The world is changing. I can feel it. It’s like there’s a small shift in the air. Like the seasons. They don’t happen suddenly. The air gently creates a soft chill, and the leaves slowly transition in color changing shade. And then one day you realize it’s finally autumn.
A week has gone by since my awakening. And since then the soldiers have helped rebuild this village and bring food into their bellies. Not only has the Ikniri village been rebuilt, but they are now thriving on their way to salvation. And I plan to keep it that way.
Cassian is coming, and he is coming with a vengeance. He is coming to kill every last ikniri here, including me and his men. He is angry. And that is putting it mildly. His mind at this moment is the reason my people were selected to keep the Dragonborn in check. The Dragonborn are an emotional group of beings. They leave destruction in their wake. And my people are the only ones that can stop them when they have been riled up.
According to my ancestors, they are more beast than man. I haven’t stopped to think about Cassian in the past days. I can only think of the future. The future my people will have, as will the rest of the world. If I don’t stop Cassian.
I look around the room at the men I’ve put in charge.
Caius. Torren. Merek. And Sacar. An Ikniri leader of the warriors.
I look out at the faces that have followed me possibly to certain death. The faces that defied their king, and made me their queen.
“Cassian is coming. With an army of 20,000 men.” I say simply. I gauge everyone’s reactions. I don’t have to look at their faces though. I can sense the fear. Every man fears death. If he says otherwise, he is either lying, or a madman. And every one of these men knows the fate that awaits them at the hand of their old king. Because they used to be the ones that doled out that fate.
“He means to end us. All of us.” I say. “But I plan to fight him.”
Caius looks like he wants to say something but I start before he can get a word out.
“I know what I am asking you will be difficult, to say the least.” I pause, catching myself and carefully choosing my next words. I look out at the men around the table, keeping my gaze level and my heart steady. I take a deep breath.
“I’m asking you... to fight against your own brothers. The men you trained with. Grew with. Served with. Fought with. I’m asking you to go against them, and stop them from destroying what is left of my people. I’m asking you all to sacrifice whatever feeling and emotion you may have for these men, and defend what is now your home.”
“I will not force you to follow me. All I can do is ask. And if you wish to choose a different path, then I have nothing I can say to you other than you have my blessing. I know this is a difficult and selfish thing of me to ask.”
My eyes travel over the flat plains covered in snow and ice. The clouds are almost touching the ground at this point. I can see them rolling across the land, barely scraping the surface. As if they’re afraid. I hold my palm out in front of me, and watch the small cloud form above my palm. A simple parlor trick in comparison to what I can do now. Everything has been revealed to me.
“So is this the plan now? Run away and not tell anyone where you’re going?” Caius finally found me. I sensed him coming when he was still five miles out. I could sense everything. His mind. His heart. His breathing. I drop my hand and look behind me giving him a soft smile.
“I’m waiting for someone.” I say. He looks around.
“May I ask who?” I laugh softly.
“You’ll see.” I pat the snow next to me. He narrows his gaze but comes to take a seat next to me. He doesn’t speak, but I know something is weighing on his mind. Something heavy. But he doesn’t speak. He just sits next to me, giving me a nice presence. A light breeze picks up around us.
Caius has been distant from me ever since my awakening. It’s as if he doesn’t see me as a child he needs to protect anymore. He treats me like a queen. I look at him and he is facing the plains, except he isn’t looking. He’s just sitting. Gazing. I smile.
“Thank you.” I say. He looks at me in shock.
“For what?” I shake my head looking into his now blue gaze.
“For believing in me. For staying behind me, even in the most difficult of times. For your support even now. When I ask you to go against everything you know.” I say. Caius was the first to speak up in the meeting and once again pledge his loyalty to me. The others as well. Even though they know this will be difficult.
Caius shakes his head.
“It is my duty, Neytiri.” He says softly. The wind slightly picks up, but it doesn’t bother me in the least.
“So... the queen, huh?” He says giving me a smile. This is the first time he’s even adressed everything that is going on. I nod my head.
“It would seem so. My mother blocked my memories before she died. She wanted me to grow old far from here.” I rest my chin on my knees.
“But it would seem fate had other ideas.” I say. He still doesn’t speak, but somehow I feel like he wants me to continue. I take a deep breath.
