The world was spinning. I gripped Dirg’s shirt to steady myself, as I did when he started doing tricks.
“What are you doing!?” I yelled in fear.
“Nothing! What’s wrong?”
Bile rose to my throat as the world went faster.
All I could do was moan, “Spinning.”
My head felt light. I heard Dirg yell at me to hold on, so I tightened my grip on his shirt. Closing my eyes helped nothing.
“I’m landing,” he warned me.
Usually, I would launch off of him so he could land stably, but I did not know which way was down. I clung to him until he gently pried my hands off. I fell sideways and landed heavily. I saw a hand below me, but when I reached for it, it wasn’t where I thought it was. Was this how it felt to be drunk?
The hand grabbed mine and pulled me down to my feet. There were three Dirgs and three Fons with worried expressions. I felt myself tipping back, so I leaned forward and started to fall. Something caught me. I gripped strong arms.
“You’re dizzy, Sunshine. Just hold onto me.”
“No, I can stand. I can.”
I let go of him and took a few steps, only to fall on my side. I stayed down.
“You know, the earth really does spin.”
Dirg was frowning as his visage moved around me.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
Fon piped up. “Usually, humans start screaming as they pass the barrier. They get scared and stay scared for quite some time.”
“What happens to lightsies?” I asked, clutching at the ground.
“They get knocked out and stay out for at least an hour.” Fon answered.
I giggled and rolled around, hoping that would alleviate some of the dizziness. I noticed the look of shock on Dirg’s face and cracked up laughing.
I heard someone else land.
“Fon! You made it! I was beginning to worry.”
“Oh, I’m fine. Dirg’s pet on the other hand...”
I heard kissing, so I looked up, but that caused me to tip over and start rolling. It felt like I was going down a hill, and I yelped as I ran into something. I didn’t look up but just curled into a ball.
“Well, well, well, what have we here?” said a female voice.
Dirg’s voice came. “Hello, Mother. That is my pet, Sunshine. She’s... I don’t know. Dizzy from crossing the barrier?”
I looked up slowly and saw Dirg hugging a woman. She held him at arms length, and all three copies of her had tears in their eyes. I groaned and looked back down.
“You’ve grown since I last saw you, boy. Your father said to bring you to court as soon as you pet stopped screaming...”
I found myself giggling. I couldn’t stop.
“What is wrong with her?” asked the new male voice.
“I have no idea.” Dirg answered. “Sunshine, can you stand?”
“If you can point me in the direction of up.” I giggled.
He grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me up. I blinked rapidly at the seemingly ten people in front of me. I tried to curtsy, but Dirg had to catch me to keep me from falling backwards.
“Lean on me,” he ordered.
I tried to wipe the stupid grin off my face, but the happiness was replacing the dizziness, and I could not get rid of it. I leaned on his broad chest with his strong arm supporting me. His mother shook her heads, which were slowly beginning to morph into one. She was pretty, with the same eyes as Dirg and a more petite frame, similar to Tain’s.
“What is your pet, Dirg dear?”
“I was extremely sure she was a human, but now...” He shrugged. “Who really cares?”
“Do you hold her like that often?”
“No. This is the only time. She’s my pet, not my toy, and I haven’t corrupted our line, and I’m sorry I hurt Tain.”
“Apology accepted. Come, we’ll get you to your rooms.”
She turned and walked, and Dirg followed. I had trouble walking, seeing as I thought I was moving my right leg, but it ended up being my right arm. After a minute, he just got annoyed and picked me up.
“I can walk!” I insisted.
“No, you can’t. You’ve been failing miserably.”
I giggled and tried to push away.
“I don’t like being carried.”
“I guess you are going to have to get over that.”
“But it’s awkward...” I grumbled.
“Only because you mentioned it.”
A little color came across his cheeks.
“You didn’t notice?” I whispered.
“Not until you mentioned it,” he mumbled.
