“Cassian watch me, watch me!” Aurora screams at me from across the fields. I smile nodding my head, watching as she jumps from the small cliff into the water below. The splash is small, but she is instantly above the water swimming and giggling. Having the best time of her life.
The palace is peaceful today. My mother and father are busy getting things ready for the banquet tonight as well as the arrival of the other kings and their families. Though my father is the high king, they still rule their own lands and provinces. And one day his rule will be passed on to me.
I look to the castle behind me. One of the most magnificent castles ever created. Aurora screams behind me and I immediately turn to see her staring at a frog with a huge smile on her face. I can’t help but smile at her curiosity. She has black hair like our fathers, and I, and the very thing that distinguishes her as a dragonborn. Her eyes. Black and red.
My sister is younger than me by ten years. She came as an accident, but she has been the prize of our lives ever since. And ever since she was born, she has been stuck to my side, and I have always done everything in my power to protect her and set a good example for her. I know that she is always watching me and is looking up to me.
I look up to see the leader of my father’s guard coming towards me. He has a serious expression on his face, which can never be good.
“My prince, your father wishes to see you. He says it is urgent.” He says. I nod my head looking over to where Aurora is. I walk over to her, kneeling on her level. She has managed to capture the poor frog and is now talking to him. I can’t fight the smile that appears on my face.
“Aurora.” I call out her name as I get near. She looks to me, smiling, and holds the frog out to my face.
“I’m going to call him, Tony!” She shouts. I raise my brow in question.
“That’s quite an odd name.” I say. She makes a face looking at the frog before shrugging.
“Well he’s an odd creature.” She says. I laugh, looking over to where my father’s guard is.
“Father has summoned me so Torren is going to escort you back to the grounds when you are done playing out here.” I say. She nods her head I understanding with a large smile on her face revealing both of her dimples. I smile back at her, rubbing the top of her hair roughly as I stand.
“I’ll see you later.” I say walking away.
“So good of you to join us, Cassian.” My father says as I enter the war room. I look around to see men that I have grown up around my whole life and their offspring. My gaze narrows when I see Xander. He’s always been a troublemaker keen on blaming me when he gets caught. I even see Hynden next to her father. She gives me a small smile as I pass by, bowing ever so slightly. She’s always had some form of feeling for me. She is as fierce as any man in this room. Her father never had sons, but he made sure to train his daughter like one. She will be a formidable queen one day.
“I move to my father’s side, acknowledging the room.
“Greetings.” I say. They all bow to me and take their seats. Whatever this is it must be serious, for all of the surrounding kings to not only arrive in person but bring their heirs as well. My father is the first to speak.
“We have received word that there is tension rising in the flat lands.” He says. I keep my face blank, but this is news to me. The flat lands are the lands below. The kingdom of the dragonborn have always been high in the sky, floating lands that are unreachable by those who are not one of us.
“The last mortal I appointed to rule in my stead has been killed, and since, the humans are beginning to spiral out of control. Seeking help from the ikniri for what, we are unsure.” He says.
“The ikniri? But they are no longer a threat. It’s a part of their terms.” Someone says across the room.
The Ikniri are our natural enemies. Long ago they sought to rule mortals, and tried to take the rule from us the dragonborn. Though the war was long and the battle bloody, the ikniri ultimately surrendered, and as a term of surrender were forced by my father to be aids to the mortal race. A way to curve their ways and settle their debts. This battle was long before I was born.
But the legend still lives on. The Ikniri are a savage race that need to be mediated by a higher source or they will spiral out of control.
“Do you really think that just because there are terms they aren’t still bitter about their loss of power? We took their land and freedom from them.” Someone else says. I look to my father as he patiently lets everyone get their say in. This is why he is the high king. The king of kings. He knows how to let people feel heard. He finally holds up his hand, silencing the room.
“I have already dispatched a spy. I will know soon if the Ikniri are truly up to something. Meanwhile, I would like for all of you to be very careful when traveling to and from. We all know personally what they are capable of.” He says.
“Why? Why wait for the Ikniri to strike. Why not cut them down now, and make sure that they will never even think of rising again? We’ve been complacent for too long. We need to show the mortals, and the Ikniri who we are and why they are right to fear us!” A few cries of agreement go up in the air, but my father shakes his head.
