Chapter Twenty-Eight: Filthy Rats!
I stumbled through the house, grumbling to myself, while making my way to the kitchen. Everything seemed like too much effort this morning, but I’d managed to pull on training clothes at least. Researching the beasts had taken longer than expected, so I hadn’t gotten to return to the house until the wee hours of the morning. Nalithor and I hadn’t made much headway the prior night. I planned to seek the Adinvyr out later—after taking out my frustration on training dummies.
‘Tea, tea, I need tea…’ I held my forehead in one hand for a moment and winced when the kitchen’s Magelights blinded me temporarily. ‘What’s that noise…?’
Frowning, I looked around the kitchen in search of what was making the muffled sounds. There was no one there, but the sound itself was familiar. A chill shot down my spine when I realized it was Darius. If I could hear him sobbing from the kitchen, he was either nearby or he was severely distressed. I grit my teeth and strode out of the kitchen to look for my brother.
‘I know that sound.’ I clenched my fists, struggling to quell my bubbling anger. ‘What made him snap? Are his professors or therapists pushing him too hard? Did something happen while I was gone last night?’
“A-Ari!” Darius wailed at me when I rounded a corner. “I-I don’t wanna!”
“Don’t want…to what?” I shielded my eyes, waiting for them to adjust to the golden and while light swirling around my brother. It cut through the otherwise comfortable darkness in our house like blade, making me bristle. ‘Ugh, his light… I hate it. I want to snuff it out. It feels like—’
“O-our parents are here f-for some reason!” Darius shrieked. “I-I’m expected to come and m-meet with them and t-the Vorpmasians in an hour!”
Time stopped, my blood running cold. Shivers ran through my body and my skin prickled into waves of goosebumps. What were they doing in Vorpmasia? Why was Darius’ presence required? Hadn’t the Vorpmasians claimed that they would keep Darius separated from the bastards?”
‘Can I… Can I get away with killing them here?’ I bit down on my lower lip, shivering while I considered it. ‘No, no. Unlikely…’
“A-Ari?” Darius’ whimper snapped me out of it, making me turn to look at him. “Y-you’ll come with me right? D-don’t leave me alone w-with those—”
“Didn’t you just say you don’t want to go?” I blinked at him as he scrambled out of the corner and clung to my leg. His tear-stained face soaked my pant leg. “Darius…”
I sighed and placed a hand on Darius’ head, patting his curls while he sobbed. The light swirling around him hissed and retreated away from my hand, slinking away to observe from afar. As much as I hated the light… I still hated those people more. Darius was my only sibling, light affinity or not, and those people had hurt him so many times. It was unforgivable.
‘Did Nalithor know they were coming here?’ I gnawed on the inside of my cheek. ‘I think he would tell me if he knew, but…’
“I-I need to go b-because it’s really important to the treaty between X’shmir and Vorpmasia!” Darius’ grip on my leg grew painfully tight while he continued to shake, small sobs wracking his body. “I-I know t-the Vorpmasians said they’d keep my s-safe b-but…”
“You want me to come along and look imposing?” I sighed, patting his head again. “And if I…lose control and kill them?”
“Nali will stop you!” Darius exclaimed, shaking his head.
‘Nalithor is just as likely to lose it and kill them as I am… I think.’ I grimaced, my shoulders slumping. ‘If he hasn’t killed him already, there must be some reason. Right? They represent so many things that he loathes. I doubt he would leave them alive without good reason.’
“Let’s get dressed then, Darius,” I relented, tugging gently at his curls. “You’re still in your pajamas, and I’m in my training clothes. I’m sure you need to wear formal refinery, right? And, if I’m going to look imposing, I’ll need to change too.”
Darius hesitated before releasing my leg and pulling himself to his feet. He mumbled his acceptance and retreated to his room to get dressed. I let out a shaky sigh and then turned to stalk back upstairs. Darkness swirled around my bare feet as I padded down the hallway and into my rooms. Both Alala and Djialkan both jerked awake when I slammed the door.
“You look murderous,” Djialkan spoke, lifting his head to watch me as I summoned trunks of clothing from my shrizar. “What are you looking for?”
