Xol kept her fingers digging into Garrick's abdomen as his men were rounded up. The feel of his blood on her claws and dripping down her hand actually made her feel a little bit better. She glanced down at him, wanting to take in his agonized expression. His burnt face was tensed, as if he was trying to adjust to having five long razors in his gut. She glanced back out into the crowd, watching the human soldiers disarm themselves and surrender to her group.
She doused her right arm and the flames flickered away, disappearing back into the black lines on her limb. Her right arm was pulsing as if it was going to explode at any moment. She had never used her full power for so long and her arm did not to like it. She made a mental note to practice with the fire more often, just in case. She wanted to be able to maintain her flames for days if necessary.
The petite leader was taken from her thoughts as she felt Garrick trying to move. She shoved her fingers deeper into his vitals, causing him to gasp and squirm under her control. She growled at him as he gagged from the intense pain shooting through his body. His body even convulsed a couple of times, but that did not faze her.
"You wanted the throne, now sit on it," she ordered and his movements stilled. He was in too much agony to do anything beyond obey now.
Turning her gaze back out to the floor, she watched her comrades as they continued gathering the humans. The traitorous soldiers were all chained together, so they could not try to escape without being very well-organized. She waited for word on the action in the courtyard. She was aware that if she did not hear anything in a minute, she would have to go into that fray too. With luck, the sun goddess will still be with me, she thought.
Golden eyes then fell on Ileana, who Xol noticed was directing her daijinn on where to take the traitors. She smiled to herself; that woman just had a commanding presence that even human-hating daijinn could not help following, she guessed. She was pleased to see that despite the hard battle, Ileana was fine, for the most part.
Ileana was bent over a little, doing her best not to pass out from exhaustion. She was in a more natural position supervising the cleanup, which was helping keep her on her feet. She had her hand on her left side, biting back pain throbbing through that whole area. She knew that if she showed that she was injured, Xol would be by her side, trying to take her off some place to get looked at, which she did not want to do yet. There was much work to be done and she wanted to be a part of that work.
Xol's focus was pulled from the Princess as one of her comrades approached her. She turned her attention to him while making sure that Garrick was still seated. He hissed a bit as she twisted her talons, so now she knew that he was still awake. She had to resist the urge to just slit him open because she was aware that keeping him alive and demoralized was what had his men folding so easily. She was willing to bet the lose and his helpless position was eating him up on the inside too.
"Is everything all right?" Xol asked.
"Everything is fine. Kwen had good control over the situation and the reinforcements that joined him are helping eliminate the enemy forces," the messenger informed her.
"Eliminating? I should have known," Xol sighed. She had no doubt that Kwen and his forces were decimating the soldiers if they had the advantage. She knew that Kwen was unforgiving toward humans, but really, his hatred helped when they had missions, so she left him to fight his way when he was off on his own, like he was in the courtyard.
"He should be done in only moments. He said he'll return as soon as the courtyard is clear," the messenger reported.
Xol nodded and waved him off. He ran away, undoubtedly going back to the battle in the yard. Xol did not care, just making sure that Garrick was still at her mercy. She could feel him breathing, as his stomach pressed against her fingertips, but he was not moving much. She figured that he gave up or was now too weak to fight with her considering his wounds. She still kept half of her attention on him while the other half went to the Princess, who was now joined by Miss Olga. The elder woman was standing behind Ileana as she continued on with her directions.
When the prisoners were all taken where Ileana desired, she turned her attention to the throne, marching over to the raised seat. Miss Olga scowled when she caught sight of that traitorous pig Garrick soiling the royal chair. Xol's hand remained in his abdomen while she was speaking with Mei and Kwen. The daijinn turned their attention to the humans as they were standing there.
"I've sent for Yu and he'll bring Viktor back. Then you can decide what you want to do with this filth," Xol said, nodding toward Garrick.
"Do you not want that privilege?" Ileana asked the shorter female with a curious look in her eyes.
"I've considered it. I think it might be a better show of force for Viktor if he were to handle Garrick," Xol explained. Garrick could be of some use to Viktor, so that would spare him the hours of a slow, painful death that Xol thought he deserved. But, she was willing to bet that Garrick would hate being useful to the Prince and he would hate being at the boy's mercy.
