Waves whispered gently just beyond the alcove, rushing over the sand. I listened in silence, my fingers running slowly through Andiya’s hair. If morning never came, I would be happy. I would be happy even if it were my last night on earth.
But my mind clawed at me, keeping me awake. I had to tell her about Khalid. I had to tell Andiya that we may be able to save him. No part of me doubted her anymore.
“Can we talk?” I asked.
Andiya stretched, resting her cheek on my shoulder. “If you are going to say anything to spoil my good mood, then no.” When I stayed silent, she sighed. “We have the rest of our lives for doom and gloom, Rozin. Let’s have tonight.”
I swallowed my confession. It could wait one more night. My hand brushed down her arm, and I turned her so I could see.
“There’s no mark,” I said, my thumb rubbing her chest. Andiya put her hand on mine.
“You can thank the healers for that. Queen Xanthe set her full force on me. She said that if the Creators wanted me alive, they were going to carry out that will.”
“I thought that you …” I swallowed. “When I couldn’t feel the bond …”
“I’m all right. The bond was still there, trust me. Verahai put that collar on me to contain my magic. It’s common practice in the palace to control delinquents.” Her fingers brushed my jaw. “But I still felt you there. Through everything.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m glad I wasn’t alone.”
I kissed the top of her head. “Always.”
“The queens hear our petition tomorrow. Verahai wants you to testify. Queen Xanthe has the powers of a sensor, so no lies. Just ask her for help, and she’ll grant it. You have nothing to fear from her.”
“But you sound worried.”
“I just don’t like being here. The sooner we leave, the happier I’ll be.”
“You seemed to fit in well, when I saw you.”
She huffed. “Fit in as well as a pet. The guards haven’t let me out of their sight since I woke up. I know … that I hurt you, by turning away. But I did not want those sycophants at court to see any more of me than they already had—and that I care for a human is far more than they deserve to know. They scrutinize and question my every motion. That clown Verahai already thinks I’m here to stir up discord. As if a bonded Faithless is any threat to the great court of Kaelta.”
“Verahai said your last name was Mathaszai.”
Andiya’s breathing flinched. “What else did he tell you?”
“Little. This is the most anyone’s said to me in days.”
“Don’t make me too jealous of your cell. I’d love it if everyone else just left me the hell alone.” She drew circles on my stomach. “It won’t end, you know. Not until we run so far that no one knows our names.”
“Is that what you really want?”
“I want to run with you, Rozin. Wherever we end up, it is better than with those who will only control us.”
I swallowed hard. Run. Abandon my life, my friends. Turn deserter. Could I do it?
Andiya shot up. Her eyes flicked around as if she’d heard something.
“Rozin,” she breathed. “Get dressed.”
A strange pressure pulsed in the air. I felt it in my chest like a low hum. Magic. But magic far stronger than I’d ever felt from Andiya, filling the alcove as it buzzed on my skin.
I threw on my clothes as Andiya re-wrapped her dress. Pale, orange dawn lightened the horizon.
A furious growl ripped from Andiya’s throat. She charged from the alcove, and we came face-to-face with Verahai and a dozen guards at his back, standing at attention.
“You were not to leave your chambers, Faithless,” said Verahai.
“I am not a prisoner in my own home, dog,” spat Andiya.
“Perhaps not, but your master certainly is.” A guard stepped aside, revealing the birch-skinned servant who’d brought me here. They trembled behind the guards, holding their chest.
“Threatening my staff, removing your collar, disobeying direct orders from the queens to remain in your chambers. Come, Faithless. We shall decide a suitable reprimand.”
“I’ll come when I choose to,” Andiya snarled. “Go on back to your kennel.”
Verahai’s eyes slid to me. “She freed you from your cell so that you could remove her collar. It is spelled so that she could not remove it. Had she not needed you for that, you would remain in your cell.”
“Liar!” shouted Andiya.
“Go on, then. Tell your master that your only goal in freeing her was to spend the night in the arms of your beloved.”
“Fuck you, Verahai. Get out of my way. I’m going to take this up with Queen Xanthe. We’ll see if she approves of you treating me this way.”
“Queen Xanthe was not who granted your petition,” said Verahai.
“No. Don’t you say it. Don’t you dare say that bitch’s name—”
“Queen Mathaszai is eager to hear what you have to say. You will speak to her, or to no one.”
Andiya’s eyes hit the ground. I felt her magic rising in a burning cyclone. But my breath caught at what Verahai had said. Queen Mathaszai?
