The Firebird Prince

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“How are you alive?”

Araysh nearly jumped out of his skin. His hand shot to his dagger and he whirled around, eyes narrowed. And of course, King Kellan stood there.

A supernatural, freaky powerful being raised me, he thought, but said, “Figure it out yourself.”

Kellan’s eyes were furious, his body tense. Araysh kept himself casual, and regarded the king with a careless gaze. It worked--Kellan only looked more enraged, his hand clenching on his drawn sword. But to his credit, his voice was even as he said, “What you did to my scouts was uncalled for.”

Araysh raised his eyebrows. “And you hunting me was not?”

Kellan’s mouth twisted. “You killed my father.”

Araysh smirked. ”Poison killed your father.”

For a moment it looked like Kellan would snap, but then he shifted his posture, and the anger bled out of his posture. “You lashed out in self-defence,” he said, studying Araysh. “You killed none of my men, and you seem to be attempting to get as far away from us as possible. Is your vendetta satisfied?”

Araysh forced himself not to look away. “I have bigger purposes to serve.” Then he baulked; that was not what he had intended to say. And what bigger purposes did he have?

“You took your revenge from my father,” Kellan said. “If that was all you want, why do you serve your master?”

Because I was stupid and foolish, Araysh thought. And I was desperate. “It has its benefits.”

“Tell me who your master is.”

“Why would I do that?” Araysh drawled, sneering.

“Because I can see that your heart isn’t with him.” Kellan’s gaze was skewering, but Araysh glared back.

“As much as I would like to see your face when you know it, I will not betray him.”

“Are you scared, Araysh?” Kellan’s tone took him aback; it had no hostility, only an odd, tired resignation. “I know what fear does to a person.”

“What would I be afraid of?” Araysh snapped, hating how close he was.

“Your sister,” Kellan said, and Araysh curled his hands into fingers. “You love her, and not just because she could help you. You cling to her because she’s the only family you’ve got, and she has betrayed you. That’s what the hate in your eyes is, isn’t it? That she came to me and left you?” Again, while his words could have been antagonistic, they were an odd sort of gentle.

“If you think you can trick me with your false pity, you’re wrong,” Araysh said coldly.

“I’m not trying to trick you at all.” To his surprise, Kellan sheathed his sword, raising his hands in an unthreatening gesture. “I don’t want to fight, either.”

Araysh’s suspicion grew. “What sort of game are you playing?”

Kellan sighed. “I swear, I’m being completely honest.”

Araysh squinted at him, doubtful, then said, “What do you want?”

“I want to understand.” He looked unbelievably tired, with purple-black smudges underneath his eyes, and lines around his eyes that had not been there the last time Araysh had seen him. Maybe sleep-deprivation was messing with his head.

Araysh rolled his shoulders, realising how tired he was, too. “Understand what, exactly?”

“What made you this way, Araysh?”

Should he tell him? Try to win his trust? It was a gamble--a gamble of his life and his wants. If his master found out, he was dead. Again. But his hate for Kellan had died; now, his only enemy was Nina.

Make the jump, his brain urged. Take the chance.

But then came that voice, saying: He is trying to trap you.

Araysh shifted. “You have no right to know anything.” The words pushed out of him before he could stop himself, and he was left gaping again. What is wrong with me?

Kellan’s eyes shuttered. “I don’t want to be enemies,” he said. “I know you’re not evil, Araysh. And I’m willing to give you the second chance nobody is.”

Araysh’s eyes turned cold on their own accord. It was like someone else was controlling his body, and panic flared, sudden and overwhelming, and Araysh tried to struggle, to will himself to regain control. “I don’t need you or your second chance,” he heard himself say, and his heart plunged into terror--he could not so much as lift his finger willingly.

What’s happening what’s happening what’s happening--

“You should leave,” he was forced to say. “Or else, it will not end well for you.”

Disappointment flickered in Kellan’s eyes. “Think on it,” he said quietly. “This is my second chance, whether you want it or not.”

And with that, he turned and left.

No! Araysh wanted to shout. No, come back--I want it, I want your second chance, I want--

But his body did not care what he wanted.

This is the sign, the voice said, and ice froze Araysh’s blood. You are mine now.

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