Genosha, the Palace of Lord Magnus

3:02 am

Sleep did not grace Pietro Lensherr. It had been this way for the past couple of nights, and yet it got no easier for the prince. He tossed and turned to no end, with many things on his mind. The most pressing of which was how much he detested Elizabeth Braddock, the English noblewoman who the whole country was expecting him announce his engagement to any day now. And the feeling was reciprocated. She hated him just as much, being smitten with the American business tycoon Tony Stark. Thankfully, their dates together were always in private rooms, leaving them free to do whatever they wished on their iPhones.

Pietro sighed and sat up. His room was completely dark, save for the tiny bits of moonlight shining through his bedroom curtain. He pulled his white sheets and thin back comforter off of him, stepping onto the cold tile floor. Dressed in only his back pajama pants, he threw on a matching robe that went to just below his knees, and went over to the door. Opening it, he activated his mutant power.

In no time at all, he was down in the kitchen, and was greeted by the site of his half-sister, the Princess Lorna. She was wearing only a white silk robe, and her long green hair was tied back in a messy ponytail. She gingerly touched the tip of her nose, as she was in a habit of doing ever since her latest plastic surgery. He didn’t understand the lengths his sisters went to to look good. Sure, he had had a surgery to fix a broken nose, and he’d asked the doctor to straighten his bridge a bit, but usually all he had to do was take off his shirt to be named Sexiest Man Alive by the American magazine, People.

“What do you have there?” he asked Lorna.

Without saying anything or even looking his way, she held up the bag of chocolate chips.

“Spare some,” he said, sitting a few seats away from her an the large, stainless steal bar. “Hey, don’t you have a photo shoot for Janet van Dyne on Monday?”

“They’re only semi-sweet, Pietro. Don’t judge.” She pushed the bag towards her brother with her green-finger-nailed hand. “Plus, they fix whatever I want them too after the photos are taken.”

“Hmm,” he replied. “So have you gone out with Carter lately?”

Lorna gave Pietro a significant look. They both new very well that she had been cheating on her boyfriend Carter Ghazikhanian for about six months now with a man named Alex Summers, the son of an American business man who was close with Lord Magnus. The Summers often stayed in the royal palace, and so it was very easy for Lorna to be unfaithful. Pietro was the only other one besides Alex and Lorna who knew anything of the relationship though, having unpleasantly walked in on the couple once about a month ago. Pietro often found it useful to remind Lorna that he knew her secret.

“No, not in a while,” she began in a curt tone. “I-”

“Is that chocolate?” asked a voice from behind them. They turned to see their sister Wanda, in a pair of red silk pajama pants and a black tank top. “I awoke with such I craving, you wouldn’t believe.”

“It is indeed,” answered Lorna. “Nestle semi-sweet morsels. Only the finest for the House of Magnus.”

“Of course,” said Wanda sitting across from Pietro.

Wanda’s curly brown hair fell in ribbons over her shoulders. Her rose-colored cheeks became an even deeper shade of scarlet when a contented smile lit her face as she gracefully dropped a few of the bits of candy into her mouth. “Mmm…That is divine,” she said.

The three of them ate the chocolate in silence for a few more minutes, but soon found the bag to be empty, and their pallets unfulfilled. They stared at the yellow container with mournful looks upon their similar faces.

“I thought you might be down here,” said a voice. They looked and saw Wanda and Pietro’s mother. The Queen of Genosha looked elegant even now in her nightgown, which was a a pale blue color. Her hair, similar to Wanda’s, only longer, was pulled back in a graceful clip. She raised her hand to just above the yellow bag and dropped several Hershey bars over it. “Eat and listen. The king has an announcement to make to his children.”

The three seated at the table each took one bar for themselves, and opened them. While the ate, their father walked into the room, standing tall and proud, as always. His white hair was the same color as his only son’s, and it fell on the sides of his face in gentle waves. His over-all facial structure was similar to Lorna’s. She was the one of the three who most resembled him, both in looks, personality, and in their near-identical mutant gifts.

“Hello, my children,” said Lord Magnus. “I have news.”

