Chapter 14: Battle Of The Colossus
Avdon rushes out of the manor upon hearing Aka’s shrill cry in the distance. His hooves pound against the dirt as he runs up the pathway. She, Amsyn, and the others should emerge from the tunnel at any moment.
Avdon stops pacing as a disheveled Aka emerges. Stalia is only a few steps behind her. She refuses to meet Avdon’s eye.
He notices their strange expressions and Amsyn’s absence. His heart skips a beat. “What happened?” He demands.
“I’m sorry.” Stalia bursts into tears.
Panic surge through Avdon and he is sure the color has fled his face. “Explain. Now.”
“I tried to stop her, but she insisted and they were coming.” She sobs.
Avdon shifts his gaze to a tense Aka, his eyes ordering her to explain.“Pal’swa was deserted when we got there. We were ambushed by the Quvanians. Amsyn stayed behind to buy time for us to escape. They captured her and the Wyvern.”
The world falls from under his feet. He drives his hand into his hair and whirls around to face the two Children. “Do you have any idea what they will do to her? They will kill her or worse.” He screams. He knows. He bares the scars of Quvania’s cruelty.
If they were to harm her...he would never forgive himself. He made a promise to keep her safe. She is innocent, idealistic. She won’t be able to survive Quvania’s cruelty.
“We get her back. I don’t care what it takes.” Vows, the leader of the Children of Tevata.
Ra’venna buckles the side of the leather armor. Helio gave it to her yesterday with no explanation only an insistence she wear it. The armor has been customized for her. How he got her measurements she can only guess. The back has two slits for her wings and on the front is the Quvania crest stitched in red.
Ra’venna stares into the bathroom mirror. The gnawing feeling of betrayal returns. To protect the Dragon Prince is horrifying enough, but to now wear his chest. If her parents and sister are gazing down at her from Evelion they must surely be ashamed. She closes her eyes. She is doing this to prevent another kingdom from suffering Etrien’s fate, to avenge her family. For the first time in a long time she is doing something good.
She reopens her eyes and leaves the bathroom. She snags her violet cloak from the bed and slings it over her shoulders. Her sais are tucked in their holster.
There’s a knock at the door. Ra’venna opens it to find one of Helio’s pages. He bows to Ra’venna. “His Imperial Highness Prince Helioson requests your presence in his chambers.”
Ra’venna rolls her eyes. He couldn’t walk a few feet, honestly their rooms are next to each other. The page scampers away.
Ra’venna stomps across the hall and bangs on Helio’s door with enough force to rattle it. He grants her entry. She storms in, slamming the door behind her.
Helio is standing behind his desk with his hands clasped behind his back and his katana at his side. He’s dressed in an elaborate red and orange tunic and silver cape with a dragon stitched across it. His hair is combed back and his crown rests on his brow. Jeweled, silver rings decorate many of his fingers. He looks like more than a prince. He looks like an Emperor.
Ra’venna raises a brow. “My parents insisted on me looking my best.” He explains, his cheeks flushing.
She frowns. “Is there a reason you summoned me here?” She’s sure to convey her contempt.
“I apologize for not coming to you myself, but I was preoccupied.” He gestures to himself. He grabs a tied bundle from his desk and hands it to Ra’venna. She regards it with bewilderment. “A thank you. for saving my life...and for being my friend.” Ra’venna stares at him, blankly.
She takes the package from him and pulls at the red bow holding the darker velvet wrapping together. It unravels to reveal a breathtaking, rich fabric. She looks up at him. He gestures for her to continue. Ra’venna tosses the bow and wrapping onto the chest at the foot of his bed.
She hols up the gift, allowing it to unfurl. It’s a cloak. She turns it around. It’s a deep violet, near black color with a single, silver stripe stretching from the tip of the hood to the bottom of the cloak. Clusters of silver stars fills the bottom and line the upper back and shoulders. The same stars line the hood’s edge. The cloak is held together by a bejeweled, silver clasp in the shape of fairy wings. Ra’venna is speechless.
“Helio,” she gasps. He smiles, proud to be the one that astonishes her. Flaring heat engulfs his heart. The heat, he realizes, isn’t his own emotions; they’re Ra’venna’s. He can feel her gratitude, her astonishment, and a hint of sorrow. “Thank you Helio, truly. This is beautiful.”
“You’re welcome.” He says, dipping his head.
Ra’venna lays the cloak across the chest and undoes her own. On instinct, her wings perk up and flutter. Helio takes the opportunity to enjoy the view of her glorious wings.
Ra’venna tucks in her wings and slings the new cloak over her shoulders. The material is akin to silk and velvet-light and soft. She steps in front of Helio’s desk. The Dragon Prince’s breath hitches. The stream of sunlight glistens off the fairy wing clasp and the stars. She is night incarnate.
