Without Light
Part 2: Firebreathers
Length: too freaking long XD 10k words. 26 delicious pages
Warnings:Violence. Sadness.

Author Notes: I enjoyed this one. I guess I have a twisted sense of humor.
About the title... "Love you" is always the very last line of any message dragon's send to inform someone of a recent death. King Kuroi has been known to send letters that say things like "I had your husband put to death for defiance. Love you."
Off the top of my head, Kuro has received three love letters, Evelynne gets one and Kintra gets two. It's Kuroi's way of gently saying "yeah... don't expect to see that person breathing again."

Kuroi has got to be my favorite character. Writing him is always a treat and I always hate how rarely he gets a chance to show up. Ah, the woes of the writer. Where my characters lead I must follow.

Anyway shoutout to Dai. As usual she encouraged me to get this up as fast as I could! Also to Bornanew: a very sincere thank you for your insight and honesty.
And finally Stargazerset this whole thing in motion. I was depressed to find my computer melted and thanks to her I felt inspired enough to search for a replacement copy!

This chapter always leaves me with such strong "DAYUM" feelings. XD I hope you guys will share your feelings by leaving a review!

With that, please enjoy everyone!

"Love You"

On a small mountain, overlooking the otter river and stag pass, the queen of wolves arrived, before even the sun, with her vast, loyal pack at her heels. Now they had traveled each of the old leopard cities: Churette, Stretneer, and Persuenne, before finally settling on the newest one built, Stratnen, just barely outside of Kuroi's providence. Here she found herself right on the edge of the dragon's stormlands, not yet out of the woods. But as she arrived, the bad weather abated either way. Of course which, before entering, she had had to convince the nearest deer troops that she was indeed the queen Evelynne, and even now she could see them off in the distance, curiously watching as her wolves prowled the area.
The dragon king himself had only one, grandiose palace, but his influence stretched throughout the entire continent, by way of alliance with elk. The earthen elk had many, many settlements and seemingly endless armies. Masters of the earth itself, they boasted extensive knowledge of metalworking and craftsmanship, but everyone knew metal remained useless without heat with which to meld its shape as desired. Everything seemed useless without fire, and Evelynne knew this only too well. Ever since the lightning queen's death, natural weather cycles had become a thing of the past. Rain and winds crashed constantly onto the lands, extinguishing all but merciful phoenix fires, so many trades became all but impossible without a Firebreather's help. What a coincidence. What a beautiful coincidence that the most numerous and powerful armies were so dependent on Firebreathers… It made her feel sick, just thinking about it. And of course, the Firebreathers themselves lived in their palace where the sun shone year round and the rain hardly fell, but of course the stag were not brave enough to ask questions about that… Of course not. On top of it all, for everyone outside of that palace, traveling meant trudging through serpent-infested swamplands and battling howling winds and harsh storms. As fate would have it, purely coincidentally, this could only be avoided by those traveling with his majesty's personal blessings.
Queen Evelynne was one chosen for such a blessing, due to signing the allied ordinance years before. In exchange for his favor, she had promised to supply the palace with hunters. He hadn't told her, of course, that this would mean handing over her firstborn daughter to produce those same hunters. He'd only sent her reward and let it be. With that reward in her hands, Evelynne knew it was too late to risk angering him by going back on their treaty. She had left that palace, with only a small envelope filled with ugly pieces of jewelry, prepared to brave at least seven full moons, trudging through storms and mud. But the storms never came. It took her two moons to accept it, but this ugly black jewelry, which looked more like frozen petrol, seemed to be worth more than onyx skel. It could prevent bad weather. She pulled each piece out, and suddenly each ugly black chunk looked much more like the priceless keepsake it was. Around her neck she hung the first symbol of his approval: a small black oval with strange speckles of yellow that sometimes showed up if she turned it just right in the sun. With its magical influence, the weather remained mild for miles around, and Evelynne also discovered that she was able to unlock any door that she pleased. The last three pieces seemed to go with the first one, perhaps as a set, but rather than covering only herself, Evelynne gifted two matching rings and a bracelet to her most trusted companions: the heads of the Stray. Meren kept one, Lucas the second and Silven the third so that each of them: head Firestarter, Finisher and Guardian could travel the lands dry and protected.
On this manipulated calm evening, Evelynne sat atop a hill, contemplating the past as she watched a particularly furious storm rage in the distance. It doesn't make sense. The rains should have been unpredictable for a short while after her death, to mourn, but not anymore. Why won't they stop? She'd chosen to explore this area in a vain attempt to discover the source of the inexplicable storms, but had only managed to find more disheartening mystery. Her sharp wolf nose had detected the hint of a once proud leopard village, but by the time her pack arrived, only a burnt-out wasteland remained. Earthquakes had split the land, swallowing many of the regal cats who'd once lived here, while their homes and territories were burned to the ground. If she guessed correctly, the fires must have swept through lastly, annihilating the evidence of a massacre. But why? How could all of these cities have infuriated the king, all at once?
Had the leopards been killed in an attempt at avenging the king's permanent injury? Had the leopards rebelled and then needed to be contained? Or… is this all because cats can control weather?
Those strange yellow sparkles looked a bit too familiar after all: almost like the leopard queen's eyes…
Queen Alexa had had flawless control of all natural weather, from winds to hurricanes, but following her demise, the weather spun out of control, drenching the earth with its fury. It was no wonder all of those living outside of the Firebreather castle still relied on wolves to provide for agricultural needs. They could sow little more than bland rice in their water-logged lands. So perhaps out of anger or the frustration born of hunger, other citizens had turned on the leopards. Who cared if their cities were being mysteriously wiped out? Once the dragon king blamed them, all others followed freely, without question. That just seemed to be the law of the land, 'without question.' Without hope. Without light, just like Marcus used to say… Had he been right after all? And just where had he disappeared to, after promising to return "soon," so many harvests ago? The answer would not come to her, and so Evelynne sat, just to think, with the peaceful winds playing through her long, dark blonde hair and the warmth of sunlight bathing her smooth, olive skin. She'd vaguely considered disguising it as yellowish asian, but had decided against it. Between her delicate fingers she held a strangely-shaped bone, the only clue she had found after many mooncycles of searching, and she looked down at it every now and then, wondering from what creature it had come. Beneath her, in the burnt out ravine, her wolves searched the grounds, digging for more, but she knew they would never be found. The dragon king was too clean for that. He would have eliminated the evidence. This entire village had been destroyed, somehow, with no reason given. Countless innocent lives had been lost without notice. "Are there truly no leopards left?"
