Amara waited until late at night to let two of Ga’ran’s royal guards take her outside the palace. The crescent moon above them lit up like a beacon, and the chirps of crickets filled the air. While following the guards, she stared at their backs and heard their boots stomping on the cobbled ground. More royal guards patrolled the courtyard, offering Amara and her escorts acknowledged nods when they passed them. Once they made it to Amara’s tomb, one of the guards opened the double doors for her, and they stayed behind as she stepped inside.
The candles’ low flames cast the chambers in bleak colors. Amara passed through the many monk statues, her footsteps echoing through the walls, and stopped in front of the sarcophagus that was supposed to have her body in it. Her hand touched the casket, cold on her fingertips. She sighed, pulled the hood out from her robe, then stared at the paintings on the wall. The ones featuring a certain someone with demon horns caught her attention, Amara bit her lower lip.
“I knew you would come here again,” a familiar voice said, causing Amara to flinch. She turned around, and saw her sister looking at her.
“The first time you took me here, you pointed at the paintings on the walls,” Amara said, letting her hand drop from the tomb.
“Yes, to remind you how Dhurke had deceived you all this time.” Ga’ran folded her arms against her chest. “And now he’s using his group of Defiant Dragons to plot against me, so you know he’s up to no good!”
Amara’s eyes flickered. She hung her head, rubbing her arm with one hand. “There is no denying that was the case.” Ga’ran had allowed her to visit the tomb as long as the royal guards accompanied her. She only visited it on a few occasions, but each time her heart ached. As more time passed, she grew to believe her sister’s word.
A satisfied smile pulled on Ga’ran’s lips. She approached Amara, the current queen tracing her sister’s chin with her long, slim fingernail. “Someday that traitor will get the punishment he deserves. Until then, I’ll keep you safe.”
Swallowing hard, Amara nodded. “Of course, and I shall ever be grateful for you watching over me.”
“Good.” Ga’ran’s grin widened. “We should get some sleep now. You have another channeling to prepare for in the morning.”
Amara hummed in agreement. Before leaving, she stole a glimpse at the paintings of Dhurke once more. Her eyes narrowed, then she swung her head back and followed her sister outside the building.
Amara spent most of her time awake stuck inside the palace, only to be summoned out whenever she needed to channel a spirit. She was fine with that, knowing Ga’ran didn’t have that ability and it was the least she could do in exchange for her saving her life from the fire incident all those years ago. Sometimes she would be bored with not much to do, but it was important her being alive was kept a secret.
One night after she was done with another spirit channeling, she headed back to her room and collapsed on the bed. She rested for a few hours, then woke upon someone knocking on the door. Thinking it was probably a guard bringing her dinner, she jumped off the bed and opened the door. She was indeed greeted by a guard holding a tray of tea and magatama buns. Amara told him to set it aside on the table, which he did. When the guard didn’t leave the room yet, she raised an eyebrow at him.
“Is something the matter?” Amara asked, and the guard froze. He started to scratch the back of his neck.
“Oh, um... I thought perhaps I should keep you company for tonight. You must be very lonely with no one else to talk to,” the guard said and let out an awkward cough.
Amara blinked, but then she took a closer look at him. His face and green eyes were familiar, but the man’s most recognizable feature was the diamond tattoo on his forehead. She gasped.
“Dhurke?” she said in surprise. He shushed her.
“I came here to rescue you. We better leave now before the other guards find out I’m here,” Dhurke said, lowering his voice. He grabbed her wrist, only for Amara to pull her arm away from him that instant. Dhurke shot her a funny look. “Amara?”
“Why did you try to assassinate me?” Amara asked, glaring at him. Dhurke’s eyes widened.
“Wait, what? Do you seriously believe that?”
“My sister told me everything, how you planned to take my life and fled so that you wouldn’t get caught. And that you forged the evidence against you. ”
Dhurke flinched, then he chuckled and shook his head. “Of course Ga’ran would say that.”
“Well, good to know you found that humorous.” Amara turned her back against him, wrapping her arms around herself. Some seconds later, Dhurke walked in front of her and his brow furrowed.
“Do I have any reason to hurt you? She’s dead set on having you and everyone in Khura’in turn against me.” He fell on one knee and squeezed Amara’s hand. “It wasn’t me! You must believe me!”
As she pondered over his words, Amara’s mouth twitched. She was wary of him, convinced he had orchestrated the arson from years ago. Looking straight into Dhurke’s eyes, though, told her that he was telling the truth. She shuddered a deep breath and pinched her nose.
“I shall accompany you so I may ascertain the truth myself.”
“Does that mean you will run away with me?” Dhurke asked, tilting his head in confusion. When Amara confirmed that she would, he flashed her a grin. “That’s good enough for me!”
He gave Amara a moment for her to get her robe, then they stepped out of her room. She waited until Dhurke gestured his hand for them to leave. They rushed down the stairs and through the palace halls, Amara glancing over her shoulder often to make sure they weren’t being spotted. She and Dhurke eventually made it to the doors and left the palace grounds. As they continued through the courtyard, Amara’s heart thudded hard against her chest. She was running away with Dhurke, perhaps not her wisest decision ever.
A short distance before they reached the palace gates, two royal guards had been spotted. Dhurke grabbed Amara’s arm and pulled her behind a tree. They watched and listened to the guards for a few seconds.
“That rebel Dhurke managed to sneak inside the palace residence. Keep an eye out for anyone dressed like us and has a diamond tattoo on his forehead,” one of the guards said while the other one nodded.
Amara’s stomach churned upon hearing that. When she faced Dhurke, he smirked at her and pulled out a lighter and firecrackers from his pockets. She watched as he lit and threw them at the opposite direction from where the guards were standing. The firecrackers exploded, making the guards turn to the source of the noise. Dhurke grabbed Amara’s arm once more and they slipped out of the gates.
“How did you found out that I would be still alive?” Amara asked as they hurried off.
“One of my spies spotted you and informed me of your whereabouts.” Dhurke then went on to tell her how he had snuck inside the palace and stole one of the guards’ clothes. He also mentioned that they could hide at his old office and wait in there until sunset to flee once more.
Once they made it to the bazaar, only a few bypassers still hung around while all the shops and stands were closed. Dhurke led her to a manhole in the alley, then down into the sewers. Everything around Amara grew dark, so she relied on him to guide her through. She pinched her nose due to the strong smell that lingered. Her shoes splashed on the slimy puddles, and the rats’ shrieks caused her to flinch a few times. It was a while longer until they stopped at a ladder. She followed him as he climbed up and opened the latch for them, Dhurke pulling her inside.
After Dhurke turned on the dim lights, Amara wandered around the office slowly. The stench of apples and fried lizards made her wrinkle her nose. A large sign sat beside the corner of the wall, which she recognized as the one Dhurke used during his attorney days. Her finger slid on the sign, and a puff of dust drifted around. She then stopped at the poster board that pinned various pictures and articles that detailed Dhurke’s activities. One picture in particular caught her attention in which her husband and two children were grinning. The child on the left’s hair color was exactly the same as Amara’s, and he had the same red diamond tattooed on his forehead. The other child’s grin was the widest, but the bracelet on his arm stood out the most for her.
“The first child in the picture is Nahyuta,” Amara said in a low voice, tracing the picture with her finger. “And the second child, he must be the son of that musician you had invited to perform for us.”
“Huh?” While Amara looked through the office, Dhurke was changing from the royal guard uniform and into new clothes. He turned around, fastening the buttons on his Khura’inese silk shirt, and noticed her staring at the picture. “Oh, yes that’s his son, Apollo. I was watching over them on my own for a while, but I had sent the boy back to the United States due to the rising tension here.” Dhurke then sat on the furniture with his head leaned back on his arms and legs stretched on the table. “I bet Nahyuta will be very happy to see you.”
Hearing that made Amara smile a little. She thought often about Nahyuta’s whereabouts, and seeing Dhurke smiling led her to believe he was faring well at the moment. She sat on the opposite couch. “I look forward to reuniting with him.”
The smile on Dhurke’s face faded when he straightened himself. “I want you to look at that file on the table.”