“Pleasant news, I hope,” said Wanda. “I have been having a most dreadful week.”

“Well, it could be seen as pleasant, but also as not so pleasant. I suppose it depends on what your attitude is at the moment.”

“Well?” asked Pietro, rather impatiently.

“We’re going to have some house guests,” said Magnus in a tone that was hard to read. His children could not tell whether or not he was happy about the expected visitors or not.

“In the palace?” asked Lorna.

“Yes my dear. In the palace.”

“Who?” said Wanda.

“Now remember what I said about your attitude. Try to see the benefits of this visit. We are receiving two groups of visitors. Two rather large parties, compared to what we are used to. The first is Christopher Summers, I trust you remember him?” Magnus did not pause to wait for an answer, nor did he see the look that passed between Pietro and Lorna. “He is bringing his three sons, Scott, Alex, and Gabriel, as well as Scott fiancee, the American model Emma Frost.”

“They’re engaged?!” said Pietro a little too loudly. All present knew that he used to date Emma Frost, and there had been a rather nasty breakup between the two.

“So it would seem, son,” continued Magnus. “The second group is the most important. King Bartholomew Boltagon, and his queen, Medusa Amaquelin will be visiting from their country of Attilan. Medusa’s sister Crystalia will also be accompanying them. They are here to establish relations between their country and Genosha. The citizens of Attilan are calling for a war to be started between our countries, and naturally this is not favorable for the King.” Lord Magnus folded his hands to signal he was finished, and awaited their response.

It was Lorna, the oldest of the three at twenty-eight, who spoke first. “When are they getting here?”

Queen Magda spoke before her husband could answer. “Remember what your father said about how important this is.”

“They arrive at noon tomorrow,” said Magnus. He checked the watch that was fastened around his right wrist. “Or rather, today.”

“Are you joking?” asked Pietro? “They’re getting here in less than twelve hours and you decide to wait until now to tell us?”

“Pietro,” said Magda, “your father just got back from a trip to Kenya, and it’s not surprising he waited this long, considering how you’re reacting. Act your age, my prince, or we will remind you of what that is.”

“My brother only means to state our shock, I assure you,” said Wanda. “The shock comes as a blessing, though, for I’ve not seen dear Emma in over a year.”

“Thank you for being understanding, princess,” said Lord Magnus.

“Of course, my Lord,” said Lorna, “my sister and I see the benefit of such a union. But why the visit from the Summers at the same time?”

“Ah, my other announcement. Christopher is considering making an official immigration to Genosha, and becoming my Minister of Commerce,” answered Magnus. “As you know, my former Minister, Cecelia Reyes,” the prince and princesses did not broadcast their unfamiliarity with the name, “passed away several days ago.”

“How long will they be in the palace?” asked Lorna, letting a little more urgency into her tone than she had meant to.

“About three weeks,” he said. “Another thing, although you are usually able to…be yourselves around the Summers, I request that you refrain from using your powers whenever possible while our Attilian friends are in the palace.”

“Wait,” said Lorna. “Didn’t we already come out of the phone booth?”

“Yes,” said Magda, “but powers could be seen as a threat to them, and that’s the last thing we need right now. As far as we know, Attilan is the last human-dominated nation. We’re not even sure if there are any mutants there.”

“She’s right,” said Wanda. “I was speaking to Tony Stark the other day, and he said that there are rumors amongst the scientific community that they may not be either. Not mutant, and not human.”

“That’s weird,” declared Pietro.

“A rumor,” said Magnus, “and only that. We are to treat them like we treat any mutant.”

“My Lord,” said Pietro. “You realize most of the Red Guard are still away in Australia. Only Rogue and Arachnid stayed behind. With so many guests in the house…”

“I understand, and am grateful for your concerns, my son,” said Magnus. “And because of our security situation, I will require your presence in the courtyard at seven pm.”

“That’s only four hours from now, father.”

“Which is why I suggest all of you return to your quarters and get as much sleep as you can. We have a big day tomorrow.”

