I put my weapon, a customized ray gun that I’d inherited from my cousin down on the table in front of me. It pained me to be without the protection, but years of combat training reminded me that I could survive without it if needed. I hated the safety precaution as I glared at the guard. He looked like a human, but I knew what lurked just below the surface. There was no love lost between us. The muddy red eyes I had were the only difference between the two of us, but that seemingly small thing meant the world. It was my curse .
“That it?” he grumbled, looking me up and down suspiciously .
My hand twitched. Itching to knock him on his smug ass. “Yep .”
I knew he didn’t believe me and I didn’t care. If I hadn’t been at my cousin Ragal’s estate, I would have taken matters into my own hands. As it was, I wouldn’t disrespect the Drage prince in that way. He’d welcomed me with open arms, as they all did. My lineage had no bearing on them. All they saw was a cousin, friend, and loyal Drage. The guard jerked his head for me to pass through and with one longing glance at my weapon, I moved past the guard’s station and into the manor .
It was decorated with the finest pieces of art from across the universe. Even though I’d been their guest many times, the majesty of the manor still enchanted me. Creams, pastels, and brightly colored walls caught my eyes each time I went there. Tasha, known as princess Case to those outside of her inner circle, refused the flaccid colors normally used by royalty in their homes. She was as unique as the rest of the royal brothers and with good reason. A lot had changed for Drage in the last twenty years since King Zaruv had come to power .
“Rizor? Is that you?” called out Tasha with a seemingly never-ending smile .
I smiled and went to her, pulling her into my arms. A faint gasp from the corner of the room altered me to a new staff member. I didn’t know if it was the public display of affection or the Infernian blood in my veins and I didn’t care. It was something I was accustomed too .
“How are you, cousin?” I asked her as we broke apart .
“Better now that you are here to stir up trouble. How have you been?” she asked before adding, “And how is your mother? Did she not accompany you ?”
I shook my head. “You know Mother. She doesn’t like to leave home much anymore .”
“That is a shame, I hope you will extended an invitation for me ?”
“Of course. How is the prince ?”
Tasha rolled her eyes. “Buried in his studies once again. Please tell me you’ve brought something to pull him away from that damn council accord .”
I grinned and nodded. “It’s waiting outside. I picked it up just this morning. Your men out front were ready to destroy their lord’s new toy though, once they saw me behind the wheel .”
She let out an irritated sigh. “I swear, those men are going to be out of a job if they don’t start showing you the respect you deserve. How do you do it ?”
Shrugging my shoulders, I took a seat. “You get used to it when it’s happened your entire life. I’m sure they don’t mean any harm .”
“You and I both know that’s a lie. I can almost sense them itching to get a shot off every time you stop by .”
“And yet that never stops me,” I said playfully with a wink. “How fares the family business ?”
“Ugh, you’d think as the future owner they would show me some respect, but apparently, some of the board members still think I’m just a child. Or at least that’s how they treat me at times .”
“You?” I said in shock. “When have you ever taken disrespect like that in stride? The Tasha I know would go in there with guns blazing and show those old farts where to shove their prejudice .”
Tasha let out a loud laugh. “Oh Rizor, if only you could go in there with me. I bet they would shut up really quick .”
“The shunned half-blooded Infernian prince?” I laughed. “Those old farts would kill each other trying to get out of there. I have faith in you though .”
The sound of small, bare feet could be heard running in our direction. I grinned at Tasha and spun around just as the small, but razor sharp blade came swinging through the air. I grabbed ahold of the handle and swung my attacker through the air. Giggles erupted from my assailant as the little girl, barely eight, smiled and laughed in a carefree manor as she scurried up onto my shoulders .
“Rizor! How did you know I was coming?” she asked breathlessly .
“I’m just that good, kiddo. How is my favorite little warrior ?”
Annalise, Tasha and Ragal’s only child, crinkled her nose as Tasha answered for her. “Late for her etiquette lessons, again .”
“But Mom,” she said in a drawn-out tone. “Those lessons are so boring. I don’t want to be a lady. I want to be a warrior, like Daddy and Uncle Pavar .”
“Hey,” I said, faking pain, “What am I then? Chopped liver ?”
She shook her head. “You are a rogue .”
“Oh yeah ?”
Annalise nodded vigorously. “I can’t be like you, Madam Locke says you aren’t like us .”
“Annalise!” shot Tasha in shock .
I laughed and held up my hand before she could scold her daughter. “Your Madam Locke is right, but we get to have all the fun. No etiquette classes for me .”
Her eyes grew wide, “Then it’s settled, I want to be a rogue .”
Tasha rolled her eyes as Annalise scurried out of the room. “Thanks, Rizor, now I get to deal with that .”
“Just playing the part,” I said with a playful wink .
The large double doors behind us opened and Ragal and Pavar emerged, theirs heads close together as they spoke in guarded whispers. Tasha cleared her throat and both men looked up. Their joint worried looks turned to joy as soon as they saw me. This was one of very few places where people actually smiled when they saw me. I had no complaints about this part of my family, even if they did take the throne my father had held. I held no contempt though, I knew better than most what a bastard of a man he was .
