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Chapter Thirty: An Invitation

Posted in Book Two, and Of Astral and Umbral

Chapter Thirty: An Invitation

 

Another late night of research come and gone, and we still hadn’t made much progress. Dinner had taken much longer than I expected, and while that seemed to suit Nalithor just fine, the academy’s scholars weren’t finished with their examinations of the unusual beast by the time we returned to the palace. We had so little information to work with that I was beginning to think Nalithor was just attempting to find ways to distract me from my brother, or perhaps keep an eye on me for himself.

I couldn’t think of a way to teach Nalithor about X’shmiran beasts—short of taking him to X’shmir to fight them for himself. That didn’t sound like it was an option though. ‘Pity.’

Once he’d finally deigned it time for me to return to my lodgings, he’d insisted on walking me home. I couldn’t determine if it was to keep me from wandering off to slay Dilonu and Tyana…or if he genuinely wanted to accompany me. As far as I was concerned, figuring that man out was more difficult than researching the beasts.

‘Maybe I should use today to go through more cultural tomes.’ I leaned back in my seat and glanced toward the stove, impatient for my kettle of tea to be ready. ‘One of those books must have something about the meaning behind all his nuzzling and stuff, right? The tomes on Devillian culture seem quite thorough, so I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be covered.

‘Not to mention his distaste for “someone else’s” blood on me… What’s with that, anyway?’

The whistling of the tea kettle broke my train of thought and prompted me to get out of my chair. After preparing my first cup of tea, I turned and then released a heavy sigh the moment Djialkan rounded the corner to enter the kitchen. He hadn’t even said anything yet, but I knew by the expression on his face that I wouldn’t like whatever it was.

“Get dressed,” Djialkan commanded, coming to hover in front of my face. “Your presence is required at the academy. It sounds as if you should don a formal set of robes.

“It is cold and it is still raining. I suggest wearing one of your coats—unless you intend to hang on Nalithor’s arm all day.”

“Eh?” I glared at the fae-dragon, my grip twitching on my cup. “What about my breakfast? And…really? Hang on Nalithor’s arm all day? Just what sort of woman do you—”

“Have a snack,” Djialkan interjected, snorting. “Take Alala with you. I have business to attend to with Onyre and Aleri.”

Djialkan disappeared through the doorway before I could protest further, leaving me to sigh in frustration alone in the kitchen. I grimaced and then set my tea down so that I could pile a few slices of ham on a biscuit as breakfast, then nibbled at my food as I headed back upstairs in search of Alala and clothing. The fluffball was easy enough to find—she was already awake and running around my room recklessly, jumping on and off nearly every surface her dainty paws could reach.

‘You’re supposed to be a nocturnal creature… How do you have so much energy in the morning?!’ I watched the fox for a moment and then shook my head. With a small motion of my free hand I summoned my clothing trunks from a shrizar and let them drop to the floor. “Alala, we’re going to the academy and I need something formal to wear. What do you think, hmmm? Our choices already have Nalithor suspicious that I’m dressing for him.”

‘Not that I can genuinely deny it,’ I added to myself, stuffing the remainder of my sandwich into my mouth. ‘Getting a reaction out of him is fun, even if he’s still difficult to deal with. Though…it would be nice to know what he actually thinks.

‘I can’t very well study cultural tomes while overseeing his class though, can I? Damn it!’

I nibbled one of my fingers while thinking back on the past few days, unsure what to think. Soon enough my mind went back to the last time he’d kissed me, causing my face to grow hot and my pulse to speed up. I shook my head, hard, and then turned to rifle through my dresser in search of undergarments. This was no time for me to dwell on the Adinvyr or his antics.

‘Humph, something must be wrong with me. I shouldn’t miss his attentions.’ I yanked my undergarments on while cursing under my breath. ‘Least of all the phantom groping. That was just a sign of his hunger, right? So…why did it stop?’

I paused, frowning. Had it truly stopped? He seemed to be appearing in my dreams more and more frequently as of late, yet I couldn’t recall feeling him reaching for me in his sleep anymore. At the very least, if he was, it was nowhere near as strong or often as when I was still in X’shmir. Since coming Below, all of his attention seemed focused on me only when we were physically near each other.

‘I’m over-thinking it.’ I shook my head. ‘We’re practically on the same schedule now. I’m probably asleep if and when he’s reaching for me.’

