Hello. Thank you all for your interest! This is truly a beast of a story. I am almost done writing Part II. At the moment, I plan on four parts of Immunity. Let us hope it does not extend to five.
Also a HUGE thank you to my beta, Selethe, who has done a simply amazing job! Any errors you see are probably my fault for f'cking with the edited version.
Warnings: Very Slow Burn: Implied incest. Slash [M/M]. Future angst/gore. Death. Also: This is not going to be a healthy relationship. Granted, there is no rape or non-con. Not even infidelity. But there will be manipulations and immoral actions between the two characters involved. If this disturbs you, please find something else to read.
Summary: SLASH: Raised in the slums, away from his scheming relatives, a prince grows up dreaming of revenge. However, blood is power, and despite his royal lineage, Ezra isn't an Elemental. When he reencounters his uncle, he finds himself facing new, enigmatic possibilities and unlocked powers. He soon realizes he doesn't want to kill his family. He wants to beat them at their own game.
"Well? Are the rumors true, Josiah?" the King of Concordia inquired, closely examining the man standing before the throne.
"Rumors?" Josiah repeated the word derisively. "I'm afraid I don't dwell in the grapevine as you do, King Calder. I am entirely clueless to your insinuations."
Positioned at the king's left-hand side, Ember lowered her lashes, darkly amused at her elder brother. When they were younger, Josiah's guiltless face and his remarkable ability for lying had continuously deceived their caretakers. Even now, as his young, innocent appearance cooled into mature indifference, it remained difficult to discern any trickery from her brother.
Calder was unimpressed. "They say you've been aiding the Noir Users." Calder's eyes hardened when Josiah remained aloof. "The Magi," he emphasized firmly.
"That certainly is a fascinating speculation."
Ember hoped it was just that. A speculation.
It had been nearly five years since he declared his intentions to travel. She drank his appearance, regarding him, studying him. With long, black hair and menacing eyes, Josiah had the model appearance of nobility. However, he was no mere aristocrat. He was the crown prince—no— the king of a dead, defeated empire. He had the remarkable ability of balancing both a polished air of gentry and an intimidating aura of cruel power.
Her brother had always possessed an air of frigid cruelness. However, it seemed, after just five years of separation from him, his ominous aura had only grown. She could not put her finger on the change.
"So you're denying it," her husband stated, glancing at Ember and back toward Josiah.
A few crimson-clad guards, assigned to Josiah's security detail, tittered behind her brother. In turn, Josiah inclined his head marginally, his orange eyes alight with something only he was privy to. "My people," here, he looked pointedly at Ember, a cruel-sort of reminder that she was a foreigner here. Even if she did sit upon a throne. "Are still recovering from the war they waged with your people. I would not aid the Magi and put what little resources we have remaining in jeopardy."
The war between the Igni Empire and the Unda Kingdom ended more than five years ago.
Both sides experienced heavy losses, but in the end, the victory belonged to the Unda people. As a token of a peace offering, Ember, the sole princess of the Igni Empire, agreed to take King Calder's hand in marriage. Subsequently, the two, battle-weary cultures merged as one nation. Calder had even renamed the kingdom to Concordia in order to represent a new age of peace and unity.
Unfortunately, the Igni people and the Unda people couldn't have been more different from one another. One from the south, one from the north. One originating from desert-like climates, the other culture rich with generous lakes and mountains. One fire. The other water. Relations were unsteady. Tense.
Ember firmly believed her son would bridge the gap between age-old enemies forced to live in the same kingdom.
"Our resources are your resources," Calder said. "Now that your people are rebuilding in Concordia, the resources and militaries of both of our empires are one."
Orange eyes narrowed marginally. "You would like to believe we are united, but my people are looked down upon by your people."
"It will take time," Calder insisted calmly. "You came to tell me that the Igni Empire can be rebuilt, but that will take a considerable amount of labor, gold, and restoration. Let your people continue to rebuild here. Eventually, acceptance will come and they will consider Concordia their home." He considered the detached Igni king. "Because of your father's unfortunate passing, you are now their king."
"A title that no longer holds any merit," Josiah stated.
"Merit enough that your people will always address you as their king," Calder asserted. "Instead of traveling and dwelling over the ruins of the Igni Empire, perhaps you can be a leader for your people and reassure them, here, with your presence."
Ember bit the inside of her cheek at the patronizing tone.