Amara blinked at him, then looked at where he pointed. There was a file set aside on the table, which she picked up. Flipping through the several pages, Amara’s mouth gaped as she realized that—
“This is the information regarding my assassination attempt. Is this why you have been going against Ga’ran?” she asked, and Dhurke nodded.
“Yes. Because of the way she insisted that I had forged the evidence, I’m led to believe she must be the main culprit behind the arson.”
Amara scowled at him. “If that were true, then why had she saved me?”
“Likely that fire wasn’t meant to kill you and was all an act. As for her motive, I’m sure it’s because she wants the throne to herself.”
“You making bold accusations against her isn’t winning any favors for me,” she said, putting the file back on the table.
“I know. However, you said you’re joining me to see the truth yourself.” A large yawn then escaped from him, and he stretched his arms. “Let’s get some rest. We’ll make our leave in the morning.”
They rolled their backs on their respective couches. Amara released a deep sigh before trying to catch some sleep.
She and Dhurke got out of the sewers a few hours later. Several folks were already at the stands and shops in the bazaar with loud chattering. The pair was able to blend in with the crowd, Amara tugging the hood of her robe tighter each time she looked over her shoulder. They only bumped into a couple people who just shrugged them off, and when they passed by the warbaa’d, it flapped its wings and let out a lion’s roar that made Amara flinch.
Once they had trudged through the flood of people, Dhurke let her know he had been hiding high in the mountains due to him being a wanted criminal and that they should flee over there where they would be safe. They needed to hike uphill, so the trek was more treacherous than she anticipated. The air grew colder and Amara’s legs turned heavier the further they climbed. She and Dhurke stopped on occasion to catch their breaths and eat a small meal, but their breaks didn’t last long as he urged her that they needed to get to his house as soon as possible. A few hours into their hike, they reached the peak and a lone house that settled next to a river stream.
As they stepped inside the house and into the living room, the floor screeched below Amara’s feet. A man and a boy sat together on the couch, the boy reading a book while the man was sleeping with his arms spread out. Noticing that Amara and Dhurke were here, he gazed up at them and grinned.
“Father!” the boy bounced out of the couch and rushed toward his father to give him a hug. Dhurke lifted him up, their foreheads touching.
“Hey there, Nahyuta! Did Uncle Datz behave while I was away?” he asked, and Nahyuta pouted.
“I recommended some of my favorite books to him earlier, but he got bored and took a nap instead.” Nahyuta then turned his head at Amara’s direction and pointed at her. “Is that Mother?”
“Yes, that’s her. Go ahead and say hi.” Dhurke lowered Nahyuta back on the floor.
When her son approached her, his face lit up and he greeted Amara the same way he did with Dhurke. She pulled him into a tight embrace and whispered his name over and over, overwhelmed by seeing Nahyuta the first time after several years. Amara let him go when the man on the couch woke up from his nap.
“What’s going on here?” He shook his head in confusion a few times, then smirked when he spotted Nahyuta with her. “Oh hey, you brought her back.” The man rose out from this seat and stretched his hand in front of her. “I’m Datz, a buddy of Dhurke’s.”
“A pleasure to meet you. You may refer to me as Amara.” Amara accepted the handshake. Someone then pulled on the sleeve of her dress, and she looked down at Nahyuta’s beaming face.
“You want me to show you our room now?”
“Our room?” Amara quirked an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I already told him you would be staying in his room,” Dhurke said. “Might as well.”
“That would be appreciated, thank you,” she said, facing back to Nahyuta. He cheered, then grabbed her hand to take her to their room.
“The other bed used to be Apollo’s,” Nahyuta said when they entered inside. Two beds sat between a drawer with the lamp on. A pile of books lay still on the desk next to the window, and a shelf with more books stayed on the corner of the wall.
“Your father had mentioned his name to me last night.” Amara sat down on one of the beds, her hands folded on her lap. Her son then joined him. “Can you tell me what he is like?”
Nahyuta tilted his head, scratching his head. “He can be very loud and sarcastic at times, but he’s still like a brother to me!”
“Ah, I see. I heard that he had been sent back overseas. You miss him, am I right?” she asked. Nayuta lowered his head and frowned.
“Father says it’s too dangerous for him to stay here, but he promised to bring Apollo back here someday.” He gazed back at his mother. “Maybe then you’ll get to meet him!”
“Meeting him would be an honor, so I shall wait in anticipation when that happens.” The smile on Amara’s lips faded. “Speaking of your father, does he treat you and Apollo the same?”
“Of course!” he said, beaming. “He loves us both equally!”
Amara left her mouth hung open, a lump stuck in her throat. She shifted her head for a second. “Well, that’s wonderful to hear.” Glimpsing at the clock on the wall, Amara noticed it was close to ten now. She could barely keep her eyes open and her mouth slacked, exhausted from hiking up the mountains with Dhurke all day. “It is getting late, and your mother needs some rest now.”
“Sure. I’m very happy that you’re back with us!” Nahyuta offered a goodnight kiss on Amara’s cheek, then he jumped off and headed to his own bed.
Amara pulled the blankets over her, sinking her head on the pillow. As she drifted to sleep, she mused how she was excited to spend time with her son and to get to know him better.
The next morning, Amara woke up to see Nahyuta had already left his bed. She stepped out of the bedroom and headed inside the kitchen. Her son and Datz were gathered around the table, eating pancakes and eggs, while Dhurke was next to the stove, a frying pan in hand. He turned around and greeted her with a warm smile.
“Good morning. I’ve made some breakfast, want some?”
Amara said that she would like some, then joined with Datz and Nahyuta at the table. Dhurke set aside a plate of the food for her and she tried a few bites. The blueberries made the pancakes fairly sweet, and the scrambled eggs were fluffy and warm against her tongue. She smiled in satisfaction.
“I must say, these pancakes are sweet on the tongue.” Amara swallowed another few pieces of the pancake.
“I’m glad that you like them,” Dhurke said as he joined the group with his own plate. “One of the houses not far from here has chickens, and the owners don’t mind giving the eggs to us. For the other food supplies, Datz often brings them here.”
“I make sure to come with a huge supply because climbing the mountains here sucks. But hey, I want to help Dhurke anyway I can.” Datz gulped more of his eggs, then said, “Oh, Yuty, has your dad ever told you how he and your mom met?”
Dhurke spat out his glass of milk just as Amara almost choked on her food. She coughed a few times before regaining her composure.
“No, he hasn’t,” Nahyuta said, facing Dhurke. His father gave a sheepish laugh and scratched the back of his head.
“Well, when I first opened my law office I did some odd jobs to support myself, one of which was being a street performer.”
“Your father did a variety of acts,” Amara said. “He could not juggle to save his life, but he was more talented with the harmonica.”
“Fortunately that was temporary. I managed to get my law firm running and your mother actually went to check some of my cases.”
“Wow, you did?” Nahyuta asked her, his eyes widening.
“Indeed, and I was very impressed with his work.” With a raised and sharper pitch, she then said, “He eventually used his silver tongue to convince me to go on a romantic outing with him.”
Dhurke chuckled. “But it worked, didn’t it? After we went out a few more times, I proposed and you accepted it.”
Datz laughed, both hands on his sides. “I gotta hand it to him, Dhurke’s damn lucky to have you marry him.”
Amara’s cheeks burned, and her gaze fell back onto her food. The next few minutes everyone ate their breakfast in silence, then Dhurke took everyone’s dishes to the sink.
“I outta get going now,” Datz said. He rose from his chair and stretched his arms. “I promised I would meet up with Jen over at our secret base as soon as you returned.”
“That’s fine,” Dhurke said. “I can take it from here. You have a safe trip.”
“Bye, Datz!” Nayhuta waved goodbye at him. Datz waved his hand in a sweeping gesture above his forehead, like a salute, then he left the kitchen.
“Secret base?” Amara raised an eyebrow. “Is that friend of yours one of the Defiant Dragons?”
“He is, yeah,” Dhurke said when he joined her and his son back at the table. He plopped his elbow on the surface. “He can be a handful at times, but Datz’s a good guy overall. You can trust him.”
