It’s a morning reception for the King’s welcome and Zarcar has left early to help with preparations. He had departed in his black robe and hood, telling me to wear something simple and not too eye-grabbing. The underlying emotion he portrayed while stating that, left me smiling.
Holden was now escorting me to the official and public welcome. I was wearing a gold dress, a gold moon necklace and gold ribbons along my arms. The dress is long enough to disguise my bare feet. My hair is pulled back with clips to keep it somewhat neat in presentation.
“When it’s requested you will approach and do what Zarcar taught you last night,” Holden repeats this for the thousandth time this morning as we navigate the city streets to Swendula’s Red Castle and its famous Red Courtyard. The courtyard was probably bigger than the castle itself. The main royal residence for the reigning politicians – or in this case, now a King – was the Red Castle. It was far, far away on the other side of the city. Holden and I had taken a carriage until we realised it would be quicker to get there on foot since the crowd making their way there was massive and too dense.
“I am very well aware of what to do, Holden,” I keep my hand in the crook of his elbow as he leads me along the last paved street lining the beautiful rose bushes which marked the perimeter of the huge Red Courtyard.
Beyond the thick rose bushes we could hear the formal welcome of the King being well received. Mostly by his culture, no doubt.
Holden takes me through the crowded garden entrance, shoving past all sorts of civilians, rich and poor that had gathered in the huge space.
In the courtyard of perfectly manicured red roses, there were two large columns where rows upon rows of chairs were set and filled. A walkway down the middle, led to the simple throne seating the Immortal King Rey. To his right is Zarcar, dressed in that intimidating black robe. Rey is dressed in a black suit with white ruffles at this collar. It’s fancy but it suits his clean cut face. Aside from the black curls and those piercing silver eyes that stabbed anything he looked upon… he was well presented, like a human. Except I knew he wasn’t such if he drank the blood of mortals. I also notice Rey has no crown adorning his perfectly jet black hair.
Holden finally sighs in relief when he finds the place to escort me to, on the edge of the crowd at the back in a corner of the Red Courtyard. I see army soldiers dressed in formal black and purple uniforms, standing around a well dressed, very thin, Lixar. The small clothes were still too loose on him, and his crazy hazel eyes and patchy bald head didn’t exactly fit in well with the formal look. Lixar’s eyes run over me with vague interest and confusion at what I’m wearing. Next to him, is a woman I almost don’t recognise.
Red glowing eyes set in a pretty made up face, with her dusty brown hair neatly braided. Andoll looked like a demonic doll, in a too tight grey-blue dress. It had a corset attached and she looked just as angry in it as Lixar did in his own suit.
Holden releases me near these two while Andoll watches me like she might just try and eat me alive. Lixar pretends to be disinterested now that I’m close by.
“Walk up,” Holden whispers to all of us, “Kneel. Submit. Rise. Easy, right?”
“You would know. Those words are sweet, sweet music spilling out the mouth of a fallen, disgraced prince,” Lixar huskily growls out the response with a little bit of a smirk.
I turn to Holden to see him blushing bright red.
“Sh-shut it, Lix,” Holden hisses quietly while nervously pushing his hair back.
I catch Holden’s cute skittering gaze, so I kiss my hand and press it to his cheek, shocking him enough into stillness.
“Another curse?” Holden asks me, embarrassed by Lixar’s reveal of his secret identity.
A prince? I wasn’t surprised as Holden had a posh way about him.
“For luck, so you might kill the one who took your place,” I reply slyly with a small smile and Holden almost instantly slaps a hand over my mouth, eyes wide.
“I want everyone to rise and witness my final surprise,” I hear Rey’s dreaded voice call out, carrying across crowd, just like music on the wind – towards our locale, “Let us witness my very own, young and budding - Venatores.”
As people stop their bird-like whispering, they gasp instead.
Lixar lets out a growled laugh while Andoll walks forward first, hissing at me like a snake as she strolls down the walk way towards Rey.
“Ah, the Split Soul,” Rey drawls his welcome to Andoll as she walks to the front.
I witness the crowd watch her in horrified amazement. Every step she takes to the King is monitored by the public. It’s somewhat terrifying to know I’ll soon be next under the scrutinising eye of so many.