Alala’s teeth suddenly sank into my ankle, making me yowl and refocus my thoughts on the devilish little creature. I growled at her and she geckered back at me, fur standing on end. She moved to bite me again and I danced out of reach.

What, ‘lala?! You have my attention!”

She warbled at me and pranced over to a pile of clothes she’d dragged from one of the chests, causing me to sigh. The shimmering pile of black and blue satin she’d pulled out was hardly formal as far as I was concerned. It would put a great deal of skin, especially my cleavage, on display. The plunging neckline would reveal at least a third of each breast, and a slit down on side of the skirt would reveal my leg to the hip—and the black outer layer didn’t cover much more. The gradated sky blue-to-cobalt fabric was gorgeous, that I couldn’t deny, but I had to question how it was an appropriate choice when “formal” had been specified.

“You’re trying to pique his interest in me aren’t you, Alala?” I put a hand on my hip and looked at the warbling fox. “I hope you know what you’re doing… Wearing this, I’ll have to switch to armor if anyone wants to fight me!”

I dressed quickly and pulled on a pair of thigh-high leather boots to go with the dress, followed by a hooded leather overrobe. After pulling my hair into a loose bun and flipping up the hood, Alala leapt up my torso, onto my shoulder, and settled around the back of my neck. Her nose just barely stuck out of my hood. I just laughed at her, shook my head, and then made my way downstairs.

Djialkan was right about one thing at least; the rain was making everything cold. And dark. With the clouds blotting out the light from the stars and triple moons, our only sources of light were the glowing plants scattered about the city and the blue-white Magitech lamps lining the roads. I glanced around and scanned the Sapphire Quarter for a moment. The crystalline roads had a dim glow as well, but it seemed as if the majority of the light cast throughout the district came from the plants growing everywhere.

‘Even with the lamps lining the street, and the fixtures on the buildings…’ I pursed my lips and stepped off the porch into the pouring rain. ‘I wonder, do they have so much greenspace in Dauthrmir because of how much light the plants provide?’

While making my way toward the academy I wrinkled my nose, catching a set of unfamiliar and unpleasant scents in the air. The honeysuckle stench of that Elven bitch, Illyana, was mingled with a few new ones—one of which made me bristle. I frowned upon pulling open the main door to the academy; the smell was even stronger here.

A receptionist greeted me in the lobby and directed me in the direction of Nalithor’s classroom. I mumbled my thanks to him and strode off in the direction of the nearest staircase.

‘Surprise, surprise.’ I rolled my eyes, clicking through the hallways with my hood still up. ‘At this rate I’ll have to have his students call me as “Professor” as well. Granted, it did seem unlikely that someone else would’ve requested my presence.

‘Djialkan could have just said it was Nalithor. Tch.

Maric and a handful of other soldiers stood guard outside of Nalithor’s classroom. They turned and saluted or otherwise bowed to me in silence as I approached. That unpleasant scent was even stronger here, as was the stench of that Elven bitch. Darius’ escort looked more on-edge than normal, but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for me to inquire.

‘How are you this morning, Darius?’ I paused outside the door.

‘Better…I hate having an escort,’ Darius muttered. ‘They even have to come with me to the bathroom! I-I know it’s necessary, but it really sucks. And the political talks… Well, you saw how they acted yesterday. I can’t believe the Vorpmasians didn’t just kill our delegates.

‘The Vorpmasian Royal Families aren’t as violent as I thought they’d be.’

‘I see,’ I murmured, crossing my arms. ‘They must really respect Nalithor if they’re restraining themselves.’

“She clearly requires more schooling, Nalithor,” A male voice argued from somewhere beyond the door, making me frown again. This new voice sounded much like Nalithor, except not as deep and with no accent to speak of. “I am aware that she jeopardized one of her comrades during your missing, but I cannot think of anyone better to teach her to tame her darkness.”

“You don’t ‘tame’ darkness,” I interjected, nudging the classroom doors open. “Darkness is an untamable, capricious substance. Accepting and taming are two very different things.”

The man conversing with Nalithor confused me. A simple glance between the two was enough to determine they were closely related. I frowned within my hood while examining this new male. He stood several inches shorter than Nalithor, and looked a little younger. His hair was bright electric blue and shoulder-length, and hung in layers. His eyes were molten romance and gradated to crimson around his slit pupils. He wore pompous burgundy, gold, and garnet attire and, by the way they hung off his form, I could tell he was more slender than Nalithor.