While she agreed with her husband, she knew Josiah was a prideful man.
The Igni king smiled thinly, his gaze piercing. "It is simply an honor to receive your counsel, Your Majesty." Sarcasm, heavy and acidic, dripped from his tone. "Regrettably, you are the ruler of Concordia. I find it doubtful that my word holds much, if any, sway."
Calder's pale hair veiled his expression as he gazed down at Josiah. "Of course it does," he said. "Why do you think I agreed to wed Ember? A king and queen of both races is a sign of unity. And one day, our son, a descendant of both races, will rule Concordia."
Josiah took a step back, feigning surprise. "A son! How could I have forgotten?" He looked at Ember. "How very rude of me. A congratulations on your conception of the royal heir."
"Four years too late," she informed stiffly. Her brother's sudden smile chilled her to the bone, yet she remained deadpan. "Would you like to meet him?" Ignoring Calder's sharp look, she nodded to the female caretaker by the side-entrance. "He is nearly five. I have told him a great deal about you. He's eager to meet his uncle."
"You speak highly of him," Josiah perceived. He turned away from the retreating servant and assessed her. "He is not just the pawn of the kingdom, but—"
"My son," Ember asserted heatedly, "Is not a pawn of this kingdom. He will grow to love it and the people within it. Only he will have the strength to truly unite our people." She breathed steadily. "I would appreciate it if you would cease your traveling and stay in the palace. He could use another guardian."
Josiah looked slyly at Calder. "A guardian is a position of trust."
"You mistake me for your enemy," Calder responded smoothly. "I only want what's best for our kingdom and for my family."
Josiah hummed thoughtfully before pivoting the conversation. "Two high nobles from different races have never conceived a child before. I wonder at his potential. Tell me, is he a fire or water Elemental?"
Upon Josiah's inquiry, Ember and Calder looked at one another.
Josiah was correct.
No others of royal blood from two different races had ever conceived a child. Moreover, because Elemental magic was only prominent in royal and noble blood, one could only speculate on the outcome of a child between Ember and Calder.
"He hasn't displayed any signs of either Element," Calder said rigidly. He did a very impressive job hiding his true disappointment on the subject. "The Healer believes he doesn't possess any specific branch of the Elements."
Josiah's eyes became half-lidded and he looked away, bored. "What a shame."
Shifting, he touched his sword's hilt underneath his cloak. He appeared every bit of an unleashed demon prince, impatient and tired of the current state of affairs. Ember found his nonchalance an insult. Her brother grew up around power. The only people he surrounded himself with were those exhibiting impressive strength. He refused to see the benefits common-folk had to offer.
"He is your nephew," she said coldly. She ensnared his attention and held it, finding herself unafraid of his intense concentration. "He may not be an Elemental, but he possesses such an endearing quality. You will do well to worship him, Josiah."
The arrival of the royal prince interrupted Josiah's retort.
Ember turned, smiling widely at her son.
Whenever in her son's presence, she found herself admiring his beauty. Even if he was still just a child, she could see the man he would grow to become. He was a proud carrier of both the Unda and Igni qualities. His coloring was Igni, with tanned skin and his black, loose curls. His facial features were a perfect blend of his parents, with his father's almond eyes and chiseled jaw, and his mother's high cheekbones.
The only trait not inherited from either parent were his eyes.
Framed by dark lashes, they possessed an ethereal quality.
She assumed it was an Unda trait, as they were a very pale blue. However, during her excursions around the Concordia capital, Ember had never seen the shade replicated.
Josiah moved, becoming far more animated than Ember had ever remembered. She immediately stood up, panicked at the unhealthy way he focused on her son. Calder also sensed the change in Josiah's conduct, for he stood up beside her, his eyebrows furrowing.
"You have created a beautiful son for me," Josiah exclaimed. He crouched down and held out his hand to the child hiding behind his caretaker. "Come here, child."
"Created for you?" Calder demanded spitefully, his tone rising. "What are you—?"
"He is my Chosen," Josiah claimed. His tone may have been casual, cool, but the possessive undertone was undeniable.
Ember took a step back, falling into her throne with unbridled shock and disgust. She didn't know much about Chosen, only the whispered fables, but she understood enough that her entire being protested against the very idea.
