Chapter 8: Playing With Fire
The palace’s immediate grounds are dedicated to the guards and their training. Standing in front of the left wall is a fair sized stone building-the guard’s dining hall-and before the right wall is a smaller building-the guard’s armory. Unlike the one in Cha’ol this one is used regularly.
The armed guards standing around define the training grounds. Inside is Terdar and a Nature Dragon. Past the training grounds is the arched entrance to the palace’s massive gardens. Over the high stone wall Ra’venna catches a glimpse of an ornate silver structure.
“Who is that?” Ra’venna asks.
“Sir Leonitros, the Master-at-Arms and Captain of the Guard.” He speaks of him with familiarity. “He trained Terdar and I.” Helio answers her unasked question. She will have to watch him closely.
Leonitros walks away from the younger prince towards a group of guards gathered off to the side. Terdar moves to stand before the weapon’s rack, fingering the tip of the blade in his hand. A deep scowl is plastered on his face. Standing next to him is Lord Haemir. The two trade short, hushed remarks.
Ra’venna narrows her eyes eyes at the lord. She knows where his loyalties lie.
And so does Helio.
Like Helio, Terdar is clothed in leather armor bearing the image of a rising Dragon on the breastplate and draconic features over the shoulder guards, gauntlets, and leg guards. Helio’s armored hand tightens around the handle of his katana. He glares at Terdar and Haemir.
The sound of straining leather draws Ra’venna’s attention. She places a hand on his covered shoulder. Helio’s head snaps in her direction; surprise displayed across his face. Ra’venna pulls her hand back into the safety of her cloak. She manages to keep her face impassive, but the action surprises even herself. She tried to comfort him.
Neither of them say anything.
Terdar saunters up to Helio; his earlier fear a distant memory.
Ra’venna happens to glance past the prince to Haemir. He is wearing a far too arrogant expression for Ra’venna’s taste. He must know that in a fight Helio will win.
Is she actually cheering for the prince? She is supposed to remain detached. He is a job like any other job. He means nothing.
If only it were that simple.
Ra’venna is pulled from her thoughts by the sound of metal clashing with metal. She shifts her gaze from Lord Haemir to the two brothers. Their swords are locked together; each trying to gain the advantage. Helio uses his strength to push his brother back. Terdar is forced to take one step back and then another.
He pulls back from the attack and swings the sword. He aims his strike at Helio’s legs hoping to knock him off balance, but Helio is faster. In one swift movement Terdar’s sword collides with his katana. Helio kicks Terdar to the ground.
Terdar plunges his sword into the ground and forces himself to his feet. His chest stings from Helio’s bruising blow. He grits his teeth containing a cry of pain.
Helio is paying him back for earlier.
In some sick and twisted way he cares about the mercenary. Terdar’s lips curl into a malicious smirk. He nods subtly to Lord Haemir.
Helio charges at Terdar. With Ra’venna’s full attention on the battle between the two princes, Lord Haemir conjures an ever-changing globe of water. A vicious smile crosses his face. He has wanted to take a shot at the mercenary since she first read his fear at the palace gates and had the gull to smile.
Helio and Terdar trade blows; nothing sophisticated and nothing that will win the fight for either of them. They’re each stalling waiting for the other to make a mistake.
A sharp pain equivalent to that of a punch strikes Ra’venna in the chest. Even through the thickness of her shirt she can feel the full force of the attack. She is thrown through the air. She twists her body at the last moment landing on her stomach instead of her wings.
“Ra’venna!” Helio’s shout rings out.
Ra’venna forces herself to her knees in defiance of the pain and glances over in time to see Terdar slash Helio across the chest. Helio cries out and crumples to the ground.
“Helio!” Ra’venna screams.
She pushes herself to her feet, staggering forward. She incites her magic to give her strength. She rushes to the prince’s side.
Defiantly, she hears a booming voice demand the clearing of the grounds.
The slash pierced both his armor and flesh. She pulls his head onto her lap so she can better see the wound. Mixed in with the blood spilling from it is a metallic substance. She glares up at the smug, white haired prince. Her purple eyes glow with fury.
Helio groans in pain. She returns her attention to the wound. Terdar poisoned his brother. Gold is lethal to Dragons as silver is to Griffins and iron to Fairies.
She roughly grabs ahold of Helio’s chin. “Where is the infirmary?” She demands.
He winces and moans, but manages to choke out an answer. “First floor, next to the left tower.”
Ra’venna slings the Dragon Prince’s arm over her shoulder and hauls him towards the palace. She catches a glimpse of Lord Haemir, smirking, while weaving a stream of water between his fingers.
She is tempted to go back and devour both of them, but for now she needs the younger prince alive.
Ra’venna drags Helio through the labyrinth of hallways, cursing the size of the palace with each step she takes. The gold has stolen his strength leaving her to support most of his weight.
The guards-both of whom were just outside-push open the doors upon her approach. “Healer?” Ra’venna beckons. A petite, Wind Dragon appears from the other room.
“Oh Entos, what has happened?” She cries. “Bring him here, child.” She orders. Ra’venna scowls at the women, but follows her commands.
She lays Helio on one of the numerous cots positioned throughout the room. He cries out, his face contorting with pain. Ra’venna smoothes back his wild hair. Her touch silences his cries. She watches as his features relax.
“Gold.” The healer gasps. Her orange eyes fill with fear and shock. Ra’venna notes how some of the color drains from her face.