What perplexed me most was that this unfamiliar, unpleasant-smelling man had no horns, no tail, no claws, and no black scleras. He looked more like an oddly-colored Elf than anything.

‘Burgundy and gold… Beshulthien colors?’ My gaze shifted between the two men a few more times.

“Arianna, you haven’t reverted to X’shmiran ways have you?” Nalithor asked with concern as I turned to shut the classroom doors behind me. When I turned to face him again, his worried expression was soon replace by laughter. “Is that… Ahahaha, Alala, what are you doing there?”

“She didn’t want to get rained on either,” I replied dryly, lowering my hood. Alala leapt from my shoulder and over to Nalithor’s. Shaking my head, I pivoted in place to examine the class for a moment. There were several new Elven students among the usual ones, along with Illyana, and they had all taken to glaring at me already.

“So this is the fine young woman that my servants are so displeased with.” The unfamiliar man remarked, taking several steps toward me. A fake warm smile formed on his face as he offered me a hand. “I hope you will forgive them. My name is Rabere Inej Derkesthai. I’m the Emperor of Beshulthien.”

“Don’t tell me this tiny bitch has your interest too, Your Excellency!” Illyana exclaimed, slamming her palms down on her desk. She appeared oblivious to the fact that even my brother, of all people, growled at her.

“I really should skin you,” I murmured, making a small motion with my left hand. Darkness gripped the woman’s wrists and ankles and hoisted her high above the classroom while I examined her. “Then again, I could simply quarter you. But…hmmm. I don’t think Djialkan or Alala would be interested in what little meat you have to offer.

“Quite the scrawny one, aren’t you?”

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of bed, my dear?” Nalithor purred from his seat, smirking when I shot him a look. “My brother here seems to believe that we should allow Illyana to attend our class.”

‘Brother?’ I glanced at Rabere. ‘Now I’m even more confused! He doesn’t have any Devillian features!’

“I rather dislike being ignored, Your Highness,” Rabere spoke in a conversational tone, placing his hand on my shoulder. He released a ripple of pathetic, foul-smelling magic in a poor attempt to make me comply. “Kindly put my servant down.”

Instead of obliging him, I turned and grabbed him by the wrist, tossing him face-first into the floor. I planted one of my stiletto heels on his spine and twisted his arm back at an unpleasant angle. Rabere’s “servants” let out angry shrieks. Nalithor, however, rose to his feet and walked around the side of his desk, an amused expression on his face.

“And I rather dislike being touched without permission!” I snapped hotly, twisting Rabere’s arm further for emphasis. “‘Kindly’ keep your hands and your power to yourself, or I’ll decide adding you to my list of prey is worth the hassle!”

“Now, now.” Nalithor chuckled, running his hands down my sides before scooping me into his arms. He promptly turned and carried me toward his desk. “As you can see, Rabere, she’s immune to Vampiric ‘charms’ as well, not just those of the Adinvyr.

“You can’t simply command her to release Illyana.”

“Yet she allows you to handle her like that?” Rabere countered with disdain as he pulled himself to his feet. He motioned to his brother as he set me down. “That crest… Don’t tell me you’ve claimed her as your goddess already? Isn’t that a little quick for an Adinvyr?”

“Unlike you, he has permission to touch me!” I bristled, pulling off my coat. Biting back curses, I hung my coat on the rack behind Nalithor’s desk and then turned to examine both the Vampire Emperor and the uneasy students alike. “Now, you should explain to me why I shouldn’t rip Illyana-tyir to shreds.”

“I was so easily bested by a woman wearing something like that?” Rabere sighed, his eyes drifting down to my cleavage. His open ogling elicited a threatening snarl from Nalithor. “Judging by my older brother’s growling, he must have claimed you.

“Nalithor, she’s clearly itching to kill Illyana. Why isn’t she also a student?”

“As if she could do anything to an Elven Princess of Beshulthien!” Illyana snapped. The corner of my eye twitched when I broke into a scowl. “That she has yet to do anything other than hold me here just goes to prove that she is a weak little cunt just like I—”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Nalithor chuckled, moving in front of me. He caught both of my wrists when I went to motion the Elf into oblivion, a smile nestled on his face. “You have more self-control than that, Reiz’tar, and I won’t have you ruining such delicious attire with that creature’s blood.”

