1. The Life and Death of Kings

Chapter 1

The Life and Death of Kings

            Our heeled boots clicked on the stone bridge as we progressed towards the castle perimeter. Though I could walk at her side, I chose to let the ‘Dark Oracle’ lead by a step and kept close behind her. The castle lay beyond the town, and was surrounded by a deep moat with grey stone walls that climbed a little over fifteen feet. The turrets, towers, and shingled-cone roofs of the building within could still be clearly seen, even when close to the drawbridge.

Maetira was the same as ever- wearing her traditional black Oracle’s robes with her hood up to, covering her platinum-blonde hair and useless rust-colored eyes. Her giant crystal ball rested in her arms and gleamed brightly in the late afternoon sunlight.

For once, I was dressed in the same depressing manner- I bore a thick, black two-piece dress made of heavy velvet. The top was very tight and left nothing to the imagination of my upper curves, though they buttoned all the way up to my neck. At the end of the long sleeves were cascading cuffs of black lace that annoyed me to no end.

My skirt was, of course, a button up, and under normal circumstances they would be parted up to my hips or upper thigh to reveal black trousers underneath. But this time they were closed, and I instead possessed a bendable hoop skirt to make the heavy layers of the material flare out. I hated it as well, but I knew it was necessary- I was, after all, hiding many …‘useful items’ under it.

My long, light-brown hair was up in a tight bun, and tucked neatly over it was a flat top hat with a black netted veil attached. It was nowhere near as magnificent as the über hat, but I had no say in the matter- I needed something to cover my face, but not limit my sight.

I felt ridiculous in this outfit, though the peasants in the castle town whispered how I appeared like a tragic beauty. I think they were complimenting me, but those words were hardly flattering. Still, I had to wear it because… well, we were going to a funeral

In my arms was a large bouquet of white roses- and even in there I had something hidden. It was difficult earlier when I had to lay in wait with Maetira- roses were her favorite flower and I had to bat her hand away every time she wanted to eat one. It was also difficult to tell someone much older than myself to back off- she really took seniority seriously.

“Halt!” an armored knight called out as he blocked our path before we could finish crossing the wooden drawbridge.

We did as we were told as he and two others clanked up to us with spears in their hands. I knew it was some kind of rule for a guard to always carry a spear, but I felt as if they were being unusually defensive towards two unarmed women. …Well, that wasn’t true, but our weapons were not immediately noticeable.

“What brings you here, Lady Oracle?” the lead knight inquired in a gentle tone once he was able to recognize Maetira’s outfit. Even though she was dressed in the opposite colors of a proper Oracle, many gave her instant respect because they were certain she could hear the Fates just as well as any two bit diviner.

“We are here for the funeral,” she replied calmly, not bothering to raise her head and act as though she could see someone in the eye. I knew she was blind, but surely she could hear where a voice was coming from and try to face it… It was highly unnerving to deal with her when her eyes were locked in the strangest of places during conversation.

I also envied how relaxed she was. I couldn’t see a tense limb in her body, whereas my nerves were thrumming with anxiety. My hands were clutching the bouquet as tightly as I could without smothering the flowers and my fingers were itching to reach inside to grab the object I had hidden within.

The knight was covered from head to toe in armor, but I could hear the confusion …and perhaps a little tension in his tone as he asked, “Funeral? What funeral do you speak of?”

“Why, the king’s funeral of course,” Maetira announced before a kind smirk appeared on her thin lips. She was acting as if she were speaking with children. “He is to die this evening.”

“What?”

For a brief second, the knights backed away as their minds processed the information Maetira fed them and debated if she was being honest or if she was reciting a reading. It was my signal- though it was a very small window to act upon. The roses were tossed in the air and white petals gently rained down on us as I pulled my gun from within and shot out past the guard.

With the armor, I knew I couldn’t hit them without having the bullets ricochet and risk getting hit myself. Instead, I had to aim at the limbs of the other two, who lacked the full body protection as the leader.

The gun I owned was rare- or rather, it was a prototype that wasn’t in mass production yet. It could house up to six bullets and give me an advantage in a fight… but I was a lousy shot since I was still something of a beginner at gunslinging. The gun’s capacity may have given me a greater chance to hit something, but it was still a waste to use up five bullets just to injure a man. But my terrible aim has reduced my chance in killing others so far- and I was willing to be grateful for that.

However, at this moment, my goal wasn’t to kill or injure- I just had to grab their attention. I was certain the pop of the lone shot was enough to catch the attention of the entire guard outside.

“Lower the gates!” the lead knight ordered before he raised his shield and prepared to fight us. Since we were on the drawbridge, it was pointless to raise it- instead, they chose to close off the entrance.

“Get inside. I will deal with them,” Maetira ordered to me as she shifted her crystal ball to one arm. I knew better than to follow that order immediately- she told me several times what her first move would be and that she would take no responsibility if I didn’t get out of her way.

