Lune's dress blew a shade of blue identical to Aedriel's uniform as they made their way through the long corridors, heading for the ballroom. The prince squeezed her hand gently, muttering something under his breath about how they were already late. They wouldn't have been if he hadn't insisted on dozens of hairpins woven into Lune's fancy braids. She had been combed this way from day one, and she had hated it from day one.
"I talked to Daedra," Lune began, trying to slow down. Her feet were already sore from the heels, and there was still a whole night ahead of them.
"Hmm," Aedriel mumbled. He did not pay much attention to her words. The reception had already begun, and the royal mates being late could only be interpreted either as disrespect or some perverse thing that had stopped them. Neither option pleased the prince.
"She said that the effect of magic on humans isn't that terrible at all and that this drink that is supposed to protect me from it doesn't exist."
"Daedra has never interacted with humans. Don't listen to her when it comes to these things."
"But she said–"
"I don't want to hear the nonsense my sister told you." He would have to talk to her later, but for now, there was no time to broach the subject.
"What is that liquid made of? The red one you give me."
"Fine, if you care so much about it, next time when passing through the portal you won't get it. We'll see how you feel then." The moment he said that they entered a high lobby built on a pentagonal plan. Four corridors connected in it, and the double doors almost reaching the ceiling were flanked by two dozen of guards in navy uniforms. The guards immediately bowed their heads and separated upon seeing Aedriel, and the doors stood open. "And now smile. We are here to celebrate, after all."
The enormous hall was decorated similarly to the throne room. Pentagonal columns entwined along their length with strings of lemon quartz supporting a ceiling painted in Fai'talm's greatest warriors. One part of the room was filled with tables, and on the other, fae were dancing to a group playing in the corner. The ballroom was not enclosed. At the other end of it, a door taking up more than half the wall was open wide. The dark night was illuminated by strings of lanterns, and the voices of the roused fae could be heard from outside. Actually, most of the fae seemed to be enjoying themselves already. Could it be that they were that late?
A few pairs of eyes turned towards them, but hardly anyone paid much attention. Today was all about Queen Philomena whose huge effigy sculptured in gold draped in a golden ribbon, to enhance the feeling of ascendancy, stood in the corner adorned with flowers.
"You are not going anywhere without me or Tael," Aedriel whispered, leaning over Lune. His hand landed on her exposed back. Lune often wondered if he chose such outfits for her specifically so that he could at any moment brush against her bare skin and make her shiver in the process.
Lune did not dare to contradict his instruction. She hated to admit it but she only felt relatively safe in Fai'talm with Aedriel or Tael. The rest of the fae offered only covetous glances and pinched comments.
They made their way through the crowd with ease. No matter how drunk and frisky fae were, they all made way for the prince, thus bestowing prying glances on Lune. They had to give the appearance of respecting her, and nothing harmed fae ego more than showing regard to a mortal.
The tables outside were adorned with long strings of flowers, the scent of which pleasantly irritated even such a weak sense of smell as Lune's. Guests stretched throughout the gardens. Everywhere you looked there were women in skimpy, glittering outfits, men filling up another glass of wine, and zippy children slaloming between the adults.
Lune wanted to marvel at the beauty of the gardens decorated with lights and flowers, but her delight was overshadowed by the heavy air, the intoxicating smell of alcohol, too loud cheers of the wine-stricken fae, and the feeling that something bad was hanging in the air.
It wasn't a birthday party. This was one more nightmare she had to endure.
The sound of wings soared above the music. Those who noticed it lifted their heads to encounter Princess Daedra just landing on the side of the crowd. Her wings clearly delighted more than just Lune, for many fae did not take their eyes off her until she retracted her wings.
A few guards ran up to her, then she disappeared somewhere in the crowd.
Lune lifted her head at Aedriel. "That's what you call an entrance."
"That's what you call lack of manners," he reflected, looking for someone in the throng.
"She has something to brag about, why wouldn't she? Her wings... I've never seen anything more enchanting."
Aedriel suddenly focused all his attention on her. He had the privilege of being a prince that there was always plenty of room for him among the crowd. His subjects knew that a gentle flick of his shoulder could result in a death sentence on the spot.
"You spoke to her yesterday, didn't you?"
"She flew somewhere in the evening. She didn't say a word to anyone. She only came back now. Mother had been losing her head since this morning."
