22955 YD (1664 CE) Heartwing, Cydrithenna
Eleric and I hid our relationship. A prince could not be seen breaking the sacred oath to the Last Dragons, and there was an unofficial, whispered law that deemed House Foundry too lowly of a family to become royalty anyway.
But while we hid our tender kisses and the regular entanglements of our flesh, our public relationship had changed, and that we could not hide. Varin noticed when Eleric wouldn’t succumb to his will and join in on the fun, and he noticed loudly with much violence in his voice. Whether this was why Varin took to spending more time with his own friends, folks of ill-repute from morally suspect noble houses and merchant guilds, I did not know, but I did not care either. I’d promised Eleric my protection.
Sometimes I felt as though Eleric and I influenced each other for the better, and sometimes I doubted my security, certain he would inevitably denounce and betray me. Panic dragged these doubts into my mind, panic whenever Varin reappeared. I waited for Eleric to break, but he still hadn’t. Yet despite this evidence, I worried.
We stayed out of my bedchamber in the daytime, given the possibility of witnesses to intrude. We often entertained ourselves in secluded areas, places where our feelings were exchanged physically, but also places where Eleric helped me hone my sensory illusions.
An ignored section of the library served as one of our rendezvous points. We tucked away in the small nooks that offered that enclosed sense of privacy. Today’s lesson involved the dustiest book in the Daerlyvian system, which caused me to cough until my eyes watered. Despite the setback in air quality, my doubts about Eleric stayed out of the classroom. Varin had been away on an extended trip to visit the Wyverns, a neutral Cydrithennan faction who were cousins of our Dragon ancestors. Who knew what diplomatic nightmares he’d cause while away, but for now, the nightmare he often caused at home had vanished, and I had no reason to worry that he would break Eleric and turn him against me.
As I tried to suppress the sounds of my coughing, Eleric smiled.
“What’s so funny? I could be dying.”
“Where does it burn?”
I choked again. “Where does what—” He raised a brow at me, and I understood. I stilled as best as possible with my protesting lungs until the coughing fit ended, leaving an imprint in my body’s memory of the sensation. “You wanted me to know the feeling of a dust particle?”
He passed me a bottle of water. “No, but it created an opportunity, didn’t it?”
I drank away the pain of the coughing fit and returned the bottle to him. “You are devilish.”
“And you’re getting better at this.”
With great caution, I took a deep breath. “Except this is the part where I experiment on you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You can take it away.”
“Whereas I had to suffer the entire fit.” I gave him a wicked smirk. “Devilish. Are you ready?”
I generated a book, heavy and coated with dust. “Pick it up when you’re rea—”
He picked it up. “Not as heavy as it looks.”
I refocused. “Better?”
He tested the weight. “Much better. Are you using telekinesis to create the sensation?”
“A little. It was a good suggestion. Just took a while to get right—”
His hand crashed into his lap. “Too heavy, too heavy!”
“Sorry!” I let the telekinesis go. “Are you hurt?”
“Not at all.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a difficult discipline of magick.” I’d been studying it since we were boys, yet I had only been able to poorly pilot a levitated cloak on the night of our first kiss. Now I could amateurly pilot a cloak if I wanted. “I just can’t grasp it.”
“You’ll get there,” he said as he always did. He returned the dusty, generated book to his lap and flipped it open. A plume of dust entered the air, and he coughed. I killed the illusion immediately and handed him water. He drank.
“You didn’t let it last long enough.”
“But you’re drinking water now,” I said.
“Because I could feel the dust and see it, but I couldn’t smell it. It was confusing.”
“Oh.” My face sank. “You couldn’t smell the dust? What about the book?”
“There wasn’t any noticeable change in the scent of the room.”
He shook his head.
I took his hand, and wildflowers sprang up from the dusty book, burst from the marbled walls, wedged themselves between shelves, and entangled themselves in the fibers of the large rug we sat upon. I could do this all night. “What about this?”
Eleric’s eyes reflected the colors in the room, dazzled by the blossoms’ beauty. I maintained my focus. He smiled and shook his head. “Not a thing.”
“Oh.” The flowers shrank into nothingness.
He chuckled softly and leaned over to kiss me. “Sorry, Solin.” He kissed me again. “Maybe next time—” And again. “—we should meet in the gardens for practice.” And again.
We weren’t able to meet there for several days, relegated to the library and other makeshift spaces by a storm system that drenched the region. When the skies had cleared and the garden dried of its puddles, we arranged to meet. When I arrived, he was already there, concealing something behind his back.
I greeted him with a kiss before he revealed the small wooden box to me. Even amongst the garden with its well-watered flowers of actual scent and the hints of rain wafting off the leaves of the tree, the faintest hint of pine emanated from the handcrafted box.
