Prince of Dust

Lael Amaranthine and his twin sister Fayne are the only surviving heirs of an ancient royal bloodline - the fae people. After years of mistreatment at the hands of their human oppressors, fearing the few of them capable of the magical arts, the fae had finally risen up; but fallen short when their king was slaughtered in his own throne room.
Now, while his sister rallies what remains of their insurgents, troubled sorcerer Lael must flee the kingdom of Fibret and stay alive at all costs, on a perilous journey to find what remains of the race of fae who had once thrived on the isles of dust. Guarding him is Cadel, the very assassin who had been sent to end his life; until he meets the fae prince in person, with the startling green eyes and a heart of gold, and more than simply money begins to drive him to keep him alive.

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2. Two of wands - C

There have been great killers who have referred to the act as an art, something to romanticize; a performance for death in which you twirl the strings of fate and change the world for ever. I never thought so. For me, it was simply sneak in, cut their throat before they realise you're present, and pick up your payment on the way out.

This kill was no different, regardless of who it was. The woman who paid me was of importance, a human general taxed with crushing the Fae rebellion by any means necessary. She was willing to pay a hefty amount, and that had never failed to convince me.

But originally, all out war between the two races was to be avoided at all costs, until a few numb skulled peasants with a carving knives destroyed that plan when they butchered the dust king on his throne and sent his orphans running into the night.. After that, it was only a matter of time until the fae people marched on Fibret.

The Amaranthine twins, I had been told, were the heirs of the fae dynasty, capable of rallying their people once more and re-sparking the rebellion.. If I were them, all I'd want to do is change my name and run as far as my legs could take me, but paranoia pays in my line of work. They were wanted dead before they had the chance. 

With the king out of the picture - even if that assassination wasn't orchestrated directly by a higher up - war was a very real possibility. Such a shame, it had to come to that, but it was making me a hefty amount of silver.

And as it turned out, a winged prince roaming the countryside on horseback isn't as quiet an affair as you might think. Even if only two had seen him passing through, they'd have told, and the gossip would spread like wildlife - until fairly soon you could ask any innkeepers wife in 20 miles if she'd seen the fellow and she'd spurt out coordinates as if you'd paid her.  

This was the place he'd been spotted last; a fae tower. One of the few physical remnants of the clash  just short of 80 years ago, when tens of thousands of fae refugees fled the natural disasters on the isles of dust; their fabled homeland.

It was no secret that the human King Voltain hated the Fae King Lesphare, but he was a slave to his own grandfathers political promises - held forever in the gold concordat. This was a sworn oath that the fae would allow the humans to mine the gold and silver that sat in the ground beneath them, as their people had no use for currency, in return for undisputed protection and refuge against any force that would seek to do them harm. Voltain, though he gazed upon the concordat every day, could never have dreamed that the day would come that ships sailed from the isles of dust to the continent he ruled - and arrive on his very own doorstep in Fibret. 

The royal family of course joined them, King Lesphare setting up shop at the opposite end  of the so called 'great city of Fibret,' just outside the walls. A makeshift castle was erected that somehow managed to look twice as beautiful yet three times as humble as the enormous Fibretian palace, though the humans refused to acknowledge it as anything more than an embassy. Nobody wanted to believe these strange people were here to stay. 

Each king ruled over his own people, though the fae were seen as somewhat 'secondary,' and their laws were dictated by the humans. Within 15 years of the clash, expressing much of their culture had been banned. If they wanted to live among them, they'd live like them too. This was only the first point on their list of reasons to despise us.

The fae weren't so drastically different from humans at an aesthetic level. Save for those strange, translucent wings at their backs, and their unusually shaped ears.. The main source of fear came from what they were capable of. Both the light and the dark arts.