She clamped a hand over her mouth suddenly, surprised by that moment of callous weakness as her worried eyes darted around. Oh thank goodness. Lucas isn't too close. She thought that, but then still felt her stomach knot up. The wolf queen gazed sorrowfully down at the pitiful sight for a long, searching moment, green eyes sweeping over the desolation as hopeless silence sank deeper into her soul. Lucas stood below, face downcast and hidden by his long, dark cloak. He wasn't even helping his allies to dig. He seemed to know already, how futile it was to hope members of his own kind lived on.
Queen Evelynne found herself distracted then, by a far off howl, which was then picked up and mimicked by at least five of her other peripheral guards. "A dragon, headed this way?" Impossible. Dragons couldn't detect scents well enough to search her wolves out. Even while knowing this, Evelynne understood it best not to take chances. She gestured to the wolves below her and they too raised their voices, emitting sharp, warning yelps. Her people scattered like marbles across the burnt lands, and she just barely caught sight of Lucas before he zipped off to do what all leopards did best: appear extinct.
Their visitor turned out to be a half dragon, at least, but she immediately wondered what in the world it was doing outside of the palace. "A Hunter?"The chimera was high in the sky, but flying toward her, so she could already recognize its body as mixed from her own blood, somewhere down the line, along with that of a Firebreather. She recognized its scaly black wings and pointed snout: perhaps half her great great grandchild, and half her brother's, with even less than half their magical prowess, but at least equal their physical strength. "Oh, I see now." She turned her green eyes to that little bone one more time and finally understood. It was a dragon-reminiscent claw, but still bore the scent of a wolf. So this is a hunter's remnant. Was the dragon king letting these brutes out to feed on what few leopards remained? "My own children, used against me..." She let out a scoff, fisting that despicable bone as she made to greet the living Hunter, whose wings had lowered to prepare for a dive.
What a disappointing creature. Had she not given the command for her wolves to howl, this thing might never have found her location. She doubted its mixed reddish-brown dragon eyes were any good for the hunting it had been born to carry out.
Absently Evelynne summoned the magic necessary to change her ethnicity, straightening out her more wavy blonde hair to a flat, sleek jet black. Clothes would not be a problem, since she'd opted out of wearing any. The Hunter finally touched down on those four, mismatched dragon and wolf paws. Its wings folded up halfway, like it wasn't sure what to do with them and then it trumped over to her, panting like a winded rhinoceros. The thing was tall for walking on four legs, four feet at least, and had its father's eyes. She was impressed when those crooked dragon fangs parted and actual words escaped. "Evelynne, Princess of the wolves-"
"Queen," She helpfully corrected, "my daughter is now of age."
"How could I have forgotten? That is the reason I have been sent to see you." The hunter took an apologetic bow, one scaly, clawed paw lifted as its other front knee bent. "My apologies."
"That's quite alright, my son."
She didn't miss the flash of surprise in his eyes. He had probably never even given a thought to his half-wolf heritage. Why should he have, afterall, with superior Firebreather blood in his veins? This thing was probably not even aware that wolves supported all life-sustaining agriculture. "I sometimes forget," it admitted, "that one so pure as you could be grandmother to one with murky blood like mine."
"Murky?" She tried not to scoff, and pretended to laugh off that insulting sentiment. "That must be a term my silly little brother has crafted."
"I would not know," the hunter nervously confessed, and at that point it straightened up and tugged the necklace from around its neck. "A whisper crystal." That clawed paw held it out for her and Evelynne accepted, letting the message play out.
As the crystal lit up and began to spin in midair, the familiar voice of Kuroshi escaped. "Hello Auntie, dearest," was his sarcastic way of greeting. "We all hope you are well. And I know what you're thinking: What? So Kuroshi can send messengers from the palace, after all? The answer is no. This will be the only message and so this will be your only chance to respond. But buck up, it's an invitation! In light of your announcement of a possible heiress to your honorable throne, Father has seen fit to invite you and your children into our home. He demands only that you bring to the palace all of your female brethren: each and every wolf with the ability to bear children. And you must do so just before the wolf mating season begins. In return, a marvelous reward awaits: a reward I think you want, very, very… Much."
His voice died down then, but as the used up crystal split open her sharp nose caught its last magic effect: the scents of butter cream, violets, and the warmth of phoenix flame. Kintra.
"My answer is yes." She immediately decided, waving the Hunter on its way. "Go and tell my brother that his wish is my command."
"Very well." The creature bowed once again and spread those monstrous wings, ready to take off, but then stalled at the last moment. "Pray tell," it stammered, "which way to my home?" Ever polite, Evelynne raised her nose, took a whiff, then gestured slightly to the left. "Thank you." The Hunter bowed, just once more, and then took off in the direction she'd indicated.
No sooner had it flown out of hearing distance than Lucas appeared at the wolf queen's side. He looked more shocked than worried. "You're doing what he says?"
"Best to play along if one wants to win the game…" She handed him the crystal, curious herself. "Did you read Kuroshi's heart already? Is he lying? Will I truly be allowed to marry Kintra?"
"He's not, unfortunately." Lucas didn't even pretend not to be troubled by that. "But why would they want all the females?"
"To impregnate them, of course." Evelynne easily answered. "Wolves mate for life. It's a very smart move on my brother's part, to claim the only surviving female Shiren as mates for his own race…"
"The ice dragons are still alive."
"But they refuse to fight against him. In claiming my girls he must be hoping to eliminate the very last vestiges of rebellion. They won't have the heart to attack their own husbands…"
"What should we do then?"
"Play along. If I can have Kintra, the rest won't even matter."
"Read for me again." She held up the crystal, asking a different question this time. "Am I right in thinking, Kuroshi loves Kintra?"
"Then it's perfect. If I have Kintra, Kuroshi will be mine too. I doubt my brother realizes how truly the two love one another. I will use that love against him. Kuroshi will not kill the mother of his own brother's childr-."
Lucas interrupted, appalled. "You're assuming too much! If you leave even half of your males behind, you could be overpowered in battle. The wolves could go the same way as the leopards!"
"Don't be a hypocrite. The leopards are only extinct," She pointed out, "so long as the last shiren among them prefers not to create any new ones. You know my girls. If they know anything they know how to make babies…"
"Ha ha, very funny."
"Thank you."
"Can't you make him trade anything else, Evee? He's gotta let you keep at least a few of your girls."
"You know better. Kuroi hasn't opened his palace to anyone since Kiteera promised to wed his precious Caymen. Of course he would up the stakes after that turned out so disastrous. It's a miracle he accepted at all, as a matter of fact, even if I am more powerful than she was…" Evelynne made to leave then, gesturing for her troops to follow along. "You should come if you're so worried, Twister."
"You'll be safe outside if you stay closer to your Flitter. I'm sure he will make you a barrier."
"This is a bad idea," Lucas grumbled, following despite his better judgment, and Merenteren chimed in as well.
"I have to agree, Evelynne. Trusting Kuroi is foolish at best."
"And I know that," Evelynne assured as she bowed to her brother, even though she couldn't see him, "but there is a difference between making the wrong choice and realizing when you have no choice."