“What is this?” I said, turning the plain, palm-sized container over. I ran my fingers over the lightweight, softly sanded box. There were no hinges.
“Open it, Solin.” He grinned and rocked on his toes.
I amused him and opened the box. A small button sat on a cushion inside. I picked it up and examined it. “A metal button?”
“Yes, but look at it carefully.”
I turned the button over and saw the tiny embellishments. I peered at them. “You signed it?”
“Yes. Keep reading.”
My insides fluttered and ached. “Drathosi. And…your name.”
“Do you like it?”
“I think it’s—”
“Let me explain,” he said quickly. “It’s a button, I know, and that seems a little strange because who would use a forge to make a button? But—”
“You forged this?”
“Yes. It took a few tries because I’d not forged something in so long—”
“You took up your house’s calling to make this for me?” I held it a little tighter, and my heart fluttered faster.
“Yes, well…it…so…the button is significant because when I was looking through our books, my house’s books, because I know next to nothing about our history, to be honest—the Foundry history, pushed it all out—and I came across this button thing, and I knew I wanted to make you something but not something so small because it would be difficult and I didn’t want to ruin it, but then I read more about it, and—” He played with his hands, pausing his rambling explanation. I pocketed the box and wrapped my arm around his waist so that we could both view the button together. He relaxed. “I wondered why people would bother making such heavy, decorative buttons for clothing, and I discovered that buttons of this nature were gifted to loved ones, for them to put on their inner pockets where they kept their correspondences.”
He nestled his head against my shoulder. “I love you, Solin. I’ll make sure to fill that pocket too.”
I stared at the back of that button. Drathosi.
“You don’t have to say it back,” he said, voice quivering.
“I want to,” I said. “I want to love you beyond this, Eleric, but—”
“You don’t have to explain—”
“Varin is back,” I said. He quieted. I turned my head, pressing my nose against his hair.
“From meeting with the Wyverns.”
“Yes.” My exhale trembled. “I’m told it did not go well.”
“How does any of this affect now?”
“Because he—” I swallowed, despite my drying mouth and tightened throat. “—he will make sure I pay for his misery. He’ll bend the rest of you to do it too.”
“I gave you my word, Solin, that I would never—”
“I find it difficult to trust your word.”
“That’s why I made it more permanent,” he said. “Drathosi, my cherished love.”
I closed my eyes. Words escaped me.
He slipped out of my sievelike touch. “No, I understand; you can’t trust me. How could you after two years together? I just…need to be alone for a while. To think.”
I reached out an open hand. “Eleric, please come back.”
“Not now…I’ll see you later.”
“Later as in tonight?”.
“Yes,” he said, wiping his cheek.
My hand clenched the button, and I stood there, alone.
Eleric had been thinking for days. I convinced myself that honesty was best in that moment, that I’d saved him and, more importantly, myself from future heartbreak by telling him the truth instead of leading him on. I told myself that this did not mean an end to our relationship. I lied to myself; I would recover from this. I should have deceived him because I could grow to share his feelings and forgive him. Yet deceiving someone I cared for seemed innately wrong.
I visited Risayne for her wisdom but could not find her anywhere. A test of my adulthood; I would solve this problem on my own and find a way to save the connection Eleric and I had built.
I went to the palace library, its vast halls always a welcome sight for me, and headed for the private room Eleric and I often absconded to around this time of day. His sanctuary had become our sanctuary. He had shared this with me, shared with me his love, and still I could not trust him? How absurd. My fears might have ruined a genuine source of love and joy for us.
Something heavy crashed against wood. I masked and ran for the source, our room, thinking perhaps Eleric had chosen to take out his frustration on a table.
“Eleric?” I shouted. Another crash, the cascading of books and tearing of pages. No, of course this was not Eleric. He was not a man of anger. Had he fallen? I pumped my legs harder and unmasked, knowing the weight and urgency of my footfalls could not be cloaked. Secrecy didn’t matter. I came to an abrupt halt at the turn to our space.
Amongst the piles of books and an overturned table stood Varin, his back to me, his hips and forearm pressed against a body. White fingers curled around Varin’s shoulders, trying and failing to shove him away. Varin’s body, shackling another for a torment so hideous…
He was pressed against Eleric. In a way that…
A fire burned within.
I snatched Varin by the neck of his well-pressed garments, throwing him away from Eleric and toward the opposing wall. Varin hit the overturned table and scrambled to his feet, a dagger in his hand. I swept it away with a flick of my telekinesis.
“You’re cheating again, brother!”