I ducked down before she tossed her ball toward the knights and then used her magicks to swing and knock down anyone around her. Our opponents soon clattered to the ground and I quickly stood to jump over them and rushed to the lowering barred gate. Thankfully, it seemed to be a on a steam engine pulley system that made it lower slowly enough for me to slide under.

It wasn’t long before I noticed several men heading in my direction with either war cries or indignant shouts for me to surrender. With a sigh, I holstered my gun in a concealed carrier within my skirt. Some part of me wished that I had my sword with me, but since I was paired with Maetira on this mission, I was going to have to rely on other methods… not that I believed that I could take on an entire army on my own.

Usually, if I was with Satel or Cegil, they would conjure my sword for me so that I wouldn’t have to carry it around all the time. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to sneak a sword past the town without raising suspicion too early, so there was no point in whining over its absence.

I lifted the bottom hem of my skirt to reveal several small, egg-shaped grey containers that hung on the hoops of the underwear. I grabbed a few and lobbed them at the encroaching enemies, causing smoke to fill the courtyard. The human inventors inland claimed that it was a ‘new, revolutionary invention’ called a ‘smoke bomb’, but I recalled that pirates have been using crude versions of them for many years. The only thing that was ‘new’ about them was the containers- we pirates simply used old bottles or empty ale drums.

The sole use for such devices was to confuse and limit the sight of the enemy. I recalled the crew used them to make their escape should an army happen to arrive in the towns they were ransacking. As for me, it was just to slow down the guard so that Maetira could catch up with me.

Falucite relied on their memories of places to teleport from one area to the next, but apparently Maetira was above that limitation. Since she was unable to see her surroundings, it should’ve been impossible for her to use her powers in that manner, but she somehow managed to adapt by identifying presences. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but as long as she was familiar with someone, she could teleport herself to wherever they were. This was why she made an effort to be friendly with the humans in her territory- they were basically her connections to the entire continent if she chose to have them scatter to its corners.

Besides- I had no idea of where I could go or hide from the men. I pretty much had to wait for her.

There was a battle cry when one of them finally found me, but I held my ground and waited. Call me crazy, but I actually had faith in her- she may have been a partial Child of the Fates, but she was at least dependable. Plus- it wasn’t as if I couldn’t dodge a sword being swung at me. I wasn’t stupid enough to just let the knight hit me.

Just as the man was almost upon me, a huge transparent ball flew past me and hit him under the chin of his helmet. I ducked down quickly as the menacing crystal mass headed for me to attack another knight that was about to sneak up on me. I heard a few more grunts and crashing metal before Maetira practically jumped through the smoke and landed beside me. Elit above- she could’ve hit me! What was I thinking believing in her?!

“It’s all clear!” I shouted to let her know that it was safe to stop attacking for the moment. She may have been a capable fighter, but she couldn’t discern friend from foe in situations like this. Surprisingly, that was the only drawback from working with her.

Ever since Cegil had rejoined the clan, her cover as a helpless blind girl had been blown because he personally witnessed her in action. Only Satel knew what she was really capable of, but the elders didn’t believe him since he was known to be a trickster. To Maetira’s surprise, the elders didn’t try to lock her away for her protection (the main reason she kept her abilities a secret)- they instead gave her more responsibilities so long as she had someone to watch over her. This pissed Satel off greatly, of course- after all, she was rewarded while he suffered several years of being dismissed as a liar.

“Where to next?” I inquired as I finally stood up and tossed another smoke bomb to thicken our cover. Though I knew the main goal and my reason for taking part in it, I was still a neophyte human in the world of falucite. All I knew was how to cause a distraction and grab attention- but Maetira had to cover me and lead the way. Talk about the blind leading the blind…

“One moment,” she replied as she caught her crystal ball and ran her hand over the surface to summon her divination powers. She then grimaced when someone’s blood smeared on the palm of her hand. “…How dare they bleed on my crystal ball!”

“Umm… you kind of attacked them,” I pointed out flatly, uncertain if she was really being serious. Somewhere, hidden deeeeeeep within that haughty, conniving demeanor was a caring person who was dutiful and protective of the humans she chose to watch over. It was just that one had to look at her actions, rather than her personality.

“So?” the Oracle nearly snapped as she used her magicks to flick the blood off her hand and ball. “That does not mean they cannot keep their bodily fluids to themselves after I strike them.”

I opened my mouth to counter that, but then decided against it. And they say I was a sociopath…

“Our resident giant is but six yards ahead,” she eventually replied after having searched for the first name she could think of. There was only one ‘giant’ I knew of- it must’ve been Cegil.

I was a little surprised to hear that he was still on ground level. Maetira and I, of course, were to be the first strike to garner attention and draw as many out as possible. After that, Cegil had to barricade the entrances and redirect those still left inside so that the upper levels were thinned out.

“Just walk forward and we should be there,” Maetira added before she reached out and gripped my shoulder. “There is too much noise for me to navigate, so lead me there.”

