My entire body, down to the marrow of my bones, seems to go still. I am keenly aware of the steady trickle of blood trailing down Azure’s neck and collarbone, but my mind is in the past, sitting in the globe house with Saphire. I think she’s gone too. I haven’t seen her in a long time. Could she have been talking about herself?
My hands start to shake - a minuscule movement, but Tirak notices the vibration. His malicious smile widens and his green snakes’ eyes glint. “Saphire… is my mother,” I say.
Tirak, whose knife is still constricting Azure’s throat, nods. A horrible flood of realization knocks me back.
If Saphire is my mother, then…
“I am your father,” the King finishes as if he has read my thoughts.
Azure’s already-wide eyes bulge. I shake my head, trying to deny the truth that’s standing before my eyes. When I had first met Saphire, I’d kept thinking that something about her dark eyes, something about her face, had seemed familiar. Now it’s obvious - I recognized her because she reminded me of me.
And now, looking at the King, I can see my resemblance to him as well. The dark, curly hair, the tall, thin build. “No. You cannot be. I… I am… ”
“You are what?” he demands, his eyes sparkling with green fire. “You are good, you are a hero, you are an ordinary boy? You know that none of those things are true.”
I look at Azure, whose face has paled to an alarming snow-white color. “Please,” I say.
Tirak sheathes the gold dagger at his side. He shoves Azure to the ground at his feet, and she drops to the stone floor, sucking in long breaths. My heart throbs as I move toward her, too relieved to focus on anything else. Tirak makes no move to stop me. If Azure tries to escape again, Tirak can block her path with his magic, not to speak of the fact that Dominique and his lackeys are probably waiting outside the chamber in case anything goes wrong.
Gripping Azure’s shoulders, I pull her up. She nurses her arm, which is covered in a sleeve of red. Something violent grips me at the sight. “Here. Let me heal that.”
Azure lowers her hand, avoiding my eyes. She glares at the floor as if trying to convey to the stones that it’s all their fault.
I cup her arm with my hand, and a streak of pale green-blue light glows between her skin and mine. The magic comes effortlessly. In moments, the cut has sealed, and not even a scar remains. All that is left is her blood.
“Are you alright?” I ask.
She wipes at a tear on her cheek, and I can see her trying to harden herself. “Yeah. But Tirak, your father-” She bites her lip, and turns her blue eyes on me at last. “How is it even possible?”
“I don’t know.” I glance over her shoulder at the King - at my father - who is polishing his bloodstained gold knife. I wonder briefly how much I resemble him, but then I push the thought away.
Moving my hand up to Azure’s neck, I carefully brush my fingertips over the cut, leaving a tiny seam of mint-colored sparks behind. Azure closes her eyes at the touch. The cut was superficial - I’d known that - but it is still comforting to know that she’s not in pain anymore.
“How touching,” Tirak says in his soft, dark tone. I scowl, avoiding my biological father’s eyes as he lays his blade against the side of Azure’s throat. She stiffens, shutting her eyes tightly. “Now tell me - will you do as you are told, Peter?”
My hand tightens on Azure’s shoulder, and her eyes meet mine. I weigh my options. If I do not comply with the King’s wishes, he will kill her… but if I do, I will be interfering with the ocean of time itself, an action that could have devastating consequences.
For one endless moment, I let myself hesitate. There must be a good reason that so few people have ever tried to enter the Aquae Temporus. What kind of havoc would I wreak if I were to intrude upon something that controls the natural flow of the world? What kind of disturbances would that create? In my mind’s eye, I see Paeline, with her huge brown eyes. Kai, Mable, Kathhren. My adoptive father, who had been more of a father to me than this man will ever be.
Azure’s eyes meet mine. Her eyes plead with me to say no, to rebel. Her mouth is set in a determined line and her lips are nearly white from pressing them together.
But I am barely seeing her as she is now. I am seeing straight through her, seeing a version of her with unseeing eyes like clouded moons and blood gushing from her chest. A knife twists in my heart. Why would you do this to me? You promised, Peter. You promised not to let me down.
I barely hear the words as I speak them. “I’ll do it.”
Azure exhales in defeat and closes her eyes.