“It’ll take more than just myself to win against another summoner,” Evelyn said. “Many spent years fighting in wars without a Battle Maiden and have already accumulated a sizable force of daeva. Even if you decide to go through and challenge another summoner, and they in some unlikely case accept, you’ve still got to deal with being numerically outnumbered.”
Rouya sprawled on the bed, letting herself sink into its softness. The nobles, Markus and even Evelyn, it appeared, didn’t believe in her standing a chance at defeating the traitors. If it were up to them, she’d spend the entire day cooped up in some secure location and only brought out on special occasions like a holiday ornament. It didn’t change the situation for her, the other summoners would hardly be content for long knowing she was still alive and in possession of a relic. They’d come for her, eventually. Best if she took the fight to them early on. She rolled onto her stomach and crossed her legs. “I’ve never been into the Shadow Realm before.”
The thought alone gave her the creeps. The sensation she felt at the tip of her fingers when she reached into the realm. Still, it was the only way for her to capture more daeva.
“Not after what you’ve just been through. We should give it a few days to let yourself settle down.”
“A few days aren’t going to change anything but leave me in a more desperate situation. Who knows, I might not even have a court next week if I keep expecting other people to do everything for me.”
A noise outside drew both of their attention to the door. A spy or assassin sent to finish her off by chance. Evelyn immediately shifted into her battle gear and stormed out.
Rouya gripped the bedsheets, anticipating any sudden changes.
“Don’t hurt me.”
Evelyn returned, carrying Helodion by the collar of his shirt. “An eavesdropper. What’ll you have me do with him?”
A sense of unease crept into her as she studied his surprised expression and wailing. It wouldn’t do him any good. He couldn’t escape Evelyn. “Did Markus send you to spy on me?”
“No! Of course not,” he said, wringing with the Maiden’s grip. He wasn’t wearing his uniform from earlier and from her casual glance, she didn’t detect any weapons on him. At least he didn’t plan on killing her in her sleep. “I was hoping to see you again before I left tomorrow morning.”
“At this time of night,” Evelyn pressed.
“It’s okay. Let the captain go,” Rouya said. “If he tries anything, I’ll be sure to deal with it myself.”
Evelyn hurled him to the ground and positioned herself at Rouya’s side. She wouldn’t need the glaive with him.
Helodion got on to all four and glanced up at the princess. “I overheard your conversation with Satrap Markus earlier.”
“You don’t have any sense for privacy do you?”
“By chance. I didn’t mean to but when you said you wanted to fight the other summoners, I felt I needed to speak with you before I left. It might not be a good idea, I don’t know the details but wanted to thank you for helping us.” He stood up and ran his hand through his hair. “We’re heading out into the Frontier tomorrow and I’m not sure any of us will be returning. Knowing you’re putting yourself at risk to end the war as quickly as possible gave me some hope.”
“Still doesn’t explain why you’d visit a lady this late,” Rouya said and waved her hand. “Very well, your welcome. Now be gone before I lock you up for inappropriate conduct and lack of etiquette.”
“Actually…” he began. Rouya raised a brow and studied him as he struggled to find words. “The astrologers said there’d be a meteor shower tonight and were preparing to interpret it as an omen to your reign.”
“Great, more critiques before I’ve even officially begun.”
“I wouldn’t take it too seriously but it might still be nice for us to see.”
“Captain,” Rouya began in a serious tone. “Are you attempting to court me? Because I’ll have you know that I’m in no mood for such nonsense.”
Helodion shook his head and eased back. “No, I just thought you might like something nice for a change. They can be quite pretty… much like yourself.”
Rouya narrowed her eyes. “You did it again.”
“I’m hopeless, Your Highness. Please forgive me,” Helodion said. “I’ll excuse myself outside and wait for you in the gardens.”
With those parting words the captain bowed and escaped out of Rouya’s chambers before either of them could react. Rouya laid a hand to her chest and looked over to Evelyn for advice.
“It sounds like a trap. Crossbowmen, men lurking in the hedges. I wouldn’t do it.”
