Kingdom of Wolves

8013
When Myseth, heir to the throne of the glittering, metropolitan planet of Keystrel, falls ill, her one hope for survival lies in the company that has a stranglehold over the galaxy at large: the Astra Corporation. Returning home after an emergency medical procedure, she finds her father, the king, slaughtered and her mother poisoned, on the verge of death. Betrayed by her sister, Myseth has no choice but to take the Astra Corporation's sinister deal and sign away her humanity in exchange for keeping rage-driven sister off the throne. Perilous stakes, treacherous royalty and corporations vying for monopoly over the universe collide, with Myseth at the centre.

1. I

I

 

Myseth spat blood and met her brother's gaze. 

 

"You will never be a queen," he hissed, hefting his sword. The sunlight glittered along the antique blade, pooling in the etching that ran down its edge. A royal blade, pulled from the armoury specifically for what her brother was about to do. 

 

She watched as he swung the blade. It carved a bright ark through the air, throwing sunlight like jagged shards of lightning. At the last possible second, she twisted out of the way and raised her own blade. They met and a harsh, metallic note rang out through the courtyard. The grass shifted under her feet, silver as the blade of her brother's sword and swaying gently like they were underwater. 

 

He struck again and she ducked, dodged, parried with an attack of her own. He threw his head back, laughing. 

 

"What?"

 

"You're too impulsive, Myseth. You don't think about your attacks. That is why when our parents die, years and years from now, it will not be you who takes their place."

 

"And you will?" He failed to mention the one major reason she would never be queen.

 

"Stellae, no. But that doesn't change the fact that you need to think more. Swordplay is a game of strategy." 

 

"Maybe," she conceded. When you're fated to drop dead any second, you learn not to think too much, because it takes too long, hurts too much. She couldn't bring herself to say that— she knew the way her brother's smile would fracture and fall apart. "Maybe," she tried again, "but no one uses swords anymore. It's only our planet's antiquated way of thinking that keeps them in fashion."

 

"Hey, it's that same thinking that keeps us in fashion." 

 

In power, he meant. Though the royal families of other planets had long since either relinquished control or been usurped, Keystrel clung to the faded tradition that had flitted in and out of popularity in the thousand years or so since humankind had left Earth. 

 

And since their line was the last of some of the several monarchies that had lorded over Keystrel, they took it upon themselves to dig back deep into the beginnings of history and hook their claws into as many ancient traditions as they could, dragging them back to life.  

 

She shook her head and dropped into a crouch, her blade raised. Her brother was always careful when they fought. Not like him and Incendie, their sister. They fought in a whirlwind of steel blades and fists, a brutal dance that progressed faster than she could process. Ezrel, her brother, he saw her as something fragile, barely stitched together, and he didn't bother to try and convince anyone, not even her, otherwise. 

 

Right on cue, she felt her lungs tighten and started to cough again, jacking up gobs of mucus that steadily grew brighter and brighter red. 

 

"Mys." he said softly. "We should stop."

 

"No," she growled, gripping her sword tighter and forcing herself to meet his eye without flinching. "I will never be a queen if I can't beat this."

 

He sighed. "Go rest, Mys."

 

Begrudgingly, she pushed her blade back into its sheath and waited for the simulation to dissolve. Flecks of the silver-stained landscape peeled away, until they were back in the bland, white room that functioned as their gymnasium.

 

She left her weapon by the door, grateful she wouldn't have to lug it back to the old-fashioned armoury like her brother. Ezrel, with his tendency to be dramatic, never missed the chance to haul out one of the old, ornate blades. They were much prettier than the ones their father had commissioned for them to train with, better balanced, made to fit into someone's grip by an actual blacksmith. 

 

Her lungs ached, as did her limbs. A tight, wire-like pain wrapped around her head and tightened, and her mind burned. 

 

She pushed her fist into the switch by the door and watched as the barrier flickered out of life, than stepped into a narrow hallway. The Arx, their home, was nothing if not spacious, and the small corridor opened out into a much wider one, lined with windows that offered a view of the city below. 

 

Cazes, a city as much in orbit as on the ground. Keystrel's thin atmosphere and low gravity meant that even at the edge of space, she could make out the buildings of the city. Granite and steel, a glittering, beautiful stretch of chaos.

