Playing with Fire
by: Ken Williams
If there was ever a time when Rose thought life was perfect, it was now. Chrysie Squall was sitting with her, under the nose of Lady Venus Flowrs. Aphid and Sapphire were nowhere to be seen and it was just them. Chrysie was not Hydrops, but she had a beauty to her, and kindness. The two young women had kissed more in two months, or were it three, than Rose and Hydrops had in their whole life. Nothing could have ruined their moment…except a knock on the door. Rose went to the door, alone, and opened it. Ivy was at the door. Rose hugged her. “Ivy! You didn’t tell me you were coming.”
Ivy Watr stepped in. Her vines for hair were done in a large braid, adorned with thorns. It was her combat braid. She probably just came from sparring with Hydrops, Hyran, and Moss. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” Ivy asked with a smile.
“No,” Rose replied, “Well, kinda. I have a guest over.”
Rose was taken aback. “You know?”
Ivy laughed. “Rose, for one, I’m not blind, and also, I’m the cousin of Hydrops Watr. There isn’t anything that happens in Hydros that he doesn’t know about.”
Rose felt as if her heart fell into her feet. “He-he knows? Like knows knows?”
Ivy sighed. “Okay. Listen well here. You are engaged to Hydrops. You will be the empress of Hydros before too long. Your name will command with not only the emperor, but also the greatest High Landsponge we’ve ever had, and the most powerful psychic. With him you also have had unprecedented freedom. Now you are with a secret lover and he still doesn’t care to put a stop to it. Enjoy your life, please. You’re going to kill yourself one day.”
“He knows… and is okay with it?”
“To be honest, he likes it better this way. In the future, I would recommend telling him outright though. You really don’t want him to think you’d keep a secret from him. Secrets get people killed.” Ivy’s eyes pointed to the room where Chrysie was waiting. Ivy turned to leave. She stalled as she went out the door and looked back at Rose. “You might wanna visit the Sea Citadel today. There are some people Hydrops wants you to meet.”
Ivy then left and Rose sighed. Rose went downstairs to see Chrysie still waiting. Rose hugged her lover and spoke softly and sadly.
“You need to go home. I’m needed at the Citadel.”
“Not a problem, Rosie,” she replied with a silly smile on her face, “You’re needed as the future Empress. I can share. I kinda have to.” Chrysie laughed.
The two kissed and went their separate ways for the day. Rose walked to the Sea Citadel, a towering monstrosity of five large spires, four smaller and a center tower. It had a blend of perfect craftsmanship and macabre decoration. She knocked on the
door and the giant doors opened, revealing a familiar young woman in a purple dress greeted Rose. “Hello,” she said, smiling, “I’m Lady Arti.”
Rose reached out her hand. “Princess Rosianna,” she replied with half a smile. “Are you Prince Uilliam’s lady?” she asked, unable to resist. Prince Uilliam was Hydrops’ younger brother. He was rarely spoken of, and normally blended in. There had been rumors that he had fallen for a minor lady, and maybe Arti was her.
“No. I’m my own lady. I more come here to look after other ladies… like Lady Squall. Oh, the rumors I’ve heard…”
Rose flared in anger. “If you so much as speak one word about her to Hydrops, I swear by the Fountain I will murder you.”
Before her eyes, Lady Arti because Hydrops the Second. “Too late!” he laughed out loud. He composed himself and sat down on the bottom stair of the Citadel’s main staircase. “Forgive me, Rose, but for one, doing that doesn’t get old, and also, I was curious about the nature of your relationship. I hope you do not mind.”
Rose had to gather herself for a moment. “D-do you mind?”
“That you and Lady Squall have an affair outside of yours with me? Lokel, you should know me better. If you have someone that you deeply care about, then please, be happy. If it were not for Dacer Melon, my father, and your mother, I’d suggest ending our betrothal and making us both happier.”
That made Rose’s heart sink a bit. “Hydrops, I still do care about you, in a romantic sort of way.”
Hydrops sighed. “Rose. You much more than you’re given credit for, but I don’t like you in that way, nor anyone else. If Dobrahadra comes back and the world is plunged into madness and suffering, will our love matter?”
“Yes!” Rose shouted, “Our love would matter most then.”
Hydrops shook his head. “No. Nothing will matter then. Everything will decay and destroy itself.”
Rose couldn’t argue with him. When he spoke of Dobrahadra, all that mattered was stopping her. It didn’t even matter. Every Hydrosian knew that Dobrahadra was gone. Only her mad followers remained. Some had thought the same of Scareye, but there was far more evidence to Scareye’s existence than Dobrahadra’s.
“Whatever. Ivy said you wanted me here. What for?”
“The Council of Atular. Duke Terrin Kassar, Countess Valory ur Draler, and Baron Toemon Grannis, and Aren Calar are coming to pledge fealty to the Hydrosian Empire.”
“And you need me because…?”
“Because you are the future Empress.” Hydrops glared at her. “But I can’t speak or understand the fleshling tongues.”
Hydrops groaned, “If you cannot speak them, then stay quiet. And do not use the word ‘fleshling’ in front of them. They are my honored guests.”
Rose rolled her eyes, “Allying with Atular. I thought you were trying to make Hydros strong again.”
Hydrops raised his hand to strike instinctively and Rose flinched, but no blow was struck. “You sound like your mother,” he said coldly.