Chosen existed solely for Elementals. A Chosen could be another Elemental or they could be a simple commoner. They were the compatible match for an Elemental, a conductor, able to increase their partner's Elemental powers just by mere proximity. Chosen weren't common and they were treasured above all else.
But it was impossible. Not her son, not her child.
Not to Josiah!
"You're wrong," Ember proclaimed fiercely. She clutched the armrest on either side of her, glaring at her brother. "You must be speaking of the caretaker."
Orange eyes pinned her with a look of disdain. "My Element is drawn to the child."
"You are his uncle."
"Half-uncle," Josiah corrected callously. "If you have forgotten, your mother was a glorified whore. My mother was a pureblood royal."
Her cheeks scorched at the insult. The last time he had cruelly denied their status as true siblings was before her marriage to Calder. She would not stand for this. She would not see Josiah lay a single finger on her son.
"Ezra," she called firmly. She caught the eyes of her son. "Come here."
"Ezra," Josiah purred victoriously.
Her brother reached out and grabbed the young child by the robes, forcibly preventing him from running to Ember. With greedy hands, he captured Ezra's face and cradled it tenderly.
"Do you know who I am?"
Ezra pouted at the rough treatment, but blinked away his tears. "Uncle Josiah."
"That's enough," Calder ordered.
Around the throne room, the Concordia guards advanced closer to the royal family, placing their hands on their staffs, ready to defend Ezra. Just as they closed in, however, Josiah's personal guards were quick to protect their Lord's unprotected back.
Josiah hardly paid much attention to his surroundings and only pressed closer to Ezra's upturned face. His long, tapered fingers covered the majority of Ezra's small cheeks and proceeded to curl into the child's hair with a sense of rightful ownership. The Igni king exhaled affectionately across Ezra's face, his long braid falling over his shoulder in his persistence to lean closer.
"I see much potential in you, young one," Josiah declared softly.
Ember desperately clutched her throat, too overwhelmed to form a coherent rejection to Josiah's smothering proximity to her son. She could see Ezra's cherub face frown as he stared up at his uncle, his child-like innocence contrasting sharply to Josiah's malevolence.
Beside her, Calder's expression bordered something frightening. She had never seen him appear so appalled, so angry.
She truly feared his reaction.
"Where is your proof?" Calder's voice cut through the tension of the room. "Where is your proof that Ezra is your Chosen?"
"Proof? There will never be any proof," Josiah chastised, keeping his attention on the precious creature in his hold. "If Ezra truly is not an Elemental, he will not feel the connection to me. You will just have to take my word."
"Release him or my men will have your head."
Ember could only sit and watch the interaction between her husband and brother. No matter how much she distrusted Josiah and his motives, she knew Ezra wasn't in any physical danger with him, especially if her child was his Chosen.
However, she couldn't say Calder felt the same.
Already, the tranquil fountain in the throne room slushed with angry and turbulent waves. If Calder attacked with his Elemental magic, Josiah would meet it with flames. Ezra would be stuck in the middle of two extremely powerful Elementals. Josiah must have foreseen the impending danger too, for he sighed dramatically and released Ezra.
The action took Ember by surprise. Typically, Josiah was the last to relent, even if there were innocents who'd suffer.
The young child staggered back a step, appearing uncertain if he should stay at Josiah's side or run to his mother. Taking advantage of the child's hesitation, a blue-clad guard pulled Ezra by the arm and led him to his mother.
Grateful, Ember reached down and gathered her son in her arms, cocooning him against her chest.
Calder stood on the last step of the dais, appearing uneasy, yet far more collected. "Having a Chosen does not require a committed bond. You can go your separate ways and still live a fulfilling life." His lips sneered. "You are a powerful Elemental, Josiah. You do not need Ezra to advance your powers."
Josiah straightened from his bowed position and swept the tail of his cloak behind him. "It's very pleasing to see you so ruffled, Calder." He smiled wickedly. "However, who said I didn't want Ezra merely because he is my other half? Perhaps I wish to have him for simple companionship. It's clear we are fated for one another, no?"
Calder growled lowly. "I highly doubt you care about such whimsical and romantic—"
"He is but a child," Ember bellowed, clutching Ezra closer to her bosom despite his stiffening form. "Have you no pride, no honor?"
"He is a child," Josiah agreed. "But he is also a child who will grow into an adult and mature handsomely. And as my Chosen, I have every right to claim him." He raised a simple eyebrow at Calder. "Just minutes ago, you reassured me I wasn't your enemy. Now, it seems as if you've changed your mind."
