Taako spends the night hiding under his duvet, mentally chastising himself for kissing Kravitz and then running away because who does that? The whole situation is ridiculous and Taako is not going to fall for it—the moonlight, the cheekbones, the warmth in Kravitz’s eyes when he smiles at Taako. Totally not Taako’s thing at all. A hot, mysterious boy in a fancy suit who laughs at his jokes and loves his cooking? Not his type.
But Taako kissed Kravitz and he could kick himself for it. He replays telling Kravitz that he guesses it’s not that kind of curse like Kravitz was ever going to buy that as an excuse for Taako just leaning in and kissing him. As if feeling up Kravitz’s leg first didn’t make it real fuckin’ obvious that Taako just… wanted to steal a kiss in the most awkward way possible.
Taako is falling into every cliche there is—he found a boy who needs to be rescued, decided to help him, kissed him. Taako told Davenport he didn’t want a ball that decided who his future husband would be, and here’s fate, setting up the next best thing, helped along by his sister planting the idea of kissing Kravitz in Taako’s head.
Except even though all signs point to Taako riding in like prince charming and sweeping Kravitz off his feet, the only magic that happened when he and Kravitz kissed was the immediate frisson of chemistry Taako felt—no curse-breaking shower of sparks, no burst of light and magic, no nothing. The shackle stayed on and Kravitz himself kind of just looked… surprised.
That’s fine. It probably means Kravitz isn’t that into him. Taako can just stay in bed forever, no problem. The way he up and ran after springing a kiss on him, Kravitz probably won’t even mind Taako not coming back.
Taako will mind though. Taako likes Kravitz.
It’s the worst.
The worst, except that in the morning—after a night spent lying in bed agonizing over Kravitz and only a few short hours of uneasy sleep—Merle prods Taako awake and drags him out of bed and into Davenport’s study. That beats liking Kravitz for worst thing pretty handily.
“I am your prince.” Taako falls into one of the chairs across from Davenport and crosses his arms over his chest. He feels groggy and short-tempered, definitely not in the mood to a lecture on responsibility. “This is unconstitutional.”
“That’s really not how our government works, Taako,” Davenport says, patient and amused, which just annoys Taako more. “You’re our future king. You should know this.”
“Whoops,” says Taako. “Guess you better make Lup queen instead. She’ll do a better job. She’s got, like, a heart of gold or whatever. People like that in a queen. I’m just gonna spend our GDP on fancy spices.”
“We’re having a royal ball tomorrow night.” Davenport places a large scroll on his desk, unrolling it to reveal a list of names, only a few of which Taako recognizes. “We’ve invited every eligible bachelor we could. You can socialize and get to know them. It’s a party, Taako. Not a death sentence.”
Taako eyes the list. Greg Grimmauldis is on it. Davenport and Merle are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for this one. He still owes Lup money. “I know about the ball. You know how I feel about the ball. Why are we going over this again? You can’t force commitment on me.”
“Kid,” says Merle, sitting in the seat beside Taako’s. “You’re a prince. You’re going to be king. You need to at least seem like you’re thinking about marriage to make everyone in the kingdom feel a little more secure. Just pick someone and invite them to stay here for a bit. Everyone will be happy.”
Taako frowns. “I won’t be.”
“We’re not going to force you to marry someone you barely know,” Davenport says. “We want you to be happy, but we also want you to recognize that you have some responsibilities. Hopefully before we have to end a betrothal and throw another elaborate ball to find you a suitable replacement suitor. We’re trying to work with you, Taako. This way it gives you a chance to get to know someone.”
Taako can think of a million better ways to meet and get to know a guy. Davenport and Merle may have invited everyone they think is suitable for Taako, but there’s still going to be some self-selection happening. The people who accept the invitation, the ones who try to talk to him at the ball, are going to be angling for the position of prince consort—people who want to marry someone with a crown.
Taako’s not a sap. He doesn’t need true love or whatever, but how is he supposed to know the person he’s marrying actually likes him if this is how they meet? Taako’s an acquired taste, like fine wine. Some people love him, but some people—like Leon, the castle artificer—aren’t exactly president of the Taako fan club.
“Did you bring me here just to lecture me?” Taako asks. “I’m gonna go take a nap.”
