“It is said Seklos and Gaylen were the original corebonded—two beings connected on an impossibly cosmic scale, their destinies intertwined. And when Gaylen became corrupt with power and Seklos sacrificed herself to stop him, in its anger, the universe stripped itself and its beings of its vibrant artistry. ‘These two beings have forsaken their bond,’ it said, ‘and their corruption is sure to spread.’ The universe punished its inhabitants to live a life of gray. The only way to restore that sight is to reunite with the person or persons connected to your very essence, your core. ‘This is the only way to see this bond is never taken for granted.’”
“Well, that’s a little ridiculous,” Krel said. Aja snorted while Papa sighed. Krel went on, “I mean, how can a universe talk? And how does a universe feel emotion? And even if it could do those things, how are we supposed to know for sure what it said and felt?”
“It is the principle of the matter, Krel,” Papa said. “This is how our people explain the corebond phenomena.”
Krel crossed his arms over his torso. “Well, I guess I just don’t see what the big deal is. Like, really, what’s so great about this cosmic connection.” He sang the last two words to make them sound spooky and mystical. Aja laughed behind one of her hands. “All it does is, what? Lets us see color? I don’t understand why it governs so much of our lives." Krel paused and the room was silent. After a moment, Krel sighed. "I just wish it wasn’t so important.”
Aja placed a hand on Krel’s arm and he gave her a half-smile. Mama and Papa looked at him sympathetically and he kind of hated it.
“Krel,” Mama said gently. “Is this really just about corebonds? Because if you have something you need to talk about—”
Krel tensed minutely and looked down, schooling his features. “Of course it is,” he said, staring at the gray, gray floor. Aja’s hand was still on his arm and he could somewhat see her crestfallen expression. He knew she was thinking the same thing he was. “I guess I’m just not a fan of talking about something I’m never going to have.”
As a child, Krel rushed through the gray halls of the palace, muffling his giggles behind two hands. Aja had started counting about a mekron ago, which meant he didn’t have much time before she would start looking. A few guards smiled in amusement at the child prince as he rushed passed, to which he gave a delighted wave.
In all honesty, there weren’t many places in the halls to hide in, so really he had to find a room with enough clutter to reasonably hide his small frame. If only the staff didn’t keep everything so tidy!
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Aja’s lilting voice traveled down the hall and startled him. Frantically, he turned a corner and spotted an open door. With an excited grin, he rushed towards it and skidded inside, hitting the button to close it as he crossed the threshold. Still giddy, Krel continued further in. There were quite a few boxes in here, stacked in the middle of the room, and after curiosity got the better of him, he climbed up the tower and discovered they contained weapons. They glowed with their usually pale gray light, humming with energy.
Krel frowned, but ultimately let his suspicion go. The weapons were probably being shipped off to different parts of the planet, or to other planets that needed them. He wasn’t entirely up to date on the political aspect of his parents’ duties currently, so he didn’t really have any right to question this.
“I’m just saying, I find it a little weird that they haven’t revealed who her corebonded is.”
Krel nearly fell from his perch on the side of the stacked boxes and quickly recovered the box of weapons, ready to make an excuse for why he was in there, when the words processed in his mind. Reveal who’s corebonded?
Krel crept toward the back of the room, but found no one else. For a moment, he thought he’d just imagined it when another voice responded.
“Well, it is kind of a personal moment in someone’s life. They could just want the privacy.”
The voices were coming from a vent in the floor, presumably from a room below the one Krel sat in. He knelt in front of the vent and leaned his head down to hear better, the game all but forgotten in his mind.
“But the royal families have always declared their heir’s corebonded within a few delsens after they discover it! That way, by the time the heir is of age, their corebonded is ready to take the throne as well.” The royal families? Wait, they’re talking about— “I just feel it’s kind of suspicious they’re keeping the information hidden. I mean, look at what happened when Lady Mirana of House Akram hid her son’s corebond information… or lack thereof,” said the first voice. "Scandal of the century, I'll tell you what."
The second gasped. “Are you implying you think Princess Aja is bondless?”
Krel froze. They were talking about Aja? Why? What made them think she didn't have a corebond?