“As does Cassian.” I say. Caius leans closer to me.
“Has he visited you since your first vision?” He asks. I nod my head looking at my palm where the oath resides.
“Moments before my awakening. But it wasn’t...him. He was so monstrous.” I mumble. “As if he were showing me the fate that awaits me.” I say. I squeeze my palm shut, looking out over the plains. Just a few more minutes.
“He has an army, Caius. A massive army. He plans to eradicate us. Leaving no trace behind.” I say. I look at him.
“What will he do if he succeeds?” I ask. Caius has a grim expression on his face.
“He will... end the world. Plunge it into darkness.” He says. I look up at the sky. Pure white. I couldn’t imagine a world of darkness. Caius sounds so broken and tired, I can’t help but feel pain in my heart for him. Cassian was not only the man he swore to protect but his best friend.
It makes me realize even more how heavy of a burden this is. These men have known Cassian their wholes lives. They have shared Cassians pain. And here I come asking them to do something unthinkable.
I think back to when Cassian came to me in a vision. He was angry but it was clear he was hurt over the betrayal. Maybe there is some part of him that still cares. A part that would be willing to stop the war before it starts in order to protect his men.
I’m about to say something when my guest finally arrives. I immediately stand, looking out over the plains. Caius stands with me and suddenly sense the presence. He moves to stand in front of me, but I step in front of him.
“Don’t worry. It’s a friend.” I say. The slow padding of paws over the ice breaks through the wind, and I can’t help but smile when I see someone I never thought I would see again. My best friend that would help me train, and console me when i had nightmares, who was assigned to my side from my birth.
He’s massive now. Large enough for me to ride. I smile, holding out my arms as the giant white beast comes barreling towards me.
This is a bad idea. I know it is. But I can’t stop myself. I have to know that I’ve exhausted every effort before leading us into war against a madman hellbent on killing us. The snow slowly dissipates as we reach the bottom of the mountain.
Tikanni and I have ridden for three days. I left without telling Caius or any of the men where I’m going except for Sanath. I knew if I told one of the men, they would try their best to stop me. And that’s not what I need right now. It’s time for me to stop letting others protect me, and do my job as the ikniri. Protect them.
I know the moment Cassian realizes I am close. It’s some kind of strange bond we share. I make my way up to the camp, and hear the familiar sounds of men sharpening their blades. Tikaani’s fur begins to stand, and I feel a deep rumble coming from him. His steps slow.
“Shhhh.” I softly pat him, urging him to keep moving forward. We step into the camp, and the men let us. Surprisingly. Tikaani continues to walk past all of the men in Cassians army, and they all continually glare at us.
My nerves grow even more frazzled as I see the number of men that are gathered in this camp. I can’t let my men go to war. We don’t have nearly enough.
We finally reach the center of the camp, and there he is waiting. Cassian is standing outside of his tent, watching me. His eyes are blazing red, and his mouth is set in a firm line except for the small upturn corner of his mouth. His hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, falling down to his waist, and he is wearing all black. He looks terrifying. Intimidating. Nothing like the man from my memories.
Tikaani growls underneath me, but I pat him again, sliding off of his back. Cassian watches the motion, not moving at all. I walk around, facing my back to Cassian, grabbing Tikaani’s face between my hands. I speak to him in my native tongue.
“Calm, Tikaani. Stay here. Stay quiet.” I say. I make sure his gaze is locked to mine and he understands. He slowly lowers himself to the ground, and I know he understands. I take a deep breath, reigning in my terror, and face Cassian.
“I knew it was a matter of time before you came to me.” He smiles. But he isn’t being kind. He steps aside pulling open the tent flap for me. I slowly make my way, already feeling myself grow weaker from being near so much heat. I step into his tent.
“You must be tired from your journey.” I nod my head but remain standing. He laughs softly.
“Have a seat, wife.” I have a sense of deja vu from the words but do so nonetheless. He walks around me, and I can feel the heat coming off of him like a furnace. He places a glass in front of me. I look in it and there’s water.
He takes a seat across from me. I expect him to say something clever, but he doesn’t. He just stares and stares.