Not every fae had a capacity for magic - infact, very few did - but that margin was still there. Humans knew very little of what this 'magical gift' entailed, and the fae were secretive, leading to only more and more suspicion and paranoia. Despite their race being spread across the country, they preferred to stay together and the humans liked having them where they could see them, and so it became exceedingly rare to encounter a fae outside of the cities. Fibret became a hotspot, so close to the king. It was a mixing pot, ready to boil over. 

It was 20 years ago, when I was a young child, the racism towards them really hit an all time high. Fear led directly to violence, and after a noble was burned to death in his home under mysterious circumstances, one of the fae servants working under him was charged guilty of murder, being a known magic user. Not a soul had witnessed the incident, but how else could it have happened? Unfortunately, the rich bastard didn't just spontaneously combust. 

The public was outraged, and after a vote, it was decided that all magic users wishing to remain in the city would be rounded up and branded, like cattle. Those that refused were thrown from their homes, all over again.

Building fae towers along walls was supposed be a temporary solution in the initial years after the clash, as many human cities had been already close to capacity, and homelessness was no less dangerous than remaining in their destroyed homeland. The fae that refused to be branded, and their families, began to return to these cramped towers..  And  hat followed was terribly predictable. 

Generally, a focused area of a hated group is just a big red target for attack, and that was exactly what happened. I remember hearing about it, when I was young; how groups of city dwellers would raid the towers in acts of hate violence, and the fae were powerless to stop them. That is, unless they wanted to give them a real reason to hate them. Killing one another was sure to tip things over the edge. 

But you can only push people so far.

It was almost ironic that a prince on the run would end up at a place like this. As I approached the structure, surrounded by a couple of vast crop fields and the red forest to the West, I eyed it for defenses; but found none. Not even a guard on duty. 

Either it was empty, or these were some rather unintelligent fae folk.

Surveying the structure a moment, I quickly affirmed that there would be no climbing the walls, regardless of personal skill. Using a grappling hook would only wake someone and alert them to my presence, and when you're half way up a tall building that's really the last thing you want.  Stealth would be my friend in this affair.

I approached the black wooden doors, sticking close to the walls to avoid being sighted from above, and reviewed them a moment. They were clearly as old as the tower itself, and would almost definitely creak..

I braced myself for that, but found that it was my lucky day. They opened soundlessly. 

The tower was eerily silent. Even as I shut the doors, the faint thud was the only sound to be heard. My footsteps were purposefully light on the stone floor, but in this unnerving quiet, they still made a sound.

I had to creep my way to the stone staircase, dodging discarded crates and pieces of material that littered the ground with every step, like it had been deserted in a frenzy. Every door that I passed had been left either wide open, or slightly ajar, allowing me to peer inside - but every room I checked was abandoned, only small signs of life left behind. 

I began to doubt that I was even at the correct place, until I reached the very top of the tower, and noticed that this door was shut.

This was it..

Exhaling slowly, I twisted the door handle, and carefully opened the door.

The room I entered was small, but airy, the walls built of solid stone and even the floor left uncovered, giving it a chill impossible to ignore. Yet from the fluttering chiffon drapes encasing the spacious bed in which a figure slept, this had once been a richer faes private space.

I approached slowly, careful not to allow the sound of my footsteps to echo off the unforgiving floor. Through the transparent drapes, I could just see him; curled up there. 

The boy wasn't so much younger than myself, maybe nineteen or twenty, yet he was so much smaller - lay with his knees hugged to his chest, the hand that didn't hold them tucked under his pillow, and his iridescent wings flat on the mattress behind him. It was strange, seeing the connections from them to the skin of his naked back.. Where you'd expect a break in colour, they seemed to flow.

I broke my gaze away to glance at his face, mostly concealed by a head of thick, ebony hair in loose ringlets - though I could still see the strong line of his jaw, the darkened spot of his cheek where the bone above cast a shadow, the reddened and broken skin of his full lips, and the contorted expression on his face.. He appeared to be having some kind of nightmare, the way he bit down on his lower lip, his forehead deeply creased as his brow furrowed. Infact, his entire body was shaking to some degree..

