28. The Site of Our Brotherly Implosion

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The End

This was it.

In all our conversation, Malik had not asked once about our father or his will for succession. Still, as we walked against the rapids of frantic people pouring out of the palace, he had to have known something was wrong. He did not let it show. Malik kept his pace as steady as the suns' paths across the sky.

What was wrong?

Three different scenarios wandered across my mind, each as appealing as the last. First, Alikhan felt Malik's pressure and purposefully released his energy. If he did that, then Hakan would be forced to release his energy, and the city would melt into chaos once again, and if that happened, we would need to resolve this soon. Second, Effat had gone directly for Alikhan rather than Xerxes. I hadn't intended it that way, but it could have worked just as well. I doubted Xerxes would go against Effat, and if Alikhan killed her in retaliation, it would be all over for him in terms of Xerxes's support. And then, of course, third. Takehiko.

People gave us alarmed eyes as we waded through them. Malik met some of them with confident, reassuring nods but did not otherwise interact. Malik was what Hakan could not be - respected. He'd never earned it, but he was the first born and big, with a jawline and sharp eyes that looked like they should be honored. Perhaps much of the military and those cursed with more ambition than they were due would be behind Alikhan, but the majority of our people would support Malik. They faltered with Malik's nods like they wanted to speak but continued on.

He would not ask questions, but I would. I grabbed a tall servant man's arm. "What's happening?"

"He's dead," he quivered. My grip on his arm tightened.

"Who is?!"

"His Most High Majesty!"

I released his arm with a shove and ignored the chuckle of Malik a few midpaces ahead of me. "What else is happening?!"

"The North Wing is collapsing!"

"Why? How?!"

"I- I don't know." The servant shook his head, his eyes bulging. He grabbed onto the chest of my robe. "My Shah, I have a daughter. I don't know where she is! I-"

I peeled him off of me. Under normal circumstances, I could have had both his hands for that.

"A directory will be organized after this is resolved. If she is alive, you'll find her then."

"But!"

I walked forward.

Malik was laughed softly, shaking his head. "You're so cute, Minos."

I did not dignify that.

Zoltán shot out of the crowd, hopping as he tried not to blaze past us. Malik caught him by the shoulder, a firm grip that steadied his stance. Zoltán's bleeding hand could not be steadied.

"Zoltán." Malik's laugh was gone. "Settle down. What happened?"

Zoltán and Malik's difference in size was negligible, but next to Malik, Zoltán shrunk like a child.

He turned to me and squeezed my wrist so tightly, he nearly cut off the circulation. "What are you doing?"

He thought I was going back on our agreement, there to aid Malik against both Alikhan and Hakan. Almost as if he was confirming Zoltán's suspicions, Malik pushed him off of me and turned his head so that their eyes were locked.

"Answer when spoken to." Malik had been his teacher as well.

I could not feel for myself the intangible, but it was obvious as Malik pulled out answers from Zoltán like they were attached by a pulley. Zoltán pressed his bleeding hand tightly into his chest.

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