“You’re digging your nails into my shoulder!” I hissed as I tried to safely dislodge her annoyingly sharp fingernails from my skin. Falucite didn’t have claws, but Didra gleefully groomed her every now and then so that she would have sharp points to them. Some part of me wondered how Maetira hadn’t hurt herself with her nails yet, but I was more concerned at the fact that the thick velvet I was wearing provided almost no protection against her.

“Mush,” she commanded with a smirk, refusing to loosen her grip. I growled a little before I reluctantly walked forward into the smoky yard. I had some respect for fellow sadists, but not when the pain was directed at me. But then, ever since I’d mated with Satel, my hormones calmed to the point where I didn’t desire to hurt others anymore. I guess I could no longer say that I was much of a sadist.

The smoke was rapidly thinning and I was unable to bend down and throw more smoke bombs to cover us. As much as I wanted to avoid it, I was soon going to have to warn Maetira of any encroaching enemies that might charge us and have her deal with them. I was confident that I could dodge most swords, but I wasn’t sure about her crystal ball. At least the pain in my shoulder was finally starting to fade…

I let out a short curse when we reached the grand double doors that led into the palace. A full army was beginning to march out and encounter what they should believe to be a small resistance group. Thankfully, the misty air was still enough to hide us so that I could drag the blind Oracle behind a well-trimmed bush. I had no doubt that Maetira could take them on along with my help, but the point was to let them get out first.

I shushed the blonde, knowing that later that she would scold me for my impertinence, and watched as they boldly marched out from the hardwood doors. There were an awful lot of them to take care of a ‘small group’, but I didn’t care- the more that came out, the better.

“Shit!” I cursed as an arrow narrowly missed me. I glanced up to a parapet located a few feet above the main entrance and found a lone archer that was able to see us now that the smoke was almost cleared. Thankfully, even if the man managed to have accurate aim, the Oracle would’ve sensed it and raised a shield of some kind to protect us. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had seen this coming and didn’t bother to waste her strength in warning me.

“Maetira, ten feet above and three outward to your left!” I quickly told her so she would know where to aim. I was careful not to shout loudly enough to attract additional attention. I knew my descriptions were too vague for someone with no sight, but she had a wide range to begin with. She didn’t even know depth perception, let alone height, but she had an idea of how to estimate the magicks to use based on the number given.

She ended up overshooting my estimates and missed at first, but the crystal ball eventually hit the archer in its return journey. Unfortunately, the body falling from the parapet alerted those on the ground. A small troop was sent out to check on the man and surround the area to find anything suspicious. They were going to notice us eventually.

Suddenly Maetira grabbed my wrist and forced me up so that we were in plain sight. “The tall one beckons us.”

I didn’t even have the chance to question it or gain my bearings as she summoned her magicks to manipulate the wind and propel us forward, into the open doorway. Sure- she was too blind to walk a few feet, but she had no trouble following a magicked voice and avoiding obstacles… Oh she annoys me so…

Her crystal ball circled around us during the short trip to remove anyone in our path. My feet touched the ground perhaps three times before something caught the tip of my leather boot and made me topple over. We were already within the palace walls when Maetira kindly decided to release her grip on me and let me fall. I caught myself on my hands and knees, the skirts of my dress cushioning my lower half, but one of the smoke bombs went off in the impact and I had to ignore the fact that wisps of the mist were curling out from under me.

I didn’t have time to think about how funny I must’ve appeared as I whipped my head around to the entrance in time to see the army make an about face and head back to us. Why in five hells did they think two intruders were worth everyone turning around?

But just before they could reach the doorway, a square slab of bedrock rose from the ground and effectively blocked the way. I knew who did that- but I couldn’t acknowledge my savior. I wasn’t safe yet, as there were still a few guards within. I managed to get up as a small group of four began to charge at me, but they soon slowed when they noticed the ‘back-up’ behind me.

There were at least ten men covered in shiny armor with red tabards over their breastplates. I let them drive back the knights- at least until they realized that my ‘allies’ were fake. Falucite had the ability to create illusions, and since Maetira couldn’t see to fabricate phantoms of any kind, I knew they had to have come from Cegil.

If that one soldier hadn’t gotten lucky and manage to make one disappear from a desperate strike, then they probably would’ve ran away under the idea that they were outnumbered. Maetira was quick to pick up their presence and took down two with her weapon of mass destruction, but the other two headed straight for me. I wasn’t sure if I was targeted because I appeared weak or if they got it in their minds that I was somehow behind the illusions.

I grabbed the sides of my skirt and spun around to avoid their sword swings. Once I had an opening, I fished out another egg-shaped container and threw it into one of the soldiers’ face. The mists that erupted from there managed to limit the sight of the other man as well. In the back of my mind, I thanked Elit that only one of them went off prematurely when I had fallen. If I ran out now, then I would be in trouble.

