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the conquered

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Father says, with power comes responsibility.

Mother says, trust no one.

Qetsiyah laughs. How common.

-

She is powerful, and they know it. Father begins to fear her, and Qetsiyah resents him for it.

Mother says, hide yourself among the sheep or they will destroy you.

She resents the idea of holding herself back. She can be better, she is better than these other self-satisfied half wits. She will not hide.

-

She is only thirteen. She doesn’t see it coming, because he is her cousin and he is older. He was never kind, but he wasn’t cruel either. Mostly indifferent.

Qetsiyah shows him up at the Trials held every year for the young ones. She is the youngest of them all, but she is better than them. She smirks at her opponents when they challenge her and smiles sweetly when they lose.

The heat of his breath against her ear is nothing compared to the burning of his hands on her wrists, the sharp pain when her knees hit the ground, and she lets out a sharp cry.

Know your place, girl.

Qetsiyah screams with fury and disgust when she feels his erection hot against the small of her back.

He drops heavy on her back, his weight pinning her to the ground, and she can’t breathe. She can’t move.

Helpless.

No. No no no nononononononononononono

He doesn’t move.

She is sobbing into the dirt when she realizes he is not breathing.

-

They find her like that about an hour later, glassy-eyed, her cheek pressed into a pool of her own vomit. They pull him off of her.

There are no injuries on his body, he is young and in his prime.

They look at her in horror.

-

Her father will not look her in the eye.

If I tell everyone the truth, Qetsiyah says, they could listen. I could fix this.

Mother says, you killed a boy.

He tried to hurt me.

You would have healed. We can’t heal death. You robbed a family of a son.

I didn’t mean to kill him.

Mother’s upper lip curls. Yes, that makes it all better, doesn’t it? she mocks.

Stung, Qetsiyah retreats and never brings it up again.

She endures.

-

Qetsiyah practices and explores her magic and grows more powerful. She refines her craft, and pushes the boundaries of what has been done.

Then she grows bored.

-

Once a month, the heads of family gather. Qetsiyah doesn’t know for what. She invites herself to find out.

The man that is her father says, Little girl, you should not be here. Leave.

She smirks at him. Make me.

He is afraid. He bristles to hide it, and settles back. Suit yourself. The rest of the old men fall in line.

-

They do magic.

Boring magic, and then they show it off as if it weren’t.

I can do better, she brags, watch me.

She makes a dried husk of a seed blossom into the wrong plant. She whispers to it, grow, and it unfurls itself into a flower she has
never seen before.

Then there is silence. She looks into their eyes and sees scorn.

Qetsiyah says defiantly, I made something beautiful.

Move along, girl, we don’t have time for your sentimentality.

Her spine stiffens, and she tosses her head back imperiously and roars. She amplifies the sound, makes it echo in the air and in their ears, and makes it rain fire.

The man that is her father screams when the fire catches on his clothes and burns his skin. Stop this!

She smiles sweetly.

Harbinger, someone whispers.

-

Amara says, you are a monster.

Qetsiyah turns up her nose and curls her lip. She has won herself a spot on the council with her little show and gained a self-righteous bitch as a shadow for her efforts.

You are nothing to me, she says in response.

-

Qetsiyah is no fool. The Council has attached a spy to her person in the form of a bright-eyed little girl whose perfect ordinariness grates at Qetsiyah. She is strong and sweet, comfortable and snug in her place in the world, exactly the girl that Qetsiyah wishes she could be.

Amara purses her lips at Qetsiyah's cool arrogance, her way of inelegantly reaching out for what she wants and taking it.

Qetsiyah has no heart or patience for teaching Amara that she has no choice, that this is her way of surviving the world they have been born into. Not every girl can fade to the shadows with the faith that there will be someone there to protect her if that is not enough.

Qetsiyah can no longer be nobody. If she must be somebody in this world of men, she will be the strongest of them all and she will never be hurt again.

-

Silas comes into her life like the crashing of waves on the shore. If Amara is the chain that ties her to the Council, Silas is the anchor dragging her down. He is older than her and chafes at being assigned as apprentice to a woman younger and much more skilled than he. His magical talents are piddling at best.

He is also the nephew of an important member of the Council and she supposes that they mean to use her failure to teach him properly to prove her lack of quality.

She spares him no mercy. She beats her understanding of magic into him, screams the truths she is willing to share so loudly that he has no choice but to hear. Amara flutters anxiously at the edges of their arguments, trying to soothe their tempers.

At the end of three years, she is satisfied that she has made him competent with magic. When he graduates from her care, he blazes with potential and strength in a way that he never did before.

Qetsiyah smirks at the shock she sees among the Council. Silas, under his uncle's care, had become known as a layabout, a fool, someone who would never amount to much. She has taken his arrogance and used it to light a fire under his ass, and now his power matches the pride he swings about like a heavy stick.

How... inelegant, someone dares to say, and Qetsiyah's smile drops away as she fights the desire to burn him from the inside out.

They'd taken her elegance and crushed it between their heels. The time for elegance is over.

-

Qetsiyah, with Silas at her side, takes control of the Council within a few years. She rules them with an iron fist.

They hate her.

That's fine. She hates them right back.

-

Silas does not touch her, as a rule. Qetsiyah does not know if it is because he has always understood that she would not welcome it, or if it is because he finds her repulsive. She has never cared enough to find out.

So it is a shock when he takes her hand one day and pledges to stand by her side for the rest of his life.

