I did not go to see Laric leave for the final time, father had forbade him from returning to the castle as his final act of disapproval. In the end, we all knew that it was not really his desire to rid himself of Laric's actions that drove him to allow the marriage to proceed, but to avoid starting a conflict with the succubi kingdom. Forcing father's hand had been Laric's intention and the consequence of banishment was to be expected.
Tying the final fastener on my training outfit, I pulled a brush through my hair and peered at myself in the mirror. I had been away for more almost a human season and I felt that I could see the subtle shift in my appearance towards a more demonic appearance. My features seemed just a little sharper, my eyes a touch more piercing, and the philtrum of my lips a bit fuller. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps if I had spent more time in the realm if I would have appeared less human. I used to lament the lack of demonic traits in my appearance, but I now I supposed it had worked out for the better. I was not oblivious to the fact that it had not only been my wit and cleverness that caught Toria's eye.
Leisurely making my way to the training room, I kept my face relaxed and neutral despite the fact that I was planning complicated political moves in my head. The proverbial cat had been let out of the bag and it was only a matter of time before Laric alluded to something that might cast an eye my way. If I had been given a choice, my rebellious brother would not have made the list of options, but sometimes you must jump at opportunity when it presents itself.
I had caught wind of Laric's impending nuptials through the idle gossip of the castle servants. In my time away from the realm the servants had become used to taking a rest outside of my room, just out of sight of the main corridor. During the late afternoons, several women would gather and talk about whatever petty thing they had heard that day. Seeing a potential opportunity for insight into the seedier workings of the kingdom, I made sure to surreptitiously enter the room prior to their normal break time and not leave until they were far down the hallway. A majority of their conversation seemed to be who was sleeping with whom and how tired they were, but it was not long for Laric's name to come up in their idle chatter.
My brother was quiet famous among the female help, especially the young and beautiful. It was not lost on me that a lot of the servants found him attractive and his desire to overthrow the line of succession probably also appealed to the fantasies of insurrection and toppling of the status quo that commoners tended to entertain themselves with. Even the most gentle or iron-griped kingdoms had their mumbling masses, uncomfortable with the idea that they were not at the top of the hierarchy. His name had been brought up a few times followed by hushed giggles. I was mildly surprised to learn that there were a few active affairs between himself and some of the kitchen staff. Generally he deemed himself to be more important than everyone else, but I suppose that his base needs let him justify the affairs as a part of being a young monarch. He would be sorely mistaken if he thought such affairs would continue on once he ascended a throne, it would simply be too dangerous. It would be foolish to let someone into your bed who would be eager and willing to hold a knife to your throat for the promise of even a tiny fraction of power.
Laric had proved himself to have loose lips with the women he bedded, making to them disingenuous promises for a better life if they came to his new kingdom when he sent for them, silly promises that make young girls continue with an affair even though they know their lover is betrothed. His words did not take long to make it to the gossipers lips, complete with even a timeline to the revelation to my father. It was simple enough to write a vague letter to meet with me alone and leave it beneath the crack in the door on my way to the meeting room. If it had been discovered, it would not have been hard to dismiss claims that I knew about his engagement under the pretense that had any of the siblings had such information they would have directly reported it to our father, all of us enjoyed seeing Laric get his just desserts.
Once I had Laric alone and he had nothing left to lose in regards to our kingdom, it was simple enough to persuade him to my side. When I was younger, I used to find it frustrating that I would be continuously reminded that I was the only female sibling and would be more sheltered because of it, but I was quickly realizing that was a benefit. Laric had not seen it coming, granted he was not always the most observant person, but he was at least very cognizant of the ambitions for those in line to the throne. Perhaps if it had been one of the brothers plotting to take the throne, he would have noticed and worked to intercede.
“You? You, a half-born demon on the throne?”
My gut reaction had been to unleash a scathing retort, but I remembered his fickle and delicate attitude in the moment and bit my tongue hard enough to figuratively draw blood.
