They were waiting for me as I came out of the bathing chamber. Dirg told me to be armed and ready at all times because they might not like his leniency. They had caught two lightsies allegedly trying to spy on our defenses, and he let them go the next day. Needless to say, the general population was not fond of this decision. A good number of them wanted to torture the pair into revealing lightsy defenses and strengths.
Dirg disagreed and let them go. He predicted rightly that they would take it out on me. I was coming out, and before I rightly knew what was happening, I was pinned arms and neck to a wall. Three men were holding me, glaring at me, and one had a hand clamped over my mouth.
“Sunshine,” one purred. “Dirg’s pet. We have a problem with your master.”
I raised an eyebrow and stuck my tongue out, licking him. He jerked his hand back.
“And you’re going to take it out on me?” I guessed.
They looked at each other. “Of course. He’s too dangerous, and hurting you is pretty much the same as hurting him. So, pucker up, toy.”
Two held me to the wall, while the one started to unzip my shirt and went for my lips. My heart was pounding in fear, but I tried to keep a cool head.
“Wait! Wait just a minute!” I protested before his lips met mine. He kissed me for a moment but pulled back.
“What?” He sounded irrate.
I spoke quickly, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I would have fought back, but I had a better idea. “I don’t like Dirg either. Actually, I want him dead. Let me go, and I can let you into his room tonight while he’s asleep.”
He ran his hands along my stomach and sides, and I had to suppress my self-defense.
“He’s still dangerous. If he wakes, we’re all dead.”
My mind reeled. How do I make them believe me? “I can knock him out.” I offered. He looked doubtful, so I quickly validated myself, “He trusts me. I haven’t rebelled in quite some time, so he won’t be expecting it. When he turns his back, I can hit him over the head.”
He tilted his head, his hazel eyes narrowed. “Why don’t you just kill him, then?”
I blushed and looked down. “He’s my master. I couldn’t... I mean he- I just can’t.”
He placed his hand on my chest, his pale skin contrasting with my darker skin. I shrunk as much as I could.
“Please,” I begged. “Don’t hurt me to hurt the man I hate the most. I can help. I will help. You can get revenge on him, directly.”
“Let her go,” the one in front of me commanded. The other two let go of my arms, but he kept his hand on my chest.
I hated it, but I pressed closer to him, putting my hands around his neck. I got on my tiptoes and gently kissed him.
“Please. Let me help you take down Dirg,” I whispered in as seductive a voice as I could manage.
He grinned and we kissed for a minute. He let me go, and I backed up, zipping up my shirt with shaking hands.
“Alright. I like the little toy’s plan.” He put his hand in his pocket and it came back out with a little vial. He held it out to me. “Put this in his dinner and open the door when he is lethargic. We will take care of the rest. What will you do when you master is gone?”
I took it and started to put it in my pocket. He grabbed my hand.
“Not there. He’ll suspect that. Put it in your bra.”
I shivered and dropped it down my shirt. He nodded.
“I will climb out and go home,” I stated.
He laughed and pat my face. “Good luck with that, girl. Now go. Our target can’t suspect anything.”
I nodded and took off. After they were out of sight, I slowed and rubbed my neck. I drew the sword from my back and walked with it in my hand all the way back. I went in without knocking and leaned on the shut door behind me, closing my eyes and controlling the shaking.
Dirg was lounging on his couch, reading.
“I’m not sure if you’re going to be happy with me or angry. I just betrayed you.”
I opened my eyes to find his stormy green ones locked on me.
“Well, they were going to um... Hurt me to hurt you. I don’t know how exactly, but he unzipped my shirt and kissed me. I managed to convince him not to hurt me, but I had to betray you to do it. They expect me to drug you and open the door for them to come in and kill you tonight.”
“And you didn’t fight?”
“There were three of them, and they caught me off guard and had me pinned to a wall. I could have fought, but this way I thought would result in a much better beating for them.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How’s that?”
“You can act drugged, and when they come in, light them up.”
He chuckled and stood, gesturing for me to come to him. I did so, watching him warily. He could be angry I betrayed him to protect myself, or happy that I protected his pet.
He pulled me close and kissed my brow. I froze. That was only the second time in as many months he had kissed me. I had a deep longing for more, but I also wanted to gut him then and there. I was so confused.
“Good girl, Sunshine,” he said. “You did well. I will go along with your plan, but I’m going to tweak it.”
“Tweaking isn’t the same as going along with,” I pointed out.
“True. Who were the three?”
“Ogglabow, your deputy, was the leader of the three. The other two I never fully looked at.”
He scowled and turned to pace. He only paced when he needed to think harder than usual. I had to duck so he didn’t hit me with his wing. He’d done that on accident several times before I learned to duck when he turned abruptly.
“How’d you convince them?”
