My breath caught in my throat as I pushed back the burgundy curtains to enter the dark, warm guest room. Brightly colored silks adorned the walls and chaise, soft woven rugs across the floor, and a plush bed, covered in luxurious pillows, decorated the inside. These rooms, found throughout the palace in Wyvern's Court, were often used for serpiente guests, usually of the Dancer's Guild. It was exactly the environment they would make for themselves in the Wyvern's Nest, and before at Sha'Mehay. However, the current resident was not a dancer, or a merchant, or even a friend.
Nearly the entire Cobriana line in one room, all for one visitor. Lying all but dead to the world on the burgundy bed was a young woman, maybe five or so years older than I. She had lighter skin than the avians I grew up around, but darker than the falcons who had delivered her. Her hair looked almost identical to my own taut black curls long and splayed out around her head like a halo. The only difference there was the shimmering red highlights dyed by magic. It looked like a fire scorching across smoke. She had been called Hai.
Every bit of her was Cobriana, except for a few things here and there, and one big thing. Her wings lay broken and battered behind her back, stained and dripping with an endless black tar that seemed to vanish a few moments after it dripped in huge clumps against the ground and bed. The tar kept bubbling to the surface of her angry, fiery wounds. I imagined she must be in incredible agony, awake or not.
Diente Zane and Tuuli Thea Danica, my parents and the only people whose advice I wanted most in the world, stood stoically in a far corner of the room. A united front, as always, perfect mixture of both worlds. Mother looked wonderingly at the form on the bed. Among the serpiente, she always made a conscious attempt to display her emotions freely. My Aunt Irene leaned lazily against Zane, anxiously running her fingers through her long, black hair. The melos tied around her waist, along with the revealing emerald green dress she wore, told me she'd run straight from Wyvern's Nest. I wondered idly if Salem was following close behind.
I crossed the room to stand next to my parents, opposite Kel and the falcon who called herself Darien. As I got closer, I examined Hai's face. She had the features of the gods and goddesses, demi or otherwise, associated with stories I'd heard the serpiente tell. I'd come to associate those features with falcons, with Nicias and Kel. My own face was more angular, more avian. My cobra parentage rounded my face more than my mother's, but Hai's looked like it had come straight from paintings or mosaics depicting Kiesha's days. I watched, as if an optical illusion, as her face changed emotion with ever angle- from serene, to angry, sadness, frozen in fear, and, amusingly, a smirk. I shuddered.
Magic unnerved me.
“Anjay and I were lovers,” Darien began her explanation. Irene snorted loudly, interrupting. Darien turned her head crisply towards her.
“Yes, I gathered that much,” she retorted. I resisted a chuckle- despite the obvious falcon wings, folded behind her broken and burned, Hai was as Cobriana as I was. My uncle, Anjay, was the only cobra to ever be a guest on the White Island of Ahnmik. It wasn't hard to figure it out.
Darien continued. “I was going to send word to him, but he was killed before I was able.”
The atmosphere in the room shifted slightly. Anjay had been killed by my mother's brother, Xavier, afer he'd killed my mother's original alistair, for revenge after an avian killed my aunt, Sisal, and her unborn child, after someone killed someone on their side after some killed someone else after so much revenge and bloodshed stretching back a thousand years so that it was untraceable. My family had a rule about not blaming each other, or using strong words. There was too much at stake, and by now we loved each other too much to approach those topics like that. It always felt so odd when others did so callously.
I hardly noticed that Darien had continued talking the whole time. “Shortly after Hai's birth, the Empress branded me a traitor, and I was locked away until Nicias freed me. Quemak, mongrel children, are forbidden to be conceived.”
Mongrel children. I swallowed hard at the description of not just my cousin lying out on the bed, but myself. I wondered how much she and I felt in common, being of two different worlds, yet also of none. It was an ache that no one else could ever understand. At least, I had thought.
My mother stepped forward, extending a hand to the falcon. “Thank you for bringing us to her, of course she is welcome here,” she said warmly, and Darien gave her her hand, smiling wryly.
It was no secret that falcons made everyone in Wyvern's Court nervous. They were of the same origins as the serpiente, but allied with the avians in the war for years. Since our peace, they had been nothing but nuisance and pain. And regarded us as little more than insects. Still, two members of our Wyvern's of Honor were born falcons, and their son was my best friend. None of us were a inherently mistrustful people.
“Of course,” my father answered, his face a stone mask. It was a trick he'd learned from years mingling among the avian court. They expected everyone to wear one, physically or emotionally. He was far from a master at concealing his feelings, but adept nonetheless. I, however, had twenty years of being his daughter to practice in reading him.
His eyes were trained on Hai's face, unmoving, unyielding. Studying him, I could guess everything he was feeling. He was looking back in time, the last imprint his older brother had left on this world. His last gift, in a way. He undoubtedly felt a strong desire to protect his brother's only daughter. At the same time, he was looking at the previous Arami's eldest child. The only possible threat to his daughter's rule. A potential pretender to the throne- Anjay was beloved by the people. But he was also beloved by my father, and his child would be too.