"Evelynne has agreed to meet Father's demands."
"I thought she would."
"What will you do now, Kintra? Marry her, despite everything?"
"I… don't know."
"Go back to bed, pet." Kintra had said that automatically. He was sitting out on the balcony, contemplating his earlier conversations with Kuroshi, but now found himself distracted. He'd only lit one of the torches and was trying to draw as quietly as possible, but perhaps these efforts were not sufficient, since he seemed to have wakened one of his pets. Estelle, his senses informed. Standing right behind me. "Having trouble sleeping?" He turned to address the blonde-headed pet, who had already politely closed the glass doors. "Yes Master." That timid gaze fell not on Kintra, but on the ground. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. I only wondered… Well, I thought you'd be sleeping with Aya and myself tonight…"
"My apologies, but I do not sleep, pet. I am a Shiren. And night is the only time I get a chance to draw flowers in moonlight."
"Is something the matter?"
The little pet shuffled those bare feet, looking away. "It's not important…"
"Hmm." Kintra put his drawing pad aside and motioned for his pet to come closer. "Is Aya already asleep?"
"Yes." Estelle wasted no time in crawling up onto the outdoor bench with him, and Kintra absently began running his fingers through that soft, platinum hair. "Then why aren't you?"
"Because he…" Estelle bit one of those plump little lips, seeming not to want to tattle on Aya. "What is it, Pet?"
"He just sometimes… I can't stop thinking about him. He says thing I don't understand…"
"Well I'm sure we all do," Kintra admitted, "You've just been raised in such a different environment. The three of us will just have to learn to understand one another."
"But it's different with Aya. He has these… strange things in his eyes. Very new things, but I know they're important. I bet if I were you, Master, you would know right away. You're so smart…"
"Well just what did Aya say? Maybe I could translate?"
"It's not words," Estelle insisted. "It's something different. It's in his fingers and his arms and… it's just different. You don't treat me like he does."
"Whoa, Estelle. You actually sound… scared? Are you afraid of the way Aya treats you?"
"Scared?" Those golden eyebrows raised high, and Kintra couldn't believe it, but he found himself wondering if Estelle even knew what that meant. "To be scared," he attempted, "is to feel like your body won't move right and… you sweat or you can't talk or can't move like you want. Or you could suddenly have the urge to move really fast, like maybe you want to run away."
"Oh, like the way I like your hunters!"
"Oh…" Kintra deflated, feeling guilty. "I didn't know the hunters were causing such grief…"
"They're the worst!" Estelle enthused, not seeming to notice Kintra's grimace. "Um… I liked it better when we were talking about Aya."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Master."
"No, no, I mean the hunter thing I can fix easy. I'll just retrain them. But Aya's a whole different story. If he's causing you anguish, Estelle, you have to say how or I can't help you with it."
The pet dodged, wringing those tiny, pale hands. "I don't think I should say…"
"Okay show me then," Kintra then challenged. Unfortunately though, Estelle immediately took him up on that offer. The purebred pet knew how to act with the best of them, even if words didn't come quite as naturally. Estelle took Kintra's face in both hands, and the way those blue eyes bore into his, growing darker, almost made the prince blush. Bedroom eyes?
He had no idea pets could even do such a thing. They weren't breeders after all, and it only got worse from that point. Estelle leaned right in and kissed him, passionately, and even slid a hand under his shirt, fingers caressing the muscles beneath. It took everything in Kintra to not throw his pet off, but he did break their kiss abruptly, immensely sorry he'd asked. Suddenly fear gripped his heart as he realized just how often he'd left his pets without supervision, and he caught Estelle by the shoulders, demanding a full explanation. "When did this happen? Did Aya do anything else? How far did he ask you to go? Did it hurt?"
Unfortunately this had the opposite effect and Estelle only teared up, rather than admitting. "I knew it. We did something bad, didn't we? I'm a bad pet, aren't I?"
"No, wait wait wait. We? As in… consensual, yes?"
"Con… what?"
"Did you start it or Aya?"
"I did sometimes… more than him."
"More than him?"
"Well he did it the first time but then I found out it's like… um, like candy, only it makes me feel warm like, like he's gonna protect me. I feel good when it happens but I know that that's bad because my bangles start hurting me."
"Oh! Ohhh. Then nevermind bangles. That's okay. Whew!" Kintra suddenly felt exhausted. He'd only just been ready to kick Aya's butt, but now felt so relieved he could kiss him. "On second thought," He sighed. "Maybe I will lay with you two tonight. Or between you two, anyway…"
Estelle didn't seem to catch on to his meaning, perking up with excitement. "Really, Master?"
"Yes, I think. Definitely." He allowed Estelle to crawl onto his lap then, but the contact reminded of a warning he should have mentioned already. "Oh, but Estelle…"
"Yes, Master?"
"Please do not ever kiss anyone like that again."
"Not even Aya?"
"Well yes Aya but not anyone else, understand?"
"It's something only bad pets do?"
"No, no. And I'll try fixing your bangles so they know that, but it's just not nice to kiss two different people like that."
"I do not understand."
"It would hurt Aya's feelings."
"How come?"
Kintra let out a sigh, leaning back as he stared at the sky. "Estelle, have you never even heard of jealousy?"
"Jealousy…" Estelle mimicked the word but that was just about it. "It sounds like a food, Master."
"No pet, jealousy is a feeling."
"A feeling…"
"Yes." Kintra put a hand to Estelle's stomach, demonstrating. "It hurts here and makes your head feel very hot."
"So, kisses hurt Aya's tummy?"
"Oh." Estelle hung that pretty head, both palms on Kintra's chest. "I wish I knew things like that. He must think I'm so stupid. There's so many things that hurt humans I don't understand…"
"It's alright. You're trying your best."
"Yeah…" Estelle lay against Kintra's chest, just listening to the calming, soft beat of his heart. It reminded of Aya, with a warmth that brought safety, but the thought caused an almost sick feeling to blossom. Those fingers instinctively clasped Kintra's robes and he noticed immediately. Estelle clung like a child, almost seeming afraid to let go. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know," His pet confessed. "But I feel this way every time Aya stops kissing me. I want to hold him, but I can't."
"So you miss him. You're lonely."
Kintra shook his head. Already his much smaller companion had practically melted into his embrace, reveling in the warmth of their joined bodies. "But what is that?'" Estelle mumbled, even while seeming insatiably so. "How can I tell if I'm lonely? Does lonely also hurt my stomach?"
"No, loneliness hurts more in your chest. It feels cold."
Kintra was taken aback. A human that doesn't recognize emotions? Was that what a purebred pet was? Theoretically, it sounded convenient. If a pet couldn't recognize its own negative emotions, then it could not complain and therefore its master would not be inconvenienced with time spent cheering it up. Kintra had never thought to shell out the extra Skel to buy a purebred pet before, but now that he had one, it didn't take long to realize that Estelle must've been vastly different from others. In fact, Estelle very rarely came off as human. One thing stuck out in particular: this pet almost completely lacked a sense of embarrassment. Not even a trace of it could be found. No red on the cheeks or hesitance in actions that should cause any human to balk. Estelle hadn't thought anything at all of crawling up onto Kintra's lap, or even in kissing him. Did Estelle even understand why kisses felt so good? Why a gentle caress could make your body heat up and melt against a partner's? Did this pet not understand that Aya most likely did not offer kisses simply because it felt nice? "Oh Estelle," Kintra finally sighed, "It's so awful what those pettrainers did. You must have been so lonely, locked behind glass all your life…"
"But I was learning to be a good pet…"
"No, my precious one, you were having your childhood stolen from you. Your humanity."
"I do not understand…"
"Well you'll learn soon enough," Kintra sighed. "The hard way. Keep kissing Aya like that and you're bound to learn what you've been missing. I wish it didn't have to be so…"
"But I'm fine, Master."
Kintra met those blue eyes, hating the sadness and anger he felt. He hated every pet trainer who'd ever kept Estelle and even the breeders who'd forced these blue eyes and white skin. Why couldn't Estelle have been left alone, to have a natural body, of whatever natural shade true love might encourage? "I'm so sorry," He found himself admitting. "Oh, I love you so, little one…" Kintra nuzzled up close, pouring on his affection, which Estelle seemed to insatiably crave. "Please stick close to our Aya. You deserve all the love he would give you."
Estelle paused, in the middle of nuzzling shamelessly closer to Kintra. "Aya… has what to give me?"
"Love," Kintra repeated, unsurprised by the newly born curiosity in those eyes, "Do you not know what that one is either?"
"No. Is it important?" His pet wondered, sitting up. "Did you mean to explain it to me, Master?"
"Well no. Love can't really be explained. Only felt."
"Oh." Estelle propped a finger between those little pink lips, contemplating. "Do you want me to feel that, Master? Teach me and I will."
"No, my pet. Love cannot be taught either."
"No. It is not like a simple trick."
"Oh. Then what's it like?"
"Hmm." Kintra paused, thinking for a moment before he found a sufficient way to explain. "Love is like magic. A very special magic that humans are naturally blessed with."
"But humans don't have magic." Now Estelle looked even more confused. "Isn't that why they're the weaker race?"
"No. In fact, we shiren learned love from them. It's very special."
"I don't see how human magic could be special…"
Kintra shook his head, chuckling. "You have a lot to learn."
"Teach me?"
"I plan to."
"Of course, my pet. There seem to be many beautiful things that you missed out on during your training. Love, for example, is the one magic most worthy of learning. The world is a beautiful place because of it."
"I don't know…" Estelle sounded unsure. "The world seems… that other word, oh yes, scary to me."
"Well, the world can also be cruel. I get the feeling our Aya has seen more than his fair share of that. Maybe we can also teach him things to make his world more beautiful?"
"Oh. Okay Master."
"You'll help me do that?"
"Alright then. First step, don't ever kiss anyone but Aya, okay?"
"Only Aya?"
"You'll see. It'll help you to learn something special."
"Well, alright Master."
"And do talk to Aya, alright? Just be honest with him."
"I will try, Master."
"Very good." Kintra knew Estelle couldn't possibly understand yet, but that hardly even mattered. It was only a matter of time. A human heart could only be locked up for so long after all. Kuro and Father would probably call me crazy. But Kintra didn't mind risking that. It was worth it, if he could somehow give an innocent child its humanity back. For a moment he just sat still, with that tiny human sitting on his lap and wondered if those big blue eyes could even appreciate just how beautiful the stars looked tonight…
"You never did buy us collars..."
Kintra met that concerned gaze with a gentle explanation. "I don't believe humans are meant to wear collars."
"But what if we get lost?"
"Then I will search the entire world until I find you."
"But..." Estelle didn't seem to know what to say or do, other than stare sadly at the ground. "I feel… wrong, Master. Like I am not yours…"
"Oh, I get it." Kintra finally caught on, "You're antsy because you haven't been marked."
"I want that," Estelle immediately decided, perking up. "Please, Master?" That's why you want me in bed with you! "Hmm..." Usually it was more or less impossible to say no to those big blue eyes, especially if Kintra didn't have a valid excuse, but on this matter, Kintra himself didn't have any option. "That is absolutely impossible without Aya's permission."
"What? But he's not my ma-"
"Ah but it's very important to him. Marks are like kisses, only even more sacred. If I gave you one, it would hurt Aya terribly."
"If you insist on having something to mark you as my pet, we can use collars after all. Shall we go and buy some in the morning?"
"Well morning won't come if you don't go to bed..."
"Yes, Master!" Estelle smiled then, seeming genuinely excited. "Can I have your name on my collar, Master? Instead of my own?"
"Please?" Kintra let out a sigh, thinking only that his work was cut out for him. He scooped that fragile little pet into his arms then and conceded. "Just come on. I bet you'll only sleep if I lay with you."
"Yes, please."
"Alright." Kintra made to carry his pet back to bed and Estelle held him close, thinking only of dragon fangs and powerful, protective arms. Nothing could ever go wrong if Kintra stayed near. Somewhere inside, Estelle knew that to be false, but the training didn't allow such doubts to surface. It did however allow for a pang of misery after long periods without the comfort of touch and the heavenly bliss of warm kisses. Hopefully Aya would wake soon…