It wasn’t long before I could breathe a sigh of relief when Cegil finally arrived to our position and took over the fight. Of course, since he was behind closing off the entrance, he couldn’t have been that far.

All falucite had the same powers, but some favored particular techniques over others. Satel loved to manipulate the water and air, while Cegil preferred using stone and sometimes fire. Maetira was the only one I knew of so far who didn’t have a preference- instead she chose to adapt as the situation warranted.

At first, all I could see was a flash of lavender through the thinning smoke as the tall falucite charged forward to engage the men. With only a few swings of his sword and some projectile boulders under his control, he soon had the men knocked out.

“Are you alright, Tia?” he immediately inquired when it appeared that all was calm. After a few months of staying with the Xanaturi clan, I decided on a permanent name change since many of the other clan members were disturbed by the fact that I was deliberately named after a fallen falucite.

Surprisingly, it was Cegil who had brought it up. He didn’t regret naming me as he did, but he also conceded that it was unfair to allow me to keep the name of a dearly departed falcie that many knew. I ended up keeping the nickname Satel had given me, in part that, by itself, it was a unique name that not many had. Throughout my life I had just been named after other people, so it was nice to have a name that I could truly call my own. My other reason for selecting it was for more sentimental reasons- it was my mate that had named me thusly, so it held even more meaning for me.

“I’m fine- I even survived Maetira,” I replied with a grin as I resisted the urge to touch my tender shoulder. I hoped she didn’t break the skin from that earlier move…

The mentioned Oracle had long since finished tormenting her victims and was cleaning her crystal ball like some feline licking the blood off her claws. I could almost swear she had a smug grin appearing from under the shadows of her hood.

“You both have done well in enticing the guard out in such a short amount of time. I have conjured weak golems for them to direct their attentions on, so I will watch over Maetira from this point on and continue to distract those still inside,” Cegil announced, choosing to keep his guard up for any more soldiers instead of sparing me a glance. But he did cast his cinnamon colored eyes on me for a brief second and gently placed his hand on my shoulder, unwittingly sending a flash of pain through me. Damn Maetira…

I hid my pain before he could notice it. “What should I do?”

“Satel should have infiltrated by now. Seek him out in the upper levels and join him,” he told me before he held out his hand toward a wall and separated the stone to reveal what looked to be an inner room with a staircase. “This route should lead you to the upper floors.”

Cegil never ceased to amaze me ever since he had gotten his powers back… But even with his ability to split walls, I had a feeling that I needed to hurry- either the structure could weaken from his interference or he was still using his magicks to hold it open and was straining himself. I nodded to show that I understood his order and slipped through the craggy opening he had made. No sooner than after I was on the other side, I heard him warn me to be careful before he closed the wall.

It was as if he had never torn it open in the first place- he was so cool.

I glanced around at the small room I was in. It seemed to be just a stairwell that led to the upper floors. I was sure that it was something used by servants or the guards and that I still had a long way to go before reaching the throne room. Still, it was empty and seemingly unused- just the perfect place for me to catch my breath for a few seconds.

I have been with the clan for almost three years and this was the first ‘family mission’ I had ever been on. On the continent of Orja, the Xanaturi clan owned four human kingdoms within their territory- plus parts of the Wastelands and a shared kingdom between themselves and the Daedeleth clan to the North. The different kingdoms were bequeathed to the ‘three inheritors’ of the generation and it was up to them to maintain the royalty and ensure that the kingdom thrived.

In this case, Garroe owned this kingdom, and his siblings each had a claim to the members of the nobility here. There were two types of nobles- the kind that were cared for behind the scenes by a falucite sponsor, and the kind that came into money and chose to shun falucite help. Only those who worked with us were eligible to become king, but six months ago, some upstart seized the throne and sought to cut all ties with the Xanaturi clan.

So with that, it was up to us to fix things and place an obedient sheep on the throne. It was highly disturbing, even to me, but ‘sponsored’ nobles were pretty much domesticated pedigree pets to them. They groomed them, educated them in managing a kingdom, and even arranged their marriages and took care of their offspring. I still had a slight disgust toward my fellow humans, but this was too much for me- whether they be ignorant landlubbers or cruel seafarers, they were still entitled to keep their dignity.

Then again, perhaps my feelings over the matter had spun from the fact that I had begun warming up to my humanity. I loved the clan (…well, most of the members anyway), but I couldn’t forget that I was still a lowly human. The only reason I wasn’t a pet was because I was mated to one of their own. At the moment, I could only name a few humans that deserved better than the status they were subjected to, but I was slowly coming to realize that not everyone was as terrible as I had first thought.

I checked my gun and bombs before I decided that I had sat around long enough and began climbing the stone spiral staircase. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that this was going rather fast- it seemed only minutes before when Maetira and I appeared at the gates and now I was suddenly on my own while a great deal of men were outside fighting imaginary rebels. In fact, the guards mobilized awfully quick- did they know we were coming?

