In the midst of impending silence, there is one sudden outstanding factor. An officer of Central Universe almost instantly steps through the stable portal, a clip board in hand and a tired, bored look on his face.
Even in the middle of the stadium, with thousands of eyes upon him, it looks like he couldn’t care less. So, he turns to the nearest two beings, Traegr and Hraken.
“The contract,” the officer holds out his hand. When no one answers, he adds, exasperated, “Do you have it?”
“Oh my, let me down,” Ladonna goes to jump down but not before Seraphine quickly snatches the paper out of her grasp.
“Let me,” Seraphine doesn’t just jump down, Shadow Magic flies out from the soles of her feet as she blasts her way over. In the meantime, I feel Sabir slip an arm around the back of my waist. He firmly grips the side of me and pulls me over to stand in front of him.
Holding me tightly – he keeps a firm arm around my stomach – in an attempt to silently comfort me as he holds me.
I just watch as the officer is startled to life at the fire bursting from Seraphine’s feet as she lands and quickly reads through the contract.
He eventually coughs loudly and a bit rudely as she continues to read through it.
“It’s okay, Seraphine,” Hraken eventually speaks, taking a step towards his sister. However, she holds up a hand and hisses.
The Scouting Stadium cameras choose to focus on her face and her eyes frantically search through until a moment of recognition shines bright.
Almost instantly I want to turn to Celeste, to see how she is reacting to Seraphine’s moment of victory.
But she isn’t here.
“The contract, madam,” The officer keeps his hand out and she finally smiles and shoves the highly advanced paper at the man.
“Take it,” she surrenders the piece of paper and she slowly turns to Traegr, a cunning, cruel smile on her lips, “How do you feel, Traegr of the proud Ametrine line?”
The silence is filled with this violent provocation.
But we’re all saved by the rude man.
"I don’t mean to interrupt,” the office interjects regardless and I believe he is the sole reason Traegr doesn’t fully lunge towards Seraphine and start something bloody. Instead, Traegr focuses on the officer with the clipboard, “This contract is... okay... I guess... considering how old it is. However, we have updated the rules, I require two escorts. Now, please, I don’t have all day.”
“Two escorts?” Seraphine asks.
“A leader of your people and an escort, preferably,” the officer glances at Traegr and Hraken, “Is one of you the... uh?”
"King,” Traegr answers, while pointing at Hraken, “This is the King,” Traegr has spoken numbly, with complete disregard for his own passion to be the ruler. Clearly that passion was all but non-existent now that Celeste was –
“How can you speak our language?” Seraphine asks suddenly, bamboozled.
“I’m not speaking your language,” the officer rolls his eyes, “I’ll explain further within the Neutral Zone. I can’t answer all the questions here.”
“The Queen and I will follow you,” Hraken speaks, his hand outstretched towards the podium, towards me.
“But –” I try to interject, panicked, but I don’t get very far.
“Go, Sapphire, we’re not going anywhere,” Sabir releases me and slaps my butt, “Chin-up. We never die. Remember that.”
I was about to turn and slap him, but those last five words stop me from doing so. I turn, nod and then jump off the podium, to head across the burnt grass towards Hraken.
My eyes are focused on where Celeste stood.
Where nothing now remained.
“Please hurry, this is an important process,” the officer rushes me, “Come on now, I know this is big. I know it’s scary and intimidating but I’m here to guide you through the process of union.”
“And you’re doing a fantastic job,” Seraphine snaps, equally just as rude.
The officer pauses and stares at Seraphine with bold, unfazed eyes.
“It is also my right to inform you, I have the option of ticking off the planet for extermination... if I believe you pose a threat to the Neutral Zone’s fortifications. Clearly your abilities are startlingly potent. Adhere to my every word, and you will be granted a smooth union. That I promise,” the officer is firm and Seraphine shrugs, seeming to like his bold attitude.
“Understood...” she shrugs again, giving in.
“Come now,” the officer speaks to both Hraken and I as we step forward together.
Hraken reaches over and also grips my waist as Sabir had done, pulling me into him. He leans into me, quickly, to whisper in my ear, “Keep it together. I know you want to cry... to scream... but I will hold you together. Now, be strong.... be resilient.”
“I will honour her by being so,” I whisper, my voice breaking on the last word.
I force back my tears, so that my eyes are nothing but misty. The officer motions us forward and I follow Hraken through the portal.
A part of me prays that Celeste is on the other side.
