A/N: Uh oh, everybody, we've come to (un)lucky chapter 13. That means it's time for the shit to hit the fan. Matt fans, rejoice, because this is the chapter that Jeffro's older bro becomes an integral part of the plot. William Regal fans? Anyone? Well, if you're out there, rejoice, because he's gonna get some screen time too. (I just love Regal; I can't help myself.) Jeff fans? You need to start throwing a party right now, because you're getting two Jeffs for the price of one! I'll tell you, there's something for everyone in this story… :)
I'm really sorry for the ridiculous amount of time it took me to update this. But, as I always say, life intervenes. I'm really happy to be working on this again, though; I missed this story.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed. You complete me. ;)
As always, I own nothing. You could say I own the doppelgangers, but they're based off of real people, so I'd feel ridiculous claiming them. WWE owns most of the wrestlers in here; Jeff Hardy is property of TNA wrestling. (Maybe I'll have to start throwing some TNA doppelgangers into the mix, too... grins evilly) Until something changes, I guess Matt Hardy's a free agent again. :)
Matt Hardy lay on his bed, limbs spread carelessly about, his glazed eyes fixed on the featureless white ceiling above him. The room was dark, illuminated only by the silver half-light of the North Carolina moon.
Matt found that he was far more comfortable dwelling in darkness these days. He much preferred solitude to the company of friends.
Limp fingers surrounded a near-empty bottle of whiskey, a companion to the empty beer bottles scattered about the nightstand and the floor.
He'd been lying there for hours now in an anguished, drunken haze, thoughts of his missing brother weighing heavy on his alcohol-soaked mind. The police had all but given up hope of finding Jeff alive at this point, though Matt couldn't accept that. He wouldn't.
Jeff was smart, he was resourceful. He was a fighter. So why was everyone so convinced that his little brother was dead? Shannon, Shane, even their own father all seemed to be in mourning. Weeping for the dead when they should have been out searching for the living.
Matt took a deep, shuddering breath as he recalled, for the thousandth time, the appearance of his brother's art studio the night he'd disappeared. The shattered window, the frigid winter air whipping through the room, the paint spattered on the walls, the torn canvases, the blood…
It pained him to recall the violence of that scene.
Matt raised his head, and took a long, deep swig of whiskey, finishing it off. When he was done, he carelessly dropped the empty bottle onto the floor and resumed his bleary-eyed appraisal of the ceiling.
Had he been sober, he might have noticed the man suddenly standing at the foot of his bed.
"Matt." His name, whispered roughly in the heavy silence, caused the dark-haired Hardy to shoot up and look around wildly. After a moment, his wide-eyed gaze settled on the imposing, shadowy figure before him.
Matt squinted, peering into the darkness, trying to bring the black mass into focus. "What the fuck-", he drawled, speech slurring.
The shadows moved, and the older Hardy heard a bottle roll across the hardwood floor. "I would have expected to find a man of stronger character, considering you are my lord's doppelganger. But here you lie, slowly poisoning yourself. Smelling of ale and filth, like a lowly beggar in the streets." The low, rough voice sounded angry, and extremely dangerous. And, he realized with a start, disturbingly familiar. "How very pathetic."
Matt stared. He had no idea what this person was talking about. "Call me whatever you want, man", he replied forlornly, not caring that he was having a conversation with a shadowy stranger who had broken into his room in the middle of the night, "I don't give a shit. I don't care about anything anymore."
"That's painfully obvious."
The ghostly being took a sudden step forward, into the moonlight, startling the older Hardy, causing him to scramble backwards into the wall.
Matt looked up at the daunting man who stood there, staring down at him with cold, emotionless eyes. He suddenly realized why that voice had sounded so familiar.
"Mark?", he said softly, eyes wide as he took in the older man's strange appearance.
It was, indeed, the Undertaker glaring down at Matt. And yet, it wasn't. Something was off. The older Hardy saw Mark's thin lips curling into a derisive sneer, his fists clenching and unclenching in a show of barely-contained aggression, his eyes narrowed-
Matt shrank back. His eyes! They were white, dead milky white, as if he were blind. And yet, it was obvious to the older Hardy that the intruder could see him perfectly. This man was not the Mark Calloway he knew; something was very wrong here.
"Who the hell are you?", Matt said quietly.
The strange man's lip curled in a cruel parody of a smile. "Who I am doesn't matter, Matt", he replied, "I am simply a pawn in the scheme of things, fodder for the rebels' spears. But you…" His cold smile widened. "You serve a greater purpose."
"What are you talking about?", Matt said slowly, pushing himself back into the wall, and as far away from the Undertaker look-alike as he could.
"Come, we must go", said Marckus, proferring his hand, "Your brother is waiting for us. But we haven't much time."
Matt's breath stopped. He felt as if he'd taken a blow to the gut, hard and low. "What did you say?", he breathed, staring at the older man with wide, bloodshot eyes.
Marckus let out a sharp, impatient sigh. "Jeff is waiting. We must go."
"You actually know where my brother is?", he asked in a desperate, quivering voice.
The older man smirked, and held out his hand once more. "You shall not know unless you come with me."
Matt took his hand after only a moment's hesitation.
As they disappeared into a patch of darkness, Marckus grinned to himself. That had been much easier than expected. Matt had not even put up a fight.
The Emperor would be pleased.
Will Regal stumbled through the twilit forest, exhausted but knowing that stopping to rest would mean death for him now. He had no choice but to force himself onwards.
He paused for a moment to look at his surroundings, trying to gauge how far his pursuers were from his position. He could see nothing but trees and underbrush in all directions. He strained to hear anything in the heavy silence, but the only sounds were his own ragged breaths and the occasional scampering of a small animal beneath the foliage.
Bending down, Regal put his ear to the fresh soil. At first, he heard nothing. Then, like a great heart beating underground, there were the rumbling vibrations that signaled a small army on the move. Scowling, he got to his feet again and continued forward, not knowing exactly where he was headed. He realized, from the overgrown vegetation and dim light, that he was moving deeper into the forest, into unknown territory. Losing his way was the least of his concerns, however. He needed to focus on ridding himself of the men who were hunting him.
Regal kept to the heavy foliage, and stepped with extreme care. He was a seasoned tracker and hunter, and he had spent many years tromping through this forest in pursuit of the rebels. He knew that his skill and experience should give him an advantage over C'odi's men. Ignoring the onset of fatigue and remaining focused on the task at hand would allow him to disappear into the forest, never to be seen again. If the damned rebels could accomplish such a feat, then he certainly could.