“The X’shmiran filth are at the palace,” I snapped, opening one of the trunks to rummage through it. “I’m escorting Darius. I need something that makes me look imposing.”
Alala ran under the bed and geckered at the shadows around my feet, while Djialkan simply flew over to perch on my shoulder. If I was going to have to deal with those fucking bastards from X’shmir, then I was going to make myself look like a goddess of death. I wouldn’t be satisfied until their heads were rolling at my feet but, for now, I would have to be content with frightening them.
“Nalithor will have to subdue you if you do not calm down,” Djialkan warned me, nudging my cheek with his snout. “Alala says that you should dress like one of the Vorpmasians, not as a X’shmiran. I agree with her.”
I paused mid-reach for a X’shmiran robe and cut my eyes to the side at my companions, “Dauthrmiran…or Draemiran?”
Alala scooted out from beneath the bed and pawed at the side of one of the unopened trunks. I flipped the lid open for her and then sat back on my heels to wait. She seemed like she had something in mind, so I allowed her to paw through the contents in peace. After a few moments, Alala pulled several items from the trunk and then yipped at me.
“You’re sure?” I arched an eyebrow.
“I agree with her.” Djialkan snorted and leapt off my shoulder, gliding over the curl up on the bed. “You had best hurry, lest Darius grow too skittish and leave without you.”
I nodded and pulled off my training clothes, replacing them with the partially armored robes that Alala had selected. The layers beneath the platinum-plated overrobe conformed to my curves and revealed a questionable amount of cleavage, but that had its own unique appeal to me at the given moment. I could piss off the X’shmirans while simultaneously flaunting my cleavage for Nalithor. It seemed like a win-win situation for me.
‘Oh for fucks sake!’ I snapped at myself while pulling on the clothing. ‘I should be focused on protecting Darius right now, not thinking about that delicious taste of Nalithor’s blood that I—’
Bristling, I bit my cheek hard and ground it between my teeth while I finished getting dressed.
The layers beneath the overrobe left my throat, cleavage, and shoulders bare because the embroidered fabric hung just off my shoulders. My leather overrobe covered my shoulders and swept around the outer section of my bust to clasp beneath my chest, framing my cleavage.
“Alala, are you trying to show me off?” I sighed, glancing over at the fox. She just pounced around in a circle on the floor, warbling the entire time. “Bah, whatever. I’m going to get going. Watch the house for me, you two.”
I swept downstairs with a smirk on my face and pinned up a portion of my hair while waking. My armored boots made a satisfying click on the floor with each step.
Darius was pacing around in the foyer and wringing his hands, his white, gold, and jade robes fluttering around him. Fear came off him in waves. His emerald eyes were wide with fear.
“S-still no mask?” Darius stuttered, looking up from the floor when I descended the last few steps. “D-don’t you think t-that will be a problem?”
“Why, I’m just abiding by our hosts’ traditions,” I replied innocently, placing a hand over my chest as if offended.
Darius cracked a smile and let out a nervous laugh before falling into step with me. The sweet morning air outside carried a chill that relieved me of my temper and bloodlust. However, the reprieve was brief. Darius’ sheer terror made my blood boil again in seconds.
The few people who crossed our path on the way to the palace all gave us a wide berth and shot me wary glances. I wondered if my anger was truly that palpable, or if my darkness had manifested around me again. Either way, it didn’t matter much to me. My least favorite type of monster was currently in Dauthrmir, yet I couldn’t hunt it. I had every right to be livid.
‘I don’t want to do this, Ari.’ Darius whimpered, clinging to my sleeve. His trembling grew worse with every step we took through the Sapphire Quarter. ‘Why are t-those people here and not in X’shmir? I thought they’d signed the treaty! I don’t wanna—’
‘It will be worse if we don’t go, right?’ I glanced to the side at Darius, having caught the sound of his teeth chattering. ‘Do you really think that the Dauthrmirans will just let the rats do as they please?’
