Chapter Seventy-Three: A Royal Meeting
I took my seat to Lucifer’s left and glanced at the empty chair between us. For decades that chair had reminded me of our failure to protect Arianna—it was meant to be her chair, and Lucifer had kept it there for symbolic purposes. It served as a reminder to the Royal Families that, even with her gone, the First Princess had left her mark on the founding of the empire.
‘You’re certain about this, Lucifer?’ I glanced at the emperor as I settled into my seat.
A simple look around the room made it obvious that the Families were unaware of what was coming. While they knew the matter of Falrrsald was a serious one, they appeared as relaxed as ever. Only my parents exhibited signs that they knew what was going on, but they were doing their best to hide their smiles.
‘If Rabere was able to sense who she was so clearly, it’s only a matter of time before the Families figure her out as well,’ Lucifer replied, his tone filled with resolve. He brought his fingertips together, forming a steeple, and examined each pair of deities present in the room. “As you’re all aware, I’ve decided that the situation in Falrrsald demands our attention. Our original plans to let the tribes be appears to have allowed other problems to fester in the region.
“However, there’s one person we can’t leave out of this discussion.”
Lucifer shifted a pointed look toward the opaque screen that separated the meeting room from the emperor’s waiting room. I swiveled my seat so that I could keep my eyes on my ayraziis’ entrance and the baffled Families. When Arianna stepped out from the waiting room, the Families began to murmur among themselves in confusion.
“What is a Human—”
The quiet protests fell silent as a smirk grew across Arianna’s face. As she approached us she allowed her Human disguise to melt away, revealing the Adinvyr form she had agreed to appear before the Families in. The patriarchs and matriarchs recognized her immediately, their expressions betraying their utter shock. Many of the First Princes and Princesses, however, were too young to recognize her.
It wasn’t until Arianna trailed her fingers along the back of her once-empty seat and then took her place in it that everyone in the room understood who they were looking at.
“Y-Your Highness…” The Akor deities shot to their feet for but a moment before dropping to their knees and touching their foreheads to the floor. Moments later, the Akor First Prince and Princess followed. “I never imagined we would get the opportunity to properly thank you for your work in V’frul, Your Highness. If not for you…”
“If not for your help, Arianna-jiss, my husband would have been sold to the V’frul elite,” the matriarch spat, her voice trembling with anger. She raised her head slightly to look at my ayraziis. “And countless more Devillians would have been enslaved after. I hope you will allow us to repay this debt, Your Highness.”
“Ah… Please, raise your heads,” Arianna murmured, her cheeks slightly flushed. However, her quiet request instead resulted in the remaining Families rising to their feet to bow to her.
“Lucifer, the X’shmirans must be held accountable!” The Jrachra patriarch straightened and then turned to face the emperor. “We had already agreed that their behavior is inexcusable. To find that they treated the First Princess in such a way—”
“How do we know they aren’t responsible for her Highness’ disappearance?” Aelia Il’thar, Eyrian’s mother, spoke in a tone that silenced the other deities. “I struggle to believe—”
“I appreciate everyone’s concern—and righteous fury—but this isn’t the time for discussions about my disappearance. Nor is it the time to discuss what to do about the X’shmirans,” Arianna spoke up, adopting a commanding tone that rivaled Aelia’s. The Draekin matriarch blinked in surprise for a moment before crossing her arms within her sleeves.
“With all due respect, Your Highness, everyone thought you were d…gone,” Aelia corrected herself with a pained grimace. “The Il’thar and Vraelimir Families have been eager to assist the Shujare Family with revenge. If the X’shmirans are responsible we must deal with the appropriately.”
“The matter of Falrrsald is far more pressing and a more immediate threat,” Arianna countered, her gaze firm. “X’shmir is easy enough to handle. For now, they’re a prospective member of the Alliance and my brother is also in Dauthrmir. Manipulating the X’shmirans into remaining friendly with us for a time should be a simple matter.