“Fear? Is that what we want from them? Fear turns to misunderstanding which turns to hatred. Then we will have nothing but chaos, and will have to wipe out the indigenous for the sake of peace. Our name will no longer be linked with pride and compassion. We will become monsters of legend. Is that what you want for the future of our people?” He says. Hynden’s father shakes his head.
“I for one enjoy the peace and love that the mortals give us. I don’t think acting on suspicion is enough to kill off a mass group of the Ikniri. Let’s not forget they are a very rare group of individuals. Wiping them out would not be wise.” He says. Some murmurs of agreement go up, and my father nods his head.
“Thank you.” He says. He looks around the room.
“Are there any other thoughts. Any actions you think should be taken?” He asks. The room stays silent. My father then stands.
“Then this assembly is over.” He says.
“I trust I will see you all at the banquet.” He says. Everyone slowly files out of the room. I take note that Hynden hesitates in leaving, but when her father pulls on her she finally exits the chamber.
“Nothing to say, Cassian?” My father pulls me out of my thoughts.
“Sir?” I say turning to him. He slowly stands up, making his way down the throne.
“You don’t have an input on the matter?” He says. I look down, shaking my head. He chuckles slightly at me, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“My son. One day, my throne will be yours. My kingdom will be yours. And I cannot council you if you don’t give me your thoughts from time to time. A good leader always hears out his people. Especially his blood.” He says.
“If the king you appointed of the mortals has been killed, isn’t that an outright form of rebellion? Why not go down there now and strike back before it gets out of hand?” I ask. He smiles.
“Humans are all about power. It’s how they give their lives meaning. So, from time to time they will do whatever it takes to claim that power. And if that means betraying their king to do so, it will happen. I can’t force them down a path that they are destined to stray from, I can only guide them and let them decide. I can’t force them against their nature. It will ultimately destroy them. Do you understand that son?”
I nod my head, but I still don’t like the way he thinks. Peace has made him too comfortable. He’s too trusting in mortals and the Ikniri. I may have never experienced the war, but I heard the legends. I’ve read the stories about them. They are dangerous. The only way for them to be in check is to set up rules for them that they are forced to follow. Not a guideline for them to even their scales.
My father smiles, and the laugh lines on his eyes deepen as he claps me on the back.
“Come. We must get ready for this is a time of celebration. Enough war talks.” He smiles.
“I can finish that.” I look up when I hear the new voice to see Hynden in the doorway of my bedroom. The servants all bow their heads slightly before standing to leave the room. Hynden smiles as she walks towards me, grabbing the loose fabric between her fingers and begins fastening my robes for the banquet.
“My father believes that we shouldn’t interfere with the mortals. I think we should step in. We all know they aren’t the type to govern themselves correctly.” She says. I laugh softly.
“That’s very true. If it were up to me, fear would be the only solution. The lives of my people are more important than the adoration of such weak mortals that base their systems on power.” I say. My opinion has never been popular with my father. He believes that humans life matters.
“Well it’s not much longer until you become king. Why not implement that when it’s your time?” She asks. I shake my head.
“My father’s way of ruling has kept peace among the kingdoms for centuries. I see no reason in changing what has worked for the people of all races.” I say.
“Besides. I am still young. My way of thinking may change in a few years. I could be biased.” I say. She smiles finishing up with my clothing.
“You sound like a king already.” She says. She slowly reaches up, placing her hand against my cheek. I place my hand over hers smiling softly at her. Her dark gaze stares into mine with all the adoration in the world.
“I will gladly follow you anywhere.” She whispers. I can see her pupil dilate as she says those words and I know she means it. Her heart is mine. The firelight is casting a warm glow against her soft flesh, and I take in the dress that she’s wearing. The neckline dips low.
I look at her lips, and she parts them slightly. I find myself leaning down, inches from her face.
“Cassian!” We both jump as Aurora appears in the doorway. Hynden immediately steps away from me clearing her throat, but I don’t miss the red blush crawling up her neck. I laugh to myself, looking at Aurora and mustering all the patience I can.
