A Tale of Crowns and Stars

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Glass & Pain

Cyra looked up and caught the eyes of Armantha, who sat across from her. The cold stare she received in return seemed unfeeling and unconcerned, but Cyra knew this was all a lie. The masks they all wore around each other were easily observed and removed at will; nothing was new between the two. Dinner was served, but unlike revenge, it was not served cold.

“Ostara is such a beautiful festival,” Her lips spoke, but her mind was on other things, like the ritual sacrifices and the smoke offerings that would take place. “I enjoy visiting the other courts and seeing how each of them conducts the yearly ritual.” The truth was wrapped in words that felt like lies, Cyra noticed. She looked about the room and to the other guests at the dinner table as she sliced her food up into chunks.

“And what of the sacrifice of the white ox?” Omar wondered, cutting into his steak with gusto. “The Queen is supposed to take the blood of the ox and bathe in it, fully clothed of course. That’s one of the most interesting parts, isn’t it?”

“But what is to be done if there is no Queen?” Idria wondered, her seat at the end of the table and to the left of Eres. It was painfully obvious that she was genuinely curious, but Halewijn, Cyra, and Armantha all knew what the answer would be and anticipated Omar’s reply.

“Oh, the High Princess will be the substitute. She will be very newly wedded to my son, won’t she, Halewijn?” Cyra’s mouth formed a thin line as she pressed her lips together to prevent herself from protesting out loud. The thought of her wedding dress being stained in the dark red blood was not only horrifying but entirely upsetting to her sensibilities. First, she would have to drink the ambrosia, and then she would have to engage in the ceremony rites without any reservations. She would have no choice, after all.

“That’s right. The rites will be performed right after the ceremony. It won’t last too long, but we thought that since the wedding and the festival would be on the same day, it would be advantageous to merge them.” Halewijn mentioned, placing a slice of seasoned potato in his mouth.

“What about the High Priestesses? Surely one from either Shekmir or Ghiana’s temple would be able to take the rites.” Armantha offered, looking over at Omar with concern.

“All High Priestesses have been banished from stepping foot in the palace. I can hardly tolerate the ones who remain just outside of the gates.” Omar rolled his eyes, shaking his head - as if he really felt upset by the mere mention of the women. “Besides, I hear my son has an excellent rapport with the gods. They’ve favored you in all of your travels.” A fake smile slowly crawled across Omar’s face as he continued. “I must say I am very grateful for that, and the fact that you have such a dedicated and loving fiancee.”

Halewijn placed his hand on Cyra’s thigh protectively, noticing the lecherous tone in Omar’s voice. “I am eternally grateful to the gods for sending her to me.”

“She’s nothing like your first wife. Not the kind to trap you in a forest and leave you there to rot; are you, Cyra?” Omar’s mention of Halewijn’s first wife caught both of them off-guard. Attempting to make a swift recovery, Eres cleared his throat, turning the attention to him.

“I can imagine that she neither has the power nor the desire to do so, and I do believe that Hal deserves someone who won’t abuse him.” Idria nodded eagerly, blonde tendrils falling loose from her ponytail as she agreed with her husband. Cyra, on the other hand, placed her napkin on the table and stood with care.

“I’ve lost my appetite. Being reminded of my fiancé’s hardships is something that I would rather not endure. Good night, your Majesty.” Cyra abandoned her dinner and her future husband with a short curtsy and chose to return to her bedroom instead, cursing Omar’s name mentally as she left the dining hall. The dinner now soured in her stomach, her bile churning around with the undigested food.

Mirabel met her at the door, peeking over her shoulder to see if Halewijn was anywhere near. “I can’t stand that man,” Cyra grumbled as she pushed past her lady-in-waiting, undoing her plait in quick, angry motions.

“What did Omar do this time?”

“He Brough up Halewijn’s first wife. As if it wasn’t painful enough for him to endure her treatment; Omar now airs Hal’s business out to anyone who will listen!”

Mirabel paused with her hands on the doorknob.

“Cyra, you can’t really be upset about—”

“And if that’s not bad enough, he’s commanding I perform the sacrifice for Ostara. In my wedding gown.” Mirabel grimaced, her brows furrowing as she recalled the details of the rites with growing distaste.

