the issue.

“It looked like he shot the drone, Your Majesty.” Behind him, the guard frowned as he watched his ruler obsess over the darkened screen. “It wasn’t built to withstand bullets.”

“Shit!” Cas, raked his fingers through his hair. He still needed to get ahold of Jacob even if he couldn’t see… He still had his comm device. It wasn’t the drone he’d been using to communicate with his security officer. He needed to focus. Gathering the pieces of his composure, he lifted his trembling hand to the earpiece he was still wearing to tap into the line. “Jacob, check to see if she’s still alive!” he ordered.

“I’m a little busy right now, Your Majesty,” the guard hissed back through gritted teeth. In the time it had taken the king to remember his comm device, the team’s target had started returning fire, and Jacob had ducked for cover just outside the bedroom door. Luckily, he was wearing the same standard bulletproof uniform as the rest of the soldiers, but he’d still taken a shot to the sternum that had winded him on his way to safety. He pressed a hand against the afflicted spot as he fought to catch his breath.

Unsurprisingly, Caspian had started arguing with him through his earpiece, demanding that he check on Iris right away to make sure that they could get her medical attention if she needed it. However, he ignored the shouting to focus on the more pressing issue at that moment: the man waving an automatic weapon around like a madman in the next room over.

He took a breath and leaned toward the door frame with his own gun. It was starting to seem like ‘nonlethal’ wasn’t an option here. He wasn’t going to sacrifice any of his men just to take an unruly hostage—especially one who didn’t appear to be in his right mind—so, raising the pistol in his hands, he braced himself to take another shot and whirled around to plant himself in the open doorway as he fired back, this time aiming at the other man’s head.
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