"Are you sure, boss? You seemed damn intent on doing this bastard yourself. We've never seen you like that," Mei pointed out.
"I know. It's just…he's responsible for a lot pain and suffering, not just my own, I'm sure. I was an instrument in his downfall and he has suffered at my hands. Hopefully that will be enough for my own demons," Xol replied. She had made him taste her wrath, feel her fury. She was able to dip her fingers in his blood and ruin his dreams. She hoped that her ancestors, her family, and her soul could be sated with that.
"Are you sure, chief?" Kwen asked. He would actually feel proud of her if she did tear into Garrick's stomach because he thought it would be good therapy for her. It would show that she was trying to heal whatever the humans did to her—in his opinion anyway.
"I have to be sure. In order to show that Viktor is a strong leader, he has to show that he knows what to do with traitors and that he has power, especially inside a place where everyone seems to think that he's a joke," Xol answered.
"You know about having to show you are a good leader, huh?" Ileana inquired. She could not believe how wise and mature her old friend sounded. Xol altogether seemed like a different person, but she could tell that her dearest Rose lay underneath. She found herself attracted to the additions to Xol's personality just as much as she was attracted to the sweet side that she had always known.
"I don't know as much about it as I pretend to," Xol replied and the Princess thought that she was being humble. The way that Mei and Kwen glanced at her, it seemed like there might be more to it.
Ileana did not get a chance to say anything else because Yu and Viktor entered the room. All attention went to the entering pair. They surveyed the area as they strolled through the place, examining the damage. They did not say anything and went right to the group by the throne. Viktor stood by his sister and eyed Garrick, somewhat shocked to find the traitor was still alive.
"I thought you were going to kill him," Viktor said, talking to Xol.
"I decided against it. He's your prisoner, you need to handle him," the pack leader answered.
"I thought you had business, though," the Prince replied.
"I did have business. As far as I'm concerned, my business was taken care of. This beast of a man has suffered by my hands and has been ruined by my hands. Now, you need to show what happens to those that cross you. This man tried to take your throne. He rallied your own men against you. You have to show that you're not going to stand for that and you have to make an example of him," Xol stated.
"She is right, Highness. You should make an example of him to make sure that people understand that they cannot just steal your throne. You have to show them what happens to traitors," Miss Olga said.
Viktor sighed, but nodded to show that he understood. He turned his attention to Garrick, staring at the pathetic sight. The man that had seemed larger than life a couple of hours ago was broken and bleeding before them. His face was bloody and burned; his eyes appeared to be seared shut. He was slumped forward like a defeated doll with Xol's fingers still in his stomach.
"All right. Take him to the dungeon and I will deal with him once the chaos of this event has passed," Viktor decided.
Xol waved over two of her daijinn comrades and they took Garrick away. As they were leaving, Ileana added to that command with her own, telling them which cell that they should take him too. Once that was done, the daijinn began to gather, standing behind their leader. Xol turned her attention to Viktor.
"Do you have our payment ready?" Xol asked, professional tone taking over almost immediately.
"Everything is ready. Will you leave so soon? I would like to throw a feast in your honor," Viktor informed them. He noted that none of the daijinn appeared impressed with that, which he thought might have been his failing. He was sure that if his father made the offer, their reactions would have been different.
"Sorry. That food needs to get back to the rest of the tribe as soon as possible," Xol answered.
"Then I will have it brought in," Viktor replied in a bit of a sorrowful tone, looking down. He wished that he could express his gratitude to them in some way, but he supposed that it would be impossible if they were going to leave so soon.
Xol nodded and then she turned to her group. She sighed and looked at the floor while running her right hand through her hair; she was mindful of her left hand, remembering where it had just been. She then turned her gaze back to her comrades.
Ileana watched, noting that Xol seemed nervous while facing her tribe. The Princess wondered what was going through her friend's mind. She then watched as Mei, Ro, Kwen, and Yu approached the leader, standing in front of her.
"Was this your plan, little goddess?" Ro asked curiously, sorrow in her eyes.
"I didn't have a plan. I can't help it. This woman is my weakness, my strength, my life, my everything," Xol answered with a slight shrug. A shameless smile tugged at her lips. It was a very rare day for her group to witness her smile.
