Chapter 2

22984 YD (1696 CE)
Heartwing, Cydrithenna

I rubbed my wrists the moment my binds were gone.

I was free.

I stared at my jailer, waiting to be handed my pre-prison clothes, but he merely arched one of his blond brows at me.

“They took your clothes.”

“Then give me new ones.”

“I can’t.”

He left me in the chamber with the administrator and other guards. I drew a circle with my glare until every eye within met my discontent.

“Sir, we’re going to have to ask you to leave the premises,” said one of the guards.

They knew whom they spoke to but did not appear to care. I needed better clothing; I couldn’t be seen in the garb of an inmate, but I couldn’t make a fuss either. One did not gain respect and loyalty by abusing their power, and I had other ways of getting home unseen.

I stepped outside the monstrous, impossibly tall prison and winced in the light of our sun, Daerlyvia. Beside me, another released inmate, a pale-peach Drakon with intimidating shoulders and height, lit a cigar stuffed with dark leaves grown by Storm Giants. He eyed me, grunted, and exhaled a large plume of smoke.

“This thing’s been in my pocket for a long time. Still tastes good. Those Storm Giants really know what they’re doing.”

“They are innovative allies.”

“Want a drag?”

“No, thank you.”

“How about this?” He tugged on the collar of his long coat, which looked like an extension of his black hair.

“I appreciate the offer, Haro, but I’ll manage.” Clouds as dark as his coat lurked in the distance.

He shrugged. “Well, didn’t want you to walk outta here like that, Prince Solin.”

I smirked and masked, using the power of illusory magick to turn this garb into the fabrics of royalty and the cyans, indigos, and blacks of my family’s house. The curls in my hair flattened. Magick hadn’t surged through me in years.

“Not bad,” he said. “You serious about walking? You could order them to send a ship.”

I shook my head. Flying home in a transport would be more convenient, but I had no desire to head back through those doors to make the request. “What about you?”

“Nah,” he said. “I’m good. Thanks.”

“Of course.”

“Make sure to get some sun now that we have it,” he said of my pale, light-brown skin. “It’s good for you.” He exhaled another puff of smoke.

We shared a smile. “Farewell, Harodrin Pellewenny.”

“So long, Prince Solin Felwing.”

I turned in the direction of the palace, that looming, hazy building in the distance, but before I could take my first of many steps, Haro cleared his throat and asked me something he hadn’t asked me during the entirety of our incarceration.

“Did you do it?”

“No,” I replied as I had replied to many others beforehand. “I did not kill my brother.”

Smoke poured from his nostrils. “Huh. Guess I have to congratulate someone else then.”

“I suppose you will.”

I stepped away from Haro’s sight and masked myself as an ordinary citizen. No one from the palace awaited me outside the prison, which saved them the pageantry of associating the royal house with an ex-convict and robbed me of time. Heartwing was the last bastion of the Dragons before they had been hunted into extinction by the Giants. To preserve their bloodline, the Dragons had brought beings from Gaia and offered them the gift of drakanthropy. The Dragons had died, but the first Drakons lived on, Gaian in shape but with the strength, longevity, and affinity for magick from their Dragon forebears. They had inherited a large city in both size and area. Beautiful. Old. Traveling by foot would take hours.

A fantastical city street of otherworldly architecture. Doors are sized for beings who no longer roam the city. Massive pillars hold up a structure that overtakes the city street; trees grow out of it. People walk beneath the structure.
Heartwing, Cydrithenna.

Although beleaguered by the length of the walk, I now had the much-needed time to calm my disappointment at having been left to walk in the first place. I calculated what I would do when I did return to the palace.

Masking myself was second nature, and even this took great effort and concentration. My body still bore the effects of my prerelease surgery to remove prison-installed implants. Those artifacts render it impossible for the imprisoned to use magick, making prison safer for those of great physical strength.

By nightfall, I arrived at the moon-silvered, prodigious palace, not surprised that no one greeted me even here. I slipped into the grounds, unseen by the gatehouse guards and the wandering patrols. My illusions granted me a sort of invisibility, and this magick trumped their training.