Maybe the king knew… Surely he knew that refusing the falucite wouldn’t end well? Or was he that arrogant to believe that he and his men could defeat us? Hell, there were only five of us and yet we already had them running around in circles! If it weren’t for the fact that we needed as many knights alive as possible, then I was sure Satel and the others could slaughter them.

Our main goal was to have an approved human noble take the throne- not to destroy everyone’s lives. The knights would serve whoever’s in charge, so we knew it would be over once the false king was eliminated. Besides, who would be left to take care of the new king if all the knights were gone? He would just be assassinated by somebody else…

I emerged from a square shaped hole that took me back outside. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was on the same parapet as that archer that had shot at me earlier. As I approached the outer wall, I could see the army swinging blindly at illusions that Cegil had created. But unlike the ones that came to my ‘aid’ earlier, they had more substance to them- Cegil had hidden human-sized stone golems within them so that the men would think they were striking someone.

I turned to examine my surroundings and discovered that I was on a full roof, rather than a catwalk like I was expecting. It seemed that the entrance was simply a large building that was placed before the main one. Before me was a massive crest etched into the stone that represented the kingdom. At each corner were tall towers that only reached half the height of the middle portion of the castle.

I hesitated before walking on- I could throw a few more smoke bombs down to cause even more chaos, but I could risk bringing attention to myself. Unlike the others, I had no idea where I was going- and some part of me was surprised that Cegil had let me go on knowing that. I had to assume that I was safe enough since there didn’t seem to be anyone out here. That archer from before was apparently the only one who was up here- I wondered why.

At the end, where the buildings touched, there was a similar arched door that was half the size of the one on ground level. If I were to guess, this area was probably where the royal family came out to address the public and have outdoor balls. As near peaceful as it was out here (ignoring the noise down below), it was utterly chaotic behind the door.

There was a mid-sized room with at two massive halls to my left and right and another door straight ahead. The problem? There was a huge battle going on between the knights and more illusions. How in the five hells was I going to get past that?

I decided that I had no choice and used my remaining smoke bombs to coat the room and stun the actual knights. Once the sound of metal clashing ceased, I ducked down and ran straight for the door that I knew was across from me. I may have bumped into a few men while running, but they were too confused to acknowledge me as a threat- and I was gone from their sight in a matter of seconds.

I suppose it was a true miracle that I made it across the room with no injuries, but I didn’t have time to worry about that- I had to press on and find either Satel or Garroe as they would provide better protection from troops than my gun would. Some part of me wished that I had asked Cegil for my sword when I had the chance- not that it would’ve given me any better protection. I was only one human against many in this case, so I was willing to deem myself totally useless in battle for now.

When I hit the door, I scrambled to open it and threw myself in. I was relieved to find myself in a grand hall that seemed to be void of other people. There were cream-colored columns lining the sides with paintings between them on the red-brown walls, but there didn’t seem to be any exits other than the identical doors at the end. This seemed to be a path that led to somewhere, but I had no guarantee that it was to the throne room.

However, since I couldn’t turn back, I suppose there was no harm in proceeding forward to see where I would end up.

“Gah!” I shouted in surprise when it felt like someone rammed into the door behind me. I wasn’t sure if a body had been thrown there or if someone was trying to follow after me. Of course, my speculations were cut short when a black gloved hand suddenly planted itself against the wood, just past my head. Regardless if someone was trying to get in, they wouldn’t be able to now…

“Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to wander around alone when I’m on the prowl?” a teasing voice said above me before I could turn my head. My eyes narrowed as I discovered my mate standing before me with a smirk.

In the near three years that I’ve known him, Satel hadn’t changed at all. He still wore the über hat on his head in a stylish tilt and had his long, platinum blond locks braided back in the same way as when I had first met him. He even still wore dark clothing just to appear like a villain to humans.

“Not now!” I growled when the smug bastard began leaning closer to me for a kiss. Satel knew better than to mess around with me during a mission… of course this was actually the first time we had ever worked together on one. I had only gone on a few simple solo missions before and while I had crossed his path before while he was busy, he did focus on work over flirting with me.

“Where’s the boy?” I inquired when it finally clicked in my mind that Satel was really here. I watched as his cinnamon colored eyes trailed over to one of the columns. Soon, a teenager with sandy blond hair and light blue eyes peered around to look at me.

He was Satel’s pet, though I didn’t know of him until recently. Even though he was technically my pet as well, Satel had either been caring for him away from me or had been neglecting him ever since I became his mate, because I had known nothing about this for a long time. I still had yet to learn his name, but I did know that he’d just turned eighteen and was selected to become the next king. The boy was old enough, had the right lineage, and had apparently picked up Satel’s ‘charming’ manipulation tactics.