Some of her favourite memories were running along the smooth, magnetized streets, her feet slipping as she tried to master walking on air. The streets were designed for hovering vehicles, but that didn't stop her from buying the first pair of magnet-boots that she could find and trying to learn to walk on them. 

 

A small smile worked its way into her face. She made sure to school her features before Incendie or one of the staff rounded a corner and saw her, grinning, far less broken than they tried to pretend she was. 

 

She might've been dying. She was dying, with far less time remaining than she would let anyone know, but that didn't mean she was weak. Frail. She would fight until her last, wheezing breath. 

 

An attack was coming, she could feel it. She wanted to get back to her room, to the relative privacy it offered, before that happened. 

Her chest was tight as she walked casually down the hall, part of her attention on Cazes and part on her surroundings, on the smooth metal walls and sparkling white floor. Every inch of the Arx was immaculate. Everything polished to a blinding sheen. As if that made up for the mess that it's occupants were. 

She tried not cringe when one of the staff hurried towards her. They perked up at the sight of her. 

 

"Myseth! You're sister wants to speak with you." They kept walking, moving away too fast for Myseth to question them. Her and her sister didn't talk much, not since her diagnosis. It was a constant battle in their family to figure out who was the most ashamed, but Myseth knew it was a tie between their father, the king, and Incendie. 

 

It wasn't hard to guess where her sister would be. Myseth found her in one of the orbital station's many armouries, but this one was not dedicated to old, boorish blades. The walls boasted an array of guns, all sleek and dark, firing everything from metal projectiles that shredded flesh to blasts of electricity that made lightning strikes seem like a small shock.

Incendie leaned against a table at the centre of the room, where a portable cannon was kept under a thick, nearly indestructible panel of glass that had been bolted to a steel frame.

 

"Hanging out with the weapons again?" She knew the truth, of course. By accident, years ago, she'd caught Incendie reading beside a pile of high-tech armour. Her sister had made her swear not to tell anyone. Myseth never broke a promise, not even one made to an ashamed twelve year old. 

 

She'd been thirteen at the time. Her and her sister had been born barely a year apart, while Ezrel, the oldest, had three years and many more inches on her. 

 

That had been close to five years ago. Incendie still visited the weapons rooms. Sometimes to read, sometimes or kiss with one of the staff for a few minutes. Myseth guessed that this time it had been the latter, by Incendie's mussed hair, and guessed it had been the pretty-faced boy who had told her Incendie wanted to talk with her. 

 

"What do you want?" She asked, the words slippery. Her lungs burned as she tried to hold in a cough, pain shuddering through her body. Banging pots and pans, firing cannons, waking up all her nerves and reminding her body that it was not only capable of experiencing pain, but of experiencing a lot of it. 

 

Her sister appraised her. "Ez is still trying to teach you to fight, is he? What an obruta." 

 

"Mhm." She snickered despite herself and a cough snuck out. She hacked until she tasted blood in her mouth but kept it in. At least with Ezrel, he didn't mention it. Incendie would drag her into a spiel about nothing and everything, insulting and pitying her in one. "What do you want, Ince?"

 

"I want you to stop training. It's too hard on you— I... I saw the message the doctors sent you." She took a shaky breath. "I know that you have barely a month to live."

 

"If that," she corrected around a wheezing, wet cough. "So? I might as well go out fighting." She corrected herself at her sister's slightly puckered frown. "Knowing how to fight."

 

"Fine, then. But I want you to stop." I don't want to lose you. They hadn't experienced tragedy, not really, but even her glacial sister had learned what it felt like to have your life collapse and fall apart, like sand through your fingers when all you wanted was something solid to hold. 

 

She nodded once. "Is that it?"

 

"That's it." 

 

"Okay."

 

"Our mother has asked that we wear formal attire tonight, by the way."

 

"Tonight?" she asked. 

 

"Yes, tonight." Incendie sighed, so frigid that Myseth had to stifle a wince. "The Governors  are visiting. There's going to be a dinner." 

 

Myseth didn't say anything as she turned and left, Incendie following behind her. 

 

"Mys? Please... think about what I said. What's best for you is rest." 

 

"Don't pretend you know what's best for me," she snapped, hurrying away from her sister. Incendie was cruelly beautiful. She had their mother's fine, blonde hair and sharp features, pale skin and dark eyes. She would make a beautiful queen someday, if she could find a way to control her temper. 