“I- uh...” didn’t want to explain to him, “said I hated you.”
I mumbled, hoping he wouldn’t hear, “Kissed Ogglabow.”
He stopped for a second and then continued. “Here’s what we are going to do. I will act drugged. You will open the door for them. I will take Ogglabow. You will disable the other two. Did he touch you?”
I shivered at the memory. “Yes sir.”
“Just under your shirt or elsewhere?”
“Just the skin exposed by my unzipped shirt.” I confirmed.
He growled. “We need to teach everyone a lesson. They know not to mess with me. They need to learn not to mess with you.”
“I can’t light them up.”
“No, you can’t. But I can. And torture to death by light isn’t exactly at the top of any darky’s list of ways to die.”
“You have a list?”
“Yes. You don’t?”
“Truthfully, I’ve never thought of how I want to die.”
He shrugged. “Yet another example of your humanity.”
I caught the unintentional insult and acted offended. “Did you just call me a human? I apologize for my genetics!”
He actually grinned at that. “Calm down, Sunshine. I did not mean to offend you. Oh yes, where’s the drug?”
I turned my back to him and unzipped my shirt to remove it. I zipped it back up and handed it to him, blushing ferociously.
He looked irritated. “When did you start keeping things there?”
“When Ogglabow made me because he thought you would check my pockets.”
I saw just a flash of some emotion, but it was gone before I could process it. His face went back to his usual indifference.
“Do your chores, Sunshine.”
I nodded and went to work. He paced for a while longer before he started to cook. My mouth was watering just from the smell. What wasn’t my master good at? His deep voice was beautiful. He could cook better than anyone, ever. He could fly. He gave me light. He could braid my hair into more complex braids than any girl at the orphanage. I doubted anyone could beat him in a fight. He was intelligent and well groomed.
He was also mean. Sometimes, I thought I saw a glint of pleasure when he hit me. He treated his subjects with disdain. He purposefully tried to scare me, and if I told him I didn’t like something, he made sure to do it again. Every now and again, he leered at me like some pervert, but most of the time he was a gentleman in that regard.
He was also bipolar. What was good enough one day was deplorable the next. He could be congratulating me one moment and degrading me the next. I learned to become flexible, just follow along. Take it and do as told. He always pet me at the end of the day, so I knew he would eventually forgive me. He never broke any of my bones, and rarely did he beat me enough to make me cry.
He was changing me. He made me tougher. According to him, I was a really good fighter. He made me stronger. After a month as his pet, I had a six-pack. He made me decisive. Often he would ask my opinion, and if I was unsure I got a worse hit than if he didn’t like it. He made me protective. I usually would defend him if anyone said anything bad about him. Most of all, he made me docile. I no longer fought his control. I wanted his control. If anyone else were to dare order me around, I would give him or her a verbal lashing. He just had to look at me with those dark emerald eyes and I jumped to do his bidding.
That night, we gave those three a sound beating, and the next day, he made an example of them in front of his whole section. He didn’t want me there, so I washed our clothes. He came back with blood on him, but I knew not to ask. I didn’t really want to know, anyway. I just washed those clothes too, once he changed out of them.
There was a knock on the door that night while he was making dinner, so I answered it. Fon rushed in and hugged me, squealing. I quickly got away, and she grinned at me.
“Oh little brother!” she sang out. “Great news!”
“What news is that, Dear Sister?”
She twirled, making her miniskirt flare up slightly. “Dad decided it’s finally time to meet you! He wants you to come to court and bring your pet with you.”
I blinked in confusion. “Finally meet?”
Fon smiled. “As future king, Dirg hasn’t been allowed to have any contact with the current king. It’s a safety mechanism that hopefully keeps them from killing each other.”
I nodded, still confused. Dirg never met his father? That made no sense. They knew each other but had never met?
“Why now?” Dirg asked.
“He didn’t say. He just told me to come get you and your pet. It’s so exciting!”
“Then we’ll leave after dinner and a short nap.”
“Ooh! Whatcha cooking?”
I quickly set two places on the table and straightened out my mat better as I eavesdropped on their light conversation. Mostly, the chitchat was Fon going over current court gossip, so I didn’t retain much besides the general character connected to the names she mentioned. They sat at the table, and I sat on my mat, absentmindedly drawing with the pencil set and notebook Dirg had gotten for me. He asked me once what I wanted to do in my free time. I had said paint, but he didn’t want me making a mess, so he got me pencils and a sketchpad.
I did the dishes quickly before settling onto my mat. Instead of spreading out on the couch—as I thought she would do—Fon crawled in bed with Dirg. I felt a deep pang of jealousy as she cuddled into his side and he put his arm around her, but I just turned my back and my mind towards other things. More important things.
