Chapter 5: The Ways of Ice

            That night, Pyrus found his dreams consumed with the vision of Zera on her balcony, surrounded by the light of the fireflies.  Her echoing beauty threatened to blind him, and her playful laugh invaded his soul.  He found himself walking up behind her, reaching out to touch her, and wanting to hold her.  She turned into his embrace, smiling at him.  Behind her, the sunset sky turned into red sparks of fire as a meteor shower burst into life.  He knew he was dreaming, but he felt no control over the scenes playing in his mind.  It all felt so distant, and yet more real than any dream before it.  Zera turned around again to look upon the falling stars in the horizon, making no protest as Pyrus wrapped his arms around her waist.  He could feel a sadness with in her, and he wanted to understand it.  Leaning down, he whispered into her ear as his own words echoed in his mind.  His dream had become a mirror of his desire.

"Why are you so sad, Zera?"

"I am sad because my heart has been stolen."

"Please tell me what fool stole your heart."

Zera sighed heavily and whispered with a trembling and tear choked voice.  "You did."

            Pyrus awoke and sat up strait in his bed, his head pounding with a growing headache.  Zera's last words continued to whisper in his ears, his heart longing them to be true.  The dream had felt so real.  Pyrus sighed and lay back against his bed.  Still, it had only been a dream.

            Across the cluster, Zera lay awake in her bed, staring at the ceiling.  Her heavy breaths gave away the feeling of fear in her spirit.  She had allowed her mind to wander too far.  She had lost control of her dreams.  It had felt so real, and a fear welled up inside of her that perhaps it had been.  Perhaps Zuma's training was going too well.  Perhaps she had inadvertently shared her dream with Pyrus.  A deep chill ran up her spine and escaped in a long breath.  As she watched the sun rise outside of her window, a feeling of dread washed over her.  With that dread came a heavy feeling of exhaustion.  Letting her mind wander like that had deprived her of sleep.  Unable to force herself to stay awake, she drifted into sleep, only able to hope that her mind wouldn't tread on such dangerous grounds again.

            Her eyes fluttered open a few hours later to the sound of Crystal entering her room.  Zera slowly sat up and leaned on her arm, doing her best to give Crystal a  believable smile.  Reading strait through Zera's false smile, Crystal frowned and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"What troubles you so early in the day, my princess?" 

"Just dreams, Crystal." 

Crystal sighed.  "Dreams shouldn't bring such sadness."

"I know."  Zera looked down.  "I seem to find it harder and harder each day to wake up happy."

"My Lady, perhaps it is time to stop dreaming then?"

"How so?"

"Well, you will be alone with him tonight, yes?  Perhaps it is time to tell him."

Zera cast her eyes away.  "You know I can not do such a thing.  And even if I could, it would be pointless."

"Are you so certain that he does not hold feelings for you?" 

Zera turned her eyes back to Crystal for a long moment, realizing that she had honestly never considered the possibility.  She had never looked for anything beyond the surface of their friendship.  Some of the things he said, or in the way he acted sometimes, they could perhaps mean something, but Zera had never thought it possible for Pyrus to love her.  Before she could answer Crystal, a beep sounded from the com unit in the other room and Crystal rose to answer it.  She returned a few moments later.

"He is on the communicator and wishes to speak with you." 

"He…Pyrus?"  Zera blinked.  She jumped out of bed suddenly as her heart raced.  She opened her closet to find something decent to throw on, her mind raging with nervous thoughts.  Perhaps he was calling to cancel their meeting because he knew about the dream.  She stopped suddenly and paled.  How could she explain herself.  Crystal handed her the outfit she had been looking for and smiled at her.  Zera let out a long breath and tried to calm herself as she got dressed.  With a quick pass by the mirror to put her hair in place and her crown on top of her head, she sat down at the desk and tuned the communicator on.  She forced a calm smile to her lips.  There was still the possibility that he had no clue and was simply calling for another reason.

"Good morning."

"Hey."  Pyrus smiled back.  "Sorry if I woke you."

"No, I was already awake."  She looked at him for a moment.  His eyes looked tired and weary.  "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine."  He shrugged.  "Just a small headache.  I'm just calling to see if the trip to Epsilon is still a go."