“What place are we going that requires such extravagance?” Ra’venna inquires.
The question sobers him. “The Helix.” Her eyes widen.
The Helix is a massive, flying coliseum that circles Quvania’s capital, Kleypolis. It is where scores of prisoners are sent and forced to fight to the death. The last prisoner standing is granted their freedom. Only the royal family, nobles, and the wealthiest Dragons are permitted to attend the games.
Even Ra’venna-who never hesitates to take a life-finds it repulsive. Her kills are quick and clean, the Helix is unnecessarily cruel. Death is no sport. To make it into one is to pervert life.
“And your opinion of the Helix?” Ra’venna questions.
“It is tradition.” Helio responds. “But just because it is tradition does not mean it is right.”
Ra’venna flashes a smile. She cannot comprehend how his heart is so pure when he has been surrounded by such cruelty.
“We should not keep your family waiting.” Helio gives a weak nod, a frown etched on his face.
Helio and ra’venna round the corner to find Empress Apollonis waiting outside the throne room. Helio bows his head. She smiles at him and then looks to the mercenary.
“My son, go ahead. I must speak with Ra’venna alone.” Helio stiffens, but doesn’t dare let his concern show. Ra’venna remains impassive. “Do not fret, my son, I will not harm her.” As if her words are any comfort to either of them.
Helio hesitates, but his mother’s unflinching gaze compels him and he vanishes into the throne room.
The Empress looks at Ra’venna. “I know you dislike me.” She states. Ra’venna meets her gaze, cocking a brow.
“I have no opinion, Empress.” She disagrees, feigning disinterest.
“Everyone has an opinion. You just don’t vocalize yours.” Ra’venna tenses. The Empress’s notices. Apollonis doesn’t reply and instead continues to hold the mercenary’s gaze. “Whatever you believe about me know this: I will do anything for my husband and above all, I will do anything for my sons.” Ra’venna stares into Apollonis’s golden orbs.
“I believe you.” And she does. The Empress is many things, but a liar is not among them.
Apollonis places a hand on Ra’venna’s arm. She resists the urge to cleave it off; imaging the gusher of blood that would soak her white and gold dress and the screams that would fill the palace. “Protect my Helioson. I could not bare it if something were to befall him.” She pleads. For a moment Ra’venna is able to see through the lavish dress and silver crown at the women beneath. The mother that desires her son’s safety above all.
“I will.” Ra’venna swears. She means every word. Helio can no longer be a pawn, not with the bond between them. His death could have unforeseen consequences and no matter how much she loathes to admit it, she has grown fond of him.
Damn it, if it makes her feel like a traitor. Helio hasn’t done anything wrong. If anything he’s the only one that hasn’t.
Satisfied with her answer, the Empress turns and sweeps into the throne room. Snarling, Ra’venna follows after her. Empress Solus is standing on the platform’s last step looking down at his arms before him. Ra’venna goes to Helio’s side. He looks at her with concern. She gives a subtle nod, reassuring him.
“My Empress.” Solus welcomes her with a dip of his head. She smiles, warmth filling her otherwise cruel eyes. He takes her offered hand and kisses her knuckles. Terdar scoffs and rolls his eyes. Helio smiles sadly, longing and resentment in his eyes. Ra’venna avoids looking in their direction. The Fairy side of her adores the romantic gesture, the assassin in her loathes it.
“We’re leaving.” The Emperor declares. His words are fierce compared to the soft grip he has on the Empress’s hand.
The royal ship is as lavish and over exuberant as Ra’venna imagined. Roughly three times the size of a merchant ship with magic powered cannons lining the sides. If its size doesn’t deter attackers than these will. The red sails-baring the Shalquim crest-ripple in the winds, giving the stationary dragon the appearance or movement. The ship is patrolled by a squadron of Quvania’s finest guards.
Helio waits until Solus, Apollonis, and Terdar have vanished below deck before speaking to Ra’venna. “What did my mother speak to you about?” Helio asks with a tinge of panic. Ra’venna can’t help but laugh.
“Do not look so frightened Helio.”
She passes in front of the prince and walks away from the patrolling guards to the back of the ship. Helio follows her. Ra’venna rests her arms on the railing overlooking the land below. The wind swirls around her. Ra’venna has to keep ahold of her hood to prevent it from flying off her head.
Helio leans against the rail. He reaches over and captures a wild lock of hair. He tucks the violet strand behind her ear as Ra’venna watches him dumbfounded.
“What did my mother want?” A heartbeat passes between them.
“She made me promise to protect you.” Helio’s eyes widen.