‘N-no… But, what happens if they say something to piss the Dauthrmirans off?’ Darius’ grip on my arm clamp down hard, likely bruising me. ‘O-or worse, if they upset Nali. He’s…he’s higher ranking than Lucifer isn’t he? What’ll happen i-i-if…’
‘I actually kind of want to see him that pissed off…’ I kept the thought to myself before answering my twin. ‘Darius, calm down. There’s no point in worrying about what-if’s. We knew that they would probably have to come Below for political reasons at some point, and we also know that the Vorpmasians intend to keep you safe—and out of those bastard’s clutches.’
‘I-I feel terrible for it, but I wish Nali had j-just gone and conquered X’shmir without w-waiting for us to become Dauthrmiran citizens…’ Darius mumbled, startling me. ‘L-let’s hurry before I c-change my mind.’
Several of Nalithor and Eyrian’s men fell into step with us when we neared the palace gates, informing us that the generals had assigned them to work as Darius’ bodyguards for the day. I could tell a few of them were Astral Mages like Darius. The crisp stink of light affinity mages wore at my patience almost as much as the X’shmirans did.
My instincts revved into action when I sensed intense bloodlust channeled at my brother. Instead of speaking, I grabbed my brother by his shoulder and shoved him toward Maric. Darius yelped his confusion as darkness swept outward from me like a shockwave when I drew my scythe. ‘Filth. Human fucking filth. They really brought assassins with them to the palace?!’
“Keep Darius out of my way,” I commanded, spinning my scythe into position. Taking a deep breath, I let my vision blur and grow unfocused while I searched out the source of the bloodlust with my darkness. “Keep yourselves out of my way too while you’re at it.”
“G-General Black?” One of the younger soldiers stuttered, only to be hushed by Maric.
“Kill the witch, then kill him!” A manic voice screeched.
“Fool.” I spun my scythe behind me as my darkness snatched the voice’s owner.
A blood curdling scream ripped through the air when I dragged the assassin out of his hiding place. His blubbering grew more and more desperate as I strode across the grass toward them. I smiled at the bastard and then swung my blade through him at an angle, severing him from his shoulder to his opposite hip. Blood splashed across my skin, hair, and clothes. I didn’t care. There were more to kill.
“They always die too fast…” I tilted my head to the side, examining the severed corpse. “Oh well. Who wants to be next?”
‘Fear. I smell fear. Not Darius’.’ I glanced around, letting my darkness rush along the ground. ‘More… How many more? Hmmm, not enough to be interesting. I see.’
I swept across the courtyard and extended darkness into every nook and cranny I sensed. Eight. Eight more bastards needed to die. I ripped them out of hiding and dragged them into open view. My darkness hoisted them into the air around me in a circle while I smiled at them. Their terrified whimpering and begging sent a shiver down my spine. The poor fools didn’t understand what they had gotten themselves into.
“Who sent you?” I asked sweetly, leaning against my weapon. Looking between the filthy rats, I sighed; I was already bored. “Ah… Or have the King and Queen grown so dense that they’re willing to bring assassins here themselves?”
“Don’t talk!” One of the more ragged looking males snapped to another.
“O-ho?” I grinned savagely and turned to the ragged one, burying the tip of my scythe in his abdomen. He screamed in agony, which only served to make me twist it more. “Resistant ones? I like resistant ones. You’re more fun— Ah… You broke already.”
I sighed in disappointment and shook my head at the unconscious man. An upward swing of my blade cut him in half, my darkness releasing him. His comrades screamed in terror, several soiling themselves as they stared at the ruined corpse. ‘This is why I prefer beasts…they don’t break as easily.’
“J-just tell her what she wants to hear!” The sole female assassin screeched. “M-maybe she’ll hand us over to the D-Dauthrmirans and—”
“T-the king and queen sent us!” Another male offered hurriedly. “T-they said their heir h-has been tainted by the Devillian ways—”
“Lying? Really?’ I spun my scythe and rested it against my shoulder while I examined the man. ‘Unexpected…’
“W-we’ve all seen her face! We’re going to die anyway!” One howled in despair.
“Arianna-jiss, we’re going to be late at this rate,” Maric offered, his tone full of amusement. “We should get going. Do you want to capture them, or…?”