"Yes…"  Zera hesitated slightly.  "Unless there is some reason you can not make it?  Perhaps if you have a headache we should call it off …"

"No!…no…I'm fine, really."  Pyrus sighed.  "Sorry, to bother you, Zera.  I don't know, I just had this strange feeling that something was wrong."  He ran his hand through his hair with a laugh.  "I think I'm going crazy."

"Going?"  Zera laughed. 

"Ha-ha-ha"  Pyrus smirked. 

Zera surveyed him for a long moment.  It seemed her secret was still hers alone.  "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes.  Just be ready by seven." 

"I will."

"See you later, then."  Pyrus seemed hesitant to go, but he finally shut off his end of the com line.

"By."  Zera sighed and waved to a blank com screen.  It was becoming so hard to face him.  How could she possibly spend an entire evening alone with him without going completely insane.  She was getting tired of feeling this way every day.  Looking up, she noticed Crystal watching her vigilantly from across the room.  Always her voice of reason, perhaps Crystal was once again right with her advice.  At least she would wake up in the morning with out this heavy cloud of uncertainty looming over her, at least she would know where she stood with him, and at least she would be able to get on with her life one way or the other.  Of course, it was that "other" that she dreaded the most.  She couldn't imagine a life without him in it.  She also knew that their friendship wouldn't remain stable if she kept getting these doubts and feelings stuck in between she and Pyrus.  She had to do something.  Standing up from the desk, she cast her eyes out over the Freeznor mountain range and summoned all of her strength.

"You are right, Crystal.  Tonight, I will tell him."

*******

            Later that Day, Zera found herself gladly relieved of her troubling thoughts by a training session with her newly appointed Drach'mar.   After her time of change, she had the task of choosing the six girls who would become her Drach'mar, her personal legion of warriors that would protect her, grow up with her, and if it came to it they would die for her.  Against her father's recommendation, Zera had forgone the usually custom of picking the six girls from the royal houses.  She instead had gone into the city and sought her future sisters there.  She found many candidates, but in the end had been able to find the six that best suited her.  Even her father had to admit that she had chosen a well rounded group.  All of them orphaned by the War of the Beast, the transition to living permanently at the palace had gone rather smoothly.  The well roundedness of the group had led to an immediate bond between the girls.  Their drastically different personalities balanced each other out very well, and even Cryos said that their was much potential in them. 

            The eldest of the group, a year older than Zera, but one year younger than Crystal, was Tyana.  She was boisterous and full of life despite the hardships she had faced growing up.  Her lips were never without a wide smile.  Bren, Ezra, and Nia were all the same age as Zera, just shy of seventeen.  Ezra was taller than Crystal, and had the look of a dignified girl who had been in the court all her life despite growing up in the city's west end.  Her intelligence was something to be admired of or frightened of depending on who you were, but her lack of arrogance never gave her true cunning nature away.  Bren, on the other hand, was never shy about her motives or her opinions.  If she had something to say, she would say it.  Nia was a balancing act in between.  Her wild spirited thirst for adventure and the desire to have a good time was well countered with her devotion to improving herself when ever possible.  One year younger, and having just completed the time of change, were the twin sisters Sasha and Shasi.  They had more to learn than the others, but they were also learning things faster than the rest.  They acted like one individual, finishing each others thoughts and fighting together in training like one fluid movement.

            The girls all sat on the steps surrounding the training hall vigilantly watching their two teachers, Zera and Crystal, sparing one another.  They eagerly watched the well matched pair block each other's offensive moves with grace and agility.  The eyes of the six girls only left the sparing pair when they noticed movement on the other side of the training floor.  Zera and Crystal were to involved in the match to take notice of their new spectators.  King Cryos and Prince Pyrus watched the group silently for a moment.  Pyrus raised an eyebrow as he noticed the girls across the room looking in his direction.  He kept his eyes on Zera as Cryos explained about the girls and the Drach'mar.  Pyrus only heard part of Ice King's lowered voice.  His eyes were fixed on Zera as her body flexed and moved with graceful agility around the training hall floor.   A smile crossed his lips as he recognized some of the moves she used as the moves he had taught her.  The way she carried them off, with her elongated figure and lighter step, made him feel like a lumbering oaf. 

