“On my honor, I will get you out of here.”
Caius’ words have been echoing in my ears for the past few days. The sincerity and drive he had in his voice when saying that has stuck with me, because it’s the only hope that I have of getting out of this place. He is the only person that has shown me that he cares enough to not look the other way when it comes to Cassian’s wrongdoings.
Cassian summons me when he wants, and I can do nothing to refuse. It’s as if my body doesn’t belong to me anymore. I can’t even use my own power anymore. It’s a strange thing missing something that you only had for a short time. I feel as though a piece of me is missing.
I look up as I pass by an open archway overlooking the world beyond the palace. A world I will never see. I have to bite back bitter tears from the thought. I’ve faced a lot of sorrow in the past few weeks. But Cassian’s betrayal and the way that he’s been using me is heart wrenching. I feel like nothing at all.
They make sure to parade me around the castle in my chains so that the servants can see I am no longer a guest here, but a prisoner. His prisoner. And they know what would happen to them should they help me in any way. He may have taken me out of the dungeons, but he still keeps the chains around my arms at all times. The only reason that I haven’t completely given up all hope, is because of Caius’ words.
I drop my gaze as we come to a halt in front of doors I am unfamiliar with. I thought I would be once again led to Cassian’s chambers, but it seems that he has other plans for me today. The doors open and out comes Caius with a grim expression on his face. He doesn’t even glance in my direction, but I don’t miss the pure hatred he has in his eyes when they lock with Ulric. He pauses in front of him, his gaze narrowing.
“You let this happen.” He sneers. His words ring across the halls, and Ulric only stares back. He doesn’t say a word. But I see regret in his gaze, and the muscle that is working in his jaw. The other men on the other side of Ulric look at Caius in shock, but do nothing. Caius still doesn’t speak, but he shoves past Ulric disappearing up the hallway. I look back to Ulric in shock, but he only has a grim expression on his face. He finally steps forward and I feel the tug on my chains as he pulls me into the room.
I look around at the tower of books that surround us. Ulric leads me through the rows until we reach an open space. Cassian is waiting, standing in front of the fireplace. I feel my flesh crawl and my blood boil at the sight of him. I hate him. Yet I want to be near him. Yet I feel sad when he shows disdain towards me.
He looks up upon our entrance from the flames. His eyes immediately fall on me, and he gives us no reaction. I recall him telling me that he looks to the flames when he’s lost or confused. That they are a source of comfort for him. I wonder what it is that is bothering him in this moment.
He walks towards us, his gaze latching onto mine. He reaches out and takes the chains from Ulric, nodding his head slightly. Ulric simply bows and leaves the room. My nerves are on edge from Caius’ words and Ulrics expression. Cassian stands quietly over me, and I make sure to lower my gaze. His hands mess with the chains, and suddenly they fall from my hands, dropping to the floor in a loud pile of metal hitting metal. He turns his back on me, walking to the chair nearest the flames, and taking a seat. His gaze never leaves the flames.
“Sit down.” He says. I lightly rub my wrists, and make my way to the cushions opposite of him. He keeps his gaze focused on the flames, and finally looks up at me. His expression is impossible to read as he searches my face for something.
“Do you hate me, Neytiri?” He asks. Such a simple question, yet it brings on so much emotion. I want to jump from my seat and attack him. I want to scream at him. But I do nothing. I do nothing as the memory of my people’s slaughter echoes through my mind, and my brothers and mothers’ deaths as well. Tears slowly well up in my eyes, but I keep his gaze. I force the muscles in my face to remain emotionless. I mirror his expression, even when the one tear escapes my eye and rolls down my face.
My voice is strong, and clear. It echoes off the walls. He just stares at me. A ghost of a smile crosses his lips.
“Why, because I ended the life of people you barely remember? Or because of the sudden recollection of your family?” I say nothing. He sounds amused.
“You used to love me.” He says. I don’t respond. “When you were a child.”
“The highlight of your life was coming into my camp.” He begins smiling.
“You would interrupt meetings, training sessions, even the men had no peace from you.” He laughs softly.
“Everyone here knows you. Every guard here watched you grow. Helped to raise you. Some even wiped the tears from your eyes when those villagers would hurt you. Every one of them would die for you. This is your family.” He says. More tears well up in my eyes. He’s doing this on purpose. Revealing memories to me as he speaks. Suddenly, faces become names, and memories become real.
“Yet you could look me in the eye, as well as your men, even after you wiped out my people.” I say. He shrugs.
“Your people killed mine first.” He says. “Don’t forget that.” I stay silent, keeping my eyes down. Each time I think of the fear he struck into my heart, I get chills all over my body. For some odd reason today, he seems playful almost. Playful and patient. I know at the back of my mind that whatever he has brought me in here for will be something that will hurt me in the end.
“We could have finished the job when you showed up. Imagine how hard it was for some of them to look at you. The embodiment of what destroyed our homes and loved ones. But we chose to overlook that.” Silence falls over us. I don’t know what to say.