Dirg’s alarm clock awoke us all two hours later. Of everything Dirg did to me, I hated that clock the most. The beep was loud and annoying and summoned me out of peaceful dreams. He snoozed it. He always did that. I wasn’t allowed to get up until he did, but the first beep woke me up while it took a stinking hundred for him to finally drag himself out of bed. I flinched at the next beeping assault but waited. Twice more he snoozed before he got up. I jumped out of bed and made it faster than it took him to stand and put a shirt on. Fon took even longer, and I was packed into my little bag before either had so much as brushed their teeth.
“Your pet’s a morning person,” Fon grumbled.
“I know,” he grumbled back. “She gets grumpy if I keep her up too late.”
“I do not!” I huffed.
He grunted and raised an eyebrow at me.
“Okay, I do, but you get grumpy if I breathe wrong.”
He glared at me. I gave him an “I told you so” look and drew as I waited for them to get ready for the day.
“Mira’s going to be there,” Fon suddenly stated.
Dirg groaned. “Meeting the king and a run in with her. Kill me now.”
Fon laughed and punched his shoulder. “Oh, come on! She’s not that bad once you get to know her.”
“You don’t have to really get to know her. Speaking of, have you and Hinak married yet?”
She rolled her eyes. “We did that as soon as he became a man. You’ve been a man for two years now! What are you waiting for?”
He remained quiet and steadfastly packed his bag. She poked him. “C’mon bro. You avoid her like the plague. Why?”
He sighed. “She’s just so... Boring.”
“Last ball, she clung to my side the entire time and talked of nothing but hot guys and fashion-less women. And her gift?” He snorted. “Give me a break. She can smell blood! Oh, so scary!”
Fon stifled a laugh for a moment before it snorted out. “Okay, so she’s a wuss. But she’s the only one you’ll get, so maybe you should find something to like about her.”
I drew without looking up, digesting this piece of Dirg’s life. He had an arranged marriage. No wonder there was such a big problem with him having me. Not that he had me. He just owned me.
Dirg changed the subject, and soon we were going. To my surprise, we went out out. At the entrance, Dirg had me hop on, and Fon frowned but made no comment.
“How long is this flight?” I asked.
Dirg cracked his knuckles. “At least five hours. Fon, would you please go first and make sure it is unlocked?”
“Trying to unlock it with extra weight hanging on me is not fun.”
I blushed and smoothed one of his feathers. Fon smirked and took off. I tensed in anticipation, but Dirg waited a moment before he turned his head and spoke quietly to me.
“You will need to be on guard 24/7 where we are going. Everyone at court wants to either use me or kill me, and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. Keep on guard for me. Keep on guard for you.”
I nodded. “Yes sir.”
He smiled and took off. Riding him was awkward. I had my legs wrapped around his hips for goodness sake! Even with that, it was mostly a boring ride. We were an hour out when the stars started to fade to our left. I stared at the phenomenon I knew still existed somewhere out there. A sunrise.
Darkness wrapped around Fon as the light increased. I felt Dirg tense as the sun peeked over the horizon, but other than that he was fine. I had been told all my life not to look directly into the sun, but I had spent so long without it that I couldn’t help it. I basked in the rays and hummed contentedly. Dirg looked over his shoulder a few times, but he didn’t comment.
Now that we had real, tangible light, I noticed a few things. His wings were incandescent with a green hue near the top that faded into blue near the ends of his feathers. He wasn’t simply pale, he was as white as a cloud. Pitch Black wings. Snow White skin. Okay.
I almost fell asleep on his back, but then he wobbled in the air, jerking me awake.
“You doing okay?” I asked over the wind.
He grunted, I only knew because I felt it.
“How much further?”
He grunted again. I took that as a “shut up, Sunshine” which meant this was difficult. He was fatigued. If I could help, I would have. As it was, I was useless in the air. I stayed as still and out of his way as possible.
After yet another hour, I felt Dirg slow. I frowned, worried.
“Dirg? Do you need to stop?”
“No.” He sounded strained and in pain.
I watched him carefully. His breathing was laborious. He was slowing considerably.
“Fon! Dirg needs a break!” I called.
I felt him growl, and she flew over. “Then we can land here, find some shade.”
She began to dive, and he had no choice but to follow. I could tell he was having trouble. He was veering right. We were close to the ground, and he looked to be flying straight for a tree. I dropped off of him and rolled as I hit the ground. I quickly stood and ran to where he landed on his feet.
“Are you okay?” I insisted.
He put his hands on his head and turned to glare at me. “I’m fine.”
“No you are not! My job is to watch your back, and right now you need to rest.”
“I’m fine!” he repeated.
Fon was reclining under a tree, darkness tight around her. “I agree with her. You need rest. We have at least another thirty minutes of flight. You need to come into court fresh and in your right mind.”