Pausing every so often to listen to the progress of the troops, Regal adjusted his route accordingly, zig-zagging and circling around to throw them off. As tedious as it was, he did his best to wipe out any footprints left in the soil, carrying a stick and scattering the dirt until it appeared clean and untouched. To further cover his trail, he dropped leaves or small twigs over the path.
He was taking extra care as he laid his footfalls and covered his tracks. He had trained many of Matthew's soldiers, teaching them how to track the most elusive enemy down in the wilderness. They would know his tricks, and he knew they would find him if he didn't stay sharp.
Pondering for a moment, he decided that he'd double back for a mile or so, then climb a tree and wait until the sun set. Armies rarely marched after nightfall. His pursuers would undoubtedly make camp and rest; he'd have the entire night to find his way out of this abysmal forest. Their slumber would, hopefully, mean his freedom. Regal, having determined his course, turned to walk the way he'd come. He took two steps, before being halted by the unmistakable prod of a dagger in the small of his back.
"Hands up." The voice was rough and commanding.
Regal slowly raised his hands, his eyes scanning the forest. There was no movement, no sound. Only the piercing threat of a knife in his back, and the encroaching dread that soon, C'odi's men would be upon him.
He felt his unknown captor disarming him, pulling off his sword belt, going for his gauntlets. Smart. This man knew any seasoned fighter would probably conceal a dagger in his gauntlet.
He whistled suddenly, an unpleasant, high-pitched tone that set Regal's teeth on edge.
Moments later, another guard appeared from out of the brush. Regal was astounded. Where the hell had he come from? He realized that whoever these men were, they probably had more armed guards hiding all over the area, crouching in the trees and beneath the underbrush. Regal took in their garb. It was drab brown, a color that would mix perfectly with soil and tree bark. They could've been hiding anywhere, he realized. But what could they possibly be guarding, out in the middle of this wild forest?
"Yeah?", the younger guard asked the man holding Regal, "What do you need?"
"Check his boots", replied the other, holding tightly to Regal's arms, "And be thorough. This one's going directly to the generals themselves."
"Generals…", Regal's stomach dropped out. He struggled to keep his face emotionless as the realization of where he was suddenly struck him, hard. Eluding C'odi's men for hours had given him the mistaken impression that his luck was improving when, in fact, it had led him straight into the center of rebel territory. These men knew who he was, and they knew what he'd done while under Matthew's command. He was fully aware that there would be no mercy shown him by any rebel, once he entered the boundaries of their accursed camp.
The young guard stared, wide-eyed. "Why?", he asked, "The generals said prisoners were to be taken to Evan-"
Regal scowled when the man's grip on his arms tightened. "This ain't no ordinary prisoner, boy", he replied in his rough voice, "This here is the Emperor's Lieutenant himself. Now hurry up and check his damn boots for weapons!"
He said nothing and offered no resistance as his boots were emptied of two more daggers. He looked away from the rebel bastard rooting through his footwear. He realized that he was feeling very… conflicted. He'd been exiled from Matthew's court after years of loyal service, for no reason other than the emperor's petulant impatience. Had Matthew's orders been carried out to the letter, he'd have died a most horrible death. That did not mean, however, that he suddenly agreed with rebel principles. He hated the Hunter and the Lion. He'd spent half his life chasing after them, and, once again, they had made him look the fool.
But he couldn't suppress the growing anticipation, even excitement, he began to feel as he caught a glimpse of a campfire through the dense growth of trees. He was finally going to see the rebel base, to talk with his enemies, face to face. He'd dreamed of this moment for years. It was a shame he had to experience it as a prisoner.
"Let's go, Lieutenant Regal", said the large man gripping his arms. He pushed him forward, deeper into the forest.
It somehow seemed fitting that his life would end here, in this thrice-damned camp of castoffs and peasants. He'd given years of his life trying to find this place, after all. Now, in the end, he'd finally managed to discover it by accident. How poetic. How tragic.
Regal said nothing, offered no resistance. He'd save his words for the Hunter and the Lion.
The three of them, after all, had much to discuss.
The Hunter crouched in a high thicket out beyond the borders of the camp, his eyes searching the forest for any signs of movement. If the other men keeping silent watch around him thought his presence was odd, they said nothing. He was grateful for their unspoken acceptance. After all, joining them in guard duty was a welcome diversion from the stresses of his position, and he desperately needed that right now, in a time when Matthew's chaotic rule was threatening their way of life.
Hunter let his gaze roam the tranquil forest, an unending stretch of dimly-lit greens and browns that eventually passed beyond his sight, into shadow. He narrowed his eyes in an effort to pierce the gloom, though he eventually came to realize that he was surrounded on all sides by impenetrable darkness. Each day, it seemed, that darkness grew.
Men were dying in Matthew's prisons, they were being captured for interrogation in the streets of the citadel. He had heard varied reports of torture, and even grisly public executions. The sadistic emperor was obviously trying to send a message to him and Lion.
"These are your people", Matthew would say in an even, unhurried tone. Hunter could picture his cruel eyes, a smug half-smile twisting his thick lips. "If you wish this to stop, Hunter, come to my keep, and face me."
Hunter closed his eyes and released a long, loose breath. He sent out a silent prayer for the souls suffering in the cells below Matthew's keep. His heart wrenched as his thoughts turned involuntarily to his deceased wife, Stefany, who had died in the Cells of the Damned. Her death had not been an easy one. How many others were languishing in Matthew's prisons, waiting to die? The thought sickened him.
Someday soon, Hunter knew, he would ride in and free them.
But there was much to do before the rebels overtook Matthew's stronghold.
He'd learned enough to know that times of war and death either defined great leaders, or destroyed them utterly. Hunter would define himself as the man who, along with the Lion, led his people to victory. He would watch them prosper, and live out in the open, freely, without fear.
And, when he was ready, Jeffrey would take the throne. He would use everything he'd been taught, and rule with wisdom, and justice.
Hunter had prepared him well. Jeffrey would be a good king.
The rebel leader smiled as his thoughts turned to his son. Jeffrey had excitedly informed him earlier that morning that he was going to teach Jeff to parry and thrust so that he'd have a regular sparring partner. Hunter smiled affectionately, thinking of his shy boy.
Jeffrey and Jeff, it seemed, had become fast friends since their first meeting. Jeffrey, in his naivete, was enraptured by Jeff's seemingly unending store of fantastical tales about his life as a famous entertainer. Jeff, on the other hand, seemed fascinated by the simplest things, things that Jeffrey had always taken for granted, such as magic, or fairies. Jeffrey did not understand Jeff's wonderment at such silly things, but Hunter did. This was a new world to Jeffrey's strange twin. Undoubtedly, it would take time for him to adjust.