“You’ll have to drink the ambrosia.” She mentioned, and Cyra began to pace in front of the fireplace, arms crossed over her chest in frustration.

“I’ve never done that before! It’s the drink of the gods, Mirabel, and I don’t think I’m ready for something like that. I mean, who will I become when I drink it? A monster?” The vision of bloodlust in her mother’s eyes and the way she bathed in the oxblood with enjoyment came back to Cyra’s memory in waves.

“Your mother was always brave when she took the rites. I’m sure you’ll be no different when the time comes.”

Cyra gazed around the near-barren landscape of her dreams.

Shards of glass cut into her feet, and the path ahead was littered with similar broken pieces; the pain barely registered, though. In the browns and reds of the world around her, she felt the presence of another, older being, something that radiated power and terror.

“I need to quench my thirst.”

An impossibly tall, dark-skinned woman with ten arms approached Cyra - who stood stock-still out of fear. A large, golden headdress that scraped the sky balanced itself on her head and her brown curls floated around her ears as if they had a life of their own. Her feet stepped on the Earth with a tenderness that Cyra would never attribute to a giantess, especially not one that radiated pure, unadulterated power like the heat blasting from a dust storm.

But this was mild compared to the red eyes and how she sounded when she spoke - as if she was echoing endlessly into the distance. Her cry for something to quench her thirst radiated around Cyra like the croaking of a thousand ravens, and she opened her mouth to scream in terror, but nothing would come out — nothing could be heard from her vocal cords at all.

When the giantess was entirely upon her, she squatted low, allowing her yellow garment to drape across space in front of Cyra and gather in folds. Two of the woman’s arms came to rest on her knees, and she hummed, observing the smaller human in front of her with curiosity, and her head cocked to the side.

“Child,” The woman began, blinking. “You are in great danger here.”

“I know.” Cyra croaked out, trying not to shake.

“You need to tread carefully.” With a blinding flash, the woman appeared to Cyra as a smaller version of herself, now with only two arms. “I always warn my patrons, but it seems that you are past the warning stage. You need guidance.” Cyra suddenly realized that she was speaking to Usasis, and she attempted to prostrate herself in front of the goddess, but it was no use; Cyra still couldn’t move.

“Goddess, I need all the help you can give me.” She begged instead, feeling tears pricking at her eyes.

“It will come at a price,” Usasis whispered, still staring at Cyra without blinking. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

“Whatever price you require from me, I will pay for it.”

“Then give me life. A living sacrifice.” Cyra's mind stuttered, and if she could move, she would’ve stepped back two paces.

“A life? Life is not mine to give or take away.”

“You can give Armantha over to Omar for your sacrifice. Tell him everything you know and save yourself.”

“No, I will not-”

“Pay me in blood, Cyra, for I thirst. How about Alorha? Wyndemere?”

Blood. “No, I—”

“I thirst Cyra!” Usasis repeated, grabbing her shoulders and gripping with an intensity she had never felt before. Her shoulders felt close to breaking, almost, and Cyra heard the bones in her body crunch together. This was not the same goddess she knew, was it? Was this the goddess she wanted to be a patron to? Conquests and beginnings and fear? “Give me a living sacrifice, and I will never leave you.”

The goddess began to grow bigger, letting her go as the remaining eight arms sprouted from her sides, and she rose from her squatting position. The goddess then continued moaning about her thirst while roaming across the desolate landscape, leaving Cyra stuck to face the oncoming tornado of darkness alone.

A throbbing pain shook Cyra from her sleep, and in the midnight hour, she clasped her forehead with both hands. The throbbing seemed relentless, almost as if someone were taking a sledgehammer to her brain and hacking away at the peace she had so desperately clung to before bed.

After stumbling out of bed, Cyra found her way to the bathroom, stooping over the sink and wiping her face with cold water. It didn’t help at all - in fact, it made her headache intensify, and she felt a hard chill crawl down her spine. Something’s wrong.

At that moment, Cyra found herself gripping the edges of the sink with both of her hands, trying to remain upright, but the struggle would prove fruitless as she sunk to the floor in slow motion. The coolness of the tile beneath her thighs alleviated some pain, but within minutes, she began to feel sickly. A sweat broke out on her brow, but her arms were too weak to bring up to her face to wipe it away. Her strength was sucked out of her body in an instant, and nothing but the wooden cabinet behind her supported her weakened body.

