The Firebird Prince

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Asa went immediately suspicious (how did he know?), but Nico barely glanced at her and raised his eyebrows and held up the bottle he held.

Arkan took it from him. “Are you sure this is the cure?”

“Where did you get this?” Asa asked, accusatory.

Nico reached in his pocket and took out a folded sheet of paper. “This is an anonymous tip,” he said. “It’s unsigned, but it says that it’s from an ally.” He handed to Arkan. Asa leaned in to read.

Give this to Prince Kellan. It will help him recover.

From your secret ally.

“How are we supposed to trust this?” Arkan said.

“And how did you know something was wrong with Kellan?” Asa demanded.

“I read the note first. ‘It will help him recover?’ Told me something was wrong. Then I saw him here. Do you understand, Princess Asa?”

Asa huffed, feeling stupid, then snatched the bottle and examined it. It was filled with a clear liquid, almost like water but much thicker.

“I think it’s worth trying,” Zara said. “Maybe this is just good luck. Good things do happen.”

“Not in my experience,” Asa muttered to herself. “But we have no choice. Let’s go.”

They started to walk, but then Asa stopped and rounded on Nico. “If this backfires,” she said dangerously, furious and trying not to hope, “It’ll be you who takes the punishment. And you’re not welcome, so stay away.”

Nico rolled his eyes, then spun on his heels and strode away.

“He’s so--” Asa struggled for a word, then scoffed and stalked into Kellan’s room, where the guards had already taken him.

“Oh, I hope this works,” Zara said, as Asa sat on the bed and carefully unscrewed the bottle. She put one hand under Kellan’s head and lifted it, lifting the bottle to his lips.

“Here goes,” she said. “Carefully...”

She tipped the bottle up, hyper-aware of Zara and Arkan watching her closely. Some of the liquid trickled down Kellan’s chin, but she managed to make him drink the rest. Reflexively, he swallowed, and Asa sat back, anticipation making her heart pound.

At first, there was no visible change. Then, slowly, Kellan stirred and his expression eased.

“I think it’s working,” Zara said excitedly.

Kellan stirred again, but just as it seemed like he was going to open his eyes, he went still again.

“Damnit,” Asa muttered, but then as she checked his pulse, she realised he was only asleep, his heart beating steadily.

“He’s sleeping,” she said. “I think he’s going to be okay.”

Arkan released a breath.

“I’ll stay with him,” Asa said. “You go and get some rest yourselves.”

“Call me as soon as he wakes up, okay?” Zara said, and Asa gave a reassuring smile.

“Will do, Zara.”

It was a while before Kellan woke up, but as he shifted, Asa bolted upright--she’d nearly fallen asleep.

“Thank God,” she said softly, releasing a long breath.

“Kellan?” she said.

Something was wrong. His eyes were moving rapidly under his eyelids, and his breathing grew unsteady by the second.

“Kellan?” she said again, more urgently.

At that, he woke with a start, shouting, “Father!”

He started to sit up, eyes wide and breathing hard, but Asa put her hand on his shoulder to keep him down and said, “Kellan, calm down. I’m here.”

His brow furrowed and he looked to Asa, struggling to focus on her. “Asa?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, patting his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

He looked around in confusion, before saying, “Where...where am I?”

“In your room, Kellan,” she said, puzzled by his disorientation.

“Where’s Father?”

She flinched, before stammering, “Kellan, he’s--he’s dead.”

“What?” he asked, so thoroughly confused that he almost sounded like a child. “No. That can’t be right.” he was starting to panic. “I saw him! he was right here, he--” He cut off suddenly, eyes growing wide. “He was hurt! He was--we have to help him--”

“Kellan,” Asa cut in, swallowing hard. “It was just a dream.”

He struggled to speak, before falling silent, frowning heavily.

“You were poisoned,” Asa said. “Remember?”

After a while, he deflated, turning his face away and closing his eyes.

“Bad dream?” Asa asked softly.

“Yeah,” he said, but then fell silent again.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said, suddenly finding herself teary-eyed.

It must have shown in her voice, because turned to her and clasped her hand. “Don’t cry,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Asa said with a relieved laugh. “Nothing’s wrong at all.”

Then Zara and Arkan came in, and Asa could practically feel them brighten, before Zara climbed onto the bed and without preamble, aggressively hugged Kellan. “You almost died,” she said tearfully. “Never do that to me, again.”

Kellan hugged her back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, before he smiled and said, “I make no promises.” Both of them laughed, and Kellan added, “Now let me breathe?”

“Right, sorry,” Zara said, backing off. She wiped her eyes, grinning.

Kellan looked to Arkan. “Hey.”

“Kellan,” he said, an odd expression on his face. “Glad to see you’re okay, brother.”

If Kellan was surprised by that term--Asa certainly was, and by her expression, Zara was too--he gave no indication, only smiled. “Thank you.”

Asa helped him sit up. “You’re still weak, Kellan,” she said. “Take it easy.”

He laughed, then winced. “I intend to.”

His smiles felt wrong, his laughs false. Quietly, Asa asked him, “Are you okay?”

Of course,” he said dismissively, and she frowned. Why wouldn’t he just admit to not being fine? It wasn’t as if they would hurt him for it.

Then she told herself not to be ridiculous. If Kellan wanted to keep his discomfort to himself, she had to respect that. She just hoped that when he needed help, he would as for it.

“We’ll leave you to rest, okay?” she said, feeling guilty sas she thought about earlier, when he’d wanted to rest (and be alone, God knew he would have wanted that) but Asa and Zara hadn’t let him.

“Okay,” he said quietly.

“Get well soon, alright?” Zara said, hugging him again, albeit more gently. “I want the old Kellan back.”

Something flickered in his eyes, but he smiled and said, “I’ll try, Zars.”

Asa squeezed his hand, and then they left him to rest.

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