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Pen Your Pride

Chapter 2: Roxy

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Out in the garden, it could almost have been two months ago. The weather was as unchanging as it ever was in the Helian Realm: sunshine, limited breeze and hot. The vegetation on either side of me was thick, green and covered in vibrant, exotic flowers. The scent of pollen was sweet and intoxicating in the air.

And I was alone.

Which was what I needed, but it wasn't what I wanted.

The memory of a low, accented voice was sharp in my mind. I could imagine him coming up behind me, asking me what I was doing and sitting down, uninvited, to chat. I could see him after his fight with Cinaer, fired up, magnetic... and shirtless. And in front of me, rescuing Melaina from the tree she had got herself stuck in.

He should have been here by now, a niggling voice in my head protested unhelpfully. It had been nearly four weeks and there had been no sign of Brae. He'd had more than enough time to get the others safely home and come back for me. But he hadn't. I was starting to think that maybe he never would.

I sat down on the warm, green grass and ran my fingers through my hair hopelessly. Ordinarily, I would have torched a nearby tree, letting calmness wash over me as I watched the flames flicker round the branches, slowly choking the life from them.

I scratched at my wrists, which were red raw from where I had attempted to pull off the gold manacles which subdues my powers. They were heavy, consisting of interwoven swirls, creating an effect that was almost like solid lace, spanning three inches up forearms from my wrists. Difficult to hide in a Realm where the climate didn't allow for sleeves, but they didn't look like anything other than an odd jewellery choice; gold cuffs were popular in Kalme, so if anyone asked, they could easily be explained as a gift from Cinaer.

They were tight though and chaffed my skin whenever they moved. Cinaer and my mother were only concerned with secrecy, however, not my comfort. Mother didn't want the family being shamed if news of my 'indiscretion' got out; Cin knew that I was the best chance he had of sitting on the Helian throne, so he needed to keep me around. They both needed me kept under control.

For the hundredth time that day, I tried to make sparks flare in my hands. I didn't feel right without them. I wasn't me.

"I thought I might find you out here." My ears pricked at the noise, my head turned automatically. But it was the wrong voice. Just as familiar, but far more deadly. Cinaer.

"What do you want?" I growled. I was not in the mood for Cin's taunts.

"Now, now, Roxy. Play nice." To my disgust, he sat down beside me.

As if he had been reading my thoughts as he sauntered over, he continued: "You're not still moping around waiting for your Prince to come and save you, are you? Because that would be incredibly tragic."

I forced myself to keep looking straight ahead. There was no point rising to the challenge, not while I still had his manacles on. The repeated burnings I had endured over the past few weeks had scorched that fact into my mind.

"He left you, Roxy, like I said he would. He wasn't really interested in you. He pretended to be, so that you would help him and his Air-Head friends to escape. He used you. And you let him. Now how weak does that make you, I wonder? It's a good thing I took your powers away—you didn't deserve them."

I lost it, forgetting my earlier patience, I punched him straight in the jaw. The unexpected blow sent him reeling, but he quickly made me regret it, sending a wave of hot sparks at me.

I screamed out in pain, unable to cope, and he stopped immediately. "Flames! Keep quiet will you? Or do you want everyone to come running? You'll be in as much danger as me if anyone hears you, Roxy."

I scowled, subdued for now. Cinaer's eyes were blazing dangerously and the flames still licked at his fingers.

I couldn't help staring at the blaze enviously. I missed my powers more than anything. More than my freedom, even more than Brae. They made me who I was, gave me my strength, my confidence. Without them, I had lost the spark that made me, me. It was agonising to watch him stand there, toying with the flames so carelessly, enjoying the tingling warmth of them on his skin, feeling the rush of power through his fingertips. He had complete control of this situation and his awareness of it made him so smug I felt my blood boil with hatred.

"Believe me, I would love to tell them all what you've done. That would wipe the smile off your grandfather's face—we'll see who his favourite is then, when he realises his golden girl is a traitor." The flames flared, brighter, in his hands and I stood up, eager to move away.

"You need me," I said with confidence. It was true: the only reason Cinaer was keeping my secret, the reason he had locked me up inside my own body, was because he had no hope of gaining the Helian throne—and the absolute power he was so desperate for—without me. After my parents, I was next in line to rule. But a Helian, male or female, could not take the throne unless they were married. It was an ancient law, so old that no one really bothered to question or query it. It was probably supposed to create a sense of balance... and to better ensure and encourage the production of heirs.

If Cinaer wanted the throne, he would have to marry me and then bide his time until it was my turn to rule (unless he took out my parents, which I wouldn't put past him). Once he had control of the Realm, he could get rid of me too—you only had to be married for the coronation, there was no law that said you had to remain married afterwards. Then again, Cinaer was probably sadistic enough to keep me around for his own amusement.

"Well, there is always Avery," Cinaer cut into my thoughts. "Although she complains too much for my liking. You've always had more fight in you." He paused, before smiling. "Or you used to, at least. You've become rather bland of late. You've lost your spark. It is a pity, but then I guess that's what you get for falling for an Air-Head—their mundaneness must be infectious. Still, Avery would do if you were to be tried and killed for treason."

"You'd be tried and killed along with me, Cinaer. Using Control on another Protector is punishable by death."

He laughed callously. "And who is going to prove that I did anything of the sort. Your only ally, Vincent, is AWOL. He's left you to suffer alone. I guess he finally got fed up of your screw-ups."

He was right—no one had seen Vincent recently. He'd vanished soon after the escape and hadn't resurfaced.

But I wasn't going to let Cin win easily. "The only evidence you have that I betrayed the Helians was obtained through Control. The rest of your proof sailed off a few weeks ago—believing that I betrayed them, rather than you. So good luck proving anything." I forced myself to smile, so that I looked more confident than I felt.

Cinaer blazed, but he didn't retaliate. Perhaps he didn't want me to scream again.

"We've got one more council meeting and then everyone's going their separate ways for the time being. I will be returning to Kalme." My eyes lit up; Cin was leaving.

He smiled and walked to stand directly in front of me, his eyes close to mine, flames flickering across his fingertips. "Don't think you can escape that easily, Roxanne. Your mother and I have been talking and we've decided that it would be best if you came with me."

He grinned wickedly, the same smile that would have excited me a few months before now filled me with dread. He ran his fingers softly, almost caressingly, across my collar bone. I shuddered from the pain, but refused to shout out again. He brought his lips close to my ears before whispering, "And in Kalme, there will be no one to hear you scream."

Leaving the threat hanging over me like a knife, he turned and walked back inside, torching a nearby tree as he passed.

Once he was out of sight, I crumpled to the floor and let the tears take over.

{fan art by @manohar_m}

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