The Palace courtyard

7:16 am

There were butterflies in Danielle Moonstar’s stomach. Today, after a long career of training young mutants in the service of Lord Magnus, she was actually meeting the man who had saved her. The man who had saved all mutants. This was it; what she had worked her entire life for. She examined her young charges, standing to the left of her. She was confident that she had made the right choices. Out of the twenty-three mutants she trained, these seven were sure to please the royal family and their guests.

The air was cool this morning, and the breezes felt nice across the faces of Dani and her charges. They looked rather odd, just standing there. The large courtyard was a bustle with people coming and going from the palace, going through the many levels of security checks. And yet, they received no looks from the crowd passing by them, something that the SHIELD uniforms probably helped with. Most even stayed about fifteen feet away from them, if not more.

“Nervous, Julian?” she asked the Hellion closest to her.

“A bit. Understandably, I hope,” the boy answered. He stood up straight with his hands behind his back, as did his fellows. All seven wore the silver, black, and red uniforms that they usually did.

The hearts of all eight people quickened when they saw Lord Magnus walking their way. He was tall, handsome, and fit for his age. He wore a black suit with a red shirt and purple tie, and had a warm smile on his face.

“Danielle Moonstar, is it?” he asked, addressing Dani.

“Yes, my lord,” she said, bowing slightly. “And these are my Hellions.” She gestured to the people beside her.

“I trust you brought me only the best?”

“Of course, my lord. And by the way, Mr. Shaw regrets that he could not be here to present his work to you.”

“I see,” said Lord Magnus. “And, off the record, when was the last time Sebastian visited the Hellions Facility?”

Moonstar hesitated. Shaw was her boss, but Lord Magnus was her king. “A year and a half ago, sir.”

Lord Magnus smiled. “Well, why don’t you introduce me to the young men and women you’ve trained.”

“Of course, sir. Before I begin though, I should say that I do not train them alone. My assistants, Jeanne-Marie and Jean-Paul Beaubier do their own fair share of work.”

“Well, I’m glad to see that Sebastian hasn’t rubbed off on you too much.”

Dani smiled. Lord Magnus was joking with her. She turned to her Hellions and held her hand to the first one in line. “My lord, this is Scion, my field leader. One of the most powerful registered telekinetics in the world, Scion has yet to even tap into his full potential.” Scion’s eyes glowed green, and he lifted himself up off the ground to demonstrate his power to Lord Magnus. Dani went past him and moved on to the next Hellion. “This is Surge, your majesty. Her mutation allows her to absorb electricity from her environment and discharge it powerful blasts of lightning, or be running at superhuman speeds, not dissimilar to the prince’s own power.”

As if on cue, Dani, her Hellions, and Lord Magnus were greeted by a rush of wind. Once the threat of dry air had gone, they opened their eyes and saw Prince Pietro standing next to his father, looking like a slightly younger version of the king, with only a few minor dissimilarities.

“Fascinating,” said the prince. he stared at Surge, taking in her bright blue hair and Asian features. “Around the palace, under the bridge. Go.”

In a flash, both Pietro and Surge had disappeared. They all sighed, and a few seconds later, the prince reappeared. He was followed less than a second later by a fuming mad Surge, electricity lighting up her eyes. The Prince merely smirked at her.

“Anyway,” said Dani. “Surge also has a low grade healing factor.” She moved on, stopping when she came to a bald black boy of average height. “Next we have Synch. His rather interesting mutation allows him to actually detect and sync up with other mutant auras.”

“Interesting,” said Magnus. “I’ve only ever met one other `mutant able to borrow other powers. Actually, he’s Minister Rankin.”

“The Minister of Agriculture?” asked Synch. He then realized that he had been given instructions not to speak to Lord Magnus unless spoken to. He quickly looked down at the concrete tiled ground.

Lord Magnus looked his way. “Yes, Mr. Synch. His power is rather like yours.” There was no sign of anger in his voice, only slight interest. Though Dani, didn’t know him, she could have sworn that something the boy had said had impressed Lord Magnus.

Behind his father, Pietro sighed, and was barely paying any attention to Dani or the Hellions.

Synch continued to look down, and gave a tiny nod, being thoroughly embarrassed.