Lune froze. Was it possible that her questions about the wings were too pushy? She didn't think it was such a touchy subject for Daedra to disappear for an entire night. If she returned now, and if she told anyone about her conversation with Lune, she might not be able to endure any more nightmares, she might not be able to endure anything while dead.
"She seemed fine yesterday," she said, careful not to show too much anxiety on her face.
Aedriel nodded, clearly not thinking that Lune had anything to do with Daedra's strange behaviour and he led her in front of a long table set on stone tiles behind which sat Cassius, Philomena and Dagen, and several of the people closest to the royal family.
"Mother, father." Aedriel bowed his head. "It's a lovely celebration."
Meanwhile, Lune was looking around. Finally, she spotted a familiar silhouette. Dark uniform, light hair tied up in a bun. Tael was leaning over some woman whose face she couldn't see with a lewd smile. Lune began to wonder if the royal army captain had ever been in a serious relationship.
"Oh, spare the formalities and at least give your old mother a hug." Philomena rose from her seat, adjusting the gold dress. She looked mesmerizing. A gilded beauty, unmarked by centuries of existence.
Lune stayed in place. Her gaze immediately went to the table when she felt Cassius' attentive gaze on her. His magic hit her like a strong gust of wind and pushed her back a step. She automatically turned her head towards Tael, almost in spite of herself, looking to him for rescue. The guard had just pulled away from the petite woman and moved towards Lune, making her have a perfect view of Daedra still wearing the same clothes as the day before. Could it be that the princess complained to Tael about yesterday's conversation? Or perhaps her feeling worked both ways. Lune prayed in her head that the latter would turn out to be true.
Tael stood a step behind Lune and lowered his head, intertwining his hands behind his back. Aedriel looked at them for a moment, he nodded to the guard and returned to the conversation with his mother.
"Have you tried the wine yet?" Tael asked as they walked a safe distance away from the royal family.
Lune shook her head and gave him an amused look. "Daedra?" she asked, surveying the situation.
The guard walked over to the set table and began pouring two goblets of wine. "I assure you that you have drunk nothing better in your life. This wine accompanies the best orgies in Raillery." He handed her one of the glasses with an obscene smile.
"Aren't you on duty?"
"So what? Even if I drank a whole barrel of wine, it wouldn't get me as plastered as you will be after that one glass," Tael derided.
Lune touched the rim of the cup with her lips. She twisted while swallowing the bitter liquid. The wine was disgusting.
"Don't exaggerate the rapture," Tael cackled.
"Daedra?" Lune repeated, hoping for some interesting gossip.
"What about princess Daedra?"
"Oh, now it's princess Daedra, five minutes ago it was my sweetheart Daedra with a lustful smile."
Tael poked her shoulder gently in response. "I can smell your brain cells burning from here from overthinking. Have a drink, you've never been so tense before." He needed to distract Lune from the topic. He couldn't admit that he was indeed messing with Daedra, but only so the princess wouldn't reveal to the others that Lune had healed her leg. No one could know that, Lune especially.
"Have you ever been in a serious relationship?"
"What do you mean?"
Lune laughed out loud. The wine was starting to taste better and better and she was getting hot. "Oh yeah, my mistake. I forgot you didn't know such a thing existed."
"What did they add to that wine?" he muttered sarcastically, taking the cup from her hand. "That's enough for you."
"Eh–" Lune made the face of an offended child. "Just when it was starting to taste tolerable."
"If it starts to taste good, that's all the more reason it's enough for you."
"But it's the only way to survive these parties," she complained. At numerous social gatherings during her travels through the Archs she had reached for the wine more than once and each time Aedriel took it away from her before she could even smell it. Now, that she was beginning to feel its effects she lamented that divine forgetfulness had not accompanied her at previous events.
Tael poured the residue from Lune's cup down his throat and filled another cup for himself. "No, princess." He raised the cup higher as Lune tried to reach for it. "The only way to survive these parties is with the finest entertainer in the kingdom, otherwise known as me."
"I don't think you should be so confident about that." Saying those words gave her just a tad of difficulty.
Tael regarded it as a challenge. "Alright, princess. I'm gonna make today the greatest party of your life until a smile won't come off these lovely lips and you won't be able to think about anything but how delightful I am."