“They won’t talk,” I stated, watching with interest as the assassins began their struggle against my shadows anew. They spewed curses in the midst of their incoherent screaming, eyes wide with fear. ‘Die.’
With a few wide swings of my scythe I severed the assassins into several chunks each. Blood soaked my hair and clothes as I watched their remains drop to the ground, lifeless. My grip twitched when I considered tearing them into finer chunks, but the unpleasant smell of their vacated bowels and burst organs made me reconsider. I sighed, relaxing slightly now that their murderous presences were gone.
“A-Ari, aren’t you going to c-clean all of that off?” Darius yelped, shying away from my darkness as it flowed back to me. “Y-you’re—”
My brother cut himself off and turned to dry heave. Perhaps it was a good thing that we hadn’t stopped to have tea or breakfast before making our way here. Getting vomit out of Darius’ white clothing would have been an utter pain.
“No, I think it’s about time I made a fucking point to those ‘people’,” I replied coolly, stepping over a tangle of intestines and portions of severed limbs. “Maric, why are you laughing?”
“Some of our men were worried you wouldn’t be able to handle working with Devillians—especially one like Nalithor!” Maric slapped his thigh, delighted, as he howled with laughter. “You’re just as vicious as he can be!”
“I apologize, Arianna-jiss.” Another soldier snickered, tail snapping back and forth as he failed to restrain his laughter. “S-seeing a tiny thing like you do that is just—”
I rolled my eyes and placed one of my bloodied fists. “Yes, yes. A tiny ‘Human’ princess ravaging the bodies of her enemies has some entertainment value for your kind that I still fail to grasp.
“Didn’t you say we were going to be late? Let’s go.”
‘Tch. Human blood smells and tastes awful.’ I grimaced, spitting out a mouthful of blood.
When we entered the palace the servants grew pale and scurried away upon spotting my blood-coated body. Even a few of the Imperial Guard looked queasy, though I had a feeling it was because of the foul metallic scent of Human blood. I doubted any of Eyrian’s men would find the sight of blood and gore nauseating.
“Darius-zir, we will wait for you outside the throne room,” Maric informed my brother. “We have been ordered to accompany you everywhere until the X’shmiran king, queen, and their guests have left Vorpmasia.”
“W-what about Ari?” Darius whimpered, his gaze flicking to me as we came to a half in front of the throne room doors.
“Arianna-jiss will continue to work with General Vraelimir on a classified matter,” Maric stated in a rather formal tone, before pivoting to shoot me a crooked grin. “You sure you don’t want to clean up first, General?”
I nodded and shifted my attention to the ebony doors, tilting my head when I caught the sound of a vaguely familiar instrument. It sounded similar to a violin, and I had heard several songs on my headphones that used the same instrument. Though I didn’t know the name of the instrument, I did know that the way it was being used sounded much like the first time I heard Nalithor playing a violin in X’shmir. It had to be him playing the song. ‘Is he bored?’
“I apologize if we have offended you, Lucifer.” I heard Dilonu wheeze. “However, is the Umbral Mage’s presence here necessary? He wears neither a mask nor a hood!”
“Why would a god be among mortals?” Tyana added ever-so-helpfully. “Everyone knows that deities are ethereal beings!”
“A-Ari, don’t—” Darius groaned, covering his face with one hand when I grinned at the door.
“They’re really that dense?” Maric turned to look at me.
“Oh you don’t even know the half of it.” I laughed, finally dismissing my scythe.
“We understand that your gods are important to you of course, but we see no reason to erect temples to your gods in our city.” Dilonu continued. His tone made me want to roll my eyes.
“Ari—” Darius started, but it was too late.
“So!” I kicked the throne room doors open, leaving a bloody outline of my booted foot. “Which one of you fuckers sent assassins after Darius, hmmm?”
The air grew still when I strutted into the throne room with darkness swirling about my feet. I smirked at the X’shmiran royals and nobles while they shrieked and brought their hands up to cover their eyes. Several caught enough of a glimpse of my bloodied form to turn green. In contrast, the Devillians in the room—including the representatives of the Vorpmasian Families—appeared fascinated.
“What is the meaning of this?” Tyana shrieked, holding one hand over her eyes and pointing at me with the other. “Why is the whore without her mask?!”
