I had seen Elena naked hundreds of times. During our early teens I’d been horribly envious of her woman’s form, and I often admired it. I remember how she used to blush when she caught me staring, but she never attempted to hide herself. I knew why then, but I never said anything. Homosexuality was disgraced in Highland society, and I feared for her sake. Truth be told, I feared a little for my sake, for even at the age of thirteen, I’d felt an odd tingling when I gazed upon the perfection the was Elena Straltaira. Now I’d grown into a body whose curves surpassed hers, but not by much, and what I surpassed Elena in voluptuousness, she gained in athletic elegance. Oh, two years of being a ranger had done wonders for her; her back was a splendor of lean muscle, her abdomen was a soft washboard, and her thighs were tonal trunks that creased perfectly below her supple globes. Now her flesh was rich and bronze, strikingly contrasting the near-whiteness of her hair and the piercing blue of her eyes. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheek, and they only served to elevate her exoticness. Exotic. Yes, Elena certainly was one of a kind, and I stared unabashedly at the dangling uniqueness between her legs.
“So, you can remember being both Alkandi, and yourself? But aren’t you the same person?” Elena asked as she packed her things into her bags.
“Not exactly.” I said, “Alkandi was always a part of me, but she wasn’t me. We were together all my life, but we split once Zander took me to the astral plane. When we came back, we were two different people, but neither of us was…” I gestured to myself, “…me, if that makes sense. One half was the idea of Princess Tiadoa, and the other was Alkandi. Neither could exist without the other, but Princess Tiadoa didn’t want to be Yavara anymore. Alkandi had to force the issue.”
“And after that you transformed? Your past-self took over Zander’s body and raped you?” Elena gave me quizzical eyebrows, “All this rape, Yavara; no wonder you have a complex.”
“Careful, Elena.” I smirked, “I’ve shared that head of yours, and there are some naughty-naughty thoughts in there.”
“Like…?” Elena smiled back, blue eyes sparkling.
“Well, that fantasy you have about my dearest elder sister for one.” I grinned, “The one where she’s recently been crowned queen, and decides to inspect Castle Thorum’s barracks. The one where she catches you masturbating in the bathroom?”
“And then what happens?” Elena grinned back, completely unashamed. She had no shame anymore; I’d sucked it out of her.
“And then…” I giggled, closing my trunk, “…she blackmails you into eating her pussy.”
“Your sister’s such a cunt in real life, I couldn’t have her break character.” Elena’s smile was crooked now, “But come now, Yavara, that’s not nearly the worst of it. Go on.”
“And after you make my bitchy older sister come.” I said, strutting lasciviously to Elena, “I burst through the tower window to rescue you from her.”
“But she has palace guards waiting in the wing, and they hear the commotion.” Elena said, taking me in her arms.
“They’re all female of course, and all so beautiful.” I gasped, feeling Elena’s cock growing between my legs, “They hold me down, and Leveria makes you eat my pussy too. I fall prey to the prowess of your tongue, and confess my undying love to you.”
“Don’t end it there, Yavara.” Elena whispered on my lips, one of her hands snaking between my thighs.
“Leveria calls her guards away, and looks at me with this… dominating expression. You both do. You’ve been in league with her the whole time; it’s a trap! There’s a ruffle behind the window curtains, and my own mother is revealed, bound and gagged!” My voice shook with desire, “And you, Elena Straltaira, love of my life; you and my sister force me to ride my mother’s face. And when I come, and my mother and I both tearfully confess that we are depraved whores who love incest, then you and Leveria have your way with us.”
“I was in a dark place when I conjured that fantasy.” Elena whispered, her fingertips finding my petals, her eyes staring heatedly into me, “It was my first night in Castle Thorum, and my mind was still fresh with the party you’d thrown me the day before. Your mother had been there to send me off, and Leveria had been there to laugh at me.”
“I remember.” I hissed on Elena’s lips, lost in her sapphire depths, “But why them? Why the incest?”
“I guess I just have an appetite for Tiadoa women.” Elena’s breath was raspy, her fingers were pushing inward, “I guess I just wanted to see you all feel a fraction of my shame, the shame I felt for who I loved.”
“Shame me, Elena!” I was drifting in a pink haze of desire, “I’ll even call you ‘Leveria’ if you want.”
“But what do you want, Yavara?” Elena’s eyes twinkled, her cock throbbed between our pressing bellies, “What does my little fantasy about your sister and mother awaken in you?”
“You think I’m that depraved?” I asked with a laughing gasp.
“Oh, I know it.” Elena growled in my ear, and I almost came from her words alone. Was I attracted to my sister and mother? I certainly recognized their beauty, but I couldn’t say whether my new self would delve to such lows; I’d have to see them in person to know, and that was unlikely to ever happen again. What I could say, was that the idea of Elena Straltaira having such a depraved fetish aroused me to the point of torture.
