She idly pet the arm of the throne she sat on, fingers looking pale against the black stone. It wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the one that stood in the Great Hall of the Eighth Palace but it would suffice. Thayne had that throne now, but not for long, not if she had her way. And she really couldn’t be too picky about this one given that it had been a gift, a nod towards the future Eighth Qishir once her meddling sister was taken care of and that Qishir of hers, too. And it was even modeled after the throne that sat in the Eighth Palace, courtesy of Eiod nóh Akkensahn who had spent enough time around Mother’s former throne to have memorized what it looked like right down to the veins in the marble it was carved from.
She looked sidelong at her personal guard who stood statue still to her right, golden eyes staring into the long distance, hands overlapped and tucked at the base of his spine. Of all those to swear fealty to her at the start of the war, Eiod had been the one that had shocked her the most. She had assumed he would side with Thayne as he had always seemed to favor her. Especially since he had always seemed to be there to thwart her own machinations long before she even got them started. Yet, he had bent knee to her and not Thayne, not Rhyshladlyn. The day he had asked to stand by her side as a personal guard, had sworn to defend her and her alone, in front of the entirety of the Eighth Army’s gathered forces, was one she would never forget.
“My Lady,” the Anglëtinean-Sinner dropped to one knee and bowed his head, golden eyes filled with a hatred that made her blood run cold to see it. “I am here to swear fealty to you and you alone.”
“Truly?” Xitlali questioned, one eye brow raising as she did so. “I admit I am surprised. I had figured you to swear fealty to my sister and that Court she is part of.”
Those hate-darkened eyes that were so much like one of Uncle’s eyes lifted and her heart stuttered. Because kneeling before her was not the male that she had grown up seeing. No longer was Eiod the court jester that diffused a situation with a flawless hilarity that no one saw coming. No…he was something much worse now.
“Thayne Firesbane’s Qishir killed the love of my life and I will stop at nothing to see Qishir Rhyshladlyn and any who side with him brought to bear.”
It had been quite the surprise but one that had served her well over the years. Eiod was nothing if not incredibly loyal and he had known more of Mother’s plans than anyone else. While he didn’t divulge all of those plans and the secrets that were woven around them, he had spoken of enough of them that it turned the tides of the war in her favor more than anyone realized.
Though the male hardly spoke, despite numerous attempts to engage him in menial conversation, Eiod hadn’t taken a complete vow of silence though not for lack of trying. And while that silence irked her beyond measure, she couldn’t deny that it made him all the more imposing than he already was. Especially since he was also the only person who still dressed in the darkest of blacks for mourning, face painted with streaks of black and red. But that was to be expected; Anglëtineans mated for life and it was rare for one to have a second mate should their first perish before them, and Sinner Demons were incredibly loyal to those they loved. So the combination of the two made it almost impossible for Eiod to move on from Mother’s loss.
I wonder if he will move on the day that Rhyshladlyn dies for good?
The doors to the Hall swung open before she could voice the thought aloud, High General Hujiel striding inside before the herald could even open his mouth to announce em. Her eyes widened as she took in the nearly black bruising that circled the neodrach’s throat, the way eir shirt was crinkled and rumpled like ey had just rolled around on the floor for several minutes, and the red-brown stains that coated the tips of his fingers. It was those stains that caught her attention the most, making excitement begin to flutter in her stomach.
She raised an eyebrow at the herald who was glaring at the High General though he really should have known to expect this by now; it happened every single time the High General visited her. Seeing her look, the herald gulped, bowed low and backed out of the Hall.
“Eiod,” she called and her personal guard tilted his head in acknowledgement that she had his attention, “take High General Hujiel’s unit outside the Hall so that we have some privacy.”
“Aye, my Lady,” Eiod replied, voice monotonous. “Shall I take your pet as well?”
“No,” she answered, “I have other plans for him.”
Eiod nodded curtly and stepped off the dais, waving a hand at Hujiel’s gathered unit to indicate they should head towards the doors. They didn’t even argue but then again this was nothing new to them. And Hujiel didn’t even blink at the being left alone with her, well her and her pet, it was simply the way things were done between them.
Speaking of… She glanced at the Alphenian who knelt with his shoulder pressed against her left knee, head bowed, brown hair long enough for her to get a good grip on sticking up in every direction. Dropping her hand to that hair, she grinned when he flinched. As she ran her fingers through her pet’s hair, Hujiel came to a stop halfway across the Hall and dropped to one knee, wings splayed to either side of him, the vulnerable undersides visible, head bowed, right hand fisted over eir heart, left hand braced against the floor.
“Jerald,” she cooed at her pet, “be a dear and fetch the High General and myself some refreshments from the kitchens. You have five minutes.”
The Alphenian stiffened at the command because they both knew it was impossible to even make it to the kitchens in five minutes from the Hall, let alone there and back in that time. It was unfair to give him a task so obviously geared towards failure, but it was also crucial to teach him that sometimes he wasn’t going to win. It helped to steal his hope of escape, of freedom, early on so he was less likely to fight her later. Though she enjoyed her pets having unquestioning obedience, they weren’t nearly as much fun if they didn’t have some fight in them. It got boring if they were entirely broken. Plus the punishment she had in mind for him was something she had yet to try with any of her pets and she was looking forward to trying it on him. She knew the second he smelled her anticipation when the back of his neck reddened.