Zera turned sharply from her defense, waiting for Crystal to strike again.  As she raised her eyes from the spin, they fell on Pyrus and her father for the first time.  Pyrus was smirking at her, and he raised his hand and gave a small wave.  Zera blinked, wondering how long they had been watching.  Suddenly a footfall behind her brought her attention back to the sparring match, but it was already to late.  The end of Crystal's staff struck hard on the back of Zera's right shoulder, sending her stumbling forward with a groan of pain.  Her hand grabbed her shoulder immediately, and she heard Crystal gasp in the background.

"Sorry, Lady Zera."  Crystal blinked.  "You never miss that block!"

"I know."  Zera winced slightly as she stood back up.  She eyed Pyrus's smirking face for a moment before rolling her eyes at him with a small laugh.  She turned to Crystal and bowed.  "Excellent hit, Crystal.  Powerful and precise."

"Thank you, Lady Zera."  Crystal bowed her head with a smile.

"Rule number one, ladies."  Zera clasped her hands behind her back and turned to the group of girls.  "Never let yourself be distracted in battle."

"Not even by a handsome prince?"  Tyana laughed and the rest of the girls giggled with sudden looks toward Pyrus. 

Zera started to laugh herself, imagining just how embarrassed Pyrus must be at that moment.  Served him right for distracting her.  "Yes Tyana.  Especially not by a handsome Prince who is three hours early for his appointment."  

The girls all started to laugh as Zera turned sharply to look at Pyrus with a smirk.  He was indeed embarrassed.   She looked at her father and bowed her head.  "Good afternoon, father."

"Good afternoon."  Cryos smiled.  "I see the training is going well, all things considered of course."

Zera rubbed her shoulder.  "Yes, all things considered."  She turned her eyes back to Pyrus.  "Any reason in particular you are so early?"

Pyrus shrugged.  "I got bored." 

Zera shook her head in a laugh and turned back to the girls.  "Well, since the Prince of Fire has decided to change my schedule, it looks like practice will be cut short today.  Crystal, if you would please take the girls back to their rooms.  I will be occupied the remainder of the day, so you are all free to do as you choose."

"Thank the Gods."  Nia sighed. 

"What have you got to do that's so important?"  Tyana eyed Nia curiously as the girls began to stand up from the stairway.

"She's got a date!"  The twins,  Shasi  and Sasha, both giggled loudly in unison.

"I do not!"

Bren laughed and poked Nia's shoulder.  "Who's the poor sap this time?"

"Probably the same one you saw last week!"  Ezra said as she walked past Bren, sending the girls into a loud fit of laughter.

"Ladies!"  Crystal clapped her hands and the six girls all turned sharply and did their best to silence their giggles.  "Manners, ladies."

"Yes, Lady Crystal."  All six girls replied in unison.  They turned toward Zera, Pyrus, and Cryos.  With one graceful movement, they bowed and then turned to leave.  Crystal in turn bowed and turned to follow after.  As they exited down the hall, they let out another wave of laughter.

"I AM NOT!"  Nia could be heard shouting, only to be followed by more laughter.  Soon the voices quieted as the girls disappeared around a corner. 

"I do not envy Crystal tonight."  Zera laughed.

"Interesting group you have there."  Pyrus smiled as Zera turned back to look at him.

"They are young, and they are not used to life at the palace yet."  Cryos replied. 

"But they are full of spirit and potential."  Zera looked up at her father. 

"Yes, my daughter."  Cryos nodded with a small smile to her.

Zera turned her eyes back to Pyrus.  "So, you were bored and decided to come and bother me, did you?"

Pyrus was about to respond, but a male voice interrupted him as a tall and young Ice soldier approached. 

"Lady Zera!"  Jaren strode over confidently with a smile on his lips.  "I've got something I think you will be quite interested in!"

"Excuse me for a moment."  Zera bowed her head to Pyrus and her father before turning to Jaren.  She walked over to him with a large and excited smile.  "Did you get them?"

"But of course!"  Jaren stated matter-of-factly.  He held up a data pad in the air over Zera's head and waved it with a laugh.  "So you doubted me, did you?"

"Of course not."  Zera jumped at it, but missed.  She laughed and crossed her arms.  "Very funny, Jaren.  Now hand it over before I take it from you the painful way." 

Jaren mocked a shocked gasp.  "Such words from her Royal Highness!  Now, was that a threat or a promise?" 

"Why you arrogant little twerp!"  Zera slapped his shoulder playfully with another laugh. 