“Have you had time to think about my offer?” He asks. He wants a blood oath from me. So that he can have my undoubted loyalty, and be able to control me. Though I don’t know the complete details of what exactly it means, Caius has given me as much information as he was able. I have thought about it, and it seems like there is nothing else for me to do, and nowhere for me to go. I am as helpless as a mortal at this point since he has trapped my power.
But each day I am in his presence, that aura grows darker and darker around him. And I’m sure that I am the only person that can stop him from whatever his plans are when that time comes. That’s why he wants that oath so bad. He wants complete control over me.
He was cold and calculating from the beginning, and I was nothing more than a naive child the moment I was thrown into this palace. Everything he wanted, he got from me. I never stood a chance. Even now he can control my memories. I have no idea who this man truly is or how many of my thoughts have been manipulated by him. The power of my people and the ability to defend themselves from his kind did not come naturally. It came by teaching and training. And I am completely helpless against him. But I won’t be naive any longer. He’s not a good person. I can’t trust a word he says no matter how he twists the perception.
“There’s more to a blood oath, isn’t there? You already have my loyalty, why do you need a blood oath so bad?” I ask. I look up at him, and he’s watching me with a calculated expression. He finally stands, walking across the room, and pausing at a table. He pulls the large paper from it, and makes his way back to me, dropping it in front of me. I slowly glance over the image on the paper, and realize what it is. A map.
“I want the world.” He says. My eyes widen at his admission.
“What?” I ask.
“I want the world. In the past I could have taken it. But now my race has been almost slain, and I need more power to do so. You and I are not the only ancients out there. The others will not stand idly by as I take over. Which is why I need you by my side. You are more powerful than any of them combined. And together, we would be unstoppable.” He says. His speech is simple. But I know there’s more to it. Otherwise he wouldn’t need an oath from me.
“When you say you want the world...” I say trailing off.
“I want to end it.” He says simply. A gasp escapes my lips and I look at him in shock.
“What exactly are you trying to say...?”I whisper. I feel dread in the pit of my stomach as he opens his mouth.
“The inhabitants of this world do not understand the suffering they brought upon us. I will make them understand, and think before they ever try and stand against those that are stronger than them again. I once thought that the world was a free for all. When I was young and foolish. But I will not be like my father. The world needs to be governed. And those that do not wish to fall into place will be taken care of.” He says.
“And what makes you think that you are the one fit to govern the world, Cassian?” I ask. He looks at me and I see irritation in his gaze.
“Because I know suffering. And I know mercy. I know compassion, and I know love. I know how to rule. I am a king. I am of Royal Blood, and of the ancients.” He says. I hate that he actually does have a point. He is a king, and a ruler. And had it not been for my people, he would be a just ruler for his people. I know, because even in my memories I can see the compassion he has. And even now I can see the love he still has for his men and what’s left of the Dragonborn. He would have been a great ruler had it not been for my people and his blind anger.
I let out a defeated sigh, mustering all the strength I can, and look him straight in the eyes.
“But you are so blind by your rage, Cassian you cannot even see that what you’re proposing is...madness.” I say. He lets out a bitter laugh.
“Madness.” He repeats. I nod my head. I seem to have his ear.
“People are born different... Some are strong, and some are weak. And some…some make the strong weak, and the weak strong. But that’s what the world is, one great balance.” I say. I then realize that I just quoted Gran.
“If the strong decide to fall into place, then the weak that they wish to have spared will be spared as well.” He says.
“That’s evil, Cassian.”
“No. That’s mercy.” He says. I stand from my seat, throwing my hands in the air.
“What would you know of mercy?” I half shout. He stands, and I take note that the flames behind him grow. His eyes narrow, and brighten all at the same time.
“I know that when the last Ikniri walked into my camp years after I wiped them out, I spared her life, even though she should have suffered the same fate of her people. The same people that did not show the same compassion to my sister, that was barely a child when they took her life.” He seethes. I close my mouth immediately, and look away.
Once again, he’s right.
I feel his fingers under my chin as he slowly lifts my gaze to meet his. A shiver runs down my spine.
“I have suffered, Neytiri. I have suffered at the hands of the weak my entire life. Because of the very fact that I am one of the strong. Because of some unspoken rule that the strong should lead the weak, and coddle them.” He laughs bitterly.
“My father used to say that humanity is nothing more than a child that needs guidance. We gave them everything. We gave them land. Freedom. The means to survive. We asked for nothing in return. And they turned on us. They did the same with your people. I may have been the one to carry out their fate, but it was humanity, and every other creature that isn’t a part of the Ancients, that orchestrated the whole plot.” He says. He steps away from me, walking back to the fire. He keeps his back to me.