“Aye, Mistress,” he murmured demurely as he rose shakily to his feet, gaze averted, and bowed to first her then Hujiel before he took off at a run out of the Hall.
She couldn’t stop the laughter that bubbled up at the sight. “I’m still breaking him in,” she commented offhandedly to Hujiel who hadn’t even so much as twitched when her pet ran by em. “Rise, High General. What news do you have for me? Was your venture successful?”
Hujiel raised crimson eyes that reminded her too much of Thayne and Mother’s for her to not immediately hate them, but it was something she had been working at getting over since the High General and her had joined forces. Never mind that considering that ey was a not-so-distant cousin, it didn’t entirely surprise her that eir eyes were the same shade as Thayne and Mother’s; that particular shade of crimson was unique to House Jaunyr more than any of the others, after all. And the High Ones only knew that House Jaunyr and House Veratone had long since taken to mixing their ranks more often than they did with any of the other Thirteen Families. The only reason she had more red-brown eyes than pure crimson was because Mother hadn’t been entirely faithful to her mate, though that was a fact few knew.
“Not quite, my Lady,” ey answered, waiting for her nod before ey rose from the bow and shifted to tuck both legs beneath em, palms resting on eir thighs. “I do not think getting the Steward Corps to turn on Lord Azriel will be as easy as we originally thought, even with him having fought against the Grey Army for a good portion of the war before switching sides. But it if is possible, then I have certainly planted the seed of doubt among his peers.”
She nodded. “I will accept that, however disappointing it is.”
“My apologies, my Lady, I can always retry but with a different tactic?”
“No,” she waved her hand dismissively, “that won’t be necessary. There are other matters of more important than ostracizing my reborn uncle.” She leaned forward, gesturing at his hands with her fingers. “For instance… your other goal?”
The smile that twisted the neodrach’s lips then was downright malicious, more so than the one that Rhyshladlyn had turned on the Great Hall after killing Mother all those centuries ago. It made her shiver to see it.
“It went perfectly, my Lady,” ey lifted eir hands and splayed eir fingers wide. “He reacted almost exactly the way you said he would. Granted, I did fear that he would kill me before all gathered, but regardless, t’was certainly worth the risk.”
“Did he put hands on you?” She asked and watched as Hujiel almost subconsciously touched the bruised skin of eir throat.
“Do you ask after the bruising?” At her nod eir eyes darkened and eir expression shifted. It was a look she had seen only once before on Mother’s face the first time that Rhyshladlyn had visited the Palace: shock and fear and awe. “This was the work of an attend to silence me, to keep me from speaking of his crimes, specifically the murder of Lord Azriel.”
It felt like the floor had given way beneath her at the words. “An attend did that?”
“Aye, an unspoken one at that.”
“High Ones See us,” she whispered as a shiver of fear breathed against her spine but she fought it off.
Of course the Worlds at large knew that Rhyshladlyn Ka’ahne was powerful, after all the attend that had seen Mother’s personal herald rip his own throat out had been silent but Xitlali had always assumed that it had been a fluke. Had assumed that in the din made by the whispers of fear and such that had overtaken the Hall that all those gathered had missed Rhyshladlyn speaking the order aloud. But now, with clear proof in front of her that the Grey Qishir could indeed cast a nonverbal attend? It was hard not to be awed and afraid.
“He also mentioned the unspoken agreement of all sides to stay out of each other’s camps,” the High General added and she blinked. Shit, I had forgotten about that.
“Did he mention anything else about it? I confess that I am rather surprised that he even let you go if he invoked the breaking of that particular agreement.”
Hujiel looked away, eyes glazing over as he answered, “He said he would show us leniency just this once. But if we “spit in the face of that leniency” that he would walk into one of the Eighth Army’s camps.”
“He said nothing more than that?” she asked, frowning slightly.
Hujiel shook his head. “No, my Lady, but then again, what he said was enough.”
That was true. Rhyshladlyn alone was a threat; he was a one Dhaoine army that no one wanted to face off against without aid. So for him to threaten to walk into one of their camps? It was more than enough to remind her to never forget the unspoken rule that the camps were off limits, that only on the Fields may fighting and killing be done. A pang of guilt swirled hot and fast through her chest at the thought that she had risked Hujiel and eir warriors for something that may not even work in the first place. Though gods only knew she hoped it would.
“And how soon will it be ready?” She didn’t have to elaborate on what it was, after all there was only one thing she’d question the neodrach about that would pertain to the two of them, that she wouldn’t give an actual name to in such un-warded of an area.