“…my turn,” Lixar murmurs to himself and raises his weak head to glance at me. Not a smile or a frown on his hollow face, just an empty stare full of secrets like Zarcar. I watch as Lix limps forward, slow paced.
“One very fearsome Mystifyer,” Rey chuckles mockingly while Lixar approaches with small strides from his weak legs, “…no time for shuffling, Lixar, hurry up!” Rey impatiently waits for Lixar to finish his trek under the gaze of the people, and I wait with baited breath for my turn, “Finally,” Rey hisses the word as Lix stands by Andoll, and the King now drawls, “Last to complete the Venatores, but definitely not least…”
Holden nudges me in the back and I look over my shoulder to see the ex-prince watching me with stern eyes.
Just walk forward. Kneel. Submit. Rise.
I keep my gaze down and walk to the middle path between the crowd, bunching my fists into the brilliant gold of my dress. I slowly raise my head and I see Zarcar is standing with Andoll and Lixar now too. My captor watches me approach with the eyes of a hunter – scanning the crowd as if he might lunge forward to protect me if someone tried anything funny.
“The Draconess,” Rey drawls out and I watch the people’s gazes turn hard with recognition.
These people know what a Draconess is and does. It makes me uncomfortable they know more about it than I do. Thanks, Zarcar. I glare at my Warlord now and I know he is fully aware of my frustration. He gives me a slight nod – bare with it, he says to me through that look.
More protecting. I nod slowly back at him. Then, I see Andoll turning to smirk at me and Lixar watching me over his shoulder with thin lips.
Lastly, I dare to meet Rey’s forever haunting silver eyes; like the moon. The Immortal King is assessing me closely, as if I’m the treasure he’s always been searching for. Not to mention I’m walking right into his palm with no knowledge about what would become of my future.
What a great start.
I glide to Zarcar’s side and Rey takes a seat at his throne.
“Kneel,” Zarcar murmurs at me and I fall to my knees beside him. When I do that, I’m surprise to see Lixar and Andoll copy me.
“How pleasant,” Rey speaks quietly now, “Andoll,” murmuring under his breath, she scuttles forward on all fours to his feet and kisses his shoes. He laughs and tells her to, “Rise,” with amusement. She flits to her feet and jumps backwards to hide behind Zarcar, “Zar, Lix… you both together,” Rey motions them forward and I watch as the cousins hesitate, glance at one another and then step forward together.
“Why would I kneel for you?” Lix growls low, only for the King to hear.
“Because I’m about to give you everything you could ever want, Mystifyer,” Rey is unfazed, “A residence, permanent immunity from imprisonment, a job at training my Draconess to unleash her full power and you can eat whoever you want.”
“By your hand you swear it?” Lixar asks, so quietly I almost don’t pick up on it.
“By my hand,” Rey growls out and nods to his feet, “Kneel.” Lixar and Zarcar both drop to their knees and Rey watches in quiet delight as they put their foreheads to his fancy booted black feet. Lixar does it hesitantly and seems to let out a breath of relief when Rey puts his hand on the back of his neck, “You have my hand and my word. It’s done. Rise.” Zarcar and Lixar both stand up and Rey nods to his best Warlord, “Time to see if you trained my little Slave Queen for perfect obedience.”
“You’ll not find disappointment, my King,” Zarcar drawls this confidently back.
It irks me for a second but I remember to keep my head bowed.
Zar and Lix come to stand behind me with a suddenly very patient and quiet Andoll.
“Chyronex,” Rey drawls my name and I wait for him to ask me to crawl like Andoll, “Rise,” I suck in a breath and slowly stand up, as gracefully as possible. I look up and meet the King’s death gaze, seeping that cold end, now that we are so close again, I feel the full force of that iced, chilled gaze, “You know what to do,” Rey locks his jaw as if he is just waiting for me to start defying.
Could he read my heart’s desire?
I walk forward, pushing past my instincts to run.
I take one step, another… three more… and as I reach his knees, I slowly start to drop.
I keep my eyes on Rey’s hands, my eyes drawn there. As if… as if…
My heart starts beating out of my chest just before one of those hands flies out to snatch my throat before I can drop to my knees completely. He reels me closer to him like he just caught a fish out of water.
