Chapter 10: Nether Edge
As promised, Helio had the clothing in the wardrobe in Ra’venna’s room, replaced. She changes into a form fitting, purple and black shirt and black pants with matching, fingerless gloves. She wraps herself in her cloak and buckles on her holster. She slides her sais into them.
Ra’venna exits her room and goes to Helio’s. The two guards outside his door eye Ra’venna with a mixture of suspicion and fear, but they do not dare to speak to her. Ra’venna smirks from beneath the hood of her cloak. She enters the room without knocking.
“You’re dismissed.” Helio says, royal authority radiating from his voice. The pages bow and hastily depart from the prince’s chambers. Ra’venna leans her weight against the table holding Helio’s katana (it was brought to him last night by Leonitros-the Master-at-arms). She watches as he adjusts his tunic.
“You have settled into your role as prince rather quickly.” Ra’venna observes, disgusted.
“I suppose I have.” He mutters, frowning. He stares at himself int he mirror before diverting his gaze, as if he cannot stand what he sees. The silver crown on his head glistens in the morning sunlight.
Ra’venna hates him for being nothing like her preconceptions. It would be easier if he was. She would be able to hate him. Instead, within her respect for him is growing. She has yet to trust him and she won’t. She won’t make that mistake.
She scans over the room confirming the escape routes she plotted last night in the daylight. She has to protect Helio, regardless of her feelings towards him. If he is killed her chance at Terdar dies with him. She will not allow the Light Prince to get away with double-crossing her.
“I must stop my brother and my parents. I know the loss the creatures of Udor and the other kingdoms have suffered. I cannot let it happen again. Not to Fulor.” He says, turning to face Ra’venna. He thinks of the village in Fulor: the creatures, the beauty, the life.
Ra’venna’s eyes darken. Molten rage floods her veins. She pushes off the table. The room’s atmosphere thickens. “What would you know of loss? You have lived in a silver palace all your life. No one has ever so much as insulted you. What do you know of pain? Nothing. You know nothing. Stop pretending you do.” She growls.
“You kill for money. You leave behind devastated families. You’re a monster. You are no better than my brother.” He rages. His lips pull back to form a snarl, revealing his Dragon teeth.
In a flash, she is standing mere inches from him. Ra’venna lays her hand on his chest and slowly trails it upwards until it curls around Helio’s throat. She caresses the smooth canvas. Helio is no fool. Her touch may be gentle, but it a threat. In one swift movement she could snap his neck. Beneath her calloused hands she can feel his pulse pounding. She smirks.
She leans close to him in the way lovers do. “The world sees me as I wish them to. You know nothing of me, princeling. I am the raging darkness, but even the darkness has depth.” She hisses in his ear.
She releases his neck and steps back leaving Helio’s heart pounding and not entirely from fear. She exists his chambers without looking back.
Helio closes his eyes and his rage vanishes like ice under the suns. His draconic teeth retract back into his gums. He slams his open palm into the face of the table rattling his katana. He shouldn’t of said what he did. It was out of line. Ra’venna is cruel and merciless, but there is more to her. She has a heart. She has a conscious. Helio wouldn’t be alive if she didn’t. She could have killed him when they met. She had him by the throat only moments ago and didn’t kill him.
Even if it kills him he will learn what hides beneath the cloak.
Breakfast is about to be served. He can apologize to her afterwards, before he is forced to endure court duties with his family. As his bodyguards, she’ll be forced to endure it as well; that will not aid his apology.
The guards straighten as Helio steps out from his chambers. He ignores their presence the best he can. He finds Ra’venna is leaning against the wall beside her own chambers. She has her head lowered; her face concealing her face from view. She pushes herself off the wall and walks towards the tower. She doesn’t look at him once. Helio sighs and follows after her.
Ra’venna lingers behind Helio as he sweeps into the dining hall. Apollonis, Solus, and Terdar are already seated at the table. Terdar smirks as if he can read the simmering tension between the two. The Emperor and Empress each say their greetings and Helio replies appropriately.