The big man stifled a sigh, pondering the young stranger who wore his son's face. Hunter realized that he had come to like Jeff, a great deal. Intelligent and charming, the boy could converse for hours about anything, really; from politics to weapons to clothing, nothing seemed uninteresting to him. He seemed, in many ways, as kind and gentle as Jeffrey, and that warm demeanor, he knew, had already endeared him to many in the camp.
And Jeff was a friend to Jeffrey. His presence seemed to make his boy happy. That, in itself, was enough to make Hunter partial to the young stranger.
Though… The big man sighed and wearily shut his eyes for a moment. His trust had never been won easily, he knew, and it would be no different with Jeff.
The rebel furrowed his brow, deep in thought. There were, he realized with frustration, far too many unanswered questions nagging at him, questions that would soon need answering.
He still hadn't been able to determine why Matthew wanted Jeff so badly; the wide-reaching network of spies and informants he employed for such matters had been unable to tell him anything about the boy or the emperor's possible plans for him. It had begun to wear at him, this complete lack of information.
The one thing Hunter did know, however, was that any plot of Matthew's could only mean devastation for the peaceful, free people of this land. He would not allow the twisted emperor to win this war, not after all of the suffering his people had endured.
It was all the more reason why they needed to keep Jeff hidden, at all costs.
And all the more reason why they desperately needed to find out what Matthew was doing in that fortress of his.
The big man rubbed at his forehead, trying desperately to stave off a headache.
Hunter scowled as he thought about the reports he'd been receiving over the past week. Scouts had told him that the emperor's lieutenant and a great host of men were moving deeper and deeper into the woods, farther than they'd ever ventured before. This was no ordinary raid. Matthew's soldiers were coming after the boy. They would not stop hunting until they found him.
Hunter rubbed at his eyes, forcing back a weary sigh.
"Why are you so important to him, Jeff?", he wondered, staring out at the silent forest.
The only reply he received was the crackle of soft footfalls over dead leaves, moving in his direction. Hunter watched as Evan stepped up next to the thicket he was hiding in and leaned easily against a nearby tree.
"Avoiding camp business, Hunter?", the young assassin asked, looking down at his hands. He was delicately picking small bits of dirt from beneath his middle fingernail with a throwing knife.
The rebel leader walked out of the brush, looking extremely annoyed. "Perhaps I am, Evan", he replied shortly. He began to walk back towards the camp, indicating that the younger man should follow him. Evan did so, without comment. "What are you doing out here?", Hunter asked after a moment, "Did you find R'ei?"
Evan glanced at Hunter, before instinctually returning his gaze to the surrounding forest. Dropping his guard would be foolish. He knew that Matthew's men were out in the trees, somewhere, waiting and watching.
"I didn't find him, yet", Evan replied, frowning, "Though, it's only a matter of time. I'm sure he's hiding out somewhere close to here."
Hunter raised an incredulous eyebrow. "How do you know that?"
Evan grinned. "Call it assassin's instinct. Trust me, he's still here. Maybe he plans on killing some rebels to impress whoever hired him, or to collect a big pay-day. Either way, that cocky son of a bitch won't be able to resist the challenge."
"Can you track him down, Evan?"
The young assassin's grin widened. "Count on it."
"Then I suggest you get back out there. The sun is going down, and it's always best to hunt at night, yes?"
Evan nodded. He started to move off, before turning back. "By the way, when I left, the camp was buzzing about a new prisoner that had been brought in. I don't know who it was or why everyone seemed so excited, but-"
"I'll take care of it. Thank you, Evan."
Evan nodded, before moving silently off into the trees.
Hunter did the same, trying to ignore the heavy feeling in his gut.
Something was stirring. He could feel it.
The young soldier ran at full speed through the dense trees, his soft leather boots making little noise upon the forest floor. He darted in and out of the shadows, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Pausing for a moment, he cocked his ear, trying to determine if he'd been followed. He heard nothing but the ever-present din of the forest, birds chirping and warbling, and small animals scraping and scurrying upon the ground.
Satisfied, the soldier ran on, excitement building as he grew ever closer to the army's makeshift encampment. He had staggering news to impart, news that would undoubtedly earn him a commendation, and Lieutenant C'odi praise from the emperor himself.
Coming upon the edge of the camp, he saw the men milling about, and the cook fires. He suddenly wondered what the lieutenant would say to him. How would his news be received?
Slowing to a brisk jog, he passed the men who were sitting down to eat. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't had a bite all day. He promised himself two helpings of the hearty venison stew he smelled simmering, once he'd seen the lieutenant.
The young soldier came to the officer's tent. Two burly guards stood on either side of the entrance, spears in hand. They scowled at him as he approached.
"I need to see the lieutenant", he said, "I was sent to scout the eastern reaches, and I found something of great importance."
One of the behemoths growled, low in his throat, "Lieutenant C'odi's having his dinner now. Come back later."
"He will wish to hear about this immediately-"
The other guard stepped forward, his great meaty hands balled into fists. "Can't you hear?", he ground out, "Come back later."
"What is going on out here?", C'odi stood at the doorway of the tent, a black glare on his young face.
The soldier stepped forward, not giving either of the guards a chance to speak. "I have most important news, my lord. It concerns the rebels, and the missing traitor, Regal."
C'odi stared at the young soldier for a moment, his face oddly expressionless. He turned to his giant guards.
"You barred him entrance?", the lieutenant asked evenly.
"My lord", replied one of the guards desperately, "You said you had no wish to be disturbed-"
"Unless it was of importance, fool!", screamed C'odi, his face twisting in rage. "This soldier has information about the damned rebels, and you refused to let him in because you were afraid it would put me off of my dinner? Imbeciles! I swear to you, if I lose the Hunter and the Lion because of your ineptness, I will have both of your bloody heads!"
Furious, he swept back into the large tent, motioning for the young soldier to join him.
Ignoring the glares he received from the two guards, he followed, pushing past the heavy, animal-skin flap. Upon entering, the soldier discovered a tent with all the amenities one might need, should they find themselves commanding a small legion of men in hostile territory. A bedroll lay upon the floor in the far corner, neatly stowed away. A host of maps lay scattered about, a riot of ink and dirty parchment. The young soldier stared, his eyes narrowing slightly. Those maps were crumpled, torn. Destroyed.