Amara pursed her lips, her fingers tapping on the table. After a moment, she said, “I shall take your word on that for now. He seems like an interesting man, at least.”
“I think you’ll like him, don’t worry,” Dhurke said with a chuckle. His face softened. “Nahyuta and I plan to climb up the cliff that’s above us now. Would you like to join us?”
“Come with us, please?” Nahyuta pleaded, clasping his hands together.
“If the both of you feel that way, then I would be delighted to join,” Amara said. Her response had Nahyuta and Dhurke grinning.
Everyone left the house shortly after. Amara followed behind her son and husband as they crossed the bridge that was above the river stream. The wood underneath her feet creaked and she wobbled once or twice, otherwise she made it to the other side fine. They all then headed uphill through the cobbled path, which Dhurke mentioned it would be around a half hour hike.
Her shoes crunched onto the pebbles on the ground. The air was just as chilly as when she had first climbed the mountains with Dhurke last night, so she wrapped her arms around herself. On occasion she glimpsed down at the drop below them, and her heart would jump. Amara watched as Dhurke held onto Nahyuta’s hand, the father and son exchanging some stories with each other. Listening in with great interest, it seemed a lot has happened with the two throughout the past several years.
Amara’s foot suddenly slipped onto a rock and she lost her balance, her body leaning onto the edge of the cliff. She shirked and closed her eyes, time slowing down for her. A hand then grabbed and pulled her forward. When Amara opened her eyes, Dhurke’s face was close to hers.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his eyes brimming with concern.
“Yes, I am fine.” Being this close to Dhurke caused Amara’s face to flush and her heart quickened. Dhurke let go of her, and Amara took a couple steps back.
“Mother, you almost fell down!” Nahyuta screamed when he joined his parents. His mouth trembled.
“I apologize for frightening you like that,” Amara said, dropping on one knee. She caressed Nahyuta’s cheek. “I shall make sure to be more careful next time.”
“We’re almost at the end of the cliff. Come on!” Dhurke gestured his hand for them to follow him. Amara held Nahyuta’s hand, then everyone resumed hiking.
It was another several minutes until they made it to the top. The group passed through the tall trees that hovered over them, the birds that hid themselves making noises. The soft grass whistled against the breeze that began to pick up. They moved a little further until Dhurke said that they were here, and Amara gasped in amazement, a hand covering her lips, at the scenery before her.
Below them was the Kingdom of Khura’in stretched across the horizon. Amara could spot the temple on top of the cliff and the many buildings that spread out. More mountains stood in the distance.
“Great view, isn’t it?” Nahyuta said. Amara gazed down to see her son beaming at her.
“It is a magnificent view, I wholeheartedly agree,” she said, smiling back.
“Nahyuta and I like to come up here often. I can never get tired of looking at this sight.” Dhurke stood firm with a grin, his hand on his sides. As he continued to drink in the view, sunlight bathed over his face.
Amara couldn’t tear her eyes off of him at that moment. She was reminded of the first time she had met him, his face full of youth and ambition. That part of him hasn’t changed.
The family headed back home late in the afternoon.
As Amara tried to sleep the next night, she smelled smoke.
She found herself back at her old residence, burning debris crashing down at her. The dark air obscured her vision and filled her lungs, giving her coughing fits. Amara yelped when the flames licked at her arms and legs. Someone’s cackle could be heard, and she froze when Dhurke—his lopsided grin showing teeth— was in front of her, a lighting match in hand.
Amara woke up with a scream, cold sweat flowing on the back of her neck. She sat up and took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heartbeat. After regaining her composure, she shifted around when Nahyuta stirred awake.
“Did you have a nightmare, Mother?” her son asked as he rubbed his eyes. Amara frowned.
“You are right on that assumption, Nahyuta dear.”
“Whenever Apollo and I had a nightmare, Father would let us sleep in his bed,” Nahyuta said and smiled. “Sometimes he would tell us a bedtime story.”
A lump formed inside Amara‘s throat. She wondered if Nahyuta had similar nightmares, too. “That was kind of you to suggest that, but I shall be fine. We should go back to sleep.”
Nahyuta didn’t look convinced, but he nodded nonetheless and pulled the covers over himself. Amara sunk her head back on the pillow, waiting for tiredness to take over her.
In the morning she wasn’t able to eat much of her breakfast, which Dhurke had noticed when she left her toast and cereal untouched. Nahyuta also picked up on that with concerned eyes. When Amara asked if she may be excused, Dhurke said that would be fine.
She stepped out of the house and stopped at the river close by. Staring down at the running river, Amara could make out her troubled expression in the reflection. Soon, another person’s figure appeared next to her’s, and Amara flinched when a hand touched her shoulder. She swung back, facing Dhurke.
“Nahyuta just told me you had a nightmare last night. Do you want to talk about it?”
Having trouble meeting Dhurke’s gaze, Amara hesitated to respond at first. She would feel guilty leaving him in the dark like that, however. Amara inhaled to steel herself.
“I dreamed about that fire that should have taken my life. You were in front of me, laughing as if you took great joy in my demise. That wasn’t the first time the past came to haunt me.”
“Oh.” Dhurke’s bottom lip quivered, and he scratched his forehead. “No wonder you didn’t look too happy at first when I went to rescue you. I can say, though, that I would never do that to you, ever. ”
An awkward silence came between them. Amara stared back down at the river, seeing how Dhurke hung his head down through the rippled reflection.
“Is it all right if I hug you?” he suddenly asked.
Amara narrowed her eyes, then gave Dhurke a sideways glance. “I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t like seeing you upset, so I thought perhaps you might need a hug.”
Her fingers digging onto her dress, Amara took a moment to ponder his request. “You can be such a nincompoop sometimes, you know that?” she said, then her face relaxed. “If that is what you wish, then you have my consent to do so.”
Amara watched as Dhurke approached her with slow steps. He spread his arms wide, then pulled her in for a tight embrace. His shaky breath vibrated against her neck. “I’m sorry,” Dhurke whispered. “I could’ve prevented any of this from happening.”
As the hug continued, the tension on her shoulders and that fleeting moment when she grew weary of Dhurke faded away; not entirely, but enough where she was comfortable with them in contact like this. She couldn’t come up with a worded response, and instead squeezed her eyes shut and breathed in his scent. They stayed like this a while longer.
Amara was still getting used to settling in the mountains, which was much different from her palace life. For food, she would often join with Dhurke and Nahyuta to catching some fish from the river stream and helped with cooking them. There wasn’t much to do except watch the television, reading books, and going outside, but Amara enjoyed this type of peace and quiet, not having to worry about when she was needed for a spirit channeling or being watched twenty four-seven.
She was grateful that she got to spend more time with her son, proud of how much of a fine boy he has grown. Nahyuta let her know the books he had been reading, including some of his father’s law books, which amused her. Her feelings toward Dhurke were a little more complicated. Her sister’s warning of his betrayal still nagged inside her head, but so far he behaved well when he was around her. He and Nahyuta seemed to get along well, always laughing and conversing with one another. The sight of them happy would often leave a smile on her lips.
If she found herself being drawn closer towards Dhurke, then she was betraying Ga’ran.
That thought plagued her mind most of tonight. After shifting her body for an hour or so, she sat up straight and glanced at Nahyuta, who sounded asleep. She rolled out of bed, then left her son’s bedroom.
Wanting to talk to Dhurke, she went to the door of his bedroom. Him sleeping now did cross her mind, so she knocked to see if he would answer. To her surprise, he called for her to come in. Amara stepped inside the room, closing the door behind her. Dhurke sat on his bed, the pages of a book spilled open on his lap. His fingers twisted on his attorney badge—the Dragon’s Eye sparkling in contrast to the dim lights— that fastened on the collar of his shirt. He lifted his gaze off of his book, offering Amara a small smile.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked, and Amara shook her head. She joined him on the bed. The page Dhurke was reading caught her interest, and she gasped.
“The Defense Culpability Act… That was the law my sister had enforced not long after you fled from your conviction.”