“We don’t have such avenues with Falrrsald. Not only must we worry about the movements of the tribes, the Exiles, the dragons, and corrupted Angels…there’s also the matter of the N’lafmarans and the Zehylor.”
“Has everyone been briefed on the matters Arianna found in Falrrsald?” I glanced to Lucifer, but the sound of several royals inhaling sharply drew my attention.
“Nalithor, we know you’re now the God of Balance, but—”
“My nylziis can address me however he sees fit,” Arianna interrupted, her tone firm and her gaze dangerous. The Families shifted to stare at her in disbelief. Satisfied by their silence, Arianna turned to look at Lucifer. “Well, Father?”
“Lysander, Ellena, and I believed it would be best to have the two of you explain the matters within Falrrsald yourselves,” Lucifer began, making a loose motion at us. “They know only that the N’lafmarans are people you rescued from the region, and that you have found matters that require us to cooperate with the Beshulthiens.”
“Very well.” Arianna slid her seat back and rose to her feet. She strode around the curved table and then stopped, centered, where everyone could see her. “I will start from the beginning. It would be best if you all understand how some matters tie into each other.”
“What of the Lari’xan?” An impatient Rylthra woman questioned as all the deities returned to their seats. “To bring them away from their domains…”
“We are quite fine, I assure you,” Yiltanys stated, appearing to Arianna’s left. “And we are only fine because of Arianna and Nalithor’s efforts.
“I suggest you sit down and listen to what Her Highness has to say instead of interrupting.”
The Lari’xan’s deadly tone startled the Lesser Gods and their children into taking their seats. Arianna shot Yiltanys an indecipherable look as he leaned back against a wall near her, his arms crossed and his gaze alert. After a moment, the Lari’xan’s gaze settled on Eyrian. The Draekin grew pale, murmured something to his parents, and then moved to stand behind Arianna as well.
‘Yiltanys isn’t convinced we’re safe from prying eyes or ears here,’ Eyrian stated, glancing toward me briefly before summoning his uniform instead of his robes. He fastened a pair of gauntlets into place and ignored the Families’ murmurings. ‘He has Sihix protecting the room as well so we should be fine…for now. They still want us to be ready.’
“The rest of you may come out as well.” Lucifer glanced toward the waiting room, his voice firm. “See to it that no threats can come close to my daughter.”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” the chorus of voices earned startled looks from several of the Royal Families present, but Arianna didn’t appear interested in explaining the situation to them.
“Now then,” Arianna began in a serious tone, the power in her words drawing the deities’ attention. “I will try to keep this brief. Do us all a favor and save your questions for once I’ve finished. You have paper and pens—take notes if you must.”
☽ ✷ ☾
By the time Arianna finished regaling the Families with the details of our mission it was evening, and Lucifer sent for servants to bring dinner for everyone. At first, the deities had wanted to pelt my ayraziis with questions but they had quickly fallen silent to absorb the information she was giving them. Since finishing nearly ten minutes prior, no one had uttered a word save for Lucifer instructing his servants.
‘That was exhausting.’ Arianna took her seat between Lucifer and me. I reached for her hand under the table, earning a small but tired smile from her. ‘I would rather not have to repeat all of that again.’
‘Reulidru recorded everything to show your men later,’ I reassured her, noting the small grimace that crossed her face. ‘I know you aren’t keen on having guards or your own men to command, but I’m sure you understand why your father believes it necessary.
‘At any rate, you certainly handled yourself well in front of the Families. Perhaps I should reward you.’
“Your Excellency, is it really alright to allow Her Highness to continue her investigations?” Zakaria, the Akor patriarch, shifted to look at Lucifer with concern. “I understand that she is a candidate for the role of Balance, and that few should dare interfere with her, but it’s clear from their experiences in Falrrsald that the corrupt creatures care not.”