The emperor was obviously placing more pressure on his newly-appointed lieutenant, judging from the state of the tent. Undoubtedly, Matthew was tired of waiting for his soldiers to produce the Hunter and Lion out of thin air. It appeared that, at some point during the day, the young lieutenant had scattered parchments and clothing all over the ground, as if in a fit of frustrated rage.
"You said you had news", C'odi said, pulling the soldier from his subtle inspection of the tent, "Private-?"
"J'uus T'in, Son of G'aab R'yel."
C'odi crossed the floor, kicking errant papers out of his way. There was a large, down-stuffed pillow lying near the open firepit. C'odi sat down heavily on the comfortable padding, allowing the warmth of the low-burning flames to wash over him. He stared up at the other man expectantly.
J'uus T'in shifted uncomfortably under the lieutenant's fierce gaze.
"I-" He took a breath, realizing that his voice was unsteady. "My lord, this morning Sergeant Brya'an sent me to the eastern reaches, to scout for rebel activity. Most of the day was uneventful. But as I was preparing to return to camp, I heard men talking. I followed the sound, and saw, to my astonishment, the traitor Regal, in the grip of two strange men. I watched as the men disarmed him; one of them was holding his arms tightly to prevent his escape, though it didn't seem necessary. Regal wasn't really fighting them. Anyway, the two men quarreled over what was to be done with him, until finally the older of the two put his foot down and said that he was to be taken 'directly to the generals'."
C'odi watched the younger man speak with increasing interest, his eyes growing wide. "The generals?"
J'uus T'in nodded. "Yes, my lord. Will Regal is with the Hunter and the Lion, I'm sure of it."
"Ah, but just how sure are you?", C'odi regarded the young soldier, his gaze cold, "Sure enough to place your skinny neck upon the emperor's chopping block? Emperor Matthew does not tolerate failure, Private J'uus T'in, and he does not tolerate lies. It is why he is a great man." The lieutenant rose, his cruel gaze never leaving the young soldier's face. "A great man, but merciless in his retribution. Are you ready to stand in the path of his anger, should we find nothing?"
Private J'uus T'in replied softly, "Forgive my impertinence, lord, but what would he say about you remaining in this comfortable tent when one of your soldiers has seen rebel defenses with his own eyes? When we are so close to tracking down Regal?" He took a steadying breath, ignoring C'odi's furious glare. "I mean no disrespect. I simply mean to say that I am quite confident of what I saw today, and I will stand behind it, even if it means that there are consequences for me in the end."
C'odi stared. "Very well", he conceded after a moment, "But it is your misstep to make. If we find an empty campground, the finger shall be pointed firmly in your direction."
Private J'uus T'in swallowed nervously, before nodding in acknowledgement.
"Now", C'odi continued, his voice adapting the clipped, authoritative tone he used when he addressed his troops, "first things first, Private. You say you came upon some part of the rebel encampment. That immediately raises two questions, in my mind. Did any of them see you, and will you be able to find the spot again?"
"I am sure I was not seen, my lord", replied the young soldier, "I took great pains to remain unseen. As for your other query, I know exactly where they were, and I can take the men there."
C'odi nodded. Picking up the sword that lay on top of his bedroll, he dropped it into the sheath hanging at his side.
"Good", he said, starting for the door, "Go find Sergeant Brya'an and tell him to gather the men at the edge of the clearing; he has one hour to have everyone packed, armed, and in formation. We leave tonight."
Jeff leaned back against an ancient tree, its gnarled roots pushing up from the ground to form natural arm rests. It was surprisingly comfortable, and he was sure he could fall asleep here, given the opportunity. He was exhausted, and sore; it had been a long day, hauling water from the creek, chopping wood, and sparring with his strange twin. He was certainly accustomed to hard work, but not the back-breaking labor that marked the everyday lives these people led.
Though, the young Hardy had to admit that he appreciated them keeping him busy. Had he been forced to sit in the seclusion of a guarded tent, he was sure he'd have quickly lost his sanity. Chores, at least, kept his mind occupied.
Glancing over, Jeff found Jeffrey sitting nearby, carving a piece of scrap firewood into a doll for one of the younger children. The young Hardy watched as his doppelganger's thin, nimble fingers skillfully worked the knife, slowly but surely carving a grinning face into the smooth, flat piece of oak.
"You really have a knack for that, Jeffrey", he said, smiling, his pleasant tenor breaking the comfortable silence.
Jeffrey smiled in return, his eyes never leaving his work. "Thank you", he said shyly, "I've always tried to use my spare time for crafting toys and games for the camp children to play with. It may seem like a strange hobby, but the little ones love the gifts that I bring them, and they desperately need childish distractions every now and again, given the fact that their lives here are so difficult and dangerous."
Jeff nodded, agreeing with the sentiment. He studied his twin closely as he worked, finding it interesting, and a little disturbing, that his doppelganger had artistic leanings. He wondered what else the two of them might have in common?
Jeffrey leaned in, staring hard at the doll's emerging eyebrows. He made a small cut, then appraised his work with a critical eye. Finally, he put down his knife, sighing heavily. "I think I'm done for now. Did you want to head back into camp, or stay here for a little while longer?"
Jeff shifted, sinking down deeper into the nest of roots surrounding him. Smirking, he replied, "Can we stay for a little while longer? I don't think my muscles are functioning just yet."
Jeffrey laughed. "You're still sore from hauling the water buckets?"
"Actually, I think it was chopping firewood that did it. I don't know how you do that every day of your life."
Jeffrey smiled. "I suppose you just get used to it after awhile."
An easy silence fell then, as Jeff settled himself more comfortably at the base of the tree. He sighed, allowing his aching muscles to relax, allowing the peaceful sounds of the forest to lull him into a partial stupor. The greenish half-light of the forest, the feel of grass and soil beneath his fingers, the tree at his back and sides, cradling him; all succeeded in making him feel warm, and safe. He closed his eyes, floating in an exhausted, blissful haze.
"Jeff?", Jeffrey said quietly, his tone filled with anxiety.
The young Hardy's eyes shot open.
Looking over, he saw that Jeffrey was watching him with a nervous, wary expression.
"What's wrong, Jeffrey?", Jeff asked, suddenly anxious himself. He wondered what could have caused such an extreme mood shift in such a short amount of time. Did he even want to know?
"Jeff", Jeffrey said timidly, "May I ask you something?"
"Sure, Jeffrey", he replied, eyes intent on the pale young man before him, "Ask me whatever you want."