Pyrus watched them with a curious tilt of the head, and a jealousy started to form within his eyes.  He began to wonder if this was the one Zera was talking about last night. He whispered to Cryos without taking his eyes off of the two.  "Who is he?"

Cryos was watching the two as well, but with a growing smile.  "That is Jaren.  He is a soldier of the palace Royal Guard.  Promising young man.  She seems to enjoy his company, don't you think?"

Pyrus's eyes were a burning inferno by that point as he watched Zera's arms wrap around Jaren's waist in an attempt to get the data pad from behind his back.  Pyrus was only able to calm his voice down enough to reply to Cryos with one word.  "Yes." 

"So far, he is the most likely candidate."  Cryos spoke to himself thoughtfully. 

Pyrus didn't dare reply.  The hiss that would have been in his voice would have surely grabbed unwanted attention. 

"I am going to ask you one more time."  Zera looked at Jaren with a playful warning in her voice. 

"Ah, but you did not say please!"  Jaren wagged his finger at her.  Before he knew what hit him, Zera swept his legs out from under him and he fell backward.  The data pad flew into the air as he landed on the ground with a small grunt. 

Zera gracefully caught the data pad with an effortless movement of the hand and peered at Jaren.  "I warned you."

"Yes, you did."  Jaren stood back up and smiled.  "It was still worth it though."

Zera shook her head with a sigh.  "Men."   She looked at the data pad and smiled widely.

"Told you I would get them."  Jaren grinned with pride.  "They will be here within the week, as promised." 

"They are perfect!  Thank you."  She handed the data pad back to him.  "You should go and show Crystal." 

"Is she with the girls?"  Jaren frowned.

"Yes."

"I think I will wait until she is…less occupied."  Jaren put on a suave smile.  "I thought instead that you could join me for dinner."

Pyrus's fists clenched tightly behind his back. 

"Sorry Jaren, but I already have plans."  Zera replied. 

"Oh."  Jaren didn't hide his disappointment. 

"I owe you one, then."

"Alright."  The smile returned to Jaren's face.  He bowed.  "Until then."

"Good day to you, Jaren."  Zera bowed her head. 

"Good day, my king!"  Jaren called to Cryos and bowed.

"Indeed it is."  Cryos smiled and bowed his head slightly. 

Pyrus managed to put on a mask of calmness as Jaren looked at him.  They exchanged a nod of the head.  Pyrus watched as Jaren left with slight bounce in his step.  His eyes slightly inflamed again, then cooled suddenly as he realized Zera was looking in his direction. 

"Sorry about that, Pyrus."  Zera spoke as she approached.

"If you will excuse me."  Cryos smiled at his daughter before turning and walking in the direct that Jaren had left. 

"Of course, father."  Zera watched him leave with great curiosity.  "I wonder where he is off to in such a hurry." 

Pyrus knew, but he didn't say anything.  Instead he cleared his throat and looked back at Zera.  He did his best to sound casual and uninterested.  "So, what was that all about?"

"That arrogant little twit is Jaren.  He is getting an order of custom training weapons made for the girls."

"Arrogant.  Yes, that I noticed."  Pyrus couldn't help from saying it.

"Tell me about it."  Zera smirked.  "What Crystal sees in him I'll never know."

"Crystal?"  Pyrus blinked.  He felt like a complete idiot.  He had grown angry for nothing.  No, not nothing, his mind echoed.  Even just the possibility that she was flirting with that Ice soldier had been enough drive him into jealousy. 

"Yes."  Zera continued with a sigh.  "Do not get me wrong, he is a wonderful friend.  He is, however, quite full of himself.  So full of himself infact that he can not see that poor Crystal is swooning at his every word." 

"He seemed quite content with looking at you."  Pyrus blurted out before his good sense could stop him.

Zera blinked.  She could have sworn that she had heard the tinge of jealousy in his voice.  "Well, yes, I suppose."

"Your father seems to think Jaren will make quite the suitor."

"He told you that?  Oh, just wonderful."  Zera rolled her eyes and dropped her hands to her side.  "So that's where he went in such a hurry?  To go speak with Jaren!?" 

"I believe so."  Pyrus was grinning with pleasure at the knowledge that the prospect of Jaren as a suitor was highly unappealing to Zera.

