Something was happening today.
I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. Raja hadn’t mentioned any event; in fact, there was hardly ever a reason to celebrate in his reclusive kingdom. He’d been busy ever since I had been kidnapped, trying to track down the mastermind behind the exploit.
Because of this, I saw less and less of Raja during the day. If I did see him, it was only at night, and it was only for a scarce hour. An hour we would spend talking to each other, living as though we were the only ones in the palace.
I spent most of my days with Saira and Chandra, helping them throughout the palace and assisting Chandra with the chores that she was unable to do ( or clean places that she was too short to reach to).
Sometimes, I would catch Saira fondly gazing at her daughter as we worked together, especially whenever Chandra worked with me. Her prideful, orange eyes and tight scaley lips would pull warmly whenever Chandra bust with excitement, running around with a wet rag in her hand.
It still confused me as to who Chandra’s father was, but I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t my business. Saira was already tight-lipped as it was; I didn’t want to pry into her personal life.
“I think I would have been better off with just my mother,” I grumbled to myself, studying the task Saira had given me to complete. When I first came to her, asking her for a job in the palace, she was hesitant. But when I told her that I wanted to do so, and that I’d take personal blame if Raja found out, she gave me the task of cleaning the floors of the entrance to the palace.
Apparently, the carpet placed at the entryway covers a what used to be a shiny, ballroom floor. When the ballroom was moved closer to the South Tower, Raja had covered the old tiles with red carpets.
Now, centuries later, Saira decided to change the palace’s look, starting with removing the carpet by the doors and cleaning the tiles.
It took me a good hour or so just to rip the carpet seams out of the floor, but then I had to scrub them with soap and water, as Saira didn’t go to the human markets, and Mukhauta barely had any cleaning supplies in stock.
“Why me? Why do you have to open your fucking mouth, huh, Radha? Good job. Now you’re Cinderella,” I grumbled to myself, kneeling on the ground. The tiles, for the most part, were in good condition, minus the cracks in the edges and the plethora of dust.
The tiles were a creamy pink color, like a newborn baby girl’s blanket. Saira wanted them shiny and clean, ready to welcome the next visitor.
And so, here I was.
“Of course, she gives me the hardest job,” I muttered, dropping the ripped rag Saira had given me into the bucket. The fabric floated to the top of the bucket, soaking and collecting the soapy water I had made a couple of hours ago.
“It doesn’t help that 1: I have no fucking clue when it’s night or day. 2. I’m doing this on my own. 3. I’m doing this for a visitor, which Raja said only happens every other century. Wonderful.” Sarcasm laced in my tone and I slammed the rag against the floor, the chandelier wavering slightly above me.
“Welp, won’t be doing that again,” I said. I bent to a crawl, scrubbing a large tile. “What is this even for anyway? And why today? It’s fucking Friday! Who cleans on Friday?”
I sighed, lifting myself up to my knees. I dumped the rag inside the bucket again, the cool water seeping into my fingers against the burning rays of the sun. I closed my eyes, the sensation flowing through my veins.
“Ah, that felt good,” I murmured, ripping my hand out of the water. “But I need to finish this. Saira said it had to be done today, and I’m not one to be late.”
I guess living with a punctual dad who always punished me whenever I was late drove me to scrub harder, my attempt at being clean and organized flying out the window (which was ironic, since there were no windows in the entry). I was still unsure as to why exactly we were cleaning, but questioning Saira whenever she was in the middle of cooking was never a good idea, so I was stuck with my random, aimless thoughts.
It was only a few nights since Raja had taken me up to the South Tower; since I had seen the handsome young prince that he once was, since I saw the broken mask controlling his life. Now I knew the seriousness of his curse, of his old lover. Whatever happened to them, he unwillingly paid the price. His mistake not only cost him his family, but also everything he had grown accustomed to, even his own body.
Even though I couldn’t see Raja’s face now, I knew his body structure (with clothes on). He was basically a producer’s dream actor, minus the blue skin. Not gonna lie, though, I think he looks good with blue skin. Reminds me of Krishna, which reminds me, of...my Mom.
I shook my head, scrubbing furiously on the next square. The soap floated along the now sparkling tile, my tired reflection gazing back at me. Anger at the pain Raja had been through burned hotly in me, fueling me. He’d made a mistake; why was he paying a hefty price for it? Sure, I wasn’t alive in the age that he was, but I doubted that a curse was a murder punishment.
