Forever Young

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  • Published: 22 Dec 2015
  • Updated: 27 Jul 2016
  • Status: Complete
Darla is most definitely not a human.

She's one of the Ashki, an immortal race who have lived alongside humans from the very beginning. But friendships don't survive that long, and her contacts with her fellow Ashkine people are practically non existent, humans just tiny little pieces in the jigsaw of time. And an old enemy is back, proposing changes to the way their society has run and developed, and destroying the Ashki in the process.

Now Darla must gather her friends together to save themselves and their souls. But after so many millennia, is time finally running out for the Ashki?


22. Towers

A deafening roar met my ears, crashing in my ears like deep waves from a deep ocean. Crowds stood between high rising stone buildings, second in height only to massive fortress looming over my head. They jeered on the chariot as we landed on the cobbles. And, for some reason, they were all smiling. Just smiling, all of them, even the young ones, the ones who looked like they were mortal. They should have been in pain at the very sight of Keda, should have bowed to me in respect and cheer me on in my mission to free them. It didn’t seem natural, though I suppose that isn't the kind of thing Keda understands anyway. Yes, the faint smattering of smiles did seem somewhat genuine, yet something about it, the sea of curved lips stained ruby red and peach pink, seemed wrong, as if they were all just putting on an act.

“This does not seem normal,” the girl, Stacy, whispered from beside me. "Where is our queen, my lady? You said she'd be here."

“Yes, I did," came the lady's lofty voice. "They shouldn't be jeering without a command, and certainly without a queen." I stared at her. “Queen Keda said that she would be here. And the mortals here, they shouldn't be here, she said there wouldn't be any. They can't see this land."

"Well, clearly they can," I scoffed.

“Yes, I think we have established that," Lady Ari hissed. "Stacy!"

"Yes, my lady?"

"Find a guard for me. Take the prisoner to them, say she's the one who's determining to kill the queen. Let them have her for all that they wish, and toss her in the cells once they are through with her." Her lip curled. "And tell them that I will take out my own anger on her if she disobeys."

"Y-yes, my lady." She gave Lady Ari a kind of salute, the three fingers on her left, and grabbed my hand. "Quickly, traitor," she growled.

"Yes, ma'am," I laughed. Nobody laughed with me. "Okay then. Bye, I guess. Thanks for a wonderful flight. It was a great conversation, truly, and you were all so very, very welcoming of me."

"Shut up before someone else kills you." Stacy pulled me away from the others, closer to the edge of the street, where spectators were standing, excited for something, though I wasn't sure what.

"What are they all here for?" I hissed. "If I knew it was going to be a public affair then I would have put on a prettier dress."

"You're not the only visitor coming today. Keda - the queen, I should say - has other of your kind coming, others who have been tortured by the system in your world. They've made a life for themselves - a long one - some have started ancient schools and estates, they're like cults. They're all meeting here, apparently, from China and Australia and America and everywhere." She furrowed her brow. "You act like you didn't know there were others."

"No, I do, it's just that I didn't know there were any, like not in the West. I've only met others from Europe, and who've travelled to the states. We all come from Europe."

She shrugged. "That's not what I've heard. But anyway, they're coming, and, well, your presence is just sort of a warning, for no one to mess with the queen."

"She isn't worthy of being queen."

"I know, I know.." We're nearer the guards now. Stacey's voice drops to a whisper. "Follow my lead. You're not going to be a prisoner for long. And for God's sake, make sure you keep your head down until I say so."

She strode up to the guard with more confidence than I did, hanging like a rag doll at her side.

"This is the Lady Ari, the maiden lady. I am her lieutenant, Stacy, a mortal."

"Can I see her?"

"No!" Stacy snapped. "The lady is under no obligation to reveal herself to anyone but the queen until she wishes to."

I peeked out from beneath my lashes to look at the guard. He was rather handsome, with light blonde hair, sea green eyes, and a chiseled jaw. Stacy and him appeared to be engaged in some sort of staring contest, until he gave in.

"You may pass. I'll inform the queen of your arrival. Oh, and the prisoner? Was supposed to be brought with her?"

"Just about to come. We thought it best that we got the lady in first, just in case."

"Good call. There really is no telling with barbarians like her. Now, pass, I can't keep the door open for long."

"Thank you, sir," Stacy said, and I could tell she was barely hiding a smile.

They ushered me in through the old door, and we stepped into a corridor of reds and golds. "You can change how you look, right?" I nodded. "Turn into Lady Ari. Now. She'll be coming through that same door pretty soon, and they'll be very confused if there are two Darlas." We heard voices from the other side of the door; the guard's booming laughter; the cheers of the crowd. "Hurry, you idiot!"

Not a moment too late, a woman strode through the door wearing, well, me. My face, my clothes, my manner of talking, walking, glaring. And I was wearing all the same that belonged to hers.

I shivered slightly. "Move along, traitor," the guard said gruffly, pushing Lady Ari along the corridor. "The boys can't wait to get their hands on you." He laughed, and the lady smiled weakly.

"Oh, yes, I'm sure they can't wait," she giggled. That can't be how I act. She's just terrible at pretending to be me. I hope Keda doesn't notice.

The guard shoved her again, rougher this time, and she stumbled closer to us. She snarled. "Long live the queen," she spat, as she was dragged further away, down the corridor. A lump grew in my throat.

"Tell me, Stacy," I said, shaking slightly. "Why did the Lady agree to this?"

"To save you," she replied, as though it were obvious. "Because the guards were going to do much worse than kill you. You were never going to be killed, just locked away, tortured, so that you could be close enough to kill Keda and yet powerless to do anything about it. They knew it would drive you mad." Her eyes dropped, and I didn't want to ask any more about how she would be tortured. "But like this," she continued, "you're Lady Ari. You can get close to her, make her trust you. You can train, get stronger, and then when she's not expecting it, boom. Gone."