 

Really, not her, nor her brother, nor Incendie were fit to lead. Too careless, too lazy, too spiteful. 

 

She sulked back to her room. The Arx was hardly labyrinthine, most of it open and the hallways clearly marked, but it was big. She wouldn't let anyone know how much it hurt her to get around. That would be the final straw. They'd swaddle her up and lock her away with an Astra Corp. doctor to watch over her. 

Her freedom was all she had left. She wouldn't let them take that from her. 

 

With a flick of her wrist, she locked the door, the mechanism beeping once then twisting with the sound of grinding metal. She stared at the metal walls, avoiding looking at the glass to her back. She didn't want to see the city beneath them, burnished steel and hewn granite brilliant under the midday sun, more beautiful than anything the Arx could offer, even in a simulation. The whole place was leached of colour, just dark, spotless metal and smooth, featureless stretches of white. 

She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was gaunt, pale brown eyes sunken and shadowed from long nights of hardly sleeping. Her dark, curly hair was limp and without lustre. She looked sick. She looked like she was dying. 

 

Her hands balled her bedsheets up as they clenched into fists and she tipped her head back, crying out silently. The movement made her muscles shiver and sent flashes of pain down her spine. 

 

She crawled in her bed as a bad episode hit, coughing weakly, spasms of agony rocking through her body. Her breath shuddered in and out of frail lungs. She closed her eyes tight, willed her mind into a faraway place and waited for it to subside. Minutes trickled by, tears trickled out of her eyes. 

 

Even when the pain loosened and slipped away, her body was left weak, her heart throbbing. She spent the afternoon in bed, hoping no one would think to come looking for her. 

 

The screen mounted by the door shrieked and her sister's face filled it, waking her from her half slumber. She pulled herself out of bed and waved her hand, letting the call through. Incendie's voice drove nails into her skull, coaxing a massive headache into life. 

 

"Huh?" She grunted and stretched. "Repeat all that. I wasn't listening." 

 

"Stellae, Mys. Alright. The Governors will be here within the hour. Considering you look like a mess, I'd advise you to start getting ready." 

 

The screen went black. 

 

Cursing, she dragged herself over to her closet and sighed at the sight of all the clothes inside. Her brother had the largest wardrobe by far, but that didn't mean she didn't have plenty to choose from. Her fingers grazed the fabric of the first thing that caught her eye, a long black dress that would hide most of her gaunt frame. 

She dressed herself, raked a brush through her hair, even painted her eyes with silver glitter and thick, black lines. 

 

At the last moment, she decided to braid her hair, and spent a precious few minutes winding it into thick plaits. She ran her hand down her side. The velvet fabric of her dress was soft, supple, but she could feel the awkward jut of her bones beneath it. 

 

She was hardly alive anymore. 

 

Trying not to let that thought and all the fear it carried take up residence in her mind, she disengaged the locks with a sweep of her hand and stepped through the dissolving door. 

 

Ezrel caught her part of the way down the hallway, looking immaculate as always. He had chosen the rim his dark eyes with white, the colour bright against his warm skin. His hair, dark and curly like hers, was gelled back. He flashed her a dazzling smile. 

 

"Hi, Mys. That dress does nothing for your figure." 

 

"Cadere solis, Ez." She shoved him and he pretended to stumble, laughing. He shook his head. 

 

"Really?" 

 

"What?" She smiled innocently. "I have no idea why you're looking at me like that." 

 

He huffed a laugh like he couldn't decide if he wanted to be amused or exasperated and quickened his pace. "The Governors will be waiting on us, Mys." 

 

The Governors. While their parents might've held the most power, they couldn't rule an entire planet from their home above Cazes. Every city had its own elected Governor, twelve in total. If they were all here, then it was bound to be a chaotic night. Too many conflicted opinions and personalities for the dinner to go smoothly. 

 

She cringed, hoping to be at least out of the way before whatever was bound to go monumentally wrong went wrong. 

 

"Why are they here, anyways?" she asked Ezrel. 

 

"There's a drought at the edge of the continent. Ironic, I know, them being perched at the brink of the ocean. But the land isn't natural out there, remember? It was manufactured when we ran out of space. There's no lakes or rivers, and it hasn't rained in a while." 

 

"So how has that brought them here?" She could hear soft chatter. Some of the Governors were there, then, but not all of them. Not yet. It would not be this quiet if the dining room was full. They approached the dining room. Ez held up a hand and the door dissolved for them.