"I'm gonna be honest. I highly doubt–" She took a step to the side, where the wine was, which made her wobble and she would have collapsed had it not been for a firm grasp on her waist. Tael still held the cup with wine in his other hand, and not a drop had escaped despite his rapid movement. "For gods, you're so close," Lune gasped, her heart suddenly racing for many reasons that shouldn't seem correct.
"If you're gonna keep using that tone, you're gonna scream but not from fun on a dance floor but from pleasure in my bedroom."
Lune was struck dumb. There was a hint of sanity left under the envelope of the alcoholic eclipse that now sought to speak through her. But on the other hand, being unreasonable tempted her more than usual. She deserved it after all she have been through. However, there was also a third aspect that she didn't have the strength to ponder right now. Tael had a habit of throwing similar remarks left and right as often as Lune met lustful glances (that is, virtually all the time, just for the record, in case someone mistook Tael for a lesser pervert than he really was), but this time his words took on a more personal tone. Whether her judgment was tinged by his proximity, or the alcohol coursing through her veins, or whether her observations were correct. That only the universe knew, and it wasn't very promiscuous with its answers.
She didn't know how to take his words, so she pulled his hand away. "I can stand by myself."
"Yes, you've demonstrated that perfectly." He drank the entire goblet in one go, tapping it hard against the table afterwards, casting a glance at Lune, wondering if his previous comment had sounded too serious. "Don't worry — the first 40 years of childhood are always the hardest."
"I should go find Aedriel," she mumbled out, trying to get past Tael, who anticipated her every uncoordinated move. Since when had she rejected Tael company in favour of Aedriel? Well, apparently since when the commander's bawdy remarks grew even dirtier and less humorous.
"Whatever you're going to do with him, I'd definitely rather you do that with me than with his princeling. For you, princess, I am willing to make such sacrifices. At your service." He bowed to her low playfully. The smile never left his face.
A wave of sobriety hit Lune. The fae wine may have been strong, but its effects didn't last long. Maybe it was because she took only a sip of it. "Why are you so adamant about me not having a good relationship with Aedriel? I will spend the rest of my life with him. Do you want to condemn me to the torture of arguing with him forever?"
"You really need to learn to read between the lines." He was already opening his mouth to say something more, but in one moment the smile vanished from his face and he turned his head, listening for something.
Lune followed his stare. He stared at the two women talking. Both amusedly glanced towards the human princess and the commander every now and then. Lune had wondered more than once what kind of rumours were circulating about her in both kingdoms. She guessed that she was turned into an empty bimbo who gained power through the bed.
"At least have the balls to say it to her face!" Tael shouted to the two women, sending them a lewd smile in the process. And wearing clothes with so much cleavage doesn't help when there's nothing to show.
The women laughed out loud to cover the embarrassment that descended upon them. While they had zero respect for Lune, The Commander of the Army was extremely popular among both men and women in Fai'talm. He was handsome, highly-placed, funny and had no stable partner. No one expected anything more from the ideal future mate. And this may be why Tael had an uncanny ability to offend people as a simple refusal was generally not enough.
"What did they say?" Lune kept her eyes on them curiously.
"Nothing that would interest you."
"I want to know."
"Well, their vocabulary isn't the richest, so they used two words over and over that I would only tolerate if we were alone. Preferably in bed."
Lune muttered something under her breath, grabbed the jug of wine, which was much heavier than she had expected, and, not without straining and spilling half its contents, approached the two women, who were now looking at her with even more mirth.
"Since you have me for a whore, it would be appropriate for me to behave like one, wouldn't it?" She smiled broadly, swung and poured the wine straight at them.
Their bright dresses turned into a crime scene in the blink of an eye, and their satisfied faces into a future crime scene. A few fae nearby turned around curiously. Some laughed, others looked furiously at Lune.
"You've no idea how much that dress cost!" One of the women screamed, looking with terror at her clothes now dripping with blood-red liquid.
"Definitely too much considering the amount of the fabric used to sew it," Lune snorted. She was missing this. That lightness, the unconsciousness of her own actions brought on by the alcohol.
"You will pay for that." The other one hissed and threw herself towards her with long nails.
Lune, trying to avoid the blow, wanted to move aside, but her human movements, slowed by wine flowing in her veins would not be able to keep up with these of fae. Already closing her eyes, she felt the impact and the cold ground beneath her back, but there came only a quick movement of air. She opened one eye. Tael held the woman's wrist inches in front of Lune's face.