Discomforted, she takes her hand back. Your loyalty is appreciated, she tells him, and dismisses him with a wordless wave of her hand.

He looks disappointed, but leaves.

Qetsiyah stares after him for a long time, wondering what it is that he wants from her.

-

Amara says, Master, for she has never once referred to Qetsiyah as 'Mistress', may I have the afternoon off?

She says no. Not to be cruel. She needs the girl to attend to her later for something.

Amara's jaw drops. Qetsiyah has the unpleasant realization that Amara has never been denied anything in her life and had certainly not expected it this time. Why?

Suspicion blooms in Qetsiyah's mind.

You forget yourself, she says coolly. You are my servant. I do not require a reason to deny your leave.

Amara inhales sharply, and turns on her heel without being dismissed. Not the actions of a girl who thinks herself a servant.

Qetsiyah laces her fingers together in thought.

So, she thinks, the spy is no simple handmaiden.

-

She may as well have allowed the girl her leave. For the rest of the day, as well as the days and weeks following, Amara fails to do any of her work. A petty revenge, one all the more frustrating because Qetsiyah realizes how much she has come to rely on Amara for her service. Qetsiyah attempts to dismiss Amara from her service for a handmaiden who will not sulk and neglect her work, and finds two different Council members blocking her way.

Amara returns to work, but Qetsiyah can feel her resentment simmering under the surface.

Qetsiyah does not feel sorry, but she finds herself surprised by the strength of the girl's grudge. She had not denied the afternoon out of spite originally, but she does now, delighting secretly at the way Amara's ill-disguised anger twists further.

Her own sort of petty revenge.

-

Immortality, Silas breathes.

Qetsiyah feels no inclination to stretch this life further than it has already. It is possible, she says, but what need have I for immortality?

Silas' eyelashes flutter when he smirks, as if sharing in a secret with her. Slyly, he says, You would not want to preserve such power and beauty?

Qetsiyah still has not figured out what he wants from her with these looks and flirtatious words. She tires of trying to puzzle it out.

She sighs and reclines back in her seat. She is no longer young and impetuous, nor so angry and afraid. She knows she will die when some powerful young upstart takes it into their head that they will no longer live under her thumb. Now, she is simply waiting for that day.

Qetsiyah meets his searching gaze and responds simply.

There will always be those who are more beautiful and those who are more powerful. I have no desire to spend the rest of eternity trying to cling to something that was created to be so fleeting.

Silas stares at her, naked perplexity on his face. Qetsiyah smirks at this. She has never seen him so open and honest with what he is thinking. He really is quite an unpleasant friend, but he is the only one she's got.

There's nothing that you would want to live forever for? he asks her.

Qetsiyah considers the question. Finally, she says: Nothing for which I am willing to pay the price that kind of magic would demand.

He comes to stand before her, and kneels at her feet as if in supplication. Not even for love? Silas asks lowly. His face is earnest in a way that Qetsiyah has never seen, stripped for once of the casual arrogance that bolsters his every move.

Struck by this, Qetsiyah reaches out and touches him for the first time, cupping his cheek gently. His eyes widen in surprise as he looks at her, but he doesn't flinch away.

No, Qetsiyah says softly, watching with regret as the hope in his eyes crumbles away. Not even for love.

Not even true love? Silas asks, voice dropping away into a whisper. If you could make two people immortal, you could be with your true love forever.

Qetsiyah has nothing to say to that. What does she know of love, let alone true love? Instead of answering, she drops her hand away and turns her face in dismissal.

Silas grabs her hand before she can pull it back entirely. He says, Let me show you that true love is worth forever, Qetsiyah.

He reaches out and cups the back of her head, pulling her down until he can kiss her.

-

Qetsiyah is stronger than him. She could stop him.

She doesn't look too carefully at the reasons why she doesn't.

-

Afterwards, she lays nakedly shoulder to shoulder with him, and she asks, Was that it?

Silas makes an offended noise, and even she is surprised when the pleased amusement she feels bubbles into a laugh.

Astonished, Silas props himself up on an elbow to look at her face. I have never seen you laugh before.

Qetsiyah looks up at him, already missing the humor that is fading away. Hm, she says.

She stands fluidly, and goes to fetch her clothes to hide her face. She is troubled because she can not recall another time when she felt comfortable enough to laugh so freely.

Silas dresses as well. When they are both clothed, they stand awkwardly at a distance from each other.

If that was true love, Qetsiyah tells him finally, I am not yet convinced that it is worth forever.

He deflates visibly. The disappointment in his face tugs something at her, and she purses her lips even as she knows that she is going to regret her next words.

As he turns away, she adds quietly: So, convince me.

The smile he turns on her at those words makes her heart flutter in an unfamiliar way.

-

In the end, Qetsiyah supposes she still wasn't convinced. She still goes through the motions of making her own version of eternity and it still hurts when she learns that she has been betrayed, but she spends very little time being shocked by it before sliding straight into dedicating her life to eternal vengeance.

She will destroy him for betraying her trust.

-

She watches the doppelgangers come together generation after generation, overcoming obstacles and conquering their enemies to love each other.

She wonders each time:

Am I something to be conquered?

Am I something that has been overcome?

She watches Amara and Silas love, lose, and miss each other over the centuries, and she still isn't convinced that true love is worth forever.

She feels sorry for the brother of Silas' doppelganger. Whether or not true love is worth it, it doesn't go away. She wonders if he is strong enough to handle that.

-

Qetsiyah dies, and then she dies again.

It is not so bad.