The amused Adinvyr brought one of my hands up to his lips and kissed my knuckles before releasing me and turning to look at his brother. The contemptuous glare he settled on Rabere sent a shiver down my spine—I didn’t want anyone, let alone Nalithor, to ever look at me like that. “Rabere, I recommend answering Arianna’s question.

“As for why she isn’t a student… It is because she has the necessary control and acceptance over her elements to be an Archmagi. You see, this is the princess that has been sparring with me so evenly.”

‘Darius, are they brothers by blood? Do you know?’ I stretched my barriers around my twin’s mind as well, watching as both Nalithor and Rabere twitched. Both of them shot me wary looks, unable to listen in.

‘Technically…yes,’ Darius replied uneasily, watching as the brothers returned to glaring at each other. ‘A few decades ago, Rabere sought power. He wanted to surpass Nalithor. From what I understand, this was before Nali even became a god.

‘Rabere was tricked by an Exiled God and made into the First Vampire. Xander was the first person that crossed paths with the new, very hungry, Vampire. The Emperor’s panic when he realized what he’d done resulted in Xander becoming the Second Vampire. Unfortunately for them, the Exiled Gods were having fun at Rabere’s expense. Vampires are weaker than any of the Devillian races and require blood to feed. They can’t live off of anything else.

‘Even as a racial deity, Rabere was still weaker than Nalithor. Once Nalithor became a god, a little over twenty years ago, it only served to further the gap. Adding insult to injury, Devillians can’t be turned, and their blood is poison to Vampires.’

I shot my brother a look—I wasn’t expecting such a thorough answer. Perhaps he’d been studying, at least some, after all.

“There’s only one woman you’ve ever called ‘Reiz’tar’.” Rabere eyed his brother wearily. “She is your goddess, then? With those Brands and that Crest…

“Illyana! Why do you want to kill Arianna-jiss?”

“Because I’m an Elven princess! Nalithor should be mine!” Illyana snapped, somehow maintaining her haughty visage while squirming in the grip of my darkness. “That some little Human whore could be considered more worthy than me to work with him is unfathomable! As an Elf, I am more suited to—”

I rolled my eyes at the Elf and perched on the edge of Nalithor’s desk, examining Illyana in an attempt to determine just what was making me so angry. She didn’t even register as a threat to me. Even before she opened her mouth to speak, her mere presence was enough to make my blood boil and my pulse pound. Ripping her into tiny little pieces sounded like an excellent idea, and she was only making it worse by acting as if she had rights to my Nalithor.

‘She’s on Chaos Beast blood,’ I remarked, prodding Nalithor with the thought while I continued to track the struggling Elf. Tilting my head, I tapped my foot against the air as if listening to music. ‘I don’t see or smell any changes in her… But could that be part of why she’s so unreasonable?

‘It seems like Elves don’t like Humans much, sure, but her fellow servants—and your Elven students—are nowhere near this belligerent.’

“You…are looking at her like she’s food.” Rabere frowned, his tone nervous. He winced when I glanced at him, and raised his hands as if in defeat.

“Arianna,” Nalithor began with a devious chuckle. He placed his hands flat on the desk to either side of my hips and leaned down to look me in the eye. “Are you certain? If you’re correct, this would be an excellent chance to educate our students, don’t you think?”

“I’m certain.” I pouted when Nalithor chuckled again and pressed his lips to my cheek briefly. “I wouldn’t want to kill her this badly unless there was something wrong with her. On her own she’s just a buzzing insect.”

“Rabere, sit down,” Nalithor commanded, motioning toward a smattering of empty chairs by a wall. “Over there somewhere is fine.

“Arianna, cut her.”

Without hesitation I summoned a blade of ice and used a tendril of shadow to wield it, slashing Illyana’s wrist. Bright red blood, tainted with tendrils of oily brown, streamed down her skin and to the floor. The Vampire released a displeased hiss in response to the sight, or perhaps the scent, of the woman’s fouled blood. However, most of our students simply looked confused. I drew the bitch to the front of the classroom and dangled her there so the students wouldn’t need to crane their necks.

‘You really are such a good girl—when you want to be.’ Nalithor teased, trailing his claws along my exposed thigh. “What you’re seeing, class, is the beginnings of corruption caused by beast blood. The blood of Chaos Beasts bas been gaining popularity as a drug over the past century, and is highly addictive.