Terdar fixes his gaze on Ra’venna. She has to restrain herself from launching across the table and driving a sai into his neck. Instead, she calmly cut the piece of meat before her with a silver knife and takes a bite. She will not acknowledge him.
Ra’venna raises the silver chalice to her lips and takes a sip of the wine. She swallows. It burns. It it more than the slight sting of alcohol. Her chest erupts into flames. Her breathes become labored as her throat swells.
“Ra’venna!” Helio cries. She falls from the chair. Helio rushes to catch her before her head can collide with the tile.
“T-the d-d-drink.” She rasps, falling into another coughing fit.
Helio, cradling her head in his lap, reaches up and grabs the chalice. “No, my son. You do not know what is in it.” Solus protests. His voice filled with more emotion than he has shown since Helio’s return. He hesitates for a moment before taking a deep gulp. The metallic taste assaults his mouth.
“It’s iron.” Helios declares. He scoops her up, mindful of her wings and bolts out of the dining hall straight to the infirmary. Helio rams his shoulder into the door. It swings open eliciting a scream from Helio.
“Your Imperial Highness.” She bows more from instinct than courtesy.
“She’s a Fairy. She’s been poisoned with iron.” He is frantic-and if Nlea didn’t know better-close to tears.
“Lie her down.” She orders. Helio lays her on the nearest cot and unclips the clasp binding her cloak. Out of respect, he covers her wings. He sweeps her hair away from her swollen neck.
Nlea pries open Ra’venna’s mouth and peers inside. “How is she?” Helios demands, growling.
“Even a minuscule amount of iron is dangerous to Fairies. She must have ingested a fair amount to have this degree of swelling.” Helio falls into a thoughtful silence.
“Will my blood be able to cure her?” He asks quietly. The healer stares at the Dragon Prince with an open mouth and wide eyes. The blood of a Dragon is a powerful substance. When ingested, it can heal almost any wound or affliction. It is rare for Dragons to offer their blood, unheard of for royalty. The few instance of blood-sharing are regarded as legend. “Will it?” He repeats, harsher.
“I-I don’t know, Your Imperial Highness.” He presents his open hand to Nlea.
“Do it. Take as much as you need.” Nlea hesitates for a moment, but under the Prince’s fiery gaze rushes to the table and grabs a dagger and bowl. She drags the blade over his flesh. He curls his hand into a fist, digging his nails into the wound to accelerate bleeding. His blood drops into the bowl. Once the bottom of the bowl is covered in blood, Nlea pulls it away and hands Helio a bandage. Helio wraps it around the wound.
Nlea lifts Ra’venna’s head and presses the bowl to her lips. She pours the red liquid into her mouth. Ra’venna chokes at first, but as the blood’s magical properties set in, she is able to easily swallow the rest. Nlea sets the bowl aside and checks Ra’venna’s throat.
“It worked.” She marvels. Helio releases the breath he was holding.
“A pleasure, Your Imperial Highness.” She bows. “I must warn you, blood is life. Blood-sharing is intimate and it may have...unforeseen consequences.”
“What kind of consequences?”
“It could create a bond. A powerful, empathic one, an emotional bond.” Helio’s eyes fall on the unconscious Fairy. He brushes the violet strands from her face.
“I can live with that.”
“If I may speak freely, Your Imperial Highness.” Helio nods, his eyes still on Ra’venna’s. “Why do you care for this mercenary?”
“As they say,” he raises his head. “Curiosity captured the Kitsune.”
Ra’venna awakens with a gasp. She looks around. It takes a moment to place her settings. She’s in the infirmary. The memories rush her all at once. Helio. Argument. Iron. Terdar. Helio. She jerks up to discover her cloak has been undone. It slips from her shoulders and pools around her. She hastily wraps herself within it.
She slides off the cot. Before she can leave Nlea comes out from the other room. “You’re awake.” She sets a tray of vials down and approaches the Fairy. Ra’venna pushes her away.
“I have recovered.” Nlea scowls, but obeys.
“How did you cure me?” She asks. The Royal Healer stiffens.
“The Prince shared his blood. He, is the reason you are alive.” Ra’venna’s eyes widen.