“She’s the reason I started the Defiant Dragons and still have my attorney badge with me. In order for that act to be null, Ga’ran has to be overthrown. ” Dhurke clenched his jaw, his eyes narrowed. He closed the book shut, then rose up from the bed to put it away between a pile of other books shelved on a nearby drawer. The attorney badge was also set aside once he had unfastened it from his shirt.
“While I am truly sorry that she had caused you this much grief,” Amara said, “abdicating her throne is something I do not think I can fully support. It is also clear that you’re still pinning Ga’ran as the arsonist.”
“So you still think I’m responsible for that fire?” Dhurke turned around, staring at her with wide eyes.
Amara flinched at that statement. Looking down, she began fidgeting her fingers. “I haven’t made any judgement on that just yet.”
Dhurke frowned, as if already expecting that response. He shifted his gaze at the window for a moment, then burst out laughing, his hands on his stomach. Amara’s eyes flickered in confusion.
“I can’t blame you that you care for Ga’ran,” he said, a sad smile on his face. “Even if you don’t trust me ever again, I won’t stop loving you.” He faced back at the window.
Amara swallowed hard, gripping at the sleeve of her nightgown. His words “I won’t stop loving you” echoed inside her mind like temple bells. After some more consideration, she jumped off the bed and stood up.
“Dhurke,” she said his name in a soft voice, and that grabbed his attention. “I have come to a decision over whether you are deemed trustworthy or not.”
“Oh?” Dhurke asked, sounding a little surprised.
Amara nodded, taking a few steps forward. Once she approached him, one of her hands cupped his cheek and she kissed him, his lips chapped and dry. Their noses and teeth bumped together, but she ignored that. Amara’s heart raced when he wrapped his arms around her waist, their bodies pressed together. When their lips parted, Dhurke smirked.
“What made me regain your trust just now?” he asked as his fingers traced Amara’s eyebrow.
“From what I have seen during my stay here, you harbor no ill behavior towards me,” she said, rubbing his arm in affection. “Nahyuta also takes a great liking to you.”
“Good to hear, then,” Dhurke said and captured her lips for another deep kiss. Amara threw her arms around his neck as he pulled her up, her legs holding onto his waist.
She lets him guide them to his bed and they collapsed there with a soft thud. The mattress was neat when she first entered his room, only for the blankets to now be pushed aside and the bedsheets crumpled. With her above him, Amara brushed her tongue against Dhurke’s mouth, a groan escaping his throat, and pulled his silk shirt off of his shoulders— after she had undone the two buttons attached—along with his undershirt. Her fingers skimmed at his chest, his muscles twitching at her touch.
“Wait,” Dhurke said, his lips sliding away from hers. He scratched the back of his head and shifted his eyes away from her. “I, uh, didn’t bring any protection with me.”
“Are you worried about us conceiving another child?” Amara asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Dhurke’s cheeks flushed, then he released an embarrassed chuckle. “Pretty much.” His face grew more serious. “If you have any second thoughts, then don’t hesitate to stop me anytime.”
They had talked before about wanting a big family, only for it to die down for Amara as the years passed. Perhaps someday she and Dhurke could discuss wanting more children. Their eyes locked, and she graced him with her brightest smile.
“I appreciate your concern, but there would be no need for that. It does not matter to me if we’re in the heat of the moment.” She dipped her head low to kiss him senseless, her hand twisting onto his hair. Dhurke fondled her breast with his palm while the other hand caressed her back. It had been a while since they had done this, and she wasn’t going to have them stopped anytime soon; she wanted their bodies pressed together and them trembling over one another and their legs tangled between the sheets.
She pulled away from his mouth to help him yank his pants and boxers next, and those too got tossed away. As she drank in the sight of Dhurke’s bare body lying before her, Amara’s stomach fluttered and her palm rested over his rapid heartbeat. Amara then backed away slightly to lift up her knees and slip off her nightgown, which got thrown on the floor with the rest of their clothing. Dhurke fixed his gaze at the burnt scar that traveled from her side to up above her chest. His fingers outlined the trail on her skin, making Amara shudder.
“Is this scar from that incident?” Dhurke asked.
“Yes, and every night I am reminded of it each time I look at myself in the mirror.” She leaned forward to press her lips on his cheek, her fingers intertwining with his. “As of tonight, I shall grow to love it as a part of me.”
Grinning in satisfaction, Dhurke pulled Amara onto his lap and showered kisses on her neck and shoulders. She moaned and lifted her hips so that he could push her underwear off of her legs. His hand slid between her thighs, his fingers rubbing against her, and she dug her fingernails on his back. She rocked her hips against his and let him know in sweet whispers that he was getting closer as to where she liked to be touched. When Dhurke’s mouth sucked on her collarbone then her breasts, she arched her back to give him more access. Dhurke panted over how much he missed them being like this as he continued to stroke her, and Amara’s chest tightened at the pleasure overwhelming her and at his words of desire.
He eventually slipped his fingers off, grabbed her hips with both hands, and pushed himself inside of her. Amara gripped tighter onto his shoulders, and her legs wrapped around his waist. Heat swelled inside her belly as their slicked bodies and ragged breaths danced in sync, the mattress underneath them creaking louder the faster their movements went. She muttered his name back against his mouth, as if an old song that she cherished, and she was sinking, sinking.
Amara woke up to the water running from the bathroom the next morning. Sunlight poured through the window, washing over the room in warm colors. Underneath her thighs the bedsheets cooled, and she realized she was still naked.
Memories of last night rushed back at her. She blushed, remembering the feel of her and Dhurke’s skin against one another and their passionate kisses and neither of them wanting to let go. When the bathroom door opened, Amara twisted around to see Dhurke stepping out of the bedroom, fully clothed and drying his hair with a towel. He smiled at her.
“Good morning,” he said.
“And the same for you,” Amara greeted back. Dhurke set aside the towel on a chair, then he sat on the bed. His hand slid over hers, Dhurke’s thumb rubbing onto her knuckles.
“So, about last night… I hope that you don’t have any regrets about it.”
“Last night was wonderful, so there is no need to worry.” Amara placed her other hand on Dhurke’s cheek and they shared a short kiss. Dhurke’s smile widened.
“That’s a relief! I’m glad we cleared that up.” He cleared his throat, then said, “I want to show you something.”
Dhurke stood up and approached the desk that was next to the window. He opened the left drawer, pulling out two pendants from there. Once he joined Amara back in bed, he handed her one of the pendants shaped like a pink butterfly. She glimpsed at the other one in Dhurke’s palm, same but blue colored, then stared back at hers.
“How were you able to have these under your possession?” she asked.
“I had Datz buy them at the bazaar about two or three years ago. He thought I was seeing another lady!” Dhurke chuckled at that memory. “In all seriousness, though, I kept these in the hopes that we would be reunited together.” He hung the chain around his neck, the blue butterfly gleaming in the sunlight. “You go wash up while I make us some breakfast.” After kissing Amara’s forehead, Dhurke rose off from the bed and left the room.
Smiling a little, Amara gazed down at the pendant and thought this was a nice gesture of Dhurke’s. She rolled out of bed, put the pendant on the desk, then stepped inside the bathroom to take a shower.
Amara got ready half an hour later. By the time she reached the kitchen, both Dhurke and Nahyuta were already gulping at their breakfast. A plate of eggs was set aside for her, so Amara grabbed a chair and sat down. She picked up her fork and swallowed a few bites.
“Mother, you weren’t in the room when I woke up,” Nahyuta told her, and that made Amara crash her fork on the plate. “Did you have that nightmare again?”
Before Amara could come up with a response, Dhurke beat her to it. “She went to my room to talk with me for a while, then we got tired and fell asleep. Don’t worry, it isn’t anything too serious.”
Amara sighed in relief, glad to not have to explain what happened last night. Well, he wasn’t entirely wrong that they did talk and then sleep. The family ate their breakfast for a minute until someone stepped inside the kitchen.
“Hey Yuty, hey Dhurke, hey Amara,” Datz said, grinning at them. Amara and Nahyuta said their welcomes to him.
“Oh hi, Datz,” Dhurke said after. “How’s the meeting with Jen?”
“It went great.” Datz stole a chair, turned it the opposite direction, then plopped his arms out. “He told me he knows some friends that might be interested in joining our resistance.”