I felt heat go across my cheeks. Dirg and his mother began chatting, and I focused on trying to make the world stop spinning. He put me down when we got in a room, and I tried to stand. He pushed me back down.
“Stay down until you are in control of your body.”
I stayed lying on the ground as Dirg’s mother went over everything Dirg had missed since last time he came home. Births and scandals and betrayals and deaths, life as usual in the darky court. I had my work cut out for me. Eventually, the world stopped spinning, and I tried to stand. Dirg watched me and nodded.
His mother stood and came to me, looking me over. I ran my hands through my hair, removing leaves that had come when I rolled around on the ground. I smiled wanly at her.
“Sorry about that. It was weird.”
She nodded. “Yes it was. Tell me about yourself.”
I looked to Dirg, and he nodded. “I am Sunshine, Dirg’s pet. He got me from an orphanage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He taught me to fight, do his chores, and watch his back. No, I have never even touched his bed, and he only got close to kissing me once. But I spat in his face and we’ve never got any closer.”
“What was your name before?
“Lucille Diana Amora. Why?”
“Amora?” She asked, suddenly, she was intensely interested. She grabbed my chin and moved my face around. I let her because Dirg was watching and he would stop her if he didn’t like it.
“How’s it spelled?”
Her eyes flashed.
“What is it, Mother?” Dirg asked, seemingly nervous.
“I have to look into something. Go meet your father in the throne room.”
He nodded and began to walk out. I hurriedly followed him.
“Do you know where the throne room is?” I asked.
“Yes. I grew up here.”
“Then how have you never met your dad?”
“It was orchestrated so we would never see each other face to face. We’ve written, but never more than once a year. Thank you, by the way.”
“For what?” I asked, shocked.
“He wants to see me because of you.”
“How did I do that? You’re the one that kidnapped me.”
“Kidnapped?” His tone had just an edge of ice.
“Sorry. Claimed me.”
We walked in silence until we approached a guarded door. Dirg flexed his wings and drew his sword, approaching the guards.
“I am Dirg Oina Zinx. Let me and my pet pass.”
The guards hit the ground loudly with their staves, the sound echoing down the halls. A responding thump came from within the huge doors, carved with intricate details. Nearly half of it was a map of the stars. From the stars, writhing shapes of men and darkies took form. The darkies rose above the men, their wings black against the white wood. The doors slowly creaked open, revealing the dark interior. Don’t get me wrong, everything was dark. We were in the land of eternal darkness, after all.
No, this darkness was even different. It was deep, thick, and foreboding. Dirg walked straight into it. I stopped and stared.
I sprinted the few steps to come in right behind him. I stayed closer than usual in the darkness. I heard a dark chuckle from ahead, and Dirg stopped.
“If you’re going to use yours, I’m going to use mine.”
The chuckle deepened into a laugh. “Go ahead, boy.”
Dirg started glowing. Then, tendrils of light shot out to the ceiling, while one slowly wrapped around my arm. The light and the dark writhed around each other for a minute before they both poofed, leaving the room in just normal, see-through darkness. A man sat in a throne high up on a platform with foreboding steps up, and along the walls were courtiers in less amazing but still grand seats.
Some were getting over the light show still, while others were looking at Dirg with amused expressions on their faces. They all had black wings, but some I could tell were slightly lighter, not quite as pitch-black as Dirg’s. One female with wings as dark as his was looking at him longingly, so I assumed she was Mira, his betrothed. A male next to her with the same startlingly blue eyes had his gaze fixed on me. I looked away quickly, and looked to the king, who was beginning to stand.
It was obvious that he was Dirg’s father. They had pretty much the same build, but Dirg, being younger, sported more muscle. They had the same pure black hair, though the king’s was neatly trimmed with gray streaks, while Dirg’s was shaggy and fell nearly to his eyes. The king was clean-cut, and his son had those bristles on his face that he liked to scratch. They were the same, but opposites nonetheless.
