No empire is worth it if I don’t have him too.
My heart wrenches in a thousand different directions, and my brain skitters unevenly from one thought to the next. One thought snags my attention for a fraction of a second more than the rest, a desperate plan that can never be. That could have been.
Imagine, if Iral hadn’t revealed Gal. Imagine, if we could have kept him hidden in the Archon resistance for those precious few months until Gal turned eighteen and could have taken his place at his mother’s side.
The plan unfurls behind my eyelids: we stay on Rana. We stay together, making plans with Iral during the day in his command center, making plans at night in our bed. Plans to reshape not one empire, but two. Plans to unite not only our goals, but also our empires and our hearts.
A plan that could have meant I got both Gal and a free Archon, that meant Gal got both me and his bloodright. A plan that I didn’t realize was possible until it wasn’t.
A plan where we play a long game, where Gal and I tell Iral part of the plan, where we tell Iva another part, and only he and I know the full truth of it. Where Gal takes his mother’s throne. Where I take back mine. Where we both, in the end, swear in front of the galaxy what we will have already sworn to each other--that we will unite the fragments of Archon with Umber not through war, but through marriage.
I choke back the sob that threatens to escape my throat as my traitorous mind spins out scenario after scenario: promises we could have made, steps we could have taken to ensure we both could have everything we never dared allow ourselves to want, with the least amount of blood staining our hands.
But instead I’ve thrown everything away to save Gal, and I still don’t have Gal. I have nothing left to barter.
I have nothing left. I am an empty shell.
“Got it all out of your system?”
As Wen and I talk, I feel the weight of the velvet pouch in my pocket and realize that while I may not be able to have Gal ever again--that there is no path to a total victory for me or him--I still have the power to keep him alive.
I take a deep breath to steel myself for what I am about to do. “I’m going to show you something,” I tell Wen. “I’m going to tell you what it means. And then I’m going to double-check that you’re really with me.”
And I set my plan into motion.