Dani smiled, and then continued, “Synch is one of our oldest members, at twenty-two. He’ll be graduating from the program soon, at which point I assume he’ll begin testing for the Red Guard.” She then gestured to a Venezuelan girl with long brown hair. “This is Whirlwind, sir. Her elemental powers allow her to manipulate vacuums in the atmosphere, making anything from a light zephyr to a full-scale tornado. This,” Dani was now standing next to a small blonde girl. “Magik is a teleporter, who creates what she calls ‘stepping disks.’ These disks allow her to transport herself from one point to another. She also has…other abilities that we’re looking into. We’re not sure if these other abilities are x-gene related, or otherwise-”

“You mean she’s magic?” asked Pietro, rubbing his temple and openly displaying his displeasure with the fact that this was not moving faster.

“That’s one theory,” said Dani, not wishing to disrespect her superior. She turned to the next Hellion, this one a tall Caucasian boy with blonde hair. “This is Spectre, your majesty. His power, well…why don’t you show him, Dallas?”

Spectre smiled and closed his eyes, as if bracing himself for something. Without warning, it was as if his shadow flew up from the pavement and combined itself with him. His skin was now all black, and no features could be made out on his face except for white, pupiless eyes. His uniform seemed to have disappeared off his body as well.

“While in this form,” said Dani. “Spectre has increased strength, speed, and stamina. His powers are still being looked into, but we believe that he taps into the same dimension that the Red Guard member Nightcrawler does, my lord.” She then reached the last Hellion. This one looked like a porcupine in human shape. There were large brown needles sticking out from all over his body. “I believe Quill’s mutation is self-explanatory.”

Lord Magnus and his son looked at the Hellions as a group. Scion, his eyes still glowing, Surge, with little sparks escaping off her arm, Synch, with his multi-colored power aura around him, Magik, smiling deviously, Spectre looking ready for action in his shade from, and Quill looking rather nervous fiddling with a needle of his. After several agonizing minutes for the young adults, Magnus finally spoke. “Very good, Ms. Moonstar. I think these men and women will make fine temporary replacements for our Guard. And, maybe some day, permanent members. I do request that-”

Before Lord Magnus could finish his request, all present in the courtyard were greeted by a loud screeching. Everyone covered their ears and looked to see where the sound was coming from. Standing on top of one of the many buildings near the palace, they saw five figures. The one generating the sound was a tall man with long, pink hair. The intense sound waves could be seen pouring from his open mouth. Next to his was a woman with dark skin, surrounded by a aura of yellow energy. Traces of the energy escaped off of her at various points, creating a rather interesting effect. The third one was a short woman with very pale skin who had blue traces of energy flaring up around her head, which often found their way to the man standing next to her. The brunette man looked rather annoyed with the pale woman for this, but one also couldn’t help but notice that he was only halfway out of the roof’s ledge on which they all stood. It appeared as though he didn’t have legs, and had merely been placed on the building. A purple-skinned woman with bright pink hair stood next to the half-man, wielding several knives that appeared to be made out of pure energy.

The screeching finally stopped, and the man who had been yelling began to speak very loudly. “Greetings, Magnus,” he said. “The Black Queen sends her salutations!”

CHAPTER TWO – Agendas and Heroism

Everett Thomas had always been exceptionally average. When he was born, he was of average weight, he learned to walk and talk at the average ages, his grades all through school were very average, he had average skills in music and sports, he had even slept with a girl for the first time at the average time. The one thing that was not average about him was his mutation. While most of his friends manifested powers like super strength, super speed, flight, telepathy, and the other normal powers, he discovered he could use the powers of mutants around him. And there were always plenty to choose from.

What he liked best about his power, though, was that he could use others’ powers better than they themselves could. He had had one friend – Jonothon Starsmore – who couldn’t control his energy powers at all, he even had to wear a power dampener just to be normal. Well, when Everett borrowed Jonothon’s power, he used it perfectly. He even flew with it, and Jonothon didn’t even know he was capable of flight. He really helped Jonothon understand how his powers worked, and Jonothon was really grateful. It was then that Everett had decided to train with SHIELD, so that he could pursue the one thing he was good at. He wanted to use his power to make the world a better place. That dream had been made easier when his parents immigrated to Genosha.

