Angela, Exalon, and Maya entered the dining room together, with Angela moving behind the other two the observe proper protocol. The room was darkly lit, with dark wooden panels on the walls and crimson tapestries depicting battle scenes as decorations, which seemed like a strange choice to Angela. The table was small, only big enough for eight people, indicating this was the Royal Family’s private dining room, not their formal one. An elegant, older woman, with formally styled silvery blonde hair with a marriage circlet woven through it, wearing a gold robe and black dress, sat at the head of the table, barely acknowledging their entrance. Angela was now officially in the presence of Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Axala of Axion.
“Your Majesty,” Exalon bowed to his mother, who nodded at him. Maya greeted her mother and curtsied, also receiving a head nod. Maya sat at her mother’s right hand, but Exalon remained standing, holding a hand out to Angela. After taking a breath, she clasped his hand and gave a deep curtsy. Exalon squeezed her hand and Angela stood, finally looking directly at the Queen. The coldness in her eyes surprised Angela, but then she was surprised to feel surprised. She knew the Queen didn’t want her there.
“Mother, may I present-”. Exalon abruptly stopped talking as the Queen raised her hand to silence him.
“I am aware of who this…creature is. How you thought you could hide it from me is baffling.” The Queen’s tone was as cold as her eyes. Angela bit her tongue, angry at the disgust in the Queen’s voice. Exalon narrowed his eyes at his mother.
“Clearly you don’t know me at all if you thought I was trying to hide her,” Exalon replied as coldly as his mother. “Would I really have sent Gander and Royal vehicles to pick her up if that was my plan?”
“I’m honestly not sure I do know you, Exalon, since you’ve broken an important marriage alliance and are planning a ball to parade your human pet around as if it was one of us!” Queen Axala snapped at him.
Angela saw red and took a step forward, her fists clenching, but Exalon laid a supportive hand on her back. It was shaking slightly, giving away that he was just as outraged by his mother’s statement as Angela was. Surprisingly, Maya jumped to her feet, glaring at her mother.
“How dare you?” Maya practically shouted. “How dare you talk about Exalon’s match like that? Angela is wonderful and you’re being an entitled specist!”
“Hold your tongue, young lady,” Queen Axala snapped at her daughter.
“I will not! Not when you’re acting like this!”
Maya took a step back to stand on Angela’s other side. She was now flanked by Maya and Exalon and felt extremely grateful for their support.
“I have something I need to share with you and Maya,” Exalon said, glaring at his mother. “In complete privacy. You’ll need to call for the dinner courses now, Mother.”
Queen Axala glared back at her son, but clearly used her comm link to communicate with her staff, as they almost immediately ran in, delivered all the dishes, then ran out. The Queen pressed down on a section of the table and Angela heard the doors lock and a slight buzzing noise that indicated no one could hear into the room.
“I’m assuming your human is meant to be a part of this conversation?” the Queen said with a nasty note to her voice. “Or can we send it to go eat with the other sub-species?”
“That. Is. Enough.” Exalon growled, glaring at his mother. His eyes started glowing and Angela suddenly remembered something that had been said in passing during her brief ABA lessons on Axion. When an Axion was about to shift into a more primal, violent form, their eyes would begin to glow. Angela hadn’t been aware Axions could change their bodies like that, but the instructor breezed past it, saying no one shifted anymore. It was an ancient genetic relic, left over from their lineage as tribal warriors, nothing more.
Both Maya and the Queen stiffened, slowly moving back from Exalon. Maya had grabbed Angela’s hand, but she gently shook it off, walking carefully over to Exalon. His breathing was fast and sweat covered his face. Already his biceps, pectorals, and shoulders seemed bigger, straining his clothing. His face had a harsh, almost animalistic quality to it and his glowing eyes hadn’t left his mother. Angela didn’t understand how she knew, but she was certain she could help Exalon.
“Exalon,” she said quietly, moving slowly so she was in front of him. Unfortunately, because of his height, she couldn’t block his view of the Queen.
“Get away from him, you idiot girl! Do you want to get us all killed?” Queen Axala hissed at Angela, still trying to move her chair farther back, away from the table and her shifting son. Angela ignored her and slowly raised her hand to Exalon’s transformed face, cupping his cheek. Exalon jerked in surprise, seemingly noticing Angela for the first time. He gave a deep growl, but Angela didn’t move her hand.
“Exalon, you need to calm down,” she said gently. Exalon frowned, as if he was trying to grasp a memory and it kept slipping away. His eyes were darting back and forth between his mother and Angela. She reached up with her other hand and softly ran her fingertips over his unusually sharp cheekbones.
“Ex, it’s Angela. Your Angela. You need to calm down. Breathe with me.” Angela let her hand slide down from Exalon’s face and he let out a sad whimper. She gently took his hand and placed it on her chest, ignoring the pinpricks from his new, long claws. She breathed deeply, letting him feel the rhythm of her breaths. In, then out. In, then out. Exalon began to match her, his eyes now staring deeply into hers. As they stood there, connected to each other, Exalon’s face and body began to change, shrinking and assuming its normal appearance. The bright light in his eyes slowly flickered out and then it was just Exalon standing there again.
“Oh, my love. My angel.” Exalon wrapped Angela up in a tight, almost crushing, hug, burying his face in the crook of her neck. Angela gently ran her hands up and down his back, still feeling slight quakes in his body.
“I’m here,” she whispered to him. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re okay.”
Exalon let out a rough exhale and moved back, keeping his arms wrapped tight around Angela. He lowered his forehead to hers and they both closed their eyes, just breathing together.
Suddenly, a throat was loudly cleared behind them. They turned to see Queen Axala standing next to the table, glaring at them both.
“What just happened, Exalon?” she demanded. “Were you truly about to attack me? Your own mother? Over this…human?” The Queen’s lip curled with distaste and Maya rolled her eyes, collapsing back into her chair.
“Honestly, Mother, do you really think it’s smart to continue antagonizing him?” Maya asked. “If Angela hadn’t been here, we’d be dead.”
“If she hadn’t been here, none of this would have happened in the first place!” the Queen shouted at her daughter, who just crossed her arms and returned her mother’s glare.
“If this is going to happen every time someone comments negatively about this…person, she clearly cannot stay,” Queen Axala stated, obviously expecting her demands to be met. “Members of the Royal Family do not lose control like that, nor do they behave in such a barbaric way. We’re canceling that ball you’re planning and you’re not to see her again. We’ll keep her on one of our country estates for the trial period, then she must go.”
Exalon looked down at Angela, his eyes soft and warm.
Queen Axala jerked back in surprise, then bared her teeth in a barely contained growl.
“If you will not do as I say as your mother, then you will do as I say as your Queen. You are not to see this human again! Is that understood?”
Exalon just kept staring into Angela’s eyes, running a comforting hand up and down her back.
“I’m afraid not even you can order that,” Exalon said. “The highest order comes from the Fates and they have already spoken.”
Queen Axala gave a frustrated grunt.
“What nonsense are you spouting off now? The Fates do not control ABA matches.”
“No, they don’t.” Exalon raised his head and looked his mother directly in the eye. “But they do control our souls. Angela is my Sonsara. Where she goes, I go. Our souls are intertwined by the Fates themselves. Even you know Sonsara bonds can never be broken.”
Maya grinned with delight, Queen Axala gasped in horror, and Angela braced herself for their reactions.