"Well, you know that you can't stay in any pack if you're mated to a human and you are very much mated to the Princess," Mei stated what they all knew.
Xol sighed and ran her hand through her hair again. She was only vaguely aware of the few universal daijinn laws, but the one that she was most familiar with was the one that Mei was speaking of now. Mei told her a few times through the years that they had known each other that daijinn were forbidden from mating with humans and banishment was the punishment. Xol always waved her off, dismissing the rule because she did not see how it mattered to her. But, Mei knew, and she had been trying her best to get Xol to see the light and for Xol to understand just what her feelings meant.
"Mate?" Ro echoed and her face fell even more. She appeared rather crushed, not thinking that the relationship was that deep. Yes, Mei had sworn up and down that Xol and the Princess were mates, but she never expected to hear Xol admit to it.
"Yes, our little sun goddess is definitely mated to that woman. This is why she hasn't been ours, even when she was living with us. Xol, I have to say, I've never thought something like this was possible, even though I saw how hard you fought for the Princess," Mei commented.
Xol looked down at the ground again, but she was smiling shyly. The humans wondered what was going on considering the expression that Xol was wearing compared to the stern and hard expressions of the other daijinn, most of whom were glaring at their leader. When the pack leader looked up, half of the expressions changed, sorrow drenching them as if it was a tidal wave. Xol offered them all a half-smile.
"I'm sorry, everybody. I wish you all the best, you know that," the short woman informed her group…well, her former group.
Xol was not sure what to do after that. She never planned for the moment that she would be thrown out of the pack, which she had always been aware would happen sooner or later. Instead of admitting to herself that it would happen, she had tried to lie to herself, even though she knew that she was mated to Ileana. There was nothing she could do about that. The pack would never measure up to Ileana or replace those feelings, no matter how much she had attempted to ignore them. Still, she was not sure what to do now. She decided to go with the plan that she had the last time that she thought that she was done with the group. She turned away from them and walked off; that time, no one stopped her. She went and stood in front of Ileana.
"You are going to leave, are you not?" the Princess inquired, tears gathering in her eyes. She was using all of the strength left in her body not to fidget and shake.
Xol reached out, taking the Princess by the shoulders. She then lightly trailed her fingers down long, weary limbs. Ileana began to tremble and suddenly threw her arms around Xol. She pulled the smaller teen into a tight embrace and wondered if there was a way for her to never let go. She leaned down, mouth close to a pointed ear.
"Please, do not leave me again," Ileana begged in a very low voice.
"I won't," Xol promised.
"Please—" Ileana paused as she realized what her friend just said. She gazed downward at the pale warrior, eyes pleading that she heard correctly. She cupped Xol's face, silently begging to hear those words again.
"I won't leave if you're going to have me," Xol promised.
"What about your tribe?" Ileana inquired, glancing toward them and noticing the mixed expressions and body language of the whole crew.
The daijinn were all watching Xol. Some of them appeared ready to burst into tears themselves while others were smirking as if they were happy. Some shoulders were slumped in defeat while others had their shoulders squared. Some seemed ready to run out of the palace at that moment while others seemed as if they were cemented to the floor. Ileana was not sure what to make of them as a whole.
"I just got banished," Xol answered as if it did not really matter. She even shrugged.
"Banished? How can they banish you? I thought you were the leader! Why would they banish you? You are doing such a superb job," Ileana argued and she was about to step forward to defend her friend.
Xol could not help smiling; same old Ileana, always trying to stick up for her. She grabbed the Princess by the hand to prevent her from marching over to the group. Ileana glanced back at her friend, who shook her head, telling Ileana not to bark at the daijinn.
"Trust me, they're doing me a favor," Xol informed her overprotective companion.
"How so? They are firing you," Ileana pointed out.
"We aren't firing her. We're freeing her," Mei stated.
"She says that you banished her. Why? What did she do? What right do you have to kick her out of this group? She is your leader!" Ileana stated heatedly, ready to step into Mei's face, but a simple squeeze of her hand got her to stay where she was.
"She was our leader. She broke the rules and she can't stay with us," Mei replied.
"What rule?" Ileana demanded to know, snarl tugging at her top lip.
