The Firebird Prince

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Staring down at the unconscious Prince, Araysh almost didn’t know how to feel.

Finally, a part of him said, I can avenge you, Mother and Father.

But the other part resisted as he looked down on the boy, wiped pale and shivering even in oblivion. I am vengeful, not cruel.

What would Saiya do? Surely she was craving for revenge too--she had been so much closer to their parents. She was their favorite, their first born--they had hated Araysh with a passion, and if he wanted for justice, surely she would too?

His hand flexed convulsively around the hilt of his knife. He drew it halfway out of its sheath, then slammed it back again, turning away with a yell.

“Damn it!” he shouted to no-one. Why must I feel like this?

Then he reigned himself in. Control yourself.

He had nothing to do but wait for the Prince to wake, so he dropped to the floor, studying the boy’s face. The pills he had given him--even though they caused agony--had helped dull the effect of the poison, just enough for the Prince to be aware of his surroundings.

Araysh closed his eyes, feeling the icy breeze on his cheeks. His clothes were thin and gave little protection against the cold, but Araysh had left his jacket back at the safehouse, and he knew it would be dangerous to try and reach it until the alarm died down.

Right now he sat in an abandoned house, waiting for the signal from his boss to move to the safehouse. There was no hearth or stove to keep him warm, so Araysh drew his legs close, taking what warmth he could from himself.

In front of him, the Prince stirred. He shivered, his brows knitting together, then slowly opened his eyes. They wandered, focusing on nothing, but when Araysh shifted, they latched onto him.

He could practically see his brain processing the recent events, before they boy jerked back, pulling at his bound hands.

“You,” he said, his voice hoarse and beleaguered. “Where are my sisters?”

Immediate concern, Araysh noted. He smiled and said, “They’re fine. You, on the other hand, are not.”

Kellan clenched his jaw. “You have no limits,” he snarled, and that hit in Araysh’s heart. What have I become?

But he chuckled and said, “And you have too many.”

Kellan tried to sit up but stopped with a wince, breathing suddenly gone ragged. He closed his eyes for a second, then glared at Araysh. Bitterly, with audible hatred, he said, “Why?”

“Why?” Araysh repeated with a scornful laugh, picking up a twig from the floor. “I am just carrying out orders. There is no why.”

Kellan shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”

“I do not need you to,” Araysh said calmly, breaking the twig between his fingers. “You know, I pity you. So much suffering in your life, yet it does not come close to what lies in your future.”

“Do you tell that to every one of your enemies?”

Araysh smiled without humor. “I have no other enemy than you.”

The Prince studied him. “And why me?”

“It is my master’s will.”

“Your master?” Kellan scoffed. “He’s a coward. He hides behind you.”

Araysh laughed. “It will break you if he reveals himself.”

He let the implications hang in the air. The Prince was silent for a second, then he asked, “Why did you just not kill me? Master’s orders?”

Araysh raised an eyebrow. “What do you think? He wants to have some fun.”

Kellan scoffed again, looking away in disgust. “I figured.”

The Prince had an impressive facade in place, but Araysh sensed fear and pain.

They were both silent for a while, Kellan watching Araysh as he played with sticks and stones left on the dirty floor, his deft fingers breaking the tiny sticks cleanly into pieces.

The Prince looked up, eyes on something just over Araysh’s shoulder. “A black cat’s supposed to be bad luck, isn’t it?”

Araysh looked at him. “If you’re stupid.”

“Is a white cat good luck, then?”

Araysh frowned for a brief second, then shot to his feet, habd going to his knife as he turned and saw a white cat, softly padding inside.

“Saiya,” he said, reigning in his surprise and dismay. No wonder he hadn’t noticed—Saiya was completely silent.

How did she keep finding him?

“You have a pet?” Kellan said behind him, having the audacity to sound amused.

“I am no-one’s pet,” Nina said, changing smoothly, “least of all my brother’s.”

She scowled at Araysh. “Why on earth do you have the Prince tied up like your prisoner?”

Araysh let out a long, annoyed breath. He crossed his arms. “It’s none of your business.”

Nina scoffed. “None of my business? He’s the future King, Araysh. What do you even think you’re doing?”