Jeffrey looked truly conflicted when he spoke. "Forgive me for mentioning this. You really do have enough to worry about in your present situation, after all." Jeff said nothing, only nodded nervously. Jeffrey continued, "It's just that, I can no longer stay silent on this matter. It's been bothering me a great deal."
Jeff watched him with a wary gaze. "Um, well, things certainly couldn't get worse for me, so go ahead, I guess. Ask away."
Jeffrey looked away, unable to meet Jeff's eyes. "Since I've been getting to know you, Jeff, I've been noticing that the two of us have a great many things in common. We share many personality traits, and interests; likes, and dislikes."
Jeff nodded in acknowledgement. "I've noticed that too."
Jeffrey continued, "Well, all of the characteristics we share got me thinking about our brothers. If we are so alike, then it follows that our brothers might be similar as well. Given what we've seen, your brother should share at least one or two of Matthew's characteristics."
Jeff's eyes narrowed. "Why would you say something like that?", he whispered, his voice thick with emotion.
Sadness was written in every line and shadow on Jeffrey's ashen face. "I am sorry, Jeff", he said quietly, "I did not mean to anger you, or cause you pain. I am simply trying to ascertain whether or not your brother poses a threat to you or your people. After seeing the destruction Matthew has wreaked upon our world-"
Pain flashed across Jeff's face. "Matt is nothing like Matthew", he interrupted, trying to keep his voice steady, "My brother is kind, and caring, and protective, and endlessly loyal. He's probably out of his god damn mind right now, looking for me." The thought of a desperate and forlorn Matt, wandering the streets, desperately searching, made Jeff's gut clench. He wondered how the older Hardy was faring, given the fact that he tended to over-react whenever Jeff's welfare was at stake. The young Hardy prayed that Matt wasn't blaming himself for his disappearance. He could only hope that their friends were taking vigilant care of him in his absence.
"Matt's a good man", Jeff said with conviction, "He'd never consciously hurt anyone."
"Please forgive me, Jeff", Jeffrey said, his tone at once contrite and sympathetic, "I did not mean to offend you."
Jeff shook his head, and sighed. "I'm not offended", he assured his twin, "Simply… tired. Why don't we head back now?"
"Very well." Jeffrey smiled over at his twin as they began walking back towards the main campground. "You know, I heard that dinner's going to be salmon tonight."
Jeff raised an eyebrow. "You seem pretty excited about that."
Jeffrey grinned. "Oh, I am! Salmon is an exceedingly rare treat for us. We rarely find one of their spawning grounds. But the Lolthen Rapids is nearby, and I have it on good authority that that river is teeming with salmon life. We shall eat well tonight, I can promise you that."
Jeff sighed. "A good fish dinner sounds perfect right about now."
"Do you eat a lot of salmon on your world, Jeff?"
Jeff shrugged. "It's not a rare fish or anything, if that's what you mean. I tend to eat it a lot when I'm trying to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time."
Jeffrey looked puzzled. "Lose weight? Why would you ever need to lose weight?"
The young Hardy grinned, and clapped his companion on the shoulder. "You've obviously never worked for Vincent Kennedy McMahon, my friend."
Ignoring Jeffrey's bewildered expression, Jeff continued towards the low-burning campfires, looking forward to a hearty salmon dinner and a restful night to follow.
Ex-Lieutenant Regal sat on the floor of a rebel tent, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Hunter and the Lion.
Exhausted from the day's long and stressful pursuit, Regal slumped over, his head in his hand. He mulled over his situation, trying to look at it from all angles, as a cold and clinical soldier would do. The fury that he felt at Emperor Matthew's betrayal was clouding his judgment, however, slowly tainting his cold and logical mind. He still could not fully comprehend why the man had seen fit to sentence him to death when he had been unfailingly loyal to him for so many years. He had always been a faithful and trustworthy servant, never questioning the emperor's orders, no matter how outlandish or cruel they may have been. Even knowing Matthew's penchant for impetuous brutality, he would not have thought this situation remotely possible.
No, he realized grimly, he'd never seen this coming.
Chilled to the bone, the captive soldier moved closer to the meager fire that burned in a small, sunken fire-pit in the middle of the tent, ever-attentive to the sounds filtering in from outside. Frustratingly, there had been nothing that could be of use to him; only snippets of meaningless conversation, and occasional, raucous laughter. No scrap of information that might, should he escape from this wretched camp, interest his emperor enough to place him in his good graces once again.
He shifted uncomfortably on the hard ground, grunting in annoyance as his lower back twinged. It had been hours since two burly rebel guards had escorted him here, only to leave him completely alone. Regal wondered if his captors even planned on visiting his makeshift prison tonight.
He supposed he should be thankful for the delay. For he knew full well that, when the rebels did finally get around to dealing with him, he would probably be facing an immediate death sentence. He accepted this. After all, it was any soldier's honor to die on the field of battle, at the hands of a capable enemy.
Despite his bleak circumstances, he found that he was greatly looking forward to meeting the rebel leaders. By all accounts, it should be an encounter any true warrior would dream of undergoing.
After all, the Hunter and Lion's exploits were legendary, both on and off the battlefield; the fact that they had managed to evade Emperor Matthew and his armies for over a decade only bore out their reputations as brilliant military tacticians and powerful leaders beloved by their people. It would be interesting to see if the rebel generals lived up to their lofty reputations in person.
Suddenly, he heard voices outside. It sounded like three or four men, having a rushed, softly-spoken conversation. He strained to hear what was being said, but found, to his everlasting frustration, that he was unable to make any of it out.
Sighing resignedly, Regal stood, readying himself for the confrontation. He straightened his tunic and brushed the dirt from his clothes and hair. Crossing his arms over a chest built up from years of hard soldiering, he stood firm, glaring darkly at the tent flaps which would, at any moment, pull back to provide his enemies with an entrance.
Moments later, a strong, deep voice called, "We're coming in, Lt. Regal! Please back away from the door and keep your hands in plain view."
"At least my captors have the courtesy to be polite when ordering me about", Regal grumbled sarcastically, under his breath.
A tall, grim-looking blonde man entered first, his hand resting comfortably upon the hilt of an impressive broadsword. The man's sharp eyes glittered with an unsettling combination of malice and intelligence as he openly studied the former officer, seemingly unintimidated by Regal's fierce glare or formidable reputation.
This one had to be the Hunter, Regal mused.
"Well, just look at that", a voice dripping with cocky amusement suddenly sounded from the tent entrance, "Looks like the emperor's lapdog got himself lost in the woods. What a terrible shame for him."
