A Perfect Sunset

- A Serialized Novel -

A reluctant queen becomes involved in intrigue in a kingdom ruled by a tyrant and on the verge of revolution.

Author’s Note: It was important to me that the allies find a way to trust each other, to connect and build a working relationship that they could use against the tyrants, and they fell into a comfortable banter that I enjoyed writing.

Crossing the Catacombs

“Do these catacombs run everywhere underneath the city?”

“Almost, yes,” Agache answered, and she found herself smiling at him. She’d been able to shed the hood, and even though she still couldn’t see much of her surroundings, she welcomed this lack of sight. This was what she needed after a day with Malzhi, more so than the bath she’d had earlier. The cool air, so different after days of insufferable heat, made her almost feel as though she had found her way back to her homeland. True, this was damper than her land, but she could not help but enjoy the respite it offered her. She could stay down here forever—she was all too tempted to do so.

“Then you must come here often.”

“We do. If it were possible and would not lead to the end of its availability, we would live here. The trouble is, if the king knows we value anything, he destroys it. We lost half the catacombs that way, the deeper areas that we had started to call home. He had them closed off, destroyed the supports and buried some of our people with them.” Agache sighed, shaking his head. “We are all drawn here, but we do not spend as much time here as we would like. It is too dangerous.”

She nodded. Agache stopped, pushing back his hood, and she blinked, not sure if her eyes were deceiving her or not. “Are you… glowing?”

He laughed. “I am, actually. It is something else we do, all part of being creatures of the darkness or the night, whichever way you prefer to see it. I know it gets darker up ahead, and if we are to continue on, you will need light. Is this enough or should I take off the cloak?”

She did not know that she needed more light, but she had only seen his face a few times, and she didn’t like speaking to their hoods all the time. “I think it might be better if there is some more illumination. Unless, of course, you are naked under there, and then you may keep it on. I have no need to see that.”

He reached up and undid the clasp holding the cloak to his neck. Taking it off, he set it on the rock nearby. “As much as it can be rather stifling under the cloaks, we do not go about with nothing under them. Well, I cannot speak for everyone, but most of us learn not to as children. There are… insects that will make you quite miserable if you run about with nothing but a cloak. Some of the young who come down here to meet with their lovers have paid for that pleasure with infections and illness. No deaths that I know of, but it would not be impossible.”

“I suppose, too, that if your people were threatened the way I have been, they’d not want to give anyone such easy access to their bodies,” she said, and he gave a slight nod of his head, causing some of his hair to fall forward. She reached up and then withdrew her hand, not knowing why she’d thought she had any right to touch him. “Is all of your hair like that, too? So… white?”

“White is inaccurate. It possesses no color at all. Since I am… glowing, you see the light that my skin reflects, not the true color of my hair. Were we in another place, it would not seem white at all.”

“That is fascinating.”

“Now you know why Malzhi considers us worms.”

She had known before, but she was still learning much about Agache and his people. “So you do not show any of the other side of your ancestry?”

“What do you mean?”

“Anokii told me you’re the king’s cousin. You have the blood of his ancestors in you, too, don’t you? Yet I see no sign of that in you.”

He let out a breath. “You do not want to see that side of me. Come. The meeting place is just around the corner. If I am correct in my timing, Gekin and Anokii will be reaching that point about the same time, and she will take you back to the castle.”

“So, even though you dragged me out to your meeting place in the middle of the night, you’re not going to have an actual meeting? Where are you going?”

“You are… difficult.”

“I was trained to be. Do not think I will tolerate this kind of thing. I have been threatened and drugged and almost killed since I came here, and I have to go back knowing that the same could happen all over again. Malzhi has returned, and he was… worse than before in how he behaved today. I do not want to speak to him again, and while I know why you wanted that, I cannot agree to it again, or even to this. You cannot wake me for no purpose. I do not have the patience or the ability to—”

“I did not say there was to be no meeting. I cannot be much of a part of it as I have already spent too long here, but Gekin has information you need, and Anokii can guide you back. I admit I was a bit… foolish in coming for you myself, but Anokii was always kind to me when I was younger, and I know how much she longs to be with her husband.”

“Gekin is her husband? No one told me that.”

“Officially, of course, we are not allowed to marry. Or have children. The king wants us to die off, and we have been, but not fast enough for his liking. Their marriage is forbidden, but if we allowed the king to have his way in those matters, why would we bother living?”

“I don’t know,” the queen said, closing her eyes. “Such a life is not… It does not feel worth living.”

Agache put a hand on her shoulder. “As miserable as this life makes you, as much danger as you are in, you have a purpose. Your presence here keeps peace between this land and yours, and that is time that we need. The more of my people we can get out of the suns, the more we can have to fight against him if that time comes. Malzhi is weak to you, and we will exploit that. You have managed more disruption of the court in the few months you’ve been here than I did in many years.”

She almost smiled, but she could not manage it. “I would not have come, not if I had a choice.”

“I know,” he said. She opened her eyes, surprised to find understanding and not disapproval in his face after that admission. “When I… escaped, I thought about leaving everything behind. I didn’t want to come back to this place and this role and continue the fight. I wanted to run.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was already dead. I might as well make that death have a purpose.”

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