“Replace your collar, Faithless, and come with me.”
“No,” Andiya ground out.
“Then I shall replace it for you.”
Flames burst around Andiya’s hands. “If you can. Give it your best go.”
Verahai took a step forward, separating from his soldiers, and Andiya launched at him. Fire burst from her, rolling down her hair and back, turning her into a comet. She slashed out with a claw of razor-sharp flame.
Her hand met Verahai’s forearm. He didn’t even flinch as he blocked the blow with the solidity of a brick wall. Andiya tried to pull away—but her hand was encased in ice, the crystals growing straight from Verahai’s skin. Panic flashed through Andiya. Magic flared into her trapped hand, and she freed herself with a ferocious explosion out of her palm.
As Andiya leapt back, Verahai merely stood still, unfazed.
“Come quietly, Faithless,” he said flatly. “You are young and yet untrained. This is folly.”
In response, Andiya whipped a fireball at him.
Verahai’s response was barely a blink. The ocean surged up the shore, freezing as it went. Waves of snow crashed down, hoarfrost formed on the cliffs, turning the beach into an icy mountaintop amidst a terrible blizzard. Andiya’s fireball fizzled up. Ice crawled from the frozen beach up her ankles, shins, thighs. Verahai didn’t even move. His magic pressed against my chest, so powerful that I was rooted to the spot. Andiya hadn’t stood a chance.
“You let me out of this, you bastard!” Andiya bellowed. Ice swallowed her up to her neck in a crystalline cocoon.
The ice beside her shifted, and the collar rose to the surface.
“You ought to learn some respect,” said Verahai. “My sympathetic of a brother is no longer here to defend your childish moods. You may find, daughter of the Faithless, that there is a day when my patience for you runs short.”
He raised his hand and flicked a finger. The ice curled delicately like an outstretched hand and snapped the collar around Andiya’s neck.
The moment it clicked in place, the ice melted. The beach warmed and the snow vanished in a hiss of steam, returned to its natural state. Andiya dropped to her knees, breathing hard.
A pair of guards separated from the group and stood on either side of me.
“Human,” said Verahai. “You will be prepared for your audience with our queen. Go, now.”
“And Andiya?” I asked. The guards took my arms.
“Her and I need to have a word. There seems to be much she has forgotten about my palace in her absence.”
And so the guards pulled me away, up the beach, too forceful and fast for a final look at Andiya.
I was left to pace in my cell for hours. I couldn’t sit still. Not with Verahai’s words spinning my brain. Queen Mathaszai. How were she and Andiya related? Why did Andiya not tell me she had royal blood?
I paused in my step. It would certainly explain Andiya’s iron-spined personality. She and Princess Irina were too similar at times.
My palm wrapped the small quartz star in my pocket. Andiya was captive, Irina was captive, and we only had a week left. Protect them, Creators. Please. Shield them when I cannot.
A pair of servants arrived with familiar clothing. It was the uniform of an Eon—wolf pelt, black cloak, dark leather accents and bracers. But it wasn’t the same as what I’d worn on the Korongorod. The fabric was softer, more delicate. A facsimile made by daemon hands; not for battle, but for show.
The servants bathed me and shaved the side of my head, then carefully applied the Eon’s mark under my eyes. When they were finished, their gazes followed my feet. I no longer looked like a prisoner. I served an archon; I was their enemy.
We went up the main floor, passing scores of daemons in elaborate clothing. It seemed the entire palace came gathered today, and they dressed to dazzle. I straightened my back, half-closed my eyes in mild disinterest. I was an Eon of the Canavar. I had to show everyone in this court what that meant.
We entered a grand hall, the walls and ceilings mosaics of intricate tiles in Kaeltan pattern. Potted palms leaned fronds over archways, sunlight poured through a domed ceiling of bronze and glass. Courtiers lined the walls, dripping in jewels and feathers and bright silks. They watched us enter, their expressions curious—but not, as I expected, at all hostile. How many humans had ever appeared in this court? Had they ever even seen my kind before?
The servants brought me to the centre of the hall and pulled me to bow, pressing my forehead to the floor tiles. When I lifted my head, I beheld Queen Mathaszai.
She sat on a throne of painted metal, thousands of cast peacock feathers rising at her back. Her gown was fit to match—a deep lapis blue sewn with gold and emerald, the hem pouring down the throne’s steps. Impossible red hair flowed under a crown of antlers and roses, the front set with a ruby in the shape of bright flame. The same flame as the one tattooed on my arm.