Rey doesn’t smile as he leans forward, chocking me with sharp nails, like claws, it’s deeply bruising to the soft skin around my neck.
I cough a little and Rey keeps leaning toward me, as if he’s about to rip my throat out. He simply hovers his icy red lips before mine, waiting for me to suck in a breath. When I choke in air, his icy exhale flows into my mouth and my nostrils.
My eyes roll back into my head as I feel something inside me stir awake.
I’ll kill everyone you love if you step out of line. Even for a moment. One word. One blink. One wrong move and you’ll be taught the consequences that can only come from a King to his Slave Queen. The monster Rey snarls to within me, doesn’t talk back; but it does growl and snarl just as ferociously, fangs I can’t see but feel, are dripping with heavy saliva. Hunger. The demon was hungry inside me. And utterly enraged. It was scraping and clawing to get out, to be released, but Rey just cuts off more of my air supply so that it abruptly stops challenging him…Now listen closely! If you obey me, Draconess, you’ll be the Queen you’ve always deserved to be and so much more… I don’t plan on weakening your precious Venatores, you see, but I plan on empowering you all to full measure. You’ll lead the Venatores but the Venatores is mine to command. The monster inside me tastes the strange truth on his tongue and when it does not respond, Rey releases me. I gasp in air as I fall at his feet.
“Kneel,” Rey’s command couldn’t be colder, “And say thank you to your King for allowing you to be awakened.”
“…t-thank you… my… my…” Rey lets out a growl of warning as I have to force out the word, “King…” the sentence passes through teeth that I grit so hard together I think they’ll crack, “…for allowing… allowing me to be… awakened…”
For what, I had no idea.
“Rise,” the last drawled word contained so much spite yet also spoke of finality.
It was the end of our horrible interaction.
“Chyronex,” Zarcar murmurs from somewhere behind me and I stand, backing up to stand with him, not turning my back on the Immortal King. My slow pace is fixated on by Rey’s silver, black veined eyes, and he finally smiles.
“Well done, Warlord Zarcar,” Rey’s eyes light up with a bit more clarity as he catches Zarcar’s contrasting black eyes to his silver ones, “I expect to see you around while I firm up my hand over Swendula’s citizens – which I intend to protect,” Rey raises his voice for all to hear, “All I expect is obedience and you will not regret serving me, my army and my Venatores. I think this formal introduction is over. Dismissed.”
I’m left with my throat sore and bruised, my hand brushing over the tender skin.
As I stand there, in shock, there is a burst of conversation that erupts from the excited crowd.
I’m in deep thought as Zarcar leans in suddenly to press a kiss to my neck. Breathing out warm, healing air and a spell – it kisses my hurt away.
I relax and don’t dare to pull away from Zar, as he slings an arm around my waist to pull me in closely. It looks like a loose move, but his hand on my hip is crushing it, showing his real worry.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Zarcar murmurs into my hair and turns me from Rey finally, who has already strolled from his throne as if the seat bores him unless it’s being used for a purpose.
I watch as Lixar skulks away from us and so does Andoll.
“Where are they going?” I ask, quietly.
“Andoll has chores, Lixar can’t stand me… do not worry, we’ll see them soon,” Zarcar sighs deeply in frustration, “You did well, Chyronex, very well.”
“Am I a free resident of Swendula again?” I ask, “Now that I have submitted… to Rey.”
“I have strict instructions to keep you in your tower, except for formal events,” Zarcar murmurs low, “I will return you there now.”
“I will go with Holden,” I pull out of Zar’s grasp on my waist and he allows me to back away for a moment, aware he has plenty of other things to attend to.
Zarcar eventually nods to me and then calls Holden over. I meet Holden half way and I don’t grab onto his offered arm this time.
I don’t speak, I just walk beside him. The last thing I wanted to do was lean on another man right now.
After Rey had summoned something inside me… that monster… I had felt an increasing desire to fight. However, my adrenaline was quickly waning and I was exhausted and confused.
I can’t keep thinking the same questions over and over and over again, racing through my frightened and confused mind.
What in the Moon …
What was that monster inside my soul, bound to me?
What kind of power was that?
Most importantly; what the hell was this monster capable of?