“After too much consumption, the ‘host’ begins taking on aspects of beasts—eventually their blood completely turns. Once their blood is tainted in full, the only remaining option is to kill them; thus Arianna-jiss’s desire to kill Illyana.

“Beast blood makes it difficult to control oneself. Power, emotions, desires… It’s all subject to the whims of the vile blood they’ve consumed.”

‘Can you show them what a corrupted Angel looks like?’ Nalithor asked, squeezing my thigh.

With a simple motion of my left hand I conjured a statue of ice in the shape of the first corrupted Angel that came to mind—the bastard I had seen so many times while in Limbo. I felt Nalithor tense in response and, for a moment, I wondered if I should have chosen a different likeness instead. I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to figure out just who I was…but it was too late to change the statue now. I bit back my panic and focused my attention on the startled students instead, watching as they shrieked and scrambled away.

Alala bristled and geckered at the statue from Nalithor’s shoulder, but a few pats from the Adinvyr hushed her.

“Would you like to look like that, Illyana?” I tilted my head and examined the Elf’s mortified expression. “I can’t claim to be familiar with Elven beauty standards, but I’d imagine that this would at least fall short.”

“Why would anyone take a drug that does that to them?!” Darius demanded in disbelief.

I glanced at my stunned twin and arched an eyebrow; that was the first thing he thought to ask?

“It’s an illegal method of boosting one’s power,” Rabere replied uneasily, examining his captured servant. “It’s popular among species that have little to no magical power. It enhances physical strength as well as amplifying spells. However, it is also insanely addictive—to a point that most people who resort to it are ‘corrupted’ in a single sitting.”

“You should take Illyana to healers who are capable of cleansing minor corruption,” Nalithor pointed out with a dismissive wave, earning an angry glare from his younger brother. “Arianna and I have a class to teach, and this one hates it when our class is interrupted.”

Nalithor nuzzled into the side of my neck, smirking, and made a show of trailing his claws down the front of my throat. For some reason, Rabere looked incredibly pissed and rushed to collect the Elven bitch before storming out. The playful Adinvyr released a devious chuckle and nipped at my skin before standing up tall and returning his attention to instructing the class.

‘I don’t like how he was looking at me,’ I informed Nalithor, huffing as I watched him stride away from me and to an assortment of instruments at the back of the classroom. ‘I assume you didn’t deny his questioning for a reason?’

‘Having you as my goddess isn’t an unpleasant notion.’ Nalithor shot me a smirk over his shoulder. ‘That aside, if he believes you haven’t been claimed, he is liable to steal you away to Beshulthien and attempt to turn you into one of his Vampire whores. I don’t intend to let that happen.

‘He lost all of his instincts as an Adinvyr upon becoming a Vampire. He is incapable of determining whether or not you’ve been claimed.’

“Nalithor-zir,” one of our usual Elven students spoke shyly, holding up a familiar trinket. “W-would you accept this? I heard that Draemiran warriors often adorn their weapons for luck.”

‘That looks like…’ I stared at the large platinum charm, taking in the crystals and intertwined scraps of brocade. ‘It’s very similar to what Corentine did with my crystal. If it’s for luck, why is the girl so nervous—and why does Corentine want me to keep mine hidden?’

“You have only heard half of the tale, then.” Nalithor shook his head. “I’m afraid I cannot accept.”

The young woman looked equal parts confused and crestfallen as Nalithor turned and continued about his task of distributing small instruments to each of his students. Before I could get a better look at the charm, the Elf had tucked it away and out of sight. I had seen many soldiers in Dauthrmir, thus far, with similar trinkets fastened to the shafts or hilts of their weapons. However, I was still unsure of their significance—luck made sense to me, but Nalithor’s rejection and Corentine’s warnings struck me as strange.

I could only assume that the Elf’s gift was very inappropriate.

‘Half the tale?’ I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me. Nalithor paused, his tail swishing a few times.

‘I’m unsure of what I could compare it to in X’shmiran culture,’ he finally replied in a dry tone. ‘There are different types with different meanings. While they are all meant to bring luck, the style indicates whether it was given by family or by a lover.

‘Seeing as she is neither, it isn’t appropriate for me to accept. Did I seem cold?’

‘No, I was just curious,’ I replied, glancing at the pouting girl and then to Nalithor’s back. ‘I noticed that quite a few of your men have similar adornments on their blades. It hadn’t occurred to me that there might be some deep significance behind them.’