“I welcome you, Rozin Kain, servant of the Canavar,” said the queen in a deep, echoing voice. She caught me with familiar scarlet eyes, as sharp and vicious as Andiya’s. “I am told you come here with a request for the Kaeltan crown. Speak your piece.”
I glanced quickly around the hall. Andiya was nowhere to be found. Behind me, Verahai nodded. Speak.
“Your Majesty,” I began. I’d practiced my words a hundred times in my head. “I come to you as a faithful servant of the Creators. I have been told you serve them as well.”
Queen Mathaszai nodded slowly. “I do.”
“At this very moment, a usurper sits on a throne that is not his. He has stolen it with lies, cruelty, and blood, and with his power, he has begun a war amongst our people that will devastate those who are powerless to defend against it. If we do not act swiftly and decisively to remove him, thousands of innocent lives will be lost. I have been sent by the true heir to the Canavar throne, Irina Volkov, to secure an alliance with the great nation of Kaelta. Together, my princess wishes for daemon and human to build a better world. One free of old hatreds and prejudices, where we might greet each other as friends.”
The hall was silent for mere moments as the queen drummed her fingers on her throne. Then she sighed wearily.
“Eon,” said Queen Mathaszai. “The crown has heard your petition, and the crown denies it. We bid you good day. Verahai, please return Eon Kain to her cell. The court shall now deliver punishment to Andiya Mathaszai for violating royal decree.”
My heart stopped. “Wait—please, Your Majesty—”
“The crown sees no benefit to an alliance with the human lands. And we see no reason why daemons should be involved in a petty matter of succession. It is not our place.”
“People will die!”
“And people shall kill them. It is not our war.” Queen Mathaszai waved me away. Verahai approached. “Bring in my niece.”
From the archway behind, guards led Andiya to my side. She wore a gentle robe of white silk and a silver-chain belt, the sort that made her look soft, weak. Shackles bound her wrists and ankles. She didn’t even look at me. Andiya’s fury burned through her eyes at the queen, scarlet meeting scarlet.
Andiya’s lip curled over her teeth. “These restraints are not necessary—”
“Did I say you could speak?” Queen Mathaszai snapped. “You are here as an accused, not as an equal. That right is reserved for those who follow the laws of my kingdom.”
A handful of the courtiers tittered. The queen smiled slyly at them.
“We can offer more!” I shouted. “There must be something we can give; some agreement you’d be willing to make—”
Queen Mathaszai’s calm demeanour flashed with irritation. “There is not. You are lucky to leave my sight with your head, Eon.” The peacock feathers behind her shimmered with heat. “Your very presence here is an insult of the gravest magnitude. You ask me to give you the lives of my people so they may die in a trivial war. You, who murdered a beloved member of this court. You, who bound scores of us. You, who bound a member of my family and brought her here to rub her in my face. How could you expect to step into this home and make these demands of me? Of the nation you have wronged so?”
I struggled for words. She was right. But I couldn’t give up. Verahai’s hand closed on my wrist.
“If I could give you Khalid?” I said desperately. “If I could free him and Andiya?”
Verahai’s hand tightened. He didn’t pull me away.
“He’s your brother, isn’t he?” I said to Verahai. He didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. I could see it in the planes of his face, the depth to his black eyes. I faced the queen. “I believe there is a way to free them. Agree to the alliance—help me save my people, and I vow on my life to free them. They will be what they once were.”
I managed a glance at Andiya. She stared at me, eyes wide. The fight seemed to have gone out of her. I couldn’t lie to the queen. Andiya knew it was truth—but how long had I known? How long had I hidden it from her?
“What you speak of is a way to free all bonded,” said Queen Mathaszai. “Am I to understand that this is what you are offering me?”
I straightened to my full height. “It is.”
Queen Mathaszai’s brow drew. The court seemed to hold its breath. The courtiers were frozen as statues.
“In light of your new offer, Eon, I shall take tonight to consider your war carefully. This court shall hear my verdict tomorrow morning.” She sighed. “Faithless. Do you believe this human is capable of delivering her promise to us?”
Andiya only stared at her feet. “Yes.”
“Very well. See the Eon out, Verahai.”
Verahai tugged gently at my shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Andiya,” I rushed out. “I tried to tell you last night, I wanted to tell you so badly—”
“Hush,” Verahai said sharply. In a lower voice, he murmured, “Not here.”
Andiya pretended not to hear me, completely still. Guards took her arms and brought her closer to Queen Mathaszai, so the queen might deliver her punishment.