“Which is one of the many reasons I’ve assigned Eyrian of the Il’thar Family, Kabos of the Zroltor Family, and Akedos of the Tzil Family to act as her guards,” Lucifer pointed out, shrugging. “Between her own personal guards and Nalithor she is well protected. Furthermore, the men that Eyrian, Kabos, Akedos, Reulidru, and Azhar command will be able to help my daughter search for answers faster.
“For now, our concern should be the Beshulthien Emperor. He identified who Arianna is far faster than I expected. We need to guarantee his silence and his continued support.”
“And then there’s you two…” Mother cut her eyes to the side to look at Yiltanys and Sihix. “You truly intend to bless Devillians with the power of light, and take your support from the Angels, Lord Yiltanys?”
“It is already done,” Yiltanys replied, making a dismissive motion. “Several Astral Mages have been born within Vorpmasian soil since we left my domain as it is. I never had any intention of giving your kind a choice in the matter.
“Ari-mrii won my favor, as did Nalithor. I expect full cooperation from you all moving forward. We need to make certain that Vorpmasia sets a good example for its allies in handling both light and shadow.”
“Ari-mrii, let’s both give birth to the first Devillian Astral Mage demigods!” Mother blurted out, turning her focus to my ayraziis, nearly causing me to choke on my tea. “I’m sure you and Nalithor’s children will be—”
“You are getting ahead of yourself, Ellena.” Father placed a hand on Mother’s shoulder and sighed before shooting Lucifer and apologetic look. “I apologize, Lucifer. Of course, I’m sure you can understand my wife’s excitement.”
“Of course. I believe we all expected Nalithor to remain a recluse,” Lucifer answered dryly.
“Mother, Arianna and I have agreed against children. For now,” I stated, ignoring the pout my mother shot me. “Avrirsa’s state is far too fragile for us to even consider bringing a child into it. Furthermore, we can’t afford to have her incapacitated for—”
“I can take care of my grandchild, too!” Mother interrupted brightly, looking far too excited by the prospect. “Lysander and I would be more than happy to lend you our aid so that you can both work, of course! We wouldn’t expect Her Highness to neglect everything in order to take care of a child. We know better than that. So—”
“We expect certain formalities to be followed, Your Excellency,” Haruto, the patriarch of the N’tarsorn, spoke up. Several other deities nodded their agreement. “The First Daughters and Sons should be given the opportunity to make their impression on Arianna-jiss.”
“First of all,” Arianna began irritably, setting her tea down, “you can take the First Daughters off the list. I have absolutely no interest in women whatsoever. Hells, I can hardly relate to the creatures.
“Second, I have no intention of leaving Nalithor’s side regardless of what anyone here says. He is mine and I will kill anyone who attempts to separate us.
“Do I make myself clear?”
“Furthermore, we’re meant to keep Arianna-jiss’ identity a secret for now,” Zakaria commented, frowning. “If we hold a ball to formally introduce everyone we will raise suspicions.”
“Hello, the First Sons and Daughters are right here, you know,” a young Jrachra woman sighed, bringing her fingertips to her temples. She turned to look at Arianna and bowed slightly. “My name is Sanya, Your Highness. I’m the First Princess of the Niyutibi Family. Most of us are just as opposed to the traditions our families suggested as you are.
“We would prefer to get to know you in our own time, and without the Families’ ulterior motives in play.”
“Most of us know better than to challenge Nalithor, as well,” one of the princes added, tipping his cup in my direction as acknowledgment.
“Ahhh, our little Ari-mrii is so popular,” Sihix teased, placing his hands on Arianna’s shoulders. She just snorted at him as his expression turned serious and he glared at the gathered Families. “For now, the Lari’xan intend to act as if Arianna and Nalithor are Balance. We will not tolerate any manner of interference in their relationship.
“Instead of worrying about your precious heirs you should consider how you will accommodate Astral and Light Mages in your individual societies, and what you can do to assist us in our plans.”