‘Do you not have similar traditions in X’shmir?’ Nalithor asked, glancing at me over his shoulder curiously.

‘I can’t think of anything comparable, no,’ I answered after a moment of contemplation. ‘Humans don’t often put thought into the gifts they give each other, and X’shmiran culture isn’t complex by any stretch.’

‘That dress of yours is distracting, you know,’ Nalithor commented, his abrupt change of topic causing me to arch an eyebrow at him and the new rhythm his tail had adopted. ‘For a moment I thought that I was going to have to fight my brother for you.’

‘If he tries to use his power on me again I will kill him.’ I huffed, crossing one leg over the other. ‘I get the distinct feeling that he isn’t the sibling you’re protective over.’

‘I have three more younger brothers, and a younger sister.’ Nalithor laughed. ‘Rabere was disowned by our parents and cast out of Vorpmasia for what he did. The Elders’ own convoluted laws are the only reason he was raised to the status of a Lesser God instead of executed.

‘Accepting an offer from, or working with, an Exiled God is usually a death sentence.’

‘I find it a little strange that he couldn’t determine whether I’m a goddess, or if you had “claimed” me—as you both put it.’ I frowned, crossing my arms while I thought. ‘You say that he lost his instincts as an Adinvyr, but shouldn’t a god be able to determine whether or not someone else is also a deity?’

‘He also couldn’t determine if your brother is a god—only that he has a great deal of magic,’ Nalithor stated, shooting me an amused smile. ‘You and Darius have more power than I think you realize.

‘As far as the matter of “claiming” goes… Even if you and I were lovers, and had exchanged power as is common among Devillian couples, it isn’t something a Vampire would be capable of sensing. It would take a collar around one of our throats to make it clear to him, and even then my brother thinks more similarly to Humans and Elves on that matter.’

‘Let me guess—he thinks that submissives are there to be shared and used by the dominant’s friends and whoever else?’ I rolled my eyes, watching as Nalithor grimaced and his tail snapped into the floor.

I do not share. But most non-Adinvyr dominants I have met seem to delight in the practice! Nalithor’s venomous tone and snapping tail made it difficult for me to hold back my laughter. ‘You seem terribly amused.’

‘I share your distaste,’ I offered, still attempting to refrain from giggling at him. ‘It’s just highly amusing when you speak about something with so much concept. Generally you’re quite calm by comparison.

‘You mentioned Adinvyr specifically—is this a quirk shared by your kind?’

‘Ah…’ Nalithor crossed his arms, his expression thoughtful as he strode towards me. ‘Plural relationships are not frowned on in my culture, though they are not what I, personally, desire. Due to our nature as Adinvyr, such relationships are incredibly complex.

‘The problem that most of us have is this concept of…sharing. Humans and Elves, in particular, seem so keen on sharing with friends or strangers who are outside of the relationship. I struggle to understand the appeal. Adinvyr are possessive over whoever their partner—or partners—are.’

“Professor, will Arianna-jiss be taking over our classes while you’re in Draemir?” One of the Rylthra students questioned, leaning forward in his seat.

I tilted my head and shot Nalithor a questioning look. ‘Draemir?’

“Ahhh… Thank you for reminding me.” Nalithor chuckled. He swept toward me and gripped my chin once in range, lifted my face toward his as a smirk settled across his features. “Arianna, can I convince you to accompany me to Draemir? Our spring festivities are stretched over the next few weeks, and I would enjoy your presence there.”

“We’d love to, right, Ari?” Darius called out cheerfully. I grinned when Nalithor twitched and casted an irritated look at my brother from the corner of his eyes.

“The invitation is for Arianna only, Darius. You have a great deal of schoolwork to attend to!” Nalithor bristled, shooting my twin another look. “Besides, I’m uncertain of whether you could handle the culture shock.”

“I wasn’t aware I was allowed outside Dauthrmir’s borders,” I remarked, drawing Nalithor’s attention back to me. “I was under the impression that I had to stay here until my exam results are back, at the very least.”

“You would be in my care.” Nalithor smirked again.

“And which one of us is supposed to be keeping which out of trouble, exactly?” I arched an eyebrow at him as his tail slithered around my thigh. “However, I’d be delighted to go if I’m allowed.”