“There is so much that you don’t know. Not about yourself, or your people. And a simple understanding would make all the difference in the world for you.” He turns back to me, and holds his hand out as he nears me. I want to ignore him, but I feel compelled to do as he bids. So, I lift my hand, placing it in his. He keeps a hold of my hand and with his free hand brings his finger to the underside of my arm, tracing my veins. I gasp when I feel a spark of cold. He places his hand against mine, and I gasp escapes me when a small flurry appears in my hand. I can suddenly feel the surge of power through my veins. It’s not as strong as usual, but it’s there. Very faintly.
He lets go of my palm, and the flurry stays there. I look at him in shock.
“What did you do?” I whisper. He smiles.
“I can tell you. I can show you everything you’ve been missing, Neytiri. Everything about your past, if you just give me your future.” He says. I try and add more power to my palm, but it’s no use. It’s as if Cassian has a say in what I can and can’t do. I drop my hand in disappointment, but then I suddenly register what he just said. I look at him in confusion.
“My future?” I ask. He nods, grabbing my hand and I can feel an abnormal amount of heat being released from his palm. His eyes capture me, and I can’t look away. The world around me drops away and it’s as if there is only me and Cassian in the world.
“Be my queen, Neytiri.”
Getting drunk has never been my solution for anything. For one, I have an abnormally high metabolism, so it’s impossible for me to get drunk on mortals’ alcohol, but having found a dark market a few years back, I managed to get my hands on some really potent serpiont.
Which has led me to the edge of the cliffs, miles from the castle. I take another long drink, enjoying the burn as it slips down my throat, settling into my stomach. I look below me as another wave crashes against the rocks. The night air is cool, meaning that summer is over, and the new season is coming.
My life has always been black and white. Protect the crown, protect my king, serve my master. There was never any reason for doubt. Until the day she came back into our lives. I’m no fool. I’m not the only one that is bothered by Cassian’s choice of plans when it comes to her. But I am the only one foolish enough to oppose him about it. Maybe I am a fool.
I couldn’t even look at her as I rushed out of that library. I know the fate that awaits her. I know because Cassian told me seconds before bringing her in. He plans to marry her. Make her his queen. The union of a Dragonborn and an ikniri is enough to send an entire nation into hiding. They may not be the only Ancients out there, but they are two of the strongest.
I just hate to think that he calculated this the whole time. From the moment he realized she was still alive.
“That doesn’t smell like mortal alcohol.” I tense and look behind me when I see Torren walking towards me. Torren is the number two Xindrite behind me. My oath was to the future king, and his was to Aurora before she was killed. When she became of age, he would have taken an oath and she would have given her mark, thus sharing her power with him.
He takes a seat next to me, grabbing the pouch from my hand and taking a sip, handing it back to me. He doesn’t say a word. So, I continue to drink.
“Something is troubling you.” He says. I internally groan. The last thing I want, is one of my subordinates to recognize my feelings against our king.
“It’s the king isn’t it.” He says. I say nothing.
“I understand your frustrations. I was as angry as he was about the murder of my people, as well as the king’s family. But I think the moment we all agreed to non-discriminately murder an entire race, we had gone too far.”
I keep quiet. I just wanted to have a nice quiet night, not have my internal thoughts spoken aloud.
“She’s really grown, hasn’t she? She’s not the child she used to be, but in some ways, she still is. It breaks my heart how in the dark she is.” He says. It’s a common way to feel. Though none of us can do anything. For we can’t go against our kings wishes. I already made him angry enough by throwing her hints.
“He’s gone, you know. The man he once was, the king he was destined to be. He’s now a terrible threat.
“That isn’t your place to say, Torren.” I snap. He’s quiet for a moment.
“I will help you.” He says. I look at him in confusion.
“I said, I will help you. I know you have some kind of plan to get her out and in the mountains.” He says. I shake my head.
“There is no plan. She’s going to marry Cassian, and be our queen. That’s the plan.” I say. The words taste bitter on my tongue.
“I know you, Caius. You know what will happen to her if she marries him. and I don’t think the man that spared her as a child all those years ago, would stand idly by as Cassian ruins the last bit of hope that this world has left.” He says. I look at him narrowing my gaze.
“Why are you here. You realize you’re speaking of treason? Betrayal to the crown, and your own blood? The Xindrite blood line.” I snap. His gaze is heavy but never wavers.
“I do not wish to follow Cassian anymore. I’m not the only one that feels this way either. I know our oath, but I cannot do something as awful as mass genocide. Not again.” He looks at his hands, and I can see the tremble in his fingers.
“The battles of war may stick with you, but the helpless cries of innocent women and children haunt you for the rest of your life.” He looks back up at me and I can see the horror in his gaze. I know, because I live with it too. We all do. All except Cassian.
“I want to make amends. For blindly following when I knew it was wrong. I did something unthinkable because of my anger, and even when I realized the extent of that, I continued. I want her to be my queen. She’s good. I know she is. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all watched her grow, and even now compassion fills her heart. I want to pledge her my oath, and follow her until death. Even if it means going against him.” He says. I stay silent. I bring the drink to my lips, but set it back down.
I let out a deep sigh. Damn.
“I do have a plan.”