Salem burst into the room at that instant, pushing curtains aside and practically running over to his mother's side. I noted his long hair tied up in what must have been a time consuming process, his golden yellow melos around his waist, and side-slit pants, I wondered what possible dance he could have been practicing.
He took his mother's hands in his own, asking questions with his eyes only. Irene gestured to the bed, and Salem turned to look.
“Son, meet your eldest cousin, Hai.”
Salem, without missing a beat, took a large step over to the bed, staring quizzically at Hai's Cobriana hair and jaw, coupled with her falcon wings and nose. He glanced up at Darien, still wearing her demi-form wings, for a moment, before back down to our cousin. With his back turned towards me, I couldn't see his face. I wondered if he thought the same thoughts that plagued my father.
As if having read my mind, Darien repeated the same statement she and Nicias had made earlier. “Unfortunately, she's unlikely to ever awaken. Nicias and I have tried everything possible, and she refuses to be pried from her place.” She met eyes with my father, her silver eyes turning violet. “I only hope that here, in this land of freedom and peace and serpents and birds, she has sweeter dreams.”
I shuddered again.
Salem, ever the friendly dancer, smiled diplomatically at Darien. “Of course! She's family, and she belong with the Cobriana.” He stated it like undisputed fact, and I knew we all agreed with him. Salem moved closer to the bed, taking a downy blanket and spreading it across Hai's body. For a moment, she looked serene again.
Salem shouted in pain, jumping back and grasping his arm guardedly. He looked back at Hai, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He let his arm go, and I watched as a slash formed across his bicep, blood beading and beginning to flow slowly down. Irene gasped in horror.
Darien crossed the distance to stand between Salem and Hai. She seemed almost more protective of Salem than her own daughter.
“I am so sorry, I had no clue she would lash out with her magic,” she explained. Before Salem had a moment to protest, Darien grabbed his arm and closed her eyes. When she opened them, they gleamed purple again. She removed her hands from his arm, and not only was the cut completely healed, but the blood seemingly evaporated. Salem rubbed absentmindedly at his arm and glanced back at Hai, whose face was now warped in anger.
“I think the surroundings here are still unfamiliar to her. She has never been around a cobra before, much less every last one left. I'm sorry,” she bowed her head in defeat. A moment later, she turned to Kel, smiling again. “I do have an idea, if you would help me?”
Kel tensed, but nodded. I wondered exactly how well they had known each other, if Darien was the only thing Kel remembered from her previous life.
Darien scooped up Hai effortlessly in her arms, wrapping her in the Cobriana black blanket.
“Royal blood calms her. Would it bother you if I let her stay near Nicias, at least for now?” she asked. I couldn't help but notice the way she bat her eyelashes at Kel.
Kel visibly hesitated around the phrase “royal blood” being used to refer to her son, but agreed nonetheless. She bowed to my parents, dismissing herself to follow Darien as she simply left. I could hear soft, but curt, conversation as they disappeared down the hall.
For a moment, we all stood in pained silence. There had been a lot in such a short amount of time, and we were unsure how to react. Within half an hour, we had found out that we had a missing family member, of parentage that was so foreign it felt like myth, and watched her be carried away. My head was still spinning, struggling to catch up. It felt unreal. Salem was the first to speak up, with a raised voice.
“What are we doing?” he asked incredulously, gesturing towards the empty doorway. “Oliza, that's our cousin. She's every bit Cobriana as you and me! We should be insisting she be at home here, in the palace!”
Me more than you, I resisted responding. It killed me that someone who might understand the feeling of not belonging I had was in the city, but that I might never get to speak with her. My small family somehow felt smaller the second she was taken away.
“Salem, I want her here too, but I don't know anything about what she needs, and her mother thinks it would be better for her elsewhere. I know next to nothing of falcon magic,” I admitted, my throat tight. Nicias was my only real experience with falcons, though my parents had told me of Kel and Andreios'
I think part of why Salem wanted her there so bad was a loneliness he didn't want to admit. Maybe not in the same way I felt, he still had cobra family like my father and his mother, but still lonely. Cobras were incredibly social people. And Salem could be such a hothead.
“Oliza's right. And there's nothing saying she won't be comfortable here, eventually. But for now, we know nothing about how to make her feel at home,” Irene added, reaching out to take her son into her arms. After a warm hug, I reached out to take his hand.
“Come. Let us see if we can't try to find her and Kel. Maybe we can visit her wherever she's staying for now,” I said, pulling him slightly in the direction of the curtains. He obliged, following me close behind. I heard my father and aunt begin talking in hushed whispers as the drapes fell behind us.
I know it kind of sucked but I decided it made the most sense, chronologically, to be from Oliza's POV and she had the least to feel about Anjay. I think Zane will narrate the next one. I have most of Zane and Irene's conversation after this, I just need to iron out some details. So stay tuned for that. I can be found on tumblr @graphicallyill!