The knowledge that his pet was chosen over Garroe’s or Maetira’s (Cegil had yet to adopt one for himself since rejoining the clan) had made the über hat man a little egotistic for a while. But- since Garroe was the one in charge of the kingdom’s affairs, he was the one who got to lead the mission, much to Satel’s disappointment. I think the arrangements balanced him out to his usual obnoxious self.

I suppose I really shouldn’t be referring to him as a ‘boy’, since he was technically an adult in the human culture- and he had facial hair and all the signs that he was mature. But there was something about the way he could fake an innocent look with his eyes that made him seem young to me. There was… just a lot I didn’t like about this kid. When Satel was being a manipulative bastard, he had fun ideas and was simply trying to get information out of others.

But this soon-to-be-king seemed like he had a darker intention behind his mind games. Something told me that he was smart enough to listen to his falucite master, and he was most likely favored because he had a way with being conniving to other humans, but… in the few times he spoke to me, I felt like he was just trying to cause trouble- the malicious kind. Then again, I always thought Satel was a shady bastard when I had first met him. Maybe it was just something I had to get used to.

“You haven’t explained yourself yet,” Satel reminded me in a near purr as he lifted the netted veil with one finger so he could stare straight into my eyes. It was only through falucite magicks that I still had that hat on after the running and dodging I had to do up to this point. “Why are you alone? Shouldn’t you be with Maetira or Cegil?”

“They told me to go on ahead and look for you- though I don’t know what Cegil is thinking by sending me all this way without my sword,” I muttered as I looked away. Had the boy not been there, I probably would be less resistant to Satel’s seductive advances. Falucite were openly affectionate and didn’t care about the company present, but I was uncomfortable even holding hands with Satel when we weren’t alone.

Though, I had other things to think about- like why Cegil thought it was a good idea to send me off as he did. Did he not know about the brawl still going on inside? Or did he believe that Satel would come to protect me once I’d made it to the upper floors? It could’ve been the latter- sometimes I felt that Cegil was more confident in my abilities than I was. But then, he also knew I could get myself out of trouble just fine.

“If that’s so, then you must be my signal to press onward,” Satel replied as he finally backed away and gestured for the boy to come out of hiding. “Don’t worry, ‘Tia-dear. I’ll take good care of you from this point forward.”

“I’m worried,” I intoned flatly as I followed after him when he began heading for the door at the other end of the hall. “Just focus your attentions on the boy.”

I didn’t really think about how the young king felt about me calling him ‘boy’- I knew I got upset when others accused me of appearing younger than I was. I wasn’t even sure if he was aware that I was his master’s mate, but he obviously knew I was human- he treated me differently than what he did for Satel. He didn’t seem to hear me when I demeaned him or even acknowledged anything I’ve ever said.

But he did go out of his way to treat me like some helpless lady. I flat out ignored him when he raised his elbow, expecting me to take his arm like a submissive woman. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted his respect- I just didn’t like how he was treating me like I was one of his subjects. He would be better off just dismissing me altogether.

“Are you certain that I’m your ‘signal’?” I inquired to Satel before we could reach the end of the hall. “I wasn’t aware that I was given such a role.”

“Cegil said that he would send either you or Maetira,” the blond bastard replied without a backwards glance. “And it’s about time to move out anyway- both you and she did a wonderful job drawing out most of them.”

“Yeah, about that- were they expecting us? I can’t help but think that they mobilized rather fast for people we’ve supposedly ambushed,” I pointed out, finally voicing my concerns since the mission had started. Satel knew very well how uncomfortable I was with events that moved ‘too fast’ for me. I had tried to quicken my steps so that I could walk by his side, but the boy cut me off with a glare and made sure to place himself firmly between us. What in five hells was his problem?

“No- they were surprised and not all of them had time to fully dress themselves for battle. The reason why they were mostly ready to engage us was because they saw Maetira walking through the town ever since the two of you appeared at the first set of gates,” the falucite answered me, seemingly unaware of the exchange that’d happened behind him.

“Wait, so they were on to us because of Maetira? Why? I thought everyone trusted Oracles?”

“Are you daft, woman?” the boy interrupted with an indignant look. Did I finally offend him with that brush off or something? “When an Oracle dresses in black, it is a sign of imminent doom or the coming death of someone important. Every child knows this.”

“Well excuse me- I didn’t know that,” I snapped irritably. I didn’t care that he was soon going to be king- he wasn’t my sovereign and he was quickly working his way up to a black eye. I had never heard such a thing- I thought all Oracles only wore white and that Maetira was an exception. Considering that she paraded herself around other areas without people worrying about her, I assumed that her colors meant nothing special.

Suddenly Satel stopped in his tracks and whirled around to face us. His features appeared calm and he had a pleasant smile on his face, but I could see a little tension in his cheeks that told me that something had bothered him.

“If it’s common knowledge for human children, then of course my sirsa wouldn’t know that- she has been on the sea as a child and they have no use for the Fates or Oracles. However, under normal circumstances, a dark-hued Oracle wouldn’t cause this kind of stir. This cowardly king most likely knew deep down that we would come for him and set aside preparations should she appear,” Satel explained before he reached out for me and practically twirled me to his side.