I glanced toward the dais at the back of the throne room when the music abruptly ceased, and caught a glimpse of rippling rage cross Nalithor’s face. He shot the X’shmiran queen a murderous look but, lucky for her, she missed it. She likely would have pissed herself had she seen it. Several of the Vorpmasian royals shot Nalithor wary looks, but he seemed as if he didn’t notice.
“Darius,” Dilonu barked, making my twin flinch. “Explain yourself at once!”
“H-her mask was d-destroyed while hunting.” Darius whimpered, shrinking away from the bastard king. “S-since we’re in foreign lands, and she has no replacements, I thought it would b-be alright for her to adhere to t-their ways—”
“Arianna.” Nalithor’s firm, enraged demeanor made me to focus again on him with a startled expression, only to find he was already sweeping across the floor toward me. He left the stone frozen in his wake. “What is this about assassins?”
“Nine assassins were waiting for Darius and I in the courtyard.” I shook my head when my bloodlust threatened to rise again. “They were all from X’shmir. I—”
I fell silent when Nalithor grabbed my face in both of his hands and pulled me abruptly to him, making me brace myself against his chest. His skin was hot like fire, a stark contrast to the icy floor around us. I could feel his rage rippling through him beneath my hands. The expression in his eyes was so intense that I decided to remain silent, unsure of what to say. For the life of me, I couldn’t determine the source of his anger.
“S-she’s still a princess of X’shmir! Unhand her!” Tyana demanded.
“I don’t remember giving you permission to wear someone else’s blood.” Nalithor growled at me, swiping his thumb roughly across my lower lip. His muscles tensed and his tail snapped into the floor behind him, breaking both the ice and several of the stone tiles. “Such unworthy blood should be cleansed immediately.”
“Oh? I thought I was making a good point for them,” I murmured quietly in Draemiran, flicking my gaze to the X’shmirans and then back to the growling Adinvyr. “Are you going to let—”
Nalithor’s power slammed through me, ripping every last drop of blood from my skin, hair, and clothes. The Humans present shrieked and whimpered, cowering away from the wild darkness he had summoned. I simply remained silent and attempted to restrain myself. His power threatened to draw me in, sliding over every inch of my skin and dulling my awareness of the others present.
Once every trace of blood was gone, Nalithor’s pale eyes drifted down my form. His gaze was predatory and penetrating. I could hear my brother attempting to stutter some kind of excuse from behind me, but Darius couldn’t formulate a coherent thought. ‘Darius is concerned about what Nalithor might do?’
“She may be an Evil Mage, but she’s still the First Princess of X’shmir!” Dilonu bellowed. “Unhand her, Adinvyr.”
“The word you were looking for is ‘Rely’ric’, not ‘Adinvyr’. Unless you’re trying to die, that is.” I shot Dilonu a condescending look.
“F-Father, Nalithor-y’ric is a god!” Darius stressed, stomping one foot in indignation. “Arianna has been working with—”
‘Can you play along?’ Nalithor’s question made my turn my attention back to him.
‘They’re causing even more trouble than I thought?’ I asked as he traced my lower lip again.
‘That…and the fact that we shouldn’t kill them. Yet.’ Nalithor confirmed, his gaze drifting from my lips and down my throat to my cleavage.
‘I’ll play along but, if you keep looking at me like that, I’m going to grow worried,’ I replied dryly.
‘Their blood is unworthy of you,’ Nalithor reiterated with a growl, bristling as his eyes snapped up to mine. ‘Did you leave any of them alive? I should shred them for tainting—’
“Let’s pretend, for a moment, that he is a god. What would he want with an Evil Mage like her?” Tyana argued with Darius, sending Nalithor’s tail cracking into the floor as another shudder of rage ran through him.
“I have chosen Arianna-jiss to work for me,” Nalithor began, shifting to glare at the X’shmiran royals. “As a X’shmiran mage, she’s in a unique position to inform us about the beasts that plague both our lands and yours.” Nalithor paused to pull me fully against his chest and made a show of nuzzling his face into the side of my neck. “Furthermore…she tastes delicious.”