"I don't think so." Warning from his mouth sounded for them like a seductive invitation.
"Can't you do that thing with your hands?" Lune intertwined her hands in a strange position, then began to wave them oddly. "And are you going to look as bad again as when you came here? As far as my opinion goes, red suits you."
"Princess, only royal fae can do that," Tael whipered to her ear.
Two male fae approached the women at the same time and thoughtfully talked to them about something. Afterwards, one of them started to approach Lune with a peaceful expression on his face, but the moment he reached her, he swung and would have hit her if not for the speed of Tael standing a step behind her. The commander grabbed the fae by the arm, bend on one knee, and threw him over his shoulder, causing him to hover in the air for an eternity-long split second, before landing on the ground with a deafening thud, attracting more curious stares.
Lune lost her voice for a moment. She knew that Tael was considered one of the best fae warriors, but she had never had the chance to see him in action, it had somehow never crossed her mind that he was faster and arguably stronger than all the other fae. "You can't even fight for yourself?" she mocked when the bewilderment faded.
One could already feel in the air the impending tug of war between Lune and the two fae women by the hair, and all three were perfectly ready for it, but at that moment they all turned their gaze to one side. Well, yes, almost all of them. Lune looked back at them, furrowing her brow. Clearly, they had heard something that hadn't reached her dulled senses.
Tael started walking towards the commotion, then stood still as if he had just remembered Lune. "Come on. Something's happening."
"I don't care," she said, flailing her arms in all directions, more interested in the wine than the ensuing commotion.
Tael sighed. That something had to happen just when Lune was ready to party. He grabbed her hand. "Come on."
"Yes, let's go dance."
Tael made no comment on her condition. It had been a few minutes since she'd had less than a glass of wine, and she acted as if she had been fed nothing but stupefying alcohol for hours. He knew that fae wine had an exceptional influence on people, but he had never experienced it with his own eyes.
The closer they got to where the royal family was seated, the more people gathered with curious stares. Tael grabbed Lune's hand and pulled her along, making his way through the crowd. A chilling scream reached them.
Aedriel grabbed his head, dropped to his knees, and began to scream even more shrilly.
The bond that had been stuck in suspension for the past five hundred years came to life. A storm of insistent images hit his mind. He tried to push them away, to fend off the presence of another mind in his own, but a century without practice pestered.
Philomena and Cassius exchanged anxious glances. They knew perfectly well what was happening. They had feared this day for five hundred years. They lived in an illusion that this moment would never come. And such illusions have it that the longer you hold on to them, the greater the shock when they disappear.
Lune turned to Tael, her hand over her mouth. She tiptoed so he could hear her properly. She didn't have to. The guards had acute senses for a human girl. No conversation of hers went unnoticed; they controlled every word that came out of her mouth.
"Aedirel is kneeling," she noted the obvious, laughing. Tael threw her a regrettable look. And then Lune seemed to suddenly sober up. The alcohol had gone to her head faintly enough that just as quickly as she had felt its effects, she was now rid of it. That was how the human instinct of self-preservation worked. Cut the mind off from what was unnecessary at the moment. "For gods, Aedriel is kneeling. Why?"
The commander held her hand tightly as she pulled forward. "Wait," he ordered sharply. His first instinct was to look around and make sure it was safe. He sharpened his senses, muting the sounds of the party still going on, listening for strange noises and looking for unfamiliar scents. Only when he was sure there were no intruders or foreign magic in the area did he loosen his grip on Lune's hand, which had not stopped jerking all this time.
Without thinking much, she crouched down beside Aedriel and took his hands in hers. It did not matter what kind of relationship they had. Prince was in pain and her first reaction was to help. "What's going on?"
Aedriel didn't answer but he stopped screaming. His face slowly relaxed.
Cassius squinted his eyes. He so much did not feel like dealing with this right now. Centuries of years in power, however, had taught him to treat every slightest sign of danger as if it were an immediate threat. That was how he had kept his people safe for so long. Well, at least people he cared about.