It was all the more clear now that her plan was necessary to ensure that they won the war. She had devised her own way to kill that piece of shit neodrach half-breed and not only that, she had devised the perfect way to keep her hands clean of it should it fail. There was no guarantee that it would work, but the risks outweighed the rewards, at least in her mind. Which was, of course, where High General Hujiel came in. Ey was just eager enough and power hungry enough to fall for her advances, however false they may be, and her half-cocked promises of making em her mate when she took over the Eighth Throne as was her due. So with eir knowledge in alchemic mixtures and hers in spell work, they shouldn’t have any trouble making something that would render the legendary Grey Qishir powerless enough to kill once and for all.
And if killing him failed? She could always do with a new pet to add to her growing collection.
“Within the year at the latest, my Lady,” ey held up eir hands when her face fell and expression grew dark, her initial excitement that Hujiel had managed to obtain one of the harder to come by ingredients all but evaporating at eir words, “but I will do my level best to get it prepared sooner than that. But the more rushed it is, the less I can guarantee its success.”
She sighed heavily and flapped her hand at em before rising from the throne as ey rose from eir knees. “Come, we have a meeting with Alaïs and the rest to get to. We will discuss our plans more afterwards.”
“As my Lady wishes,” Hujiel replied, smoothing the wrinkles out of eir tunic as ey rose to eir feet. “I do hope it wasn’t presumptuous of me to have my schematics brought to your audience chamber to go over.”
“That is fine, Hujiel,” she answered with a rare genuine smile. While the High General tended to grate on her nerves with eir far from subtle advances and self-righteous attitude, ey was a strategic genius nearly on par with Thayne and Rhyshladlyn. Though, if she were being truly honest with herself, she doubted highly that there was anyone in the Worlds who could outsmart Rhyshladlyn in strategy, whether in games or reality. But despite that, Hujiel came very close. “Gives me something to look forward to.”
“Not particularly thrilled about this get together?” Hujiel queried, head tilted to the side as she stopped in front of em.
“No, not even slightly,” she answered honestly. “Alaïs is young and inexperienced and while I understand her anger over the deaths of her twin and her parents at Rhyshladlyn’s hands either directly or indirectly, it seems a little…” she waved her hand trying to search for the right word.
“Suspicious?” Hujiel offered, eir crimson eyes intense as ey stared at her.
“Aye! It seems a little suspicious that she grew up with him, knows exactly the training he went through prior to this war’s beginning, and yet somehow still cannot outsmart him on the Fields.” Rolling her eyes, she nodded at the doors and began walking towards them, Hujiel falling into step beside her. “The rest of the Generals and race leaders on our side of this accursed war may have fallen for her stories and excuses, but I don’t believe a word of it anymore. It’s been over four hundred years, there is no reason that this war has gone on this long, not when we supposedly have someone who knows the strongest member of the opposition like the back of their own hand.”
Hujiel hummed eir acknowledgement of her words rather than say anything else. But that was fine, they had plenty of time to discuss it more later.
Just as they made it to the doors, her pet ducked through them, brown eyes wide, face paling when he saw that they were already leaving. His hands shook, making the tray rattle with it before he forcibly stilled himself, head bowed.
“You disappoint me, pet,” she cooed, voice dripping with a sweetness that they both knew was false. “Bring that tray to my rooms and assume your examination position. You will wait there until my return.”
“You have him so well trained,” Hujiel commented as Jerald stepped aside and bowed at the waist, managing to not tip the tray as he did so. “It is quite impressive.”
“Thank you, High General,” she replied with a grin that was nearly as malicious as eir smile earlier had been. “Would you like a go with him? He is very good with his mouth and he takes pain tolerably well but not so much that he won’t scream.”
She bit her cheek to keep from laughing at the way Jerald’s head snapped up and he stared at them before the door closed so he couldn’t hear Hujiel’s response of, “Oh, that does sound very nice. I do believe I shall take you up on that offer. Though I counter it with: only if you join me.”
I may end up liking you after all, she thought as she looped her arm through eirs as eir unit fell into step behind them, her own personal guard pushing off from the wall outside the Hall doors and keeping pace on her right side.
“I would love to, Hujiel.”
At least now when the meeting didn’t go as she wished it would she had a way to get out her frustrations far more pleasantly than if Hujiel hadn’t made it back in time to attend the meeting with her. These meetings happened every couple of months and each one found her more frustrated and angry leaving it than she had been going in. It was only after discovering she and Hujiel had somewhat similar goals and interests that these blasted things had become anything remotely near bearable. I cannot wait until I can rip Alaïs’ throat out and feed it to her.
“Did you store what you needed?” she asked as she tapped her free hand against Hujiel’s knuckles, aiming to distract herself from her murderous thoughts.
“Aye,” ey answered, looking at her askance as she raised eir hand to her mouth and sucked all eir fingers inside, tongue laving the blood off the digits with practiced skill. Eir crimson eyes darkened as eir pupils dilated until they almost swallowed eir irises. “Lady Xitlali, you will be the death of me,” ey said breathlessly, the scent of eir arousal dancing out around them, the barest hint of spices.
She smiled coyly at em as she let eir fingers fall from her mouth with a soft pop!
If you only knew, Hujiel, if you only knew.