The humid body heat within the overcrowded nightclub slowly melted the ice in his glass. Treyan sighed as he looked across the room and wondered how long he had been sitting by himself. Not that he wanted any company, he thought as he glanced over his shoulder for the umpteenth time. He knew he hadn’t missed her- he would have known the minute she arrived- but he kept getting a nagging feeling that something else was amiss.
That’s when he noticed him sitting at the other end of the bar.
He had noticed Treyan as well.
At least Treyan had made the attempt to blend in with the club-goers, whereas the minion simply sat there while dressed in a vibrant plaid suitcoat of oranges and yellows over corduroy pants of an equally garish green. He wore sunglasses while inside at night, had no drink in hand, and made no acknowledgement of anyone that approached him. Typical of one of his brother’s mages, he considered as he finished the last of his drink. He had only crossed paths with a handful of them on this side of the Key, but their presence seemed more threatening as of late.
Reylor must have figured Treyan was getting close to the Empress.
His brother’s inability to leave well enough alone should not have surprised Treyan either.
Standing from his bar stool, he inched his way through the crowd towards the opposite end of the bar. He knew the minion noticed him, since he indiscreetly averted his eyes from Treyan’s. Even when Treyan leaned in next to him against the bar, motioning for the bartender with his empty glass, the minion refused to look in his direction, keeping his eyes steadfastly focused in every other direction.
“Busy night tonight, eh friend?” he asked over the roar of the crowd.
The minion betrayed himself by glancing at Treyan out of the corner of his eye.
“So, what brings you here? The drinks or the scenery?” he continued, unfazed.
Without a word the minion abruptly rose from his seat, as if he was eager to abandon his new company. Treyan quickly reached out a hand and grabbed onto his forearm with an inhuman strength that would have broken the bones of a mere mortal.
“Going somewhere… friend?” Treyan asked in their native tongue.
“As soon as I have the Empress, I plan on it,” the minion snarled in the same language, finally turning to face the prince. He looked Treyan in the eye this time, peering over the rim of his sunglasses. If there were any doubts before, one look into the eyes of an Empire-born would confirm that this individual was not here on a mere vacation. The red irises almost glowed in response to his mood.
Treyan smirked in response, but just as he was about to retort, the bartender came over and interrupted their exchange by placing a plain white napkin on the bar top between them.
“What can I get you?’ she inquired in a painfully strong Boston accent.
To avoid getting kicked out of the establishment for fighting, he let go of the minion’s arm, straightened his shirt, and turned his attention towards the woman working behind the counter.
“I’ll have a vodka and soda, and my friend here….” Treyan turned to his new acquaintance, but before he could take his drink order, he had stormed off through the crowd. Treyan tried his best to keep an eye on him but knew his efforts would be futile. Not matter what, though, the minion would not leave without first sighting the Empress, and as far as Treyan could tell, she had yet to appear.
But then again, he may have spoken too soon.
He sensed her before he laid eyes on her, like every nerve within his body was suddenly painfully away of each sensation he was experiencing. It was as though the very air he breathed was both suffocating and life-giving, and his heart resounded within his chest in time with a beat belonging to another. He didn’t need to look because he knew it was her the moment she entered the room. Unable to help himself, however, he watched her from over his shoulder, the dark-haired, dark-eyed goddess who seemed to float into the room with a flock of giggling quarter -centennials surrounding her. Even in the dim lighting of the bar, her smile shone like the suns he remembered from home. She looked over to him then, and he thought she may have recognized him. Treyan quickly turned away, reminding himself that it was impossible – he had dreamt of her, not the other way around.
His drink was waiting for him, and by the looks of the condensation that had begun to gather, it had been there for at least a few minutes. He grabbed the glass and casually made his way closer to the entrance, trying to calculate exactly how he was going to execute his quickly formulated plan.
His execution was delivered before he had the chance. As Treyan tried to walk back towards the group of women, one of them, clearly intoxicated, approached him. She was small, blonde, and overly touchy. She wrapped an arm around him as he was about to walk past her and leaned close enough he could hear her chatter over the music.
“Hey, where are you going?” she purred into his ear. “It’s my best friend’s birthday and we just got here! She’s single and you look like a gentleman who could use an evening out! Stay and dance with us- I promise we’ll make it worth your while.”
Treyan couldn’t help but pity the girl, but he decided to humor her. “Oh yeah? Where is this friend of yours?”
She turned him around and pointed in the direction of Alex, who was too busy ordering a drink at the bar to catch him watching her. It was all for the best. The less Alex noticed Treyan, the longer his cover would last.
“And what about you?” Treyan asked the young woman. “Are you here with anyone?”