Mei glanced at Xol, who shrugged. Mei sighed, wondering why the hell the now ex-leader just did not speak up sometimes. She turned her attention back to the Princess.
"One main daijinn rule that has existed for as long as we've known, daijinn aren't supposed to mate with humans. Xol is mated to you, heart, mind, soul, and body," Mei explained.
"Mated?" Ileana echoed. Her eyes went wide. "Do you mean…?" she was unable to finish the sentence.
Mei shook her head and chuckled. "No, there is more to it than that. I believe you humans refer to it as being in love, but for daijinn, it's much deeper than that. I believe the closest humans have to it, you call 'soul mates.' Xol is yours now, forever and always, but not how you used to think I'm sure."
Ileana was not sure if she wanted to grin or frown from that statement. Instead of showing any emotions toward Mei or the other daijinn, she turned to Xol. She noticed the shorter teen looking bashfully at the floor again. Ileana hugged Xol to her body.
"Is it true, iris? You love me?" Ileana asked in a whisper, speaking to a pointed ear.
Xol nodded. "I do. You are my mate and I want to stay with you," she admitted, her tail swaying happily behind her as she finally spoke her feelings aloud.
Ileana was not sure what to say in response and only clutched Xol tighter to her warm body. The Princess was not sure if she wanted to smile or cry from the joy that she felt as she held Xol to her, feeling complete for the first time in a long time. Xol returned the embrace and enjoyed the hug. She was almost overwhelmed by the sense of peace and joy that flowed through her body like the blood in her veins.
"Guys, thanks for giving me a purpose for the past four years and I want you to take care of yourselves. I don't expect you to keep any of the things I tried to start, but I do hope you do what's best for each other," Xol said to her former pack.
"The boss never was good at making speeches," Kwen commented, speaking to Yu, who was appearing strangely deep in thought for the moment.
The daijinn were all quiet for a moment before Fry stepped out of the crowd. She walked over to Xol and stood before the short warrior. Xol eyed her mentor, not sure what to expect.
"I stay. Keep eye on you," Fry declared.
"What? I don't need a babysitter," Xol objected.
"You do, 'specially when with her," Fry commented, nodding toward the Princess.
"What about your freedom?" Xol asked. She put a hand on the cook's shoulder and gazed up at her with pleading golden eyes. "This could be it. Go with them, see their home, and build a life for yourself," Xol begged.
"You my life, idiot. Somebody need watch you," Fry argued.
"I was thinking about that. I'd like to stay too," Mei commented, which made Xol look at her wide-eyed and as if she had three heads.
"You want to stay with me?" Xol asked in disbelief.
"I know it might be hard to believe, but I like being around you, chief. You're different and you have a good heart. So, I just want to stick around for a while and hope that you don't get too sick of me," Mei remarked with a smile.
Xol's face twisted with confusion, lost by Mei's words. Suddenly, Yu stepped up, looking guilty. He crossed his arms over his slender chest and stared down at Xol.
"I sort of want to stay too," Yu confessed. He doubted that he would be able to live with himself if he just left Xol, who had been so good to their pack for the past four years, even though she did not want the position of alpha. She did her best despite all the odds and she did a fantastic job, far better than any other leader he thought they would have. He just felt so close to her now after working with her for those four years that it seemed like he would be abandoning her if he went back to their home.
Xol did not know what to make of their behavior. She had been under the impression that most daijinn tolerated her rather than liked her. She never would have thought anyone would want to stay with her when the time came for her to leave. And then the biggest shock yet, Kwen stepped up.
"Somebody's going to have to keep you lot out of trouble," Kwen muttered, rolling his eyes. Xol's jaw practically hit the floor.
"Don't look so shocked. Kwen thinks you're the best thing since the stars in the sky," Mei commented.
The statement earned Kwen an evil glare from Ileana. Mei noticed and laughed while Kwen just glared back. Mei figured that she might need to clear the air because it was not the proper time to start trouble.
"The big idiot looks at you like a little sister," Mei explained, speaking to Xol.