“Yes?” I ask.
“The banquet is about to begin, and father told me to come and get you so that we can enter together.” She says. As she speaks, her eyes fall on Hynden behind me, and I don’t miss the look of disdain on her features. as she takes her in. She doesn’t like women taking my attention that’s a fact she’s always let be known.
I turn back to Hynden, giving her an apologetic look.
“I will see you at the banquet.” I say. She smiles, but her face is still red.
“Yes, your highness.” She says. I can’t get another word out as Aurora drags me down the hall.
The banquet tonight is for the celebration of peace. The ending of the war to rival all wars. It’s a banquet that has been held for years and is the height of our society. I keep my sisters hand in mine as we are announced to the hall of guests as the prince and princess.
The crowd erupts in a frenzy of excitement, clapping and screaming as we walk in. I look across the room to our parents who sit on their throne, smiling at us in pride. Their legacy. All of this that is even possible because of my father. Who he is, and what he did.
My earlier thoughts are a thing of the past as I look around and see all of the people that have been united and brought peace and happiness because of his decisions and sacrifices. The life we all live because he made things possible. I can only hope that I can rule as well as him some day.
The night continues on, and I stay by Aurora’s side. Mostly because she won’t let me leave to do anything else, but I don’t mind. This is the first time she’s been allowed to attend. I’m happy that she is enjoying herself. I do see Hynden across the room watching us with a smile on her face. I can only shrug at her with a playful smile. And she nods her head in understanding.
I thought my life was fine before I had a sister, but after she was born, my life has never been the same. I smile pulling her atop my feet as we dance around the large hall. I see the joy in her eyes and know that I am doing things right.
As the night gets later and later, Aurora grows tired and I make my way to my parents with her in my arms.
“I’m going to put her to bed.” I say. My mother nods her head at me, standing and rubbing Auroras hair as she places a soft kiss on her forehead. She stirs but doesn’t wake. My father does the same and places his hand on my shoulder.
“There’s something important I want to speak to you about when you come back.” He says. I nod my head, feeling my heart race at the news. It makes me excited. I walk over to Hynden.
“I’m going to put Aurora to sleep, then I’m yours for the rest of the night.” I say. She smiles at me, placing a soft kiss on my cheek.
“Hurry back.” She says.
I leave the banquet hall, walking through the quiet hallways and up the winding stairs that leads to Aurora’s chambers. Her chambermaid is waiting to take her from my hands, but I wave her off. I want to put her to sleep myself.
I walk into her room, removing her shoes and laying her down, placing her in the covers, pulling them over her. She stirs slightly, rolling over. I smooth her hair back and lean in to her placing a soft kiss on her cheek.
I walk out of her room, passing the chamber maid.
“She’s asleep.” I say. She bows to me, but I keep walking, making my way back to the banquet halls. On my way back, I take note that the halls are unnaturally silent. I look around in confusion, trying to find a guard, but see none.
I get a strange feeling. I move my feet faster, trying to get to the banquet hall.
“Cassian, get down!” I look to my left to see Caius sprinting towards me. I don’t have time to think before I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand. Someone is behind me. I duck just in time and that’s when I see it. The unmistakable blade made from ice and the power that runs through their veins.
Caius appears right next to me the instant I duck, swinging his sword and making contact with the intruder, slicing open his throat. I look down at the now dying Ikniri, and don’t stop to thank Caius. I sprint towards the banquet hall, and I hear Caius shouting something behind me, but I don’t listen. The hall doors are closed, and there is ice sealing them. I reach the doors, placing my hand on the ice, and immediately my flesh is singed from the contact. I jerk my hand back in pain, but the pain I feel is nothing compared to what I hear.
I force the flames to my hands and use all the force I can to burn the ice away from the door. But this is no ordinary ice. It’s infused. Which means the Ikniri did this. The screams are more agonized as the seconds pass by, and I let out a cry forcing everything I can, emitting a large flame from my palms. The doors are taking too long to thaw, and the cries are becoming less and less.
I hear a fight behind me as well, and when I look, I see Caius fighting off more Ikniri.
“Don’t stop!” He shouts at me.
“I’ve got your back!”