She turned to look at him, and he could see a blush spread across her cheeks when she realized the attention was now on her. “Who, me? No, I’m here… very much alone… ”
Treyan took this as his opportunity to distract himself, using Alex’s friend as the perfect tool for the situation at hand. With very little protest, he was able to lead her away from his Empress and onto the dance floor where dancing was as much of a distraction for her as it was for him.
“What’s your name?” he asked as he leaned in to her, speaking loud enough into her ear for her to hear him over the pounding beat.
“Crystal,” she informed him over the music.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Crystal,” he replied, though his gaze remained on Alex as he spoke. “And what do you do when you’re not dancing in bars?”
“I’m a nurse,” she giggled. “Which is why I know exactly how much I can drink, and how to administer an IV to rehydrate by the morning.”
Treyan smiled at her. He hated to disappoint her, knowing well she was trying her best to stay close to him, to flirt with him, but he was not there for her. It didn’t mean, however, that he couldn’t make her feel important for at least an evening. Everyone deserved that now and again, and it was likely the last time he would ever encounter her. So he kept her close, dancing with her while Alex was none the wiser.
While he watched, the mage returned to the bar a song later and was steadily staring at Alex. Alex, on the other hand, was oblivious, drinking the night way as she chatted with her colleagues and strangers alike. He felt guilty- he should have been there with her, talking with her, instead of drawing away her friend like he was.
His distraction was evident when Crystal stopped dancing and looked behind her towards the bar. “I can introduce you, you know.” She grinned as she returned her attention to Treyan.
Startled, he looked down to the young woman before him. “Who?”
“Alex,” she said with a tilt of her head.
“No, I should truly be going,” he lied, even as his heart begged to be closer to her.
“Then let me get her for you,” she sang, already making her way to the bar while Treyan remained alone on the dance floor. He wanted to hesitate, but would there truly be any harm in it? He debated as he watched Crystal approach Alex, but their conversation was muffled by distance and the crowd. It didn’t seem to matter, for even in her attempts to pull Alex away from her companions, Crystal was soon distracted herself by some shots at the bar.
All the better, Treyan decided, for he noticed the minion begin to prepare to leave. Looking at a nearby clock, he noticed it was almost 2:00 A.M. – the bar would be closing soon. Taking the minion’s leave, he made his way out the exit without another word to the small blonde. He didn’t want to get her hopes up too much more.
He clung to the shadows of the bar’s outside walls as the inhabitants began to make their exits. Soon his Empress and her posse left the club, exchanging hugs and kisses. Alex soon separated herself from the group and began walking away from the bar towards the direction of her apartment.
He had vetted the area often enough – he’d had to. He needed to keep her safe, especially if he was going to take her back with him in one piece. He didn’t like feeling like a stalker, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and it would all be for the greater good in the end.
Treyan left a safe distance between them. He never understood why she would leave by herself at this time of night, but he wasn’t about to let her out of his sight, especially with one of Reylor’s mages lurking around, and certainly not in her current intoxicated state.
His assumptions were correct when she never noticed the sidewalk give out beneath her feet and started to fall towards the street.
With an inhuman-speed, he was upon her, catching her by the arm before she fell to the pavement. He knew coming this close to her so soon would blow his cover, but he wasn’t about to let her fall on her face for the sake of his clandestine mission.
He knew she sensed something as soon as she looked at him, or rather, stared at him. He didn’t mind for it gave him the opportunity to finally fully look upon her instead of at a distance. She was just as perfect as his dreams had shown, and in that moment, he knew with certainty that she was his Empress.
“I-” she stammered into the darkness, breaking the silence between them.
He couldn’t help but smile at her. “A simple ‘thank you’ will suffice.”
She stood up on her own now, and attempted to brush herself off, now looking everywhere but at him. “Oh. Thank you. I didn’t even hear you behind me.”
“I know.” He wanted to give her a reassuring smile but winked at her instead. He didn’t want her to know how much he was, indeed, following her. He wanted to do everything he could to make this meeting as casual as possible, but he also needed to let her know there was some other force at play. Before he could say more, a notion caught him by surprise. Perhaps the reason he couldn’t find Reylor’s minion was because he was already five steps ahead of him, waiting for the Empress.
“Happy birthday, Alex.” He started to walk away from her before she could ask any questions, hoping that he could get to her apartment before she could. All he needed to do was track the minion, and it wasn’t that hard to begin. Reylor’s people weren’t exactly the most agile things, especially when it came to missions like these.
He heard her call after him, but he was already around the corner. His urgency to reach her apartment before she did lest Reylor’s minion get to her first was his top priority.
He made it just in time to see the minion fling a ball of flame into the light above her apartment’s doorway. It was a mage, as Treyan suspected, which made him grow increasingly concerned. This wasn’t just a scouting missing by his jealous brother. This was intended to be an extraction.