“Taako, wait.” Davenport exchanges a glance with Merle before continuing to talk. “We’ve noticed you… spending a lot of time in your room this week. I know this responsibility is a lot to place on you, but if you’re feeling upset I’m sure we could find someone—”
“Oh my God.” Taako’s maybe a little pleased to know his absence has been noticed, even if Davenport and Merle are assuming it means something it doesn’t. Also apparently he’s dope at sneaking out at night. Good to know. “It’s not upset. I’m just sleeping,” he says. “I’ve been having late nights. I’ve got this spell I’m trying to work out.”
“You want some help with that?” Merle asks, raising his eyebrows. “I mean, not from me, but maybe Barry—”
“Asked him,” Taako says, shaking his head. “He was useless. Lup isn’t any good either.” He is not going to explain finding a boy in the woods and promising to free him to Davenport and Merle. It’s embarrassing enough having everyone else know. “It’s some kind of fucked up three layer catastrophe of a spell. It’s interesting, but it’s hard to figure out it all fits together.”
“You’re being very vague,” Davenport says, giving Taako an ever-so-suspicious look. It’s the kind of look that promises the guards are going to be thorough checking for pranks and traps before the ball tomorrow night. “If you’re trying to piece together multiple spells, why not ask Lucretia to help you with your research?”
Taako opens his mouth to protest that he doesn’t have time for more research because Merle and Davenport are pushing to kill his free time, then closes it. At this point, maybe research is what he should be doing, instead of sleeping some more or bugging Barry and Lup again. Maybe research is his last resort option.
“Yeah, okay,” he says, pushing himself out of his chair. “I’m gonna go bug Lucretia, but I want my protest of the whole ball thing noted.”
“It’s noted,” Merle promises. “We know.”
“And yet,” says Taako, raising his voice to be sure they hear him, but not bothering to look back at Davenport and Merle as he leaves the room, “you’re still doing it.”
The castle library is vast—two floors of bookcases towering above Lucretia, who is seated at a sturdy wooden desk in a tufted chair. There’s nobody who knows the library’s catalogue like she does, despite only officially holding the librarian position for the past year, because Lucretia’s been systematically reading the entire collection since she was a little girl and her parents first started working for the royal family.
“If you’re here to hide from Captain Davenport, know that I won’t tell on you, but I won’t lie if he asks if you’re in here directly.” Lucretia doesn’t bother looking up from the tome she’s reading as her left hand scrawls notes across the page of the parchment next to her.
Taako rolls his eyes. “I’m not here to hide. I just talked to him.”
Lucretia pauses her writing, glancing up at Taako. “What’s up, then? Do you need help finding something?”
Taako likes Lucretia, but she knows too much. He can—and does—play off his magical abilities as an innate knack for the stuff around most people in the castle. Lucretia’s seen how much he studying and practice he sneaks in to improve his skills.
“I’ve got a hypothetical question you might be able to help me with,” Taako says. “Say there’s someone—”
“Stuck in the woods as a bird with an anklet that locks in his magic?” Lucretia raises an eyebrow. “Barry was in here yesterday asking me about just such a hypothetical scenario.”
“God dammit, Barold.” Taako grabs a chair from one of the study tables, dragging it over to Lucretia’s desk and taking a seat in front of her. “And? Did you find anything?”
“Well… no,” Lucretia admits. “You’re talking about a fairly complex sounding curse. It’s hard to know what sort of magical theory to apply without actually analyzing the spell and its effects. Did going after the anklet work?”
“No,” says Taako. “I tried breaking it and then resizing it to make it bigger. Neither spell had any effect. I was going to try turning it into something more fragile—wood or ceramic—but I got, uh, distracted by some other stuff.” Like Kravitz’s laugh and the way his eyes went all soft when he looked at Taako. “Ran out of time.”
“Distracted?” Lucretia repeats, amused. “Magnus did say your new friend was handsome.”
“Magnus is a snitch and not my friend anymore,” says Taako. Magnus would go around telling everyone Kravitz was hot. “Lucretia, come on—I need ideas here. I’ve got one day of freedom left. Davenport and Merle aren’t exactly going to let me skip out on the ball to break a curse in the woods, and then I’ll have to deal with some guy hanging around and how am I supposed to explain bird boy to him? I need—”
“Okay, okay! I’ll help if I can.” Lucretia’s smiling at Taako like she thinks she knows something and Taako’s pretty sure she doesn’t. Taako hasn’t told anyone about kissing Kravitz and it’s daylight so Kravitz will be a bird right now. He can’t tell anyone. Taako’s secret shame is safe for now. “As far as I know, spells like the one you’re talking about usually have some kind of clause attached. Something that will make the whole curse crumble apart. All you have to do is find out what it is and that’s it—curse broken.”