With one move of his hand, he summoned guards. "Check the borders and protecting spells, make sure that everyone coming in and out of the city is checked and recorded. I want the lists of people directly delivered to me as well as information about the less suspicious behaviour. No one is let into the mansion without me knowing." Guards nodded. Once. Without a sign of any emotions. And disappeared in the just-made portals. "The party has come to an end. There will be a room and a meal waiting for anyone who wishes to spend the night in the palace. Anyone who wishes to go back to their residence will be thoroughly inspected at the gates so consider your choices."
No one moved. Music was playing in the background, people were still shouting, having fun. But not around them. The silence in the gardens was overwhelming. The air became thick and grave.
"Move!" Cassius' loud voice rumbled through the air. People slowly began to disperse, driven apart by the guards.
Daedra and Dagen only now appeared beside their parents. Tael didn't flinch. He was the only one who looked unsurprised, almost unaffected by the whole situation.
"Revenrhys," Philomena said. "How is this possible?" She turned to Cassius, putting her hands on Daedra's shoulders.
The king's face betrayed no emotion. "We'll find out."
"Who is Revenrhys?" Lune had to ask. She knew that it wasn't the right time but she had to know what in the hell was able to terrify King Cassius so badly.
"I'll tell you later," Aedriel asserted. He didn't even look at her. His stare was pointed into a non-existing point in front of him. He was intently thinking about something. "Right now, I have to do something." He rose to his feet as if nothing had ever happened. He shook the dirt off his pants and grunted. "Do I have to assist you here?" he faced his father.
"There's no need," Cassius said and turned to Lune. The last thing he needed now was a human princess running around the palace. "Stay in your chamber, for now, there's nothing that concerns you."
Philomena beside him seemed more preoccupied than anyone. She looked like an old-forgotten nightmare come back.
"I don't understand." Lune licked beads of sweat from her lip, putting arms around herself. The air, which had been heated up until then, suddenly felt cold. "Who's Ravenrhys? Why's he so dangerous?"
"Tael will stay with you. Don't leave your room, unless there's a matter of life and death."
Lune was curious but more terrified of mighty Cassius to insist. Three guards accompanied her on the hallways and stood in front of the door of her chamber. Tael came with her inside.
"Who is Revenrhys?"
"I'm shocked you lasted the whole way without questions," he chuckled, heading for the room with the bed, then looked into the bathroom, then checked the balcony, and closed the door tightly as he returned to the room. He stood in the middle of the chamber, scanning it with his eyes once more. His voice was carefree, but his behaviour made the hairs on Lune's arms stand up.
"What was that Aedriel said about assisting the king? Who is Revenrhys?"
Tael looked at her closely, looking for a sign that she was joking. "His Illusory Highness will obliterate the memories of all fae who have seen Aedriel on the ground. It would be inconvenient for the people to know that the royal family can be harmed. Besides, it would also be good for no one to know about Reven... rhys."
"How will that erase the memories? Who is Revenrhys?"
Tael wiped his forehead with his black-gloved hand, adjusted the placement of his cloak, and groaned loudly.
"You don't have a hidden barrel of ale in here, do you?"
"Who is Revenrhys?" she repeated when it occurred to her that Tael was standing in front of her not to give her answers, even not to protect her, but to watch her. Whatever was going on, it was something serious. Something serious enough that they didn't want her to find out anything on her own. "Why is everyone so terrified of him?"
"He's Aedriel's brother." There was zero concern in his voice, his eyes, his posture.
"What? There's Aedriel and the twins."
"And Reven. Brother traitor."
"He betrayed fae and ran away centuries ago, supposedly. And now he's back."
"Why he's back? How do you know that?"
"Are you ever going to run out of these questions?"
"When I get home," she muttered. Tael was right. Ever since she had arrived in Fai'talm the vast majority of sentences she had spoken had been questions. She knew nothing about the fae world and her curiosity and fear of the unknown devoured her thoughts from within like ravenous demons.
Tael did no comment on her last remark. He squatted on the couch across from her. The atmosphere was heavy. Heavier than it was only Tael's strange behaviour. He checked the entire room for intruders, but his vigilance ended there. He spoke of Revenrhys almost with affection.
The door opened and six guards entered the room followed by Aedriel.
Lune got up. "What's going on?"
"Come with me, I want to show you something."
"What?" Lune asked, her voice uncertain.
"To find out, you have to come with me."
'To come' was an understatement. They wandered through dozens of corridors, going down again and again until the golden ornaments disappeared from the walls and they found themselves in some dark hall. The walls were carved out of stone.
