The Firebird Prince

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Araysh barely recognised himself.

It wasn't like him to beg his master to spare the Prince, and yet he had. Wasn't like him to cave to Nina's orders, and yet—he had.

"This is the last time I'm listening to you," he said, pointing a threatening finger at Nina, who leaned against the wall with her arms crossed. "Damn it. I don't even know why I did that."

"Because if you didn't," Nina said smoothly, "I'd have reported you in half a second."

Araysh made a face. "I hate you," he said bitterly, pacing across the floor. Something in him felt restless as if it sensed danger.

Nina kept her eyes on him, and that only made him more harried. "What?" he finally demanded, after holding out for a while.

"Admit it, Araysh," Nina said, and Araysh got the distinct impression that she had stopped herself from saying, brother.

"Listening to me was the right choice."

"It wasn't," Araysh said flatly. "I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by killing the Prince. You made me lose even that."

"Doesn't it bother you at all?" she said, genuine curiosity in her voice. "Killing people like it's nothing?"

"I'm not heartless," Araysh said aggressively, glaring at her. "I kill people who deserve it."

Nina scoffed. "Sure, Araysh. Tell yourself that."

Araysh crossed his arms tightly and turned away. Her words still echoed in his head. What are we, Nina?


He'd taken a tight breath and turned to leave, but she had stopped him, and told him that if he really had meant what he'd said, he would tell his master to spare the Prince. Araysh had scoffed and refused, but she hadn't budged. If you really want another chance, she'd said, then do this.

She had got him there.

He'd flown to the safe house, where he knew his boss would be hiding out. Convincing him was hard, and he'd had to pretend that Kellan didn't deserve to go out so easily and quickly.

But maybe he didn't deserve to die at all. Araysh didn't want to think about it.

He'd just gotten back, with the promise that his master would leave an anonymous letter with the cure somewhere in the castle for someone to find.

"When do you plan to leave?" Nina asked him.

Araysh clenched his fists. "I don't know. Where will I go? I've been homeless all these years, but now I have not even my safe house to go to."

"What a pity," Nina said dispassionately, not even attempting to act like she was concerned.

"Oh, blast you," he said. "This is all your fault."

"You got yourself into this mess, Araysh."

"Damn it, just shut up."

"Language," she said mildly, and Araysh had the sudden urge to yell at the sky. He hissed in a breath, closing his eyes as he tried to calm his anger. Losing his composure would do him no good.

"Will you," he said after a minute, looking evenly at Nina with no hostility, "let me visit Mother and Father?"

She scoffed, and Araysh closed his eyes. "Why should I?"

"I just want to see them, Nina," he said a tad desperately. "If I'm going to disappear again--just let me visit them, once."

"Fine," she said after a long pause. "But I'm going with you, and you can visit them for a few minutes and then get out of there."

"Deal," he said, then added, "I'm going to go on a walk."

She laughed, derisively. "You think I'm letting you out of my sight?"

"Blast it, Nina," he said. "You can't control me, you know. I'm not that desperate."

And he really, really needed to clear his head.

"I'm not stupid, Araysh. Do you think I don't know that you'll take any chance to escape?"

Araysh scoffed and crossed his arms. "I swear on my life, I'll come back."

Nina's lip curled in derision. "You and I both know what your life is worth in my eyes."

Araysh raised his chin. "I swear on our parents' lives."

Nina flinched slightly in surprise, but then said, "My parents."

Araysh set his jaw, hardening his heart against the hurt, and said, "I swear on your parents."

Nina tossed her hair behind her shoulder. "Fine. Fifteen minutes."

Without replying, Araysh spun on his heel and stalked out.

He didn't even know what was going on anymore. It wasn't even that complicated, but his mind was in a tangled haze; he couldn't really comprehend what was happening.

He had told Nina he'd leave his master, but it wasn't that simple. If Araysh deserted him...he shuddered to think of the consequences.

He hadn't caved into Nina's order to tell him everything--which was small relief. At least she couldn't hang the threat of tattling him to the King over his head. But curse him, he still hung on to that non-existent hope that Nina might somehow come around and give him another chance.

He thought about his chances of escape. If only he could break out of that boyish desire of validation, he was more than capable of finding his parents' graves on his own.

But after a decade of seeking out a chance to be with her, was he really ready to give it up so easily?

And Nina would kill him if he tried to get away despite promising that he wouldn't--it would break any small amount of trust she might have in him. Araysh...Araysh couldn't bring himself to risk it.

He would have to find a way out--a way that would keep him out of trouble with both Nina and his master (what the way might be, he didn't know). He had yet to make out where his feelings lay in regard to the royals.

Was he willing to let his rage go? Would he be able to?

So many questions, he thought, sinking to his feet on the wet soil. So many questions, and no right answers.

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