Those words hurt more than any slap or punch. Rose was a better person than her mother for sure. Venus Flowrs perpetuated wars, destroyed families, and even sold her daughters before they were born for power. Her children would never be that. Rose would die before that would happen. She held her tongue and waited for the first Atular leader to be announced. The first one to come was Baron Grannis of the Red Atular. He was clearly very old. He walked with a cane. His hair had grown thin and grey. He also looked stricken with grief, but how could he not? He lost all of his family. He looked at Hydrops and said something in Atulan. After a short conversation, the aged Atular went to Rose. He clasped his hands around hers and said, “You are lucky to have such a man as a husband, a true leader, and he is lucky to have such a radiant beauty by his side.” Rose blushed at the compliment and turned away in embarrassment.
The next to be announced were Duke Kassar and his daughter, Seliamire. When Rose heard Seliamire’s name, she glared in envy. Seliamire of the White Atular had been sheltered by the Watr family for a year, when war with the Black Atular seemed imminent with Lord Orinar listening to Jarell Zom, a captain in his army, and extremely anti-Hydrosian. Lucky for Hydros, he died in the Invasion of Pyros. Hydrops and Seliamire, though, had become close when she stayed at Hydros. The two Atular came
in and Hydrops greeted them warmly, almost personally. Rose didn’t bother talking with them. She was just as happy keeping to herself.
Next to come in was someone whom Rose had never heard of. A tall, grey- skinned Atular came in, going by the name Keuryl. She was definitely Black Atular, which was strange to Rose. Wasn’t Hydrops’ empire supposed to fight against the Black Atular? Hydrops brought the Atular to Rose and said in Hydrosian, “Rose, this is Keuryl Glarigas of the Black Atular, and a student at Hydros University. She will soon be leaving the school and taking a place in the Council of Atular.”
“A Black Atular? Aren’t we preparing for war with them?”
“No… but in the event that war does happen, I would like to have an ally from Ebon Atul. And Keuryl takes after Orinar.”
“Funny how you like first names.”
Hydrops scowled. “Glarigas is a name I associate with our good friend Lord Glarigas.”
“He was always a pain,” said Keuryl in perfect Hydrosian, “Nobody ever liked Mrdinar.”
Next to come was Aren Calar. He was eleven years old but already Hydrops’ representative to Ginir Atular, only because he was the son of Atsin Calar. Atsin had been the woman who “saved” Hydrops from the Purple Wave’s capture. She had died shortly after releasing Hydrops from the reactor exploding. It had been sabotage.
Hydrops loved the Atular pup, but Rose didn’t trust him. Aren shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Princess Rosianna.” He said, excitedly.
“Yes, well don’t expect to see much of me, traitorspawn.”
He flinched, insulted, “My mother used connections within the Purple Wave to
save our great High Landsponge. She’s a hero if there ever was one.”
“Was it not your father who captured Hydrops in the first place?”
“Kirn was not my father. I never knew my father. Kirn had dated my mother for years, until Hydrops the First killed him and left him to rot on the Square. Then some monster took his name and used it to terrorize Hydros.”
“So who’s your sister’s father?”
“Cuin is Kirn’s. She has a bit of a Red Atular look, does she not? I am pure Ginir is all I know.”
Rose tried to squelch a laugh. “Pure Ginir” didn’t exist. Ginir Atular were Hydrosian-Atular hybrids. Rose opened her mouth but was drowned out by the herald shouting, “Now entering Countess Valory ur Draler and her daughter, Bathori ur Valor.”
The two came in. Valory was a woman in her forties clad in all sorts of crystals, looking around for the others to chat, while Bathori was a stone-faced woman in her teens looking as if trying to find every flaw. As she came in, Bathori spoke in loud Hydrosian.
“It’s Bathori ur vaLOR! Tell him that! He was wrong!”
“He was, but we are guests here. We are not in charge.”
“I will not accept sub-par service because we are under another’s roof!”
Hydrops quickly interrupted to greet them. The argument was ceased and Valory went to speak with the other Atular leaders, until Bathori said to Hydrops, “You should invest in some shock collars. They work wonders with my servants.”
The entire room went silent and they looked at Hydrops at Bathori. Hydrops’ expression changed. She knew that face. It was the face he made when Admiral Guilon suggested they wipe out Pyros. It wasn’t quite angry, or even hateful, but all the same, it spoke. It said, “I will hurt you. I will destroy you. You are a monster.” Countess ur Draler rushed over and put her hands on Bathori’s shoulders.
“We’ve had such a long ride. Bathori’s just upset over that. Perhaps it’s time for her to be escorted to her quarters and retire.”
“Yes,” was Hydrops’ stern response.
Bathori broke free of Valory’s grip and looked at Hydrops, trying to assert herself in some sort of dominance. It likely worked in Aqua Atul, but not in Hydros. “No. I am not tired. I will not deal with your sloppiness, High Landsponge.”
Hydrops made perfect eye contact with Bathori. In a matter of seconds, her expression had changed from anger to terror. Her eyes were wide and she started to shiver.
“Second floor, third door on the left.” Hydrops stated and went to herd the leaders into the conference chamber. He turned back to Valory as she was escorting her near-
catatonic daughter to her room. “Never bring her here again.” He went into the conference room.
It was just Seliamire and Rosianna in the social room now. Seliamire sat down next to Rose.
“Watch out for him,” Seliamire said.
“He can take care of himself,” was Rose’s reply.
“I mean he’s dangerous. You saw that, didn’t you? I had known for a while he could be harsh, but that… that I’d never seen before.”
“She had suggested something evil. I wouldn’t.”
“Rose, we’re speaking Hydrosian because you’re too bigoted to learn Atulan. I think you have plenty to worry about.”
“I can handle myself. Worry about your own kingdom.” “Fine, but I did warn you.”