 

"They want to discuss redirecting the flow of the river towards them." He placed a smile on his face and strode in, Myseth trailing a step behind him. 

 

"Redirecting the river? Why not just ship them water?" 

 

Ezrel shushed her and said polite hellos to the handful of Governors strewn around the tables before collapsing into his seat. Myseth followed and eased herself into a chair between him and Incendie, aware of all the eyes pinned to her. 

 

Their mother smiled. 

 

"The king is busy preparing for the negotiations later and will not be attending the dinner. Once the remaining Governors arrive, and I'm told the final shuttle docked a few moments ago, some of the staff will bring out the food." Her polite smile didn't waver as she took in the half-dozen Governors seated at the table. "If there's anything you would like to discuss, in the meantime..."

 

Polite chatter ensued. Myseth's head spun. The room felt too tight, her skin even tighter, and reminded herself to continue to breathe, no matter how much pain tried to climb up her throat and seal off her airways. 

 

A handful more people strode into the room, the volume mounting with each step they took. Myseth lost herself to the endless chattering and waited for the food to be brought out. 

 

"They're always bickering," Incendie whispered. 

 

Myseth wheezed a laugh. "I don't think there's a system of government that's built on people getting along," she said. 

 

"Don't get yourself in trouble," Ez's tone was mild, but the warning was there. 

 

"Right. These types get offended far to easily." Incendie scrunched up her nose. Sometimes Myseth forgot that her sister was the youngest— she made up for it by her relentless energy and sharp edges, more regal and severe than Myseth or her brother could ever hope to be. 

 

She took slow, deep breaths and wore a convincing smile, hoping that no one would guess the way her nerves burned. 

 

Incendie knew. She knew that Myseth didn't have much time left to live. 

 

She teetered over the edge and fell back into the pit of her despair. It didn't feel like darkness, like sadness clawing at her heart. It was sickly grey rot, absence, a void of all things warm and bright. Her heart was heavy as lead and just as bleak, weighing in her chest like it was already dead and turned to stone, and she wondered how much more pain it could possibly be to carve it—and all the other ugly, fetid emotions she felt—from her chest. 

 

"Mys," Ezrel said, voice soft. "Myseth. Are you..."

 

Her breath hitched and cut off. Her hands rushed to her throat and she wheezed, but no breath came in. Her fingers shook. The tremors worked their way up her arms and through the rest of her body, darkness closing in on the edges of her mind. 

 

She pushed her chair back and tried to stand, but there was no strength left in her body. She fell. Strong arms held her up. Incendie, smiling politely, telling the Governors pretty lies about her running a fever, being slightly unwell, as she helped her out of the dining room. Her head spun. Her grip on awareness slipped, but the pain refused to be dislodged. She coughed, her lungs thick and breaths heavy with blood and mucus. She hoped they were out of sight. If the Governors saw... she coughed and wiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand, the streak too red, too bright. 

 

"Put me... bring me to the... Bothain." 

 

"What?"

 

"The Astra Corporation," she said weakly. "They have a facility on the moon Bothain. That's where I go for... treatments. Put me in a shuttle on autopilot." She forced herself to stand, to smile tightly. "I'll be fine." 

 

Incendie waved over the nearest staff member. A young man she recognized faintly. 

 

"Wen, I need you... help her. Get her to Bothain."

 

"The moon?"

 

"Solis, yes, the moon." Wen wrapped an arm around her waist, and suddenly Incendie was walking away. "I'm sorry. I can't leave the dinner— they'll know something is wrong. I'm sorry." 

 

"Go," she panted. "I'm fine." 

 

Wen helped her along. Some of the pain subsided, but her face felt hot and sticky. Blood was bubbling from her lips, dripping from her nose. She was a horror. 

 

Each step was a battle, but she forced herself to do it without Wen. No matter how hard it was. One foot in front of the other, her body shaking like she had been electrocuted, her breath rattling around in her phlegm-filled lungs. The halls were deserted, but she couldn't stand the thought that Wen was watching her. Seeing her in her weak, ruined state. 

 

 

They reached the shuttle port and he helped her into one of the sleek, glistening transports, before climbing in and shutting the door. She was vaguely aware of the vehicle humming to life and the airlock popping, and pain, always pain, but the nothingness was a swiftly approaching tide that fell over her faster than she could prepare for.

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