The imprisoned soldier looked past the stoic figure standing before him to see a second man enter, then pull the tent flaps firmly closed. He was obviously a few years younger than the first man, though he walked with an air of easy confidence, and the athletic grace that Regal immediately recognized as the mark of an experienced swordsman.
Clearly, this was the Lion.
"Lieutenant Regal", the presumed Hunter quietly interjected, "I have waited for many years to see you in one of our prison tents. It was your regiment, after all, that captured my wife and placed her in the Cells of the Damned."
"Perhaps", Regal replied noncommittally, "I have captured many rebels in my time-"
"She died there, rotting away in the darkness, though it did not have to be so", Hunter continued as if the prisoner had not spoken, "You are little better than your filthy emperor, blindly following his orders and ruining innocent people's lives in the process."
Regal glared. "Call me what you will, Hunter, but at least I am not a fool", he snarled, "You both have dedicated your lives to removing Emperor Matthew from the throne, but you do not realize- There is no going against him. He owns this world, and everyone within it. Including you. Including your people out there."
The Lion smirked. "Do you hear that, Hunter? Matthew owns us." He took a step towards Regal, wild-eyed and eager for confrontation. "If that's true, my friend, then why aren't we rotting in the dungeons beneath his foul keep?"
"It shall only be a matter of time", Regal replied, his tone as menacing as it was confident, "The emperor's elite regiments venture further into the forest each day. There is only so much ground that you can cover, only so much foliage that you can disappear under; the troops continue to memorize the sylvan territories, and I can assure you with all conviction that one day they shall become as adept as you at setting traps and hiding amongst the wooded terrain. You shall be caught."
"I've heard enough of your empty threats, Lieutenant", interjected Hunter, his tone cold, "Now, you're going to tell us why you were wandering around in the deep woods, alone."
Regal curled his lip in disdain. "I was out for a leisurely stroll."
The Lion let out a loud, boisterous laugh. "Wearing full battle armor? In enemy territory?" He glanced over at his companion. "I think I'm beginning to like this guy. At least the lies he fabricates are entertaining."
Hunter watched the captive soldier closely, a forbidding expression upon his chiseled features. "I suggest you cooperate with us", he said, "We will show you no mercy, should you decide to withhold information."
Regal looked away. "I see no reason to cooperate. Your threats mean absolutely nothing to me."
The Lion smirked, and pulled out a dagger he'd concealed in his boot. He swooped in and pressed the blade to Regal's face, his other hand effectively trapping the ex-lieutenant's wrists against his chest so that he could not counter-attack.
"Oh, I think you'll cooperate with us", Lion said, pressing a little harder with the blade and drawing a thin line of dripping blood, "We may not be as cruel as your pig emperor, but we have our ways of getting loyalists to talk, when necessary. Remember, Regal, there are a lot of people in this camp who have lost loved ones to Matthew's butchery. I'm sure they'd love to have just five minutes alone with you-"
A distant, pained scream abruptly sounded from what was most likely the campground area.
"What the hell was that?", exclaimed Lion, who immediately released the prisoner and pushed him away.
Hunter was listening at the tent flap, his sword drawn and at the ready.
Another cry echoed through the nighttime woods, someone yelling something unintelligible. Followed immediately by another scream of pain.
Hunter and Lion glanced at each other, wide-eyed. What was happening? Were they under attack?
"Watch him", Lion said, gesturing to Regal with his sword, "I'll look outside." Hunter nodded in assent.
He cautiously made his way outside, glancing around in every direction, his sword raised protectively in front of him. In the distance, he could hear sounds of shuffling, running, and general chaos. There was the pounding of horses' hooves.
People yelling. People crying. People in pain.
Hunter joined him now, firmly gripping one of Regal's arms. The ex-lieutenant's wrists had been bound firmly in front of him.
"It's an attack, Hunter. It sounds like a large force."
"We haven't any choice", the older man replied, "A'aleh patreyahh sehn?"
Regal stared at him, thinking he'd lost his mind. What strange gibberish was he speaking?
Lion nodded. "A'aleh patreyahh sehn. Let's go."
Hunter pulled an unresisting Regal around to the back of the tent, where their freshly-watered, freshly-fed horses were tied up and waiting to be mounted.
Lion forced Regal up onto his steed, then climbed on behind him.
"No funny business, Lieutenant Regal", he said, "I've still got my dagger handy."
"Where are we going?", Regal asked sourly.
"You'll see when we get there", Lion replied, "Until then, just relax and enjoy the ride." He spurred the horse on then, moving at top speed towards the heart of the rebel encampment.
Hunter galloped beside him, his sword at the ready, fury sparking in his bright blue eyes.
The rebel leaders halted their mounts at the edge of the main clearing, stunned at what they were witnessing. The once-peaceful campground had become a field of slaughter, a horrific, blood-drenched tableau covered with the grievously wounded and dying.
Battle-hardened soldiers with axes and swords were chasing after screaming women and children, cutting them down like wheat. Trained rebel soldiers tried to fight back, but their weapons were far inferior to the emperor's magically-enhanced steel. Everywhere around them, the Hunter and the Lion saw their people dying.
"Let us hurry", Hunter said somberly, "There are still many here that we can save."
Lion didn't answer. He simply spurred his horse forward with a great war cry, drawing the attention of everyone in the camp.
Hunter followed closely, hacking and slashing his sword at any soldier who dared come near.
"Get them!", someone bellowed, "They are the two rebels Emperor Matthew seeks! Capture them alive!"
Hunter and Lion continued fighting zealously, enjoying the heat of the battle, cutting down soldiers left and right. They were surrounded by the clashing of metal, and the spray of blood, and the grunting of the soldiers as they jostled to get past each other in order to stab at the mounted rebels. They fought, locked in a furious battle, each dead soldier payment taken in blood for the rebels killed that night.
But then, somehow, a voice penetrated the overwhelming din of death and madness. It was someone speaking loudly, somewhere nearby, and it immediately caught Lion's attention. "Sir! I've confirmed that the man on the Lion's horse is the traitor Regal! He must be a prisoner, as his hands are bound."
"You are to kill him, as per our original orders from Emperor Matthew."
How very interesting, thought Lion as he stabbed his blade into an unfortunate soldier's throat, It looks like ex-Lieutenant Regal and I will have much to chat about later.
"Are you ready?", yelled Hunter, who was swinging his sword in a great wide arc and neatly slicing a soldier's exposed throat.
"Now!", replied Lion.
