I'm extremely sorry for posting this up so late, but I only finished this 5 minutes ago (so, please don't mind the grammar/spelling mistakes you may or may not come across). It was harder than I thought to make everything come out the way I wanted it to without over-writing about the details. Enjoy!
Chapter 31 - Brother and Son
To call the bloody chaos below them a skirmish was a heavy understatement. Yet, that was what they had initially come to witness before all hell broke loose. About a hundred feet below the hovering craft they were on, thousands of metal-clad soldiers were in mortal combat with hordes of grotesque creatures of all manner of shapes and sizes. There were clashes of steel, claws, and horns where the warriors had their melee, and bursts of fire and explosions where the mages fought. Even in the air there were colossal creatures of flight manoeuvring the skies as the two enemy sides battled. They all had their wands out and ready, but it was an unnecessary precaution. Beside them was a woman of slender build with skin and hair as green as moss. Her sharp, angular face showed calm determination as her vigilant emerald, pupil-less eyes observed their surrounding warily. Circling around their little craft as they fought off any threat to it were two dragon-like creatures that were as black as night and as gigantic as half a mountain.
“Please worry not. The General has left me to protect you, and I will not fail. I have yet to fail any task he has given me”, a silky voice invaded their minds as they worried over the dangers of being in the middle of the battlefield.
And as Gabrielle wondered at how the strange green woman knew their thoughts the voice spoke into her mind, “I am telepathic. I can read and project thoughts in place of my lack of speech. My kind may have lips”, the woman turned briefly to show them an impish grin that seemed out of place upon the elegant visage, “but we can speak no more than a common ride-beast can.”
This graceful, silent woman with them was one of the many soldiers under Cyrus’s command, who went by the name of Vara. The blonde general had long left them to join the battle after an order for her to ensure their safety. So far, she and her two flying pets have done a good job of protecting them. But it was too soon to say if she could continue, for though she did not move much, it seemed her mental control over her flying creatures was straining her stamina.
A vicious roar had all their heads turned to find a hideous monster fast approaching with deadly claws aimed to strike. One of Vara’s dragon-like creatures screeched and rushed to stop the fiend but it was too far away to reach them in time. They screamed.
The strike never came. Instead, the unsightly creature halted inches before its vile grey claws reached the firsts of them, and plummeted to the ground below, a trail of purple-black blood following it down. Where it once flew in the sky was a man who bore the emblem of the Empress upon the head guard that shrouded his brows and the sides of his face. He wore a light leather robe over a high-collared shirt. The cirlet of gold was again hanging around his neck. The legs that were on either side of his mount, which seemed to be a hybrid between a horse and a lizard, were covered in long leather breeches and boots of a darker leather. His forearms were cuffed with the same dark leather. On each shoulder was a metal guard that connected to the other with double chains. Behind him, two long threads of dark cloth floated with the breeze that seemed to be the bind that held his head guard in place. In his left hand was a long halberd, its blade stained with the blood of their recent attacker.
“Sei’rei?” Gabrielled called their saviour in a doubtful voice.
His answer was in the form of a small frown and a stony glare. He ushered his beast aside to make way for another who perched upon an even larger mount that looked fearsome like nothing they’ve ever encountered.
It was the Empress herself, garbed head to toe in heavy armour of gleaming gold and looking more formidable than an entire army of the strongest soldiers. Sprouting from her back was a pair of wings of the same make of her armour. In her hands each held a sword that looked so sharp they could split a strand of hair in two. And with eyes like those of a predator, she was turned to Vara with a command unspoken.
Vara immediately bowed and leapt onto one of her own rides and dove into the heat of the battle that took place in the skies. That left the group with the Empress and her glaring son and servant, but they had no time to guess what was next because a slight and brief unbalance of their floating vehicle told of more company.
They all turned as one to face the eerie smile of Sei’rei’s twin. He was completely enclosed a double layered cloak of sorts that had designs running along the corners of the high collar, the middle, parting, and bottom hem. Where the cloak met at his neck lay a large crest belonging to the Fillye Court. Without any visible armoury, he looked no better equipped for battle than they were.
Turning to his mother with the same unwavering smile he told her cheerfully, “Sei’rei and I shall watch them.”
With no more than that as her cue, the Empress stood up upon her ride and allowed herself to fall right off the large beast. Gabrielle and her friends all rushed to the side of the platform to watch as she plunged head-first into the pandemonium that spread out like a sea below them. They observed with awe at the massive quake and ripple of bodies she made upon landing. However, soon, hordes of enemies surrounded her until completely submerged from their views.