“Yes,” I answered, keeping my voice restrained, “regardless of what you might be inclined to say, I think we both know that of all the choices remaining, I am the superior.”
He let out a smooth chuckle and turned towards me, a glint of humor in his eye.
“Of the remaining choices,” he echoed, “now you're stooped so low to compliment me. Your new position has changed you sister, I have wondered what changes you must be going through for such an arrangement to work.”
Laric gave me a mischievous gaze and a coy wink designed to make me flustered. Perhaps a commoner girl would lose herself in the innuendo, but I was not some scullery maid falling to pieces over the attention from a suave royal. I met his attempt with a stern look and a huff of annoyance.
“Be serious now,” I commanded, “since you are out of the hierarchy, would you support my rise to the throne?”
Laric donned a half-smile and began to pace in front of me, head to the floor, seeming to study the cracks in the stone. His silence drew out longer than just a dramatic pause, drawing forth a pit of doubt in my stomach. Would he be petty for years of ribbing and dismissal of his dreams of being king?
“You know I could expose your plot right now and reap the rewards?” he said with a smirk.
“That wouldn't get you much,” I retorted with a roll of my eyes, “there is almost nothing you could do at this point that might redeem you in this family. You have burned too many bridges.”
“Almost anything,” he echoed, “except be owed a favor for helping you ascend.”
“Yes, if we must be so overt to need to say it aloud, that is the gist of what I'm offering.”
My brother stopped his pacing and looked back up at me, a smile on his face.
“I accept,” he said simply, extending his hand for a handshake to seal the deal.
I kept my arms at my sides, not acknowledging his gesture. I did not want to give him any reason to think that I might believe us to be getting an equal deal. While having his assistance would be helpful, ultimately I felt confident I could succeed on my own. He was the one being offered an invaluable chance to have some sort of power he otherwise would have alienated himself from.
“I hope you understand that I will not bow down to you as an equal in this kingdom,” I stated.
Laric's smile faltered for a fraction of a second before he let out a low chuckle.
“I should have expected as such from you. You are certainly more cunning and calculating than our brother,” he said and lowered his hand. “Father is in for a shock when you make your moves.”
I tilted my head in a gesture of agreement and cast a glance towards the door to the room.
“It is best we keep this brief,” I stated.
“Of course,” Laric agreed, “I should complete my packing and make my preparations to leave. I will await your correspondence.”
The training room was empty, even at the early morning hour that was unusual. I had never beat Feros to the room, I wasn't sure whatever creature was beneath the layers of glamour even slept.
A sudden cackle of laughter erupted to my left and though I distinctly heard the direction clearly, there was nothing there besides the various shields that hung on the wall. I opened up my magical conduit and probed the area. It was hard to detect, but approximately a foot away from the wall I found a solid magical field approximately the size of Feros. My heart sunk as the immediate implications propagated in my mind.
“Yes,” Feros' voice rang out, tinted with glee, “exactly what you are thinking.”
I should have known when he was no where to be found that he was up to something. I had let myself become too cocky and certain my actions, I hadn't done the necessary sweep of the room.
“Now you may be wondering just how much I know.”
Slowly the trainer began to materialize, leaning back against the wall in a pose much like a parent catching a child from sneaking out at night. There was a wide grin on his face reminiscent of a cat who had cornered a mouse.
“The answer is: much more than you'd perhaps be comfortable with.”
“What do you plan to do with the information?” I questioned.
“Oh my dear, you know I favor you on the throne,” he said, “you, out of anyone else in this kingdom, can trust me.”
He wasn't wrong, he had been a confidant to many in the royal family, but he was partial to me. After all, he had been the one to encourage the seed of rebellion to grow within me. Still, I did not like the idea of anyone being able to so easily track my moves and eavesdrop on my meetings.
“Monarchs live longer when they trust no one,” I claimed.
“Now that is a bit of wisdom beyond your years, my dear Mistra,” he said with a wide grin, “and I admit I am not without my own ambitions in this impending coup. I have a request or two that I hope you may entertain.”