Aedriel threw back his plain cape and pulled a dagger from behind his belt. Lune stood a few steps behind him but she moved further away when she saw what he was doing. The prince stood with his back to her, he did not move. Finally, he turned around. The muscles of his face twitched in a pale smile. "Relax. What I want to show you is one of the most guarded artefacts in Neera." Still looking at Lune, he raised the daggers and slashed the inside of his palm. He let a trickle of blood fall to the floor. A crimson mark on dozens of destroyed lives.
Lune stared at him with umber eyes wide open. Her hands clenched tightly on the material of the blue dress. "I think– I'd like to go back."
Aedriel extended his other hand towards her. "You want to know who Revenrhys is. I'll show you."
"It doesn't matter anymore. I know he's your brother, that's enough for me." She took a few more steps back.
Aedriel snapped his tether of restraint which he had so thoroughly been weaving for the past several days since his outburst in the Raillery meadow. "Come on," he snapped. A sharp voice cut brutally through the air, stopping at Lune's neck.
With one hand she caught the stone hanging around her neck as if it were her only rescue, and the other forced to extend to the prince. He pulled her towards the wall behind him. Lune put her hand out in front of her and closed her eyes as they were about to collide with the stone surface, but nothing like that happened. A paralyzing cold was overwhelmingly seizing every last bone in her body.
When she opened her eyes, they were on the other side of the wall. She looked around stunned. "How did we–"
"Magic, you already forgot?" Aedriel was waiting for her deep in the dark hallway. There were no torches on the walls but shadows danced on the walls in light of the unknown origin.
Lune blinked quickly, trying to get used to the semi-darkness. She slowly moved closer to fae, putting her arms around her. She had goosebumps, she herself didn't know if from fear or cold.
When she found herself next to Aedriel his cloak landed on her shoulders. She wanted to take it off but the warmth that suddenly enveloped her back prevented her from doing so. "What is in there?"
The corridor wasn't long. It ended in a large hall filled with strange objects spread out on pedestals all around. Lune admired them all, wondering how much power they must hold if they are guarded with blood. Aedriel headed towards the end of the room. He stopped in front of a metal cage.
It seemed to Lune that there was someone else in the chamber beside them. Someone who was in great pain. She looked around, focusing her eyes on the dark corners of the room, but saw no one. And yet, the sense of presence did not disappear.
Lune walked up to Aedriel and disbelief crept onto her face as she looked closely at what was behind the bars.
Covered in black feathers and ending in a sharp, curved spike, it glinted softly in the dim light. A wing. A wing larger than Lune's whole body. It emanated power even greater than Cassius himself. Power, but also pain. Lune began to intake the air faster as something pricked her chest. For a split second, a feeling similar to the one in the forest of Saorsa engulfed her body. She felt suffering, but it didn't belong to her. Then it belonged to that strange forgotten creature'. And now? The wing'? Did she feel the agony of the wing?
Lune bent at the waist and squirmed. One step was enough for Aedriel to be next to her and put his arms around her waist. "Are you alright?"
Lune straightened up. The prickly feeling in her cage hadn't gone away, but remembering the prince's reaction to her encounter with the forgotten creature, she wasn't going to explain it to him. She nodded, trying to relax facial muscles.
"Five hundred years ago there was a war. Between fae and the nation of Fillyrians. Fillyrians wanted to take over the continent. It was the bloodiest, most brutal battle you can imagine. More people died in one hundred years than in all the other years of the world's existence. My brother betrayed us. He started working with Fillyrians." Aedriel shook his head wiping his face with one hand as if to ward off unpleasant memories. In Lune's head the words 'five hundred years ago' rang like a bell. Aedirel was at least half a century old. Queen Philomena was older, but it was Aedriel's age that baffled Lune more. "Reven did terrible things. Neither our parents nor I ever figured out the motives behind his actions. He kidnapped fae, tortured them. Fae, and most of all– children." Aedriel walked away to the pedestal next to him and took something from it. A piece of cloth. A dirty tunic. "All the children that passed through his hands went home. They all returned to their families, but not without blemish. Reven had marked them. On their arms, their stomachs, their backs."