“Help,” Cyra choked out miserably, but she knew no one would hear her in the bathroom. She’d have to crawl out to the hallway to get anyone to listen to her but had no strength to do so. And as if to confirm this, her stomach twisted, and she let out a loud groan. The intensity of it sent Cyra leaning forward, clutching at her abdomen in extreme pain. “Oh, gods, please help me.” If she could just get to the toilet and lean over…

Cyra began her slow crawl to the toilet - which felt miles away - moving carefully to her hands and knees. Making it in time seemed like a far cry from what might actually happen, which was messier and a lot less princess-like. But she had to do it on her own; there was no one else to help her.

“You are in great danger.” Usasis’s words echoed nastily in her mind, the blood-colored eyes of the goddess still hovering around in the back of her mind. The toilet bowl seemed closer now, it’s porcelain finish gleaming in the dull light. Had she been poisoned? Cyra attempted to recall the dinner but to no avail. Had she been served, or did she pick her own food? Who poured the wine? What colors were the foods on her plate?

Perhaps she would make it in time, and she wouldn’t—

The thought was interrupted by a flash of the giantess in her mind’s eye, and the sickness that Cyra thought could be contained came up in her throat. Involuntarily and quite noisily, she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the tile floor. Tears sprang to her eyes at the voracious upheaval, but the sound of a door opening relieved her: someone had come to assist.

Then Cyra considered the way she looked, vomiting on the floor with her curls touching the sickness. Gagging, she turned to the door, muttering in a raspy voice, “Don’t come in; I’m not well.” Another gag wrenched itself from her throat, and her stomach lurched forward but produced nothing more than a strangled sound.

“I’m coming in anyway,” Wyndemere announced, pushing open the door. At the sight of Cyra’s sickness, he paused for a moment but approached her anyway.

“I knew I heard someone staggering around,” The captain of the guard mumbled, picking her hair out of the mess on the floor and opting to tuck those strands into a swift ponytail. Then, once he finished, he helped her sit back. Cyra watched the light brown puddle exist miserably on the floor as Wyndemere ran bathwater and dropped two large towels onto the mess. “You need to wash up before you go back to bed. What did you eat for dinner?” Wyndemere wondered, turning his muscled back to her as he mopped up the floor.

“I ate…” What had she eaten? Swirls of thoughts of what others had eaten played like a fuzzy memory in her mind, but when she tried to imagine her plate, it was empty. “I can’t remember what I ate.” Wyndemere peered over his shoulder at her, scrunching his white brows together in confusion.

“But you ate something, didn’t you?”

“I remember bringing the fork to my mouth multiple times.” Wyndemere gently hummed in understanding, then helped her stand before running the water in the bathtub.

“Undress and get in the bath once it’s full. I’m going to take this downstairs, and I’ll be right back.” Cyra followed his instructions as he walked out, stepping into the warm bath with little trepidation once it was almost full to the top. As she sunk into the water, she loosed her coils and inhaled the smell of lavender and mint with pleasure. The scents eased her headache and soothed her frayed nerves, Cyra noted, but they did nothing for her stomach, which continued to cramp.

Moments later, Wyndemere returned with an item wrapped up in a napkin, opting to place it on the sink counter before walking over to the bath. He squatted down next to the clawfoot tub and eased himself onto the floor, proceeding to cross his bare arms over his knees.

“I brought a slice of pound cake from the kitchen. That seems like it won’t be too heavy on your stomach.” He paused, thinking deeply before whispering, “Do I tell Halewijn about this, or should I keep it to myself?”

“I’ll… I’ll tell him.”

“You think someone poisoned you?” The guard asked, fiddling with his fingernails impatiently.

“I might’ve just eaten something that didn’t sit right. I also had an awful dream, so that might’ve upset my stomach too.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” He wondered, opting for a sideways glance at her face.

“Not really.”

“Fair enough. I’ll wait out there until you finish. Yell if you need anything.” Cyra nodded and sunk a little lower into the bath, clutching her arms with shaking hands. If she just closed her eyes, everything would be okay. Everything would be fine.

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