“Oh, I’d fuck my sister; is that what you want to hear?” I bit Elena’s lip, drawing it outward, “I’d lick that uptight bitch’s asshole until I could see my reflection in it, then I’d take this cock,” I gripped Elena’s manhood, “and I’d watch you fuck her until she prolapsed.”
Elena hissed a shuddering breath. “Change of plan.” She said huskily, “You’re going to be ‘Leveria’ now.” And in one motion, she spun me around, tossed me on the bed, and pressed herself to my back, her cock parting my cheeks. I bit the bedsheets, wriggling in anticipation, feeling her throbbing heat become wet with my secretion, traverse the length of my taint, and press to my wanting anus. Finally.
“Ranger Straltaira!” I cried, affecting my older sister’s voice, “What are you doing?! I’ll have your head for this!”
“Oh, you’ll have it, Your Highness.” Elena whispered, her tip pressing into my filthy center. I inhaled through my nose and closed my eyes, savoring every inch she- “Yavara, we can’t do this now.” Elena sighed, and withdrew.
I laid there in disbelief. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘WE CAN’T DO THIS NOW?!’”
“We need to get ready to go.” Elena said, pulling herself off me.
I spun around like an enraged cat. “You get over here and fuck me right now, or I’ll-”
“What, take over my mind?” Elena smirked, “You know what you need, Your Highness? You need to learn discipline, and as a ranger, I’m the best person to teach it to you. Prestira can impart all the magic in the world, but it won’t mean a damn thing if you can’t control yourself.”
“What the fuck is this?!” I screamed, “A fucking lesson?!”
“You, my dearest love, are a spoiled brat.” Elena sneered, dawning pants to cover the gift I’d given her, “You’ve spent your whole life being pampered and doted upon, and even after you transformed, you’re still the same rotten little girl who raided the bakery when your mother denied you sweets. You’re impulsive, ambitious, greedy, and prone to violent outbursts when you don’t get what you want.” Elena gave me a frank look, “Those are hardly qualities fit for a queen, much less the ruler of a nation that is the sworn enemy of our homeland.”
If I’d learned telekinesis, I might’ve thrown Elena out the window. That impulse gave me pause, and I realized she was right. I sighed, feeling the passion dissipate from me, and the disappointment set in. “You’re right, of course.” I muttered, “I’m not nearly ready to be the ruler of a kingdom. I don’t blame you for not trusting me.”
“Hey,” Elena said, sitting topless beside me on the bed, “I trust the woman you could become to do amazing things. Yes, you’re all those things, but you’re also compassionate, strong, and possessed of great vision. If there’s anyone who can resurrect Alkandra without shedding elven blood, it’s you. You will be the bridge of peace between our old home, and our new one.”
“Our new home.” I muttered, linking fingers with Elena.
“Yes.” Elena grinned, “You and me,” she winked, “and maybe some others.”
“Many, many others, but always you.” My fingers unlaced with hers, and walked up her thigh.
Elena clasped her hand over my two fingers, and brought them to her lips. She sucked one, then the other, then guided them between my legs. “When we get back to the Great Forest,” Elena whispered, sliding my finger past my pussy, and pressing them against my favorite hole, “I’m going to fuck this slutty little ass of yours until you beg me to stop.”
I shuddered at the idea of it, looking at her with half-lidded eyes. “Can’t you give me something to hold me over until we get there?”
“No, Yavara.” Elena grinned, “Discipline, you understand? I like the idea of you begging. I want you on your knees and begging for it once we get there.” Elena pushed my own fingers into my ass. I gasped in pleasure as she worked them deeper, twisting until I felt my knuckles pressing into my dilated rim. She was erect, Elena was, curved backward with need in her pants, but she would not relent to her own desires. She stood up, and left me there to violate myself like a fool.
“Time to get dressed Yavara.” She said, smiling at my disappointed face.
“You bitch.” I growled, withdrawing my fingers. I instinctively sucked them clean, then realized with a sigh that I’d have to brush my teeth again.
I slipped on my black dress as Elena dawned one of Zander’s overly-large cloaks. With the hood up, it would conceal her face, ears and hair well enough, though her stature was still unmistakably elven. We walked downstairs as Prestira, Brock and Zander were finishing up breakfast. Brock eyed Elena warily.
“You look different.”
“You’re a very perceptive orc.” Elena replied.
“Oh great,” Brock said as he tore a piece of bacon with his teeth, “another smartass in the group. You and Zander should get along just fucking fine.”
We finished breakfast and walked out the door. I daresay we made an odd group, but in Ardeni Dreus no one noticed. Brock had an extra spring in his step as we walked, and he filled the air with stories about his tribe.