Calder's face was hard, but he slowly exhaled to force away his temper.
He smiled thinly at Josiah. A forced smile. "You are not an enemy."
Hardly buying the king's front, Josiah matched Calder's smile with one of his own. "Then I shall honor Ember's request." He bowed mockingly to his sister. "I will stay in the palace and become one of Ezra's guardians."
Something passed between Josiah and Calder as they gazed at one another and Ember was hesitant to label it as a challenge. She tightened her arms around Ezra, refusing to let him be a game piece between his father and uncle.
Over Ezra's bowed head, Ember watched as Josiah exited the throne room, moving like a corporeal shadow. Her fingers dug into Ezra and he released a whimper of discomfort.
That man would not ruin her son. He would not touch her son.
"Leave us," Calder ordered the guards around the throne room. The King of Concordia turned to look at his wife and son. "Give him to me, Ember. You're stifling him." He made a move forward, reaching for his heir.
As the doors slammed shut behind the guards, Ember turned her torso away from Calder, denying him Ezra.
"Don't be ridiculous," Calder scolded with a hint of hilarity. "Give me my son!"
With as much dignity as she could manage under the weight of her child, she stood from her throne. "Get rid of Josiah and then you can see your son again." Over the top of Ezra's loose curls, she pinned her husband with a lethal glare. "I don't want Josiah anywhere near Ezra."
"I understand your concern." Calder reached for Ezra, his fingers just skimming the child's leg before Ember turned away once more. "But Josiah is a pivotal figure and necessary for reconstructing Concordia. The Igni people will ease under his presence."
"My presence should be enough," she argued coldly. "My child—"
"Our child," Calder corrected sharply.
Ember tossed her head with agitation. "Ezra should be all that is needed for the Igni people. He represents hope, unity. Josiah represents the old ways. Corruption and war." Her arms ached from Ezra's weight, but she only kept holding him.
Calder nodded, evidently favoring the calm approach over expressing his ire. "Yes, but Ezra is not old enough. The Igni elders will want a familiar face as they adjust. The last thing we need is an uprising between the Unda and Igni people. Josiah, no matter how many tricks he has up his sleeve, is useful to me alive and here."
Ember parted her lips in a mocking smile. Slowly, she set down a squirming Ezra and nudged him toward the side entrance.
"Go see Anna, my son."
His beautiful, pale eyes looked at her and Calder, clearly sensing the antagonistic air between his parents. Frowning, he silently ran towards the side entrance. Once he was out of her line of sight, Ember turned back to Calder, noticing the man's taut expression. Stepping closer, she grabbed his petulant chin. Her polished nails curled into manicured talons as they clutched his face.
"Do you love me?" she breathed in question.
He had such a handsome face, a face Ezra would more than likely inherit. The chiseled jaw and the wide, angular planes of his visage were all indications of nobility, of high aristocracy. She could stare at Calder for hours and never grow bored at the sight of the fine specimen she was able to wed and bed.
"You know I love both you and Ezra," Calder reasoned calmly.
"Not Ezra, just me," she insisted heatedly. Could her husband truly express his feelings without mentioning the son she brought into this world? "Do you love me?"
"Yes," the King of Concordia admitted, though he had a hard edge to his tone.
Ember's painted lips pursed as she loomed closer to Calder. Her hands were greedy and skillful, raking seductively down his chest. "I wonder…" she mused huskily, "If your love for me outweighs your love for mind games. Surely you do not enjoy the sick games Josiah has to offer over your own family."
"I want my family safe," Calder stressed, insulted, though, he didn't pull away from her. "I need Josiah here for a short time. In the interim, we will appease him. We will make him comfortable and allow him time with Ezra."
Through lowered lashes, Ember gazed intensely up at her husband.
Her nails plucked at his robes purposely catching the skin beneath. "I hope, for your sake, Calder, that you can dispose of him when the time comes." Flashing a coy smile, she patted him once on the chest and turned to leave. "You will not see your son until my brother is gone." Her heels tapped the ground smartly as she crossed the throne room.
"You cannot and will not keep my son from me, Ember."
Despite the threat in his tone, Ember did not turn around nor respond.
He was so sure of himself.
Nevertheless, Ember was even surer of her own abilities to get what she wanted.