Dreamer's Throne

DT$ - Chapter 2

Opening the door, Princess Eloise walked into the room, her guard behind her. From what Garrett had gathered, his name was Morris, a high-ranked lighting stage awakened, quite close to becoming a Shaper. He was normally quiet, but Garrett had noticed a fair amount of derision in the man's eyes every time his cold gaze swept past him. Morris moved with the faint disregard that spoke of a noble birth, and he stayed close to Princess Eloise at all times. Garrett didn't remember him from the palace, which meant that he had likely been one of the royal family's secret guards, planted outside of the city to be used in time of need. With Princess Eloise wanting to make a comeback and fight her uncle for the throne, now was Morris's time to shine. Though, if Garrett had to make a bet on how all of this was going to end up, it was much more likely that Morris would end up dead in a gutter somewhere, his throat slit.

The princess had spent the night at the inn, refusing Garrett's offer to send her directly to Baron Gelavin's house, and instead expressing that she felt more comfortable staying with him. That put Garrett on guard, and now, as he watched her take her seat across from him, he could sense that whatever it was on her mind that she wanted from him was about to be expressed. Morris took position behind her, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared with what he assumed was an intimidating gaze at Garrett, who did his very best to look suitably frightened. He clearly succeeded in his attempt, as Princess Eloise turned and shot a frown at her guard, causing him to ease his expression a bit. Turning back to Garrett with a smile, Princess Eloise clasped her hands in her lap and blinked her large, expressive eyes innocently at him.

"It feels like it's been a lifetime since I last talked to you," Princess Eloise said.

Her voice was soft and sweet, but Garrett wasn't fooled one bit. He had no idea what had happened to the princess in the last six months, but there was an edge of steel hidden under her velvety tones, and he could feel her lighting-stage mental power infusing every single word she spoke. To Garrett, who specialized in the manipulation of mental power, her attempts to make her words more winsome were child's play. But for the sake of getting rid of this trouble as soon as possible, he played along.

"Much has happened in the last half a year, your highness."

"Please call me Eloise, Garrett, otherwise I won't feel comfortable."

Even as the princess earnestly expressed herself, Morris' glare turned back on, as he silently warned Garrett not to even dare calling the princess by her first name alone. Flashing an apologetic smile, Garrett shook his head.

"I'm sorry, your highness. As one of your subjects, I don't think I can do that."

The princess looked disappointed, but pushed past it.

"Do you still really consider yourself one of my subjects?" she asked, her voice growing quieter.

"Of course, your highness," Garrett replied with an earnest expression. "The laws of Insomnium are quite clear, and even the duke knows it. After all, he's declared himself regent, not king. Clearly, he's also aware that your father's line has not yet ended, and the throne is yours by right."

Though Garrett's expression was warm, his words were cold and factual, causing the princess to feel a slight disquiet growing in her heart.

"I understand that," she said after thinking over Garrett's words for a moment. "But my uncle seems quite content to remain in power. I don't want to think bad of him, of course, but he has not once reached out to try and find me.”

“It could just be that he is busy stabilizing the situation in the city. After all, we've had quite a few challenges in the last six months. There has been incredible turmoil following the attack on the palace, and martial law has only recently been lifted. There's still a curfew in place. Then add to that a repeat of the night of the dead, or as it's more accurately called, the March of Lesrak, that has completely disrupted this district. As the regent, the duke has no doubt been completely focused on stabilizing the situation in the city. After all," Garrett paused for only the briefest of moments as his eyes flickered to Morris before returning to the princess, "there are a significant number of factions interested in the power vacuum. All of them have been jockeying for position, and it's only been due to the regent's iron-gripped control over the city that things haven't gotten much worse."

The longer Garrett spoke, the greater the pout on Princess Eloise's face grew. When he finally fell silent, she looked at him with eyes that seemed to express hurt.

"It almost sounds like you're on his side," Princess Eloise said. "Here I was hoping that you would support me."