“Arianna and Nalithor are both quite tired after their journey back to Dauthrmir,” Yiltanys began, shooting me a brief look to silence me. “Sihix and I can handle the rest of matters. Your discussions regarding N’lafmar can wait until your next meeting.
“I would like to discuss our plans for Vorpmasia at length as soon as possible so that Sihix and I can move on to our other work.”
“Of course,” Lucifer spoke up, silencing all attempts at protest. He turned to look at Arianna briefly and then back to the Families. “When we convene tomorrow you may take the opportunity to introduce yourselves personally to my daughter. For now, we should allow her and Nalithor both some rest.”
“Yes, Your Excellency,” the Families murmured their consent but did little to hide their disappointment.
‘Your mother and I intend to have words with you both later,’ Father stated, shooting me a firm look.
‘Very well, though I can’t guarantee Arianna will be in the mood.’ I nodded subtly his way before rising to my feet and offering my ayraziis a hand.
Lucifer leaned over to kiss his daughter on top of her head and then shooed us away, allowing us to escape into the nearby waiting room. We paused for a moment so that Arianna could shift into her Human form again, then opened the door to the hall outside.
“That went better than I expected.” Arianna sighed heavily and leaned against me, wrapping both her arms around mine. “I’d rather not have to do that again, but I suppose we can expect several more such meetings…”
“More than several, my dear.” I placed my free hand over one of hers and gave her a small smile. “Shall I send someone to bring food and tea to our rooms? You hardly touched your dinner.”
“Mmm? Our rooms?” Arianna shifted to look up at me in surprise. “Didn’t my father say something about having my rooms prepared?”
“I intend to have you stay in mine,” I replied with a smirk. “He did have your rooms prepared, yes, but while I’m here you have no need of them. Aside from, perhaps, as a place to keep your belongings.
“After we have gotten all of our meetings out of the way I intend to bring you into the city with me. You have a distinct lack of personal belongings and I intend to remedy that.”
“But—” Arianna began to protest but trailed into a yelp instead when I lifted her into my arms.
“I wish to pamper you properly,” I informed her, pulling her into the shadows with me for a brief moment. When we reappeared, it was outside the intricately carved double doors that led to her once-abandoned suite. “As your nylziis, I intend to make it my responsibility to dote on you and make up for the way the X’shmirans chose to treat you.
“Besides, what you currently own is a mere fraction of what you will need as the First Princess—let alone as a goddess.”
“What about books?” Arianna finally asked, her cheeks puffed out in a begrudging pout. “Those, at least, are more useful than clothing.”
“Anything you want, within reason.” I chuckled, setting her down so that I could open the doors for her. “You hardly need to look so guilty. I’ll have you know I take great pleasure in spoiling you.
“Now then, dinner and tea?”
“How about a bath first?” Arianna suggested, pulling off the floor-length overrobe of her imperial attire. “I felt like I was going to melt wearing this for so long!”
“You looked beautiful in it,” I stated, leaning down to kiss her cheek. “Very well, at bath first. I get the feeling we may have visitors once the Families’ meeting concludes.”
“Visitors?” Arianna sighed and pivoted to look up at me, her expression contemplative. After a moment, she reached up to nudge one of the ornaments in my hair. “Let me guess, because of this?”
“We can hope it’s that, and not what my mother attempted to discuss at the meeting itself.” I grimaced, earning an amused snort from my ayraziis.
“I guess I’ll have to wait until after to have my fun with you,” Arianna remarked, running her fingers along the inner layer of my robes. She smiled and tugged them agape, watching me for any sign of a reaction. “Well, what are you waiting for? You’re going to help the poor delicate princess out of her heavy robes, aren’t you?”
“Of course, how could I refuse such a request?” I pulled at the sash around her waist. “I can’t promise that my hands won’t wander.”
“Neither can I,” Arianna replied with a devious smile.