When he was sixteen, Dani Moonstar came to him; SHIELD came to him. She had told him that she building a team of Hellions, a junior SHIELD team, and that members would have a leg up on getting into the Red Guard. He had said yes immediately, and it was easy convincing his parents. They were so proud of him for serving their new country.

Yes, Everett, or Synch as he was known now, had always been pretty average. Right now however, standing in the courtyard of Lord Magnus that was being attacked by Selene’s Marauders, he had the chance to be a hero.

From across the way, Synch saw the Genoshan princesses, Lorna and Wanda come running out of the palace to see what was going on. The were followed by several guards, trying in vain to keep them inside. Their full heads of green and brown hair, respectively, were blowing in the wind. They looked up to where the terrorists were standing in horror.

“Ruckus,” said Lord Magnus to the man who was obviously the leader of the group. “My old friend. Tell me, how is Selene? Good, I trust? No matter. Listen friend, you can either surrender now, or my Guard will come and destroy all of you.”

The man laughed. On the rooftop, there was a bright pink flash, and then Synch saw the five intruders appear right before them. Synch wasn’t extremely smart, but he wasn’t dumb either. It didn’t take a genius, or even his power, to put two and two together and deduce that the purple-skinned girl was a teleporter. “Magnus,” said Ruckus. “we know that only you’re two least-trained members of the Red Guard are even in the country.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Ruckus,” said Magnus calmly. “By the way, how are the rest of you?” He looked to each individual member of the group, nodding and greeting them. “Blink,” the purple girl, “Unuscione,” the woman in the energy field, “Pogrom,” the pale woman, “and Neophyte,” the man who had been halfway submerged in the building, but was now standing the tallest of the group. “I trust you’re all in good health? I suppose so, or else you would not be invading my palace. Pogrom, I’m expecting a visit any day now from you’re sister. You heard she’s engaged?”

“Of course I did,” said Pogrom.

More lines were exchanged but Synch didn’t stop to listen. He was scoping everything out. These people were getting restless, and they were going to do whatever it is they came here to do soon. One was a screamer, then they had a teleporter, an empath, a pseudo-telekinetic, and a phaser. They were all quite powerful too. Synch’s fellows were standing there, all stiff with fear. For some reason, Synch himself wasn’t afraid, he was ready.

“Enough of this useless banter,” said Ruckus. He took a deep breath and then yelled, using his power, “Marauders, GO!!”

“Hellions,” cried Lord Magnus. “Prove your worth!!”

The Hellions and the Marauders all leapt into action. Synch found himself confronted by Blink.

“Hey, there,” she said, grinning. “What’s your power?”

“I don’t know,” said Synch, using Blink’s mutation to teleport behind her. She spun around to see him. “What’s yours?” he asked, before connecting his fist with her purple jaw.

“Copy-cat.” Blink jumped into the air and landed with a kick to his shoulder with her bare feet.

Synch went into his own version of Spectre’s shadow-form. He ran at Blink with his enhanced speed, and though she tried to dodge him, he still succeeded in slamming both his fist into the sides of her head, and she fell to the ground.

He looked around to see if any of his teammates needed help. Quill and Magik were on the ground, unconscious. Surge and Scion were busy with Ruckus and Unuscione, and Spectre was trying to fight off Pogrom’s emotional attacks. Neophyte was battling Whirlwind, who was being helped by Prince Pietro. But Synch saw something that bothered him, and it didn’t have to do with his friends. Across the courtyard, he saw a man standing near the princesses. Of course, there were a lot of people near them, but he recognized this man. He had seen him several times on Genosha’s Most Wanted. The man was known as Nitro, and he was about to explode.

Time seemed to slow down for Everett, as he ran clean across the courtyard, shoving people aside. It was like he couldn’t get to Lorna and Wanda fast enough. He scoped out the entire palace with his powers, and synced himself with the first flyer he found. He took off of the ground, and flew as fast as he could toward Nitro. Without thinking, he grabbed the wrists of both princesses and course-corrected for the sky. Below him, he heard the explosion, and he heard the screams, and soon he was engulfed in the smoke.