“Only very people have seen this form of the Ikniri.” He reaches out, and I flinch but remain still. His fingers brush lightly over the strands of my hair that flutter and dissipate. He laughs softly.
“It almost pains me to be the one to rid the world of it.”
“I know why you’ve come.” He says. His fingers reach further, running over my cheek until he stops at my chin, lifting my face to meet his.
“You want to make some kind of arrangement to spare your men.” He pauses as if in thought.
“Or should I say, my men.” He says bitterly before taking his hand away. At this point, I have no idea what to even say to him.
“Cassian, try and listen to reason... They only did what they thought was right.” I say.
“I can’t let them follow me into battle only to lose their lives,” I say. He laughs.
“Neytiri. They knew that would be the outcome the moment they turned their backs on me.” He says angrily.
“But I don’t want that to be their decision!” I shout back. My palms are flat on the table, and I’m standing. Cassian's gaze narrows and he stares at my hands, causing me to look as well. A light sheen of ice has formed over the wood. I let go, taking a seat.
“One of the most powerful beings in the world, and you can’t even control it.” He says irritated. He walks around the table, placing his hand on my shoulder. His hand travels down to my palm, and he grabs ahold, gently pulling me up from the seat. My eyes widen as he pulls me away from the table, and towards the bed in his tent.
“What will you give me in return for sparing these traitors?” He says. He takes a seat on the edge of the bed, pulling me between his legs. His gaze moves up and down my body. I let out a soft gasp and step away from him slapping his hands.
“Have you lost your mind?” I snap. He leans back smiling in amusement.
“Can you blame me? I never got to have the wedding night I planned.” He says sarcastically.
“Cassian... I don’t want a war. I just want my people safe... I came here to reason with you.” I say. He glares at me and finally stands. He keeps his eyes locked to mine as he pulls off his shirt. He’s standing in front of me with only his bare chest. I keep my gaze locked to his, but he gives me a look.
“No matter what you came to do, there is only one thing I am wanting from you at this moment, And after you give it to me, then maybe I’ll consider sparing your people.” He says. He holds his hand out to me. This feels just as it did the first time we were together.
“Give yourself to me.” Those words haunt me to this day. I slowly make my way towards him, placing my hand in his, and he pulls me onto the bed. His pupils dilate, and his fingers trace their way around my collar. He grasps the dress, and in one swift move, he rips it from my body. The heat surrounding me in the tent touches my bare chest.
Cassian’s gaze is glowing at this point, and he places his hands on my chest, feeling my breasts and running his thumb over my nipple. I shudder as a small rush of pleasure courses through me.
“Give yourself to me, and I will hear what you have to say.” He says. His gaze meets mine.
“Or... you can take what remains of your dress, and ride back up the mountain to prepare for war.” He captures a nipple in his mouth, keeping his hand over the other. My knees give out, and he picks me up by my waist, laying me down on the soft pillows.
He rises over me, looking into my eyes.
“Be with your husband... or make a pointless trip.” He says.
“But... how do I know you will spare them?” I say. He smiles softly.
“You don’t. But it’s worth a gamble, eh?” He says. He doesn’t wait for a response from me as he leans down kissing my neck and pulling my skin between his teeth. I open my mouth, letting out a soft breath. My body turns to mush as pleasure takes over.
Cassian lowers his hand, running it down my body between my legs. He dips a finger into me and pulls it out rubbing his finger over my clitoris. A moan leaves me this time. As he plays and sucks on my nipple. He takes his other hand, grabbing my cheek and places a hot kiss over my mouth.
It’s as if instantly heat rockets through me. I arch my back, and my hands come up grabbing his head between my hands deepening the kiss. I open my mouth and his tongue enters. All the while I can feel his hard erection against my belly. All of my logic flies out the window as pleasure takes over. All I can think of is him. Cassian.
I suddenly feel him entering me and arch my back in pleasure. It rips up my spine to my fingertips and my toes. Cassian's lips never leave mine, and he begins thrusting. Each thrust lifts me off the bed a little. I have to break the kiss to let the moan escape my throat. Cassian uses that moment to capture the sensitive flesh between my throat between his teeth. He sucks lightly on the skin, causing more and more ripples of pleasure to rocket through me. Each thrust adding more to the climbing pleasure. I can feel myself reaching, and my muscles having random spasms in preparation.