Heather didn't wake so much as she startled, suddenly finding herself face to face with Kuroshi. He was giving this half glare, half incredulous look. "You haven't slept," The dragon prince muttered. "Are you hot?"
"Am I hot?"
"Do you feel sick," He clarified, checking her forehead with the back of his hand. "Doesn't seem like it…"
Heather only blushed, forcing herself to stay still. The contact lasted only a few, painless moments, and Kuroshi leaned down afterward, clearly concerned for her health. "Can you stand?"
"Yeah," Heather assured, pushing herself onto all fours. "I'm okay, I'm just… A little bit sleepy." If only she could be honest, Heather might've admitted she was actually exhausted. Her eyelids were heavy as lead and her body felt made of the stuff, shaky and stiff. Her throat was so heated and dry she might've been able to use it for sandpaper. But she was just too scared to sleep. There would only be nightmares: more blood and more suffering and more sex. She wasn't sure she could stand even one more night filled with her father's bloodcurdling screams or the hiss of that golden-eyed dragon. She didn't want to hear any more snapped necks or even think about another firebreather. Sometimes she even swore Kuroshi must've been part of that hell, her own nightmare come to life…
Except that he'd brought her what looked suspiciously like chicken soup… and a tall glass of most likely orange juice.
"Oh." Kuro noticed her eyeing the tray of this new choice of breakfast and immediately retrieved it, placing it carefully before her. "The servants eat stuff like this when they're not feeling well," He explained, shrugging as if he couldn't care less. "I just, you know, figured I'd see if it works for pets too."
Heather took a seat on the thick comforters, almost doubting her own eyes. "Chicken soup?"
"With rice and uh, some kind of medicinal herb. I don't pay attention to human foods, but the kitchen servants swear that it works. Oh, but of course it's not real chicken. Cherifowl are technically bred from like, phoenix chimeras or something. I can't eat them."
"Why not?"
"I just can't," Kuro dodged. "Oh and also, they told me to tell you that the cow isn't actually what you humans call beef. More like wait… venison? I think they said that. It means deermeat, but again, it's just chimeras. Adult chimeras."
Heather accepted her soup, balancing the tray on her thighs as she tried picturing that. So the shiren mass produced and then ate deer? Well she'd known a few people who liked hunting deer back home, but she still couldn't imagine why the shiren would do that. "Don't deer talk here?"
"Not the chimeras."
"Yeah but… I thought Firebreathers and elk were like, allies?"
"Of course we are," Kuro scoffed. "They make all the best meats."
"You'll understand one day. We and chimeras are so far apart it hardly matters. These kinds of chimeras are really damn stupid. If one saw you it would just try to bite you. Just remember that if you ever feel bad about eating 'em." He caught her spoon before she could, and she glowered, but Kuro only insisted she lay back down. "You should rest. You look like shit."
"Gee thanks."
"Seriously. Kintra said he would visit Marceau sometime later. I'll get him to bring back a dreamless sleep potion for you. Should keep you out for a while."
Heather wondered about that while she lay back, letting him tuck her back in. Did he know about the nightmares or was limiting dreams just the best way to give her more sleep? "What kinda shiren makes potions like that?"
"It's a moth special. Open up. Good girl. See how the meat is so white? Cherifowl are actually big fat, round birds. They're red on the outside, but inside it's all white so I figured it's healthy."
"So all white is all right?"
Kuro paused, wrinkling his nose in amusement. "Ah, I see what you did there. Bet you're one of those girls that don't even get stupid when they stay up all night. I'll be watching my back around you."
"Yeah," She joked. "I'm a deadly assassin. Can't you tell? I'm just waiting for you to fall asleep."
"I knew it!" He hissed. "Come to kill me stubbornness!"
"Yep." Heather chomped down on that spoon, yanking it out of his hand with a growl like a dog, and for some reason she found herself snickering, even with the hot burn of soup on the back of her throat. Kuro made feigned attempts to reclaim it, calling her a fiend, but she shook her head, just to see his fake shock. If she hadn't known better, Heather might've thought that this dragon was actually trying to cheer her back up. But of course it was probably just sleep deprivation telling her all this. She wondered if there might be a potion that could replace the firebreather in her dreams with Kuroshi instead.