Dhurke swallowed his next piece of eggs, then said, “Good. We could use all the help we can get.”
“Yeah. Hopefully his recruitment efforts will work in our favor.” A knowing grin then pulled on the corners of Datz’s mouth. “Say, are those the pendants that you wanted me to buy for you before?” he asked, pointing at the ones that hung on both Dhurke and Amara’s necks.
After she had gotten out of the shower, Amara wore Dhurke’s gift. Amara’s face softened, her fingers twitching at the pendant. Next to her, Dhurke laughed.
“So you have noticed! But yes, we’re wearing the pendants now.”
“Wait, does that mean you two are back together?” When both Dhurke and Amara nodded in confirmation, Datz smirked. “Well that’s great news! I think this calls for a celebration!”
“That would be unnecessary, but that is very generous of you to say that,” Amara said with a smile.
“Those butterfly pendants are pretty.” Nahyuta beamed, and couldn’t take his eyes off Amara’s pendant.
Datz snapped his fingers. “Oh, I got an idea. I have a camera with me, why don’t I take a shot of you guys so that you have a picture to put in those pendants?”
“What do you say, Amara? Are you fine with that?” Dhurke asked, facing her.
Without hesitation, Amara nodded and said, “That would be lovely. Thank you Datz for volunteering to do this.”
“Not a problem.” Datz offered her a thumbs-up, then he jumped out of the chair. “Come on, I can take the picture at the back at the house.”
It didn’t take long for them to clean up the table and put the dishes in the sink. When they were done with that, Amara followed everyone outside the house.
After another month had passed, Amara wasn’t feeling well.
On several occasions she rushed to the bathroom like her life depended on it and threw up in the toilet. At first Dhurke thought perhaps she was under the weather and had her eat some gingersnaps to fight off the nausea. In addition to that, Amara had been experiencing aches on her body, fatigue, and an increase in her food appetite. When she continued to keep vomiting, though, and realized she didn’t have the other symptoms for the flu, there was only one explanation for this.
“Pregnant?” Dhurke said as they sat together on the bed, his jaws slacked and eyes wide.
“I am certain of it. There are other signs I have noticed that led me to this conclusion, the same ones when I first carried Nahyuta.”
Dhurke’s awestruck look was still stuck on his face. He ran his fingers through his hair. “While I would’ve brought in a doctor to confirm this, I want the news that you’re still alive to be kept from as many people as possible.”
“That would be the wisest choice.” Amara inhaled and released a soft sigh, a little upset at their situation here.
A short silence followed. Dhurke sunk his body onto the mattress, his arms over his head. A grin snuck onto his lips.
“Another baby, huh? I’m both excited and stunned over that.”
“I guess you can say the Holy Mother has blessed us,” Amara said, smiling. She lied down on the bed also, Dhurke cradling his arms around her. “Do you recall when I announced that I was pregnant with Nahyuta? You accidentally slipped and fell into the pond close to our private residence.”
Dhurke laughed and said, “I was embarrassed when a few servants had witnessed that. Nonetheless, the both of us were overjoyed being first time parents.” He tucked a strand of Amara’s hair behind her ear. “We may be living much simpler now, but we should be able to give this child a happy life.”
“And as long as he or she is with a loving family, that is all that matters.” Amara pushed herself up to kiss Dhurke on the lips and nuzzled against his cheek. Dhurke’s palm rested on her belly, her smile widening. A part of her was worried how they would be able to support another child, but Amara looked forward to this addition to their family.
More time had passed, come and gone like a rushing river. The seasons moved from spring to summer with the leaves on the trees changing color, the air slightly warmer. Those last few months had been a blessing for Amara.
When she and Dhurke had announced to Datz and Nahyuta that another baby is on the way months earlier, both reacted favorably. Nahyuta jumped and cheered, excited over having another sibling, while Datz whistled and slapped his knee. “Didn’t take you two that long to jump at each other like rabbits!” he teased, and when Nahyuta asked Datz if he meant sex, the man laughed at Amara and Dhurke’s flustered faces. The initial embarrassment eventually died out, then Nahyuta asked if that meant Apollo could come back to Khura’in now, which Dhurke responded it still wasn’t safe for him to return just yet.
Amara had been holding off her pregnancy well so far. The gingersnaps Dhurke and Datz often brought worked nicely for her to fight off the morning sickness. Her cravings got stranger as she was further along, and she would get upset whenever Dhurke couldn’t comply due to them living in the mountains. She and Dhurke began discussing room arrangements, making warm clothes for the baby for the upcoming winter, and possible names. Nahyuta often mentioned with enthusiasm how much of a good brother he would be, and even read some of the parenting books Datz had given them so that he could help any way he could. This was a little different than when she was pregnant with Nahyuta as they had no servants to help them with any of this, but she would see through this until the end.
On one late afternoon, Amara woke up from a nap and went to the living room. She found Nahyuta alone on the couch reading a book. Dhurke had gone fishing with Datz, so she and her son had the house to themselves the past few hours.
“I take it you are immersed in whatever you are reading right now,” Amara said. Nahyuta steered his gaze away from the book and beamed at his mother.
“It is! Father has a few books that are short story collections of old Khura’inese tales, and I’m reading one of them now.”
“Oh? Would you mind reading one of them aloud to me?” she asked, and Nahyuta’s grin grew on his face.
“Sure!” Nahyuta scooted over so that Amara could sit next to her, and he began reading one of the stories.
The tale was about two lovers, a prince and a princess, who were separated but then reunited. They hailed from separate kingdoms, with the princess dubbed as the typhoon dragon and the prince the swift butterfly. Unfortunately the two kingdoms went off to war against each other and the prince had no choice but to join. The princess, instead of waiting for the prince, disguised herself and secretly joined the war to find him. She eventually managed to find the prince, and the two fled somewhere in the mountains. They lived together in peace for a short while, but were eventually found by some soldiers. The princess sustained some injuries while the prince was mortally wounded and then died the next morning. Devastated, the princess cried the rest of the day before burying him at nightfall. She then went back to her kingdom, her friends and family welcoming her back with open arms.
Because she was in mourning, the princess didn’t have any motivation to do anything. She almost lost the will to live, that is, until a sparkling butterfly came to her window sill. The princess could tell it was her significant other due to her sensing the prince’s spirit that surrounded the butterfly. And so every night, the butterfly came to visit the princess and she would happily talk with the prince until dawn. When she got much older, she was struck with an illness and couldn’t get out of bed. For one last visit the butterfly landed on the princess’s chest, then she died in her sleep with a smile on her face.
In another life, the princess woke up as a dragon. She wandered through the Twilight Realm for many years until—
“The princess spotted the butterfly, who had been waiting for her all this time. He was, without a doubt, her love, her soulmate, her most cherished friend. As they traveled side by side, the butterfly and the dragon never separated again,” Nahyuta finished off, then closed the book. “Good story, yes?”
“I agree,” Amara said, smiling. “In fact, it is one of my favorite Khura’inese tales as a girl. My mother would read it to me on occasion.”
Nahyuta tilted his head in curiosity. “Oh, and why is it your favorite?”
“I grew attached to the idea of finding my own butterfly. Then I met your father who is a dragon in more ways than one.”
Later that evening, Dhurke and Datz returned from their trip. After everyone had eaten dinner, Datz and Nahyuta played in the living room while Amara and Dhurke stayed in the kitchen. The couple talked for a while as they washed the dishes, Dhurke discussing with her about a recent overseas case he had heard about.
“Apparently there was an attorney named Diego Armando who slipped into a coma after taking a sip of his coffee,” he said, handing Amara another plate for her to dry off with a cloth. “Originally the suspect was a girl named Dahlia Hawthorne, but she didn’t have any poison on her so she was set free. Looks like that case could be at a dead end if a culprit isn’t found.”
“Nahyuta and I heard about that as we were watching the news this morning. Very unfortunate such a tragic fate has befallen Mr. Armando.” Amara set the plate aside in the dishrack. “Oh, our son did something very generous for me earlier today. He read to me the old Khura’inese tale The Butterfly Prince and the Dragon Princess.”