“I’m just saying it’s very much in the realm of possibility,” the first explained. “I mean, think about it. Aja passes the time when children normally have their corebonded declared, and suddenly the royals are incredibly hush-hush about the subject?”
“It’s not like the king and queen haven't broken past traditions before,” the second countered. Krel nodded along, not wanting to believe their implication.
The first sighed, seemingly relenting a little. “ I suppose you’re right. But it doesn’t make it any less suspicious to me.” There was a short pause where Krel felt infinitely better with the subject being concluded before the first chuckled lightly. “And, well, I guess it doesn’t exactly matter, what with Prince Krel and all. It’s not like when you’re a royal there’s any real reason to have a second kid than to have a backup in case the first one doesn’t work out for whatever reason."
Krel stopped, hearing an odd rushing in his ears. It felt like he was frozen stiff, like he was mounted to the spot. He didn’t want to keep listening, didn’t want to believe that that was the reason he was here in the first place, but couldn’t bring himself to move.
“Hey now, that’s a little uncalled for.” The second one laughed, though it sounded awkward, like the sound of surprise rather than of humor. “I’d like to think our king and queen are a little more honorable than that. And it’s entirely possible Princess Aja’s corebonded is just not Akiridion, you know?”
“That’d almost be worse, don’t you think?” the first said. “I mean, no offense to any other creature in the universe, but personally I would want Akiridions on the throne, not one Akiridion and some random person from, I dunno, Delbar or something.”
“I guess you’re right…” The second person sounded much more hesitant, like they didn’t necessarily agree but also didn’t necessarily dis agree, either.
“But like I said, I guess it doesn’t really matter since the prince is in the picture. I mean, what are the odds that both royal children have corebonds that aren’t Akiridion, right?” The two laughed together before seemingly continuing onto their jobs, the conversation over.
Krel didn’t move, however. He stayed bent over that vent, absently, his eyes dull. He could almost picture himself, actually. A gray and black figure with four arms and a slight frame, pale gray hair spiked backwards, his black and gray eyes unseeing. Gray, gray, gray, all dull and boring and a reminder that he hadn’t yet found his corebonded, assuming they even existed at all; an idea he hadn't even considered until that moment, an idea that now scared him more than anything.
He distantly heard the door open and then Aja’s voice proclaiming she’d found him, but even as he was pulled from his stupor, feigning disappointment at having lost, he couldn’t help thinking, What if I don’t have one? What if they’re not Akiridion? What happens then?
He didn’t have any answers.
Less than a week later, his mama and papa announced that they would refrain from publicly announcing his and Aja’s corebonded until it came to officially proclaim their heir. They decided this, they said, so that he, Aja, and their corebonded could spend their childhoods in peace while they prepared for the future, and so the families of their corebonded would be safe as well.
All the while Krel tried to ignore how Aja’s fists were clenched behind her back, her face carefully devoid of emotion as she stared unseeing into the crowd.
That night, his room felt simultaneously too big and too small. He laid on his side, knees tucked nearly to his chin and wished almost desperately for his body to fall into stasis. Something it, of course, vehemently denied him.
The word had been haunting him these last few delsens. It plagued his dreams and lingered in his mind throughout the day. He knew his family was beginning to notice the strange, distant way he was acting, but he couldn’t even begin to think about how he would broach the subject with them.
How exactly did you ask your parents about whether or not you were born because you were wanted, or because they needed a plan B in case Aja didn’t work out?
With an irritated noise, Krel threw himself up, twisting on his bed so his feet dangled just above the floor. He kept himself upright with two hands and covered his face with the other two. When it didn’t look like the thoughts were going away, Krel slid off his bed and made his way for the door connecting his and Aja’s room.
He gently pressed the button to open it, as if that would make less noise, and crept into her room. Like him, Aja was curled on her side, but she seemed to be sleeping soundly. He hated to wake her, but there was literally no one else he could talk to. Mama and Papa were… out of the question.
Krel knelt by Aja’s bed and placed one hand on her arm. “Aja,” he whispered as he shook her gently. “Aja!”
“Hm? What?” she murmured, eyes fluttering.
“Um,” Krel hesitated, the question burning his throat. He tried another approach. “Could I… stay with you, tonight?”
