Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
They settled in the living room. Jerica sat on the hearth with her back pressed against the stone next to the fireplace. Aerik sat in the chair to her left, and Zander settled in the chair to her right with his bounty. He kicked his boots off and crossed his ankles, then bit into an apple.
“Make yourself at home,” Aerik said dryly.
“Your house is my house,” Zander said with a playful smirk.
“Yeah, yeah.” Aerik waved his hand, but smiled. He nodded towards Jerica. “And your niece is in my house now, too. And has lots of questions.”
Jerica straightened her shoulders a bit, fighting the urge to interrupt.
“Yeah, speaking of,” Zander said past a mouthful of food. “What’s the story there?”
Jerica huffed a sigh. She didn’t have the patience for this. “Zander I—”
“Femola waged the war he was threatening before you left,” Aerik interrupted, giving her a pointed look. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to be patient. “You know how that goes. Then on day… four?”
Jerica looked eyes with Aerik, then shrugged. That entire week was nothing but a haze of blood and pain in her memory.
“Something like that, a few days in, Jerica got captured and the Femolas sent her up here,” Aerik continued. “We’ve been having a good old time. But now that you’re here, Derik thinks we should take her to Kyrkkyni.”
Zander swallowed his mouthful without chewing. “Absolutely not!”
“Why not?” Jerica challenged, frustration welling up in her again. This was just her luck. Zander was finally here, so she could get inducted into the Guild and learn the answers to all these secrets. And he didn’t want her to join.
“No good will come of it.” Zander shook his head. “Derik should know better.”
“I actually agree with Derik on this one,” Aerik said. “It’s time.”
“You both should know better, then,” Zander argued. “There’s no reason for it.”
“We lost track of her for a full twenty-four hours,” Aerik said, calm but firm. “Between her capture and when she showed up here, none of us had any idea where she was or what was happening to her. No Derik, not me, not you. Even Guild Master didn’t know where she was, since she’s not a member yet. She needs to be inducted.”
“No.” Zander looked at her. “No.” He looked back at Aerik. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Why not?” she demanded again. There was too much riding on this – too many questions that needed answers – for Zander to refuse.
“You’re too young—”
“I’m not a child.”
“No,” Zander agreed. “You’re past ‘not a child’ and are currently in the ‘not old enough to join Kyrkkyni’ age.”
“I’m old enough.” She scowled at him.
“You’re not,” he said firmly. “Joining the Guild will do nothing but expose you to a bunch of secrets that you don’t need to know.”
“Good,” she answered. “I want to know.”
“They’re too heavy for you to bear.” He frowned at her.
“Zander.” She’d crossed her arms and sat glaring at him. “I am King’s Assassin and a General. I know a bunch of secrets. I can handle it.”
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should have to.”
“I want to.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking for.” Zander turned his gaze back on Aerik. “And you do know what you’re suggesting. And why it’s a horrible idea.”
“She can keep her mouth shut,” Aerik argued. He crossed his arms too, nodding towards her but keeping his eyes lock on Zander. “Femola tore her entire fingernail off and she didn’t say a word to him. In fact, she had the wits about her to lie about it and lure him out so Derik could attack.”
“You know that the people coming after Kyrkkyni’s secrets will do a hell of a lot worse to her than tearing off a fingernail,” Zander spat.
“And if those people manage to get to her, do you really think it’s gonna matter to them whether she knows the secrets or not?”
A tense moment of silence hung in the air.
Jerica watched them intently. Everything within her was bristling against vehement refusal and she wanted to argue and defend herself. But it seemed like Aerik was making more progress than she’d be able to, so she forced herself to just watch instead. And wonder who those people were. And why they’d be coming after her.
“She’s too young,” Zander said after the silence had stretched a moment too long.
“She’s not a child,” Aerik countered. “And you weren’t much older than her yourself when you joined Kyrkkyni.”
“That was different,” Zander hissed. “I didn’t have legion of people trying to kill me since the moment I was born.”
That seemed a bit melodramatic. But, then, she still didn’t know what the secret was.