I began my ascent of the steps to the main terrace, then paused. Familiar forms appeared at the top. Jemier stormed down the steps, followed by his entourage of friends. I considered eavesdropping, but I had to get home, for it was my father who’d pardoned me and his company that Jemier had most likely just left. I was sure my father not only expected me but considered me late.

But it had been a while since I’d seen Jemier.

“You need not rush to my aid.” I revealed myself, albeit it with the manufactured drapings of royalty I’d shown Haro earlier.

“Solin!” Jemier rushed alone to embrace me, and I tentatively embraced him in return, knowing his friends would detest the act.

The House of Wraithstone oft bore handsome, strong children, and Jemier had not been passed over. He had the build and rugged jawline of a warrior and playful blue eyes that peered from beneath an intense brow. His brown hair stayed tousled and barely graced his shoulders, the way he liked it but not the way nobility often favored it. I could tell he’d been training again by the healthy tan of his peach skin, one that would become an unhealthy red if he kept it up. He’d been teased as a youth for having burnt the shape of his armor onto his skin and had since exercised or trained shirtless unless purposefully trying to hone how he moved in armor.

He also trained harder when angry or distressed.

“You’re squeezing too hard,” I said.

“I have missed you.”

“Are you to thank for my early release?” I said as we relaxed into a much looser hold.

“Do not thank me, Solin.”

“Jemier found Varin’s killer,” said Corian Scaleborn. She stood resolute beside him, her broadsword openly displayed on her hip. Her spiraled twists, tied low behind her neck, had grown since I had last seen her. Moonlight bounced off her deep-brown skin and made her silver clothes glisten. “It gave much relief to your father.”

“Though he made the mistake of yelling at your father just now for sending no one to claim you at the prison,” added Renny Vivifyal, my least favorite of the group. He kept his bear-brown beard as short as his hair and a semipermanent look of arrogance plastered on his fair brown face. He stood as tall and as mighty as Jemier, but his posture lacked the rigid, dutiful alertness that Corian carried herself with.

Eleric Foundry remained silent and hid himself behind Renny. I didn’t bother trying to update my memory of him.

“I was coming to greet you,” said Jemier in his rich-toned, yet often too-boisterous voice. I sometimes questioned the depth of our friendship based on this alone. “No one else would. I was not even told that this was the day of your release.”

“Of course you weren’t. I belong to him, and therefore, information about me belongs to him. The more control he has over all aspects of me, the better, especially given the current circumstances.”

“Your public distaste for your father isn’t very becoming of you,” said Renny.

“And your public disregard for anything other than the crown isn’t very becoming of you,” I returned with a steady glare.

“Change the meaning of ‘crown,’ Prince Solin, and the same could be said for you.”

“Stop it,” said Corian. “Jemier has cleared him of wrongdoing, and so has our king.”

Renny harumphed.

“Well,” I said, “with these pleasantries over, I regret to inform you that I must make haste and return to my darling family.” I released myself from Jemier’s hold. “Thank you, Jemier.”

“Wait,” he said, and upon his word, his friends shared a foreboding look, one I could not decipher but would not forget.

“What am I waiting for, Jemier? You to visit me in prison?”

His intense brow furrowed in remorse. “I am sorry.” With a glance, he commanded the others away. They nodded, but Corian left with a gentle touch to Jemier’s shoulder, one she often gave him and one he often gave her as well. She and Renny started down the stairs and obediently did not look back at us. I continued ignoring Eleric as he followed. Jemier has always been the de facto leader of our group, even when my brother, Varin, still drew breath. I, on the other hand, have always been the outsider, bearing their isolation of me because we would eventually serve on the Senate together. I joined them because Jemier was my only friend, though there were times he certainly didn’t act like it.

“You are masking,” he said once they had cleared.

“You finally noticed?”

“I guessed. Can we…go somewhere else?”

“Worried I will faint and hurt myself on the stairs, Jemier?”

“No, drathos. It is important. Please, to the gardens?”

“Ah, the gardens, yes, of course.” I rolled my eyes. Perhaps he didn’t share my newfound dislike of the space. Perhaps he had forgotten that, in these gardens, he had accused me of trying to commit the very crime he’d just cleared me of.

Soldiers took notice and behaved appropriately, saluting as I passed and being discreet to all they thought they heard. If they judged me, they hid it well. I had no knowledge of how my name had been cleared, only that it had, and apparently, Jemier had had a part in it.