“Sherok is my wife; you’ll like her, my queen, she’s a lot like you. Trenok, he’s my eldest son. He stands up to here on me,” Brock pointed to his forehead, “He’s still basically a boy, so when he’s fully grown he’ll be at least half a foot taller than me. I put him in charge of the tribe while we were here.” He chuckled fondly to himself, “I may have to fight him to get it back.”
“Would he challenge you for tribe leader?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, ambitious little bastard. I still have strength on him, but not for long. It’ll be the proudest day of my life when he finally kicks the shit out of me.”
“That’s an endearing father-son moment.” Zander snorted.
“The tribe is only as strong as its leader, Zander. If we operated like royalty and just passed all the power to some weak little cunt, the orcs would be extinct by now.”
“If you advanced from tribalism and did away with archaic methods of power brokering, the orcs may actually have their own nation. Instead you fight amongst each other for which tribe gets what acreage of forest.” Prestira replied coldly.
“That’s what she’s for.” Brock said, gesturing to me fondly, “The Dark Queen can unite all tribes of all races into one nation. We won’t have to work for scraps in Ardeni Dreus, or kill for land in the Great Forest when we have a powerful empire to unite us.”
“That message you sent to you tribe,” Elena cut into the conversation, “I shot that eagle down in the Spruces; they never got it.”
Brock’s demeanor turned grave. “Then we must move quickly.” We turned the corner to an empty lot. One of the city’s ancient inner-walls lined the back of the lot, and I realized it was the same wall we’d walked through to enter the city two days ago. Zander revealed the enchanted door hidden within its bricks, and pulled on the handle. It didn’t budge. He pulled again. Nothing.
“Highland mages!” Prestira hissed. I whipped around, my heart leaping in my throat.
“Zander Fredeon!” Roared one of the men. There were five of them, all wearing white and gold cloaks with the Highland emblem stitched across their chests. Ten rangers followed behind them, their bows drawn and aimed at us.
“I thought you said we had until nightfall!” Zander hissed at Elena.
“They must have used a portal to get here; I didn’t think they’d bring mages!” Elena replied as she reached into her cloak.
“She’s lying!” Brock growled, “She fucking sold us out! Ranger bitch, I told you she’d-”
“She’s not fucking lying!” Prestira hissed, for both her and I had scanned Elena’s open thoughts the moment we saw the rangers.
“Prestira, unlock this door and get everyone through it. I’ll stall them.” Zander said as he stepped toward the men. “What can I do for you?” He called.
“Put down your staff and weapons, and step forward, all of you!” The mage roared.
“You have no jurisdiction here. Is this action approved by King Dreus? Does he know that Highland mages are arresting Ardeni citizens within the confines of his walls?”
“Put down your staff, Fredeon!”
“I’m not doing a thing until you have a warrant signed by an Ardeni judge.”
“Last warning, Fredeon!”
“If you don’t have a warrant, then you can go fuck yourse-”
A bolt of lightning erupted from the mage’s hands. Zander collected the lightning onto his staff, then shot it back at his assailant. The mage exploded into pink mist. There was a moment when everyone just stared at each other, the haze of gore dissipating in the morning sun. Then everything went to shit. The rangers fired their arrows as the four remaining mages launched their arcane attacks. Zander stopped the arrows mid-flight and redirected the arcane attacks skyward, sending three jets of flame high into the air. The fourth breached his defenses, hit him squarely in the chest, and sent him sprawling against the wall. His head hit the bricks with a sickening crack, and he was still.
I rushed to his side, an arrow barely missing my head. Elena cried out and loosed two volleys in quick succession. One met a ranger’s neck, and I heard Elena let out a wail of despair, but she did not relent. She pressed her attack, firing arrow after arrow, making the mages concentrate on blocking their flight. Brock roared his war cry and charged the elves, heedless of the arrows that stuck into his flesh. One, two, three, four; the hafts stood from his forearms and legs, but they didn’t slow him a step. Prestira frantically cast spells into the lock to no avail, streams of obscenities flowing from her lips with each passing failure. Zander regained his consciousness just in time to cast an arcane shield around Brock. Four blasts of fire engulfed the orc, forming an infernal orb about the shield. I saw the terror in the mages’ eyes, and I sympathized; I knew what it felt like to be on the lethal end of Brock Terdini. He took one of the mages into his massive hands, and he tore the elf’s head off, wrenching the spine out with it. The mages retreated in horror, but the rangers just set their expressions with grim determination. Elena shot an arrow into one of their eyes, his head wrenching back to reveal the length of the haft. There were tears in her eyes as she drew another arrow, and notched it to the string. She aimed down the haft, then fell shrieking to the ground, an arrow protruding from her shoulder. Elena. [bELENA![/b]
Hot rage lanced through me, electrifying my muscles, stoking the power within. I reached into the mind of the ranger who’d shot Elena, and made him stab one of his brethren in the back. The rangers were quick to react to the new development, but one of them wasn’t quick enough. My doomed surrogate ran a suicidal charge into his closest brethren, disemboweling himself on the lad’s sword, but also driving his blade into the ranger’s throat. A nearby mage set the pair of them aflame, and I released control of the ranger as his pain became unbearable to me. They went down in a withering dance of fire, their screams echoing in the street.
