Damn it all.
Skye paced around her suite, fretting over what she was planning to do. Although, if she was being honest with herself, obsessing was a more appropriate word to use. No one in their right mind would do what she was thinking, and sometimes she wondered if she was actually in her right mind. Was she really going to betray the Archmage? She recalled the burning look in his eyes when he spoke to her only yesterday.
“Why did the gods give so much power to you?” he’d asked. His tone was not irate nor did it hint at any sarcasm. It sounded like he was genuinely bewildered.
Skye laughed at his question with obnoxious pride, and noticed his curious expression retreat back into indignance. “The gods?” she replied, wryly. “Don’t give them credit for my accomplishments. You aren’t becoming jealous, are you Archmage Sicarius?”
Using the proper title of Archmage after addressing him with such a contemptuous remark sent a thrill of fury through him and his eyes darkened. She didn’t know what he meant to accomplish by glaring at her, but she doubted he appreciated her smirking as a reply. It made her want to do it more.
As usual, they’d trained for the majority of the afternoon, and within a few hours he’d exhausted himself. He was clearly struggling to manipulate the magicae around them enough to produce a proper shield. It flickered and signaled his weakening resolve. The torches along the walls of the Ignis Arena flickered and highlighted the most insulting aspects of his face. She wanted to take the fire in her hands and…
“That’s enough!” boomed his voice. The walls in the arena echoed his voice already, but Skye suspected he’d yelled just to exhibit an air of superiority. That might have worked on her when she was a child, but not anymore.
Skye bowed somewhat sarcastically, and let her staff drag along the floor just to watch him cringe at the noise. “Thank you, as always for the lesson, Sicarius. I still have much to learn from you.”
He scoffed. “I should hope not. Your initiation is in two days. Or have you forgotten?”
“Of course I haven’t,” she replied, dismissing her staff. It disappeared, but its essence lingered for a moment in the form of dust. She met his eyes through the dust cloud and saw the glare of incensed passion in his eyes. She hoped that she never looked as grotesque as him. His skin was wilted, resembling a corpse that had long been in the ground, and she swore the old man would fall dead within minutes based on his appearance alone. But for the first time in decades, there would be a new Archmage…
...and in one fleeting decision, she was going to throw it away. The power, money and all of the opulence that came with it. But the honor that was so graciously bestowed upon her was nothing more than entrapment, a death sentence. She didn’t have much time to dwell on it when her thoughts were distracted by subtle movement in the room. Feeling mischievous, she opened the thick drapes that blocked the windows and they slid apart, welcoming a plethora of bright sunlight.
A voice from the other side of the room pleaded, “Please,” pathetically. The word dragged into a dramatic whine. Skye ignored the request and opened the drapes at every window in the room, and there were many.
“Aries, you’ve slept enough.” She walked closer to him and flicked the tip of his horns. They curled forward from his forehead like a ram’s.
He scoffed at her and finally opened his eyes. They were a divine, crepuscular green but quickly glowed a playful red at his ‘anger.’
Skye grinned and leaned closer to him. “Time to greet another fantastic day.” When he didn’t respond she prodded further. “Come on, get up. I’m sick of waiting for you.”
He pulled the sheets over his face. “Gods, you’re so bitter.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had used that particular word to describe her. After everything she’d been through, she was bitter. But, she’d been up for hours as he slept peacefully. It was childish, but she was jealous of his tranquility while her mind was so uneasy.
“Maybe I just don’t want to be alone? Do I deserve name calling for that?” He ignored her question and rolled his eyes instead. She wasn’t actually upset with him though. How could she be? Aries was one of the twelve Astral Beings of the Zodiac and had become one of the few people she’d ever cared for. She couldn’t really call him a person, though. At least he wasn’t afraid of her. Unfortunately, neither was the Archmage.
“Skye, what’s the matter?” Aries asked. She’d either completely dissociated or said something aloud and she was so far gone she didn’t know which. She couldn’t stop thinking about betraying Sicarius, and felt a tinge of guilt. No matter how hard she tried to fight through the desire to run away, the thought of spending another day in that man’s presence seemed impossible. She hated him. She hated it all. She neglected to say any of that out loud, though.
“I’m tired of waiting for you to wake up, that’s what.”
Aries merely droned in response because Skye had been absentmindedly raking her fingers through his ambrosial blonde hair.
His eyes met hers, and they were beautifully green again. “If you keep touching me like that we’ll never make it out of here in time for your initiation,” he threatened playfully.
She scoffed. “My initiation is tomorrow. I’m not indulging you in this bed or anywhere else for that long.”
He laughed and took her in his arms.
“Let me go,” she demanded. Her tone was not playful.
“No, I don’t think so. You’re too lovely.”
With a flicker of malice in her eyes, she summoned an ornate longbow which materialized above them, and angled a sharp arrow to his neck. The bow pulled the arrow tight, threatening to spring at any moment. He frowned and loosened his grip on her. She rolled over to her side, and they locked eyes as the bow and arrow disappeared.
