"Are we literally going to just walk in there?" she inquired.
"Well, I hope not, but that's the only way I know how to get in which is where you come in."
"Oh wow, thanks," she replied sarcastically. Courtly sighed and began hiking around the gate towards a nitch in the wall that she'd been sneaking out of since she was little. She gave the part of the wall a little shove and it did the rest. The small part of the wall pulled back, revealing an adult-sized hole that dropped into a tunnel into the castle. She turned to him, "Want to go first or should I?"
He raised his first and it burst into flames and he waltzed in, "I'll go!"
She rolled her eyes and muttered, "Show off," under her breath before jumping in after him.
"Hey, this is an eco-friendly method that I think you should embrace, plus, what's the point in having powers if you don't use them?" He asked, "very eery place for the Air kingdom."
"This tunnel was made a couple decades back before I was born and when the ____ line first started. It was to help soldiers easily deploy in case of rebel attacks."
"Oh, right," he replied, "still. Eery."
"Eery isn't going to get us through these tunnels alive," she snapped. "I don't think you should be surprised, but a lot of people know about these tunnels and how they run throughout most of the area in the kingdom near the castle. That's why when the rebels disappeared, traps were installed to keep anyone from trying to sneak in or steal things. I used to travel through these tunnels to leave undetected. There are a million traps, so stay close to me and don't distract me."
He turned to grin at her, "so...it would be distracting if I were to, say, kiss you?" He asked, teasing her but he slowed down his pace.
She choked a little in reply, her head reminding her of earlier. "Yes, that would be very distracting and has a ninety-eight percent chance of getting us killed."
"You dying would solve this," he mused, "if you're dead, they have no one to get the crowns."
"I'm starting to wonder if you came here to help me or laugh when I'm murdered." She turned a corner and paused, scanning the walls of the tunnel before continuing forward. She hopped over a particular step in the path and kept walking.
He followed, only need to widen his own step to get over the trap instead of hopping, "that's a very good question. I'll get back to you on that."
"Can you have the answer before my certain death?"
"Sure, consider my reaction the answer."
She narrowed her eyes at the darkness ahead of her. "Great," she spat sarcastically. Courtly continued navigating the tunnels, leading them past traps, and saying nothing to Nate. Soon enough, they appeared at an entry point into the castle, which led directly in Courtly's room. She didn't ask for Nate's consent and went first, opening the hatch and climbing out.
After climbing out himself, he glanced the room, "cute," he said.
She honestly didn't understand what was "cute" about the room. Maybe because it was neat? Who knows? After second year, Courtly had taken down all the decorations that used to cover the walls of her room and repainted the walls an azure color. The room was large of course, with a door branching off to a walk-in closet and a bathroom. Her bed was pushed against one of the walls near the door to the balcony which overlooked the lake near the castle. She barely spared her room a glance and opened the door to the hallway to peek out. "No one's outside."
"Are we going to be jumping balcony to balcony? Like in the movies."
She closed the door behind her and headed towards the balcony. "...Sure," she mumbled, sliding open the door and striding onto the balcony. She took a short look, briefly allowing herself to admire the view but then she turned back to Nate.
He followed, looking around the room, before looking at the view, then meeting her eyes with a wink.
She rolled her eyes and climbed onto the ledge of the balcony. She took a swift leap and her hands latched onto the floor of the higher balcony. She swung herself a couple of times and then flipped upwards onto the terrace.
He easily followed, barely exerting himself, "this is so not like James Bond."
"This isn't supposed a James Bond movie, may I remind you. We have a job, nincompoop." She reached the balcony she was looking for and peered in through the glass door to discover it was empty and smiled. "Alright, this is my father's study. Don't do anything stupid."
"I don't do stupid things," he said, looking around the place, "how..." he picked up a golden globe, "extra. No wonder people want him dead."
"People actually admire him for his extravagant demeanor. The Air Kingdom just adores elegance. They want him dead because they don't agree with how he rules the kingdom. Do you even keep up with politics?" Courtly muttered and then glared at him. "Put that down," she ordered sharply. "Don't touch anything. We can't let him discover anyone's here or we'll be toast."
He smiled as he heard her, "we won't be toast, he'll be toast, we'll just be leaves in the wind."
"I don't care if you're helping me. Touch my father and I will murder you," she seethed. The thing that frightened her was that she wasn't kidding.
"Jesus, Courtney, I was only joking. Because I'm a fire user, you know? He can't make us toast but I can, because I control fire...which makes you toast. It was a joke. I'm not particularly interested in starting a war between our countries."
