A/N: Fiction press is alive and working yet again! Thank God...it only took half a year -_-

As it turned out, I was still confined to my room. Though I was brought a large portion of the feast—some sort of roast bird covered in sauce that nearly burned the flesh of my tongue off—and other strange vegetation I'd never seen in my years meandering in Raeneon forests. They spice they used—serasim, "dragon tongue" in Airean—was highly loved, and used with great amount in nearly every morsel of food they had. I hated not only the heat of it, but it also made my hands swell, my eyes tear, and my skin develop tiny bumps every time I ate it. Even now, I could feel my hands begin to grown and skin slowly bubble into tiny mountains. I drank the off-flavored tea greedily; glad at least one item was free of serasim.

After I grudgingly satiated both my stomach and thirst, Zobais took my tray. As he was leaving, I saw my father appear in the doorway—how could he be so strange to see, and yet so familiar? The two seemed incomprehensible, and yet every time I saw his kind face I both recognized it and felt the need to balk.

"Enjoy your meal?" he asked, grinning.

I shot him a dull look and lifted my arm, so he could witness the ill-effects of Airea's beloved herb. "I'm afraid it might actually be the death of me."

My father chuckles, but examined my arm closer. "I rather like Airea's food. Raenon takes much too kindly to bland nothingness." His eyes squinted as he looked into my bloodshot ones. "Oh, dear," Father muttered, shaking his head. "It appears my dear daughter is allergic to the Raenon equivalent of flour."

"I was rather hoping that wasn't the case," I muttered. "The only thing they don't use it in is this"—I gestured to the tea—"and I'm quite attached to solid food. At least I don't require it for life or anything, I just like the consistency."

My father smiled and shook his head, patting me on the back. "Don't worry, Kahzy. I will personally make you a lovely dish of good old Raenon porridge. Nothing like lumpy, grey Raeneon food to help remedy allergies."

I glowered. "I suppose muffins are outside your abilities?"

"I'm afraid I'm not even sure how to make the porridge."

I sighed, shaking my head, then threw myself onto the bed. "Well, I doubt you're here to discuss food. Did you hear about the results of the trial?"

He let out a deep breath. "I did. And I'm relieved they find your impudence in the face of royalty so amusing, or you might've found yourself pinned to the floor with meat hooks and a jagged shard of glass at your throat."

Snorting, I rolled my eyes. "I wouldn't have had the gall in a Raeneon court. Aireans seem to take better to those who speak out than those who shut up," I replied, biting a loose bit of skin on my thumb. After he didn't respond, I mused aloud, "Everything here is so different. It's like the very opposite of all Raenon's values and ideas."

My father snorted. "Is that not what you wanted? Your mother used to tell me how much you despised Raenon. You still do; I can tell by the way you reference it—like a place you've been, not lived."

I exhaled sharply and examined the ceiling I'd been staring at for the past three weeks for the hundredth time. "Seeing as I was the epitome of everything they hated, I find more solace in thinking of the farm as my home than Raenon as a whole."

I heard him shift positions from where he sat. "Yet, even as a prisoner here, you feel more accepted?"

I frowned. "Is this your round-a-bout way of asking me if I prefer Airea?"

He remained silent for a moment. "You were never one for word games," was his only response.

Sitting up, I gave him a serious look. "Father, the only thing I've seen of this country is its deserts and a few sandstone halls of its palace. You can't expect me to have formed an opinion when they still isolate me as an enemy."

Huffing in frustration, my father placed his hand on my shoulder and locked eyes with me. "You may be right about that, Kahzy, but you have to make an opinion before you decide to stay somewhere you'll hate for the rest of your life. That's what enlisting in the Tehetesega is—a life sentence to this land." So he was still trying to deter me from joining the ranks of the very people he worked for. Here, I'd thought he'd respected my decision and laid it to rest.

I rolled my eyes. "Please, Father, I know you spend more time outside of Airea than you do in it. You've traveled to all those countries on that map," I said, throwing my arm toward Bokala's picture on the table. From the look in his eyes, I could tell he knew the tone of conversation had changed. "And do not say you haven't," I added, "because I heard you speaking Lorish to Alomar."