Chris noticed Estelle acting different. He didn't know what he'd said, or perhaps done, but Estelle seemed to prefer staying closer to him than their master more recently. Chris had questioned at first, completely confused, but the only answer he got was a small, timid smile. After that Estelle's bracelets had spun, and Chris didn't ask more, for fear of setting them off yet again. Estelle's pet bangles seemed to react more than his own, perhaps due to the pet's purebreed status, but Chris always made sure to pay careful attention to them. When they started to spin he would catch them, letting them burn into his fingers instead, but Estelle always tried yanking away, ever concerned for his safety. "Aya that's dangerous!" the pretty purebreed insisted each time, but Chris knew he was stronger, and so today, just as always, he stayed right where he was. "I don't care if it hurts," He asserted. "Better me than you, always. Understand?" The blonde nodded, still seeming worried, but Chris couldn't stop himself anymore. Estelle's arms were now perfectly white, all burns and bruises prevented, and he felt the red marks on his hands were a small price to pay. Chris had tried to ask Kintra to deactivate some of the bangle's responses, but for everything Kintra specifically reprogrammed, there were thousands more instances that could be judged as disobedience by those bangles. The bangles could not be removed, either, no matter how hard Kintra tried. "It's either Merenteren's magic or Father's," He'd guessed. "So there must be a trick to remove them. Magic I don't know…"
Christian hated that thought. Kintra may have been able to remove his, but since these only checked his location and heart rate, they were hardly an issue, so he let them remain on his wrists, examining to see if they might have a weakness. But they didn't. All the bangles were seamless, and only changed size just slightly; enough only to be repositioned, so Chris continually found himself hurting Estelle. On this particular day, Estelle had stolen a kiss; just a small, fleeting one, and then flinched with a sharp yelp of pain. The burns showed up in seconds, before Chris even had enough time to catch them, and when Estelle finally allowed him to see, he recognized dark, mauve-colored injuries, worse than he'd seen in the past. It had happened so fast. "All because of that one little kiss?" Estelle only pouted, those pink lips quivering, and Chris tried to insist they go home, but Estelle hesitated, for the first time disobeying. "Come on," Chris insisted. "This shit's getting too crazy. I'm gonna tell Kintra to fix these damn bangles." He tugged, attempting to lead, but Estelle still held back. The words that escaped those small lips may as well have been warm, empty air, but Chris paused, trying to catch them this time. "What'd you say?"
For a moment he received only silence, and Chris noticed those bangles start to spin again, but this time he caught on and took the burns on his own hands. "What the hell? Are these dumb things malfunctioning?" "No."
Christian found himself stunned. Estelle had spoken with such clear conviction that the sound almost scared him. It just wasn't like the pet that he knew. One short moment without a trace of that sweet, hesitant innocence… "Than what's the problem?" Chris prompted, trying not to sound harsh. If Estelle knew then he wanted to know it as well, or else he'd have to remain powerless to stop it. "Estelle, tell me!"