He flew faster, and felt Lorna go unconscious. He realized he would have to stop soon. Luckily, he was till pumped with adrenaline, or else he would not still be synced with someone ten thousand feet below him. He stopped going up and, turned away from the palace. He released his sync to the palace flyer and and synced himself with Lorna instead, just so he wouldn’t put the princesses in danger. All that mattered to him now was their safety…

New Seattle, the Lensherr’s Summer Home

24 hours later

Wanda looked at the man that had saved her. He had been asleep since he had landed her in Marlborough, about a thousand miles from where they were now. He had picked her and her sister up, and saved them from an attack that had killed eight mutants and one human. They were in New Seattle now, which was on the other side of the island from Los Anyas, the capital of Genosha where the palace was located.

Her father had the best doctors looking after him, and Wanda was sure that her father would make him a very happy man once he woke up.

Wanda walked over to the window beside Synch’s bed and shut the curtains. News cameras and reporters were willing to sell their souls for a shot of Everett Thomas, the brave Hellion who had saved the royal family.

“How is he?” asked Lorna, walking in.

“No change,” answered Wanda and looking around the spacious room. It had gold paint on the walls, and had a predominantly brown and red theme in the decor. “The doctors say it could be another two or three days.”

“A shame,” said Lorna walking closer to the bed. “You could have taken him to the gala tonight. He is rather attractive.”

“You bet he is,” said Everett suddenly. The princesses were shocked to hear him and quickly turned to face him. “Glad to see you two are okay. Or maybe this is heaven and we all died.”

“We’re not dead,” said Lorna. “But the House of Magnus would like to extend it’s full-”

“Mmhmm. You’re Welcome. Any time.”

“You really don’t understand what you’ve done, do you?” asked Lorna in disbelief. Everett shook his head. “The press and the Genoshan population will now associate you with us. Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with us. You’re a star. And, you’ll now be able to get basically whatever you want out of our father, which is something we have in common.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re over-stating it,” said Everett.

“Am I?” Lorna turned his attention to a flat-screen television mounted on the far wall. She snapped her fingers and it turned on.

Everett was greeted by hand-held footage of the incident. He saw himself flying up at incredible speeds, dragging Lorna and Wanda behind him. “If you’re just joining us,” said an unseen reporter, “we are currently seeing first-hand footage of a terrorist attack on the House of Magnus’ palace in Los Anyas. Unsurprisingly, the man seen here rescuing the princess, Everett Thomas, has become an instant celebrity. A rep from the House of M has said that we can expect a comment both from Mr. Thomas, and from Lorna and Wanda within the week. Reports from all over the nation are-”

“See what I mean?” asked Lorna. “Anyway,” she said, turning to Wanda, “we have to be ready to return to Los Anyas by 4 o’clock, so hurry it up.” With that, she walked out.

“Sorry about her,” said Wanda, sitting down in a chair beside the bed. “She’s the no-nonsense type. Everything has consequences, everyone has an agenda, etcetera, etcetera.”

“That’s all right,” said Everett, sitting up. He suddenly became very aware that he wasn’t wearing anything underneath the blankets on top of him. “So, what happened? After we took off , I mean.”

“Well,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear, “Lorna went out cold a few seconds after we took off, you pulled my arm out of socket, and when I felt you struggling to keep us up, I saw that we were over Marlborough, and I asked you to land, and by the time you did you were out too. It wasn’t hard to get help from someone, or to find a phone to use. And when I contacted my father, he sent a jet to take us here, to our summer home.”

“I see…”

After a few moments of awkward moments, Wanda cleared her throat. “I’ll leave you be.” She got up to leave, but before walking out the door, she said. “If you’re feeling up to it, we’re going back to LA this afternoon, and there’s that Royal Gala tonight. If you wanted to come, I’m sure my father wouldn’t mind.”