Helio had to taste the wine to know she poisoned with iron. He risked his life to save hers. More than that; he gave his blood, the blood of a Dragon. A substance that has been sought after since the beginning of time. Thousands of Dragons have been slaughtered for the purpose of draining their blood. All the places she has been she has never heard of a Dragon willingly giving their blood. But he did. Helio gave his blood to her, the mercenary who despises him.
“I don’t understand.” She mutters aloud.
“I have never heard of such a thing either.” Nlea confesses.
“Where is He-the Prince?” She inquires, clearing her throat. She finds the action painless.
“He had matters to attend to. He requested you meet him in his chambers.” Nlea tells her. Ra’venna thanks the Royal Healer and leaves the infirmary.
Her and the Prince need to talk.
Helio acknowledges the guards outside the chambers and pushes in the door. The door falls shut behind him; he sighs. Enduring his family and their advisors was almost too much for him. While Ra’venna lay in an unsure state he was sitting on a silver throne listening to his parent’s ambitions. Helio doesn’t know what was worse, knowing his brother is responsible or having to endure Terdar’s shrouded remarks.
Helio looks towards the lit fireplace and almost jumps out of his skin. Seated in the far chair is Ra’venna with her legs crossed and her head raised. He sheds his cape and throws it on the bed. He takes a seat in the chair across from her.
“I’m sorry.” Helio admits. Ra’venna’s eyes shift from the fire to Helio. Her eyebrows furrow in confusion.
“For what?” She asks.
“What I said earlier. It was inexcusable and I apologize.” Ra’venna laughs and Helio recoils as if he’s been struck.
“I was almost killed today and you think to apologize for a petty argument.” Her melodious laughter fills the room. Helio laughs along with her.
“I suppose I am.” He muses. Ra’venna lowers her hood revealing her face and hair. He resists the urge to smile. She trusts him. He admires the way the firelight gleams off the silver ink beneath her eyes. He wishes he could know what they mean.
“Why did you become a mercenary?” Helio questions. He is praying she will answer at least one of his questions. He wants to know her.
It is hard not to wonder what could drive a Fairy, a creature of creativity and love to become a...monster. It would be easy to blame the Nether that dwells within her, but Helio has gazed into her eyes. He sees a story within them and he wants to know it; he wants to know the girl beneath the cloak.
She shrugs and removes her gaze to the crackling fire. “I could tell you I became a mercenary because I enjoy killing. I could tell you I became one for the money, but those would be lies. I became a mercenary so I would never have to bow to anyone. I am free.” Her eyes flicker back to Helio, the fire reflecting off her orbs. “And I will do anything I have to to remain so.”
“Doesn’t it bother you? Killing?” He presses, leaning forward.
“Why would it?” Helio is shocked. How can she say that?
“Because it’s wrong.” He says as if it is the most obvious thing. The statement, he realizes, is as ridiculous as a jester. Ra’venna locks eyes with him and leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
“We’re all monster in the end. There is no use fighting the inevitable.” She states, bluntly. Helio shakes his head.
“I don’t believe that. I can’t.” He protests.
“Why not?” The Prince has seen slaughter and battlefields and yet, remains an optimist.
“Then what’s the point? What’s the point of fighting if we lose in the end?” His voice rises. He refuses to believe her. He refuses to believe all the fighting and suffering is for nothing.
Ra’venna ponders his questions for a moment. “Maybe it is not about the ending. Maybe it’s about the small things; the laughs, the loves, the tears, the secrets, the victories, the losses, the stories. Isn’t that what we all are in the end: stories. Maybe it is about having a story worth telling.”
Helio is silent, awestruck. He never expected such...depth from her. Ra’venna’s earlier words ring out in his mind. Even the darkness has depth. And she does.
“I believe I have earned a question. Nlea told me you shared your blood. I have-now-set foot on all five continents. I have heard tales of all creatures, of Dragons. I know what your blood can do. In all my travels, I have never heard of a Dragon willingly giving their blood to save another. Why did you? Why did you give your blood to save me?” If Helio did not know better he would think she is begging. He never heard such desperation from her. She usually carries herself as if she holds the secrets of the universe in her veins.