“Again, do you think her knowing about Kyrkkyni is going to change that?” Aerik challenged. “When they find her, we’re all fucked. And there’s nothing Guild Master can do about that if she’s not inducted when that happens.”
“When,” Aerik reiterated. “We’ve made it seventeen years. How much longer do you think our luck will hold out?”
Jerica felt uneasy.
“This is a bad idea.” Zander rubbed his face.
“Look at her, Zan.” Aerik gestured towards her. “We got by on the bet that no one was going to look at a child too close. She’s not a child anymore. And she looks just like her.”
Another uncomfortable silence – this time with both of them staring at her.
Jerica furrowed her brows. “Just like who?”
“Your mother,” Aerik said.
She blinked at him. What did her mother have to do with any of this? She admittedly wasn’t quite sure what her mother looked like, but surely, anyone who knew her mother would expect Jerica to look similar. They were related, after all. Still, it caught her off guard to hear that she did. And sent a strange pang of pride through her.
“You need to shut your mouth,” Zander snarled, turning his gaze back on Aerik.
“She deserves to know,” Aerik argued.
“That’s not your decision.”
Another uncomfortable silence.
Jerica couldn’t understand what all of this was supposed to mean. She’d never seen Zander get angry before. Usually, he was upbeat and constantly telling jokes and stories and doing everything he could to cheer her up. What were all these secrets that were so important they were upsetting Zander like this?
“Fine. Then I’m taking her to Lirtira.”
“You are not!” Zander was on his feet in an instant, dumping the food in the floor, expression somewhere between rage and betrayal. “I swear to the gods, I’ll leave this instant and take her with me.”
Jerica looked between them with wide eyes.
“Fine. I won’t,” Aerik relented.
“I won’t take her to Lirtira,” Aerik said.
Zander tugged up the sleeve of his tunic and thrust his right wrist towards Aerik. “Swear it.”
“Good gods, Zander,” Aerik said tiredly. “You’re being paranoid. I said I wouldn’t.”
“I’ll leave,” he threatened again.
“Fine.” Aerik sighed deeply and tugged his own sleeve up as well.
The outline of a crest appeared on his wrist. It glowed bright blue and depicted a flowery tree with a dragon curled around it. There were vines knotted around the outskirts, completing the intricate design.
Zander’s wrist was also glowing as he reached towards Aerik’s, planting his own crest directly on top of Aerik’s. They grasped each other’s forearms, pressing their wrists together as they locked eyes.
“I swear on my fealty to the Guild of Kyrkkyni that I won’t take Jerica to Lirtira,” Aerik said resentfully. “May the wrath of the Elders fall upon me and consume me with fires of the olden days if I should violate my oath in this lifetime or the next.”
The blue glow sparked around their wrists, enveloping their forearms, before vanishing entirely, leaving them grasping each other’s arms.
“Fuck,” Aerik grunted, pulling his arm away to shake it. He looked at Zander sourly. “Happy now?”
“No.” Zander shook his own arm as well. “But I’m satisfied.”
“What the fuck just happened?” Jerica stood up, gaping as she looked between them. Their arms no longer had the crests on them. “And what’s Lirtira? And why don’t you want me to go?”
Aerik and Zander kept their gazes locked for a moment, still glaring at each other, before they both looked at her. Aerik took a deep breath. “I just swore an oath.”
“Obviously.” Jerica gestured at his arm emphatically. “But what was all that supposed to be? The glowing? The—what just happened?”
“If I break my oath, and take you to Lirtira.” Aerik rubbed his wrist resentfully, then tugged his sleeve back down. “Then I’ll die by the wrath of the Elders. Which means it will be extremely slow and every single moment of it will be excruciating.”
“What – but –” Jerica sighed, bewildered. She didn’t understand. “What’s Lirtira?”
Aerik gave Zander a pointed look.
“It’s…” Zander sighed deeply and rubbed his face. He left his hands pressed against his eyes and groaned. “Get Derik here.”