“Mother does this all the time,” Sei’ra told them, directing his statement more at Sirius Black than anyone else. “She’s not as fragile as she looks.”
As one, they turned to the other twin for confirmation but he gave them none. He was ignoring them, eyes trained upon their surroundings and grip tight around his deadly weapon. Another ear-piercing screech warned them of encroaching danger, but as they raised their wands at the approaching creature, it was fell within the blink of an eye by the halberd-wielding man.
“Your wands won’t be fast enough against hunter-class Drumarans,” Sei’ra informed them casually. “Just let Sei’rei handle the fighting.”
“By himself?” Ron asked with astonishment. “Aren’t you going to help? That Vara-lady had two of those bloody monsters fighting for her, and she had trouble keeping those bloody things at bay!”
Sei’ra only chuckled with genuine amusement. “Me? I’m no warrior. That’s Sei’rei’s specialty. Trust me. If he wasn’t up to it, I wouldn’t be so relaxed.”
They watched as the battle waged on. Whatever gruesome creature attacked them was easily slain by their guardian, while their guide simply watched with a bored smile playing upon his lips. It seemed like hours had passed before the fighting died away with Naramyu’s victory. What was left of their enemy was captured and led away for reasons the visitors suspected they would rather not discover. As soon as it was all over, many of those who had arrived with their Empress, but did not join the battle sprang into action, rushing to any injured ally they could find to heal. His services no longer needed, their scowling guardian abandoned them and rushed towards a newly erected tent. His brother sighed heavily and steered their vehicle to a clearing near the large tent.
“Stay here,” he instructed firmly as he left them to their devices to.
He disappeared into the tent, the soldiers at the entrance saluting him stiffly. They stood there dumbfounded until a bloodcurdling scream of pain sounded from the tent. Sirius was the first to react, rushing inside past the burly guards despite their protests against his entry. Once they all arrived inside behind him, they found Cyrus and another buff man sitting at one side, both being treated by Regulus. Sei’ra was standing beside a screen that separated the tent into two halves, calmly refusing permission for an elderly man to pass the small parting at the centre of the screen. Another agonized scream came from the other side, followed shortly by the sound of splutters and pain filled grunts. Sirius, who looked like he was about to go mad at the sound, moved forward with a determination that would have broken any obstacle, but the one between him and admission to the other side of the tent was in the form of the very strong and unyielding hold of one Cyrus, who had just finished his healing session with Sirius’s own brother. The blonde shook his head as a warning but said not a word.
“Please, Semarif,” the old man pleaded to Sei’ra. “She’s in pain. Let me heal her.”
“She will be fine,” he told the aged healer with a stern smile.
“She needs healing before it gets any worse! I don’t care what you say. I’m not to be stopped from seeing she is healed!” the old man defied and moved past the young man.
As he did so, Sei’ra turned swiftly and grabbed his arm just before he reached for the curtains. The old man turned to look at the obstinate teenager with irritation, but instead widened his eyes in fright as his wrinkled visage blanched. He began shaking despite that the boy had long released the hold upon his arm, his case of vials rattling against one another.
“She will be fine,” Sei’ra repeated frostily.
“Y-y-yes, I-I-I-I u-u-unders-s-stand!” he exclaimed in a terrified squeak before falling backwards onto his rear. He looked like he was ready to go into cardiac arrest from what he saw.
There was a moments silence before the elderly scrambled to his feet and hands and scuttled out of the tent. The burly man, who had been under Regulus’s care, shook his head solemnly and followed the old man out.
Gabrielle and the rest could not see what the boy’s face looked like, for his back was to them, but they were sure they didn’t want to witness what had made a confident man turn into a bumbling coward at death’s door. Whatever it was, it was gone by the time he turned to face them, the eternally serene smile upon his lips seemingly uninterrupted.
“Please don’t worry. Mother really will be fine,” he assured them, though none of them looked like they believed him. It didn’t seem to bother him that they didn’t either, for he went on to say with formality, “Cyrus, I suspect the Emperor will need to hear of what has transpired here. It will be best if you and General Oran return to Ramsheire and report. Regulus and Lord Y’rrth will be here to care for your troops.”
The muscular blond nodded once and exited. Regulus sighed, muttering, “Let me go see if our Head of Healers is still sane after what you’ve just done to him, first. If poor ol’ Y’rrth is fine, we won’t have a problem with that,” before following suite.