“What did you come here for again, Neytiri?” He says. His voice cuts through my pleasure haze, for a split second. I rack my brain for an answer.
“Please...spare them.” I murmur. I feel Cassian’s hand lightly latch around my throat, but not tight. Just enough to alarm me. I open my eyes and look into his eyes. And that’s when I know.
“No.” He says. No sooner are the words out of his mouth does my orgasm hit me. I close my eyes, and throw my head back, arching my back and crying out in pleasure. I feel Cassians hand underneath my back holding my spine as he lightly tugs on my nipple, extending my pleasure. I hear him let out a guttural cry, and feel him pulsing inside of me as he releases as well.
Our bodies are slick with sweat, and as soon as I come down from pleasure, my brain begins working again. Cassians hand wraps around my throat, and I feel a surge of energy rushing through me. I open my mouth to scream, knowing Tikaani will come for me, but Cassian leans into my ear.
“Shhh.” He whispers quietly. And I do.
“Even if you have awakened, you still are too naive.” He growls. Gone is the playful man that was here moments ago. This is the man I left at the altar. The man I betrayed as well as his men. This is the blood king, ready to plunge the world into darkness. I place my hand on his forearm and let the ice release. He hisses in pain, letting go of me, and I drag myself away from his body, falling to the floor out of the bed.
I hold my throat trying to soothe the pain, but keep my eyes on Cassian. He is looking at his arm in irritation and shifts his black and red gaze to me. It’s cold and evil, and empty. He steps down from the bed.
“What did you do to me...?” I manage to gasp out. He looks down at me in disgust, walking to the edge of the bed, grabbing his sword. The terrifying sound of metal echoes through the tent.
“I took what was mine, and I solidified our oath.” He says. He keeps walking towards me. I open my mouth to scream at Tikaani, but Cassian speaks again.
“Ah. Ah. Ah.” He says. My mouth shuts.
“After I kill you, I am taking my men up that mountain, and I am going to slaughter every Ikniri that is left. And once I end the Ikniri legacy, I will take each and every one of my men that betrayed me, and I will make each of them individually suffer, and when they think death will come, I will keep them alive just long enough to torture them some more. And I will drag your cold, dead body along with me so they can all see the fate of their beloved ‘last hope’.” He growls. He raises his sword, aiming right down at me. I muster all of my strength, forming a wall of ice over me.
“Tikaani!” I shout. The large wolf comes barreling in, with his hackles up. I then realize the grave mistake I’ve made. Cassian was luring him in here. I feel the heat at my back as Cassian shoots flames aiming them right at Tikaani. I use all my power, rising up on my feet, emitting ice from my back. I can feel it evening out the flames as they both disappear into mist. I shout at Tikaani in my language.
“Go!” He looks confused, and I know he knows there is trouble and doesn’t understand my want for him to leave.
“I said Go!” I shout. He whines, but turns and runs out of the tent. I feel a hand around my throat, and Cassian is holding me in the air with his blade aimed right at my stomach. I let the ice course over my body, forming a frozen armor, and he lets go.
I then hold my hands out in front of me and use the force to propel myself out of the tent. I take off towards the woods, but not before I look back one last time, and see Cassian.
He isn’t pursuing me, but he is watching me. With a smile on his face.
I feel weak. Exhausted. And foolish. I drop to the ground, letting the tears escape me. How could I be so stupid? I place my head against the dirt. He got what he wanted, again. I was so foolish and so trusting.
And so desperate to protect them.
“Neytiri?” I tense and hold up my hands ready to blast ice if need be, but feel my heart sink. Caius. He’s looking at me in complete shock. I see Tikaani behind him, watching everything unfold.
“Wha..?” He doesnt finish as he takes me in. Exhausted. Sniveling. Naked. And a fresh new mark on me from Cassian.
“I...I...I...” I can’t get the sentence out. Caius immediately pulls his cloak from his shoulder wrapping it around my naked shoulders. He pulls me in close to him.
“Shhhh.” He says.
“I’m here now. I won’t let anything happen to you.” He says. So I cry into him. And cry, and cry. And when I hear the faint whisper of Cassian’s voice in my head, I cry even harder.
“All of you will die.”