Estelle dodged, offering only a half explanation. "They can hear what I think…"
"Well I knew that already," Chris sighed. "Tell me what you've been thinking that's setting them off."

"…I don't know."
"Yes you do!"
"Well I don't understand!"
"Estelle, quit!" The blonde tried to twist those wrists out of his grip but Chris caught them again and refused to let go. "Tell the truth!" "I don't have to!"
Christian faltered, eyes wide, but Estelle turned away, muttering. "You're not my master."
Estelle only repeated those words, only this time Chris caught the defiance breaking down into fear. "You're not my master, I said. I should know that. I should know but…" Chris interrupted, wrapping his arms around that tiny, shaking form. "It's okay," he kept whispering. "It's alright. I'm so sorry I yelled."
"I don't like this." Estelle muttered those words into his chest, and yet clung there, like a terrified child. "I feel weird, and I know I'm a bad pet. I'm so bad, but I can't stop myself."
"You're not bad."
"Yes I am," Estelle whimpered. "I'm scared, Aya…"
"Scared of what?"
Estelle mumbled one word, but it was lost in his chest, and so Chris forced their foreheads together, gently encouraging. "Say it again, what you're scared of."
And Estelle didn't say it, but Chris read the word mouthed by those lips and suddenly felt more confused. "Me?"
Estelle sighed, casting those eyes anywhere else as that forced out confession practically repeated itself. "Yes you, Aya. Just you."
"What're you talking about?! I'd never hurt you, Estelle. You know that!"
"But you do."
"How can you say that?"

At that point Kintra interrupted, apparently worried about the shouts he'd already overheard, but Chris dodged when he tried offering comfort. "What's going on? You guys okay?"
"No, I'm not!" Christian spat, fighting back tears as he yanked Estelle over to Kintra, forcing those oblivious purple eyes to focus on the burns he was allowing his pets to be covered with. "You better stop this damn scrapmetal from hurting Estelle! Do it right now! Get it off!"
"But you know I can't, Aya-"
"Well then say we can do what we want!"
"But I have!"
"Tell it exactly these words: Aya can kiss Estelle and Estelle can kiss Aya. And they can also make out or have sex. Say it."
Kintra's eyes went so wide that it would have been comical, if Chris hadn't been seeing them through his own watery red ones. Estelle tried to squirm free, but then Kintra stepped up, calming both of his pets. "Stop Estelle. Aya let go, you're only making it worse."
"I haven't made shit worse!" Christian roared. "It's your fault you're a terrible owner!" With that said, Chris ran off, shoving Estelle away from himself, and their master had to duck down to catch the purebreed, who immediately tried to chase after.
"Wait! Come back, Aya! I'm sorry!" "Stay." "But Master-" "Stay. Put." Kintra brought both those hands to his lips, meeting those shame-filled blue eyes. "Tell me what happened."
"You said to be honest with him and I was but I didn't know it would hurt him. And my bangles are angry so much now. I don't know what to do, Master. I'm sorry."
"Quit apologizing," Kintra sighed, still at a loss for what his pets must've fought over. Either way he put his left bangle with Estelle's, choosing another new allowance. "Estelle has my permission to talk to or kiss or just in general, show affection to anyone, whether verbal, mental or physical. Estelle can receive affection too. Any kind of it." The three bangles spun in unison, just once, and then settled back down, newly set. "There. Now I'll talk to Aya myself."