He'd appeared half-prepared for rebuttal, until I said that. My father's face fell in irritation, then returned to persistence. "Kahzy… This isn't the adventure you want. Believe me."

My chest restricted for a moment, then I spat out, "With all due respect, Father, you haven't exactly been present in my life long enough to know what I want." He flinched and his brown eyes went wide—it was a low blow, but the truth of it made me feel justified in saying it. "And if you knew me it all," I hissed in a low voice as I stood, "you'd know I'm not arrogant enough to want this simply because it's an adventure." My face was constricted with anger at his persistence; my eyes burning with the very glare he was receiving.

"Kahzy," my father said in a soft voice, standing so our eyes were level. "If you want to do something, do it in Raenon, where you're safe. Please. I don't want your mother to lose another family member for the same purpose." He placed a hand on my shoulder, trying to make his calm rub off on me like a sickness. It failed; I whipped his hand off me, feeling my Izareti burning through the skin of my palm.

"How dare you," I spat to him through clenched teeth, jabbing my finger at his face. "How dare you try to use mother against me—after what you did! Don't you dare try telling me that I will cause her pain—me? You let us think you were all dead! You left us with a dying hope for years, father! Years! Do you know what it's like?" I shriek, my voice reverberating off the sandstone walls and making the anger seethe through my voice twice as hard. The subject has changed from his disapproval of my choices to the flaws of his, and I find that once I've opened the wound, it will not close so easily. "Kav, taking all your responsibilities as father of a family, when he has his own love to care for? And you don't even write us? All that bullshit about 'I didn't want to give you hope, just for me to die and my dear family hurt more'?" My voice is beginning to crack; a spot in my throat starting to throb as it held back tears. Still, I have yet to finish my outburst. "Who needs family when you have soldiers, right? Who needs their children to hope at all, when you can just allow their wounds to fester because they were never properly healed, or even closed? We're just a part of your old, mundane life of a farmer! A life you've long and happily forgotten!"

I made my way to the door, throwing it open with what felt like enough strength to rip it off its hinges. There are many servants already at the threshold, eyes wide with all the words they've heard from my rant. I don't recall seeing them in that moment—only my father's profile—sitting on my bed, with his head low and eyes dripping. "When I first heard you were a Kiernan, I was proud," I whispered in a ragged voice. I saw his head lift an inch—listening. "Now I've remembered you gave your family up for the title, and now all I can feel is the pain that choice has given the people you left behind." I pause, regaining an even voice—steady, even. "I will not ignore it any longer, Father. I will not pretend you didn't chose. I am sorry I gave you the hope, just to steal it back." Here is where I felt the first tear streak down my face, and for a moment, all I can think of is the feeling it left as it dripped from my jaw. "Perhaps," I remark, "deep down, I'd hoped you would know the feeling, so your choice might hurt you—just a little."

Ignoring the weak protests of my guards, I walked very steadily away from the room that had been my prison for the past three weeks. We both knew I would not run far before slowly breaking down and turning into a pile of sobbing girl. Still, I was determined to make it as far as possible before doing so. I held it in as I made turns about the palace, and I knew there had to be people I passed by with red eyes and pinched mouth, but I was like a horse with blinders on—I saw nothing but the path ahead. To keep a hold my emotions, I focused on the burning in my palm. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it was my Izareti, but I did not care much to understand where the distraction came from, so much so as the distraction itself. My feet carried me up dozens of steps, somehow acting apart from my mind, taking me further and further into the air, and I soon found myself without more steps, and without witnesses.

I collapsed, and perhaps it was that fall which allowed the skin walls containing my sobs to shatter, and let loose the agony within. Everything was released, bursting from my chest like a show of fireworks Kav had once brought me to. But these did not turn colorful and fill me with elation; these simply left me feeling as if I were nothing more than an old husk of something used to destroy, now abandoned and without purpose.

Thoughts of my father swarmed inside of me, and everything I'd told him were relayed to me like an echo. I hadn't even realized I'd felt half of them until they'd been spit from my mouth like fire, burning and destroying with the terrible power of unbridled truth. Now the flames were returning to their creator, and slowly eating away at the shattered bits of me. I wasn't only angry at my father, but also at myself.

