The Firebird Prince

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Araysh

“I’m not insane,” Araysh whispered, clutching his head. “I’m not insane.”

Yield.

“No,” Araysh said. “No—get out of my head.”

Come, child. Yield.

“I won’t,” Araysh muttered, clenching his eyes closed. No matter what he did, what he thought of or how much noise he made, nothing drowned the voice out.

I’m not insane.

Yield now, and I will not have to use force.

Araysh only shook his head. No. Stop, he thought, begged. Stop.

The only logical explanation was that he was hallucinating the voice--but that didn’t feel right. The voice was too...otherwordly. Too persistent, too cruel--and why did it want him to yield?

Follow me, and I will give you answers to every question you have.

He hesitated. “How? Will it make the voice go away?” Then he caught himself. Great, now he was talking to it. Okay, I might be insane.

The voice didn’t answer. Come. Follow my sign.

“What sign?” Araysh whispered, afraid.

You will know.

Slowly, Araysh opened his eyes and uncurled from his position under the tree. Faltering, hesitating, he looked around. Then he paused.

What are you doing? This time, it wasn’t the voice; it was his own. What do you think you’re doing? Trusting this imaginary, unknown voice inside your head? Stop.

Araysh swallowed, then said, “I won’t do what you ask.”

He didn’t know how he knew, but the voice seemed to smile. It sounded sleepy and satisfied when it said, Yes, you are the one.

“What?” Araysh asked, panicked. “What the hell are you talking about? Answer me!”

But the voice was gone.

Araysh shouted in frustration, clenching his fists. What had the voice meant, that ‘he was the one’? Had this all been a test, to determine something in him? And most importantly, who was the voice in his head--who was powerful enough to raise him from the dead and then get into his head?

What had Araysh gotten himself into?

Gritting his teeth, Araysh glared at the sky as if it had personally offended him. He was filled with an inexplicable rage that made him want to kill someone. That would have been fun, but unfortunately, there was no-one around to kill.

Araysh clenched his jaw hard, then winced as pain shot through his teeth. He was hungry and tired and angry, and he wanted to throw a tantrum like a four-year-old.

Not that his tantrums had ever been tolerated.

Nope, not going there, Araysh told his brain. Not going there.

But his brain, his stupid, stupid brain, wasn’t keen on listening to him.

Araysh took a long breath, shaking his head. Give me a damn break. He deserved it, didn’t he?

Almost subconsciously, Araysh started to wander, not really thinking where he was going. He had to get out of the country--and what better way than to go home? Nina had never kept the promise of taking him there, and if he was honest with himself, he wanted to go.

Speaking of Nina--

Araysh bit his lip, grief filling him.

Their story could have been a fairytale, but instead, it had turned into a tragedy.

“Oh, Nina,” he said. “What happened to us?”

He had no answer. It is all my fault. If only I hadn’t left--

If only he hadn’t been so selfish, so scared. But fourteen-year-old Araysh had run, terrified of his father’s blows and his mother’s insults, of his sister’s disdain and distance. He’d lived as a freak for so long, thinking he deserved it, but it had gotten bad enough that he feared for his sanity and his life. And he had fled like a coward and hadn’t dared to return since.

But something had changed the day the king would die.

Araysh ha successfully snuck in the poison to their spy, pushing through any doubts he was having, but then they were too loud to ignore.

He was killing a parent, a parent of loving daughters and a son who had not seen him in ten years. It was painfully familiar--he had not seen his family for a decade either, and that had made him miss them all over again.

So he had gone to visit them, and met King Kellan there. It had been like a slap to his face and he’d almost asked for forgiveness right there and then, but he was too selfish. I’m always too selfish.

Then Nina had told him about their parents, and it was a cruel twist of fate, a harsh punishment from the universe, an act of brutal revenge. And instead of learning his lesson, he had selfishly, so selfishly, wanted revenge.

It was a genuine question, what had happened to him and Nina, but more importantly--

What had happened to him?

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