“I am in my right mind!” he argued. “I’m not going to rest after only four and a half hours of flight!”
“Flight during the day, carrying extra weight. Even a lightheart can’t survive long in the day. Find some shade and rest.”
He grunted and glared at both of us in turn before grumbling and finding shade under a big tree. I sat in the light, soaking it in. I did not sleep, though the other two did. I kept watch. I found myself nodding off, so I got up and paced around in the light.
Fon slept for a while, but Dirg slept even longer. He slept for hours. She woke up and stared at me as I walked around.
“So, what do you feel for Dirg?” she eventually asked.
I stopped and looked at her. “He is my master. I am his pet. I feel as any pet does for her master.”
“Puppy love?” she purred.
“Yes. And fear. And respect.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know. I hate him as much as I love him.”
She smirked. “Has he ever touched you inappropriately?”
“No. He has kept his word.”
She nodded. “Just checking. Any of his cooking skills rub off on you, yet? He’ll need food.”
I scowled. “I’ll get a fire going. Will you get some meat?”
She stood. “Good idea.”
I set about making the fire. Yet another thing I would not know without Dirg. She brought a rabbit with its throat slit to me about the time the fire actually started getting hot. She had already skinned it and gutted it, so I stuck pieces on a spit and began to turn it.
Dirg awoke to the smell of it. He came to the shade closest to me and scowled.
“Did you season it?”
“No. I like plain meat.”
“Well, I don’t.” He stood and came back with a plant thing. He rubbed it over the meat that was beginning to brown.
He smiled in satisfaction and went to the shade. The shadows were getting longer as the day ended. He watched me and told me to take the spit off when he thought it was done. He got nearly half the rabbit, but he needed it. I took barely any. I was about to take a bite, but he held up his hand and glared at me. I waited until he took a bite of it first.
I never quite understood why he did that. If he cooked it, why did he need to check for poison? I figured he was overly paranoid. There were times he would blow up over nothing, but I usually let them slide. He probably never really had a childhood, being the crown prince of a race of murderers.
This was what he called the dark skyrunners: murderers and liars and cheats. He never denied that he did those exact same things, though. I watched him, even helped him with similar actions. Not murder. I had no blood on my hands, and he seemed to want to keep it that way.
When he was done eating, he got up and stretched, his eyes following me. It was the calculating following, not the creepy kind of following. For that, I was thankful. When he was stretched out, he walked towards me. I was doing my forms, but I stopped as he came near.
He grabbed my throat lightly. My stomach dropped. That was where he usually started when I was in trouble.
“Yes, I needed to stop. However, it is not your place to tell me to do so. You are not to tell me what to do, pet.”
This was something I would not back down from, so I kept his gaze. “My job is to make sure no one hurts you. That includes you hurting yourself. Please don’t punish me for doing my job.”
He slapped me across the face. It stung, but I looked back to him with defiance. His gaze darkened and his grip tightened.
He just let the word hang in the air. That one word did more than any beating or any broken bone could have. I dropped his gaze and the sword in my hand. He leaned over to whisper in my ear.
“Your job is not to be my wife, or my mother. Do not worry about how I treat myself. You can point it out, but you may never force me to do anything.”
To accentuate his point, he threw me to the ground. I landed on my back, and again the breath escaped my lungs. He liked knocking my breath out when I disobeyed him. If I disobeyed, I didn’t deserve to breathe. I sucked it back in and stayed on the ground. I wouldn’t get up until he told me to.
He and Fon talked in low voices in her darkness in the shade. I could only hear the tones of their conversations, not the words. I figured they were talking about me, so I soaked in the light while I still had it. I ended up falling asleep, and Dirg kicked me awake.
I jumped and scrambled to my feet. He looked amused but did not speak.
“I’m sorry, sir. I won’t try to force you to do anything again.”
He nodded and turned. “Hop on, Sunshine.”
I smiled. He had forgiven me! He had accepted me again! I was euphoric! I hopped on, and they took off. The sun was setting, but there was an odd dark mass ahead that I couldn’t quite understand. There should have been stars there. There should have been at least some light from the setting sun, but there was only darkness.
“What is that?” I asked
Dirg grinned over his shoulder at me. “That, my Sunshine, is the darky capital, or the land of eternal darkness.”
I gaped in awe. “How is that even possible?”
“I’ll explain later.”
Something similar to dread crept up on me as we approached the barrier of darkness. Dirg must have felt my grip tighten.
“It’s okay, Sunshine. Just hold on.”
The fear curled inside of me. It was twenty feet away. Ten feet. Five feet. One foot. We crossed it, and immediately the world started spinning. I felt like I was going to faint and throw up. If this entrance was any indication about the time we would spend in the land of eternal darkness, we were in for a rough ride.