I hoped Valek would not find me here. This dread resounded in my head and in the tightness of my chest as I crept across the living room to the bedroom.

The inconspicuous safe house was protected by its simplicity. It appeared an ordinary cottage owned perhaps by a merchant or wealthy patron as a vacation house.

I tried to comfort myself in the event that he would find my here by telling myself that it would give me a chance to explain. Suddenly I found myself laughing at the thought of rationalizing to a vindictive lover why I had chosen another.

A torment of memories swept over me as I stepped warily into the bedroom. I felt his feather-light caresses. I smelled Valek's musky scent as he held me in his arms and whispered his undying love to me. I saw his brilliant blue eyes shine in the moonlight.

Before I could lose my courage, I pulled out the letter. It was brief but I had taken hours to write it. I carefully set the letter on the table. With trembling hands, I removed the switch blade from my side and set it on the letter. Running my hands over the carving, my thoughts went to my friends, Janco and Ari, whom I had owed my life to countless times.

The hardest part was taking off my butterfly necklace. Cutting the cord that bound it around my neck was like cutting my heart open. Holding it in the palm of my hand to the light, I examined it one last time. It was flawless in its design and lifelike. The silver stones shone in the moonlight as tears unshed.

I choked on a sob as I set it carefully down next to the knife. My thoughts shifted to Valek. I half expected him to have been watching from the shadows and to emerge, boiling with rage. But he didn't. There was only the silent darkness of the room left to rage at me.

I paused, half-hoping for Valek to arrive with his efficiency. He never came. Taking one last sigh, I walked out of the room and shut the door.

"Amazing." Leif mused, interlacing his fingers behind his head on the grass, "My little sister managed to get married before me. I am the slow one in the family."

"I'm not in the mood for your jokes." I scrubbed harder at my bow, nearly snapping it.

Sitting up, his face turned grave, "Everyone will know this is a lie. The world knows who your heart mate is. This isn't exactly something you'd have a change of heart about."

"I can have a change of heart about the lifestyle I want to live." I did not look up at him, afraid that my face will betray any emotion, "Marriages are eternally binding in Sitia. That's proof enough."

Leif began to pace, deep in thought. He huffed, "I know you, Yelena. You still connect with the Ixian customs, where you actually remembered growing up and learning. What was that thing they had? De-worse?"

"This is Sitia."

"Yes, where instead of de-worse we have accidental death by suicide." He laughed darkly at the last part. "You have any idea how hard it is to live a lie that you yourself don't want let alone believe?"

I threw the staff aside violently and stood to face him, "What would you have me do? You know the situation!"

"For heaven's sake stop trying to play the hero!" He threw his hands up and placed them on my shoulders, "I worry about your safety! Do you know what an assassin does? Do you know what the Ambrose keeps Valek around for when there aren't petty crimes to charge with capital punishment for?"

I did not answer.

"The definition of an assassin, little sister, is a highly efficient killer of very important people. And when you marry Cahil, you just made yourself very important. Top that with ripping his heart out… you won't even have time to look behind your shoulder before you heart stops in half-beat."
"I know Valek's capabilities." I said quietly.

"You're planning to chance this. You think that his personal feelings for you will stop him and be your protection?"

"He will obey the Commander no matter what." My thoughts diverted back to the day when I revealed myself to be a magician in Ixia and Valek was nearly ordered to kill me.

Leif stepped back, his face twisted in rage and horror, "You're going to sacrifice yourself? Forget Valek killing you. I'll do the job myself!"

"Think about it, Leif! I will be a threat. Cahil isn't planning to simply push me aside. He will use me and my powers to his advantage. This war will never end and death would be the kinder fate!"

Leif had a hand over his eyes, his soul filled with frustration and renewed determination, "I failed to protect you once. I will not let that happen again."


"Run. I want you to run far and away from all this."

"If I die…this war may not even happen." I laughed at my own statement, "It might even end in diplomacy and compromise."

"You might be willing to play the martyr, but the Zaltana's are a selfish clan and it won't happen. Your worst mistake was telling me your plan."

"You can't stop it. But if you decide to try, I might speed up the process." I turned on my heel, retrieved my bow, and walked away from the pasture.

I adjusted the veil. The comb that had been given to me by my mother was set carefully in my hair. Its green jewels shone like grass touched by dewdrops. I fingered a lock that had fallen out thoughtfully and began to pace the room.

It'd be now, I thought to myself. I was intentionally alone with no guards. Valek could be both practical and sentimental. And he would be Leif's last chance.

I turned to the mirror once more. My breath stopped at an all too familiar sight. The butterfly pendant was laid carefully out on the table, the original severed cord still intact. Casually I reached over and picked it up, examining it in the palm of my hand. "Did you know that butterflies have unusually short lives?"

"Why wouldn't they?" Valek emerged from the shadows, his face set in cold fury. "They have such suicidal tendencies."

"You took a while."

"I misinterpreted the message. I'm conditioned to think you're in trouble every time you decide to rip my heart out." Valek leaned against the column. A visible knife glistened menacingly from his belt.

"Are you going to kill me this time?" As hard as I tried, I could not keep the trembling out of my voice.

There was a long pause. For the longest time, neither one of us breathed.

Then Valek spoke, "No."

I glanced up at him. Before I could make a sound, he continued in a lethal voice, "It is a direct order from the commander...but I'm far too sentimental."