Zander was locked in combat with the remaining three mages, countering their spells as he flung his own attacks from his hand and staff. He gained the upper hand, killing two mages with a disintegration spell and forcing the last to the ground. Then there was an arrow in his thigh, and he crumpled to his knees, clutching at the imbedded haft. Brock threw his spear at the ranger, and the missile carried its victim ten feet before pinning him to the wall. The remaining rangers harried the orc with volley after volley, and he picked up the closest one to use as a screaming meat-shield as he came sprinting back to us. I tried to cover his retreat by connecting minds with one of the rangers, but my attention was too divided. Elena was lying weakly against the wall, attempting to pull the arrow out of her shoulder.
“A Nadi arrow.” She grunted, looking at the bloodless wound, “Who…”
I didn’t have time to ponder the mystery, for that very second, Brock came crashing down, carried forward by a propulsion spell cast by the final mage. He landed on the poor ranger he was carrying, and the man splattered like a watermelon across the cobblestones. Prestira finally unlocked the door, and pushed me inside. I ran out and threw Elena through the door as Brock barreled through it.
“Get in!” Prestira screamed.
“Zander!” I screamed back. I rushed over to the wizard, and the world exploded. My ears rang, I saw stars, my head met the cobblestones. Debris rained down on me, chips of brick too small to be called rocks. I saw elven boots stepping before us. The mage lifted the unconscious Zander off the ground as the rangers bound Prestira’s hands together behind her back, forcing her fingers together so that she couldn’t cast a spell. A familiar face filled my vision. Where had I seen that face before? It was shrouded by a ranger’s cowl, but the features were discernable. Such austere features they were, the elven beauty weathered by years of hardship.
“Princess Yavara Tiadoa?” Head-ranger Adarian asked, kneeling to my level.
I weakly shook my head.
Adarian pressed my cheeks together and forced my mouth open. Even in my compromised state, I felt a flutter in my nethers. Run, fight, kill, fuck; those old primal instincts comingling once more. He reached to his belt and pulled out a satchel, powder clinging to the fabric. I shot into his mind and took control of him. I felt his shock, and then I felt his horror as I reached down with his hand and grasped his blade. I made him bring it to his throat. I’m sorry, Elena.
“All of you, get on the ground!” A commanding voice cut through the air.
Forty armed humans encircled the eight of us. The rangers put down their arms and raised their hands, dropping to their knees. I let go of Adarian’s mind, and dropped my head in strengthless surrender. Adarian’s body wavered before he was violently tackled by a guard. For a moment, our eyes connected over the cobblestones, and I saw the wrath etched in them. Then he was dragged off. I felt my hands and legs being bound together, then the humans roughly picked me up and threw me into the back of a caged carriage. Zander and Prestira were thrown in next to me before the caged door slammed shut behind us.
Zander was still unconscious and bleeding heavily from his wound. No Nadi arrow to petrify the flesh here; this was an artery shot by a jagged arrowhead. Prestira frantically screamed at the guards to help him, but they ignored her. I shot myself into the wizard’s brain and woke him with a jolt. Zander, thought to be near death, had been left unfettered. He gritted his teeth, tore the arrow free, then healed the hole it left. A fist shot through the bars and slammed into Zander’s jaw. He pitched forward, the cage door opened, and he was dragged unceremoniously out. They beat him with clubs as they subdued his arms, but Zander didn’t fight back. Through the hail of fists, he yelled, “I am Zander Fredeon of the Great Forest, honored consul of the Highlands, and I demand to see your superior officer!”
The captain of the guard whipped his head around. “Stop!” he roared. The men stood back from Zander as the captain approached him. “You are Zander Fredeon?”
“Yes.” Zander said, spitting blood.
The captain leaned down and extended a hand to the beaten wizard. Zander took it and the captain pulled him up. “Why would Highlanders attack one of their closest allies?”
“I have no idea.”
“You are charged with the kidnapping of Princess Yavara Tiadoa, Fredeon! You know why we are here!” The remaining mage roared from his caged coach.
The captain’s hand ventured to his sword. “Is this true, Fredeon?”