“Rizor!” called Ragal as he shook my hand. “We weren’t expecting you today. No matter, it’s good to see you all the same .”
“Well, I come bearing gifts,” I said as I dropped the set of hovercraft keys in his hand. “I found this gem on the outskirts of the Vivian district. I knew you’d want it brought here and not the armory .”
His eyes grew wide with joy. “A hovercraft ?”
“Not just any hovercraft, cousin. One of the originals used by our ancestors to fight the Infernians in the original battle. She’ll need a little TLC, but once it’s restored, it will be a beauty .”
“Oh, brother,” he said affectionately as he clapped my shoulder. “You know me too well .”
Pavar grinned from behind him at me. “What? Nothing for me? I guess we know who’s the favorite .”
I laughed. “When I come across a weapon worthy of a prince,” I said sarcastically. “I will be sure to bring it to you .”
He groaned at the title that he hated. “I’ve seen you with that sweet little ray gun. That would be a perfect gift .”
“And you shall have it, just as soon as you pry it from my cold, dead, hands .”
“Damn Infernians, always starting trouble,” he muttered as he smiled .
They were the only people in the universe who could joke about my lineage without my temper starting to flare. Ragal and Pavar were as different as brothers could be. Ragal, passive and preaching of peace, only showed his true military skills when behind the wheel of a hovercraft. Whereas Pavar was a bit wilder. He loved weapons and had long had his eyes on the custom ray gun I had won in a poker match years ago .
“Cousin, we were just getting ready to head to Drage for a council meeting with Zaruv and the others. Perhaps you would like to join us? The opinion of an outsider who knows Vaxvia well would be very welcome .”
I shook my head. “No thanks .”
“Come,” offered Ragal. “No one there would dare to question your loyalties if you arrived with us. Surely you must want to return at some point ?”
“If it’s all the same to you,” I offered carefully. “I’d rather stay here and continue my life as it is. Things are good .”
Pavar shrugged his shoulders. “Suit yourself, but the offer is always there. You know how much we value you .”
“Thanks man,” I muttered .
I knew that he was telling the truth. My father had been a terrible monster. He was an Infernian who murdered their brother, took his form and then took over the kingdom of Drage. His treachery hadn’t been revealed until Zaruv took back the kingdom and slayed the beast. Though I’d only been a child at the time, the repercussions of his actions still affected me and my mother dearly. Zaruv had been merciful on us, knowing that we didn’t share in the treachery. Still, the stigmata of being the half Infernian son of the biggest villain our people had ever known weighed on my heart .
“It looks like it’s my time to go,” I muttered as the manor guards came to get the princes and take them to their spacecraft .
“Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner?” asked Tasha. “It would mean the world to Annalise .”
“Maybe next time. I need to get back and check on Mother. This excursion took three days longer than I’d planned .”
“How is she doing?” asked Pavar, his tone full of concern .
I sighed and shook my head. “Some days are better than others. She still battles with anxiety and nightmares .”
“As would I if my husband was slain and an imposter took his place in my bed,” said Tasha .
“Yes,” I agreed carefully. “But that was twenty years ago, I wish that she would realize we are safe here. I would never let anything happen to her .”
“And nor would we,” offered Ragal. “Please give her our best and extend the invitation to join us here for the winter months. This planet can become depressing when the cold settles in .”
“Thank you, cousin,” I said before bowing out of respect and retreating down the hall .
I waited patiently for my weapon to be returned before walking back into Steel City. I could have easily asked to take a royal hovercraft, but the attention wouldn’t be worth the headache. Whenever people saw an Infernian getting out of a hovercraft with such pomp and circumstance, they tended to flee and assume the worse .
It was true, I needed to get home to my ailing mother, but first I walked into a rundown little bar on the outskirts of town. It didn’t look like much, but it had a laid-back atmosphere and the bartenders all knew me. There would be no running or screaming in fear when they saw my red eyes. The gruff looking man behind the counter grinned at me and set down a large mug, filling it to the top with Vaxvia’s signature corn brew .
“Rough day at the office?” he asked .
I nodded. “Gotta love family .”
“Well, first rounds on me. My wife loved the gemstones you brought back last week. She won’t shut up about the ‘soft-hearted Infernian ’.”
“You better get that under control. I can’t have her ruining my badass reputation, Mac,” I joked .
The front door opened and we both spun to see if it was a regular. When I saw her, my heart started to race. I’d never seen anyone so beautiful in all my life, and that was a very long time for an Infernian. A single braid of fiery red hair reminded me of my lineage as I watched her saunter up to the bar and sit down. Her skin-tight, black, Federation issued pants and boots only seemed to accentuate her perfect curves. I was staring as Mac cleared his throat .
“I wouldn’t bother, friend,” he whispered. “Pretty sure she could kick even your ass .”