She sighed, tapping one of her fingers to her temple. "Then don't make jokes like that. And that was a crappy fire joke." Courtly turned on her heel and headed towards the door. "Stay here, hide somewhere. Don't touch anything. If I don't come back in thirty minutes, come out of your hiding place and go back to my room." She didn't wait for his agreement before she stepped out of the study and closed the door behind her.
He rolled his eyes, "I'll do that," he muttered and sat in the chair behind the desk, a ball of fire appearing in his hand and he threw it to the other hand then back.
Merely ten minutes later, Courtly returned with an annoyed expression on her face. "Come on Nate, we don't have that much time. This pass expires in two hours."
He got up, walking over to her, "let's hurry then."
She spun on her heel, opened the door, glanced around in the hallway before stepping into it and gesturing for Nate to follow her. "Honestly, I'm glad we have an elevator," she sighed as she quietly made her way down the hallway. "Makes this so much easier."
"Humans are incredibly intelligent, y'know, it's a shame none of us elementals like to recognise that."
She raised her eyebrow at him. "That was a random thought," she commented. "But I can agree, yeah, humans are very intelligent."
"Not really, you just said you were relieved that you had an elevator...which is a human invention," he said pressing the button, summonning it.
Courtly didn't reply, just rolled her eyes and stepped into the elevator.
He followed, tapping his thigh.
The elevator slowly made its way down to the basement floor where it opened its doors and allowed the two to step out. Courtly walked out first and didn't wait for Nate when she continued down the path to a mini-toll looking machine. She inserted the pass and waited for it to register before the gate leading the dungeon lifted and allowed them to pass. She continued walking, crossing her arms over her chest as she did.
He followed, looking around.
"Her cell is going to be farther down so..." she mumbled to herself under her breath as she walked, studying the cell doors. "Aha," she mused, finding the door she was looking for. She knocked on the door to make sure the prisoner was awake, and when she got an annoyed groan, she smiled.
"Are we going to be nice...during this?" He whispered gazing down at the girl.
"You be bad cop if you wanna be bad cop, I don't care." She took a pair of keys out from her back pocket an unlocked the door. She then stepped into the cell, which was dimly lit by a lantern hanging above the space. "Well, hello Karly."
The supposed girl named Karly scowled, glaring at the princess and her accomplice. "What do you want?" she spat, shifting in the pile of chains she sat in. She looked relatively healthy and was free from injuries, but she didn't look happy.
He slipped in, "oh, nothing, really, just want to have a little chat," he replied, bending down to her height, just a little bit away, enough that she couldn't reach him though, "I'm Nathanial, I doubt you know. Karly...is that short for something?"
"That's none of your concern," she hissed, drawing herself further into her corner. "Is this your new boyfriend? Were you so scared of me that you brought him to protect you?" she taunted.
She rolled her eyes at the girl and threw the keys to Nate. "You and I both know I could beat you to a pulp by myself. His presence isn't your issue and no, he's not my boyfriend. But I understand the confusion, your jealousy gets a little saltier each day, doesn't it?" Courtly stepped closer to Karly, narrowing her eyes at the girl. "It's no secret your father has been sneaking messages down here. We've caught several White Rose officials disguised as servants trying to get down here. So, I'm going to ask you a simple question that you better answer. Are the White Roses currently planning any group attacks?"
Four balls of fire began to dance around his palm, "I'd answer her if I were you. No one knows we're down here."
She glared back at Courtly. "I'm not telling you that."
One of the ball of fire, darting off his palm, swished around her cheek, not enough to burn her, but enough to get the message across. "You want to try that again, sweetheart? I haven't been known to give people mercy."
Even if Karly didn't want to be sporting some ugly burns for the rest of her life, she wore not to reveal this one piece of information so she didn't. "If I knew, I would've told you already. I don't like fire. Fire doesn't like me. I'm not risking my skin for this okay. Now if you are done, please leave me the fuck alone."
He tilted his head, "hey Courtney, do you believe her?"
She tilted her head and studied the girl from where stood, leaning against the wall. "Not really. We could all get out of here much quicker if you just gave us what we needed, Karly."
She huffed and hugged her burnt wrist to her chest. "His name is Xerxes. I don't know his last name. Just that he's an earth elemental or something."
He turned to look at Courtly with a raised eyebrow asking once more if she believed Karly but this time non verbally.