I turn back to the doors, putting all my strength and might into getting them open. Because with each passing second, the screams are getting less and less as another person is slaughtered. I can hear the loud roar that vibrates the halls, which can only mean that my father has transformed.
My father, my mother, Hynden, and ever king and queen and dragonborn are behind these doors being slaughtered. My eyes are burning as tears fall down my face at the fact that I can’t remove the ice fast enough. I hear Caius screaming in pain behind me, but I can’t turn around. I can’t be distracted.
I’ve finally breached the doors, and don’t care how much strength I am losing. The door finally bursts into flames, and I don’t waste time entering the hall.
The sight before me is horrendous. There is blood and bodies everywhere. And a mass of Ikniri. Enough for a war. I see kings that have already transformed and have been slaughtered in their dragon form. And when I look to the throne, I see my mother’s bloodied gown, and her lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling.
I look at the exact moment that Ten Ikniri are on him, in one fell swoop severe his head from his body. My world stops, and I can feel my muscles tightening as they heat and stretch, my skin beginning to transform, and I let the rage overtake me.
Death. They’re all dead. Every single Ikniri that dared step into this room. My body is in so much pain, and I will myself to transform back to my humanoid form. My skin is drenched in blood, and I immediately remember Aurora. On the other side of the castle.
I sprint out of the banquet room, feeling my heart in my throat.
Please let her be ok. Please let her be alive.
The castle has never seemed so big than in this moment as I cross it to find my little sister. I look around the halls, and they’re empty. I finally reach her room. The door is closed. I feel a slight sense of relief. The door is closed. No one has been here.
I burst through the doors, and my heart stops. There is a man. An Ikniri. He’s seconds from jumping out the window. He turns his head and looks me in the eyes. Those cold, blue, dead eyes. He jumps. I hear a sob, and look down, and my heart shatters.
Aurora has her eyes squeezed tight in pain. Her hand is clutching the sheets, and the other is over a wound. I can see the blood pouring from it, soaking the bed.
“No no no...” I murmur. My legs give out, as I lean over her body. Tears well up in my vision, spilling over. Her eyes open, and she’s staring at the ceiling, before they fall on me.
“C..Cassian?” Her voice is so weak. It’s a whisper. I reach out with shaky hands, pushing her hair from her face.
“I’m here.” I say. I can hear her heart. It’s growing weaker by the second.
“I... I don’t... want to... die...” She manages. I can’t help the sob that is ripped from my throat.
“You’re going to be ok. you’re not going to die.” I say. My voice is shaky. I grab her hand. Her grip is so weak. Her skin is growing cold. I hear footsteps behind me, but don’t pay attention to it.
“Please...” I sob. “Please don’t die... don’t leave me here alone, Aurora.” I say. Her gaze lifts.
“Cassian? Why aren’t you saying anything?” She says.
“Aurora? Aurora!” I shout.
“Cassian... where are you? I can’t see you...” Her gaze is flying over the room, but not focusing on anything. She takes a heaving breath, and I hear her heart stop.
I feel weak. Like I can’t move. I throw my head back, letting out a cry of agony and pain.
I don’t know how long I stay over her lifeless body.
I find myself walking down the hall, carrying her in my arms until I find myself back inside the banquet hall. I can hear the sobs of anguish, and I can hear the gasps when they see me carrying my little sisters lifeless body. I trudge through the blood of my people, ignoring everything around me. I see Hynden over her father’s body, and Xander over his.
I see more than half of my father’s guard, lifeless on the once marble floors. I step up the steps, to my parents’ bodies. My mother’s eyes are still open. Her hair stained red. My fathers severed head. I drop to my knees, laying Aurora next to them. I’ve never felt such anguish. I pull her lifeless body close to mine, burying my face in her neck and letting out my sobs.
But I feel something more than the pain. I feel hatred. True hatred. Disgust. I look around the room at everyone crying over the dead. I look at my father’s body. He’s gone. Which now means that I am king. A role that I have been forced into early.
I stand, looking at everyone in the room, making them a promise.
“I will make the Ikniri suffer for what they have done here today. I swear it. The world will know the dragonborn. They will fear our name, and they will think twice before they dare to go against us ever.”