Taako frowns. “How is that supposed to help?” he asks. “If Kravitz knew how to break the curse, don’t you think he’d tell me? Or at least hint that the spell was keeping him from saying something? I was hoping for… I don’t know. A volume of 1001 Curses and How to Break Them. Something actionable.”
“No such book, I’m afraid,” Lucretia says. “Not even Top Ten Curses and How to Avoid Them. Besides, it didn’t sound like this is anything even remotely approaching a simple curse.”
It’s really not, but Lucretia doesn’t have to rub it in. “You’re not being very helpful.”
“It’s hard to be helpful when I can’t examine the spell myself,” Lucretia says. “It would be much easier to suggest solutions if I could see it in person. Maybe after the ball we could all go out to see your friend, since he can’t come to us. If we all work on it together, I’m sure we can crack it.”
Lucretia’s probably right. Taako’s having no luck doing this on his own. Maybe he should have gotten everyone to come out to the woods with him in the first place. Maybe they would have broken the curse by now. He hadn’t wanted to confess that he was a prince before, but he’s got a ball to go to tomorrow night and that means he’s gotta tell Kravitz who he is now anyway—otherwise Kravitz will probably think Taako abandoned him.
Bad enough that Taako sprang a kiss on him out of nowhere.
Taako rubs his hands over his face. He’s surrounded by other magic users at the palace—Barry understands necromancy better than anyone else Taako’s met; Lucretia’s read nearly every book in existence; Lup knows both necromancy and evocation spells. Even Davenport and Merle are both powerful magicians in their own right, although they haven’t made a career out of it. If anyone can help break the curse, it’s them.
Taako doesn’t want to wait until after the ball, though, and it’d be hard to get Davenport and Merle on board with traipsing out into the Felicity Wilds the night before the ball after how vocal Taako’s been about not wanting it to happen. It sounds like a trap to Taako—like a good way to get them lost for twenty-four hours so the ball has to be cancelled.
Taako’s kind of tied his own hands here. He’s not going to be able to get everyone out to see Kravitz tonight, and after the ball there’s going to be a whole new set of problems in the shape of a potential-fiance. It seems like it’ll be hard to get everyone to the woods in a timely fashion after the ball too.
Kravitz could come to them though.
It’d be risky. Dangerous. But even if Taako can’t break the curse on his own—and he definitely can’t—he can magic up a ladder to get Kravitz over the thorn bushes keeping him captive. He can give Kravitz a way out in his human form. Kravitz could come to the ball—maybe sneak in a dance with Taako, just to sell the bit—and then… it’d just be a matter of stretching the truth a big. Taako being concerned about a curse on his potential-fiance seems like the kind of thing Davenport would approve of. Then they can get straight to the business of making sure Kravitz isn’t stuck as a raven forever.
Bringing everyone to Kravitz would be safer and easier, but the ball is happening and Taako can’t stop it, so he might as well make use of it. Davenport isn’t exactly going to let Taako marry a bird. If Kravitz is Taako’s maybe-fiance, everyone will have to help fix him.
“Taako?” Taako glances up at Lucretia, who looks concerned. “Are you all right? I’m sure we can—”
“Taako’s good,” he says, cutting her off as he gets to his feet. “Taako’s got a plan now. You’re right. I need backup for this.”
“So the day after tomorrow?” Lucretia asks, raising his voice because Taako’s already on his way out of the door. “Taako?”
“Can’t talk now, Lucretia!” he calls back, striding out of the library. “I’ve gotta cook for tonight!”
“Taako, why do you need—?”
Taako closes the door to the library behind himself, cutting her off. It’s a terrible plan. There are a million things that could go wrong. And deep down, Taako’s aware that the appeal, for him, is mostly that he likes Kravitz and doesn’t want to end up betrothed to some stranger the next time he sees him.
Doesn’t matter. He’s made up his mind. Taako is going to ask Kravitz to the ball.