Zera planted her hands on her hips firmly.  "Well that's all that boy's ego needs.  I wont get a moment's peace now.  And poor Crystal."  Zera shook her head and thought for a moment.  She grabbed Pyrus by the wrist suddenly.  "Come on.  The sooner we get out of this palace the better." 

"As you wish, your highness."  Pyrus couldn't keep the smirk off of his face as Zera lead him by the arm.  They headed down the corridor leading to the east end of the palace.  As they passed by a set of doors, the voices of the six young Drach'mar could be heard laughing from with in.  Pyrus looked at the door as Zera sped past it.  He looked back at her and wondered where she was leading him.  He had never been to this part of the palace before.  "Zera, where are we going?  Isn't the hanger back that way?"

"We are not going to the hanger yet.  I have to stop by my room first."

"Oh."  Pyrus blinked.  He raised an eyebrow curiously.  "Why?"

"Well I certainly can not go to The Cell Block dressed in my sparing uniform, now can I?"  Zera turned sharply around another corner, then stopped suddenly.

"I guess not, but…"  Pyrus stopped as Zera grabbed him suddenly and pulled him behind a large granite statue of Ku'itha,  the Ice goddess of strength and vengeance.  His heart quickened as she pressed against him.  Peering between one of the arms of the statue, he could see Jaren standing down the hall in front of a large pair of golden doors. 

Zera glared at Jaren from her place behind the statue.  The only thing brightening her mood at that moment was the fact that she had a reason to be extremely close to Pyrus for the first time since their last sparing match three months ago.  She could feel his arm and chest muscles tensing behind her, and the heat of his skin sent tingling sparks up her spine. As Pyrus leaned his head down to whisper in her ear, she thought she would die from the breathy sound of it.

"What is he doing?" 

Zera had to close her eyes in order to concentrate enough to make her mouth cooperate after Pyrus's voice flooded her mind.  "He seems to be waiting outside of my door for me.  Gods, that didn't take my father long." 

"I doubt he had to beg Jaren to be a suitor.  Looks like he wanted to start courting you as soon as possible." 

"Lucky me."  Zera quipped in an annoyed voice that made Pyrus let out a small laugh.  Jaren turned toward the statue at the sound, and Zera was forced to press harder against Pyrus in an effort to hide them from Jaren's eyes.  Jaren eyed the statue for a moment before sighing and turning his eyes back to the door.  With his hands clasped behind his back, he seemed quite content with waiting all day for Zera to arrive.

Around the corner, Crystal exited one of the rooms and walked in the direction of the statue.   Her mind was distracted by something until she heard Zera hiss at her to get her attention.  Crystal looked up and blinked at the site of Zera and Pyrus hiding behind a statue.  She was about to say something when Zera pointed down the hall at Jaren.   Crystal nodded slightly, understanding the command but confused by the reason why.  "Jaren?"

Jaren looked up.  "Oh, hello Crystal.  Have you seen Princess Zera?" 

"No, I have not."  Crystal's stoic and calm gaze gave no hint of deception.

"Oh.  Well do you know where I might find her?"

"I believe she is in a meeting with Prince Pyrus."  Crystal was hoping that would do it, but when Jaren turned his eyes back toward the door, she sighed.  "Then they are going on a mission for the Alliance, and they should not be back until very late this evening."

"I see."  Jaren frowned.  "Well then, I suppose I will just have to talk to her tomorrow"  He started to walk in the direction of the statue, so Crystal was forced to step toward him and continue the conversation.

"Has there been any word on that weapons order?"

"Yes, I have the order back in my room.  I can show it to you tomorrow if you like."

"We could discuss it over dinner."  Crystal suggested hopefully.

"I… have already eaten."  Jaren's lie made Zera glare with spite.   "Perhaps another time.  I have something else to attend to.  Good day." 

"Good day."  Crystal watched as Jaren walked quickly back the way he had come and disappear around a corner.   With a sigh, Crystal turned toward Zera and Pyrus.  She had to stop a small laugh.  "I take it you have quite the amusing explanation for this?"

"Hardly."  Zera frowned and leaned away from Pyrus.  "It seems my father has given Jaren permission to court me."

"Oh."  Crystal blinked.  "I see.  Well by the way you were hiding, I take it that it does not please you?" 

"No,  it does not."  Zera sighed.  