“I’d think you would have heard something from the Highlands if it were true, Captain. I take it you were not informed of this… mission?”
“I was not.”
“Well then, it appears this contingent acted against the wishes of King Tiadoa, for I can’t imagine he’d sign off on a covert operation to attack me, much less sully his lucrative relationship with King Dreus. These are traitors, possibly rebels, here to sow dissention amongst Bentius’s allies.”
The captain frowned. “Maybe, Fredeon. That’ll be for a judge to decide.”
As Zander tried to negotiate our release, I dared a glance into the other coach. Adarian and the mage were staring right at me. Adarian whispered something to the mage, whose eyes narrowed to slits.
“Captain!” The mage yelled, “Captain, that human woman there, she’s under a spell! Make Zander remove it!”
The captain turned toward Zander. “Is this true?”
“A perception spell, yes. She’s insecure about her looks.”
“You’re going to have to remove it. We’ll make her swallow powder if you don’t.”
“Captain is that really necessary?”
“Sorry Zander, we can’t let you go until we know the whole story.” The captain’s hand once again inched toward his sword.
Should I take control of his mind? I asked Zander telepathically.
Zander regarded the assemblage of guards, and the crowd of curious onlookers that had formed at the perimeter. There were hundreds of them, and more coming still. No Yavara, I have a better idea. We can use this situation to our advantage, but you’re going to have to trust me.
What are you going to do?
Zander nodded to the captain, then raised his hand toward me. It’s time to reveal yourself to the world.
I felt the perception spell leave my face. I quickly ducked down, trying to stay hidden from the elves in the other coach.
There’s no hiding anymore, Yavara. Time to come out. Prestira’s kind voice echoed in my head as she smiled down at me. Zander cast a spell that cut through my binds. My wrists were raw, and I welcomed the caress of the cool air, but it was a token relief in the wake of my mounting anxiety. My heart thundered in my chest, my legs felt like jelly, but I still stood. I stepped out of the coach, and the mid-morning sunlight illuminated my naked face. A silence fell upon the crowd. I could feel all eyes upon me, but I did not see them, for I fixed my gaze on the captain. His expression was contorted with confusion, slowly slackening to realization.
“I am Yavara Tiadoa, princess of The Highlands. I am also Yavara Alkandi, born ruler of Alkandra, and heir to the Black Throne.” The voice that came from me hardly felt like my own. It was commanding and unwavering, not yielding an ounce of the fear that gripped me. The captain moved his mouth silently, staring from me, to Zander, and then to the onlookers. I followed his gaze. All along the perimeter of guards, the beasts of Ardeni Dreus were kneeling. Orcs, goblins, ogres and trolls; all prostrated with eyes cast upward, reverence shining from their lenses. I saw tears in some of their eyes. The human citizenry of Ardeni looked upon me with something akin to fear and awe, and even some of them knelt. Power. Such power I wielded for simply being who I was. The fear filtered from me, my chest swelled, I turned my attention back to the captain, and watched his gaze falter. He bowed to me.
“Your Highness.” He said, and with two words and a gesture, gave credence to my claim. I saw runners peel off from the crowd, sprinting from door to door down the endless streets, crying the news for all to hear. The Dark Queen had returned.
I drew my attention to the elves in their coach, and saw the disbelief strewn across their faces. Only Head-ranger Adarian kept his expression impassive. He was an honorable man, and his intentions were more honorable still. I hated myself for what I was about to do, but the opportunity was too great. I could secure the cornerstone of my kingdom with one deadly lie. “Captain,” I said imperiously, “these men were sent by my father to kill me. I am a political refugee seeking asylum. I claim sanctuary, and the protection of King Dreus.”
“Your Highness, Queen Yavara Alkandi.” The captain said, regaining his composure, “You are entitled to diplomatic protections. I will dispatch twenty guards to escort you directly to the palace.”
“I thank you for your consideration, Captain, but my friends are wounded and in need. The portal they escaped in has been destroyed, and I must make haste to the Great Forest to come to their aid.”
“I cannot allow that.” The captain said resolutely, “You are a diplomat under my protection. These men were sent to assassinate you, and there will no doubt be more of them. I must escort you to the palace immediately.”
“We’re not assassins; we’re rescuers!” The remaining mage screamed. I hated to see the terror in his eyes, but I was not moved to mercy. Adarian’s expression had turned to one of solemn resignation, and I thanked god that Elena wasn’t here to witness this.
“Rescuers?” Zander scoffed, “That was quite the rescue mission, gentlemen. Did you plan on reviving Queen Yavara after you’d burnt her to a crisp?”