Night falls and the moon rises. Kravitz lets the moonlight wash over him, transforming him from raven to person, and lays in the clearing that has become his whole world, staring up at what he can see of the sky—a small patch of black-blue night, dotted with stars that blink down at him. One day, the vines that surround his tower might grow so high he doesn’t see the stars or the moon at all. One day, nature might do what the curse has been attempting to do since it was first cast.
It’s possible he’s feeling moody because Taako kissed him and then took off like a spooked horse. How is Kravitz supposed to interpret that? He doesn’t know if he believes that the kiss was just Taako seeing if a kiss would break the curse and he doesn’t know if he should tell Taako that there is a way around the spell with affection, but it requires an embrace, not a kiss.
The catch-22 of the way to break Kravitz’s curse is that telling someone that love is required to break the spell is almost guaranteed to prevent that from happening. Taako, who ran from a kiss, definitely doesn’t seem like someone who’d take that well.
He’s pretty sure Taako won’t come back. He ran away from Kravitz, and that seems—
The sound of footsteps crunching through the woods interrupts his moping. Kravitz sits up, suddenly alert. He sees Taako’s hat before anything else—the pointed top visible over the hedge. “Taako?”
Taako stops walking, hesitating like maybe he’s going to change his mind and leave, and then he starts walking again, closing the distance between himself and the briars. He peers over them, at Kravitz sitting on the ground. “Hi,” Taako says, sounding the least confident Kravitz has ever heard him. “So, uh, we should… talk about some stuff. I’ve got an idea, but there’s some… context you’re gonna need.” He pauses. “I brought snacks.”
Kravitz isn’t quite sure how to respond. There’s a new awkwardness between them that wasn’t there before last night. “I like snacks,” he says.
“My dude, you were eating bugs before I came around. Of course you like snacks.” Taako’s lips quirk into something like a smile. “Okay, hold up. I’m coming over.”
Kravitz sits up properly while Taako climbs his invisible staircase, running a hand over his hair to make sure he doesn’t have grass in it, adjusting his jacket and waistcoat. “I didn’t just eat bugs. Ravens are omnivores.”
“I’m guessing bugs were a significant part of your diet though.” Taako touches down in Kravitz’s clearing and grins at him. “Today I’ve got chicken. I forgot to ask the first time. You cool with chicken? Is that, like, cannibalism for you?”
“I’m not actually a bird, Taako,” Kravitz says, smiling back at Taako and letting himself relax. The kiss is still lurking in the back of his mind, but it’s background—less important than the fact that Taako is here and Kravitz gets to spend time with him again.
And that Taako might have more ideas of how to break the curse, obviously. That’s also important.
“I don’t know, my dude. Seem pretty bird-like to me.” Taako sets the basket he’s carrying down in front of Kravitz, then sits beside him. “Feathers, wings—I’ve seen your whole deal.”
Kravitz rolls his eyes, reaching for the basket. “As long as I get to eat your food, you can keep teasing me.”
“It’s no fun if I have your permission.” Taako watches as Kravitz pulls food out of the basket—roast chicken, sliced and still warm; chunks of sweet potatoes that smell like warm spices; asparagus dressed with lemon and Parmesan cheese. “Glad you appreciate the cooking though—thought you’d like another warm meal.”
Kravitz picks up a piece of sweet potato, popping it into his mouth. It tastes like cinnamon and nutmeg, but leaves the burn of hot pepper lingering on his tongue after he swallows. “Thank you, Taako. I appreciate it more than you know.” Even if they don’t break the curse at least he’s gotten this, but Taako’s not just here to feed him. Kravitz looks up at him. “You said you wanted to talk?”
“Right. Yeah.” Taako pulls two plates out of the basket, busying himself with serving up food for Kravitz and then himself. “So, uh, I haven’t been… completely honest with you. About everything. I mean, I haven’t lied-lied. It just kind of didn’t come up? But now it’s gonna come up because I’ve got a proposal for you.” Taako pauses, handing Kravitz his plate. “So… I’m a prince.”
Kravitz blinks at Taako, freezing mid-plate acceptance. “What?”
“Yeah, it’s like… a whole thing.” Taako rubs a hand over the back of his neck, not meeting Kravitz’s eyes. “Heir to a kingdom? But basically that’s sexism because nobody really remembers whether me or my sister was born first. We’re identical and I guess Merle didn’t think it was important to write it down at the time, and… anyway, so I’m crown prince and there’s this ball.”