Crystal looked back at Pyrus for a split second before looking back at Zera with an understanding nod.  "Of course not." 

"I am sorry, Crystal."  Zera offered a small smile.  "Trust me, I would much rather it be you that he was waiting for.  Jaren just can not see past his own nose sometimes."

"No, he can not."  Crystal nodded, but with a smile.  "Perhaps someday he will be able to, and I will be there."

"Perhaps."  Zera replied, but with an uncertain finality.  She wasn't sure Jaren would ever be able to see anything but his own reflection.

"I should get back to the girls."  Crystal bowed.  "Have an…enjoyable evening." 

"Thank you."  Pyrus raised an eyebrow slightly at the underlined tone in Crystal's voice.

"I will see you later tonight."  Zera smirked at Crystal before the attendant turned and walked back down the hall.   Zera let out a heavy sigh, only then realizing that Pyrus's hand was still holding onto her shoulder.   "Well, that was interesting."

"You weren't kidding about Crystal either."  Pyrus watched Crystal disappear into a room.  "I defiantly don't understand why she puts up with Jaren's attitude." 

"They grew up together.  She has always felt that way about him, for as long as I can remember.  She just has not been able to tell him." 

Pyrus had to nod at that.  It sounded all too familiar.  As Zera began to walk away, his hand slipped from her shoulder, and a sudden feeling of being incomplete washed over him.  Watching Zera walk toward the large pair of doors, he knew exactly how Crystal must feel.  He was uncertain if he should follow as she opened one of the doors.  The bewitching gaze in her amber eyes as she looked back at him stopped his heart.

She smiled sweetly at him.  "Coming?"

"Yes, of course."  Pyrus cleared his throat and forced his feet to move forward.  He followed her inside of the room that was more like a house.  Without thinking, he shut the large door behind him as his eyes wandered about the room that had many rooms within it.   They were decorated in rich hues of gold and blue, with mosaics and carvings covering every possible surface.  The first room was obviously a waiting room, followed by a large and comfortable looking seating area that looked out onto a large set of glass doors that led to the balcony.  The Freeznor Mountains were clearly visible in the afternoon light.  From this large central room, there were three connected rooms which were behind closed doors. 

"Have a seat."  Zera said as she walked toward one of the closed doors.  "I will not be long."

"Sure you wont."  Pyrus had to crack a joke in order to calm his nerves.  "Just be out by seven." 

"Very funny."  Zera smirked.  "Now be a good boy and sit." 

"Yes ma'am."  Pyrus smirked back at her and watched as she entered the room and shut the door again behind her.  He sat down heavily on one of the couches and drummed his fingers anxiously on his knee.  Being pressed up against a statue and then ending up in here was the last thing he had expected when he woke up this morning.   She had never brought him here before in all his trips to see her.  Maybe she was just more comfortable with him now.  Pyrus frowned.  Maybe too comfortable.  Maybe she thought of him more like a brother now.  Maybe she didn't mind him being in her room because the thought never occurred to her just how crazy it was making him.  Pyrus nearly groaned in frustration as he ran his hands over his face and through his flamed hair.  He leaned back on the couch and looked up at the intricately carved ceiling.  Maybe all these maybes were driving him insane.  He just wasn't sure where he stood with her anymore.

            Zera was right, he thought.  Things were not as easy as they used to be.  When they were younger, it was so simple.  They enjoyed each other's company with out worry or hidden inclinations. As time went on, he remembered being drawn to her more and more.  Missing her when she wasn't with him, thinking about her often, anticipating their next meeting.  Pyrus smiled slightly.  He hadn't been physically attracted to her then because she had been stuck in that childish and awkward body until her sixteenth birthday, until her time of change.  Still, he had been attracted to her spirit, her tenacity, and her laugh.  He, in his stage of growth, had still found his eyes wandering to females in his palace, such as Ash.   When he saw Zera for the first time after her time of change, his eyes had lost all reason to wander.  Almost overnight, she had turned from an ill proportioned and small child into a seductively beautiful and captivating goddess.  She moved with such strength and grace, and his eyes couldn't get enough of her.  Closing his eyes, he could still see that first image of her.  And the universe that existed within the amber depths of her alluring eyes.   And the vision of  her in that blue dress.  And the feeling of  her frosted skin pushed up against him behind the statue.  By the Inferno, how he wanted to just…  His eyes snapped open and stared at the ceiling again.