She contemplated the information. It seemed valid but it was debatable. Xerxes sounded more like a codename then anything else, which meant the White Roses didn't trust Karly with any valuable information which rendered further questioning useless. She nodded and straightened her stance. "Well Karly, you enjoy the rest of your stay here. We're going to leave. Bye bye now."
He winked at Karly before standing up, bouncing slightly to wake his legs up. They'd gone slightly numb, "nice meeting you!"
She narrowed her eyes at him and watched as they left and Courtly locked the door.
Courtly turned towards Nate once they were back by the elevator. "Well, that was eventful. So, at least we know the name or at least some name. Karly said he was recruited a few months ago, which to me could be around the time I started getting those creepy messages from the stranger I met up with during that Christmas party. Now, we need a way to confront him to find out if this theory is actually true."
"He's got to be around the academy area, right? 18. He'd be the age of a student."
"Right. Karly said he's an Earth elemental, right? I think I know someone who can help us track him down, but they're out of town right now."
"Oh, wouldn't be your brother would it?" He asked knowing he was a tri-elemental.
She frowned and didn't respond as she waited for the elevator to shoot back down to the dungeon floor and for the elevator doors to open before she stepped in.
He followed, "guess not," he muttered, pressing the button to the ground floor. "I gather you guys are close? I'm not really close to any of my siblings..."
She gave a short and curt response of, "Very, very close. It was always just us most of the time so we didn't spend our time butting heads."
"I guess you have no choice really...find friends if you're alone, regardless of who they are," he mused, "at least we got something out of her?"
"Yeah..." She drifted on into thought, ignoring Nate and the world around her until they reached the ground floor.
He walked through town, his hands in his pockets, silent for the most part before turning his head to ask, "are you alright? You're not usually this quiet."
Courtly shrugged, taking out her phone and checking for any new messages. "Glad you noticed how much I talk on a daily basis," she retorted sarcastically.
He narrowed his eyes before turning away again, "I was just asking," he muttered, shoving his hands into his pockets.
She sighed and put her phone away. "Sorry... I'm just, not used to people being genuinely concerned for me, I guess. As you can tell, I'm not a very rainbows and sunshine type of princess."
"I've yet to meet a princess who's full of rainbows and sunshines," he pointed out, "it's not a common thing with royals."
"Then you have not met any air royals," she said with a visible shudder. "Augh, they're horrible."
"I thought it was just you and whats his face, Kyle?" He asked, now confused.
"I'm talking about extended family. Kyle is actually quite melancholy when he wants to be."
"I did say princesses, would you consider extended family princess? I thought they were just duchesses."
"You know what I mean," she deadpanned. She flipped the hood of her vest over her head as the Academy came into view.
"Very inconspicuous," he replied, "I'll do it too." He slipped his jacket off and tossed it over his head, "no one will know it's me."
She rolled her eyes but a small smile flickered across her face. Before the passed through the gate, Courtly stopped and turned to face Nate. "Uh... Thank you. For helping me," she muttered.
He pulled the jacket off his head, "nah, it was fine, kinda fun breaking into your castle."
"That makes me wonder what your definition of fun is," she responded, a bit withdrawn. "I think I'm going to go take a walk around the Academy to clear my head before I go back to sleep. It's almost morning anyway so I'll see you later." Courtly turned and began walking through the gate, her fingers clenched inside the pockets of her jeans.
He watched her go before walking the other way. Probably the best option was to leave her bed.
If Courtly was to be completely honest, she was reluctant to go up to Nate again and ask for help. It wasn't to keep her pride intact or whatever, it was the idea that she had planted in her head that she was bothering him. She had been pacing earlier in front of the door to his dorm and eventually decided against it, heading out of the Dorm Building and towards the main building to the cafeteria.
He was walking towards his dorm with food he totally didn't steal from the cafeteria. He was sipping on a juice box, "hey Courtney," he said, "how you doing?"
Her face went completely blank as he greeted her. "One, my name is Courtly. Two, fine. Three, I have a new lead." She regretted ever considering asking for his help now. He couldn't even say her name right.
He, of course, knew her name for the get go, but he was a piece of shit. "Oh, really? That was quick, guess the mystery man came through. Need any help?" He asked before pausing, "are you hungry? Thirsty? I have stuff."
A bit surprised, a bit cautious. "Are you okay, Nate? I honestly wasn't expecting you to be this... what's the word? Concerned? No. Caring? No. Willing? Maybe."