“You can’t kill me with that,” he reminded her.
“No, but an arrow will still hurt you. You’re not immune to pain.”
He winced. “Your words wound me enough.”
Skye ran her fingers along Aries’s jawline before gently engaging him in a light kiss. His fangs brushed against her lips and his stubble caressed her cheeks. He could almost be human. No, he could almost be a mage.
“Don’t hold me hostage and you won’t be threatened.”
She smiled at him and rose from the bed, pulling her robe tight around her body. Her mass of red hair was embellished with braids and dropped long past her shoulders. It was thick and voluptuous, witheach braid adorned by a silver cuff at its end. It swung to her sides as she sauntered to the nearest window. Pushing one of the locks behind her ear, she took another glance around her suite. It was located at the top of The Spiral, the central tower in the city. The Spiral City was home to all of the mages in Autumnus, the most powerful region on their continent, Terralnyn. At least, that’s what she’d been taught to believe. Skye had no actual notion of the outside world because she’d never been allowed to leave. If Sicarius had been a decent mage and treated her with respect perhaps she’d feel more guilty about her decision to run, but she didn’t. At least, not enough to stay.
She would surrender her sumptuous lifestyle and prestige for her freedom. Was it worth it? Her eyes scanned the abundance of books on the floor and the walls of filled bookshelves and prided herself on her keen mind. The more sagacious the mage, the better. But with thoughts of running away clouding her mind, she wondered just how intelligent she actually was under all that supposed knowledge.
Her attention was stirred again when Aries arrived beside her.
“You’re so distracted today.”
Skye met his eyes. “Sorry.”
He didn’t push her for more information and changed the subject instead. “Since I won’t see you tomorrow, happy early birthday. Astral Beings are not usually present for initiations.”
“Thank you.” She should have been nicer or more grateful that he even mentioned her birthday but it didn’t matter. She was running away.
“What has you so nervous? Isn’t turning twenty-five a special year for mages?”
There was no point in lying to him. “It has nothing to do with that. I’m just not confident that I’m making the right decision.”
“About running away?”
“You have one more day. Whether you run away or go through with your initiation, so make it count. The moment you’re initiated, you’ll be linked to this place. With you as Archmage I will visit more often.” He nuzzled her neck playfully but she backed away. She could tell that he was trying to lighten the suddenly damp mood with flirting but it didn’t work. She didn’t answer.
“But if you run away you could be caught and branded an outcast,” he reminded her. It sounded like he was reading from a tragic novel. His words were nothing new, and his habit of repeating what she already knew was tiresome.
She stopped fighting his embrace and he took the opportunity to pull her in closer. “You’ll have me of course.”
She dug her fingernails against the battered cuff on her wrist as the truth and reality of his words set in. She had considered running away for a long time, but after hearing them spoken aloud she suddenly felt frightened.
“I’m sorry. I just feel like this is goodbye. If I run away, I’ll be around humans for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I’ll be able to summon you again.”
There was so much melancholy behind her words that Aries’s breath caught in his throat. She’d always been guarded in her emotions and it wasn’t like her to show them so blatantly. He gently turned her head so their gazes met. Her eyes were blue like the sky, true to her name. He was staring at them with such eagerness that she slightly backed away. Astral Beings were always intense, even to mages.
She sighed and traced Aries’s Zodiac symbol. It was imprinted near his left eye in small, diamond gemstones and glittered in the sunlight. “I should get dressed. And you should probably go,” she said reluctantly, dropping her hand.
He caressed her cheek for a moment before speaking. “Do what you need to do, Skye. Call on me when you are ready.”
Aries kissed her forehead one last time before his body dissipated into a pop of silver dust. It resembled the swirling of the galaxy as he returned to his realm amongst the stars. She would miss his company, but she had to do this alone.
She didn’t dwell on his departure. She arranged her hair into a braided bun and small curled strands framed her face. Navy robes stopped at her knees, and her black boots were completely visible. They were covered in dried mud and specks of it broke off the heels when she walked across the wooden floor. She secured her apothecary bag to her belt, and it jingled with each solemn step around the room that she’d long called home. The bookshelf was overflowing with texts and candles covered the tables. She grazed a finger on the glass bottles that busied the workspace, and accidentally disturbed the dried herbs and alchemy supplies. Something spilled, and the musky scent of incense mixed with the soft aroma of lavender filled the room. She closed her eyes and hoped the scent would take her back to her parents, but lavender and incense reminded her of mages. No matter how hard she tried, she had no memory of her parents. Not ones that could be stirred by the senses, at least.
She stood in silence for a moment, hardly able to move under the weight of her choices. She had not even done it yet and wondered just how heavy the burden of running away would be once she actually did it. But, as delicious as the air in her cozy suite was, it was heavier to stay. Just the thought of a future stuck in The Spiral City pushed her down until she couldn’t move. Trapped under Sicarius’s oppressive hand for the rest of her life. She took a deep breath and memorized her suite, picturing it in her mind exactly as it was before she packed it all away.