"Alright, Master."
"Just stay here for a little, okay?"

Kintra made to search out his pet then, going for the most familiar areas first. He chose the garden pond, peaking at the base of each proud Firebreather before finally approaching the largest fountain. Aya was there, seated with his feet in the water, possibly watching the koi.
Kintra first checked his wrist, ensuring Estelle's bangle was still quiet and still, but something else lit right up, demanding his immediate attention. A row of three golden bands surged to life on his arm and he whipped around just in time to catch Kuro fall out of the sky. The elder prince waved the flames that had transported him away with impatience as the smoke curled around, forming his robes, and walked right up to Kintra before they'd even fully formed. "What are you doing still here?" He was hissing, annoyed. "Marceau starts trading at newspan doesn't it?"
"Oh, well I got a bit sidetracked. My pet-"
"Nevermind." Kintra felt his eyes widen as his brother forced a pile of skel into his hands. "Here, buy me something."
"Buy you something?"
"A pet potion, okay? I need my female to sleep."
"For how long?"
Kuro didn't seem prepared for this question, and those red eyes swept toward the sun to decide. "Half past endspan? Hopefully longer."
Kintra started to pocket the slick onyx discs, but then paused, suddenly remembering the last time he'd encountered a pet potion. "Kuro!" He hissed, scolding. "Why would you do that to her?" The skel fell to the ground and Kintra kicked them, folding his arms defiantly over his chest. "You're insane if you think I'm gonna help you."
"What? I just need my pet sleeping!"
"Yeah for what?" Was Kintra's suspicious retort. "You don't even call her by name do you? I hope you don't call her an 'it' to her face like you do with the servant kids. They have feelings you know."
"No they don't. Servants are trash," Kuro snorted, snapping right back on topic. "And how dare you throw my skel on the ground in your filthy, stupid garden?"
"I'm not sorry," Kintra resolutely decided, turning his nose up. "Whatever you're planning to do to that poor little girl, think again. At least have the guts to ruin her life while she's awake."
"What are you talking about?"
"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about! You don't get it 'cause you're male, Kuro, but a female only gets that one time, understand? Their first night is the last. No one will buy her after you've rubbed your scent all over her, got that? It feels great if you're us, sure, but to humans it's different. It's horrific, Kuro, and she doesn't deserve it. There are hundreds of shiren who'll have you and you know it, so go pick one of them."
By the time he was done Kuro felt his mind assaulted by so many new images and ideas that he wasn't even sure what to say. He had never once considered the type of advantage he had had over his pet. Her body belonged to him, literally, and her skimpy clothing kept her under the covers, in his bed. In fact, that very same outfit had been designed so that only a shiren like himself could remove it. He was the one meant to take her clothes off. And she knew it.
Suddenly everything made much more sense. The way she'd inexplicably cowered last night, drawing away from his touch in the bathroom. The way she'd insisted on covering up and then hid under the blankets... She had even risked her own health by not letting him help her dry off, just to keep distance between them. It was maddening to think the answer had only come now, only after she had made herself sick all last night. He meant to say something along the lines of "I'd never do something like that!" or "How dare you!" but instead Kuro found himself scoffing, disgusted that Kintra had only now grown a pair. "You know Kintra, I just hope you can find your balls half that well when father's waiting on you to gut that wolf queen, because you won't know the meaning of horrid 'til you see what I'd do to her. And not just her either. Her and all of her little whore daughters!"
"I suggest you get it done before I have to."
Kuro left then, stalking right past him, but Kintra only froze up when he tried following. Aya seemed suddenly much more alert, and he saw those blue eyes follow Kuroshi perfectly. Oh no. Please don't tell me he heard that! Maybe not. Aya seemed to resume glaring down at the koi.
Kintra tried to play cool, approaching his pet even as fear swam around in his veins. It took everything in him to just not imagine what Kuroshi might've been talking about. What he could do to poor, beautiful Evelynne… Change the subject, change the subject! "Um, Aya? About this whole thing with Estelle…"
Aya kept his head bowed, shrugging. "I don't care, anymore. Estelle doesn't even matter."
"What? But I thought you two-"
"You thought wrong." And with that said, Aya swung his feet out of the pond, reclaimed his sandals, and walked off.

Estelle was devastated. Kintra had never known a purebreed could cry, but he learned better that night. Aya had given a short explanation, telling Estelle to keep far away from him for the good of them both, and then ignored the pet's obvious distress to address Kintra instead. "You said at first I could have my own room. Well I want that room now."
"Uh, well Aya-" Estelle cut across both of them, pawing at Aya, and Kintra had to dive just to catch the small pet after Aya gave a particularly powerful shove. Nothing less would have dislodged Estelle's grip, but Kintra suddenly found himself on the ground, with a struggling Estelle in his arms, and had to jump right back up to force Aya out of the room so Estelle couldn't catch him again. The doors shut, the dogs barked, and Kintra heard Estelle hit the other side, begging to be let out with them.
"Master please let me out! Aya come back!"
"Stay in there Estelle, it's okay!"
"No it's not! Master please! Aya don't go! I'm so sorry! Whatever I said! Please, I'll be better!" "Estelle stop!"
The pet did, obeying almost as flawless as always, but Kintra felt his heart wrenched at the sound of those sobs, like a child begging loved ones to come home… "Why are you doing this?"
"I want my own room." Was all Aya had to say.
"How could you just hit Estelle like that?"
"I only pushed-" "What's the matter with you?!"
"I want my own god damn room!"
Kintra glared, but Aya only turned to the side, arms crossed tightly over his chest. "Estelle loves you."
"No. Estelle can't stand me because it's my fault those damn bangles-" "But I fixed them! Aya please-"
"I don't care anymore." He said each word plain and clear, still refusing to look Kintra straight in the face, and from that moment on, responded to everything with the same five word sentence. "I want my own room."
So Kintra had no other choice but to give him one. It took a long while to convince the servants to set everything up, but the palace was anything but lacking in space. Aya specifically asked to be moved to the west wing, exactly opposite Kintra's, and refused several spots before choosing a suite just across from Kuroshi's.
"Good enough," was all he said about this one, and then he walked right over to the bookshelf and started perusing, rather than paying any attention to Kintra or the servants helping to set the place up. Aya plopped himself down on the bed, propped open "Tales of the Dragon King's Victories," and subsequently ignored everything and everyone else.