I unsheathed the dagger at my belt as quietly as I could manage, as though to avoid waking a sleeping child, and though there was a light graze of metal the boy did not stir. So I parted the drapes..

 The kill would be clean, silent.

The frown on his face seemed to grow a moment, probably at the sudden introduction of cold air, and so I didn't think twice about it as I inched ever closer, blade in hand.. And I swore, I swore I hadn't been staring at those beautiful, resting wings until it happened. The moment my blade touched Lael Amarathines throat, his eyes shot open.

Quite suddenly, the boys hand came flying from beneath his pillow clutching a kitchen knife, and he ducked away from my dagger and to the foot of the bed with his weapon out in front of him, before I could so much as reach to stop him. His eyes were frantically wide, and alarmingly green. 

"Who sent you?" He asked abruptly, his voice distressingly gentle, yet pushed to the point of snapping. 

I inched a little closer onto the mattress with my dagger still in hand, mustering a glare back at him. "What does it matter?"

"I'd like to know which human bastard is signing my death certificate!"

"That would be this one." 

The moment I went for him with the dagger he blocked it expertly, though his wrists were weak, and it couldn't hold. I smirked at the humour of it. 

"Are you quite finished?"

"What? Not used to looking people in the eye before you kill them?" Lael responded bitterly. The venom that should have laced those words was replaced by an eery calmness, one that made my teeth grit ever tighter.

In one swift movement I thrust my hand forward to knock the knife from his hand and off the bed, before grabbing his wrist, and launching myself forward to pin them both down to the sheets. He was far too weak to struggle in any way that caused me trouble.

"I'm looking you in the eyes right now."

He bit his lip a moment, as though he wanted to say something, but abandoned the thought in defeat. He sighed instead, and I smiled.

"Better, I'm fond of quiet."

"Never met an assassin who isn't.."

"And you've met many assassins, have you?" 

"One or two.."

I couldn't help but smirk again at that, going about moving both of his wrists beneath one of my hands to pick up the dagger I had dropped to the sheets in my other. 

Lael watched my face intently as I did. It was distracting. Those emerald green eyes, they burned a hole in me, yet nursed that hole as well - all at once. It made me shiver.

That was the moment I remembered. Out of all my knowledge of fae and the clash, I'd managed to let such an important thing slip.. If Lael was supposedly a magic user, why hadn't he used it yet?

"Is this where you kill me..?" The boy asked nonchalantly. "How much did this stranger pay for that?"

"Enough."

"Probably too much.. Why so defensive to a man who is dead already?" 

"Because, I very much doubt that you -  sorcerer - plan on letting me execute this to the end.. I take no risks."

Lael scoffed aloud at that. "You honestly think I care enough to stop you? I've got precious little use left in me.."

"Don't bullshit me, you're an heir to the fae dynasty."

"Then congratulations friend, you're sitting on the Prince of dust. There is no 'fae dynasty' anymore, assassin," he said softly, defeated. "My one and only mission now is a pointless one. At least my death will serve a purpose.."

"..That is?"

"Keeping you fed for a month or so, even if it turns to ashes in your mouth."

I stared at him, wordless, and after a few moments of holding that gaze, Lael turned his head to the side. His green eyes had turned glassy.

"I.. can't unsee what they did to my father. And I can't turn out the feel of the brand on my skin. I'm dead, no matter what you do.." He murmured, "So do it. Fayne never needed me anyway, shes stronger than any man I've ever met."

Again, I couldn't speak. I couldn't work up the nerve to comment at all, only to stare at those hypnotic eyes as a tear worked its way down the boys porcelain cheek.

"Do it," he uttered, without looking at me. When he did, it was with blurry eyes brimmed with water. "Just end it now!"

"I.."

"You're an assassin, and I'm asking you to kill me now!"

"Just hold on!"

"DO IT!"

"I refuse!"