I pushed the loose strands of hair out of my face, licking my lips. Sweat trickled down my neck and the slope of my back, sticking on my neck and along my cheeks. How long had it been since I had worked up a sweat like this?
Something clashed in the kitchen, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. Many of times, it was only Saira trying out a new recipe. Coincidentally enough, those were the days that Damien skipped dinner.
“Damn. My back’s going to be sore after this,” I mumbled, pressing my lips together to keep gaping at the state of the floor. It wasn’t as dirty as I had expected it to be, but the grime and leftovers of who knows what still sent a shiver up my spine. My Mom definitely wouldn’t have allowed this, not in our house. Then again, Saira was the only woman in the house before I came. Leave one girl and three men alone in a house, and the place will most likely resemble a dumpster in a month or less.
“How is it going, Radha?” Saira’s inquisitive voice carried to my ears.
I looked up, catching her creamy, orange colored eyes. Her pointed irises narrowed at me, her forked tongue hissing from her lips, and I nodded, wiping a sheet of sweat from my forehead.
“It’s going good, so far. I think I have about 3/4 of the floor done. I should be finished in another hour or so,” I said, puffing slightly. Cleaning took a lot of time, patience, and effort. It didn’t help that my anger at Raja’s punishment fueled my scrubbing, whatever the deed was.
Saira raised an eyebrow, amused. “Ah, I can tell. You work diligently, Radha, I’ll give you that.” She reclined against the pillar by the kitchen entrance. “Do you think that is the only quality a woman should have?”
“The ability to clean, cook, and bear children. Is that the only ability a woman needs to be considered worthy?” Saira repeated.
“Worthy of what?” I asked, unable to hide the bitter note on my tongue.
“Worthy of being considered not only a good woman, but a housewife and a member of society,” Saira explained briefly, her tongue flickering in and out of her mouth.
I paused, sitting on my knees. The soap dripped on the tattered dress I was wearing, a dress Saira had given me to wear so that I woulnd’t get my clothes dirty. “I don’t think that those are the only qualities that make women a worthy member of society.”
“Oh? Then pray, tell me, what does?” Saira hissed, her tail twitching behind her. Something crashed in the kitchen again, but I ignored it, planning out my answer in my head.
“Well, obviously, intelligence,” I began. “Many women in Mukhuata are illiterates, and that irritates me. We have the ability to learn, too. Why men can’t see that, I have no idea.” I clenched my jaw. “Actually, everybody is worthy to be considered a member of society. It’s up to us if we can look past the illusions of their body and see their real face inside the mask they wear.”
“Exactly!” Saira snapped her fingers, her claws giving the action a more pronounced sound, the echo vibrating in my ears. “That is just the answer I was looking for, if not, and even better answer!” She was grinning, her long, scaley lips pulled and her eyes glowing.
“Okay then...you’re welcome, I guess,” I mumbled, her stillness frightening me. Wasn’t it when a snake was silent, that they were about to pounce? I had yet to gauge Saira’s reactions to things, but her fixed position intimidated me into moving a few paces closer to the door of the washroom.
“Ah, I apologize. I...lost myself for a second,” she said, snapping herself out of the haze she had brought herself into. Her claws rapped against her hands and I gulped, nodding.
“N-No problem. I-I needed to clean this side anyway,” I assured, pressing down on my pounding heart. I hoped snakes couldn’t hear their prey’s heartbeat.
Saira smiled again, slithering towards me. Her tail rattled against the tiles, a sound reminiscent of something I had heard before, but once again, I found myself drawing blanks. It certainly wasn’t a rattle toy; my Dad had absolutely refused to give me one for the noise reasons.
“What time is it?” I asked, changing the topic before she could give me another metaphor to answer or analyze. I finished school for a reason, and that reason wasn’t to sit back with a nagani and answer her college-level reading questions.
Saira’s head slowly inclined towards the doors, towards the tiny cracks underneath the wood. She turned back to me, having all the time in the world to answer.
“It’s nearly nightfall, which means that we must get you ready now,” she whispered.
I raised my eyebrow. “We?” I asked, still trying to understand how she knew it was already night. The again, she had been here for centuries. She, and the others in the palace, probably already had their bodies adjusted to the time.
“Yes, we,” Saira affirmed, though she didn’t specify. She lifted me up by my arm, rushing me towards my room. The rag fell from my grasp, dropping with a splat onto the now majorly cleaned floor.
My mind was struggling to keep up with Saira as she whisked me into the bedroom, slamming the door shut with her tail. She pulled me forcefully into the shower (not that she needed to) and made me quickly wash myself.