Aedriel unfolded the fabric in which the mark was burned. Two R's in a square plan. One turned upside down. R for Revenrhys. Lune raised her hand to the shaking mouth, unable to get a word out. How could someone be so cruel? For Lune, who had seen more suffering than the average person and had often helped her mother prevent it, this was a blow to the heart. There was nothing worse than deliberately inflicted harm.
"He burned them sometimes on bare skin, sometimes through clothing. The scraps of material were removed for hours, accompanied by cries that could be heard too far away. Whatever he did, no healers could fully cure it. Most adults never made it out alive from the hands of my brother," Aedriel continued even though Lune had gone very pale. He needed her to detest Revenrhys with all her heart. He needed her to feel immense animosity toward his brother, so he mercilessly carried on, "You've asked why only Daedra has wings, here is why." He lifted his hand towards the caged black wing. Lune had a strange feeling that it should look much more powerful. The pain she knew wasn't hers seized more and more of her body's muscles. "Half a millennium ago a lot more fae had them, but Reven didn't like it. He cut them off. This one belonged to– Reven loved our mother more than anything in the world. That's why we were so terrified when we found out. That's why you don't mention wings in front of my mother." He didn't have to finish. Lune already knew whose the caged wing was, but Aedriel didn't stop. He sounded almost like these words were a delight for him, "Reven ripped off our mother's wings. One of them he took for himself, one sent to us."
Lune felt herself getting weaker and weaker. She was getting dizzy, the pain was overwhelming and Aedriel's story made the food retreat down her throat. She felt the bitter taste of hideous alcohol in her mouth and covered her mouth with the trembling hand so as not to vomit.
"It's alive. After all these years, that wing is still alive and there's no healer powerful enough to attach it back to my mother's back. So it abides here as a prisoner of itself with no hope of returning to its rightful place."
"It's alive?" Lune choked out through a clenched larynx. Immediately after, she clamped her mouth tightly shut as she felt vomit coming up her throat.
"Just like the heart may beat a little while after taking it out of a body, it's the same with wings. Except that wings only die with their owner. They are such an intimate part of the fae that they are unable to live without them."
Lune threw up.
Along with the meal and the wine flew the wine and all the disgust she had just felt not only for Revenrhys but also for Aedriel for the way he talked about it. Seemingly somewhere there was a spark of compassion and pity lurking in his eyes, but in his mind, an emotionless hatred prevailed. Not that he had no right to it. But there is such a thing as leaving out brutal details and not speaking directly about cruel crimes.
"I'm sorry. May we go back? Please," she whispered faintly, when she finally straightened up, meeting his wry expression. He was... surprised. As if he had forgotten that people experience such mundane things as vomiting.
Aedriel nodded. With a single wave of his hand, he made her puke off the floor. She didn't manage to spare her dress and his cloak, which the prince also took care of.
Despite the fact that Lune was more pale than the snow, he did not stop talking all the way back to the room. He was getting too worked up, his imagination was toiling too intensively. The disgust on Lune's face, as she listened to him, was too addictive to resist.
"On top of that, none of the women who appeared in Reven's way ever had children again. No one quite knows what he did to them. None of them is able to talk about it, even now, after all these years," he paused, letting the words ring out in the heavy air. "At the end of the war, we stood one on one on the battlefield. I was sure I had defeated him. I left him to bleed to death. Apparently, that scoundrel made it through. He hid for five hundred years. Five hundred years he spent in the shadow of a traitor, and now he's back. A month after you showed up in Fai'talm. I refuse to believe it's a coincidence."
As they travelled farther from the undergrounds, Lune began to breathe more gently. The pain was almost gone, she was regaining power in all muscles and the feeling that someone was accompanying them was gone. "You're saying that your brother wants something from me?" Her stomach twisted at the thought.
"I can't enter your mind, perhaps he feels something strange about you too."
"But we've never met."
They were standing in front of a room in a wing that Lune was completely unfamiliar with. Two guards opened the door. She turned to face the prince. There was one more thing that did not give her peace of mind. "What happened at the party? Why were you shouting so much?"
Aedriel combed through his dark strands of hair tilting his head. "Reven and I are connected by a certain bond that, how to say it, that bond unites our minds, our bodies. We feel each other's pain."
Lune pressed her lips together tightly. "I don't understand."
"You don't have to." His voice cold, his dark gaze more resolute than usual. "I'll take care of it. Just stay here. Please, stay."