"Willing to give up my food? I'm surprised too. But I don't think I'm going to get through it all," he mused, looking down at the food, "I know I'm a big guy and all but...yeah."
She rolled her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Then why did you get so much?"
"Because I was hungry...and judgement clouds over when I get hungry so, I didn't think much about it," he replied, "what's the lead?"
"So you know how Karly mentioned the new member was an earth elemental? I was just wandering stuff, and I overheard a couple of students talking about a new kid named Xerxes. So I looked into it with that friend I mentioned a couple of days ago, and it turns out he's an earth elemental who came to the Academy a month before Christmas."
"We've found the culprit then," he replied, "you ever met him?"
She shrugged and shook her head. "At least, if I have, I didn't know it was him which makes finding him much more difficult. The only thing I have to rely on is that he's a brunette with blue eyes. I don't even have a picture or anything. There's tons of students with brown hair and blue eyes."
"That could refer to anyone," he said with a frown, "we could go through the student files?"
"Unless you want to spend the rest of your life sorting through those things, we need a more efficient and quicker way. He's going to realize I'm not doing what he requested and he's going to come after me eventually. I don't know how often he's watching me and in what methods so I can't determine how quickly, I just know it's going to happen soon."
"Well, why don't we ask the students you overheard it from? They'll know who he is."
"Yeah, I did. They said they've never met him in person. I asked them how they know what he looks like and he said it was a generic guess using some of the student files and what Karly said."
"So...what do we do? We could ask one of the teachers," he said.
"Might as well... Uh, do you want to... Put all that away first? I think the teacher would be a bit concerned about where that food came from and why you didn't eat in the cafeteria or leave it at your dorm."
"Well, it is from the cafeteria," he mumbled, "but fine, just come with me to the dorms again."
She blinked. "Oh...kay..." She waited for him to start walking to follow him.
He began to walk, "so...how's your head? Has it been cleared?"
"Yeah, I guess?" she responded, just genuinely confused and a bit startled. "Why?"
"I don't know, it's been a couple of weeks and I haven't heard anything from you..."
She turned her head to stare at him, questioning his words. "If I'm hearing correct, it almost sounds like you were concerned... Nah, doesn't sound like you." She focused her attention on the building again. "Anyway, heard something happened in the Fire Kingdom. Know anything about it?"
"Oh, yeah, Victoria tried to take the throne..." he trailed off, "couple of others stopped her. I think Olivier is forcing her into marriage, to get her out of the running to be the heir."
"Wow... That's uh... very... tragic...?" she mumbled, searching for the right words but finding none. "Like, no offense, I know your family has issues... But wow... Okay."
"You can't talk," he pointed out, "you have family issues too. And, meh, the marriage will be with some prince so it won't be a terrible one."
"Yes, very aware. But as far as I'm aware, the entirety of my family is sane. The marriage thing I don't care about. Agh, speaking of that, Dad's been speaking to me about getting married..." She groaned to emphasize her annoyance. "Stupid arranged marriages."
His stomach churned at the words and he frowned, unsure why, not like he cared...right? "Whose name is being thrown around? The Argent kid? Julian."
"Yeah, and I think an Earth prince? Didn't bother to learn his name but they're possible candidates according to him. Also, you're on the list." She glossed over the last sentence as if it was nothing, but her heart was pounding a million miles a minute. Courtly facepalmed and sighed, "Of all things to add to the growing list of shit I have to worry about, it's marriage. I haven't even graduated yet. I'm half ready to let that creepy stranger guy murder me already."
His eyes widened at the info, "oh," he breathed out, praying he wasn't blushing. Fool. "I mean, the Earth prince is supposed to be a good guy. I've heard people talk about him and Julian's got a good heart."
She threw her hands up dramatically. "Does it even matter? I'm going to be betrothed to someone I have never talked to honestly. Literally, the only time I've interacted with Julian was mandatory, and I was like eight. I've never even met the Earth prince."
He grinned, "maybe Victoria will be shipped off with him and you'll be in the clear."
She smirked in agreement. "Maybe, if I'm lucky," she laughed.
"I mean, you've talked to me?" He asked, grinning, deciding to tease her, "surely I'm the best candidate."
A light blush settled on her cheeks as she swatted his shoulder. "Don't be arrogant, Edan. Talking is not the only thing that goes into relationships!" she whined.
He grinned wickedly then, "you're right, it's most definitely not the only thing that goes in to a relationship. Not the only thing I contribute to it, anyways."