Feigning surprise, Garrett leaned forward slightly.

"Your highness, I do support you. But I wasn't aware that supporting you automatically put me at odds with the regent. The two of you are family. Surely you're not enemies."

Garrett's eyes suddenly widened as if a thought had struck him and he took a sharp breath.

"Unless you believe..." trailing off he stared at Princess Eloise, the meaning of his unsaid words exceptionally clear.

Panic flashed through Princess Eloise's expression, only to be suppressed a moment later as she smiled sweetly and shook her head.

"Of course not. Such an idea is silly."

Quickly she tried to find another subject, turning the conversation away. After a glance around the room, she gestured to the stack of books stacked high on the edge of Garrett's desk.

"It seems that you've done quite well for yourself here. I'm told that you're running a profitable business and have some connections to the underworld, is that correct?"

"Everybody in this district has connections to the underworld, your highness. I'm nothing special in that regard. After all, we're far from the palace, and the nobles don't deign to grace us with their presence very often," Garrett said, sounding rueful, as if he was chagrined to have been cast out of the circles of nobility he used to have access to. "And I get by. For someone in my position…“

Unlawfully taken from Royal Road, this story should be reported if seen on Amazon.

He glanced at his waist and held up what remained of his right arm, “the best I can do is use my mind. As money counters are in short supply, I've found a place among the people."

"But not just found a place," the princess said, measuring Garrett with her gaze. "The Klein family's exploits are considerable, and have spread quite far, reaching the ears of many in Port Reverie, across the swamp. There are many whispers that your strength is not to be underestimated."

"All smoke and mirrors," Garrett said, with what might have been his first genuine smile since he had seen the princess.

It was gone a moment later, though, replaced with a humble expression as he bowed his head.

"I may look like I've been successful, but the reality is that power is in the hands of others. We're a sad excuse for a gang, but we have the fortune to be under the Grave Walkers, an organization of considerable repute in this part of the city. My responsibilities are primarily financial, ensuring that their businesses run smoothly. While it would be wonderful to be able to claim that the family's growth has been all my doing, there have been many hands involved in making it flourish. And at the end of the day, I find that power often lies outside of my grasp."

Sighing, Princess Eloise nodded, as if agreeing with Garrett.

"That is often the way of it," she said. "But my hope is to change that, and I would like to invite you to join me."

"Join you?" Garrett asked, his forehead furrowing. "Join you where?"

From the way her fingers clenched, Garrett could tell that the princess was suppressing her annoyance, but she still smiled sweetly.

"I have returned to the city, and I intend to take my throne back."

With a rustle of skirts, she stood, walking around the desk, to the office's window, that stared out at the street in front of the inn. Garrett turned his wheelchair to keep his eye on her, waiting silently until she spoke once more.

"That day, in the palace," Princess Eloise said, her voice quiet, “I felt as if my entire world had been destroyed. Everything I knew came crashing down around me. It was only the brave sacrifice of our attendants that allowed me to escape. The cost was too great, however. A cost that you know all too well. Part of me wishes to run, to change my name, to become someone new so I might leave this trouble behind forever. But every time I sleep, I see the faces of those who laid down their lives to protect mine. I know that I cannot let this matter stand. Justice must be served. In order to do that, I must sit on the throne. I want to invite you to join me, to help me reclaim the position that is rightfully mine. Do so, and you will be rewarded with whatever your heart desires.”

Garrett didn't respond immediately. Princess Eloise didn't press him. She continued to stare out of the window as she waited for him to consider her words and after close to a minute of silence, he finally spoke.

"Princess Eloise."

This was the first time that Garrett had called her something other than 'Your Highness' or 'Your Majesty'. As the princess turned to look at him, it was with a hopeful expression. What she saw caused her breath to catch. Garrett was looking at her with absolute calm, his eyes radiating a faint sense of pressure that made her heart skip a beat. Blinking, she suddenly found that his expression was no different than it had been before, causing her to wonder what it was that she had imagined.