“Captain,” I continued, “I really need to go-”
Zander’s voice cut into my mind before I could object. I’ll go back for Elena and Brock; you and Prestira go the palace. You have a golden opportunity to strike a deal with the king; you will never be a more sympathetic character than you are now. Don’t waste what you’ve done here. “Captain,” Zander said aloud, “I will need access to your temple’s portals. I will go and aid our wounded friends while the queen is under your protection.”
“Of course, Zander.”
“My queen,” the booming voice of the troll startled me, “I would be honored to carry you on your procession to the palace. The beasts of this city must see your face.”
I looked at the captain of the guard, who shrugged his shoulder. “It would be safer than riding at street-level.”
Yavara and I climbed onto the platform that was strapped to the troll’s back. I grasped the handle bars as the great hairy beast stood upright, lifting us twenty feet in the air. Our twenty-man escort formed two lines along the street, and rode their horses at a steady clop. Despite the troll’s lumbering gait, the ride was incredibly smooth, and Yavara relinquished her grasp on the bars, standing straight-backed and proud before the crowd that formed along the street. The criers had spread the news like wildfire, and now every citizen within earshot rushed the expansive boulevard to catch a glimpse of the new queen. The beasts prostrated, the citizens cheered, and Yavara looked upon them in wonder.
“They love me.” She whispered, her eyes glimmering.
I put an arm around her waist. “The Lowlands do not share the Highlands’ hatred for Alkandra. These beasts you see are descendant of those Alkandran refugees from a thousand years past, and the legend of the Dark Queen has only grown with time. Go on Yavara; raise your hand to your people.”
Yavara raised her hand and waved to the spectators. I giggled, and brought it down. “Not like a princess.” I closed her hand into a fist, “Like a ruler.”
Yavara grinned and shot her fist into the air. The crowd erupted, the sound thundering down the boulevard, rising from the featureless masses in the distance. I couldn’t have dreamed for better optics. The Dark Queen bestride a troll, promenading triumphantly through Ardeni Dreus with her fist raised defiantly in the air, having just survived an ‘assassination’ attempt? Sometimes fate trumps the best-laid plans. Even I was caught up in the grandeur of it all. Yavara looked to me, her orange eyes crazed, her chest swelling with the power of the populace. I saw in that megalomaniacal face the first traces of who she could become. It scared me and inspired me in equal parts.
“Ya-va-ra! Ya-va-ra!” Her name was chanted in cadence by every mouth we passed. Rose petals were thrown from windows, trumpets were sounded, the immense crowd was a mass of writhing arms, all reaching for her. Her expression softened, and the conqueror’s mask she’d dawned was shed for that of the compassionate queen. Now she spread her arms outward as if to embrace all of Ardeni Dreus.
The troll knelt at the palace steps, which were lined with the heavily-armored king’s guard. They gave way to Yavara as she ascended, and I followed a good distance behind her, as was appropriate for a consul. Now that Yavara named herself ‘Queen,’ there was a rigid hierarchy to adhere to, and though she may have deemed me a friend and equal before, I could no longer retain that status. She was my queen, and for that, I followed. She reached the top of the steps alone, and looked upon the masses alone. I saw her eyes search her sides, only to rest upon me as I stood at the base of the steps.
You coming? She asked.
Am I co-queen of Alkandra? I smiled up at her. She frowned down at me. They didn’t come to see me, Yavara. Give them what they came for.
Yavara regarded the thousands that had coalesced before the palace steps. Tens of thousands more lined the boulevards that extended like spokes from the pavilion, stretching into the distance. Yavara took a steeling breath, then raised a hand for silence. The crowd hushed. For a moment she just stood there, her features upturned to the crowd, resplendent and calm in the morning sun.
What do I say? She asked, a hint of nervousness in her telepathic voice.
Pander to them.
“Good people of Ardeni Dreus, I thank you for your hospitality. This is truly the greatest city on earth!” Yavara exclaimed, and the crowd roared. I smiled. The words were so easy to say, but only a few could say them to such effect. Emboldened by her reception, Yavara pressed on. “I will always consider the Lowlands to be a great friend and ally. It is by your grace that I have rekindled the dream of Alkandra, and it is by your faithfulness that the flame will carry on, a light of hope to be tended for generations to come! Together, Ardeni Dreus and Alkandra will forge an union more powerful than the world has ever seen!”
The crowd erupted once more, and Yavara looked down the steps at me, a satisfied smirk on her lips. Do you think that might force King Dreus’s hand in supporting me?
Not if there is the threat of war. The Lowlands want peace, Yavara; sell them peace.
She raised her hand and quieted the crowd again. “Many of you may have heard about the attempt on my life. The rumors are true: assassins of the Highlands tried to take my life today. Though I am saddened that my own father has deemed me a mortal threat, I bear no ill will to my former people. I offer peace to the Highlands, in the hope that we may plant the seeds of fruits to come...”