Dirg bowed slightly, so I took the hint and curtsied. That made the king’s smirk widen. He strode down the stairs with the feline grace of his kind, keeping eye contact with Dirg. Neither spoke; all the rest of us didn’t dare make a sound. The king stopped about a foot from Dirg, his brown-eyed gaze inspecting every fold of his son’s clothing.
“So, here is the would-be king.”
Dirg lifted his chin. “So, here is the current king.”
The king’s eyes narrowed. There was an intense moment where I could feel the atmosphere thickening before the king’s face transformed from a glare to a beaming smile. He stepped forward and clapped his son into a giant bear hug. Dirg flinched at first but then grunted and hugged back. The king laughed. I was pretty sure he was at least as bipolar as his son.
He held Dirg at arm’s length. “How you been, boy?”
Dirg tilted his head. “Doing well. Why now?”
“I need an excuse to see m’boy?”
“In our particular relationship? Yes, you need an excuse.”
King Xinz raised his eyebrows. “Okay then.” He whistled for a page.
The page ran out with a ring and a piece of paper, which he handed to the king with a bow. He took them and waved the page away.
“I have these, but first, tell me about your slut.”
I glared at him, offended. I managed to speak before Dirg. “Do you have a pet, your majesty?”
“Yes, and he is keeping my rooms clean, right now.”
“He?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “So you are saying that you are homosexual?”
The look of shock on the king’s face made Dirg crack up laughing. He doubled over in laughter, and his father looked at him like he was insane. His hot glare transferred to me.
“No, I am not! Who do you think you are, insulting the king!?”
“That gives you no right!” He started to slap me, but I ducked it.
“It gives me every right. You just insulted my master and me by saying that we are having sex. You must have experience with masters and pets having sex, and your pet is male, so you are homosexual.”
Dirg was still chuckling, while his father looked about ready to explode. Black tendrils were beginning to swirl around him.
“She has a point, sire,” Dirg pointed out. “How else would you have the gumption to assume I lie with my pet, unless you do the same? I told Tain, Fon, and the rest of the world that there is nothing between us. Why does no one believe me?”
His glare transferred from me to Dirg. “Maybe because she doesn’t act like a pet so much as your equal.”
Dirg didn’t even look at me. “On your knees, Sunshine.”
I hesitated before I sunk to my knees and bowed my head. I could hear the smirk in his voice as he finally sheathed his sword.
“She likes to insult people. It took me a long time to get her to respect me in word and thought. I’ll work on making her respect you as well.”
I flinched, knowing that meant I was getting a beating.
The king grunted. “Be sure you do or else I will.”
Dirg let a growl infuse his voice. “No, you won’t. She is mine, and you cannot touch her.”
A hand rested on my head, but it was slapped away.
“And, that,” The king noted. “Why do you protect your pet?”
“For my own good. She is mine, and she only needs to fear me.”
There was silence for a minute. I assumed they were having a glaring contest.
The king broke the tense silence. “Okay, then. I have two things for you. First, this, the ring of the heir apparent.”
I wanted to look up and see it, but I kept my head down. It was hard to reign in my curiosity, but I knew that I needed to remain submissive. I was American, but I had heard fairytale stories of mad kings doing horrible things to those who angered them in my head. I didn’t want to anger him any more than I had already, especially if he was anything like Dirg.
“Thank you, sire.” Dirg said, and I could tell he meant it.
“You are to wear that at all times, or else you will be seen as ashamed of the throne and your heritage.”
“This list you will not be so thankful for. On it are tasks that you must accomplish before you take the throne. Every generation, the king passes it onto his heir with one more task on it than he had to do. My addition is at the top. For every task, you must write me a full report about how you arrived at the location, how you accomplished the task, and how it effected you both emotionally and physically.”
Dirg snapped his fingers, which was a signal for me to remember what was just said. I nodded to the ground and played with the fabric on my knee.
“How many are there?” Dirg asked.
“And how long do you want these reports?”