Jerica watched him for a moment, then looked back at Aerik.
“Agreed.” Aerik picked up a piece of paper sitting on the table next to his chair and scribbled something on it before it vanished a moment later. “He should be here.”
“No, he really shouldn’t.” Zander said tiredly. “And neither should I. And neither should she. And none of this conversation should have ever happened. But here we are.”
“Here we are,” Aerik agreed mildly.
“Why not?” Jerica pressed, getting progressively more frustrated the longer this interaction went on. Elders. Oaths. Lirtira. “What is Lirtira? Why’s it so important?”
“It’s…” Zander sighed deeply, looking at her. His expression softened. “Gods, you do look exactly like her.”
“What’s Lirtira?” Jerica insisted, unwilling to be distracted.
“It’s your…” Zander sighed again. “Our… the…”
She looked at him expectantly.
“There’s no way to explain that without telling you everything.”
“Then tell me everything,” Jerica said, taking a step closer to him. She was desperate to know what all of this was about. To understand what it was that they were trying so hard to keep away from her.
“I might have to if they get their godsdamned way.”
“Kaidren’s letting him through,” Aerik interrupted.
Jerica trailed off, looking towards him.
A moment later, there was a flash in the area between the room they were in and the kitchen. Derik appeared. He grunted and shook himself. “Gah!”
“This is a bad idea.” Zander strode towards him.
Jerica hurried forward too.
Aerik stood up and followed behind.
“It’s time,” Derik said firmly. “And you knowit as well as I do.”
“You’re going to get her killed.”
“Keeping her –” Derik hesitated, gaze wandering around until he found Jerica. “Hi, Jer.” Then he looked back at Zander. “—out of Kyrkkyni doesn’t make her any safer.”
“There’s no need.”
“This has been the plan all along,” Derik argued.
“When she’s older.”
“What’s ‘older’?” Derik challenged. “When she’s twenty? Twenty-five? Thirty? Where does it end, Zander? This war revealed that we need Kyrkkyni’s help. I’m not willing to gamble on her life. I don’t ever want to lose her again.”
Zander groaned and rubbed his face roughly, then sighed. “This is on you.” He looked at Aerik. “Both of you.”
“I can live with that,” Derik said.
“As can I,” Aerik agreed.
“Live with what?” Jerica growled. She was trying so hard to keep from getting angry. She wasn’t going to convince anyone to trust her with secrets if she lost control of her temper. But she was so frustrated by all of this.
There was a moment of silence as all three men exchanged glanced with one another.
“Godsdamnit someone tell me something,” she snarled.
“… Let’s just take her now,” Derik said, glancing between Zander and Aerik. “Let Guild Master decide what’s relevant and how much she should know for now.”
There was another tense silence.
“Fine,” Zander said at last. “But this isn’t on me.”
“Come here,” Derik said gently, holding his arm out to her.
Jerica strode forward.
“I missed you, Jer Bear.” Derik wrapped her in a hug, then pulled away a bit so he could look at her, arm still wrapped around her. “We’re gonna take you to the Guild. When we get there the Guild Master will vet you – all of us have to go through it. But you’re gonna pass, so don’t worry. And at the end, we can answer all your questions. Okay?”
She was still so perplexed. “Once I’m inducted?”
“Once you’re inducted,” Aerik agreed, nodding.
“And you’ll tell me what Lirtira is?”
Derik blinked. “You know about Lirtira?”
“No,” she growled, frustrated. “It’s yet another thing that I’m apparently too dumb to be trusted with.”
“You’re not dumb,” Zander sighed.
“Then why?” she looked at him challengingly.
“Let’s just go,” Aerik cut in. “Bickering isn’t going to get us anywhere.”
There was another silence. Then sighs and murmurs of agreement.
Zander stepped up on her left, opposite Derik, and wrapped his arm around her as well. Aerik stepped forward and grasped Zander’s forearm with one arm and Derik’s forearm with the other. The looked at each other and nodded. A moment later Jerica felt the energy of a Transport course through her.