            With those thoughts swimming in his mind, he realized how complicated things really were between them.  He could only be happy if she was happy, but if her being happy meant that she had to be with someone else, how could he possible be happy?  It was enough to confuse the most wise of prophets.  Sometimes, when she looked at him, he thought he saw a hint of desire with the amber depths of her eyes, or a playful flirt in the way she would smile at him.  Lately, he had been looking for those small signs more and more, waiting for the right moment to say what he needed to say to her.  But that moment had never come, and now she had poured her heart out to him, crying over some fool that she was in love with.  That damn fool that was making her so sad.  Pyrus's eyes turned into swells of flaming anger.  If only Zera would tell him who it was, he would be more than happy to go knock some sense into the blind idiot that had dared to make his beautiful Princess cry.   With a soft sigh, he closed his eyes again, trying to erase the anger from his mind.  The anger was quickly replaced with a building sadness.  Why couldn't he just tell her?  His mind knew the answer all to well.  If he told her, and she rejected him, their friendship would be irreparably damaged.  He could loose her forever, and that was just too much to risk.

            He began to drift back into thoughts of her, his mind tired from a sleepless night induced by nervous feelings about going to Epsilon with her alone.  When he felt her frosted touch on his shoulder, he was sure it was part of his dream.  Zera smiled at him as her hand slid onto his shoulder.  She had been surprised to find him drifting into sleep, not aware that she had taken that long to pull herself back together after the events in the hallway.  As Pyrus smiled slightly in his tired state, she found herself unwilling to wake him up.  She could be content in watching him sleep all night.  The problems of the real world, however, could not wait.  With a gentle whisper, she leaned down and spoke into his hear. 

"Wake up, Pyrus."

Pyrus's eyes shot open at the feeling of her cool breath on the fire spikes of his ear.  The sensations of it caused him to shudder inwardly with pleasure.  He leaned forward, knowing that Zera had no idea what playing with the ears could do to a man of Fire.  Or did she?  The seductive smirk on her lips as she stepped around the couch to look at him made him wonder about that.  "Sorry.  I just didn't sleep well last night." 

"Oh?"  Zera tilted her head with a frown.  "Still no peace in your mind, is there?"

For a moment, he had to stop and think about what she meant.  "Yes, well, I plan on forgetting it all for tonight.  Leave the problems of my palace at my palace."

"Agreed."  Zera laughed.  "Although I think I would much prefer it if my 'problem' left the palace all together."

Pyrus let out a much needed laugh. As he laughed, he didn't have time to react to the pillow flying toward his head.  "Hey!"

Zera started to laugh even harder.  "Well it's not funny!  I'm going to have that rock-headed boy after me again tomorrow." 

Pyrus tossed the pillow back at her, but she caught it.  "You could always come stay at my palace for a while."  He said it before he realized what he meant by it.

"If my father keeps this suitor nonsense up, I just might take you up on that offer." 

In the silent moment that followed, Pyrus watched her walk over to a nearby mirrored table.  Zera seemed consumed with her own thoughts as she walked into the light of the setting sun that shown through the large glass doors.  The dress she wore was white, and only slightly less revealing than the blue one from yesterday.   The gold decorative stitching of the two piece dress glittered within the light she stood in.  He watched curiously as she removed her crown and set it down on the table.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror momentarily before running her hands through her icy locks.  Almost immediately, as if released from a frozen prison, her frosted white hair began to fall from its rigid and stiff formation.  It curled around her neck and face, laying wildly where it pleased.  Pyrus couldn't keep from staring at her.  In the fours years he had known her, he had never seen her with her hair down.  It had always been that stately and perfectly formed style rising from her crown like a second tiara.  Until now, he didn't realize how much he hated it, and now he wished she would never put her hair back that way again.  "Why don't you wear your hair like that more often?"

"Hmm?"  Zera looked at him through the mirror's reflection as she put in a pair of gold earrings.   

"Your hair."  Pyrus stood up and walked closer to her.  "Why do you always have it so…I don't know…done up?"