He then gave a light admonishing expression to the boy. “By the way, never call my mate ‘daft’. I will arrange for terrible accidents if you should ever call her names again.”

I was torn from growling at his actions of manhandling me in front of others to smiling at him for standing up for me. I didn’t really need anyone to defend me in the verbal assaults area, but it was nice to hear him defend me when it was his responsibility to teach his pets better. The boy was instantly apologetic- to Satel. My mate accepted it and decided not to force him to extend those apologies to me since we needed to hurry somewhere else.

Satel didn’t let go of me after the ordeal- instead he had me walking by his side with an arm wrapped around my waist. I noticed that the young future king glared at me venomously as we turned around to continue on our path. In the back of my mind, I had a passing thought that perhaps it wasn’t quite me he seemed to despise- maybe he was simply fond of Satel and didn’t like the fact that I was winning over the falucite’s attentions. But I had no clue if those feelings of jealousy came from a romantic attraction or simply admiration towards a perceived hero figure.

I wasn’t really against homosexuals, especially considering that I was raised by a crew that hoped that I would end up becoming a lesbian, but I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with the idea of someone pining over my mate. Oh Elit… don’t tell me that I was growing protective of Satel

Beyond the next door, there were no obstacles or soldiers to stop us- we had a clear path all the way to the throne room. I didn’t bother to count the steps or note which doors to take since I didn’t think I would ever return here again. …Though with my extended life, there was a likely chance I could return someday in a hundred years or so. Even then, I was going to leave it up to someone else to guide me- I may have been part of the family, but this wasn’t really my world or my business. I was only here to help out.

Satel kept a firm grip on me, even after we entered the throne room. It was a typical room of white with colored tapestries hung everywhere and a raised stone platform in the back where two golden hued seats were mounted. It seemed as though we were on the topmost floor as the only sights I could see from the many windows were the outer towers and the sky.

The room wasn’t empty as lines of knights, servants, and members of the court stood in a daze from the heavy magicks in play. Witnesses were needed to see the new king being crowned- they would probably be released of the spell the moment our plan goes into action.

Garroe sat regally in one of the thrones with his sword resting on the arm rests. If it weren’t for the fact that he had cobalt eyes and an average stature, I would’ve confused him for Cegil. They both had long lavender hair and a serious attitude about everything- though Garroe was usually a little more expressive.

Next to him was our target, under the influence of falucite magick and unable to run. He was much older than I was initially expecting. I had thought a man who would brashly turn against those more powerful than he would be young, inexperienced, and driven stupid by his passion. Of course, I suppose even old men had their passionate moments that clouded sound reasoning. I could think of at least twenty of them living in a certain port town…

The current king seemed to be rapidly approaching his fifties. He still had color to his brown hair, but it seemed to be thinning at his forehead. His beard was still thick and neatly trimmed so that it wouldn’t extend further than the top collar of his royal robes. The man’s eyes bore the same sky blue color as the boy, showing that he could be of some distant relation to him. But he was most likely further in line from the throne than the boy was.

“So it is time,” Garroe stated as he stood. His brows soon furrowed as he happened to gaze down at Satel’s sword. The blond man had been holding it out of its sheath since the start of the mission in case someone decided to attempt a sneak attack. I had noticed shortly after joining him that there was a coat of blood on the blade, but I refrained from saying anything. Satel knew what he was doing and I was in no position to scold or remind him of the mission specifications. “Have you killed, brother?”

“Only two hopeful assassins,” the blond quipped before he raised the tip of his sword and smirked. “I can hardly be blamed for protecting my pet.”

While he couldn’t be blamed, I could easily accuse him of not holding back. With him being shoved back as a simple guard, I could imagine that he was just itching for some action while waiting to bring the boy to the throne room. Still, he didn’t go over his bounds if that were the case.

“Two lives make little difference- we simply have no need for heavy casualties,” the elder brother said before he walked around Satel to glance down at the boy. “Are you ready? I will allow you to decide how you wish to start your reign- will you show compassion for the man who seized the throne and allow him to live? Or will you make an example of him and kill him before your subjects?”

Image was important in this case- if the boy let the current king live, then he would appear as a benevolent king. But, he would also leave himself open for another attack, either by the man he’d spared or some other fool who believed that it was weak to have compassion. On the other hand, if he killed him, his subjects may fear him as a stern or sadistic king, but he could always prove himself later on that he isn’t that cruel.

Either choice had its pros and cons, and I ordinarily wouldn’t criticize anyone if they chose the latter. Deciding life and death of the subjects was just one of the many horrid jobs the king had to play and I, thankfully, didn’t have to abide by that rule. However, when the boy opened his mouth and sounded pleasantly shocked and excited, I knew letting him be king was going to be a bad idea- oh how thankful I was that I didn’t live in this kingdom…

“I can kill him? Yes, that does sound like the best course of action- it would be unmanly of me if I ascend to the throne without having spilled the blood of my enemy.”