He chose them over you, a voice whispered inside of me whispered. And you are choosing them, too. You are doing exactly as your father. You are causing the same amount of pain. You are breaking a bone inside mother, Kav, and Linny that has already been shattered. You are taking your claws to the sore wounds of your family and ripping them apart. You are abandoning everything to be added to the weight of your mother, brother, and sister, it said with a pleased, incredibly mocking voice. How much you must love them.

The voice continued whispering to me as I lay there in a sad, self-hating puddle of Kahzy. I did nothing to stop it, because nothing it said was a lie, and I deserved nothing more.


I hadn't even realized it until I woke, but sometime I must've fallen asleep. My eyes trailed up as I began to wonder where my legs had taken me. Millions of stars watched from high above, some twinkling and others steady in their duty of illumination. I allowed myself a moment to admire the clarity of them all, and then quickly let the pleasant feeling go.

Slowly, I let my body be released from the tight, huddled form I was in. The stone where my head had been was stained with what I assumed were my tears. My fingers grazed the slightly darkened spot, and I couldn't even muster enough self-worth to feel ashamed of my behavior. How had a dejected conversation about Airean food with my father had so quickly turn into a session of incredible hate and anger? Perhaps my elation at the fact that he was safe was the only thing that allowed me to keep it contained so long. When we were first reunited in that desert, I'd told him I would store away my anger for later, but I'd assumed it was something I could take out and confront at my will. Instead, I had unknowingly let it fester and bubble beneath my conscious, until eventually it exploded inside of me, finding its only escape to be words directing right at their catalyst—my father. Everything I'd shrieked at him had been true, and everything I hadn't shrieked at myself was still picking away at what was left of me, like embers of a dying flame.

I rubbed at my temple, feeling sore even if I'd done nothing so fatiguing to deserve it. It was obvious I'd found the roof of the palace, but I knew not how I got here or where the exit might be, so I decided as long as I was alone, I'd let my mind weigh the consequences of staying in Airea. Now that I wasn't consumed with emotion, I could think about things rationally.

My family would be hurt, but not so violently as I'd let myself believe before. Unlike my father, I would keep them informed of my misadventures and duties to the country we were supposed to be at war with. They would worry, but have no need to wither away like we did when my father stopped writing. Besides, if I were any other Raeneon girl, I'd be married off in a year anyway. They'd been preparing for my flight from the nest, and even if it weren't exactly to the destination we'd expected, mother would not be without help.

I would have to learn Airean, on top of all my other duties. There were no exceptions to this—if I was going to remain in this country, knowing its native language, written and spoken, was a given. I wouldn't let myself be misdirecting by some translator who despised the mark on my palm, or perhaps even my home country.

I would have to let them study me. I was like a diagram of their worst enemy, handed to them on a silver platter. Studying me would give Airea and her people a new understanding of the Black Mountain and their magic, and it was not something I could deny them. Even if I were to chose to go home—assuming I was lifted from my charges of being the epitome of evil, and chose not to join their army, which I knew was something I was humoring myself with, even now—I would still allow them to study me.

I did not even allow my mind to debate training; I knew it would consume most of my time, and most of my patience. Perhaps with my previous knowledge of swordplay, we might get to move along a bit faster.

"Kegyen," a voice behind me suddenly chirped, making me leap up, spin around, and find none other than Zobais watching me, perched lazily on the edge of the roof. I could hardly even see him in the dark, and it was only by the familiarity of his voice that I even recognized him. "You're aware the trial of Igyele is in less than two hours and you've learned nothing about the concealment of your mind?"

I met his eyes stoically, trying to deter him from noticing how off guard she caught me. "How long have you been here?"

He shrugged, eyes watching the horizon. "I'd say about eighteen years."

I snorted, but still found his presence suspicious. "Who was to instruct me?"

Again, he shrugged. "You're lucky I followed you up here, else there would've been a huge battle over your guilt once more because of your little tirade and attempted 'escape'."

I frowned, and took a seat next to him on the edge. "They knew I was not running farther than the palace."

He remained silent, still looking towards the horizon. It was then I realized the sun was rising, and deep shades of red were beginning to stain the desert sky. "Some are less trustworthy, though most believe your innocence. Igyele is simply Airea trying to figure out why the hell the Black Mountain would mark a random girl, and also giving those less…" His nose wrinkled in thought, then he said, "sympathetic of your stay here, absolute proof."