“Who are you?” Ra’venna asks. The healer rushes from one end of the room to the other gathering vials filled with colorful liquids and fresh bandages.
“Nlea, the Royal Healer.” She answers. “And you are the Nether Fairy. Word travels fast in the palace.” She adds upon seeing her reaction. Ra’venna stiffens and averts her attention to Helio’s half conscious form.
Nlea unbuckles Helio’s breastplate and hands the damaged leather to Ra’venna. She looks down at it. The slash cut through the etched Dragon’s chest and wings. The liquid gold has fallen into the crevices. It is what the Shalquim family is; a mighty Dragon from afar, but up close it is splintered.
Ra’venna drops the piece of leather. The thud echoes through the room. Nlea jumps and then glares at the Fairy. Ra’venna pretends not to notice.
The first thing Helio becomes aware of is a pulsing pain in his chest. His mind is like a muddy swamp with no sense of direction and his eyes are as heavy as stones. Helio forces them open the winces at the lack of light. He blinks a couple times allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness before glancing around. He recognizes his chambers.
Helios sits up clutching his bandaged chest. He inhales sharply as a fresh prick of pain flares through his chest. He remembers. Ra’venna was attacked. Terdar attacked him. His blade was coated in liquid gold. Helio fists the bedding. His own brother tried to poison him, to kill him. He should hardly be surprised Terdar has made his desire to see Helio dead clear.
It does not relieve the sting of betrayal or the sorrow.
The gentle night wind lifts the balcony door curtains. Helio realizes the door is open. Instinctively, he reaches for his katana that used to lie beside his bed in Fulor only to remember it will not be there.
He stands up, wincing and stumbles across the room to the window door. He rests his weight against the open door. He finds Ra’venna with her hands resting on the balcony’s railing and her hood pulled down. Her head is titled towards the sky. The moonlight gathers in her violet waves. For a moment Helio doubts it is her.
“I wonder what is so fascinating that it has captured your attention.” He remarks.
Ra’venna whirls around, startled. She hadn’t heard his approach. The wind blows over her and she realizes she is exposed. She begins to turn away, to reach for her hood, but stops. Some part of her doesn’t want to hide. What does it matter anyway? He has already seen her face. Yes, that is the reason she is not bothering.
That is the only reason.
“There is. The stars.” She replies, coolly.
He raises a brow. “The stars?” She nods. He tilts his head, curious. The smile returns to his face. He is comforted by her answer. The smiles returns to his face. More than that, he is happy about it. She left her hood down. She’s talking with him. She is starting to trust him.
“What is it about the stars that intrigue you so.” He questions. She stares at him for what feels like an eternity and he begins to fear that he has pushed her to far. She returns her attention to the sky.
“They are fragments of of space and time, stories of survival and sacrifice all captured in one moment. An infinity.” She whispers. Her voice holds the closest thing to awe Helio has heard from her.
She lowers her head to look at the Dragon Prince before her. On her face is a smile. The simple action changes everything about her. It washes over her features illuminating them in a way sunlight will never be able to. It brightens her very existence and the robs the breath of all those who gaze upon it. She is as radiant as the stars she admires.
“When I travel I often seek out the myths of other creatures. I learn what they name the constellations and what tales they have woven to explain them.” She rests her body against the silver railing.
“You see those twelve stars there.” She points upwards at a collection of bright stars. Helio moves to her side. He follows her finger as it traces an invisible path through the cosmos. “In Hugloqir lore, Dylo, the God of Dreams fell in love with a mortal Nymph, Sharia. Unfortunately, while in the woods one day she was attacked and killed by a Wraith. As the Elves tell it, Dylo’s grief-stricken cries could be heard even in the heavens. Dyxtrix, the Goddess of the Sky took pity on him and placed Dyxtrix in the sky so he would always be able to gaze upon her. The Elves believe she is ever reaching for her love, Dylo.”
“How...sad.” Ra’venna looks at him. “To be cursed to spend an eternity reaching for the one you love only to never be able to hold them.” Ra’venna nods. She had never thought of it that way.
The two remain there surrounded by celestial bodies and comfortable silence. Helio shifts from one foot to the other and pain shoots through his chest. He lays his hand over the bandaged wound. He glances to the right where Ra’venna is standing.
“Why did you save me?” He asks finally. The question has been on his mind since he regained consciousness. She turns to face him.
“As long as you are alive I have a shot at your brother.” Her bluntness no longer surprises him.
“Why not just kill him? Why drag it out?” Repulsion claws at his insides. He’s encouraging her to kill his own brother. What is he becoming?
A smirk as dark as night spreads across her face. “Do you take me for a fool? I strike him dead now I will be dead before I reach the palace gates. Despite my reputation I have no desire to greet Death quite yet.” She shrugs. “Besides, it’s enjoyable to watch him squirm.” Gone is the carefree and relaxed Ra’venna.
“Are you afraid of your power?” Helio asks, suddenly. Nether is one of the two rarest elements. The last Nether wielder was a Griffin and he was killed because of his power. Many believe Nether to be pure evil, the darkest element. It is as feared and hated as Wraiths.
Ra’venna blinks. “Creatures fear Nether because it is the truth. Nether is the force of natural destruction in the universe. I represent the truth they don’t want to acknowledge; everything comes to an end. I am that end.”
Ra’venna pushes herself off the railing and pulls her hood over her head. She brushes past Helio, pausing for a moment. “Goodnight princeling.”