“Araysh,” Kellan said softly, and Araysh cursed Nina mentally. “Your sister doesn’t know you’re an assassin, does she?”

Nina looked almost shocked. “Thank you for informing her,” Araysh said flatly.

“You’re very welcome,” Kellan said, Prince Charming all through.

“Assassin,” Nina said, just as flat as Araysh. She grit her teeth. “The King’s death was you, was it not?”

“The Queen’s as well,” Kellan added helpfully, with no trace of bitterness. He was good at acting.

Aryash huffed a laugh. “I was not responsible for her death.”

“Then why—”

“Intimidation,” Nina said shortly. “He could not have killed her. He was—”

“I was nine,” Araysh said. “Eleven years ago.”

“And do you expect that to make me hate you less?”

Araysh laughed. “When will you understand,” he said, giving a lazy smirk, “that I really do not care about you think?”

Nina grabbed his arm. “Araysh,” she said sharply. “Release the Prince at once.”

“I would appreciate that,” Kellan agreed. Both Nina and Araysh rolled their eyes.

“I will not,” Araysh said.

Nina gave him a look. “For God’s sake, Araysh. He spared your life. You were always a bad apple, but treason?”

Araysh looked away, mouth set in an angry line. “Blast you, Nina. I had good reason.”

Nina scoffed. “What’s your reason? That he—”

“Nina,” Araysh said sharply, silencing her. “Be silent.”

She glared at him.

Behind them, Kellan said, “I can leave, if you want...”

Nina gave him a once over. “Are you ill?”

Kellan laughed. “Didn’t you hear? Your dear brother stabbed me, then posioned me, and whatnot. But don’t you worry, lovely.”

Nina ignored him and pulled Araysh towards her. Quietly, she said, “Have you gone entirely mad? Killing the King? Kidnapping the Prince? After trying to kill him, too? All this for—for what?”

“What do you think?” Araysh hissed, jerking his arm our of her grip.

“Revenge?” sha said. “Are you pretending that you’re not happy Mother and Father died?”

Araysh tried not to flinch and failed. “How dare you?” he asked, hurt and trying not to show it. “You think I would rejoice over our parents’ death?”

"My parents didn’t love you in the least,” Nina said hotly, and Araysh looked away. Why must you twist the knife like this?

“Do you love them, Araysh?” Nina asked. “Are you grieving for them?”

“They’re my parents,” Araysh said, and forcing out the words was suddenly hard. Damn me, I love them.

“Then why,” Nina said with a harsh shove, “did you leave, Araysh?”

“I did not want to spend my like in abuse, Nina,” Araysh said, an ache rising in his chest. “I had to leave.”

“Abuse?” Nina said incredulously. “You would accuse them of abuse?”

Araysh could not bring himself to say anything. His mouth was dry, heart beating fast. Don’t, he silently pleaded Nina, don’t make me remember that time again.

He swallowed, tasting ash, and said, “I am not lying.” He barely had time to comprehend the hate on his sister’s fave before her fist came swinging at him. He caught it only because of reflex, hand tight around her wrist as he lowered her arm.

“Don’t,” he said, and damn it, it came out cold.

“God, Araysh,” Nina said in pure disgust, trying to wench free. “I am seriously considering just handing you over to the Royals and let them do what they want to you.”

Araysh’s grip on her wrist grew tight enough to be crushing. Why do hate me so much? he wanted to ask. Is there any chance left for us? Will you give it to me? Just once?

“I’m your brother,” he said, hating how he sounded beseeching.

“No,” Nina said, and Araysh flinched, hand falling away. “I have nothing to do with you now.”

For a breathless moment, Araysh thought she was joking. But as the weight of her words settled into his bones, he took a step back, allowing himself only a second of hurt shock, before he forced an unaffected look onto his face that he wasn’t entirely sure would fool.

“Get out of my sight,” Nina said. “Leave, or I will fight you.”

Araysh’s hands curled into fists. Why did her every word hurt? Why did his mantras—I do not care, I do not care—always break when he needed them most? Why was he the one hated—by his parents, by his own sister, by the entire world?

He was supposed to be the boy with heart of stone, but it seemed like he had let it become glass.

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