"I have already expressed that I am in full support of your retaking of your rightful throne. However, I wonder if you know what it is you ask. By hard work and a considerable amount of luck, I have managed to carve out a place for myself here, in this community, among the commoners. You are asking me to step into a world that is hard enough to navigate without the major disadvantages I currently possess. If I'm honest, I find the thought of such a thing troublesome. Here, people only care if I'm useful, and they don't talk behind my back."

He didn't even need to mention it for the princess to know that wouldn't be the case if he were to try and return to the noble circles. As much as she hated to admit it, the princess wasn't naive enough to believe that Garrett was wrong. She knew full well how nasty the noble circles were, and how any weakness would swiftly be weaponized by one's enemies.

Still, she needed as many allies in the city as she could get, especially allies she could trust. The young man in front of her had been her older brother's closest confidant, and time had proven that even with major disadvantages, he had been able to create space for himself in the tumultuous power struggle that covered every part of this city. Racking her brain for a way to convince him, the princess couldn't help but feel a sense of relief when Garrett sighed and nodded his head.

"Though I don't know that I'll be able to do you much good, and in fact may become a liability, I'm willing to support you. Tell me what you need me to do."

Smiling graciously to hide the elation in her heart, Princess Eloise clasped her hands to her chest as she smiled at Garrett.

"Thank you, Garrett. It really means the world to me that you're willing to do this."

It was all that Garrett could do to avoid rolling his eyes. Sometimes he felt he preferred the brutally bloody combat of the underworld to the fake social niceties of the upper class. Princess Eloise returned to her seat, and they began to talk of what she was actually hoping to accomplish.

"I know there are still supporters in the city," she said, her voice losing a bit of the sweetness that had marked it when she first arrived. "The one organizing them is Baron Gelavin. He's the one who arranged for me to come into the city."

"I'm familiar with his son, Thomas," Garrett said.

"Wonderful," the princess exclaimed. "That means you can provide an introduction for me. You see, I've never actually met the Baron or his son, and it would be good to start getting to know them. I also need to make contact with information brokers who can help me understand what's currently going on in the palace, as I will need to understand what my uncle is thinking before I appear."

As he listened to Princess Eloise explain her plans, Garrett found himself curious. While the princess had always been sharp, she hadn't had the clear level of strategic thinking that she displayed now. And for a brief moment, Garrett wondered if she was like him, a being from another world thrust into this one. Of course, it was always possible that she simply had good teachers or had been hiding her ambition while she was in the palace.

After talking for a while, they agreed that Garrett would set up a meeting with the Baron and his son to take place at some point in the next few days. The princess wanted to meet sooner, but Garrett carefully explained that there was some unavoidable business that he had to participate in. He did it without ever mentioning exactly what the business was, and after he rather obviously avoided a couple of the princess's inquiries, she let the matter drop, thanked him for his support, assured him that once she rose to power, he would be rewarded generously, and left the room, her guard, Morris, trailing after her.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Garrett reached up and rubbed his forehead, an annoyed expression flashing across his face. As if he didn't have enough to deal with already, between the gangs, the fight between the merchants, military, and exorcists, and continuing to explore the dream, he was now completely enmeshed in whatever political fight would happen in the next few months.

Closing his eyes, he began to organize his contingency plans, wanting to ensure that he had all his bases covered, and could retreat if necessary. From what he understood, it wasn't possible to move the dreamer's throne, which would mean that retreat would only happen when all other options were exhausted.

The biggest thing was that as soon as he stepped out of this district, much of his strength would be gone. While the flower ghouls were continuing to expand in the crypts under this part of the city, and even into the sewer system beyond it, they were completely confined to the eastern part of this district. The large river that ran through the center of Insomnium formed a significant barrier, preventing Garrett from being able to push his control to the south and east.

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