Aja rubbed one of her eyes, propping herself up with her two right arms. “Huh? I mean, yes, but why?”
Aja nodded like that was an acceptable answer and slid over to make more room. Grateful, Krel crawled beside her and sighed in relief as Aja’s arms wrapped around him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Krel turned his head so his face was half buried in one of Aja’s pillows.
Aja giggled sleepily, rubbing her hands up and down Krel’s back. “That’s okay, little brother, we do not have to talk. We can just sleep.”
She closed her eyes again and her hands stilled on his back. He looked at her for a few moments before sighing. “Aja, um…”
“Are you implying Princess Aja is bondless?”
“Yes?” Aja’s eyes were open again, looking at him patiently, oblivious to how the light gray and void black mocked him.
“I’m just saying it’s very much in the realm of possibility. “I mean, think about it. Aja passes the time in which children normally have their corebonded declared, and suddenly the royals are incredibly hush-hush about the subject?
And, well, I guess it doesn’t exactly matter, what with Prince Krel and all. It’s not like when you’re a royal there’s any real reason to have a second kid than to have a backup in case the first one doesn’t work out for whatever reason."
“Um…” Krel faltered. “Do you ever think about where your corebonded might be?”
Minutely, Aja froze. If he hadn’t been so close to her, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. “Er,” she stammered. “O-Of course, Krel, who doesn’t?”
“Well,” Krel paused, the words stuck in his throat. “Most Akiridions, apparently, since they find their corebonded when they’re young.” Aja flinched. “And I just… I just wonder about ours,” Krel plowed on. “Like… imagine, being brought before the royals of Akiridion-5 and it being revealed that you are cosmically bonded with one of the royals’ children.” He forced out a laugh. “That’d be—That’d be crazy, right? Imagine.”
“And then… I was just thinking about how devastating it would be if that were to never happen,” he said, and Aja stared at him. He swallowed hard and continued. “I was just thinking about how there might not be some Akiridion kid who walks up those steps to Mama and Papa and is declared to be bonded to one of us. I was thinking about how, when our ceremonies happen, what if one of us doesn’t find our match on Akiridion-5. I was thinking about how we might not… find them at all.”
Aja’s lips were pursed together now, and for a moment she just stared at him. Then, “Krel, you know that’s not—”
“Aja, why didn’t Mama and Papa declare your corebonded?” Krel interrupted.
“Why haven’t I met them yet, at least?” Krel continued. “Why haven’t you explained how pretty everything is in color yet? You’re passed the age where they find out, right? So what happened?”
“Krel, nothing happened!” Aja cut in. She sat up abruptly and moved away from him, and Krel immediately missed the comfort that came from her close presence. “It’s just—complicated.”
“I don’t get it!” Krel sat up too. “Why are Mama and Papa breaking tradition and waiting to declare ours?”
“Why were you so tense at the announcement today?”
“Everyone has a corebond—right?—so why haven’t you found yours yet?”
“Because I might not have one!” Aja finally shouted. She flinched and looked away from Krel’s surprised expression, her hands balling into fists.
Krel stewed in their silence, feeling both ashamed and desperate for a different answer. Finally, his sympathy won out. “I’m… sorry, Aja, I shouldn’t have been so forceful.”
Aja sighed and tucked some hair behind her ear. “No, it’s… I would’ve been curious too…” She opened her fists and looked down at them. “Mama and Papa said that them not finding my corebonded doesn’t mean anything besides that they’re not Akiridion. They said it was totally and completely okay and normal for this to happen, but…” She shook her head.
“But… you kind of feel like you’ve let them down?” Krel guessed. He mimicked Aja's position, wrapping his arms tightly around his knees. “And that they were just saying that to make you feel better?”
“Er, yeah.” Aja looked up, surprised. “But why do you…” Krel gave her a lopsided smile, a look in his eye saying you know. “Oh, Krel, you know they’re so proud of you. They love you so much.”
Krel sighed and looked at his feet. “Yeah. I know. It’s just hard to really feel it sometimes, especially when I also know I’m not what Papa really wanted in a son. I’m not exactly your average prince.”
Aja giggled and punched his arm lightly. “Who would want an average prince when they could have a genius one like you?”