Xol's eyebrows seemed to jump, as if she did not believe such information. She supposed it had to be something, though, if he was willing to endure humans in order to stay by her side. Truth be told, underneath it all, Xol had a soft spot for Kwen, which was why she picked up on some of his speech patterns. His treatment of her over the years had not really changed, but the meaning behind his behavior had. She had noticed some time ago that he was more playful with her than anything else, but his gruff-tough-guy image had to be protected, so he was a rough sort of playful. He often checked on her when he thought she was not paying attention and oddly enough, a few times, he had actually carried her to bed and tucked her in.
A few others looked like they wanted to step forward, but were unsure. The last person to take a solid step toward Xol was Ro. The pair looked at each other. Xol ran her hand through her hair while Ileana possessively pressed the shorter teen to her.
"I'm sorry," Xol apologized to the tall warrior.
"Don't be, little goddess. I never imagined that…" Ro trailed off. She never fathomed that Xol's emotions for the human Princess ran so deeply. She never thought that Xol could consider anyone a mate. But, now she understood why Xol could never make a claim toward her. Of course, the understanding did not make the pain go away, but she could forgive Xol now.
"No, I have to apologize for what I did to you…" Xol glanced away, feeling shame well into her guts.
"Don't worry about it, little goddess. I understand now," Ro replied and then she turned her eyes to Ileana. She gave the Princess a hard glare. "Make sure you take care of the little goddess. She's pretty special and dear to a lot of people."
Ileana nodded and Ro turned back to the group of daijinn. No one else stepped up to volunteer to stay and they quickly departed the palace, having no desire to stay around humans. Some where happy to leave Xol behind and had thoughts of filling the leadership void when they got back to their home. Xol did not think about that and just watched her former tribe exit the area. When they left, Xol knew who her former pack took with them, not bothering to ask. Viktor was only vaguely aware that palace even had daijinn slaves in it and was hardly fazed when he was informed that much of the unseen staff was gone.
Besides, he was more curious about his sister's reluctance to let Xol go than anything else. He watched them leave the throne room together to go get cleaned up. Later on when he saw them for the dinner, he noticed that his sister still had not released her friend from her embrace. Something was up with those two, he could figure that much. He just did not ask and no one else said.
"New friends, I would be delighted if you all picked rooms in my wing of the palace if you want," Ileana proposed, speaking to the daijinn foursome that stayed behind with Xol, as they finished the evening meal. The announcement seemed to get Miss Olga's attention; after all, that was also her wing of the palace.
"I liked the room I had," Yu said.
"Please, if you enjoyed your room, take that one. I will make sure that all of the servants understand that you are not just guests of the Crown, but also allies of the Crown. You will all get the best treatment and the highest honors," Viktor stated.
The daijinn all nodded, but they would have to see it to believe it. They were not worried about anything really. They could fight off any humans that did try something. Even if someone dared to put reins on them, Xol could easily destroy those and then they could easily destroy the humans. And even if they could not, they were fairly certain no force alive could defeat Xol, so as long as she was with them, they had nothing to fear.
After the meal, the daijinn all walked off to the empty wing. Viktor suggested having servants attend to them, but none of them were ready for that just yet. First, they wanted to get comfortable in their new surroundings. The new occupants of the hall stood around for a moment, eyes on their ex-leader. The young daijinn all smiled at Xol while Fry more glared; it was an expression shared with Miss Olga.
"Make the most of it, boss," Mei said with a cheeky grin before walking off with Yu and Kwen. She paused for a moment just to grab Fry and gently pull the elder away.
Ileana and Xol were left with Miss Olga, alone. Xol gulped and fiddled with her wrists, as if she was expecting Miss Olga to use reins that she was not even wearing. Her nerves were close to jumping just from memory of the woman that seemed to so intent on destroying her.
Ileana stared Miss Olga right in the face while making sure to keep her arms around Xol. Miss Olga's stance got a bit more defensive as Ileana silently staked her position. Xol's heart calmed down as she felt herself being pressed against the Princess despite Miss Olga's hard stare.
"You already know I do not approve," Miss Olga stated.
"I know," Ileana replied calmly. "But, you have nothing to support your disapproval on except for the fact that we are two females." Through out the years, she knew that Miss Olga's attitude toward her best friend had changed because Miss Olga slowly understood the light that Xol brought into her life. Of course, that did not stop her from thinking that Xol was a menace and a bad influence on Ileana, even though she was aware most trouble-making ideas came from the Princess.