I swallowed, remembering Isalgi's tirade. "Why were they so sure?" I asked, surprising myself. Questioning why they believed me wasn't exactly helping convince.

Zobais arched an eyebrow at me, humorous smile on his face. "Should we not be?"

"I just meant…" I began playing with my fingers in thought. "Well, first I was in a cell, and then suddenly I was updated to fancy bedroom and anything I asked for? Only two guards stationed at my door? Two? Who have no magic?"

"So quick to demean me, eh?" he teased, grinning widely.

I rolled my eyes, yet still found our recent friendship comforting. "You know what I meant," I said, watching the sun lazily rise for morning. "I know I can't control this"—I gestured to my Izareti—"but why were the king and queen so quick to believe I couldn't? And in the cell, and the prince was attacking me—it seemed his entire opinion changed in those minutes. I know I shouldn't question it, but why is my innocence so certain? Because I know the only proof I have has remained untouched, at least for another few hours."

Zobais sighed, running a hand through his black hair. "From what I understand—which isn't much, because like you said, I'm no mage—but from what I understand, the Black Mountain have certain… defenses."

"Defenses?" I asked, eyebrows knitting together.

He nodded, his brow crinkled in thought. "They do something with their magic, but it's only after they take life that it can be performed. I believe it's necessary for the spell," Zobais said, his voice developing an undertone of disgust. "The affects are something that allows their body to react before their mind, so when Cor attacked you in that cell and your body failed to put up the walls that are known for the Black Mountain, that's when we began to believe you," he told me, eyes squinting at the growing brightness of the sun. "As unlikely as it is that those murderers would convert a girl they picked up from some farm is, it's even more unlikely the participant would fail to complete that spell."

I nodded, slowly beginning to realize just how little I knew of the world. Still, I was not completely sold on this lone point being the one to convince the Airean king and queen I wasn't part of the murderous group of mages who worshipped the epitome of evil in their culture. I voiced this thought with, "They couldn't have given me such leniency on likeliness of events, could they? There had to be something else."

Zobais snickered and shook his head, saying, "It's a good thing you aren't in the group judging your innocence, otherwise you'd still be in the sun cell."

I rolled my eyes and said, "Was there really nothing else?"

His eyes narrowed in thought. "I'm fairly sure there's something to do with your eyes and their color, but I'm not sure."

I arched an eyebrow at him. "This has something to do with my eyes?"

Zobais shrugged. "If you haven't noticed, our entire caste system is based on eye color."

"Fair point," I replied honestly, and took a deep breath. "Okay, so my body doesn't defend itself, that's one," I said, and lifted a finger to display the number of arguments in my favor. "My father wasn't—what's the word?—Enraptured. Two"—I lifted a second finger. "My eyes. Whatever the hell that difference makes"—I lift a third finger, then examined all three with skeptism. I turned toward Zobais. "These arguments are terrible. How the hell am I not dead from verdict of guilty yet?"

He made a thoughtful face. "Your foreign charm?"

I made an ugly face at him. "As helpful as I'm sure being a citizen of a country Airea is at war with is, I'm not sure that swayed the argument in my favor."

Zobais sighed and gave me a look. "You are innocent, and they believe you are innocent. Why do you have to question it so much?"

I bit my lip hard, unable to answer the question, and finding no solace in it. "Why do you believe I'm innocent? I'm sure the Council has some hidden reason, but why do you?"

He made a low noise of irritation and said, "Kahzy, honestly, do you think a member of the cruelest and malevolent groups in all of Bokala would be so ignorant of everything in it? You know nothing of the world. Even acting, someone couldn't feign as much ill-knowledge as you." I grimaced at this, but had nothing to prove him wrong. "You truly have no idea half of the things I reference, even if you pretend to. Say what you will about how much you question your own innocence, but I find there to be no possibility you are a member of the Black Mountain," Zobais said, his black eyes honest. "None at all."

My shoulders slumped in relief, mind finally cleared enough to admire the sunrise. "Thank goodness," I muttered, running a hand through my matted hair. "Now, where am I supposed to go for Igyele?"