Now, I don’t usually like being rushed in the shower, but based off Saira’s narrowed, reptilian eyes and her flexing claws, I hurried to complete my task. She was nice, sure, but she was also terrifying! Especially with that malicious grin that pulled on her lips whenever she had an idea.
By the time I was out of the shower, Chandra was already in my bathroom, helping her mother as they pulled me (with my towel still wrapped around my body) into the main room, seating me on my vanity.
Together, mother and daughter pulled at the dark blackish/brown locks of my hair, the tendrils coiled around my head. I could feel strands of my hair tickle my ears, curling at my cheeks. Saira hardly gave me a chance to see my hair in the mirror before she was dragging me to the closet, all the while keeping silent.
Chandra had left by then. How that kid slipped in and out without me noticing her, I had no idea, but I wasn’t complaining. Having two threating eyes was enough; I didn’t need four of them!
The outfit that Saira chose for me to wear was actually really beautiful, a vast contrast to anything my ex-best friend Cora would have chosen. The one Cora would have picked would have most definitely been revealing, black, and lacy.
The dress Saira was holding was a beautiful red sari with gold embroidery and a little dip on the chest. The odhani was sparkly and red, matching the aesthetic of the gown.
It was gorgeous.
She helped me put it on, clipping the odhani on my hair. I felt as though I was getting married, which caused a blush to stain my cheeks, heat crawling up my neck. I wasn’t getting married, I knew that. Yet, I couldn’t help but wish I was; wish I was getting ready to take my seven steps around the fire and have rice thrown on me and my beloved.
But who would the groom be?
The abrupt question caused me to bite down hard on my lip, almost breaking off the tube of rosy red lipstick that Saira was applying to my lips. She glared at me, and I chuckled sheepishly, shrugging.
All in all, whatever Saira was preparing me for too a whopping two hours to complete! Two hours just to shower me, change me, and put make up on me. (I kind of sound entitled, but to be fair, I could have done this on my own in thirty minutes).
The eyeliner stuck to my eye uncomfortably, and just when I was about to question Saira as to why I was dressed like I was going to a party, she turned me towards the mirror.
My jaw dropped.
Was this me? Was this the bakrer girl? The one who had just been scrubbing the floors as if she was Cinderella?
My hair was plaited in a crown around my head, my bangs dropping against the side of my head. Curly locks carressed my bare shoulders, the place where the blouse Saira gave me didn’t cover. The red on my lips popped out my eyes, as well as the dark eyeliner drawn along the corner of my eyes. Luckily, she didn’t put any mascara on me, a relief to my soul.
I took a step away from the mirror, trying not to tear up. My mouth opened and closed like a fish gaping on land, shocked. I turned towards Saira, who was grinning mischievously.
“Do you like it?” She asked, her voice soft and velvety.
“Like it? Are you sure this is me?” I exclaimed, tentativley touching my cheek.
She smiled. “I assure you, Radha. That is you.” She took my arm. “Now come. He will be expecting you.”
“He?” I asked, watching Saira as she led me towards the door. “Who’s he?”
“Me,” a dark, rich voice murmured in my ear, a hand cupping over my eyes. His breath fanned my skin, sending a flurry of shivers up my spine. I licked my lips, swallowing thickly.
“R-Raja?” I questioned, the name stumbling on my tongue.
Raja laughed, the sound low and husky. “Yes, Radha. It is me. Do not worry,” he said calmly.
I nodded dumbly, his bulky arm wrapped around my waist, my body slipping comfortably against his chest. It reminded me of when we were in the woods; his strong, cedar scent circling my body.
“W-Where are we going?” I stammered, my sense of confidence thrown out the window. His seductive words reverberated in my ear, in my mind, shattering in my heart.
Raja chuckled, as if he knew the effect his voice had on me. “Somewhere special.” He answered vaguely, his body warm against mine. It was then that I realized something:
He was shirtless.
Now, I had felt Raja shirtless before; hell, he had been shirtless on the night we first met! But now, in this intimate, quiet atmosphere that had been created, his muscular body against mine made me feel warm, sensitive. It was a new feeling, but it was also a pleasurable feeling; his hands on me, on my skin. I didn’t want it to go.
“I can’t see anything, you know,” I said shakily, my bravado evaporating in my throat.
“I know. It would ruin the surprise if you did,” Raja replied swiftly. However, he did remove his hand from my eyes, and for what seemed to be the hundredth time that day, I gasped, in awe.