What the fuck does that even mean?
I don’t know, but it sounds nice. Shut up, Prestira.
“…I believe that in time, our two peoples may prosper together.” Yavara held out her hands to the side, palms open to the sky, eyes cast downward. It was a posture full of solemnity, and she kept it, letting the sentiment wash over the crowd.
Now appeal to your future citizens. Give the beasts what they want.
Yavara closed her hands to fists, her face shot skyward, a hot wrath in her expression. “But I will not stand by while rangers raid our homes and kill our children! I will not stand by while the lords of the Highlands seek to divide us! I will not stand by while King Tiadoa rains terror upon my people! I offer peace, but I will not hesitate to defend my people until my dying breath!”
And with that, the simmering crowd boiled, fists pumping into the air, a myriad of war chants from a hundred different clans splitting the morning. They were songs passed through the ages, the last vestiges of a glorious era, now sung with a new life and hope. Yavara basked in it, raising her fists high. “May god shine her light upon Ardeni Dreus and Alkandra for a thousand, thousand lifetimes!”
I ascended the steps before the wave of noise, faltering for only a moment to gaze upon the Dark Queen. For I saw her in that light as I’d seen her before; terrible and beautiful, powerful and merciless. Then her orange eyes rested on me, and they were filled with the girlish excitement I loved her for.
How was that?
A touch dramatic, and a little authoritarian for my tastes. I smirked.
Bow to me, peasant!
“So that we can be at eye-level?” I sneered down at the elf as I ascended the last step, “Such an imposing figure you strike, my queen; all five feet of you.”
“Five-four, Prestira; don’t short me.” Yavara grinned back, “And you don’t seem so tall when you’re on your knees.”
“And that’s where you’ll have me tonight, my queen.” I whispered into her pointed ear, “Because after watching that display, I’m dying to serve you.” I licked her ear, “In any way you want.”
Yavara’s eyes glinted up at me. I winked back, tucked my hands into my robes, and followed her as she strode into the palace. The room was incredibly extravagant, adorned with statues and chandeliers all the way down it’s immense length. I knew the room well, having served the late King Rondar Dreus for half a century as Arcane Master. The current King Dreus, King Alfred Dreus, sat atop a throne at the very end. He was guarded by at least twenty mages and a hundred soldiers, all standing at attention as we walked by them. I stopped fifty paces away, and Yavara stopped a mere ten. I bowed deeply, and she barely inclined her head.
“So, it seems the Dark Queen has returned!” King Dreus exclaimed, “You can cease your extravagant prostration, Your Highness; it’s unbefitting for someone of your stature.” The king chuckled at his own joke as descended the steps, and Yavara beamed up at him. He was a man in his early forties, a large blonde beard wrapping his cheeks, his body slim and tall. He looked very-much like his father, sans the rotund belly. He was handsome and confident, and I could tell Yavara was assessing the contents of his trousers, though she did that with everybody.
“Queen Alkandi Tiadoa, or whatever the great shit your name is,” King Dreus laughed boisterously, “what an entrance that was! I thought I’d been invaded when I saw your procession, and was just about to apply my ass-kissing lipstick for whatever posterior had so easily infiltrated my walls.”
“A shame you didn’t, Your Highness.” Yavara grinned, extending her hand, “Alas, the rear of my hand will have to suffice… for now.”
“I’ve heard you were trouble.” King Dreus grinned back, kissing Yavara’s hand, “Clartias always said you were the wild child. Leveria described you with different adjectives.”
“I’m sure I’ve heard them already from her lips.” Yavara said, taking King Dreus’s arm, “But if it pleases you, Your Highness, I’d rather not talk about my family.”
“Ah, Clartias sheltered you from politics.” King Dreus chuckled, “If I were to die from suspicious causes, the first place the investigator should look is my family tree. Your Noble Court is a pit of snakes, and those vipers eat their young. Still, it’s not like Clartias to make such a bold move. Someone wanted to make sure you were caught on Lowland soil, and without my knowledge of it. Someone was trying to catch me with my pants down. I wonder who that someone was?”
“Leveria.” Yavara sighed, then affected her sister’s voice, “Harboring an enemy of the state within your borders, Your Highness? What did you plan to do with her, Your Highness?! Oh, I can keep this quiet, but only if we revisit the last trade deal. Gold at fifteen percent doesn’t suffice; how about, say… zero? Does zero sound good to you, Your Highness?”
“It seems she’s not the only Tiadoa daughter who likes to play games.” King Dreus stopped, his expression growing sour, “I don’t like impromptu parades for unrecognized sovereigns, Your Highness.”