Sei’ra’s smile widened slightly to signal Gabrielle and her friends to wait, and he disappeared to the other side of the curtains for a moment. The grunts died down after a moment. When he re-emerged, it was together with his worried looking brother.
“I believe I am correct in saying that today’s episode will be quite enough for the rest of your visit. You shouldn’t request for any more accompaniment to battles large or small. I will see that none of them will put you in situations that may endanger you,” he spoke, lightly hinting with his tone that Cyrus would be reprimanded heavily for his agreeing to let them follow him to the skirmish, “For now, we should all return to the palace. Sei’rei will be escorting you back. Mother and I will follow as soon as she is well enough to be moved.”
As Sei’ra moved to return to his mother’s side behind the curtains, Sirius grabbed his arm. “Wait. I smelled blood. Her blood.”
Sei’ra merely smiled calmly at him. “You’ve got a keen sense. But your concern is not necessary. It’s nothing that will cost her life or limb. Now please. She needs me,” he easily removed himself from Sirius’s hold and went through the curtains, taking care not to let even the slightest glimpse of the person within without really seeming to.
His brother said nothing to them. He stood there firmly and only moved to follow them when they made to exit the large tent and onto the flying vehicle they had arrived on. He mounted his reptilian steed after they boarded the metallic platform and he had fiddled with the controls to set it to return to the city, and they all flew back towards the jade palace.
Their trip back was a quiet one. Sei’rei retained the look of silent disapproval he had the very first time they met. He offered no them no relief from the silence, and none of them dared to say a word while their minds were racing all too wildly with the events they had recently witnessed. It was a long while before someone broke the quiet.
It was Sirius Black who asked, “Is it always like this?”
Their escort turned to him with frown, but the look upon his face told them the answer was affirmative without the need for him to speak.
“Does she always go into battle?” Harry’s godfather continued boldly.
Again, the young man said nothing. This time he did not even bother to turn. Sirius seemed to take that as meaning ‘yes’, for the Animagus frowned, too, but more with worry and sadness rather than critical.
“Does she always get hurt?”, “Do you always keep away from the healers?”, and “She was seriously injured, why didn’t you let her be healed?” were Sirius’s next questions.
Sei’rei let loose something between a grunt and a sigh. As he turned to face them, his visage was etched with irritation and anger. His grip upon his weapon had tightened, but he made no further move to close the distance between them.
“Sei’ra loves mother more than life itself,” he told them calmly. His voice was rather deep, but unlike his brother’s silky baritone, his was husky in a way that would set any female hearts aflutter.
His voice was the kind that seemed draw people to him, and drawn they were while being stunned by it all, allowing him to continue without interruption.
“Why we keep her from the healers is none of your business.”
They all managed to remain silent for the rest of the journey. Once they arrived at the palace front and his task completed, their escort once again abandoned them to their own devices. Again stranded in the enormous grounds with no directions, they lingered unsurely as the servants took away the platform vehicle and served them light refreshments, until Kamaria appeared to their rescue. As she guided them through various activities within the large palace, they relayed to her their day at the battlefield and their before unspoken thoughts. She commented nothing on their experience, only reprimanding them for their insistence and verbally reminding herself to reproach her brother on his rash and arrogant decision. She then smiled sympathetically their wonder at the magnetism they had felt when their escort spoke, though few were his words.
Gabrielle remained silent on the matter as a whole. Her mind was elsewhere. She had been told by the fair woman before that those with Peri blood were immune to Veela charms. The Empress was part Peri, she had discovered. However, the twins had none of her Peri blood, so why neither of them were affected by her when she had willed it was a puzzling mystery to her.
She admitted privately that she was attracted to both of them, at the very least physically. Sei’ra at first appeared genuinely interested in her, but over the course of the few days they had spent in Naramyu, he was paying less and less attention to her even though she had not lessened her will the slightest bit. It was as if he had progressively become immune to her magic. But Sei’ra seemed the kind to hide or disguise his true feelings, so she wasn’t sure how he felt. As for Sei’rei, she could see that his dislike for her, and in fact, the rest of her friends, was sincere. She wondered if they possessed heritage from another line of Fae.
She knew for sure that she wasn’t truly captivated by them beyond their looks. Like her older sister had been before she met and fell in love with her husband, Gabrielle made entertainment of enticing handsome men to fancy her with no real intention of delving into a relationship. She only dwelled upon them long because her curiosity at their imperviousness to her natural Veela allure.