“Did you? P-promise, I mean.” He tightens his hold on the rail, mentally cursing himself for stuttering.
“Yes,” she replies. Helio covers her hand with his, allowing the flaring heat to communicate his feelings. Instead of pulling away, she accepts his hand.
They stand overlooking the Dragon capital, hand in hand.
“There it is.” Helio breathes.
Hovering in the air is a city sized structure, the coliseum known as the Helix. Even from a distance their robust cheers can be heard. Beneath the stands and battlefield is the dungeons where the prisoners are kept.
Helio’s gaze darkens the closer they get. “At least the winner will be allowed to live.”
Ra’venna pushes away from the rail. “Death leaves no winner.”
The Emperor and Empress emerge from below deck with the younger prince. Ra’venna glares at Terdar who smirks in return. How she can’t wait to kill him.
“You did not join us, my son.” The Emperor says. His voice holds disapproval, as does the glare he shoots in Ra’venna’s direction. She tenses. She doesn’t like being the center of the Emperor’s attention. The things that are tend to have shortened existences.
“I thought I would enjoy the view. It’s been so long.” He lies. His ability to effortlessly lie is both impressive and unsettling, but Solus appears to believe it.
“I hope the entertainment will be befitting of my son’s return.” Solus says. Smiling, Helio bows to his father.
The steps are lowered, but instead of leading to the Helix’s entrance they lead to a silver chariot drawn by four snow white pegasuses. It’s a heavily ornate chariot with red, velvet seats.
The Emperor and Empress descend into the chariot arm in arm. They sit with their backs facing the pegasuses. As the eldest Helio must go next; with his personal guard. He sits opposite of his father and Ra’venna beside him. Terdar takes the last available seat beside her. She sits as still as a statue. Terdar is amused by the mercenary’s discomfort.
Terdar leans close, “worried?” He mocks. Her teeth clamp down on the flesh of her cheek. She will not react. She will not give him the satisfaction. “Perhaps, you could pass a message along to my dear brother.” Ra’venna doesn’t react. “I heard there’s an Elf fighting today. I hear he’s quite fond of them.” He taunts. Ra’venna’s heart skips a beat.
An angry fire consumes Helio’s chest. He looks at Ra’venna. Her jaw is locked and her fists are clenches so tightly they are turning white. Helio locks eyes with a smirking Terdar. Anger, hatred, and jealously impale his heart, the emotions are not his own. His parents are too close for him to ask her what is wrong. Instead, he lets his hand brush against her leg, sending a wave of heat up his hand and arm.
The heat pulls Ra’venna from her thoughts. She glances down and then back up. His worry floods into her. She shifts uncomfortably.
The bond between them is growing stronger. They are now able to sense each other’s emotions. She frowns. This is becoming to personal. Ra’venna’s ability to separate herself form her emotions is crucial to her survival. Neither of them know the implications of the bond. They don’t know if it’s permanent or how deep it goes. What will they do if it’s permanent? What if it prevents them from being to far from each other?
She knows Helio can feel her panic because he brushes his hand against her leg again. She allows the fleeting heat to absorb her worries.
On the Emperor’s signal the gate is raised. The driver flicks the reins and the pegasuses jerk forward, pulling the chariot with them through the air. The air is filled with the cheers of loyal subjects. Solus and Apollonis rise to their feet followed by their sons.
Ra’venna remains seated. She slips her hands beneath her cloak to her sais. Her eyes flicker over the stands. It’s teeming with Dragons and their slaves. An open environment with this many creatures is out of her control. Her only comfort is that Helio and his family will be seated on a balcony out of harm’s reach, surrounded by royal guards.
As the Shalquim’s come into view the bolstering, ear deafening cheers louden. Ra’venna winces, fearing for a moment that her ears may begin to bleed.
Even Helio is uncomfortable. He’s spent the last few years trying to escape this life, to forget about it. He’d grown accustom to the quietness of Fulor. This is a vast contrast. It still feels unreal at times unreal at times, as if he is stuck in a bizarre illusion.
The chariot parades around the field before pulling in front of the erected balcony. The Emperor and Empress glide out of the chariot and take a seat on the identical silver thrones. Helio and Terdar take their place on the smaller thrones beside their parents. Behind them hangs the standard of Quvania.
Ra’venna sits in the lavish chair that has been set beside Helio’s throne. She crosses her legs and pulls the hood further over her head. Ra’venna scowls. There are too many creatures here; creatures with questions. She wanted her guardianship of the prince to be a secret. Now every powerful Dragon in Quvania knows. Yyphine forbid if word gets back to K’marie.
The Emperor gives the signal and the gate raises. The Helix games have begun.