"This is true. But, considering the things I have taught you and supported you with these past four years, even that is not the best reason. I will say I am a bit more disturbed by the fact that she is not human than she is female, but that is negated by the fact that I know what she is to you. I think you should just consider what might happen when your father gets better," Miss Olga said.
"I will worry about that when it happens, but I will not let him talk me out of this. I will not let him stand in my way Being with my iris is what makes me happy. He stole my happiness once. He will not get another chance," Ileana declared soundly. Miss Olga did not dispute that and they all went their separate ways.
Xol wiped her damp bangs off of her sweat-drenched forehead while staring down at Ileana, who was making herself quite comfortable against the smaller body underneath her on the bed. Once Ileana was settled in, her head resting against Xol's collar bone and her hand tracing the design on Xol's pale body, a cream-colored hand found it's way to the small of the Princess's back, gently caressing her.
"I am so happy that you are back," Ileana whispered.
"I'm happy to be back. Living so far from my mate, denying my feeling…it was Hell," Xol admitted. Pretending that being so far from Ileana did not bother her was actually the only thing that she could do to avoid going completely mad or killing herself. But, even that had stressed her out.
"You said that means you love me, right?"
"I do." And so much more, she mentally added.
"I do not doubt it. I love you too. I was just wondering how long have you known you loved me?" Ileana asked curiously. Looking back on their strange childhoods, she could pick up hints on both of their parts that they had been too young to notice, but even she did not realize her feelings until being with Xol again.
"That day I helped you get away from my tribe. I knew I loved you, I knew I was yours because I would die for you. I would make any sacrifice for your safety and happiness. My feelings for you… Sometimes, the distance, the absence, not knowing what happened to you, I felt such pain that I wish I would die. It would've been so much easier, so much more merciful. A lot of the time, I wished someone would just cut me open and eat my insides, so I would never have to feel anything ever again. Life…it just didn't mean a damn thing without you," Xol explained, giving her lover a tight squeeze around the shoulders.
"I felt those things too. It just did not occur to me that I loved you, but now, I know all too well that I love you. I love you so much," Ileana declared and she began placing tender kisses to Xol's neck.
Xol moaned deeply, but kept her wits about her because she had questions of her own. "Why is Miss Olga okay with this? I know before she would've sooner killed me and sprinkled my ashes in your food than let us have this…"
Ileana paused her treatment. "Miss Olga has changed a bit since you left. She has always wanted what is best for me, but now she is willing to concede that my happiness might be what is best for me and not what tradition dictates. Surprisingly enough, she is not as traditional as she pretends to be. She is the one that taught me to swordfight, after I tried to learn how to defend myself from all sorts of people."
"Why did you want to defend yourself? Do you have enemies in the palace?" Xol asked, body tensing as if she was about to leap out of bed, completely naked, and go vanquish her love's enemies.
"I wanted to know, so that I could stand with you the next time we met. I would not have to run and we would not be separated. Did your pack really banish you for loving me?" the Princess asked.
"Old daijinn law. I suppose it goes back to when humans and daijinn first started fighting for whatever reason. But, they say you can't help who you bond with and I'm bonded to you mind, body, and soul," the shorter teen declared.
"And I to you, my dearest, sweetest iris." Ileana pushed herself up in order to kiss Xol's soft lip.
Their lips moved slowly, but passionately against each other, promising each other that they were made just for each other. The leisurely embrace seemed to exchange their energy, their essences, their souls, and they were united as one. They sighed as if all was right in the universe as they parted and Ileana made herself comfortable against Xol's collarbone again.
"Stay with me always," Ileana requested as her breath evened out, showing that she was falling asleep.
"Always. You are my sun and my moon, after all. My world is dark, bleak, and cold without you," Xol replied in a low voice.
They both drifted into the best sleep of their lives. They knew that there were more than likely obstacles and challenges ahead for them to remain together, but for right now, the moment was perfect. It was more than they had had in a long time, so they would accept it, as they accepted each other and each other's love.
Thank you to everyone that read and reviewed this story. I hope you enjoyed it. Keep an eye out for a sequel. Until then, take care and I'm going back to my padded cell. Hasta...