“I’ll have to keep a close eye on you while we’re there…” Nalithor murmured absentmindedly before leaning in and planting a soft kiss on my lips, much to the dismay of the students and my brother. “It wouldn’t do to have anyone trying to steal you from me, now would it?”

‘A-Ari…is he implying what I think he’s implying?’ Darius blinked, looking between me and Nalithor with a startled expression on his face even as the Adinvyr in question moved away to oversee the students once more. ‘I-I know he said he didn’t like men, but…he just kissed you and—

‘Darius, focus on your task or you’re going to hurt something—or someone.’ I pointed at the small metal object in his hands.

‘Your brother is bothering you again?’ Nalithor questioned while weaving between desks. He chuckled and reached up to scratch Alala’s chin as she hissed at my twin. ‘I suppose Alala thinks so, at any rate.’

‘He was asking me if “you’re implying what he thinks you’re implying”,’ I offered, glancing around the room. ‘I must say, after that, it doesn’t look like any of them can focus on the task you gave them.

‘Granted, my focus is a little lacking at the moment as well…’

‘Alala mentioned that Djialkan didn’t let you get breakfast.’ Nalithor motioned at the riding on his shoulder. ‘With my brother lurking in the city, I’m not inclined to let you wander off without me to escort you.’

I arched an eyebrow at him. A lack of breakfast was hardly the reason I was struggling to focus. He was to blame, yet he seemed oblivious.

‘Strangely, I agree with you about the escort.’ I bit back a grimace. ‘I don’t like the way he or his magic smells. That said, a lack of food isn’t why—’

‘I’ll have someone from The Little Orchid bring you food, Nalithor stated with a smile, turning to return to the front of the class. He walked over and lifted me off his desk, then placed me in his chair instead. ‘You are a little too distracting for all of us when sitting there like that, my dear.

‘Distracting, huh?’ I pondered, falling into silence as I settled into the oversized chair. Sighing, I crossed my legs and let my mind wander off. ‘With how good he smells it’s almost impossible for me to focus properly!

Frowning, I contemplated the events of the past few weeks. Something about this place seemed to prod along the desires I thought I had managed to suffocate so long ago. I wanted to taste Nalithor’s blood again so much that it hurt, and that was one of the more tame desires that had been running through my mind as of late. The fact that Adinvyr could sense lustful thoughts still made me hesitate, but there was no denying my libido wanted to spin out of control just as badly as my bloodlust did—if not more so.

‘Ari, you look like you’re going to take a bite out of Nali!’ Darius snapped, causing my face to flush as I refocused my thoughts. ‘You really have been spending too much time around the Devillians, haven’t you?’

‘I don’t think it’s that…’ I grumbled, shifting to switch which legs were crossed. ‘Have you had any unusual urges while around these people? You’ve spent more time with a broader variety of non-Humans here than I have.’

‘Unusual… I don’t think so,’ Darius commented with a frown. ‘I’ve never really been cautious about such things though. I haven’t had to be.’

‘What has you so distracted, hmmm?’ Nalithor suddenly spun the chair around so that the back of it was to the students. He looked down at me with an amused expression. ‘You were regrettably unresponsive when I attempted to get your attention…and you are rather flushed, Arianna.

‘Is your brother angering you again, or…?’

I just looked up at Nalithor for a moment, startled and unsure of what to say. Actually telling him what Darius and I had been discussing seemed…embarrassing.

‘I still want to skin the foul-mouthed healers that oversaw my examinations the other day, and I still can’t stand the presence of those X’shmiran bastards!’ I huffed the first excuse that came to mind as Nalithor reached down and tilted my chin around as if looking for something wrong.

‘Foul-mouthed? You must have met Rylda and Rymia.’ Nalithor chuckled, running his thumb over my lips. ‘They used to work for the Vraelimir Family—I can imagine that they must have been quite troublesome.’

‘They seemed convinced that, because I’m Human, I would scamper off and breed with everything!’ I bristled and crossed my arms, growling. ‘That was before they saw my blood is black, but it still pisses me off.

‘Those two have an intense dislike for Humans,’ Nalithor offered with an amused smile, finally releasing my chin. ‘Humans are notorious for being disloyal, and the two of them learned the truth of it the hard way. They are likely concerned about what your intentions are whilst in Vorpmasia.

‘You don’t strike me as the disloyal sort…but then, you aren’t very Human either.’