I will kill every last Ikniri until there is none left.
The room is silent. I look over to the bed where Neytiri now lays. She’s asleep. Of course, she is. No one can withstand my hedon. Not even her. The legendary Ikniri. The last one. The one that slipped through my grasp, yet I decided to spare for some reason.
I know that in the end she will only get in my way. The influence of her people is lost on her. She is her own person now, and from the way she reacts to the life around her, she will not agree with my plans. Which is why I can only hope that by the time the truth comes back to her, she will have enough feeling in her heart for me to step aside.
I don’t want to have to kill her. But I will if it comes down to it.
The door to the far side of the room pushes open, and I don’t have to look up to see who it is. Hynden. Her kingdom was the last stop. I’ve barely spoken to her since my arrival and her agreement to stand by me when the time comes.
“Never thought I’d see one alive... after that day anyway.” She says. I look up at her. She’s watching Neytiri with a cautious expression. Her curly blonde hair falls to her shoulders. In the past I would have wanted nothing more than to run my finger through those golden tresses. But that was in the past.
“There was a time when you wouldn’t have wasted a second to slice her throat.” She says. I hear the bitterness in her tone, but keep my eyes trained on Neytiri. Her eyes are closed, and her skin is taking on the fire’s warm glow. She’s beautiful. I knew she would be.
“Yes, well I already killed her race. By the time I came across her I had bigger things to deal with than killing a child.” I say.
“That didn’t stop you before.” She quips back. I feel irritation bubbling under my skin as I turn to her.
“Like I said. I had bigger things to deal with.” I say. Her eyes widen and I see the fear behind them before she drops her gaze.
“My apologies.” She murmurs. I turn away from her looking back to Neytiri’ s sleeping form. Never has something put me at such peace before. Hynden takes a seat next to me.
“You killed the king of your kingdom.” She says. I shrug.
“He wasn’t fit to be a king. They’re all going to die anyway.” I say. She laughs softly, but I sense no humor in it.
“But I thought the plan was t-”
“I know what the plan was. I made the plan.” I say. I turn to her.
“Why are you here.” I ask. I see the hurt in her gaze from my words, but she says nothing. She only looks to Neytiri.
“You care for her, don’t you.”? She says. Her gaze meets mine.
“You used to look at me like that.” She adds. “How can you care for the offspring of the very creatures that took our families away from us.” She says. I shrug. It’s a fucked-up situation. Her people killed my family. But I personally killed her people. I can still hear their screams.
“What are you going to do if she turns on you, Cassian.” She asks. I shake my head standing and moving closer to Neytiri.
“She won’t.” I say. I look at the symbol engraved on her face. My mark. I look back to Hynden.
“And if she does, I will kill her.” I say. Hynden stares at me with a mixture of fear and horror. She stands, making her way over to me, never breaking eye contact. She reaches up placing her palm against my cheek. Her gaze bores into mine. She seems to be searching my eyes for something, and I notice the frown on her lips when she can’t find it.
“You’ve changed so much since that night.” She says.
“If you didn’t have the same face, I might mistake you for someone else entirely.” She rubs her thumb over my cheek. Something that used to comfort me, but now makes me feel nothing. Her gaze falls behind me to Neytiri. She smiles but it’s filled with pity.
“Poor child. To have the heart of a heartless man.” She says. She pulls her hand away from my face and turns away from me walking to the door. She pauses, looking over her shoulder.
“Safe travels, Cassian. I will see you when the time comes.” She closes the door behind her. I look back to where Neytiri lays and make my way back to the bed, laying down next to her.
I run my finger over her cheek, feeling electricity in my fingers from where our skin meet.
"You are so lucky to not remember the death of your tribe." I say. I relive the horrors of losing my people, and family every day of my life. I can also remember taking hers. But it doesn't bother me in the least.
But I know the pain she would feel if she remembered. My eyes travel to the mark on her face. The mark that I gave her. That keeps all of her memories at bay. I can remove it and decide what I want to let her remember, but I think I'll wait.
I try and feel some form of guilt at my manipulations, but I feel none. I smile. Hynden is right. I have changed.