It had been a busy day. Maria paused, sitting up in her chair and stretching her back. Busy, full of meetings and inquiries and paperwork, but Maria felt it had been oddly quiet. It had been a week now since Cassidy disappeared, and there was still no sign of her anywhere. Maria sighed, knowing there wasn’t much she could do beyond what she had already done; Cassidy would reappear when she was ready… or dead.
Maria brushed that thought out of her head, despite that nagging voice in the back. She didn’t need to try and shove that thought away for much longer, as the doors to the throne room were flung wide open, one of her knights standing before her, looking distressed.
“Your Majesty, I apologize for intruding, but-“
A figure appeared from around the corner, sword in hand, lifting it until the cold metal pressed against the knight’s throat. A figure cloaked in Azaian clothing. His wrinkled face grinned. “The King would like to see you.”
Maria leapt from her chair, fists clenched. “Who let these intruders on Sari, let alone the palace?” She demanded.
The Azaian man shoved the knight aside, using his sword now to gesture to the doorway. “All will be explained, Your Majesty, I assure you.”
Blue eyes didn’t leave the man’s face while Maria followed him down the hallway to the main entrance. When she dared to look past him, she felt her heart drop into her stomach.
Cassidy stood there, clothes torn in multiple places and stained with red blood, her hands behind her back in handcuffs. The Azaian soldier behind her had a firm grip on a large chunk of her fire-red hair near to her scalp. Cassidy’s legs shook and looked so weak that the hand holding her hair might’ve been the only thing keeping her from toppling over completely. Her brown eyes looked sunken and dark from little sleep, staring blankly at the floor. Maria glanced down and realized the fur around her wrists had been rubbed away, leaving the skin underneath raw and bleeding. This wasn’t from one day of fighting whatever they used to hold her hands still, she had been fighting every step of the way, for several days now.
To the left stood the King of Azai, tall and regal and looking down on Maria in a way that made her skin crawl. “I have something that I believe belongs to you.”
Maria’s fists clenched tighter, her fingernails digging into the palms of her hands and threatening to break skin. “How dare you even touch her.” She hissed, knowing very well that he could have easily killed Cassidy. He had tried before, when she was only three weeks old.
“I found her, trespassing on my territory. I taught her a lesson. And now I’ve come to return her to you…”
Maria didn’t like the way his voice trailed off. Cassidy finally looked up at her, brown eyes filled with pain, fear, and worry.
“In return for the throne, of course.” He finished.
“Well that wasn’t predictable at all.” Maria scoffed.
“Do not test my patience, Your Majesty. Your darling little sister has done enough of that already.” Unsheathing his sword, he pressed the flat edge of the blade under Cassidy’s chin. Cassidy’s eyes lit up in a heated glare, not fading as she felt the cool metal move to press against her throat. “I will gladly slit her throat in front of you if you do not give me what I want.”
“Don’t do it, Maria.” Cassidy’s voice was hoarse, throat dry and begging for water. She stared her older sister down. “I know which you’ll choose. Don’t. I’d rather die.”
Maria’s mind was swimming with thoughts. Both choices were right. Both choices were wrong. Take a risk and lose her sister at least, or take a chance and lose everything.
But she knew which one she had to choose.
Inhaling, her body relaxed, her eyes fell to the floor. “I accept your offer.”