“The Butterfly Prince and the Dragon Princess, huh?” Dhurke handed her the last plate. “I remember it being one of your favorite stories.”
“Yes, and Nahyuta did a marvelous job telling it to me.” She put the last plate away, then said, “I may have slipped how you were more of a dragon than a butterfly.”
After Dhurke dried off his hands, he burst out laughing. “Well, you’re not wrong. I’m the leader of the Defiant Dragons after all and I have my dragon’s eye attorney badge with me.”
The smile on Amara’s lips faded. Dhurke being a wanted criminal in Khura’in’s eyes always lingered in her mind, and yet she saw for herself that he was in no way a threat to her. As if sensing some tension from her, Dhurke lifted her chin up and their gazes met.
“I know you’re still conflicted about your sister being overthrown, but you have my word that no drop of blood will be spilled on her.” Dhurke’s palm slid down Amara’s bump on her stomach, his other hand caressing her back. “I’m happy that you stayed by my side and we’re raising another child together along with Nahyuta.”
“I shall see to it that you don’t stray from that path. And I too am content with us like this.” She stroked Dhurke’s cheek, and their lips touched. With him, she found herself dancing with butterflies and dragons.
When Amara was over six months into her pregnancy, everyone began discussing how the baby should be delivered. They gathered in the living room, Amara and Dhurke sitting across from Datz and Nahyuta.
“I know one of the guys whose wife is a doctor. I think we can trust them,” Datz said, leaning his head against his arms.
“I don’t want to risk it,” Dhurke said, shaking his head. “Ga’ran’s regime might be able to catch on.”
“Maybe someone in the mountains can help?” Nahyuta asked. “The ones we’ve talked to seem nice.”
“Still very dangerous. The less people involved here, the better.”
“What now, then?” Datz furrowed his brow. “Don’t tell me you two will deliver the baby yourselves!”
“That is perhaps our only option,” Amara said with a sigh, resting a hand on her belly. “Otherwise if word gets out that not only I am alive but also with child, it will cause a commotion throughout the kingdom.”
“All right, all right, I get it,” Datz said, putting his hands up in defeat. He then hunched his back and his shoulders slumped. “You guys better prepare yourself as winters here are harsh. I can help with gathering around blankets, clothes, and other warm stuff.”
“Amara’s been knitting some clothes already, but that would be appreciated,” Dhurke said. He patted Amara’s hand, and he smiled a little. “I’ve been reading some of the parenting books you had brought us, and I still remember when Nahyuta was born. I think we’re more than prepared.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you’re putting those books to good use,” Datz said with a chuckle. He rose from the couch. “I’ll go ahead and get started with those blankets, then. You guys take care!”
Everyone waved Datz goodbye as he made his leave. He stepped out of the house, closing the door behind him. Nahyuta jumped out of his seat, then joined in with his parents on the other couch. Amara and Dhurke moved aside so that their son could sit in the middle.
“When Apollo returns from overseas, I bet he’ll be surprised at our new sibling,” the boy said. A grin stretched across his face, and his legs swung rapidly in the air.
“Once things here settled down, then he can live with us,” Dhurke said, his hand on Nahyuta’s shoulder. “But yes, I’m sure he’ll be just as delighted as you are.”
From the stories Dhurke and Nahyuta had told her about him, Apollo seemed like a fine boy. With a pleased smile, Amara had no doubt he would fit right back in with their family.
The rest of the evening went off peacefully. After the family had finished dinner and watched television for a moment, they retired to their rooms when it was time for bed. She and Dhurke fell asleep, but then a few hours later her body started to roll and she groaned.
She found herself back at her old residence, burning debris crashing down at her. The dark air obscured her vision and filled her lungs, giving her coughing fits. Amara yelped when the flames licked at her arms and legs. Someone’s cackle could be heard, but it wasn’t Dhurke. Instead he was calling out her name in desperation. Amara yelled back as she tried to search for him, and she spotted him near the exit of their home. Dhurke stretched out his hand for her, but before she could reach it the fire blasted the door off, and he was being sucked outside like a vacuum. Her fingertips barely touched his, then he flew off as Amara screamed his name in horror.
Amara jolted awake and sat up, her breathing ragged and sweat trailing on her forehead. Opening her eyes, she found her hand grabbed onto Dhurke’s. As he began to stir awake, Amara pulled her hand away, her fingers twitching.
“Are you all right, Amara?” Dhurke asked, his eyes blinking, and Amara gave him a weak nod.
“Yes, my dear. I was awoken by that same nightmare of that fire, only it played out a little differently.”
“Played out a little differently? How so?”
“Before in my dreams your laughter sent chills down my spine. This time, however, you were screaming my name and reaching for my hand. I almost grabbed it, but then you were pulled away from me.”
Dhruke frowned, then pulled Amara with him as his back leaned against the headboard. She rested her head on his chest, hearing his quickened heartbeat. “I’ll make sure that you and our children are safe from any harm,” he said in a low voice.
“I can channel spirits from the Twilight Realm. I should be more than fine.” Nonetheless, she offered him an appreciated smile. Dhurke chuckled, then dropped his gaze toward Amara’s swelled stomach.
“You hear that, little one? Your mother can handle herself.” Dhurke kissed gently on her belly, and Amara couldn’t help but giggle. She relaxed under his arms, and the pair sat in comfortable silence. The past may still haunt her forever, but there was the future she would focus on instead.
December 24, 2013, Early Winter 2014
Fall changed into winter, the ground being covered in puffs of snow as the chilly winds howled throughout the night. Amara and her family luckily were prepared for that, having stocked up on food, wood, and warm clothing. Before Dhurke had started a fire to warm the house, he asked Amara if it was all right with her, which she allowed him to do so. Datz had decided to stay during the last month of Amara’s pregnancy to help with the upcoming birth.
Then, on Christmas Eve, came the baby’s arrival.
When Amara’s water broke in early evening, Datz and Dhurke immediately had her lie in bed and got the blankets, towels, rubbing alcohol for disinfecting, and hot water in pans ready in the bedroom. As she went into labor, Dhurke made sure the baby was delivered with no problems and Datz let her clench his arm for support (and him yelling “Ow ow ow you’re breaking my bones here, man!”). Nahyuta helped too by giving instructions to them from a medical book Datz had brought months before and drying her forehead with a towel. After Amara pushed and screamed for several hours, a baby’s cry filled the room.
“It’s a girl!” Dhurke said in great joy. “Nahyuta, help me clean her up.”
Amara sighed in relief, her eyes getting heavy and sweat rolling on her forehead. She looked up to see Datz, who was grinning at her.
“Yuty should have fun being a big bro.”
“No doubt that he shall be an excellent brother to her,” Amara said and smiled back.
“Have you two decided on a name yet?”
“We have. Her name is Rayfa.”
“Rayfa, huh? That’s an awesome name,” Datz said, his grin wider. Dhurke then called him out to help with the baby, and Datz gave an awkward chuckle as he scratched the back of his head. “The boss needs me now. But yeah, congrats on your Christmas present.” Datz winked at her and went to help out Dhurke.
Shortly after Rayfa was cleaned up, Dhurke bundled her up in a warm blanket and approached Amara. He handed her the baby, and she cradled Rayfa around her arms. Datz and Nahyuta gathered around them, too, excited smiles on their faces.
“Rayfa’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Dhurke flung his arms around Amara’s shoulder.
“She is, indeed.” Amara glimpsed down at Rayfa, who wiggled and cooed.
“Since Rayfa’s a girl, will she be able to spirit channels like you, Mother?” Nahyuta asked.
“Most likely she will. The Holy Mother shall bestow that ability to her when it is the right time.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that.” Dhurke leaned in to press his forehead against Amara’s, and they gazed lovingly at one another. She too wasn’t going to worry when Rayfa would acquire spirit channeling. Right now, she was perfect.
From late night cries to changing diapers to messy feedings, Rayfa was already a handful within the first two weeks. It had been a while since she and Dhurke took care of a baby, but Amara already expected those things. She still loved singing her to sleep and changing her into warm clothing and seeing Dhurke make funny faces at her and hearing her giggle. Nahyuta and Datz also lent a hand whenever possible, which she was grateful for. Regardless, Amara enjoyed every moment watching over Rayfa.