“As long as you think they should be. If I dislike how you did it or the detail of your report, then I will burn it and you will have to start over.” I heard a smirk crawl into his voice. “I suggest you write it while the emotions are still fresh and bleeding from your heart. I’ve never been fond of stale reports.”
“And what do I do if it takes me too far away from my section?”
“Undoubtedly, it will. So, you are no longer in command of the underground. I will give that job to Mira.”
“You aren’t allowed to demote me.”
“I’m promoting you, not demoting. You are now, officially, the crown prince, working for the throne. That’s higher than a section commander, isn’t it?”
I was getting bored sitting on my feet, and I was pretty sure at least one of them was going to sleep, so to distract myself I looked around at the nobles. Several were looking at me with humor in their eyes and a slight twist of their lips. Mira was looking at the king with excitement, and her brother was staring hungrily at me. Our eyes locked, and his grin grew to the confident smirk of a predator who has spotted the weakest prey. I couldn’t look away, for I was caught, like a dear in headlights. He slowly winked at me, and I had to suppress a shiver and tear my gaze from him. I reassured myself with the thought that Dirg would not let him anywhere near me.
I was still looking around when Dirg kicked me. I had been mostly ignoring their conversation, so I looked up at him with confusion.
“I asked you a question, Sunshine,” he said
I knew better than to say I wasn’t listening, because he already knew that, and he didn’t like repeating himself.
“Was it a yes or no question?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
I thought quickly. I didn’t know the question but was expected to answer.
“Yes.” I nodded, as if I had mulled it over.
The king clapped once and brought his wings down. The draft sent my hair flying back out of my face.
“Good! You can stay in the room your mother gave you until then, but I expect you gone directly afterwards. You are dismissed, boy.”
He bowed his head and turned to leave, so I stood to go with him.
“I did not dismiss you, pet.”
Dirg froze in mid-stride before calmly turning back around. “You have no authority over her.”
“But I do over you. Leave and tell your pet to remain here.”
The king turned his back and flapped once up to his throne. Dirg watched him and then looked at me.
“Do as I would have you do.”
He then turned and walked out, the guards scurrying to open the doors for him. They closed, leaving me alone on the throne room floor, under the king’s intense gaze. Dirg never used that phrase because there were rarely ever times that we were apart. Basically, it meant he could still punish me for doing something he didn’t like even though he wasn’t there.
I fidgeted under the king’s glare and my master’s betrothed’s brother’s lustful gaze. Everyone else’s was mild in comparison and easily bearable.
I cleared my throat rocking on the balls of my feet. “Did I do something wrong, your majesty?”
“Tain tells me your purpose for Dirg is to identify threats?”
“Yes sir, it is.”
“And what if you are that threat?”
“Me? Why would I be a threat?”
“You’re a beautiful young female. Any man that doesn’t find you attractive might definitely be homosexual.”
I blushed at both the compliment and the reference to my earlier, rude comment.
“I- uh- fail to see how this makes me a danger.”
“Let me be blunt, then. The first woman a man lies with is the mother of his legitimate children, in other words, his wife. If his legitimate children are half human, then this throne is corrupted. That is why we make such a big deal about you, you see. He has yet to lie with Mira, his betrothed.” He gestured at the woman I had already assumed was she. “Which makes you a dangerous liability. He has lain with no one. To eliminate the threat you present to this throne, you must help him get with her.”
At that, Mira herself spoke. “I do not need help catching my own husband, thank you very much!”
His glare transferred to her, and she immediately looked down and blushed.
“You haven’t done a very good job of it thus far.” His voice cut like a dagger, even though it wasn’t aimed at me.
He looked back to me. “He can lie with you, but he must lie with her first. Do you understand, pet?”
I shivered. “I never said I wanted to-“
“Ah, but there’s that look in your eye. Do you understand?”
“Good. Do not speak of my charge to you with him. You are dismissed.”
I curtsied and practically ran out, my heart falling. I had to get the man I lived with to have sex with a girl I had never officially met. It was not my idea of a good time.