We went to the private space with the very memory-laden tree and took shelter in its additional shadows. The chill in the night air made itself less known here than on the open, sweeping staircase up to the palace, and because I still wore my inmate’s garb, I found the tree affable. I dropped my mask.

“Your hair is longer,” he said in a voice no longer boisterous and defiant of the peace.

“That is how time affects it, yes. Although I’ve had it cut. It would be several feet long if I hadn’t.”

“Is that…” He peered at me, a slight smile on his face. “Is that the start of a beard, Solin?”

I rolled my eyes and masked the stubble away. “I had a hard time finding a blade this week.”

“And your clothes…”

“Are missing. Perhaps sold to the highest bidder or being used as swaddling cloth after being hocked downtown.”

“I could find them for you…”

“I don’t care about the damn clothes, Jemier.”

“Right. Sorry.” He reached for my shoulder. “Solin, there is something I must tell you.”

“Obviously.”

“Please don’t be so rancorous with me. What I must tell you is difficult, but I want you to hear it from me first.”

“Did someone else die? Not the king since we’ve already established he’s alive.”

“No one died.”

Good. “An apology then.”

“I did all I could to clear your name. I found your brother’s killer.” He swallowed, then glanced at his hands. “Is that not apology enough?”

“Who did it, then?”

“His lover.”

I laughed. “His lover? Danica? You mean the one person who was the last one seen with him, and the person who found him, and the person with the relationship that they always check first in these instances remarkably turned out to be the murderer? Well done, Jemier. You managed to take my words and make my father listen. Albeit years after the fact.”

“Please stop laughing, Solin. She was never brought to justice. She killed herself before her arrest.”

I did not stop giggling. “Killed herself? Of course. No wonder the future of House Vivifyal doubts your actions. Did you have any evidence, or did my father take you at my, pardon, your word?”

He gripped both of my shoulders tight. “Solin, stop. I understand you may carry some resentment over what happened—”

“Ah, some. Very quantifiable—”

“But she died and was found guilty posthumously.”

“And I suppose Renny believes someone planted whatever evidence pointed to Danica. That someone being me or an ally of mine.”

Jemier hesitated. “Yes, but you must understand—”

“I don’t need to understand. Is that what you wanted to tell me so urgently? Is that why you brought me to this place?”

“No. I just want to repair what has been done to us.”

“In the very place you delivered a near-fatal blow to our friendship.”

“Is it—oh.” He sighed, then dropped his hands. “Solin, your father has…he has not made you heir.”

“I…” I swallowed. I’d anticipated this news, considering the history of dislike between us and the optics of my father’s heir being the person the kingdom believed had killed the previous heir. Such a precedent could not be set. Still, Jemier had exonerated me. Karrdil would have to change his mind in accordance with Drakon law—

“Karrdil has claimed me as an heir.”

I stared at him, glared at him. I never trained to be a king, only a senator, but I’d always had more qualifications than Varin. I’d been the only one to take our political studies seriously. Jemier, though of a higher moral ground than Varin—not exactly a difficult achievement for anyone—lacked the training and resolve of a politician. He was a warrior who could still be found at the tavern after coming home from battle, not a man who could sit still on a throne and contemplate the puzzles brought before him.

“Did you take it?”

“Solin, please don’t get—”

“Did you take it?”

He hesitated. “I had no choice. You were still in prison.”

I clenched my fist. “A place I called home for several decades, but, according to you, I only carry ‘some’ resentment over. Yes, of course, I only harbor some resentment, especially when my entire life has been swept out from beneath me.” I turned my back on him and paced, trying not to run to King Karrdil and demand to know why he despised me so much.

“You will still be on the same path.”

“Is that what you think, Jemier?”

“I will appoint you as a senator. Nothing will change.”

“Except for the whole of Cydrithenna, who will see me as the senator who lost the trust of a king, of his own father. And you…you could have rejected it. You could have—”

“He said if I did not agree to it, then he would not free you!”

My stomach lurched. “What?”

“It was my only choice, Solin…please understand.”

Shaking, I held up a hand. “I…need to be alone. Please leave.”

Jemier murmured something beneath his breath, then gave me one last forlorn glance before leaving me beneath a tree watered with pain.


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