Kravitz… doesn’t really know what to say to Taako. It’s not like he’s brought up his own royal heritage either. “Okay,” he says, after a beat. “So… you’re a prince.”
“Crown prince,” Taako corrects. “Yeah, so this ball is… soon. And I think you should come.”
Kravitz frowns at that. “Taako, I can’t come. I’m—have you missed that the point of the curse is that it traps me here if I want to remain human? Or the part where if I’m not here when the sun rises I’ll be stuck as a raven forever?”
“No, I get it,” Taako says, shaking his head. “It’s—listen, I’ve got a plan. So being a prince means I have, like, people, right? Like some of the best magicians in the world live at the palace. And the point of this ball is supposed to be me choosing the person I’m supposed to marry, or whatever. So if you come to the ball and I choose you… I mean, they’re not gonna make me marry a bird, you know? They’ll help me break your curse.”
It’s… a lot to process. Taako is also a prince. Taako wants Kravitz to come to a royal ball and be his chosen suitor. “You… want me to risk being stuck as a raven forever so that you can tell your kingdom we’re going to get married and ask everyone to help break my curse?”
Taako makes a face. “It sounds like a bad plan when you put it like that. Listen, I have no desire to marry some stuck-up prince I don’t even know. They’re the worst. And you don’t need to marry me after. It’s a ruse—you help me with the ball thing and I help you with the bird thing. We both get what we want.”
Kravitz feels oddly disappointed, which is ridiculous. Of course they shouldn’t be married—they’ve only known each other a couple days. He doesn’t really want to jump into marriage either, but if the curse is broken, maybe they’ll be able to spend more time together. Get to know each other.
He’ll be able to break the news that he’s also a prince to Taako at a better time—one where Taako’s not actively trying to avoid getting involved with a prince.
“How certain are you that your people can break the curse?” Kravitz asks, after a moment.
Taako looks surprised, like he didn’t expect Kravitz to seriously consider his plan. “I, uh, pretty certain,” he says. “Maybe not completely certain, but… yeah, I’m pretty sure. If we can’t do it, no one can. And, I mean, what’s gonna pull in magic users better than the prince’s fiancé being cursed? That’s the kind of publicity you can’t buy. Every magic user in Faerun is gonna want to take a stab at breaking it.”
Logically, Kravitz should say no. He should suggest Taako bring his friends to the tower to try breaking the curse safely. Except Kravitz is familiar with the responsibility that comes with being heir to a kingdom. It’s been a long time since he was home and a long time since anyone addressed him as a prince, but Kravitz remembers what it was like to know that the privileges he enjoyed came with a duty to his country to fulfil a certain role, even if it wasn’t always a role he felt comfortable in.
Not going along with Taako’s plan won’t stop the ball. It won’t stop Taako from becoming betrothed to someone.
Kravitz glances at Taako’s lips, remembering the kiss, the weight of Taako’s hand on his ankle. Agreeing is a risk, but what has waiting gotten Kravitz so far? Nothing has changed.
He can take this chance, or he can stay—can keep doing what he’s always done and wait for rescue instead of actively trying to defy the restrictions Edward and Lydia placed on him.
“Okay,” he says. “If you can figure out a way for me to leave the tower on the night of the ball, I’ll do it.”
“Wait, really?” Taako looks startled by his agreement. “That—fuck, okay. Yes. Great. So when I said the ball was soon I meant tomorrow night, and—”
“Tomorrow?” Kravitz repeats incredulously.
“Listen, this is a new plan,” Taako says. “It’s a little last minute, but it’s fine. So the ball is tomorrow night. You’re gonna be late, with the moon and whatever, but you slip inside and find me. We dance, or whatever, and then I tell everyone to go home because I made my choice. I bring you to all the wizards working at the castle and we start on the curse thing. Easy.”
“Not easy,” Kravitz says. “What is your plan for that?” He points towards the thick barrier of briars between him and freedom. “If I can’t fly and I can’t use magic, how am I supposed to get over it?”
“Have you tried a ladder?” Taako asks, leaning forward. “Because cha’boy can magic up a ladder no problem.”
Kravitz blinks. Kravitz has not, in fact, tried a ladder. When Edward and Lydia first trapped him here, he tried climbing and cut up his hands. He tried to start a fire to burn the thicket down and couldn’t. He tried over and over again to use his magic, to somehow break the curse through sheer force of will.