Krel smiled, still sad, but grateful. “Thanks, Aja.”
“So…” She sidled up beside him again, leaning against her propped up knees to look him in the eye. “Are you gonna tell me what brought on the corebond stuff?”
“I…” Krel broke eye contact. “I overheard some of the staff talking a couple delsens ago and it… I dunno, I guess it got to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing too weird, I guess, it’s just…” Krel shook his head. “They were talking about you… and your possible corebonded.”
“Oh.” Aja looked put out again.
“And then…” Krel continued. “They… started talking about me.”
Aja’s face switched from melancholic to furious so quickly Krel reeled back a little. “What did they say about you?” she growled and Krel felt a little better knowing Aja would so quickly defend his honor.
“Not a lot,” he quickly replied. “Just… Well, they just implied something, and it’s making me feel… weird.”
“... What was it?” Aja asked slowly.
Krel rubbed at the faintly glowing gray lines going around his feet. “When they were talking about you, they implied that Mama and Papa wouldn’t have wanted you as their heir because of your corebonded. Which isn’t true of course!” Krel quickly amended, seeing something dark cross through Aja’s eyes. “But… then they said that was where I came in. That I… was only made in case something went… wrong with you because it wasn’t likely that I, too, would have a non-Akiridion corebonded, and that it was “only right that only Akiridions take the throne”.”
Aja laid a hand on one of Krel’s. “Oh, Krel, that’s not true at all.”
“I… know,” he said, but he hesitated and Aja noticed too.
“Mama and Papa love you, Krel,” she insisted.
“I know,” Krel said. “I don’t… I normally don’t doubt that.” Aja gave him an exasperated look that he ignored. “It’s just… all I can think about now.”
“Don’t listen to some gossip, little brother, it means nothing. Who cares what a few staff members think? We are a family, and nothing will ever get in the way of that." Aja shrugged then. "Besides, I'm sure they only say that sort of stuff to let out some anger. I mean, we may be wonderful people, but even the most patient Akiridion would get frustrated after waiting hand and foot on us all day, right? I know I would."
Krel laughed a little, the coil of tension in his spine relaxing some. Aja smiled gently at him, though he could see the worry in her eyes. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Krel said.
Aja giggled. “Of course I am. I’m your older sister.” Krel smiled and relaxed further when Aja wrapped two arms around his shoulders and pulled him closer. She leaned her head against his and Krel softly sighed, the emotions that had kept him wound up for most of the day finally dispersing and leaving him quite exhausted. Although his concerns hadn't completely gone away, he did feel better after talking about it.
They stayed like that, wrapped in each other’s comfort, for a long time. When they finally did move, Krel bashfully asked, “Can I still stay the night?” to which Aja replied, “Of course, dummy.”
They laid back down and cuddled closer. A few moments passed after they relaxed and Krel said, “... Thank you, Aja.”
Aja hummed then replied, “Any time, little brother. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
It seemed Krel had a knack for finding himself in those situations. In the coming parsons, Krel had stumbled upon instances where members of the royal staff commented on the peculiarity of the royal family, and more often than not the conversation ended with them mentioning Krel's supposed role in the family—that is, that he was a plan B. He tried to not let it get to him, truly he did, but hearing it over and over again both by the staff and in his own head eventually made the possibility more and more plausible in his mind. Aja comforted him and tried to pull him from the metaphorical hole he was falling into, but it was as if he were hurtling through space, a huge, dark, looming black hole inching ever closer and that no matter what he did or what he tried to grab, he would forever grow closer until finally being crushed by its endless black.
Metaphorically, of course.
Aja just… She just wasn't enough it seemed.
And in the end, it didn't matter if those staff members had been right or wrong about why Krel was born.
Because when he came of age, he went through the ceremony privately with Aja at his side and his parents smiling gently at the terminal, and when the sectons turned to mekrons turned to horvaths and his parents finally turn the terminal off, their smiles now forced and worried, Krel’s worst fear, no matter how hard his mama and papa tried to convince him differently, had come true.
Krel Tarron, the second child of King Fialkov and Queen Coranda of House Tarron and prince of Akiridion-5, was bondless.