"What's your plan of attack?" My voice was eerily casual.

"Does it matter?"

"No I suppose it doesn't. It's a pity though. Many of these guests traveled very far to get here." Time was running out. I had to force his hand. Standing up and giving him a cold smile, I said in a clear, passionless voice, "Does it bother you? Knowing I'm marrying another man?"

He matched my expression before giving me a ruthless smirk, "It doesn't. You and I both know he will never be half the lover I am."

I ignored the snide comment and turned away, "Enough talk. Just end it."

"There is another option." He paused, as if expecting a response. When he received none, he continued, "You can marry me."

My heart pounded wildly in my chest, longing to be his. It tried to shut out my rational mind, telling us to forget everything and leave. But I held my breath, "What does that solve?"

"Sitia will not dare attack Ixia if the most powerful magician and anti-magician are on the same side." He talked as if reporting to the Commander, "Not that it ever had a chance. And…we'd be together."

But my family would pay the consequences. I squeezed my eyes shut, holding the tears back, "My family would never forgive me."

There was a silence as tension filled the room, "So this is your decision? If I beg, will that change your mind?"

I regretted turning to face him the moment I did. His once fierce blue eyes were filled with a desperation and plea uncharacteristic of him. He was ready to fall to his knees at my feet. A traitorous tear fell, "You could adapt to life without me. I know you could."

"What about you?" His voice was hoarse, "Could you live without me?"

"Yes. Let's not pretend we never had the chance. You were never one for commitment, Valek. Even a true heart mate would never convince you to settle down. You'd be bored."

The words stung and I knew it. But I had to make him leave. "Please…this is my decision." I turned and glanced toward the doors I would take to marry my future husband, "My family needs me…more than you need me. I would regret this forever. You need to leave…we're through."

He changed in the blink of an eye. The desperate lover became the lethal assassin once more. Valek's face was set into cool indifference, "Very well. I hope you will have enduring happiness for the rest of your days. Please forgive me for my intrusion." He bowed, the perfect gentleman, "Goodbye."

My heart broke and bled as he walked away. I felt the hot tears that threatened to fall and my weak knees that would make me fall to my knees…leaving me in a mess to beg him to come back…to beg him to come back and hold me…forgive me. Forgive me Valek, my love, I've caused you pain once more.

Instead, I stayed, as still as a statue, my eyes dry and determined. And then he was gone.

The music began in the distance, calling out the bride. I willed my head to turn toward it, my feet to walk toward the doors, and my hands to open them.

For the sake of those I love, if not for my own, I have to will my heart to keep beating, for my body to keep breathing. This is what I replayed over and over again in my mind as I walked down the aisle and toward the altar. I had to make myself believe that somehow, someway, Valek and I would be together again.

The majority of the ritual passed in a blur…I hardly noticed it. I vaguely remembered the vine of the Illiais Jungle tied around our hands, binding us in eternal entwinement. Eternal…forever…until death…and beyond that…the words of the Zaltana clansman echoed in my head. I could only imagine if this was the reason why Valek was so afraid of this form of commitment.

I only picked at my food during the reception, my heart heavy. Cahil appeared not to notice, as he gaily feasted and chatted with the guests. We danced, his arms feeling foreign and unwelcome against my skin, as I closed my eyes and wished desperately that Valek was in his place. I could feel Leif and Mara's sympathetic eyes on me as they danced next to us.

With an enthusiastic farewell, Cahil began to lead me toward the bedchambers. We stopped at a heavy door that he opened with a key. It was a suite with a bedroom equipped with a living room. To my surprise, he handed me the key and bade me goodnight. I gaped at him.

He casually remarked, "The wedding night's never any fun if the bride's not enjoying herself. And if you're paranoid, you can always lock me out. However…" His eyes darkened and a glint of desire rang out in his soul, "My door will never be locked to you."

"You wouldn't force me?"

His gaze was surprisingly gentle. I flinched as he caressed my face tenderly, "That'd accomplish nothing. I don't want us to hate each other. When I rule Ixia, there will ever only be one person who I will trust to be at my side and to keep me in check. And that's you, Yelena."

Cahil turned and walked to the next suite. Casually opening the door, he stepped in and shut it behind him. True to his word, the lock never clicked.

I shut the door to my suite behind me and ran to the bed in tears. The tangible feel of the lace against my skin only served to remind me of how real the night was…of how the real the marriage was. My heart cried out for Valek. And I knew that he could hear the call. I could feel the burning pain that resonated from him that night.

No matter broken the heart is, or how desperate the situation, something has to give. Eventually, I ran out of tears to cry. I wiped at my face with the sleeve of my dress.

Face numb and swollen, I shakily pushed myself off the bed and made my way toward the living room where a pitcher of water was available. I drank my water between deep breaths as I considered the situation.

It did no good to keep crying over what I couldn't control. I had to believe it. It was what gave me strength to follow through with this and not run. Once more, I told myself in condolence that Valek and I will be together again one day.

A chill from the window broke my train of thought. I gasped as I realized in horror that I had never opened the window. A cold blade was pressed against my neck. The sharp and pristine steel was unmistakable. It was Valek.

I won't make up any excuses for this late update. To be really honest, I was running out of InSpriteTation. But after reading the last installment of Opal's story, "Spy Glass" and Valek's oh so large part in it, I had to continue this story. xDDD So after a long hiatus, this story is back! =]