Ladders hadn’t entered the equation. In part because if he couldn’t get back to the clearing in time while he was human, he’d end up a raven forever, and in part because where would he get one?
But now Taako is giving him a good reason to leave and offering a ladder to help him out.
Kravitz shakes his head. “I haven’t.”
“That’s what I thought,” Taako says, grinning as he clambers to his feet. “If I can levitate over, a ladder should work too. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re gonna have to jump from the top of the bush and that’s probably gonna suck, but I can get you to the top.”
Even if Taako’s friends can’t break the curse, Kravitz could send his mother a message once he gets to the castle. He can let her know he’s okay because he’s pretty certain she’s still fine. If anything had happened to her since his capture, Edward and Lydia would have come and rubbed it in. They enjoy watching him suffer.
If anyone can break the spell, it’s his mother. He knows how powerful she is and besides that, she loves him—a hug from her is all it would take.
“All right,” Kravitz says. “I don’t have—well, I have quite a lot to lose, actually, but if it works it’s worth the risk. Sitting here isn’t doing anything to get me out.”
“Really?” Taako gives him a pleased look. “It’s gonna go great. I’m a prince and a wizard—this kind of magical bullshit is what I was made for, right? We’ve got this.”
“You talking yourself into believing in your plan after I’ve already agreed to try it isn’t filling me with confidence,” Kravitz says, amused.
“No, it’s cool. Be confident,” Taako says, waving a hand dismissively. “Can’t let that handsome face turn into a bird for good.”
Taako’s been calling him handsome since Kravitz first lured him and Magnus to the tower. This time, Kravitz has to catch himself to keep from smiling. “I’d appreciate that.”
“It’d be a tragedy,” Taako agrees, getting to his feet. He pushes up the sleeves of his robe, a bit of showmanship which is definitely not necessary for casting a spell. “Hold on and let me make you a ladder, then we can eat and you can tell me how great at cooking I am some more.”
Leaving the clearing in his human form isn’t a good plan. It’s too risky and more than likely it’s going to backfire and be how Edward and Lydia finally win.
Kravitz watches Taako pick up the empty basket he brought the food in. Taako shakes it and it twists and stretches in his hands, growing longer and less basket shaped until Taako is holding one end of a sturdy wicker ladder. He looks very pleased with himself as he props it up against the briars and turns to smile at Kravitz like look what I did.
Kravitz smiles back at Taako, helplessly enamoured. The dim light in the clearing paints Taako in soft blues and purples, moonlight catching in his hair. With Taako’s looking at him like that, it’s easy for Kravitz to be certain—leaving is worth the risk.
After Taako leaves, Kravitz stands in the clearing, waiting for the moon to set. Tomorrow night he’s going to leave and either he’ll be on his way to freedom or none of this will matter anymore because he’ll be a raven for good.
Either way, things are going to change. Either way, he won’t be playing Edward and Lydia’s game anymore.
“You know,” says a too-familiar voice behind Kravitz, “breaking the rules really doesn’t seem like princely behaviour. That’s more our thing.”
Kravitz turns, hackles up, to face Edward and Lydia. They’re dressed in elaborate, garishly coloured court clothes, leaning against the tower. They’re obviously posed, like they took the time to arrange the exact drape of the gold-trimmed ruffles on the cuffs of their sleeves before bringing themselves to his attention.
“There’s no rule against me talking to someone,” he says.
“It’s the spirit of the thing,” Edward says. “A ladder. Really, Kravitz, what’s the point of the bush if you don’t have to cut up your hands climbing to get out?”
“It’s really not fair,” Lydia agrees, pulling a glove off her manicured hand. “So let’s just get rid of that, shall we?” She smiles, falsely sweet, and snaps her fingers.
The ladder Taako made bursts into flame.
Kravitz twitches towards it and Edward flings out a hand, sending a rope of black magic that coils around Kravitz and squeezes. It feels like being wrapped in ice water, necrotic energy crackling around him as he stumbles and falls to his knees.
“Did you think we wouldn’t sense someone trying to break that pretty little anklet of yours?” Lydia asks. “Kravitz, you should know us better by now. The game is only fun as long as you’re here.”
“It’s not a game,” Kravitz spits, gritting his teeth against the sickly feel of Edward’s magic wrapped around him.