She thought this fantasy she was living in would last for a while, only for it to be cut short.
Early evening, as she watched Dhurke and Nahyuta play with the baby on the floor, someone slammed on the door. Everyone let out baffled looks, then Amara picked the baby up while Dhurke went to open for the guest. Datz rushed through the living room the instant he stepped inside, collapsing on his knees and taking deep breaths.
“Datz, is something the matter?” Dhurke asked, eyes wide in concern. Amara and Nahyuta wore similar expressions.
Barely looking up at the family, Datz said, “Very terrible news, boss. I think Ga’ran’s royal hooligans are onto us.”
“Wait, really? How you know?” Dhurke’s face turned pale.
“You know See’kin, our spy that found out about Amara’s whereabouts? Well, as I was about to head to the mountains, I saw his dead body washed ashore on the river. I think they already got a head start in searching for you guys through these mountains.”
“A corpse? Sister…” Amara lowered her head down in shame and her breathing shallow. A part of her didn’t want to believe it, but she was already aware of how much she despised Dhurke and his Defiant Dragons.
“I won’t be surprised if Ga’ran will cover that up to keep Amara’s secret hushed.” Dhurke gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. “We have to leave immediately.”
Everyone in the room fell silent. Datz put his hands inside his pocket and stared up at the ceiling, as if waiting for an answer from someone above. Nahyuta frowned and his arms shook. Amara’s eyes darted, then when an idea came to her, her face was set.
“The rest of you can go on without me and Rayfa. I shall let my sister’s guards take us.”
Her response earned her stunned looks from everyone.
“Are you nuts?” Datz yelled, staring at her. “You know Ga’ran is just going to put you under her leash once again.”
“Datz’s right,” Dhurke said. “If you get recaptured, she might make things worse for you.”
“I am well aware of the consequences,” she said to Dhurke with an edge in her voice. “However, you shall be executed the second she has her hands on you.” She looked down at Rayfa, who shifted in unease, as if sensing the tension in the house. “As for our daughter, if I were to perish someday then Ga’ran might want to use Rayfa for her spiritual power the same way she did to me.”
“So you’re willing to turn yourself and Rayfa in to give me and Nahyuta a chance to flee.” Dhurke approached Amara, his hands gripping on her shoulders. “I had promised that I won’t let any harm happen to my family.”
“And I mentioned that I can handle myself.” Amara offered him a sad smile. “The last several months has been the most happiest in my life. I am grateful that we were able to be together, even if for a fleeting moment.” While still holding Rayfa, she tiptoed to kiss Dhurke on the cheek.
“Does this mean we won’t see each other again?” Nahyuta asked, his lips quivering. Amara kneeled down to face him.
“No, not at all sweetheart. We’ll meet again, I am certain of it,” she said, then Nahyuta flung his arms at both her and Rayfa. She felt his tears trailing down on her cheek. Some seconds later, her son let go and Amara stood back up.
“If this is what we’re gonna do instead, then we better leave now boss, Yuty,” Datz said, his finger pointing at the direction of the door.
“You and Rayfa stay safe. I’ll come to get the both of you soon.” Dhurke hesitated at first, but then he captured Amara’s lips for a long, goodbye kiss. Her knees grew weak, and she swallowed. When their mouths parted, he let out a shaky breath, then faced Nahyuta and told him that they should grab their coats before leaving.
After Dhurke and Nahyuta got dressed in their coats, Amara watched as they held hands and followed Datz out of the door, closing the door behind them. She cradled Rayfa around her arms tighter, then sat down on the couch. The baby whined, and she cooed at her.
“There there, Rayfa, everything is going to be fine.” She closed her eyes, and silently prayed to the Holy Mother to watch over Dhurke and Nahyuta, and for her sister to be merciful to them.
Some hours after Amara let Dhurke and Nahyuta escape, Ga’ran’s guards stormed into the house. When they had asked Amara to come with her, she obliged, and the guards took her and Rayfa inside a helicopter that would bring her back to the palace.
After an hour ride, the helicopter landed within the palace residence. Everyone jumped off, the guards having their rifles close to Amara’s back. They marched inside the palace halls, their footsteps echoing through the walls. Up ahead, Ga’ran sat in her throne and her husband, Inga, stood beside her. When they reached the queen, the guards saluted and chanted about how much a great ruler she was.
“At ease, guards,” Ga’ran said, holding her hand up. “Thank you for bringing in my sister to me. I shall take care of things here. Everyone, dismissed.” The guards did one last salute, then they marched off to leave the queen, Inga, and Amara alone. Ga’ran gave her sister a wicked smile. “Welcome back, my dear Amara. I see you have been preoccupied while you were away.”
Amara held Rayfa closer against her chest and looked down on the floor with a frown. “I apologize for my long absence, Your Eminence. That was very reckless of me.”
Ga’ran pressed her lips in a thin line. “Indeed it is, especially since you had run away with that wanted criminal, Dhurke. I bet he left you before my guards had found you to save his own skin.”
I actually let Dhurke flee first before you could get to him, Amara wanted to say, but forced herself to keep her mouth closed. The baby was squirming around her arms, and Amara shushed her in a gentle tone.
“That baby will cause some problems, I can tell.” Ga’ran leaned back on her throne chair, her fingers tapping on the arm. Next to her, Inga crossed his arms against his chest and grunted. “But, I think we can come up with a compromise. Have Inga and I be her parents while you disguise yourself and pretend to be her personal aide. That way, there would be no more assassination attempts from Dhurke.”
Even though Amara already predicted this would happen, her heart sunk and a knot tied in her throat. She looked back at Ga’ran, nodding weakly.
“As long as no harm is done to Rayfa, then I will do whatever you ask,” she said, and a satisfied grin pulled onto Ga’ran’s face.
A few moments later, Amara was taken back to her room. She sat on the bed, holding Raya around her arms. Glimpsing at the full moon through the window, Amara sighed and her eyes flickered.
She flinched when someone knocked on the door, and Amara told them to come in. Amara swallowed as Inga stepped inside with a tray of crackers, apple sauce, milk, and a glass of juice. He smiled at her.
“I thought I would bring you two some snacks after that helicopter ride there.” Inga joined with Amara and Rayfa on the bed, setting the tray there, too. Amara gave him an appreciative smile.
“This is a lovely gesture, thank you.”
“It’s no problem at all.” He gazed down at Rayfa, his grin wider. “Her name’s Rayfa, right?” he asked, and Amara replied that he was correct. “May I hold her?”
Amara was taken aback by that request, but then her face softened. “That is fine with me.” She handed Rayfa to Inga, and when he wrapped his arms around her, the baby’s whines died down and she produced what sounded like a giggle. Amara chuckled. “Rayfa must already have taken quite a liking to you.”
“She does, huh?” He started rubbing the baby’s chin. “Your sister and I tried to have a child of our own, but without any luck. Ga’ran thought perhaps it’s my condition that’s hindering our chances, but really there’s no passion between us. But hey, at least I still get to be a father!”
Amara ate the crackers as she listened to Inga, regarding him in silence. While she would prefer Dhurke, Inga seemed to be delighted to raise Rayfa. Once she finished the last cracker and drank the grape juice, Inga handed Rayfa back to her, the baby now sleeping. Inga rose out of the bed and his eyes flew open when he spotted something on top of the drawer. He reached there and picked up a photo that Amara had left there a moment ago.
“This is a cute picture of Rayfa there. Do you mind if I keep it?”
That picture was taken by Dhurke several days after Rayfa was born. Before leaving with Ga’ran’s guards, Amara had hid the picture inside the pocket of her robe. After some consideration, she nodded.
“You have my permission to do so.”
“Great! I’ll make sure to keep it safe.” Inga folded the picture and put it in his jacket’s pocket. “I have to go now, but thanks a million for the picture.” He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Alone with Rayfa, Amara lifted her up and kissed her forehead. A bassinet was already set up for them in the middle of the room, so she got up and put her down, tucking in the blanket over her. She smiled down at her for a moment, then she pulled out the locket that was hidden behind the high collar of her dress. Amara opened it, showing a picture of her and Dhurke that Datz had taken. With a shuddered breath, she closed the locket and held it against her chest, where her heart was. She gazed at the moon once more, certain that he must be looking at it, too.
