• Xiao walked briskly through the courtyard, up the stairs, and down the hallway to her room. She hesitated in front of its thick, wooden door. Although it had only been a couple of weeks since she, Dalziel, MiMi, Keira, and Nyx had returned to Sakimia, the palace was already beginning to once again feel like a personal hell that she was trapped in. Xiao longed to get on their way again, to do something—to get in the war and once again fight, but with all of the current unresolved issues on the home front (not to mention Sare’s death weighing heavily on everyone’s mind), she knew that there wasn’t much she could do at this point in time.

    Xiao entered her room with a sigh. The door shut loudly behind her. It was dark, so she lit a few of the candles to add at least some visibility to the room. Sitting down on the poorly-made bed, she wearily looped up at the ceiling.

    “Dalziel, I know that you’re in here,” the queen sighed half-heartedly pulling her eyes away from the ceiling and onto the silent figure hiding in the shadows next to the window, “and I’m pretty sure I know why you’re here.” The darkness served as a fairly good blanket for him, considering his dark attire—a black trench coat, black pants, black shoes…

    Almost reluctantly, Dalziel stepped into the dim lighting of the candles. “You’re getting married.” There was no emotion in his voice as he said it—it was a simple fact.

    There was a pregnant silence before anyone spoke again. Xiao quietly replied, “That’s right.”

    The military general stared at the queen intensely. “Why didn’t you tell me?”


    Xiao wasn't even sure she knew the answer to that question. Except of course, she did. But it wasn't anything she was ready to tell anybody about yet. Not…yet. Not until after she had officially signed her life away with a commitment to a man whom she didn't--nor would she ever--feel any positive emotion for.

    “Dammit Xiao, why didn’t you tell me?” Despite what his words implied, Dalziel’s tone of voice still retained all of its usual patience. Though, the tone of total defeat that it carried with it on this particular evening made Xiao’s hair stand on end.

    When Xiao didn’t say anything, Dalziel continued to speak, his voice becoming almost shrill with each word he spoke. “I found out about it through MiMi. MiMi. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be told that the woman you love is getting married by her best friend? Not even told by the woman herself! Didn’t you think that maybe I would have wanted to hear it from you??” He was shouting now, his voice becoming more and more frantic.

    Not really knowing what to say, or how to calm the man down, Xiao swiftly approached him and wrapped her arms tightly around Dalziel without hesitation.

    This seemed to bring Dalziel back to his senses, and in a calmer voice, he asked, “Who is going to be your husband…?”

    Xiao had been dreading this question from the very moment she knew of the arranged marriage.

    “Darkfang,” she whispered, bracing herself for Dalziel’s reaction. They both were all too aware of how that same person had stalked the necromancer for months because of some sick, sexual fantasy he had of them. They both were all too aware of how close that very person had been to making his fantasies a reality.

    Dalziel inhaled sharply. Xiao should feel him shaking—was it in anger?

    “That man…that man is nothing more than a ******** rapist.”

    Xiao couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard Dalziel’s voice crack.

    “Y-you know what he did!” Dalziel continued. “You know exactly what the hell he tried to do, and yet you still...! You still…even though…why….?” He sounded almost on the verge of panic.

    Xiao had never seen such utter lack of emotional control from him. At least, not since Myra, his wife, had died almost a year ago, of course.

    “It had to be done, Dalziel,” Xiao finally defended. “There’s a large chance that I’m going to die in this war, or in any of the wars that follow this one, and I need to have heirs. This is the best—and one of the only—options I have right now.”

    The queen put her arms around his neck and leaned in to his chest. She could feel the accelerated beating of his heart, and she grinned despite herself. “Never forget that it’s you that I love. I love you, Dalziel, and this marriage won’t change that.”

    She tilted her head up, brushing her lips against his, ever so softly. Registering what she was doing, Dalziel gently put one hand on her chest and the other on her back, using her to help balance himself as he leaned down to match her slightly shorter height. He didn’t worry about accidentally knocking her over—she was easily strong enough to support most of his weight.

    Dalziel’s mouth lingered on the nape of her neck before slowly moving in an upward motion to her face. His mouth enclosed around hers.

    Rather than just leaning in to it, the kiss became more intense as Xiao’s lips fought Dalziel’s for control. Their tongues became entwined, lips interlocked and moving with each other.

    When the two finally broke apart, they were both breathing heavily. Dalziel nestled his head on Xiao’s shoulder and whispered, “And I love you the same as you do I. That, too, will not change.”