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Prince Ayrie, AI generated for entertainment purposes only

Prince Ayrie Zambesi

Ote Vanderblusen, AI generated for entertainment purposes only

Ote Vanderbluss

Chapter Three: Ayrie

Time for Goodbye

Ayrie walked into his chambers, desperate to be away from the eyes of his subjects, only to find he couldn't be alone there, either. One of the servants was busily packing his things into a large iron trunk.

Slightly irritated, Ayrie said, "Mave, you can go to bed now. I'll finish packing."

"Yes, my prince," the girl said, quickly laying the last bundle she'd made into the trunk and curtseying to him.

At the door, she paused and turned back to him, eyes large and earnest.

"My thoughts are with you, my lord. Good journey." Then she was gone.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Ayrie's face fell. Turning, he threw himself onto his bed, buried his face in the soft pillow, and let the tears that had been threatening all day flow.

Twelve straight hours of putting on a neutral face while everyone in the realm, it seemed, said goodbye to him, thanked him for his sacrifice, and wished him well in his new life even as the look in their eyes told the truth of their thoughts—that their prince was going to his death. No one knew exactly what the results of the alliance would be, only that it was the only way to save the realms. And Ayrie was going somewhere a creature of the light could not possibly withstand.

The previous evening, as the prince had taken a sentimental last walk through the gardens, he'd overheard a conversation among a group of elders who had dined with him and his fathers earlier. The voices were coming from the piazza just beyond a row of large flowering bushes that hid his approach. He'd stopped when he'd heard his name. The gist of the conversation had been that Ayrie was brave and noble to be doing what he was doing, but he'd be lucky to live long enough to produce an heir with the vampire. And if he did, he surely wouldn't survive long enough to reap the rewards of his sacrifice. When they began to talk about how sad his fathers looked at dinner, and how Eldrin hadn't looked well, Ayrie had turned and fled, unable to listen to anymore.

Saving his people was worth dying in the Umbral realm, he reminded himself as his sobs ebbed. He promised himself he would succeed by sheer will if he had to—he wasn't leaving everything he knew go to that dark place only to fail. The Prophecy had stipulated that the Fae go to live with the Vampire, not the other way around, so surely it wouldn't immediately kill him to do it. He had to have a chance to wed Prince Lauden and produce an heir. At least he would live that long—long enough to see the alliance headed in the right direction, and that would have to be enough.

Thinking about it just made him so damn lonely. Ayrie was thankful that Lyles was going with him. At least the guard would be a familiar face among strangers in a strange land. Although he was permitted to take a second person, Ayrie hadn't chosen one. Lyles had sworn to protect him long ago, and with that came a daily danger of death. But how could Ayrie justify condemning someone else to his fate? And who would that someone even be? He didn't think it was his imagination that his servants had been avoiding him lately.

A knock on the door had him sitting bolt upright on his bed and wiping the tears from his face. When he had himself under control, he called for them to enter, praying it wasn't either of his fathers. He knew he couldn't keep up the front for them another moment, and he didn't want to break down in front of them.

Ote's red head poked around the door. "You decent?"

Breathing a sigh of relief, Ayrie couldn't help but laugh. Who else but Ote could cheer him in his darkest hour?

I'll miss you, my friend.

"Come in and close the door," Ayrie said, turning his face to the wall and wiping away the last of his tears.

Ayrie heard the click of the door, and then the light rustle of the gossamer curtain around his bed before the mattress dipped behind him. Two heavy thunks as each of Ote's boots hit the floor were followed by a pair of familiar arms wrapping around him.

Ayrie squeezed his eyes shut but couldn't stop a fresh flow of tears as he and his best friend sat in silence.

"Are you okay?" Ote eventually asked.

"Not really." Ayrie sniffled. "But I will be."

"You don't have to put on an act with me," Ote said, smoothing Ayrie's hair back, breath warm on the prince's face.

Aryrie laughed wetly. "I don't think crying in your arms would be considered putting on an act."

"You wouldn't have done it if I hadn't sought you out," Ote said softly. "I know you're scared. But maybe if you think of it as an adventure, it will be easier."

Ayrie snorted. "Okay."

"I'm serious. Sure, you're leaving home, but you're going someplace none of us has ever been."

"It would be so much easier if I had any hope of seeing all of you again," Ayrie said, heart clenching painfully.

"You can't know that there is no hope of that."

"That vampire I'm marrying will probably lock me in a dark room." With Ote, Ayrie could give into his childish fears.

"Well, I certainly hope not. How will he make a baby with you in that state?" Ote asked. "Oof! Hey, your elbows are sharp!"

"He probably enjoys having sex with corpses," Ayrie said, then shuddered. More seriously, he said, "I've never had sex. He'll think me a fool."