“Please, if it were up to you everything in life would be a trap. I won’t become a competent ruler if I’m afraid to trust the people around me and am too frightened to step out of the palace.” Rouya rose from the bed and pulled her blouse up over her head. “Help me find something appropriate to wear.”
“You came,” Captain Helodion said as he turned to Rouya.
“Don’t get your hopes up, I’m not here because of you. I’m interested in seeing if this meteor shower is as good as you say.”
She decided to wear a simple crimson blouse with golden embroidery and long trousers. A small knife was tucked away under her belt just to be on the safe side. Evelyn still didn’t trust him and Rouya didn’t want the court to believe she was seeing anyone. He’d be a mere distraction to get her mind off the hardship of the past two days.
The official funeral rites for her family would end the next day followed by her coronation. A lot of people were still superstitious and wanted to believe an unrelated natural occurrence, such as a meteor shower, could have something to do with their lives and the empire.
The warm summer days gave way to a fresh night. The palace was situated on a small height overlooking the city in the valley. Tall mountains stretched up and blocked most of the night sky but that didn’t stop her from marveling at the bright specks on the dark blanket above them.
Rouya moved through the garden with Helodion at her side and Evelyn watching from a distance. The scent of freshly trimmed grass filled the air.
“So where is this great shower supposed to take place? Unless you made the whole thing up just to get me outside alone.”
Helodion slowed his pace. “I would never lie to you, Your Highness, but I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy getting to meet new people. The only new people I usually get to meet in my line of work are the ones that wind up on the pointy end of my sword.”
“So you did take me out to try and kill me.”
“Uhm, that’s not what I meant.”
“Relax.” Rouya smiled and lifted her face up to the heavens.” I’m not as helpless as you or Markus might believe. I’ve killed before and I’d do it again if necessary.”
“So would I but it’s nothing I enjoy doing.” Helodion frowned and for the first time since meeting him, Rouya thought she recognized a familiar weakness. “It’s all about the excuses we tell ourselves to sleep better at night, I guess. I’ve just held peace and the royal family in such high regard but that’s different now.”
Rouya stopped in front of the maze and faced the young captain, barely older than she was. Her hands fell to her back and fumbled at her belt to feel the steel of the blade she kept tucked away.
“You’re not as divine as I once believed. Just a normal person trying to command others. Anyone could try and do it,” he said, moving closer. “But I’m glad it’s you. You seem more open to reason and cautious about those around you. Did you really think I was going to attack you here?”
“There is no safety anymore.”
“That’s good, you’re learning.” Helodion laughed. “I’m not going to hurt you, Your Highness. I’d pledge my sword, life… anything you need to keep you safe and make the universe a better place.”
“Well, I’m glad at least somebody thinks so. You don’t need to go quite that far, it’s enough if you stay loyal to me.” Rouya smiled and turned away to continue her walk through the garden when she noticed movement in the sky.
A group of people from the royal astrologers society roamed the edge of the grounds and pointed upwards. Thousands of stars shone brightly from above but when she expected to see some of them passing by her world, one of the stars went dark and was soon followed by another and another.
Rouya’s jaw fell open, not quite sure what to make of the situation. Within the span of a few minutes, more than a dozen stars went dark before the situation stabilized.
“I was expecting a light show. What was that?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m going to find out,” Rouya said as she moved towards the group of astrologers. “I trust you all have an explanation for what just happened.”
“It could be nothing. A mere shift in the universal tables with some of the stars now being blocked.”
“They were in plain sight and vanished instantly,” said another, more elderly gentleman. “What’s troubling is that they all belonged to the royal belt. We’ll have to conduct further research in the coming days but it’s safe to say the universe took notice of what happened here.”
Rouya raised her brows in disbelief. “How could there be any connection between the two? You shouldn’t be encouraging speculation.”
“The Padishah Emperor reigns over both the physical and Shadow Realm. His power could be felt across the universe and now it’s been extinguished. We should focus our efforts on reuniting the relics as soon as possible. There might not be time for a prolonged conflict as with the Magi War.”
Next time on Battle Maidens …
Episode 11 – Blades and Arrows