Finally giving up on the mystery, she decided to ignore the twins. Thinking about it only made her head ache, and they would not sway to her magic no matter what efforts she made. She settled on merely enjoying her stay and learning as much as she could about this purely magical world to report back to her curious sister and brother-in-law.
Her resolution didn’t last long. As some unseen force has chosen it, a midnight chance with both twins sparked the curiosity and interest once more. That night, he couldn’t sleep no more than she could if it were the middle of the day. So, she tried to tire herself to sleep with a walk.
She was surprised to find people still about the halls, most of whom the sort she had never seen before among the variety she had met thus far at Naramyu. Presumably, these were folks of the night-dwelling kind that probably slept during the day instead. The interest in them was momentary. She soon grew tired of watching them and moved on to one of the gardens. Little did she realize, it was connected to the Empress’s private gardens by a gate she had not noticed while she passed.
There were whispers down the bend as she walked noiselessly down a well-worn path. She turned to walk away, with no wish to intrude on a private conversation, but the familiar voices halted her as she made her turn. They were low and speaking in calm, hushed tones, yet, the exasperation in one of the voices was unmistakable. And as if enthralled by the mere sound of the annoyed yet pleasant voice, Gabrielle followed it to find herself in the middle of a discussion between the brothers.
They both watched her as she stood as still as someone caught in an awkward situation, one with indifferent scrutiny and the other with delighted amusement. Neither of them said a word, and she dared not speak, uncomfortable though she was under their gazes. It somehow made her heart beat faster to have the two pair of bicoloured eyes fixed upon her being. She could not understand why she felt the way she felt upon interrupting their talk. She grabbed at her night gown nervously as she debated in her head what action to take under such circumstances.
As if sensing her anxiety building up, Sei’ra’s smile turned soft. “Can you not sleep?” he enquired of her with caring warmth.
Gabrielle nodded slowly, her voice refusing to work.
“The excitement earlier must have been keeping you awake,” the boy speculated, and she nodded anyway though it was only partially right. “I understand that you need to tire yourself to sleep, but these are the Empress’s gardens. It is best if you turn back before she discovers this,” he told her, though not without kindness in his words.
“Sorry,” she managed to say.
His smile widened. “Don’t be. The gates must have been left open by accident; otherwise you couldn’t have entered here. You are not at fault... but you do need to leave this place,” he reminded her with a gentleness that showed a glimmer of the care he seemed to initially have for her. “I wish I could escort you back myself, but I need to return to the Empress’s side.”
“Um... it’s alright. I can get back myself,” she responded, surprising herself with a hint of despondence in her voice.
“No. Even if it is safe within the palace, I would not have a lady---and my guest at that---being without a proper accompaniment to wherever she wishes to go. My brother is not exactly the most... favourable companion, but I hope he will do.”
Flustered at the offer and somewhat uneasy with being left alone with the morose twin, she stammered a polite decline. Sei’ra, however, was as insistent as he had been described to be. Sei’rei said not a word, only watching the two of them banter back and forth with a small frown of disapproval. Sei’ra never relented, so Gabrielle had no other choice than to accept. Once she did, he took her hand and kissed it as he bid her goodnight.
While making to leave them, Sei’rei grumbled in a defeated tone, “Why must you always involve me in your eccentric interests?”
His brother turned to smile at him with laughing eyes. “Because, brother, I am---as you so kindly put--- eccentric. Now, be a gentleman and keep the lovely lady company while I return to mother. And talk for goodness sake!”
With a dashing smile he left his brother in her company. They walked back along the path she had come in unsettling silence that neither seemed to dare break. It was well after they had passed the gates that the brooding boy spoke, and his words took her relatively by surprise.
“Try not to take my brother’s actions to mean anything of depth.”
“I’m sorry?” she replied quizzically, not quite understanding his meaning.
He sighed irately before stopping in his tracks and turning to look at her with what little patience he seemed to have remaining. “Don’t think he’s in any way interested in you,” he told her bluntly.
She was offended beyond words. Instead of voicing her displeasure at his rude frankness, she gave him a withering glare. Yet it was to no effect. He only turned away solemnly and continued to walk without waiting for her. She was forced to follow him, lest she lost her way in the maze of a garden. It was a while before he continued.