“You intrigue me in ways I do not understand. I have never met anyone like you and I want to know more about you.” He replies truthfully.
She is the tragic ending of a novel. The ashes that fall after an eruption. The body lowered into the ground. She is death and destruction and remains. Yet, in her eyes there lives a light, a life screaming for a chance.
To his surprise, she smiles. “You didn’t lie.” He tilts his head, confused. “It was a test. I wanted to see if you would. You didn’t.” Ra’venna fibs. She was testing Helio but she also desired the answer. She doesn’t know what to think or believe.
She rises from the chair. Helio leans back regarding her with caution. His eyes follow her hands as she unclasps her cloak and lets it fall to the ground. Her wings rise. Helio’s jaw drops.
Her violet and purple wings protrudes from her back. “They are large enough to cast a shadow over her, even in the limited light. They’re smooth and delicate in substance, but fierce in design with a faint aura of purple around their sharp, definitive edges. Helio wonders, briefly, what they would feel like. Would they be like glass, smooth and flawless or would they curve beneath his fingertips in a pattern invisible to the eye.
“They are...magnificent.” He breathes. They flutter once, reflecting the firelight.
Ra’venna sinks into the chair her wings curling around her. Helio flinches; the position looks painful. “Do you need another chair?” She shakes her head. There is no pain only a small pressure at the junction where her spine and wings meet.
Helio releases. “Have you ever had lovers?” He inquires. Ra’venna raises a brow. He is either jealous or digging for weaknesses. It doesn’t matter. The answer will provide no leverage.
“One.” She replies. Defiant melancholy tugs at her heart. She struggles to keep her face impassive.
“What happened?” She doesn’t reply and Helio observes her gaze become distant. She is lost to her memories. “Is he dead?” He asks, gingerly. He knows it’s dangerous to pressure her, but he cannot deny his curiosity.
“No, at home.” Helio’s eyes widen.
“Home?” He bites back his other questions in fear she will shut down.
“The pace I used to live.” She quickly corrects. She tries to dismiss her slip up and hope Helio won’t press. How could she be so foolish? Home? She grits her teeth. She cannot afford to be sentimental, not while in the heart of her enemies. Even Helio beneath the charismatic facade is an enemy. He gave her his blood and his motives may be harmless, but she can’t take any chances.
“Why didn’t it work out?” Helio cannot seem to stop himself from asking. Ra’venna chuckles dryly.
“He wanted one thing. I wanted another.” She wipes the sorrow from her face. “And what of you? Have you had a scandalous affair with that Elf of yours?” Let’s see how he likes being pried into.
“She is a sister to me. I would never become involved with her.” Ra’venna is disappointed by the answer. She was hoping to lord her life over his head. Though, she supposes, a sister is as good as a lover.
“No lovers for you?” She mocks. “How terribly disappointing.” A playful smirks spreads across her face. If Helio is surprised by her playful taunting it doesn’t show.
“A few court ladies. They all were after the throne.” Ra’venna scoffs; her dark skin glows in the firelight.
“Isn’t that what Dragons men like; ambitious whores who will do anything for power.” She remarks. She is eerily right.
Helio, unbothered by the comment, shakes his head. “I do not want that. I want a woman that is beautiful, cunning, and intelligent. One filled with ambition, courage, and strength-both inside and out. She would have to be someone I could spend hours talking with about everything from the weather to politics, that I could sit with reading or just lying with in complete contentment. A woman who loves dangerously and wholly, whose passion is soul-shattering.”
The room is silent except for the quaking fire near them. Ra’venna is stunned. She didn’t know the Prince was capable of such...depth. Perhaps, she judged him too harshly.
“Good luck. Such a woman is one of a kind.” Despite the playful tone her smirk falters. A strange emotion, one she’s never experienced before settles in the pit of her stomach.
“It does not hurt to dream.”
“Dreams are for the weak and foolish. They won’t save you.” She severs eye contact with Helio. “They will only let you down.”
Neither of them utters another word.