‘Play…along.’ Nalithor released a shaky sigh and then coiled his tail around my hips lazily. ‘We need them to think you’re…a little more than “just” working with me.’
“How dare you!” Dilonu snapped as Nalithor pulled my overrobe from my shoulder and exposed my bare neck and shoulders for all to see. “Arianna, kill him?”
“Why should I?” I drawled, shifting my shoulder downwards to offer a longer stretch of my throat to Nalithor. “Our very own texts dictate that obeying a god is more important than— Ahhhnn…”
‘So you’re sensitive here too?’ Nalithor asked with a devious chuckle, drawing me completely against him. He planted kisses and sharp nips along my throat and pressed one arm firmly against my back. His power danced around both of us like a lazy fog of darkness and frost, luring my darkness out from where I kept it. ‘I think they can do with a little more fear.’
“H-how do you know he’s a god?” Tyana demanded while I struggled to separate my darkness from Nalithor’s. “What proof do you have?”
‘Nnngh… Come here.’ Nalithor released a feral rumble into the side of my throat and then lifted me off the floor. He stalked back toward his chaise at the back of the room and addressed the X’shmiran’s as he walked, “All you need to know is that I chose to work with Arianna-jiss over Darius-zir…
“Or would you prefer that I feast on his body over hers?”
“F-feast…” One of the Human nobles muttered.
“If our Holy Mage was tainted in such a way by an Evil Mage…”
“Your Majesties, it may be for the best to—”
“Fine, we will sell her to you,” Dilonu stated flatly. “I’m sure we can come to an agreement on the price.”
‘Nalithor, calm down.’ I placed a hand against Nalithor’s chest, having sensed his rage snap. He moved to turn on the Human king, but hesitated when I touched him. ‘They’re not supposed to die yet…right?’
‘That bastard is trying to sell you!’ Nalithor bared his fangs and set me down on his chaise. His masculine features were twisted with anger as he flicked his gaze to glare over his shoulder at the Humans. Yet he still hesitated to move. For that, I was thankful.
‘Would you really risk being Exiled over a Human’s blustering idiocy?’ I countered, catching him by his wrist when he turned. ‘There’s also the matter of my curse to consider.
‘Besides… I already want to kill them bad enough as is. If both of us lose control…’
“Nalithor,” Lucifer finally spoke up, shifting his bi-colored gaze between Nalithor and me a few times. “I believe you told me that you and Arianna-jiss have not concluded your research as of yet…right?
“Feel free to see to important matters such as those instead. We need to remedy the beast problems in Vorpmasia, Beshulthien, and X’shmir as soon as possible.”
‘Will Darius be alright without you here?’ Nalithor turned to look down at me again. He twisted his hand out of my grip so that he could grasp my hand instead, shooting me a concerned look. ‘I may detest the boy, but…’
The Adinvyr trailed off with an odd expression on his face as he examined me. Instead of waiting for my reply he tugged me to my feet and slipped an arm behind my back. Nalithor maintained a brisk pace and led me past the X’shmirans, my twin, and out of the throne room past Darius’ waiting escort. Maric called a greeting to his commanding officer, but Nalithor was unresponsive.
‘Where are we going?’ I frowned up at Nalithor when he began leading me out of the palace instead of to his laboratory.
‘We are going to hunt…’ Nalithor trailed off as he led me into a courtyard, his lips parting in surprise while he examined the bloody mess I had left behind. ‘You did this to them and yet you’re still raring for more?’
‘Hunting?’ I asked excitedly, turning to press myself up against his side and grin up at him. ‘Where? What are we looking for? Can we grab breakfast first?’
‘What am I going to do with you?’ Nalithor sighed, tightening his grip on my waist. ‘Let’s find you some breakfast. After, we can find something to rip apart.’
‘What if we can’t find anything?’ I pouted, watching him cast a displeased look at the Human blood and gore everywhere. ‘Wha— Hey!’
‘I did say their blood is unworthy.’ Nalithor bristled, lifting me off the ground again. He didn’t set me back on my feet until we had cleared the courtyard entirely. ‘We will find something to hunt. That I can assure you.’