"She'll come back."

"No. Not if you do it right. Listen." She dragged me into a small alcove, covered by curtains. I checked for peepholes. There were none. Of course, Keda would never have thought of them. Wouldn't think anybody would be able to kill her, I suppose. "When you get the chance, strike her in the back. Hard as you can, stab her, all down the spin, and at the top of her spine, just below her neck, hold it, and will your lives to be exchanged. You only have once chance left, yes?"

"Yes, but how -"

"Doesn't matter, I'll tell you later. So, you give her that one chance, and she has to give you hers - and hers is infinite. You can't cheat death, you can only find ways around her. This is one of them."

I stared at her. "You're mad."

"No, I'm right. Now, come with me. We have an audience with the queen, and we really can't afford to be late."


"No, I was just making it up, of course we do! Come on!"

We walked briskly through the corridors, past locked doors that looked as though they had stood there for centuries, though the castle itself looked, in a way, new. Stylish. Thick panes of glass were mixed in with old stone and white marble, and some parts of the walls seemed to have been covered in gold and diamonds.

As we walked, we came across a pair of other Ashkine, those of our kind, and I smiled at them. They frowned slightly, but the woman said in forced English, "Are you Lady Ari?"

I nodded. "Good. I am Lady Cho, and this is my good friend, Lord Raveen. We are from China, and India. Where are you from?"

I hesitated, but Stacy spoke for me. "The Lady Ari is from France, my lady."

"And you? What is your name?"

"I'm Stacy. Not a lady, though, I'm her lieutenant." They looked at her blankly. "Second in command. Her helper."

"Ah, I see. I have no - how did you say it - leh-ten-int." Stacy nodded approvingly. "Ah, yes. I have only my friends. My equal friends."

Something about the coldness in her smile made me want to laugh. She wasn't intimidating, though she certainly tried to be. "Yes, well, Stacy has shown her absolute loyalty, never leaving my side. I suppose anyone 'equal' would not show the same kind of loyalty, and I am indebted to her for it."

Lady Cho didn't seem able to meet my eyes.

"Anyway," Stacy said, breaking the silence. "Do you know where it is we are all to meet the queen?"

"Queen," Lord Raveen, who had been silent up till this point, snorted. "She is not worthy of being a queen any more than I am worthy of being a king. I have heard it said that she has even had her own throne room built for her, as if she is a noble woman, rather than a rogue, banished from the council. And did you hear why she demanded the throne room be built so quickly? Needs to make us see her power when we arrive. So that we will bow to her, accept her as a leader, someone powerful and in control, who we can trust to keep us and our friends safe. Did you know that she used to live here, in her early years. With her friends who turned her backs on her because of her actions, because of how selfish she was, wanting all their power for herself?"

"Yes, I have heard that." Stacy shot me a warning glance. "But I don't... I don't believe it. I trust her with all my lives, and all my heart."

Lord Raveen grumbled. "I would not trust her with my smallest toe. You are foolish to trust her, as I have told Lady Cho already."

"So then why did you come here today, if you don't think she's trustworthy."

"Because Lady Cho thinks that she is, and I want to see who is right."

Just as he said this, a guard came around the corner. He was frowning, but his face brightened as he saw us, like he'd just looked into the sun. "Ah, there you three are. Ladies Ari and Cho, and Lord Raveen. France, China and India?"

"Yes, that is correct."

"Come with me. And the Lady Ari, your lieutenant, she may come too. You're all going to be late if you don't hurry up. And the queen wouldn't like that one bit."

Keda sat on a throne of gold. It was cushioned with deep red velvet, and the frame was adorned with rubies and garnets that sparkled in the sunlight, dancing through the glass panes. "Ladies," she cried to us as the guard escorted us through the door. "And Lord Raveen, of course. It's a pleasure to meet you all at last."

She stood from her pile of tacky shit - sorry, her throne - and flounced to just in front of our immortal crowd.

"Now, I know this may seem silly to some of you, but I'd like to make sure I know who everyone is and where you are from, just for safety reasons. As you know, we have a dangerous criminal here, one of our own, Darla. She is evil, and twisted and -" she composed herself "we must all be very careful. I think there are supposed to be around fifty of us here - splendid! If I say your country, please at your name and if you have any mortals here to accompany you. Only from who is in this room - anyone else can join the crowds outside. Okay then? Great!"

She reeled of a list of countries, getting names in return. There was a Lady Marietta from Italy, a Lord Enrique from Spain, a Lord Brovic and Lady Karina from Russia, who came with their own mortal companions, whose names I didn't remember. Of course, Cho and Raveen from India and China, as well as a Lord from Japan, and a Lady from the United States. There were countless others too, but I couldn't be bothered to remember their names. They weren't important, anyway.

"That seems like everyone, now." I wasn't really sure how everyone understood her. Maybe some of the mortals were translators, though it was entirely possible that they'd all learnt English. A few hundred years of a global empire was probably apt time to learn a language, I supposed.

"Now, this is truly wonderful to see you all, but I'm afraid I have some other business to attend to for a while, involving our other lovely visitor here today. Don't worry, nothing sinister, I just have to make a few arrangements. We will talk over what I plan for the world if you join me later, but for now my dear friend, Jes, will show you all to rooms where you will stay for however long you are here. I'm sure you all know how to get whatever you require here." She smiled, and I felt even myself almost charmed by her. "Oh and please, don't wander if you don't know where you're going. I don't want anyone to get hurt."

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