“You don’t have to recognize my sovereignty.” Yavara kept her smile, “Just know that twenty-percent of your population, and thirty-percent of your workforce is made up of beasts.”
“Was that a threat?”
“It’s a statistic.” Yavara smiled innocently.
King Dreus regarded her with disdain. “You have all the tact of a lobotomized bull.”
“I may not have the variety of tools my sister does, but I use the hammer quite effectively.” Yavara inclined her head toward the end of the hall, where the roar of the crowd filtered through the doorway. I could see King Dreus weighing the options in his mind, checking all angles and plotting probable courses. He looked at Yavara, a glint in his eyes.
“I want unrestricted access to the Tundra silver mines.”
Yavara couldn’t mask her joy, and I cut in before she handed him her entire kingdom. “I’ll be negotiating the terms of trade, Your Highness.”
King Dreus looked sourly at me. “Prestira Rasloraca, I was just pretending you weren’t here.”
“Alfred.” I sneered, “Last time I saw you, you were but a boy running naked through the courtyard.”
“At least I outgrew exposing myself when I was seven.” King Dreus smirked back at me, “I heard you and…” he gave Yavara a furtive look, “…Trisha put on quite a show the other day.” Yavara didn’t so much as blush, but grinned with absolute deviancy. For my part, I turned red near to the roots of my hair.
“You’re quite well-informed.” I muttered.
“It’s my business to be.” King Dreus leered at me, “Queen Alkandi, you may know Prestira Rasloraca as the greatest sorceress this side of the Knife River, but her greatest magic trick is her ability to scrape a penny out of any situation.”
“I know.” Yavara giggled at me, “I’ve taken recent advantage of her… entrepreneurship.”
King Dreus kept his glare on me. “I won’t trade words with someone who has a snake for a tongue, so here are my terms: I want exclusive rights to silver trade, and I want them at ten-percent for five years. After that, we can renegotiate.”
I nodded; it was fair. “We need capital.”
“Of course.” King Dreus smiled slyly, “And I need reassurances that you can pay that loan. You have no army to protect your assets, and you need assets to create an army. It’s quite a predicament you’re in, Queen Alkandi, being ruler of a country that does not yet exist.”
“I’m willing to offer some collateral.” Yavara smiled, subtly pressing herself to the king. She glanced at me, and I heard her whisper into Dreus’s receptive ear, “And Prestira is as well. Maybe the three of us could…” her hand moved beneath his robe, “…come to more favorable terms?”
“Oh, you truly are the Dark Queen.” King Dreus chuckled, and took Yavara’s searching hand into his own, “But I’m a faithful husband, and not so weak as to trade favors for flesh. That is, unless,” King Dreus ran a hand up Yavara’s belly, “you’re offering me a different kind of deal.” Yavara connected eyes with me.
No. I said mentally, The moment the child is born, King Dreus has a claim to your throne. How many assassins do you really want to worry about?
“No.” Yavara sighed, withdrawing from him.
“There’s always a price too great, even for whores.” King Dreus sighed.
“Your Highness!” Yavara said indignantly, though she smiled as she slapped him.
King Dreus smirked at her, then turned to me. His smile fell. “This failed attempt on the queen’s life has given me enough leverage to recognize your claim of sovereignty, but I cannot risk my relationship with the Highlands by creating an alliance. My protection extends to my borders, and no further.”
“You sound like you have something in mind.” I said.
“There’s a mercenary force that operates within the city, run by a man named Drake Titus.”
I snorted. “Titus? You want the queen to parlay with vampires?”
“They’re beasts.” King Dreus shrugged, “They may answer the call of Alkandra, who can say?”
“They’re man-eaters.” I spat, “You can’t trust a thing that views you as lunch!”
“What they are, is the largest private army in Tenvalia.” King Dreus said, “And the only way I’m going to give you a loan, is if I know it will be protected. Not by a rabble you’ve raised in the streets, but by a professional force.”
“I’ll do it.” Yavara said before I could object.
He’s covering his bets, Yavara! I hissed in her mind, Your death at the hands of vampires would be very convenient for him!
Sometimes you have to gamble, Prestira. Yavara smiled ruefully over the king’s shoulder.
“Splendid.” King Dreus grinned at Yavara. He took her arm once more, and guided her to the end of the hall, “Would you like some advice, one ruler to another?”
“Of course.” Yavara replied at they made their way to the steps.
“Never let a crowd go to waste. If the cattle have herded at your doorstep, milk the morons for all they’re worth.” And with that, Yavara Alkandi Tiadoa and Alfred Dreus stepped through the threshold, linked their fingers, and raised their joined hands in unison. The city erupted, banners flew, and I stood silently in the hall, frowning to myself. We’d turned the world upside down today, but there would be a correction. There would be blood soon.