The twins and Philomena were sitting on the couches talking in hushed voices. The queen sent Lune a pale smile. Tael, standing facing the balcony, turned and immediately found himself beside them. "Are you alright?" he asked, noting the mortal girl's pale face.
"I need some fresh air," Lune said.
Aedriel gave her an irritated look. "You can go out on the balcony."
As soon as Aedriel disappeared behind the door Lune walked out to the balcony. Tael appeared beside her after she was alone for a split second. He closed the door and stood a step behind her.
"Why aren't you afraid?"
It took a long time for his carefree voice to drown out the silence. "There's nothing to be afraid of."
Lune turned to him surprised. "What do you mean? Revenrhys scares even Cassius. Aedriel told me what he did."
"Last time I checked Cassius is not me." The corners of his mouth went up gently. "And Reven is not as black as they paint him."
"What do you mean?" Lune couldn't get what the prince had just told her out of her head.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Please don't believe everything Aedriel says. His opinion can be very subjective."
"You're saying not to worry about a man who betrayed an entire nation, tortured and killed hundreds of fae."
Tael sighed but said nothing. Evidently, he knew something more, but Lune didn't want to ask. She had already had too many experiences for one night. She gasped when she realized that she still had Aedriel's cloak on her shoulders. She threw it to the floor as the air was warm, heavy from all the events.
Tael leaned against the railing next to her. A gentle look of azure eyes, but his posture tense.
Lune turned back to the view the balcony afforded. During the day you could admire the city and the river glittering in the distance, now she was looking at the dark outlines of buildings and lights scattered irregularly. Much of the city had gathered at the palace today to celebrate Philomena's birthday.
"Aedriel said something about some sort of bond between him and his brother."
"Ancient bond Calhali. That's why princey knows he's back."
"What's that Calvary bond?"
Tael gave her a protracted look. He was tempted to make any snarky remarks about misunderstanding the word and the number of questions the princess asked, but he swallowed them all. She deserved at least a little explanation. At least a bit of truth amidst all the lies Aedriel had fed her. "Calhali bond is something fae who trust each other above all else connect with. The process is long and painful and leaves a mark on your chest, just above your heart. Few people choose to make such a commitment when they have eternity ahead of them. Calhali bond is a promise to support each other always and everywhere, a promise to give their lives for each other. Fae connected by this bond can feel each other's presence, know who is where, feel each other's death. It is stated that when Reven fled after his betrayal, Aedriel lost his connection to him. He is claimed to have gone beyond the mountains where any magic ceases to work."
That much Lune knew. The mountains that separated Mortreign from the rest of the continent to the south. Mountains that had so many spells cast on them that trying to cross them always ended in death. "But it's impossible to get through the mountains."
"Your gullibility is truly captivating, princess."
And then a cold wind blew on the balcony and a muffled crack sounded. Tael's unconscious body fell motionless to the floor. A dark figure was slowly emerging from the dark portal and getting closer to Lune. A gloomy silhouette that made her heart explode into a million pieces of terror and vulnerability.
Revenrhys. Lune had never seen him, but for some strange reason, she was sure it was him.
He was on completely foreign ground, where everyone was his enemy, but the ease of his body was captivating. He didn't bother preoccupying his safety. Noone was able to defeat him, his aura screamed.
Lune wanted to run, the door to the room was so close, but invincible hands kept her in place. She couldn't move. Her lips and eyes were inching – the only parts of her body spared from his formidable power.
"Let me go! Help!" she screamed at the top of her lungs but all that came out of her mouth was a hushed whisper. "Somebody, help!"
His invincible hands reached her throat and squeezed it gently. But it was enough to take her breath away. She tried to focus on breathing shallowly so she wasn't able to scream anymore. A weak squeak escaped her lips as he stood a meter away from her, "Please." She could see behind the curtains the twins and Philomena sprawled on the couches, the guards. So close, and she couldn't reach them. She prayed someone was watching closely to see what was happening on the balcony hidden behind the too thick fabric of the drapes.
Revenrhys tilted his head. His eyes glowed with the same darkness as Aedriel's or Cassius'. "Lune, amore."
The pressure on her throat eased. "Please."
"For the monsters that dare to dream." His voice was firm, but there was no threat in it. He stared at Lune for a moment more, and then darkness consumed them both.