They spurred their trained horses on, immediately breaking through the line of foot soldiers that surrounded them. As they galloped through the encampment, they bellowed, "A'aleh patreyahh sehn! A'aleh patreyahh sehn!"
The still-surviving rebels, wounded, exhausted, and dejected, listened to their leaders' cries, and took heart. They knew what to do now. They heard the strange, seemingly nonsensical commands, and suddenly knew that everything would again be alright, and that Matthew would pay for this attack, tenfold.
Instead of staying to fight a losing battle against superior forces, they melted into the dark woods, disappearing into a network of pre-laid, camouflaged hidey-holes, following their leaders' cryptic instructions, instructions only an inducted rebel would have been able to comprehend.
A'aleh patreyahh sehn.
It was a simple phrase in the tongue of the ancients, a forgotten language spoken in a forgotten time. The earth had been pure then, the skies clear. And the people, they had been innocent, knowing nothing at all of violence. Or so it was written.
Adapting the ancient language of a peaceful people to use as the rebels' secret code had seemed very appropriate, somehow. So the Hunter and the Lion had made their people memorize simple phrases in the ancient language, in case of attack. That way, they could easily communicate their intentions to their people, even if the enemy was present and listening.
A'aleh patreyahh sehn. "Go to the caves."
Beyond the borders of the camp now, Hunter and Lion easily evaded the pursuing foot soldiers. They prayed their people had gotten the message.
Hunter pulled at the reins of his great mount, turning the steed about so he could look back at the distant campfires. The invading soldiers were silhouetted against the blazing fire, moving frantically around their camp, searching every crevice, tearing everything apart, destroying.
"We shall have revenge for the people those soldiers killed tonight", Hunter said quietly, "I swear it."
Lion clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Come on. We have to get out of here, before those idiotic soldiers track us down."
Hunter nodded, and turned his mount away. "I just hope Jeffrey's alright. I know I can't go looking for him, but-"
"That kid can handle himself. He's getting pretty good with a sword. And he has Jeff with him, don't forget. Didn't he say he's some kind of fighter?"
"I believe so."
Distant voices sounded in the forest.
"We have to go, now!" Without looking to see if Hunter was following, knowing that he would, Lion spurred his mount on at top speed, galloping to the east, and the secret caves that would hopefully be the rebels' sanctuary for the time being.
Hunter tailed him closely, the night wind crisp and chilly as it hit his skin and lifted his long blonde hair.
He knew that they were still very much in danger. He also knew that he had to escape this place, for the sake of his people. He readied his sword, gripping it tightly with steady, competent authority, forcing himself to concentrate on the task at hand.
But his thoughts… they were firmly fixed upon the camp, and his missing son.
Jeffrey led Jeff to the supper line, where the distinct, tangy smell of cooking fish permeated the air. Jeffrey inhaled, smiling widely.
"Ah, salmon", he said dreamily, "It smells wonderful."
"Yeah, it looks awesome", agreed Jeff, "I'm starving. I can't wait to eat."
He looked around him and took in his surroundings. Happy, congenial people, active, giggling children, loving families, all enjoying good food and each other's company. It somehow seemed impossible that these gentle and contented people could be at war.
"Jeff?", Jeffrey's voice pulled him out of his reverie, "Here you are." He looked over at his twin, and found him offering a plate of steaming fish. Smiling, he thanked him, as well as the cook, a gruff old man whose name was Rupert.
As they made their way to a seat around the campfire, they immediately came to realize that there was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air. Everyone was involved in intense discussion about something, though the two newcomers couldn't make out exactly what it was.
"Stephen", Jeffrey addressed the man sitting next to him, who turned at the sound of his name, "What's going on? What is everyone talking about?"
"Oh, you didn't hear, Jeffrey?", Stephen replied excitedly, "Two of the border guards snagged ol' Lieutenant Regal up. They've got him in the leaders tent now."
Jeffrey's eyes widened in amazement. "How did he end up out here? Didn't he have patrols with him?"
"No, he was all by his lonesome. And that's what everyone's talking about", Stephen said, "Some are saying this is a trap. Others are glad that we finally have some leverage over Matthew. Either way, says I, it's good dinner conversation."
Jeffrey smiled, and turned back to Jeff, a bit stunned at the news he'd just received.
"Who's this Lieutenant Regal?", asked Jeff, taking a bite of salmon.
Jeffrey sighed. "A very evil man, who has spent years carrying out the emperor's orders as his military leader. If the black mage Marckus is Matthew's right hand, then it could be said that Lieutenant Regal is his left."
"Well, then", Jeff said, "I hope Hunter and Lion give him what's coming to him."
"In that, you're not alone", Jeffrey said thoughtfully, "Although, I do wonder what path father will actually take with the Lieutenant. After all, he is largely responsible for mother's death."
"She died in the Cells of the Damned, right?", Jeff asked quietly.
"Yes", Jeffrey replied, his face downcast, "But it was Regal's regiment that captured my mother and threw her down there, to die slowly as a result of starvation and disease."
"I'm sorry you lost your mother that way, Jeffrey", Jeff said softly, "It's… not fair that she was taken away from you like that."
Memories abruptly hit him of his own mother, of being forced to say goodbye to her for the last time at an age when death was something barely understood, a distant shadowy concept not needed, or wanted, or asked for.
He put the plate of fish on the ground, suddenly no longer hungry.
"Are you alright, Jeff?", Jeffrey asked, concern written on his pale features.
Jeff nodded, and forced himself to smile. "I'm fine. Sorry. I guess I just really am tir-"
A loud, piercing scream suddenly cut the early evening air, coming from the direction of the darkening forest. Everyone froze, all conversation halted. An uneasy silence fell over the campground.
No one moved. No one breathed.
Abruptly, the unnerving sound of distant shouting echoed through the woods, unfamiliar people barking coarse, hurried commands. There was the metallic scrape of weapons clashing together, and hoof beats pounding towards the crowded encampment.
"Take up your weapons!", someone shouted, "We're under attack!"
Everywhere, it was chaos, people running back and forth, looking for something to fight with. Children were crying, mothers pulling them protectively to their bosoms as they tried to find a safe place to hide.
Jeff stared, frozen with fear, as the first wave of Matthew's soldiers rode into the clearing. He jumped when he felt a sudden tug on his arm. Looking over, he was relieved to find that it was only Jeffrey.
"This way, Jeff!", he urged, pulling him towards the woods, "We must hurry!"
Numb with terror, Jeff followed, grateful that his counterpart seemed to have some idea of what to do in a situation like this.