Ote sighed. "Okay, Prince Pessimism, think the worst, why don't you?"

Ayrie's mouth fell open and he pulled out of Ote's embrace to turn around to face him. "Well, excuse me for not dancing a jig when on the morrow I'm going to go live in a place unfit for anything but the most vile of creatures to be married to a man who would suck all the blood from my body if he got the chance!"

"Prince Lauden Belladonna will be crowned king of the Umbral when his old man croaks, and you will be his consort. He won't dare suck you dry. And, sure, it's bound to be a little different there, but the whole point of the alliance is to unite the two worlds so we can all live peacefully together. We'll soon put it to rights."

"You're assuming it will happen easily. For all we know, there will be hundreds of years of turmoil before things start looking up," Ayrie said morosely.

"There you go again, Prince Picklepuss." Ote dug his fingers into Ayrie's sides, tickling him mercilessly until Ayrie broke into laugher and wiggled to get away from the onslaught.

"Stop!" Ayrie finally managed to push Ote's hands away. When he'd caught his breath, he looked at his friend hopefully. "Do you really think everything will turn out well?"

"I'm sure of it. Don't you know when the two of us set out to do something, we do it? Remember the greenhouse we made when the bittykins weren't thriving? We grew some that were eight feet tall! We had Hilda making bittycakes for months until the king declared if he ever saw another one, he'd burn the greenhouse down."

Ayrie couldn't help but chuckle at the memory. "And Neo ate so many he got a stomachache that put him to bed for two days."


They laughed quietly for a moment together.

"I'm going to miss you, Ote," the prince said sincerely.

"No, you're not."

Ayrie's eyes widened. How could he say that? Then Ote's earlier choice of pronouns caught up with him. "Wait. What are do you mean, 'we'll put it to rights' and 'setting our minds to something'? You aren't going to be with me."

"Of course I am. Where you go, I go," Ote said.

Shifting on the bed, Ayrie stared into his friend's eyes. Hazel, they'd always reminded him of a shadowed forest. He could see that Ote was being serious.

"No, Ote," Ayrie said slowly. "You are not. I didn't choose anyone to go with me other than Lyles. I wouldn't have him if my fathers would give me a choice in the matter."

"We'll just act like that didn't happen, as we both know you damned well should have chosen me. But no matter. I volunteered."

Scrambling off the bed to his feet, Ayrie stared at his friend in astonishment. As much as he longed to have Ote with him, he couldn't bear thinking of his happy-go-lucky friend in that place of darkness.

"You can't go. I won't allow it."

"Would you allow me to go alone if the shoe were on the other foot?" Ote asked.

No. Of course he wouldn't.

"Dammit, Ote! I won't have it!" Ayrie shouted. At his friend's stubborn look, he took a deep breath and softened his tone. "I appreciate that you want to. I do. But you are meant for wonderful things, my dear friend. You are to stay here and help usher in the Continuum for our people. And, as you said, I was being pessimistic. We may very well see one another again when everything settles."

Scooting to the edge of the bed, Ote took Ayrie's hands in his. "True. Here might be there in the very near future. The shift is coming, and the whole point of the Continuum is to blend our realms. But you and I have been together since birth, brother. My soul is linked to yours. We will do this together or not at all."

Still troubled, Ayrie shook his head.

"Yes." Oat stood. He was taller than Ayrie, and, as usual, Ayrie hated having to look up at him when they argued. "It is done. I have already informed your fathers that I am going, and they seemed relieved."

Ayrie wanted to run to their bedroom and rant at them. How could they? They must know that Ayrie desired to protect Ote. As scared as Ayrie was, he loved Ote and couldn't let him risk his life and happiness for him.

"If you go, you'll give up the chance to be with your crush," Ayrie tried, unable to think of anything else. Ote had long held someone in his heart who he would not reveal. The only thing he would say was that the person was not Ayrie, for which the prince was thankful. He loved Ote, but not in that way.

"That will never happen anyway," Ote said. "Ayrie, believe me when I say I am not doing this lightly. I have given it much thought as well as discussed it with my parents. I am packed and ready." He looked the mess of clothes strewn about the room. "Which we certainly can't say about you."

"What did they say? Your parents?" Ayrie asked.

"Father said he expected nothing less of me, and Mother cried, of course. But she understands why I'm doing it. Now, could you possibly pick your lower lip off the floor so we can really start planning the adventure ahead of us?"

For the first time since Ayrie had made his decision, he felt a spark of hope. With Ote by his side, this endeavor might not be so very horrible. He wanted to throw his arms around his friend and squeeze the living daylights out of him, but he settled for ruffling Ote's red hair.

"Don't blame me when you wind up eaten by an ogre. Well? What are you waiting for?" He gestured to the open trunk. "Help me pack my things. We leave early in the morning."

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