Fourteen years later
The last time Amara rode on the helicopter was fourteen years ago when she was being brought back to the palace. Today, however, she was going to visit Ga’ran in Royal Penitentiary No. 4.
She looked through the window as Mt. Poniponi loomed ahead of her, light clouds floating around. Her heart raced faster the closer the helicopter got to the mountains. During the ride, she wasn’t unsure what to expect of her meeting with her sister, but knew she needed to do this. The pilot yelled out that they were about to land on ground, and several minutes later the helicopter parked at a safe distance from the penitentiary. Two of the royal guards helped Amara step out and escorted her inside.
One of the prison guards led them to Ga’ran’s cell and Amara stepped inside alone. Her room was bare saved for a bed, a dirty plate on the floor, and the light bulb that hung on the ceiling. The walls were tattered and there was no window in sight. Ga’ran was dressed in rags, her hair greasy and wild. She rocked back and forth, her arms looped around one knee. Cracking a vicious smile, Ga’ran chuckled.
“I take it you have come to witness and laugh at my downfall.”
Amara shook her head. “My purpose for being here is to discuss with you some important matters.”
Ga’ran’s mouth twitched, and she grunted. “Go ahead.”
“Why did one of your guards shoot me during Dhurke’s trial?” Amara narrowed her eyes at Ga’ran.
“Because you were about to reveal I was the one that murdered my husband,” Ga’ran said. “I couldn’t let that secret be known in the court.”
While she still glared at Ga’ran, Amara’s hands jerked. She recalled that day when Ga’ran had forced her to cover up her crime. Do what her sister asked, or Rayfa shall face danger. Amara hesitantly agreed to it and was about to make her way to Inga’s residence, but not before Ga’ran dropped one other announcement that made her skin turn cold.
“I found someone’s corpse in your sarcophagus. Dhurke’s, to be specific. Channel his spirit, and frame him as the culprit for Inga’s murder.”
During her recovery in the hospital, Nahyuta had come to visit and told her what had happened after she was shot. Ever since she had returned back to the palace, Amara grew disgusted towards her.
“And how about that arson from twenty three years ago?” Amara asked next, her voice rising. “Did you orchestrate that just so you could steal my throne?”
“That is also true, unfortunately. I was jealous over how you had spiritual powers, a loving family, and everyone bowing at your feet.” Ga’ran threw her head back and sneered. “You must hate my guts after everything that has occurred, so why are you sparing my life instead of having me executed?”
Amara ‘s body tensed. Her fingers fidgeted at the ceremonial relief of the Holy Mother she carried above her chest. She closed her eyes, drew out a breath, and held it up for Ga’ran.
“Despite all the horrible atrocities you have done to me, my loved ones, and to the people of Khura’in, a part of me still cares about you. I only hope that you feel the same way. May the Holy Mother have mercy on your soul.”
Ga’ran didn’t say anything, only continue to stare at her. A deep frown reached Amara’s lips, as if her sister was beyond redemption, then she turned around and stepped out of Ga’ran’s cell.
Three days after Amara had visited Ga’ran in prison, she invited Apollo Justice to her palace to have lunch with her, Nahyuta, and Rayfa.
She and Apollo had interacted on a few occasions shortly after she was released from the hospital. He was fun to converse with, and she enjoyed his stories on some of the cases he had done back in America. As she listened to those cases, Amara could see some of Dhurke in him, always believing in his clients and not giving up even when things get grim.
A dragon never yields, after all.
Dhurke had raised the boy well.
This afternoon, everyone gathered at Rayfa’s veranda, sitting around a table with tea and plates filled with rice, chicken, and steamed vegetables. Amara sometimes glanced at the view of the courtyard and could see the mountains from a distance. While everyone was eating, Nahyuta talked about the one time he ran into Prosecutor Simon Blackquill.
“After I had told Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth that I needed to head back to Khura’in, I left his office and bumped into Prosecutor Blackquill.” Nahyuta took a bite of his rice and chicken. “He was on his way for a trial, but we had a short but enlightening conversation, and you know what he had told me? ‘If you like, the next time you’re around town I can take you for soba noodles and rakugo, show you the real deal.’”
“Wait, did he really say that?” Apollo asked. “From what Athena had told me, he couldn’t stand you.”
“Indeed his impatience towards me got the best of him, but it seems that he was impressed with my knowledge of soba and rakugo. Nonetheless, I accepted his offer with grace.”
“Well, I must say, that man was a fool for doubting your knowledge beforehand, but it’s a good thing that he respected you in the end,” Rayfa said after she swallowed her food.
“Sounds like Prosecutor Blackquill has quite a silver tongue, but I am sure you two shall have a lovely time together.” Amara stopped a moment to drink her tea, then she faced Apollo. “So, Apollo, how is your new law office going?”
Apollo gulped down his meal, then said, “It’s going great so far! Granted, I’m taking far more clients then I can handle, but I love every moment of it.”
“You could do yourself a favor by not making too many slip ups in court that would cost your clients a guilty verdict,” Nahyuta said, a sly smile tugging onto his lips. Apollo pouted and glared at him.
“Hey, I’m pretty much the only experienced defense attorney here at the moment, so cut me some slack.”
Both Amara and Rayfa chuckled, then Amara said to Apollo, “After we finish our meal, I want to take you to my tomb and show you something.”
“Your tomb?” Apollo’s eyes grew wide, and he almost choked from his food. He gulped his tea to wash it down. “So you still have that memorial up?”
“She does,” Rayfa said with a close-lipped smile. “However, you might be presently surprised of what she wants you to see.” Next to her, Nahyuta too wore a similar expression.
“If you guys want to take me there, then sure I’m willing to come,” Apollo said, grinning.
It was another half an hour before everyone finished their meals and was ready to head to the tomb. Amara opened the double doors, and they stepped inside. The candle’s low flames swayed gently like the flags over at the Plaza of Devotion. Everyone passed through the many monk statues, their footsteps echoing through the walls, and they stopped in front of the sarcophagus. Apollo blinked at her when Amara pointed to him to look at the paintings. She watched as he lifted his gaze up and a stunned expression washed over his face.
The paintings of her life were mostly the same, saved for the ones with Dhurke. The demon horns that once sprouted from his head had now disappeared, and one of the paintings that had Dhurke drowning in flames was replaced with Amara and him holding baby Rayfa. Nahyuta joined in with them, too.
“You changed some of the murals,” Apollo said in awestruck when he looked back at Amara.
“Yes. After that trial, I was not pleased with the way he was depicted in those paintings, and when I told Rayfa and Nayhuta about it they hired the original painter to remake them.”
“I may not know my biological father all that well,” Rayfa said, “but both Mother and Braid Head are very fond of him, so I know he is a good man.”
Amara glanced at Nahyuta, who swung his head and his cheeks blushed. Rayfa was still getting used to having Nahyuta as her bigger brother, but the two were slowly getting along. She hummed in amusement.
“I think that’s a great way to pay respects towards Dhurke,” Apollo said with an approved smile.
“Glad you thought so. There is also something else I want to present to you,” she said to Apollo, and everyone followed her as they walked further.
They halted once more when everyone was in front of the painting of the Holy Mother. Below it there was an urn with flowy designs and dragon patterns. Apollo leaned in to have a closer look and he flinched.
“Oh, aren’t Dhurke’s ashes in that urn? I remember you guys showed it to me when a memorial was held for him.”
“It is, indeed,” Amara said. “Originally it was kept under watch inside the palace, but then I decided this chamber was a better place to rest his soul.” Behind her, Nahyuta and Rayfa nodded.
“I too think this is the perfect place for that,” Apollo said and grinned once more, both hands on his side.
Amara smiled in returned, and she looked over her shoulder to see Nahyuta and Rayfa also in high spirits. She gazed up at the paintings, grateful for the brighter future her husband had inspired and risked his life for. His death shall not be in vain, and she and everyone else in this chamber would make sure of that.