“It is.” Edward pushes off the tower, sauntering over to Kravitz so he can smirk down at him. “I have to say though, finding a prince and getting yourself invited to a ball in just two night—I’m impressed.”
“Oh me too,” Lydia agrees. “You can’t go, obviously, but it’s still impressive.”
“It’s very rude though, don’t you think?” Edward asks, looking at Lydia. “He told the prince he’d come. If he doesn’t show, what is the prince going to think?”
Kravitz feels cold dread creep over him—a sudden certainty that he knows exactly where this is going. “Stay away from Taako.”
Lydia ignores him completely. “Someone should take advantage of the invitation. I mean, it was a very kind invitation. It’d be such a shame to waste it.”
“Stay away from him,” Kravitz repeats. “What do you think is going to happen when you show up at a palace full of magic users? They’re not going to—”
Edward snaps his fingers and Kravitz feels the silence spell slap over his mouth, cutting him off. “We should go,” Edward says. “I’ve always thought we should be royalty.” Edward looks down at himself, making a show of plucking at his brocade coat. “I should change into something more suitable though. Don’t you think I should change?”
“Oh, certainly,” Lydia agrees. “You know what my favourite sort of balls are?”
“The same as mine.” Edward smirks as the air around him starts to ripple and warp, his form going blurry around the edges as his clothes grow more somber his hair grows longer, skin darker. When it settles, Kravitz finds himself looking up at his own face, except his eyes are cold and cruel and deeply satisfied. “I love a masquerade.”
Kravitz struggles against the bonds holding him in place, wishing he had his voice, his magic—anything that made him feel less helpless. He doesn’t want Taako dragged into this, doesn’t want Edward and Lydia taking advantage of him. Taako doesn’t deserve their particular kind of cruelty just because he wanted to help Kravitz. Just because Kravitz made Taako help him.
“What do you think?” Edward asks, straightening out the cuffs on his suit and preening in front of Lydia.
“A bit boring, but the foundation is good,” Lydia says. “You can make improvements later. Kravitz? Thoughts?” She looks down at him, smiling, and Kravitz’s voice comes back to him as she lifts the spell on his lips.
“You’re not going to get away with this,” Kravitz says. “Taako’s a wizard. He knows what a glamour looks like. This won’t last.”
“Oh, we don’t need it to last long,” Edward says, dismissive. “Did you know he has a twin sister? I can’t think of a better arrangement. We’ll swap one set of twins for another. Really, we should be thanking you for trying to cheat.”
“We won’t though,” Lydia says. “You need to learn your lesson. You’re not going anywhere. You keep cheating—changing the curse, having your prince make you a ladder. When are you going to learn that your actions have consequences, Kravitz?”
“You cheated and you need to be punished,” Edward agrees. “We’ve been giving you too much freedom.”
“Far too much.” Lydia twists her hand and Kravitz feels the weight of the cuff on his ankle change, growing heavier. When he looks down there’s a silver chain hanging off of it.
Kravitz pushes through the pain of the spell keeping his arms tied, lurching to his feet and lunging at Edward because no—he’s not going to let himself be chained down, not going to—
A familiar sensation washes over him and his body shifts before he can make contact with Edward—everything folding up and inward, getting smaller and tighter as he turns into a raven.
Edward and Lydia laugh—pure, confident triumph as Kravitz, in bird form, hits the ground, wings pinned to his side, chain dragging him down.
“Poor little bird,” Lydia says, scooping him up. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of—”
Kravitz pecks her hand viciously hard because it’s all he can do now—they’ve taken away everything else. Lydia lets out a hiss of pain and tightens her hold on him.
“Fine,” she says. “If that’s how you want to play. We don’t like cheaters and we don’t like you. Your prince is going to suffer. It’s all your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Kravitz knows. He knows he’s the one who dragged Taako into this so he can’t let them do this. He can’t let Edward and Lydia hurt Taako too.
He bites her, kicking his legs and digging his talons into the thin skin of Lydia’s wrists, drawing blood. If he can get free of her grasp then maybe—
Lydia throws him against the side of the tower, hard, and Kravitz’s whole world erupts into a bright flare of pain, blocking out every other sensation. All he knows is that he hurts and he’s falling and he can’t let this be it, can’t let them get to Taako, can't—and then everything goes black and Kravitz doesn’t know anything at all.