“Uh, yeah, maybe.” Wanda smiled and walked out, closing the door behind her.

The Palace of Lord Magnus

7:43

Pietro looked around the ballroom full of people he barely recognized. Gala’s were his least favorite part of being royalty, and his tuxedo wasn’t doing much for him either. Neither of his sisters had arrived yet, and he usually stuck close to them during these dreadful things. People were dancing around him, though most merely stood around the sides of the room. Portraits of himself and his family hung on the walls, staring down condescendingly wherever someone turned.

Pietro heard the sound of trumpets, and he looked up to the grand staircase to see who was arriving.

“Presenting,” said the man who’s only job was to open the door and shout the names of the guests, “King Bartholomew Boltagon, Queen Medusa Amaquelin, and the Lady Crystalia Amaquelin, of Attilan.”

The large doors at the top of the stairs opened, and Pietro saw the visitors. King Bartholomew was a tall man with extremely dark hair for his age. He was dressed for the occasion, wearing a black tuxedo, with a black shirt and dark blue tie. His wife was a beautiful woman with red hair that went to all the way down to her knees. She wore a dress the same color as his tie, along with silver high-heeled strapped shoes. Medusa’s sister, Crystalia had on a knee-length yellow dress, and carried a black clutch purse. Around her neck, there was a silver chain with a hefty yellow stone strung onto it. The King and Queen walked down the marble steps, Crystalia following behind.

Crystalia’s brown hair looked positively divine in the simple yet extravagant bun that it found itself in. Pietro watched her descend the staircase, graceful as a Greek goddess.

He went over to the bottom to greet the family.

“Welcome sir,” he said King Bartholomew. They shook hands. Though it was a closed party, both held the handshake for several seconds, out of pure habit.

The king did not say anything, but Queen Medusa stepped in and said, “We’re so thankful that you an your family are having us this evening. Is your father expected to attend tonight?” She held out her hand as she waited fr him to answer.

“Yes, indeed he is,” he said after kissing her gently on the hand. “It seems the rest of my family is running a bit late. They just got in from New Seattle. I trust you heard what happened to my sisters?”

“Indeed we did,” she answered. “That brave boy. A Red Guard member?”

“Funnily enough, no. He’s a Guard hopeful that hadn’t even begun training yet.”

“Interesting. I’d love to get the chance to meet him.”

“Well, you may very well have that chance tonight. He’s expected to attend with my sister.”

“Marvelous,” she said. Pietro saw her look over to the other side of the ballroom and turned to her husband. “Look dear. That’s Alison Blaire. You know, we used to love her show when it was on.” The two went over to where the Queen had pointed, without a reply from Bartholomew.

Pietro watched them walk off for a moment, and then turned back to where they had been standing. To his surprise, Crystalia was no standing there, hand out-stretched in wait for him to kiss it.

After he did so, she said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, prince.”

“I assure,” said Pietro. “The pleasure is all mine.”

“Well, if you insist, you can have it. God, I’m tired. Who knew that merely sitting for six hours could make you sleepy?”

Pietro was shocked at her sudden brake of greeting protocol. “Think of it this way, you highness, you’d be worse off had you ran here.”

She laughed slightly. “True, but I’d be better off had I stayed home. Do you run often?”

Pietro smiled. “Pretty often. It beats taking a car.”

“Oh tell me you’re not in the camp that thinks cars are bad for the environment. That’s so preposterous. Plus, I couldn’t care any less about the environment, which really is rather ironic when you think about it.”

Pietro was confused. “How is that ironic?”

Crystalia looked as though she has something she wasn’t meaning to, and had only just realized it. “Oh, well I just meant that…never mind. I just meant that if see-oh-two levels were high enough to be affecting the atmosphere, then we’d be dead for lack of oxygen.”

More confused now than ever, Pietro decided it was best to change the subject. “Now that we’ve got formal introductions out of the way,” he held out his own hand, “I’m Pietro.”

She shook his hand. “I’m Crystal.” She looked off. “Oh, my sister’s calling me. I should go. See you at dinner.”

As she was walking off, Pietro sighed. “Yes you will.”

By Laudo