With his bare hands, the minion turned to the wrought- iron gate that barred the entrance to her bottom-floor, and pried them open wide enough to step through. Another blast of power from his palm and the lock on the door was obliterated before he let himself into the apartment.
Treyan knew he didn’t have much longer before Alex showed up. Time was short and he needed to discover what this minion was intending immediately. Remaining as quiet as possible, he followed behind the intruder, hoping he could diffuse whatever bomb was about to go off.
He made it past her kitchen and into the hallway before he heard her outside the door. Cursing to himself, he hugged the wall of the dark hallway, hoping it was enough to conceal him. Alex was a strong woman – she had to be – and he knew she could take care of herself, but not being able to warn her gripped him inside like a steel hand around his heart.
As Treyan inched through the battered door into the kitchen, something caught his attention in the other room. Treyan perked his ears and knew by sound alone that it was the minion, listening to what seemed to be a one-sided conversation. Was he speaking to someone? His own curiosity was getting the better of him as he remained behind Alex while she, too, moved closer to the sounds coming from deep within her apartment.
Treyan remained a few steps behind her as she stopped right outside of the living room, when the familiar tongue of his homeland rang out.
So Reylor was starting to play hard ball. That meant there was a Key now placed somewhere within this apartment. He needed to find it to ensure the minion never got hold of it, but before he could plan his next course of action, Alex had already decided upon hers. He didn’t know if it was amazing bravery or absolute stupidity, but he watched in stunned silence as she pushed away from the wall and threatened the mage within her apartment.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said as she held an extremely small knife. “But I think it’s time you removed yourself from my apartment.”
Treyan cursed to himself again. Time for things to move quicker now.
The minion was faster than Alex would ever be ready for. Although she confidently held a knife in her hand, she had no idea what she was up against. Treyan wasn’t about to let his lifetime of preparation blow away in a flash of metal. Mentally preparing himself for the task at hand, he walked towards the confrontation in the living room.
He acted none too soon, for as she came into view, the minion was pouncing, lunging in attack. Instinctively, he positioned himself in a battle-ready stance he had practiced many times before. Gathering his energies into his right hand, he unleashed the power full- force into the attacking minion.
The intruder flew backwards towards the wall in a blast of blue fury, revealing his presence to the Empress before him. The look of shock on her face as she realized he was there hinted enough to her thoughts on the matter. Before she could confront him for his intrusion, however, his attention was drawn towards the power source within the fireplace, pulsating with each beat emanating from it. It didn’t take him long to discover why, as he recognized his own brother’s voice.
“I was wondering when you were going to show your face, Treyan. Unfortunately, you’re too late. My Key is in place, and come the next moon cycle, the Empress will rightfully be mine.”
Oh, Reylor. He never did give up once he had his mind set on something. Once, Treyan had appreciated his brother’s persistence. Now it was nothing short of an annoyance.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Reylor, but my Key has been in place for years.”
Not wanting to deal with this intrusion any longer, Treyan stepped past Alex and outstretched his hand, letting his power gather naturally in a blast of magical blue flames. Treyan sent the blast directly towards Reylor’s orb, and in a flash the sphere was extinguished. Treyan couldn’t figure out how Reylor’s power had quickly grown and given him the ability of transposing between worlds, but Treyan had more important things to worry about.
Alex stood there with an incredulous look upon her face, as though a million questions were gathering and waiting to explode. Treyan couldn’t take the time to answer them, not now, especially when he knew the minion could awaken without warning.
“I’m sorry about all of this, Alex.” He took a step towards her.
“You! Who are you? What are you doing here?” She raised the knife within her hands towards his chest- Treyan walked right towards it without flinching. Not that it could truly harm him anyway, being so small of a knife with a visibly dull and unused blade, but he respected her for the effort.
Grasping the blade in his right hand, he allowed his power to run through the metal, and soon Alex dropped the weapon as heat grew in her hands. It was time for his final act now that she was distracted. Before she could turn away from him, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards him. Her eyes met his and he knew, in that moment, that he wasn’t wrong in any of his efforts. Their hearts beat as one- he felt it through his shirt as he held her close. The way she held his gaze as if she felt the predestined connection between them took every bit of Treyan’s willpower to keep from giving into those innate, primal desires that so quickly wanted to rush to the surface. The scent of her alone was intoxicating, but Treyan reminded himself there would be plenty of time for such intimacy later.
He put his lips to her ear, closing his eyes and letting the spell take over them. It was an older magic, this one, and one he never truly understood himself other than that he, as the Crown Prince, had the ability to cast it.
Her body soon grew limp in his arms, and he picked her up in a fireman’s carry.
“It’s time to bring you home, Empress.”