I felt sick to my stomach at hearing that- did he just say ‘unmanly’? I was well aware that there would always be life and death, but I couldn’t fathom how someone could talk of murder without a trace of respect or remorse for the victim. Exactly how would one be considered a ‘man’ if he had no heart? Even Satel had respect for life- he only killed others to save lives and preserve control for his clan. He didn’t think of it as some kind of sport.

“I’m sorry Satel, but are you certain this boy is fit to rule? Someone with no respect for life could end up destroying a kingdom,” I warned, wanting to speak up before it was too late. I had no proof that my worries would actually happen since I knew next to nothing of royalty or how kingdoms functioned, but even a lowly pirate like myself knew that no good could come to giving a spoiled brat a position of power. He would only abuse it, like all the other nobles I had ever met.

“It is as you say, Tia. He is young, but he will grow under my tutelage. I will personally ensure that he learns to value his subjects, while not fearing to cast punishment where it is due,” Garroe answered even though I was speaking to Satel. With this new arrangement, Garroe is supposed to care for the boy in Satel’s stead, while Cegil will care for his current pet. Once this mission is over, Satel will be free of all obligations and can adopt another pet if he so chooses.

“Furthermore, how could I understand the weight of life if I do not end one?” the boy added, bringing on a good point. I was about to give him some credit for being more mature than I had thought, but he ruined it by continuing with, “Though, I do not expect a mere woman to understand a man’s position in society.”

“I’ve killed more men than you have, you little snot,” I muttered scornfully. True- it had only been two men, but it was more than the one life he was about to claim. I took no pride whatsoever in what I had done.

Satel let go of me long enough to walk to the boy’s side and clap a hand over his shoulder. “I have one last piece of advice for you, before you take the throne: Don’t piss off those who can easily destroy you. Tia values life more than anything, but she can wipe the floor with you if she so pleases. If you continue this outward arrogance, not many will be willing to defend you should an assassin come for your life.”

…Wow. I couldn’t believe that piece of wisdom came from his mouth. Satel was a man who lived every minute of the day in arrogance, showing his humility only to a select few and me. Then again, he was the perfect falucite to teach this lesson- he was deliberately arrogant just to attract enemies. By teaching the boy not to follow in his footsteps, he was actually helping him maintain a better relationship with his future knights and subjects.

At first, the boy was elated that the über hat man was paying attention to him, but his features grew a little sullen upon finding that he was receiving a gentle scolding.

“I will bear that in mind, Lord Satel. I thank you for your counsel,” he replied, sounding as mature as he could muster. I still couldn’t help but think it was an act- there was still a self-entitled child hidden behind that almost adult face.

“Tia, may we borrow your gun?” Garroe asked after the boy repeated his desire to make an example of the current king. I reluctantly reached for it, but I made sure to remove all bullets but one before I handed it over to my eldest brother-in-law. The boy only needed one shot and I wasn’t so trusting as to give him more than that. He could easily turn against me out of spite, no matter how much he admired Satel’s opinion of him.

Once the gun was in his hands, Garroe made a gesture to the current king and had him walk over to us, still trapped within his daze spell. Satel returned to my side and gently guided me back so we were guarding the doors instead of standing in the middle of the action. The lavender haired man then positioned the boy so that he was standing before the king and aimed the gun at the man’s heart. He then had the boy grip the gun and backed away.

“I am ready,” the boy confirmed once he turned his body in a way that he deemed attractive and regal enough. Garroe nodded before he released everyone from his magicks.

I turned my head away from the sight as the king and everyone else in the room became aware of everything like they had just awakened from a dream. My eyes instead fell on one particular maid as her eyes widened and her face became fearful. The sight of a young boy pointing a gun at the man she was currently serving must’ve been terrifying for her. After all, how would she know what was happening? To her, we had just appeared out of nowhere and she could be the next victim.

There was a loud bang after the boy made some grand announcement that he was taking the throne- the echo of the shot bounced off the white walls and felt as though it had passed through me. The maid cried as I heard the body fall to the ground and some part of me had to wonder if the man who had seized the throne was even a horrible person. Wasn’t the only issue was that he wanted nothing to do with the guidance of falucite? He could have turned out to be a great king.

I refused to look at the body, even after Garroe returned my gun and the boy crowned himself and sat upon the throne. Death only reminded me of the Wise Man and I didn’t want to end up crying in a place like this.

The entire mission weighed heavily on me, but all I could do was trust that the falucite knew what they were doing- this wasn’t my kingdom and I didn’t live here. I had absolutely nothing to do with this and had no more reason to involve myself. What happened from here on out was Garroe’s problem, not mine.

I leaned into Satel’s light side embrace and wished that we could just go home already.

To the Next Chapter

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