Goal: 10,833Written: 583 Story: The Burning City Approximate Chapter: Before Chapter 1
“I feel like I’m forbidden from ever seeing you.”
“Not forbidden. It’s just—complicated.”
“Complicated.” His voice fell flat. Alima didn’t have to see his face to know his jaw had tensed with the word. Tarik bit back a bitter response and chose silence instead. He was thankful that the shadows hid some of the harshness he knew would have crept in to his eyes.
“Listen, I don’t have long--” She reached out and ran her fingers along his jawline and traced a ringed finger along his throat. She felt him swallow his words. He reached up and took her hand; a touch that made her immediately look around for her mother’s loyal servants. When he saw her eyes searching—he pulled away, and she let him.
“You never have long. And now, you have no time.” Tarik took a step away and fell to one knee in front of the Heir to the Jan’caran Sun Throne.
“Tarik? What are you—” Alima began but her voice fell silent. He had heard the Moon Queen’s approach before she had. Alima had picked the Observatory for its solitude; apparently, her mother had thought the same thing.
The Moon Queen wandered along a path of polished stone. Cold silver moonlight drifted from the Observatory windows above, bathing the woman's face until it looked almost soft. Alima knew better. Her mother's heart was harder than anyone else in the Burning City; the lines around her face and mouth showed nearly a decade of disappointment for her daughter.
Alima couldn't hear her mother's footsteps, or the dozen Royal Guards that had accompanied her, until they were just a few feet away.
“Do not force my hand, daughter.”
At that moment--Alima wanted nothing more than to run away. To flee the Observatory, to rush down the stairs, through the halls of the Jan’caran Palace, and burst out on to the streets of the Burning City. To throw herself in to the crowd and be lost forever. Maybe Tarik could survive long enough to find her. Her fingers brushed the pommel of her sword and she considered the distance to the doorway briefly. She could outrun some of the guards, but not all of them. And Tarik would probably be the first to stop her. He had made his decision. Now, she had to make hers.
She lowered her hand from her sword pommel and placed them clearly in front of her. She bowed her head to the Moon Queen and accepted her life.
“You won't have to force anything, my Queen.” Alima smiled for the last time. “We're ready.”
Tarik rose with her words and together they faced the Moon Queen. Waiting outside the windows of the Observatory—Alima could see the rest of her Royal Guard and servants waiting to accompany her. She bowed alongside Tarik. The rest of the Royal Guard surrounded them and escorted the three from the Observatory.
When her mother wasn't looking, Alima reached over and wrapped her fingers around Tarik's wrist. She squeezed gently and then rushed to hide the gesture. Her lip began to tremble but she had promised herself she'd never let her mother see her cry again.
It was a long, silent walk through the great marble hallways of the Jan'caran Palace. Alima knew it was time, she knew the path by heart. She had grown up walking these hallways, often with the company of Royal Guards, from an early age. She knew this day would one day come.