And once again, I was brought to my lonely cell, a hole in my mind where Andiya should have been.
It was long after dinner, and I lay on my bed, lost in thought. There was so much I didn’t understand, so much I still didn’t know. The quartz star rolled around in my palm, somehow still cold against my skin. I whispered prayers to the ceiling. It had been years since I’d asked so much of the Creators—or since I’d even bothered asking at all.
Verahai’s shadow appeared beyond my bars. I closed my fist to hide the star.
“I am here to speak with you in confidence,” said Verahai. “I would appreciate your discretion.”
“Are you going to take me to Andiya?”
“I am under strict orders to keep you from her.”
“Then we have nothing to discuss.”
Verahai opened my door and sat on the stool across my cell. His wings shifted uncomfortably.
“My brother,” he said, “cared for Andiya more than anything in the world. He once told me that the youngest of the Mathaszai family was the closest thing to a daughter he would ever have.”
I said nothing, staring at the ceiling.
“I was heavily opposed to his attachment to her. Khalid took it upon himself to defend Andiya at every opportunity, no matter the personal cost. The girl was a terror. She was ill-manned, and violent, and held no respect for the queens or their court. But Khalid loved that girl with all his heart. I could not understand.”
“You couldn’t understand kindness?” I scoffed.
“I could not understand why a decorated, respected soldier would risk his position for the sake of a traitor. Why my brother put Andiya over his true family. I listened to the court whispering. They pitied Khalid. They thought war had damaged him. Every time Andiya attacked someone, or set fires, or threatened her aunt, Khalid would shoulder the blame. War made a fool of Khalid, others said. He was so weak that a child walked all over him. I begged my brother to let her go.”
“You don’t give up on someone you love.”
“There are times when you should. But Khalid asked for allowance after allowance for that girl. He asked that she repent for her and her family’s actions by serving with him as a royal guard. I thought he’d be laughed out of Kaelta for suggesting it. He almost was. But the queens were merciful. As recognition for his past service, they said, they would accept the little Faithless. But we all knew it was pity. All of it only pity. Let the dog keep his toy. My brother fell from a war hero to a disgrace.”
“And why are you telling me this?”
“As a warning. Andiya may love you now, but she will use you and throw you away just as she did my brother. I see it happening again. She will be exactly what you want until she doesn’t need you anymore. For my brother, it was someone more broken then he was—a lonely little girl who had no one else to protect her. For you—what is she?”
I sat up and faced Verahai. “I pity you,” I spat. “For having so much hate in your heart. You don’t know a damn thing about me or Andiya. Do you even know why she’s here? For me. She came back to beg from the people who made her life hell for my sake. And you have the gall to say she is cruel for it.”
“My brother once used those words. And where is he now?”
“I bound Khalid, not Andiya. It seems to me that you’re blaming Andiya instead of yourself. Did you even try to understand Khalid, before condemning him?”
The room felt cold. I’d forgotten the power under Verahai’s skin—the ice that had crawled out from within it.
“I came here as a courtesy,” he said. “I see now that it is as pointless with you as it was with my brother. So I will leave you with what I truly came to say.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“I know Queen Mathaszai. She will make a show of considering your offer, but she will never accept it. She will keep you here, and she will drag the information out of you. Queen Mathaszai is many things, but generous is not one of them. She has what she wants already. You will not see the human world again. Andiya knows this just as well as I, and she has always known.”
I stood, my temper rising to a boil. How dare he. How dare he abuse her, lock her up, smear her character. He didn’t know her. I did.
“You don’t know that, and neither does Andiya. I can feel when she lies. I can see into her heart. Something you, who seems to lack one, would never understand. You watched as a court ridiculed and abused your brother, and you blamed him for it. You blamed a little girl for acting out, when you should have asked why she did it. She was alone. Orphaned. Hated. Mocked. Was she meant to take that lying down? Would she have turned out differently if she were loved, rather than made into a pariah?” My fists tightened. “So why should I listen to you? Why should I believe any of this?”
Cold wind blasted through the cell. I saw my breath.
“I want you out,” I hissed. “Get out.”
Verahai nodded coldly. “Until tomorrow, Eon Kain. I hope you make the most of your life in this cell.”
Hello there! I'm Carlyn, an amateur writer currently publishing free-to-read fantasy stories. I write diverse worlds featuring LGBT+ characters and romances, because I believe that we need those stories too (even if they are about magic and demons and brave sword-lesbians). I want to create worlds that are free of homophobia and sexism, so that everyone can enjoy the ride without feeling like they don't belong.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!