The place he had led me to happened to be an enormous ballroom, a near perfect replica of any movie’s version (minus the multiple chandeliers). The walls were a dark gold color, covered in golden lamps dripping with a rainbow of jewels. The floor was a glimmering cream and pink color, just like the entry to the palace.
A few instruments stood idly in the corner of the room, but I paid no heed to them, directing my attention once again to Raja. I couldn’t see his face, but I was sure that he was smirking. He seemed like the type of guy who would smirk at rendering a girl speechless.
“Well? Do you like it?” He asked, his voice not once missing a beat. This Raja wasn’t nervous and shy, not like the first night we met. No, he was confident and dominating, his voice firm, and slightly sultry.
I barely managed a nod, my insides on fire. “Y-Yes. It’s beautiful...”
He hummed. “Just like you are,” he said. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that his eyes were running over my body. Somehow, it didn’t bother me, not how it bothered me when Gabriel did it. I enjoyed Raja’s attention, his touch, his voice.
The new feeling inside of me burned hotly in my heart, like a newborn candle, but Raja whisked me into a dance before I could grab hold onto the wick.
His claws dug gently into my hips, pleasure shooting like fireworks inside of me. I licked my lips, resting my hands on his chest, his muscles rippling under my fingertips. Music vibrated in my ear, and I offhandedly assumed that it was magic. Demons, nagani’s, shapeshifters; what else was new?
“Are you alright? You are silent,” Raja asked quietly, swaying gently to the soft rhythm with me.
“Yes. I’m just...enjoying this,” I replied, my voice equally as soft, if not, softer.
Raja smiled, his lips pulling ever so slightly; his fangs glittering in the candlelight. His mouth, depending on the angle, was the only part of his face that wasn’t hidden when he wore his hood.
“I’m glad,” he said, his hard palm cupping my cheek. “I wanted to make it up to you; I haven’t been as attentive as I should have these past few days. I...I had to think, and I needed to work, but tonight, right here, right now, I’m all yours.” Instinctivley, I looked up just as he bent down, our lips a inches away from kissing.
I licked the edges of my mouth, and I’m not sure if he took that as an invitation or not, but he leaned closer to me, his hand tightening on my cheek—
and kissed me.
I wasn’t expecting Raja to kiss me (despite my mind previously screaming at him to do so). After his reluctance to find another after his initial relationship failed, and the amount of inner pressure I could see fizzing inside of him, I wasn’t too sure what to think when he did kiss me.
His lips molded with mine and my knees immediately buckled. Raja chuckled, his arm wrapping firmer around my waist, our hips pressed together. Desire pressed against my core, and without another thought towards Raja’s relutcnace days before, I kissed him back, pushing my lips against his.
It was a battle for dominance, but Raja easily won, despite giving me a fighting chance. He cupped my cheek, his claw dragging along my jawline. A soft moan escaped my lips and he growled, his dark tongue licking my mouth. A squeak left me, and he huffed a chuckle again, returning to our kiss.
Kissing Raja was like feeling water enter your mouth on a scalding summer day. His mouth fit against mine, as though we were crafted specifically for each other. I couldn’t compete with him and his persistent lips, so I let him take command, his fingers tugging at the strings holding my dress together. I knew it was his way to stay grounded, though.
I, however, was having difficulty controlling my sounds. Moans slipped from my lips whenever a small gap was forced in between us. I was certain that my cheeks were red, my body overheated. I was practically leaning on Raja for support, one he gladly gave.
He tasted like raspberries; raspberries and strawberries, sweet and delicious. I don’t know what he thought I tasted like, but I knew from the moment that he kissed me, that I had entered heaven. Heaven,and I didn’t want to leave it for the world.
At some point, we broke away from each other, a string of saliva gripping onto our lips poorly. For a while, we just looked at each other, realization of what had just happened computing in our minds. I knew Raja had understood what he had just done when he stepped away from me, his hands still on my hips, but his desire no longer pressed against me.
I nearly whimpered at the loss, stopping myself at the last second. Sure, he had kissed me, but was he okay with it? Did he act on impulse? Did he not want to do it again? Cause I sure did!
“Was that okay?” He murmured, licking his dark lips.
I giggled, reaching up to thumb my lipstick off his lips. “Yes, that was better than okay.”
He smiled, swinging me into his arms suddenly. I laughed, gripping onto his shoulders.
“Good, because I don’t intend to stop.”