“What I mean is: don’t take anything he does to heart,” he told her with a softness that astonished her. It gave her mixed feelings about the man next to her, but she had no time to ponder over them as he continued. “I said that he loved mother more than life itself. That is truer than anyone can imagine, but it is also true that he loves no one but mother... not even the Emperor. Kindness, care, civility, warmth... in truth, they are only for show. He is cold and calculating. People would be uncomfortable around him without them.”
“Wouldn’t caring for someone’s comfort be kindness somehow?”
He shook his head. “It makes it difficult for him to do his work if people are uneasy about him. Only mother, the twins, and I are comfortable with his true personality. With everyone but us, he will do what needs to be done to keep his real self from showing.”
She peered at him from the corner of her eyes. “And you?”
He was quiet for moment, making her turn to fully look at him. He was looking up at the two moons softly glowing in the midnight sky. It gave her the time to study him better as she waited for an answer. He was as tall and handsome as his brother, though of a slightly heavier build. His face was stony and grim, yet his eyes were softer than Sei’ra’s. Looking closely, she saw that his dark hair had a brown hue, unlike his brother’s fully black crop. And as Cyrus had described, he wore a white opal stud on his right ear. He had several piercings on his left too, as she remembered, but they held a small silver stud at his earlobe and a row rings along the top. With his hair covering them, they mostly went unnoticed.
“I do love mother more than anyone else, but I also care for father and the girls. They are my family, after all... But I do not see the need for me to pretend to be kind or courteous to anyone. Perhaps if I hadn’t opted out of the Court like him I would have been the same.”
Though it was brief, she managed to glimpse a bare smile upon his lips before it disappeared from existence. And in turn, she felt a small grin tugging at her lips. It was strange for her to find herself maudlin at a mere smile, but she thought naught of it and simply enjoyed the silent walk with the smile still plastered upon her.
“Will you betray even your own brother?” he heard a frail voice ask as he entered the dimly lit room.
The air was thick with scents of herbs and medicines, yet it bothered him not. He smiled wickedly at the question while he stirred a phial of green brew. With is other hand he added a drop of red liquid from another phial. Smoke burst from the potion and blended into the bitter air around him. He turned to look at the feeble being upon the large canopy bed.
“’Betray’ is such a strong word, don’t you think?” he asked with a sarcastic humour in his tone as he made his way to the bed.
He parted the translucent screens and gazed upon the sickly creature that lied helplessly under the mass of blankets. Her bones were prominent under the pallid and bruised skin, and the cheeks under the dark rings around her weary eyes were sullen. Her ashen lips were dry and chapped, stained with blotches of dark red. The short strands of her dark dull hair lay lifelessly around her head.
“What else can I call it?” She coughed violently as he passed the hangings, choking on the blood that came each cough.
Sitting down beside her, he smiled and pulled out a small cloth to wipe the blood away. “Now, now,” he reprimanded her with mild amusement in his voice, “any more talking and you will cough yourself to death, and we can’t have that now, can we?”
She looked as if she wanted to swipe his hand away but was too weak to lift even a finger. He chuckled as he saw this. Once her lips were clear of the thick red liquid, he moved his hand to brush away the lacklustre strands from her perspiring face, and traced the streak of grey hair that ran at one side of her temples. After gazing at her pain stricken face for a moment, he pulled her up by the shoulders and moved to sit down a little behind her. And while her letting her body feebly slump back against him, he put the phial to her lips. Keeping her mouth open with his free hand, he carefully poured it down her throat. When all emptied, he clamped her mouth shut, which forced her to swallow the green concoction.
Her eyes suddenly widened with shock and her once motionless hand clawed at his in vain. She trashed and shrieked but her screams were muffled against his hand. His other hand had long discarded the empty phial and was now holding her firmly in his grasp to prevent any escape. He buried his face at the nook of her neck as he held her close.
“Shh... Shh...” he whispered softly in her ear, “It will all be over soon.”
Tears ran down her cheeks as she continued to struggle against him to no avail, her body writhing in excruciating pain. Finally, after long minutes in agony, her hands fell away limply as her body slackened against him. She was still crying and shaking from the ordeal, low, pain-filled moans escaping between his fingers.
“That’s a good girl.”
“D-don’t h-urt th-em...” she pleaded miserably to him, as he loosened the hand over her lips.
She continued to mutter the same words over and over in a voice so pitiful it would break anyone’s heart. He stroked her head with the now free hand as he shushed her tenderly.
“Shh... sleep, mother, and let the poison seep in.”