“If you don’t hurry, you are all going to be late for your next class,” Nalithor spoke in a loud, firm voice. He straightened to glare at the students over the back of the chair and, moments later, I heard papers rustling and students rushing to obey.

I spent most of the following hours in silence, eating breakfast and then observing the remainder of Nalithor’s classes. Something seemed to have changed about the way his students looked at me but, for the life of me, I couldn’t determine what. I had managed to keep my mind off of lusty thoughts for the most part, so I didn’t think it was that. Even so, the way some of them looked at me made me concerned that my thoughts during “playtime” might have escaped my barriers after all.

‘When do we need to leave for Draemir?’ I asked, watching the last class of the day trickle out the door.

‘I’m required to leave for Draemir tomorrow,’ Nalithor began in a contemplative tone. ‘You can either leave with me tomorrow, or wait until the festival is close to starting in earnest. That would be a week and a half from now.

‘Despite my role as a god, I am still considered a prince in Draemir—and expected to act as one. My parents wish for me to fulfill my duties whilst there…and they are quite curious about you.

‘Me? Why me?’ I blinked up at him as he offered me a hand up.

‘They are started by my pledge to conquer X’shmir for you.’ Nalithor smiled, pulling me to my feet and into his chest. ‘Seeing as I’ve never seen fit to conquer for someone before… Perhaps they are concerned that you’ve cast a spell on me, hmmm?’

‘I dislike the sound of “princely duties”,’ I informed him with a small growl, prodding his chest. ‘Sounds like boring political dinners with cock-hungry noblewoman who are too—’

‘You are correct.’ Nalithor laughed. He released me and pulled my overrobe from the nearby rack and offered it to me with a grin. ‘As my guest, you are allowed to claim exclusive rights to my attention if you desire…but I can’t promise that you won’t be challenged for that right.’

‘So you have to rely on me to rescue you?’ I smirked at him and shrugged on my overrobe.

‘I don’t expect you to rescue me,’ Nalithor replied, slipping his arms around me. He leaned down and nuzzled into my shoulder, sighing. ‘In fact…if you don’t desire me, it would be quite inappropriate for you to “rescue” me.

‘Regardless, there are some duties I must attend to that you can’t pull me away from, such as my role as a general. Seeing as you are not my partner, I am not permitted to drag you into such affairs. Draemir differs from Dauthrmir in that regard..

‘And we won’t know who my partner is for a while yet since my tests weren’t rushed?’ I offered in understanding, pausing as Nalithor nuzzled me again. ‘I get the feeling that this will be quite the learning experience.

‘Still, I see no reason to wait. I’ll admit that I’m curious to learn more about you and Draemir—and this seems like a prime opportunity to do so.’

‘You would like to learn more about me?’ Nalithor questioned, intrigued, as he pulled me to the door and led me down the winding hallways of the academy. ‘With the way you’ve been watching me all day, I was expecting you to say that you wish to take a bite out of me.

‘Though, I must admit, I’ve been concerned that you may have found yourself a lover already. You have been quite distracted.’

‘A…?’ I shook my head and burst into disbelieving laughter. ‘No. Don’t you think I would have kicked your ass for kissing me if I had found someone?’

‘It’s difficult to believe that no one else is at least pursuing you. Nalithor frowned at me, concerned.

‘I think they’re all scared of me,’ I replied dryly, placing one hand on my hip. Motioning with my free hand, I continued, ‘You’re the only one that’s proved worthy of my interest, anyway. I— What? What’s the surprised look for?’

‘You aren’t going to make me jump through elaborate hoops to prove myself?’ Nalithor asked, curious, as he stopped and turned to examine me. ‘Most women would require… Ah, but I suppose you aren’t “most women” are you?’

‘I would like to think I’m not…’ I tilted my head. ‘You treat me like a person and not like a “thing”—perhaps even as an equal. You’ve also shown me that you’re more than capable both as a warrior and as a sparring partner. Perhaps you’re a bit of a tease…but I can’t really say that’s a bad thing.

‘Still, I do wonder why both you and Darius think I was considering taking a bite…’

‘You’re a very predatory woman, Arianna.’ Nalithor smiled, slipping his arm around me once more. ‘Now then, I will see you home and make sure my brother doesn’t intend to sink his fangs into you. I might say to the hells with the Elders’ laws and kill him myself if he lays finger or fang on you.

‘I will come fetch you in the morning so that we may depart.’

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