I retorted with a telekinetic battering ram, forcing him against the wall farthest from Eleric. The wall shuddered unsatisfyingly as it released pebbles of itself on Varin’s shoulders. A gale of energy cut a path through the debris on the floor, and I walked it until my hand met my brother’s throat and wrapped firmly around it.
“You are…an abomination!” he choked out.
“So are you.” I tightened my grip, chaining Varin to the wall with my mind. I stared with stony eyes into his anger-twisted visage.
“Solin,” Eleric said. “Solin, stop.” He didn’t shout; he must’ve wanted Varin dead as much as I did. I killed my brother slowly and enjoyed it. Eleric’s clothes were far too undone, his face in far too much pain, and had I not walked in at that moment, he might have suffered worse at Varin’s hands.
My hand glowed red; Varin needed to burn. His veins and arteries had to cauterize; his skin had to char. The singed hairs on his neck turned to smoke.
He cried out and kicked at me. “You…can’t be burning me. This is another trick!” He coughed and screeched.
“This is no illusion, brother.” I squeezed, pouring fire through my fingertips.
He writhed and groaned, and scales formed on his skin. He could shift into his dragon form already, something he had learned earlier than most Drakons, but I would not let him. I would burn him in this parshifted state too. Let him cry out in his guttural, dragon voice. Let him hiss and continue to die as a man not fully formed, as a disgrace to our Dragon ancestors. He clawed at me, scratching my arms and my face, but I held stronger. I was stronger. I could not shift yet, but I was more powerful than he expected, more powerful than I had ever shown anyone. I’d mastered illusion, telekinesis, and now I’d awakened the element of fire. The only missing ingredient had been the blood of my brother.
“Enough, please,” whimpered Eleric. “You can’t kill him.”
I tightened my grip, if only to prove to Eleric that my brother would never harm him again. Varin’s neck didn’t give. I roared in frustration. I grit my teeth and turned my head to the side, just to catch Eleric’s gaze and tell him this would all be over soon.
Eleric’s eyes glistened in the fire.
What the hell was I thinking? Eleric could be blamed for this.
Mercy did not come from a place of brotherly love.
I dropped Varin from my grip. He crumpled to the floor. My flame had traveled down his spine, fusing cloth to half skin. My wrath left a blackened, fractal trail along the wall. Varin clutched his neck, his gasps raspy and pneumonic.
Eleric coughed from the smoke. “Solin, the shelves!”
I killed the flames with a thought and an unnecessary but powerful flourish with my fist. Varin would know how easily this element now bent to my will.
“You’ll…pay…brother…” he said, in a voice neither human nor dragon. Would he forever be in this vulnerable state? Shifting under such extreme circumstances has been known to cause permanent damage. I hoped for it.
Varin rose unsteadily, and I shielded Eleric from him in case he decided to make another move. A nonverbal promise to kill him if he did.
Varin shambled out of the room by the grace of my mercy and the healing abilities granted by our ancestors. Blood and charcoal flakes of flesh and scale followed him. I took note of where he turned; we would take the other direction even if it meant fleeing through a window.
I expected the palace guards to swarm the room soon, but I turned and checked on Eleric, whose eyes were blank and trembling. I wanted to embrace him, to wrap him tight in my protection and let go only when asked, but I did not want to close him in and frighten him further.
“Are you all right, Eleric?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said. “Yes, I think so.”
“You should see a healer.”
“Nothing happened. It almost did, but nothing did.”
“We need to go. I will mask us. I want you to heal.”
“He did not hurt me.”
“Maybe not physically,” I said, rendering us completely invisible, and hopefully, unheard.
He took my hand, and I led him somewhere safe. This room would no longer be that place. It would never be that place again. Varin had stolen this from us too.
“He knows, Solin. He knows, and he said he’ll tell the king.”
“I don’t care if he tells the king. It is not wrong; it is merely disliked.”
“Disliked by the heads of prominent houses.” He struggled to speak through tears. “We’ll be outcasts.”
“No. Don’t say that. House Scaleborn and House Xiano wouldn’t do that to us. The Daerlyvian Federation wouldn’t do that to us.”
“But none of them are the king.”
“I don’t care if he tells Karrdil. He is outnumbered.” I paused and looked him in the eyes. “You are safe.” I didn’t believe my own words. My eyes welled with tears. Eleric had been in danger, and I had failed to protect him. “We will be safe.” I kissed his hand.
“Where are we going?”
“Where would you like to go?”
“Then we are going there.”
I took him back to House Foundry. He urged me to stay with him that night, and I did, holding him until he fell asleep because that’s what he wanted, and because I realized that I loved him, and that my love had arrived too late.