Silence fell. The only sound was the ruffle among the sheets when I dropped my dagger. In that silence, I took time to I register what I had just said, and so did he.

"E..Excuse me..?" Lael breathed. 

Slowly, but surely, I released the boys wrists, and moved myself from above him to sit opposite instead. This wasn't a kill. I couldn't feel it, that dull thrill I usually experienced in the heat of an assassination.. Where was the fight? The godlike power? The quiet knowing that I was just a passing shadow in the night, unattached?

"I won't do it. This is just assisted suicide."

"You need the money from this, surely..?" Lael argued quickly, too quickly. Almost in desperation.

I frowned a little. "I can survive. If all else fails, I cut the hand from someone elses corpse and return that instead of yours; I just refuse to kill you.. You, have to fix the world just yet." 

Lael had sat up now as well, the wings that had been flat out at either side of him now arranged behind him, very lightly fluttering. He wiped the tears from his cheeks and smiled a faint, pretty smile. 

"You act as though I have that power.."

"Because you do. But you're too desperate to roll over and die to see it clearly."

He looked away from me. A few much longer strands of dark hair had been braided beside his face, and he twirled this in his fingers, before letting it fall against his cheek. "This may be presumptuous.. But might I ask your name?"

"My.. Ah, my name?" I stammered, taken aback at being asked the question at all. It had been a long time since someone had voiced the desire to know anything about me, even as simple as that. 

Lael chuckled softly, teasingly. "Well, if I wanted your height and weight I'd have said so."

"Didn't your parents ever teach you to be polite to hired killers?" I muttered, but Lael just stared at me with a fixed smile. I sighed shortly. "My name is Cadel. But I ask you repeat that information to nobody."

The man seemed pleased with himself as he extended a dainty hand for me to shake. "Lael Amaranthine, son of the wingless king; so they call him now." 
"Pleasure.." I murmured. It was somewhat surreal, sitting having a casual conversation with the person I had been plotting to slaughter a minute prior. And he seemed to hold no grudge against me, not even fear..

What the hell was I doing..?

Lael tilted his head, looking intently at me. "You seem conflicted.."

"I am." 

"Over killing me?"

"No.. Just over you. You're too calm." 

Lael smiled. "Why wouldn't I be?" 

"Unless you're dead from the neck up, boy, I'm sure you understand that I'm an assassin. Killing is quite literally what I do. And I was ready to kill you too, before you went and puppy eyed me.."

"But you didn't," he added, painfully cheerful. I almost groaned, but instead, I bit down on my lip and stood up, stepping away from the bed. 

"Your highness.. It's been an honour meeting you, but I feel it's hardly appropriate to sit and make idle conversation with the person I was sent to kill. I need to leave no-"

"-Wait, hold on a moment. I.. need to pay you, make up for your losses," Lael pressed, half scrambling forward to face me on his own two feet. "I can't allow you to starve or, uh, mutilate a corpse, on my behalf."

At that, staring down and noting the maybe 5-6 inches I stood above him, I raised an eyebrow at him incredulously.

"You expect me to take money, for sparing you? Under that principle the whole bloody kingdom should be paying me taxes.."

"Then, uh.." Lael considered his opinions in a frenzy, and as I began to turn to the doorway, he grabbed my sleeve. "What if I was to.. hire, you?"

I tensed. That word was far too broad. I gently removed his hand from my arm, and took a step back. "Lael.. You're a handsome man, but I don't think-"

"Not like that! Gods forbid.. I'd like to utilize your services, you fight well!" He flushed, practically stammering out the feeble words.

I had to resist a chuckle at the notable blush rising on his cheeks as I folded my arms. It almost made me forget what exactly it was that he was asking of me. 

"I 'fight well,' do I..?" I repeated, a smirk tugging at my lips. "Very well, my prince.. I can't refuse a fair deal. Who exactly is it that someone like you would want dead?"

"I can name a few, but, actually.. I was looking to hire a bodyguard." 

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