"Because a Princess does not walk around the palace in such an un-groomed state…"  She sounded serious, then laughed.  "Or some such nonsense that I've been told.  Simply put, my father would have a fit if I were to appear at an Alliance meeting like this.  So would the entire court, except perhaps the Drach'mar."  She smiled at that thought then sighed with a shrug.   "It's just the style…an old style that has been around for ever…but the style none the less."

"Well, you could start a new style."  No mater how hard he tried, he couldn't stop looking at her hair.

Zera looked up at him curiously until his eyes looked down to her face.  "Though they are willing, my people are slow to change.  It is that way with many things, least of all how the future Empress is expected to keep her appearance."

"I guess I understand."  Pyrus shrugged and let his eyes drop from her face.  He looked instead at her crown as it lay on the table.  "Are you leaving it here."

"No authority in The Cell, remember."  She smiled at him and began to walk to the door.  "Will you take yours off and leave it on your ship?"

"Yes."  He nodded as he followed.  "I brought a change of cloths as well.  From what I hear, the Cell Block isn't exactly the place to wear what I have on."

Zera stopped and looked at him.  The insignia of the Royal House of Fire was etched into his tunic and on the black cloak draping from his back.  She nodded and eyed the golden metallic shoulder guards he wore.  "Yes, you do look like you are about to lead a fleet into battle."

"Hey!"  Pyrus smirked.  "This is my best suite of clothes.  Captain Blaze said it made me look more commanding." 

"Taking fashion advice from your Captain of the guard now, are you?"  Zera stifled a laugh as she opened the main door and walked out into the hall.  "You would be better to take advice from his daughter Ash."

"Are you trying to say there is something wrong with the way I dress?"  Pyrus eyed her with a deep grin.

"Of course not Pyrus."  Zera began to laugh.  "Just as Tyana said, you are a handsome Prince." 

"Oh brother."  Pyrus rolled his eyes and shut the door behind him. 

"Really, Pyrus, I am only joking."  Zera smiled as she walked down the hallway.  She waited for him to catch up, but she could bring herself to look at him.  "For an arrogant hot headed twit,… you are not so bad."  She wanted to stop there but she couldn't without raising suspicions about her feelings.  "And I am quite sure that you will have no problem finding some lucky girl to court."

"Lucky, hu?"  Pyrus raised an eyebrow. 

"Of course."  She looked up him in honesty.  As they stared at each other for that moment, Zera was on the edge of continuing and just blurting out how only a fool wouldn't want to be his queen.

"Lady Zera!"  Jaren's voice suddenly broke the eye locking stare she and Pyrus were giving each other.  "I'm glad I caught you before you left."

"We are in quite the hurry, I'm afraid."  Zera turned around sharply to look at him.  Pyrus did the same, keeping his hands firmly clasped behind his back to calm any urge he had to hit Jaren.

"Well I do apo...lo…gize..."  Jaren lost his words as he came close enough to see Zera's un-stately appearance.  He looked at Pyrus, then back at Zera, and then finally lowered his eyes. 

Zera seemed no less authorative without her crown as she eyed Jaren.  The annoyed tinge in her voice made Pyrus grin.  "Is something the matter with your eyes, Jaren?"

"No, my lady, of course not."  Jaren forced his eye to look back up at her.  Her un-stately appearance was beyond seductive.  He had to clear his throat before he could continue.  "Forgive me, Princess.  I meant no disrespect." 

"Of course not."  Zera crossed her arms.  "What can I do for you?"

"Well I…"   He began, then stopped and looked at Pyrus again.  "I think perhaps it can wait until tomorrow." 

"Very well then."  Zera smiled at him.  "Good night to you."

"Good night."  Jaren bowed to them both before turning and walking at a fast pace back down the hall.

Pyrus watched Jaren go with a dark smirk.  That poor idiot had no chance with his Princess.  The prospect of seeing Zera being courted by another man would be hard enough, but he didn't think he could keep from punching an ass like Jaren if Zera had seemed even the least bit interested.    "Well, he was surprisingly less arrogant than before."

"Indeed."  Zera cocked her head and looked at Pyrus from the corner of her eye.  "I think you intimidated him."

"Well, I do have that effect on people." 

"My hero."  Zera smirked.  "I may just have to keep you as a body guard if all the suitors turn out to be like him."

"You got it, Princess."  Pyrus smiled at her.

"Now, "  Zera turned and started walking back toward the hanger bay.  "Let us see if we can escape the palace with out any further interruptions."