Once they'd slipped past the borders of the encampment and into the shadows of the deep woods, they made their way east, running, never stopping to look back. After a while, they slowed to a brisk walk, Jeffrey's sure steps guiding them through pitch-black, nighttime woods, leading them ever deeper into the sylvan territory. They walked for hours, until Jeff was sure that he would fall to his knees from exhaustion. Jeffrey did not falter in his step, however. He continued on, Jeff following him closely, afraid that if he fell too far behind, he would lose himself in the great, dark forest.
Finally, dim sunlight began to filter through the treetops, and Jeffrey indicated that they could rest.
Jeff gratefully collapsed back against one of the huge, ancient trees, relieved to be able to sit down.
"Where are we going?", he whispered as quietly as he could, afraid of soldiers in the woods hearing him and tracking them down.
"You don't have to whisper here.", Jeffrey said, "Matthew's soldiers wouldn't dare come to this place. They're afraid of it."
"Why?", asked Jeff, his eyes widening.
"Because it is a holy place, blessed and sanctified by a holy man. A cleric, to be exact."
"A cleric?" Jeff looked dubious.
"Oh, yes", replied Jeffrey, smiling, "He's very wise, and very kind. And he has been my father's friend and ally for many, many years. He lives just over there, in that system of caves." Jeffrey pointed to a looming rock not too far away. There were several yawning gaps in the ancient stone, any one of which could have led to the cleric's underground home.
"And he'll take us in? Shield us from Matthew?" Jeff had trouble trusting anyone on this world. No one had been what they seemed to be. Nothing made sense here.
"Absolutely", said Jeffrey, "He is one of our greatest friends, and strongest supporters."
Jeff could only nod noncommittally. He'd believe it when he saw it.
He decided to change the subject. "Um, Jeffrey…"
"Yes?" He smiled politely, earnestly.
"Your people were attacked last night. They could still be out there, fighting those soldiers. I just wanted to make sure you're alright."
Jeffrey suddenly looked very sad, and very weary. "You know, my father has taught me many important things, things I'll need to know for when I begin to lead the people. But there was one lesson in particular which was, without a doubt, the hardest I've ever had to learn. He said I must realize that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. And that means learning to leave friends behind, to fend for themselves, even if I know that it will mean their deaths. He told me that I must always keep myself alive at all costs, because one day I shall lead the rebels, and without a strong leader, the cause will be lost. It is the sacrifice he himself makes, each time there is a battle. He knows he cannot save each rebel at his side, and he has had to watch many a friend die because of Matthew's cruelty. But he reminds me, as I remind you now, that those deaths will not be in vain. And the best thing we can do to honor the memory of the dead is to be victorious in this war."
"I don't know how you people live like this", Jeff said, his face tight with some unreadable emotion, "Constantly running, constantly in fear that you're going to be tortured or killed… I don't understand it."
"All we can do is live our lives, and enjoy the time we have been given", Jeffrey replied quietly, "If we allow despair to touch us, then Matthew has already won."
Jeff gazed over at his doppelganger, who was thoughtfully studying the distant tree line, his long blonde hair blowing gently in the warm, morning breeze.
"I guess we should go in, then", Jeff sighed, "I know you say we're safe here, but I won't feel like I can relax until we're underground."
Jeffrey couldn't disagree.
They crossed the field of grass and wildflowers that stood between the edge of the forest and the caves, moving quickly and quietly. Once they were standing in the shadow of the great rock, Jeffrey began fishing around in one of his pouches for something. After a moment, he produced a smooth, polished stone with a runic symbol etched clearly into its surface.
"What's that?", asked Jeff, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"This", Jeffrey answered, "is the key to get inside. Now, I just have to remember where the keyhole is." He studied the uneven surfaces of the rock, running a discerning eye over its nooks and crannies. Finally, he found a light, weatherworn rune carved into one of the walls, a mark that would have been barely noticeable, were one not looking for it.
"Come and stand beside me, Jeff", Jeffrey said, "We'll have to be quick."
Jeff shot his companion a look. "Quick? What do you mean?"
"When I hold the runes together, we'll be able to walk through the wall as if the stone were as light as air. Only, we'll have less than ten seconds to get through to the other side. Then, the rock will solidify again."
Jeff sighed. Why couldn't there just be a god damn door? He truly and completely hated everything about this world.
"Fine, let's just get it over with", Jeff muttered darkly.
He stood next to his doppelganger. When the rock shimmered, they both ran through as fast as their legs would take them.
What a weird sensation, Jeff thought to himself. It felt cold, and… heavy. He felt pressure, pushing down on him from all sides, the weight of the mountain ready to crush him in less than a second.
He burst from the rock wall just behind Jeffrey, panting and light-headed, just as it turned back into solid rock. Once he got his bearings, Jeff glanced around. His eyes widened in amazement.
A large, grand chamber surrounded them, one that had been magically carved out of the natural, living stone. Ancient stalagmites and stalactites formed majestic pillars. Archways decorated the ceiling, high above.
And at the chamber's center… a great, stone throne, made of quartz and amethyst.
A regal man sat upon it, studying the two of them with kind, blue eyes.
He rose, beckoning them closer.
"Ah, welcome! Your arrival has been awaited, Jeffrey."
The man's sharp blue eyes immediately turned to Jeffrey's companion, who was staring unabashedly, a strange expression upon his face. The cleric smiled.
"And welcome to you as well, Jeff. I have heard much about you, and am eager to speak with you, if you will allow it. But for now, please rest or, if you would prefer, I shall have some food brought to you."
"Food sounds really good, actually. Our dinner was rudely interrupted last night", Jeff said, still unable to rip his gaze from the man's familiar features.
He nodded, and smiled. "Very well. Jeffrey knows the way. He shall lead you to your chamber, and something shall be brought." He walked forward, and placed a firm, comforting hand upon Jeff's shoulder. "And if you need anything at all while you are here, please feel free to ask me."
"I, um", Jeff stammered, "I didn't get your name, sir."
"I am known as Sha'an Michaelis. And I must say, it is a great pleasure to meet you, Jeff Hardy." He smiled a wise and mysterious smile. "A great pleasure, indeed."
Sha'an Michaelis= Shawn Michaels. He's a religious guy, so yup, he gets the part of the cleric. And yes, if anyone reads/watches Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler, I did use Sebastian's last name. I'm a Kuro fanatic, so I thought I'd slip that in, hee hee.
There's still plenty left to go on this story. Next time, Matt and Matthew meet up, Sha'an and Jeffy have a talk, the emperor's evil plans start to unfold, and MORE MORE MORE!