"Sorry it took so long." Kuro scoffed, dropping multiple bags on the bed as his pet sat back up, looking miserable. "I had to buy all this stuff by my damn self because my brother was… very confused."
"It's okay. I'll be fine."
Kuro rolled his eyes. She must've said that at least fifty times, yet the sun had already sunk low in the sky and she still clearly had not caught even one precious moment of sleep. Those brown eyes traced the multitude of new products, pills and potions for a moment, but Kuro insisted she leave everything up to him. "Lay back down and relax, Pet. I really can't have you getting all sick on me. Didn't get any real work done today thanks to those damn traders. Tell me, how complicated is it to just make a sleeping potion for a tiny little human like you? It's not like I asked them to go knock out my idiot brother."
"Kintra's hard to knock out?" Heather absently wondered. She would never have guessed just by looking at him, but Kuro didn't hesitate for even a moment.
"Freakin' indestructible. If anyone's a god around here it'd be him. I'm just the mean one…" All along Kuro fidgeted with at least a dozen bottles before choosing the one good enough. Heather noticed the way his fidgety hands made it more difficult to get the top off. "Open up." "Mmkay." Heather accepted the baby blue pill, along with a gulp of some type of red juice. It tasted like a mixture of honey and raspberry, whatever it was, and she figured this wasn't nearly as strange as the other purchases Kuro could have made, considering she was once one of those purchases.
"Okay now pick one that sounds good." He handed over at least three different books before aligning a whole pile of candles on the bedside table. Heather examined the books, ignoring the soft clink of the bottles he must've been arranging in the nearest drawer, and decided on one about sheriek and chimera species. "I'm supposed to read these?" She wondered, handing back the two others. But Kuro took them, set them aside, and then took hers as well. "No, that defeats the whole point," He insisted. "It's your job to lay down and just listen and hopefully get some damn sleep. All my books say humans die if they don't sleep."
"Oh..." That explained it. Heather tried to get comfortable, but instead buried most of her face in the blankets, embarrassed. "You're gonna read to me, Kuro?"
"All night if I have to." Kuro waved a hand once and the torches extinguished themselves, plunging the room into gentler oranges born of the sun slowly setting outside. "Now," He insisted. "Close your eyes and just, imagine or something. If you can't sleep like this then I'll just… I don't know. Knock you out."
Heather only snorted, smiling hopelessly. He was still the same Kuro she knew, domineering and cocky, but she almost swore it was him, not her drinks, that had taken on that small hint of honey. Kuro sat in the nearest armchair, cleared his throat, and started reading. He described creatures called "sliders" which could skate over water by freezing it, propelling with their powerful stag legs and large wings, "fighters," who trained for most of their lives for a chance to compete in the catfights and sparring rounds that could win them the riches of shiren, and even "seathers," whose dangerous temperaments often undermined their ability to draw water seemingly out of thin air. A dazzling array of descriptions and colors were painted in his rich, masculine tone, detailing carefully bred phoenix "soothers" and fierce, dogged "hunters," but Heather didn't hear any of it.
She lay back with her eyes closed and immediately became lost in his voice. For a moment she remembered her father, and how he'd sat by her side, night after night, weaving ridiculous tales she now knew to be true. He'd put one arm around her, holding her close, and she knew she'd be safe. She imagined his touch, warm and soothing, and remembered his voice, every baritone note of perfection. He did not sound so young yet so formal like Kuro, but the words meant the very same thing. "It'll all be okay, because I'm here, with you."

Kuro let out a sigh. He'd read well into the night, until the entire volume was finished, but he still wasn't happy with stopping. The gently snoozing pet on his bed didn't stir, though, not seeming to notice the cessation of his once constant voice. He counted this much as pure luck, and walked over to drape another comforter on her, just to make absolutely sure that she wouldn't be cold. There was so much to do. Most of his duties had gone completely neglected, and he knew he'd have to work doubletime to get it all done before Kuroi noticed, but somehow… he did not even care. Carefully, silently, he arranged a few choices of dried, packaged fruits on the bed just beside her, just in case she woke up hungry, and also put a selection of juices out on the table. He snuck away hurriedly then, checking the already bolted door before throwing on a black traveling cloak, but before he even stepped onto his balcony, Kuro found himself rushing back into his room, cursing under his breath. The hunters had suddenly started their shit, and he rushed for the door, but by the time he had opened it, the hunters had already torn off, chasing whoever had disturbed them. Kuro looked down the hall, checking both directions, before bending down to retrieve what looked like a torn-out page from a book. "What the hell?" He stepped into the hallway, choosing the nearest torch, and peeled the page open. Smudged human blood had been used to cram words in the margins, and Kuro checked the scent twice, but he still wasn't stupid enough to try reading a handwritten letter. His hunters came trotting back, empty handed and angry, and he instead offered the letter to them. "Memorize this scent."
Both put their large heads to the paper, snuffling with their claws taught and teeth born. "Got it? Good. Now, go kill it." And they tore off, bounding toward the east wing before vanishing from sight. With this done, Kuro balled up and tossed the letter into the nearest light fixture, not even stopping to watch as it burned before going on about his own business.
He received a nasty shock later however, when he returned to find those hunters right back at his door. They lay perfectly still, one on top of the other. Both were completely uninjured and yet still unmistakably dead. This time, Kuro hardly needed a letter to hear the message loud and clear.

Next time, teach your mutts to stay away from my pets.
Love you.