As Hraken and I step through the blinding whiteness... I almost see the shape of her face as I wish for her... but then my vision is completely turned upside down.
And we step through to the other side.
My insides feel funny as I step into unfamiliar gravity.
The Neutral Zone is crowded with onlookers.
We’re in an open space, burnt ground, a crowd of strange looking people, and they’re taking pictures.
The officer comes through next and walks abruptly off into the crowd.
“Follow me!” he calls out and Hraken turns me with him, leading me to follow the officer.
I can hardly process what I’m seeing in the meantime. A city looms in the not too far distance, made from metals like that I had seen on Earth. The sky was turquoise. The people looked kind. The officer didn’t... but... I guess that didn’t matter.
Everyone is staring at Hraken.
He absolutely towered above everyone.
Even I was tall, compared to most of the women.
They’re staring at us like we’re interesting barbarians, walking out of a highly-advanced portal.
Something told me, even in union, our kind would be seen as a threat.
The officer walks to a secluded table, where people are held back from approaching.
“Take some seats,” he sits as we do opposite a white simple, cheap, table, “Some rough portal opening procedures you had there,” the officer looks up towards the burnt grass and I can’t talk.
So Hraken does.
“Yes, however we got there in the end,” Hraken leans forward, “What do you need from us?”
“I guess I should have told you, before, my mistake,” The officer shrugs his shoulders, “a hundred of your kind will soon be permanently residing in Central Universe at all times. You may leave back to...”
"Kiyr,” I answer.
“...Kiyr, but if you do, 2 must replace you. This is to insure unity continues. Breaking this rule also involves extermination as does exploring uncharted space without authority and travelling to other planets. Do you understand? Have you cross-bred with any other planetary beings?” he asks.
“No,” I shake my head, thinking of Pharis.
“Is the contract satisfactory?” Hraken asks, “What more do you need of us?”
“Keen to connect and then keen to head back to your planet already? Most people are excited about this stage... you look like you want to throw up,” the officer directs this to me, and I glare back at him.
“My best friend just d–” Hraken reaches up a hand and slaps it over my mouth, cutting off what I was about to say.
“We are willing to negotiate our union,” Hraken speaks, calmly.
“Good, I’ll be back shortly with a shit ton of more paper work,” the officer stands, turns, and leaves us.
Hraken finally releases his hand from my mouth and he grabs my chin, forcing me to face him.
“Don’t ever say she died,” he says, quietly, “You’ll Curse her away for longer.”
“But she –”
“No,” Hraken does not blink, he holds my eyes closely, “She is Star Cursed. She will never be dead. You will see her again.”
“Maybe not for another thousand years, if I live that long,” I shake my head, the tears now breaking forth.
“Maybe a thousand, maybe a hundred, maybe less. Don’t forget who we are, Sapphire,” Hraken’s passion is bountiful, as he stares me down, his eyes search mine, “You’re a Queen now. Are you going to act like it or do I have to marry my fucking sister? Don’t let Celeste’s sacrifice mean nothing.”
“I won’t,” I shake my head, “I lost her... and now I have you.”
He smirks, a tear in the corner of his eye.
“You and your pitiful magic,” he jokes, and just as I scowl he leans into kiss me.
It’s sudden and shocking.
But strangely nice. I gasp into him and open my eyes to feel the flash of cameras. I look over my shoulder and watch in fright as more people take pictures, grinning or gossiping.
CU was an interesting place.
“She’s my Queen,” Hraken calls out, “Long live the Sapphire Queen,” some of the crowd copy him as a joke and he grips the back of my hair, barbarically, as was his way, “Smile, or I’ll find reasons to make you smile.”
“Long live Celeste,” I nod at him, “and long live the Obsidian line.”
“Long live the Obsidian line,” Hraken nods, happy of my choice of words, “Long live Celeste. And by the Curse of the Stars, may she come back to you.”
Just as his words make me feel slightly more at ease, we’re interrupted abruptly by the rude man.
“Alrighty,” the officer suddenly appears with an armful of paper, “This traditional hard-copy service generally takes ten hours to complete. Enjoy. I’ll serve you water and food when you need it,” he dumps the papers onto the table. Then he turns to leave us.
I glance at Hraken with worried eyes, while his just sparkle with victory.
I then say what he is keen to do, while I am, contrastingly, terrified of the consequences.
“Let the union with Central Universe begin,” my voice trembles as I speak his new formal title, “...my King.”