"Nathaniel Edan!" she proclaimed in an irritated tone, unrevealing to the smile she had on the inside. "You are a waste of charming elemental being. Can we please have a mature conversation for once?"
"We are, we were discussing our relationship and what's involved in it. Especially when we're married."
She stopped dead in her tracks at the words "Especially when we're married", her eyes wide with shock. "E-Especially when...?" She swallowed nervously and clenched her fists behind her back. "Stop playing with me, Edan."
He grinend back at her, not realising she was actually getting flustered, "sorry...I am the best candidate, you have to confess to that. I was joking."
"Ah.. um, sure. Whatever, you're the best candidate. Can we get inside now?" she replied all at once, her words a jumble as she raced herself to speaks as quickly as she could.
He blinked after her and followed. "Well, I don't think you should be worried, the other parties have to agree to it as well," he pointed out before opening the door for her.
She listened to him with a red face and frustrated feelings. She was glad he opened the door, or she would've walked into it for she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings. "Right, your parents have to agree to it," she mumbled, more of a reassurance and a warning to herself than a response to Nate.
"They do," he agreed, "I don't think they'd have a problem with it, if it's anything...but they'd have to ask me too. They think the men should have a say on who they marry."
"How ironic," she muttered. Courtly couldn't stop the sudden thoughts of jealousy plaguing her mind, prompting her to ask this question, "...Who... Who would you marry? Like... what type of person? If that makes any sense."
He frowned, "I don't know really..." he trailed off, "I've always been a one night stand kind of guy...I've never had a girlfriend. Marriage was never in my books so I don't know. You? If you had a choice?"
Idiot, why did you ask? "Oh." She slowed in pacing for awhile, thinking. "...If I had a choice, huh?"
"You know what I mean," he grumbled, moving up the stairs. Who would he date? He never really thought about it–didn't think people would even consider him someone to stick around with in the longterm. He knew girls also considered him simply only for a one night stand so he never divulged in the notion of love.
"Do I?" she answered, teasing him in return for his previous embarrassing behavior. She followed him, a bit happier than usual for a reason she couldn't quite explain. She was fairly aware of her stance towards him romantic-wise, but knowing she was a choice for marriage made her feel strange. A good kind of a strange.
He finally reached his room and pushed the door open, believing she'll follow him. Inside was one room, with a closed door for the bathroom. He had a small kitchen in a corner with a large lounge in the other corner. TVs covered the wall, making one rather big one, with a couch across from it and gaming systems beneath it. The other side was his bed, covered in clothes, with a small sliver of clean space for him to sleep. He had a boxing bag hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the area and it had been used a lot, and it showed.
(OOC: I thought Nate had the food...?)
"Uh... Kay." She took a look around the room with curious yet self-conscious eyes. "You have a nice room. It's very big..."
OOC: OH YEAH
He looked over to her, "don't you have this size?" He asked, "I thought it was a bonus of being a royal..."
She bit her lip, "I prefer being more modest in room size... and decoration."
He shrugged, "I don't really care about this place...I just got shoved into it. Never really bothered decorating it."
"I noticed," she drawled. She took out her phone, unsurprised to see a message from the creepy stranger. For the past week they'd been texting her nonstop threats and disturbing pictures of her from far away, which further supported her theory that they were in the Academy and actively watching her.
"Have they sent you anything?" he asked, as he unpacked.
"Yeah..." she mumbled as she opened the message. For the first time in awhile, she was actually shocked. Startled by the contents of the text, she had dropped her phone. It wasn't just a picture this time, it was a video with the caption, I'm watching you. Courtly carefully picked up her phone and played the video, shivers tickling her spine as she realized the video was of them, just now, in Nate's room. "Nate... You should probably see this."
He paused before walking over, "what?"
She pressed the replay button before holding up the phone so he could easily see. "He's recording us! I don't know how, but somehow he got a video of us right now!"
He stared at the video before whirling around to figure out the general direction. "I think he hacked into my T.V..."
"I swear the thought of that sends shivers down my spine, that creep." She cursed under her breath and deleted the video, never wanting to come in contact with again. To her dismay, the stranger texted her again, but this time it was a message only.
Come outside. I want to talk to you in person.
He looked at it briefly, "are you going to do it?" He asked, "go see it that is?"
"..." She glanced at the message and turned off her phone, nodding firmly. "Yeah. It's about time I met this 'Xerxes'."
"Do you want me to come with you?" He asked with a frown.
She shook her head. "Wait from inside if you are really that concerned. I can't let you fight all my battles."