The Firebird Prince

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Asa

You may be able to fight, but you do not know how to battle.

Well, that was definitely proving to be true. It didn’t help that they were so hopelessly outnumbered, either, and Zara remained weaponless. Asa flinched back at a jab and quickly retaliated, plunging her dagger into the man’s gut.

“Don’t injure the Princesses!” a voice yelled, and Asa thought sarcastically, Gee, thanks and took you long enough.

Her dagger slid free with a sickening squelch, and Asa cast a frantic look about her, seeking out Zara. To her horror, she saw that she was cornered, three men advancing on her. She looked down at her dagger, and prepared to throw it--but Ahad got there first, pushing Zara back and quickly decapitating the three men.

“Hesitation,” he growled, as a couple of more men rushed at him, “gets you killed!”

“So I found out,” Asa muttered, then Zara shrieked and pointed behind her; Asa whirled around, raising her arm just in time to deflect the blow coming at her head, aiming to knock her out. She made to fight the man off, but the next moment, there was a cold blade against her throat. Asa froze, breath catching.

“You move and I kill her,” the man spat at Ahad, who had gone still.

“Sword on the ground,” the man ordered, menacing. Ahad clenched his jaw and shifted his grip, but didn’t let go.

“I will kill her,” the man shouted.

“No,” Ahad said; he sounded breathless. “You won’t.”

He moved so fast that his moment blurred into each other, lunging at the men around him--but Asa’s attacker was prepared, and he jerked his blade, eliciting a terrified yelp from Asa as she stumbled back, tripping over her own feet. Zara screamed, “Asa!”

At her shout, Ahad hesitated for a split second; but that was all the men needed to overcome him. With a stroke of his sword, one of them knocked Ahad’s sword out of his hands, the other forcing him to his knees. Asa scrambled to her feet, furious but helpless as men surrounded both her and Zara, weapons ready should they try anything.

“Bind him.” The man shot a glare at Ahad and added, “Knock them out.”

No! Asa wanted to protest--but before she could do anything, pain exploded in her temple and darkness swallowed her whole.


Asa woke to Ahad swearing.

She winced at the language, then at the sharp ache in her head. Opening her eyes was hard, but she struggled against the pull of unconsciousness and force them open. For a moment, everything was blurry and grey, then her vision cleared, and she saw that she was in a cart, bouncing along the path and jostling her uncomfortable. Her eyes fell on Zara, unconscious beside her. Concern shot through her. Wake up, Zara.

“You bastards,” Ahad said; his voice was strangely strained. “The King will skin you alive. I swear to God--”

Asa tore her eyes from Zara and looked to Ahad; unlike them, he was tied to a horse, being forced along. Asa glanced down at his leg; the arrow had been removed, and blood had drenched the fabric.

“Someone shut him up,” a bored voice said: Asa’s attacker. Jerk, she named him. A man wrenched on Ahad’s ropes, sending him stumbling forward. Ahad swore again, but Asa saw the way his chest contracted with a sharp inhale, and winced to herself.

What is it with men and being tough?

“It would do you well to be silent,” the man said mildly. “I would hate to have to harm you. I imagine Commander Aryan would not react well to receiving one of your severed fingers.”

Ahad scoffed. “Do what you will to me, you imbecile. Both Aryan and I have gone through worse.”

Uninterested, Jerk hummed, then noticed Asa and smiled. “Ah, you’re awake.”

Asa snarled at him. “Let us go.”

Jerk continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “Capturing you was easier than I thought, honestly. My mistress will be proud.”

Mistress?

“So that’s all you are?” Asa snapped. “An obedient dog?”

“A skilled dog at that,” Jerk returned. “No need to downplay my prowess.”

“Who’s your master?”

The man’s shockingly blue eyes turned bright. “You cannot trick me into revealing any information.”

Ahad laughed, a harsh sound. “You’ve already revealed enough.”

Jerk gave a dismissive smile. “Yes, you are supposed to be a deductive genius of some sort, are you not? It does not matter what you’ve guessed. You will not have the chance to tell anyone.”

“You think you can kill me?” Ahad’s eyes were dark. “Many--human and otherwise--have tried and failed.”

Jerk laughed. “Such as?”

Ahad jerked on his ropes. “Pity you don’t know your enemies well, isn’t it? If you had done your research--” he jerked again, and miraculously his ropes fell away-- “you would have known that ropes would not stop me.”

But the man did not look surprised--and clearly, his men had been expecting it, as instantly there were swords pointed at Ahad, who froze, breathing hard.

“It has been a long time since I’ve had a worthy opponent,” Ahad said, his hands curling into fists. He didn’t seem to be afraid as he stared defiantly at Jerk, who sat stop his horse with a smirk. “But no matter how good you are...” He flashed a grin. “I’ve fought the Khauf itself. You are no match.”

“Your tempting will not work on me. Besides, you’re too late. We’re already here.”

Asa glanced around; she saw nothing but trees. She hissed in a breath and reached towards Zara, worried why she hadn’t woken up. But as Asa touched her arm, Zara jerked upright, lashing out instinctively. Asa flinched back and flailed as her momentum carried her over the edge of the wagon. The world was a green blur as she hit the ground, and pain erupted in her ankle.

Asa was too winded to shout out, and it took her a second to realize she was on the ground, reflexively clutching her ankle. The world swayed for a moment before a firm hand on her arm steadied her, and the world came back into focus.

Ahad was crouching beside her, his eyes examining her ankle, before he asked, “May I?”

Gritting her teeth, Asa managed a nod. Even with her consent, she couldn’t suppress the flinch as Ahad’s cold fingers touched her ankle, which was already red and swollen. Asa pushed out a breath, keeping herself still as Ahad lightly pressed at her ankle, judging how bad the injury was.

“Sprained,” he said quietly, sitting back., then glanced at Jerk. “I need to bind it.”

Jerk waved dismissively, and Asa grunted as pain pulsed through her ankle, squeezing her eyes shut. She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, caught in a whirlwind of pain, and it scared her.

“Shoot, I’m sorry,” came Zara’s dazed voice. “I didn’t--”

“It’s okay,” Asa said breathlessly; her ankle was going strangely numb, where it hurt but felt numbed at the same time.

As Ahad wrapped her ankle with a cloth she presumed he had torn from his shirt--she still couldn’t open her eyes--she felt him shift as if he was leaning close, and he whispered, “When--”

But then he jerked away, and Asa opened her eyes a crack to see a man pressing a blade to his throat; Ahad closed his eyes, mouth set in a straight, furious line.

“No chit-chatting,” Jerk said. “Hurry up and finish.”

The man released him but still kept his dagger pointed at Ahad, who tied Asa’s bandages and cautiously got to his feet.

“Move along,” the man said, shoving Ahad’s shoulder. He shot him an irritated look, before offering Asa his hand. She took a wavering breath, then clasped it and let him pull her to her feet. Zara helped her onto the cart, glancing at her with worried and scared eyes. It reminded her of how Kellan had looked at her the last time she’d seen him, his eyes apprehensive and half-pleading, and how she had ignored his warnings. Oh, Kellan. Would he have suspected something by now, or was he still waiting for them to return?

The wagon shuddered on, and just as they turned around a cluster of tall trees, a sight loomed up as sudden as a snap--it was a huge, marble mansion that left Asa gaping (how had she not seen it?). Zara did a double-take as she saw it, and the man grinned and announced, “Ladies, here we are.”

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