98 Days Until Loss And the Uncertain End (part 2)
Zeydar watched as Kony prepared for his call with his sister with Endwin and Europa. He tossed invisible energy between his hands trying to figure out a bit more on how to control his magic as he watched. The other siblings were gone, Europa wanting to make this situation more personal and controlled than the last few calls. Only Phil was there, otherwise, to catch the code. Shawn was somewhere with May, training perhaps? Zeydar was not sure.
He figured that if he were in their position he’d be training in not so wholesome ways. The idea of it made Zeydar drop his concentration with his magic. He pictured Evester’s expression in his mind as if he were seeing it in person again. Zeydar understood why he made the choice he did. He did not regret that choice. However, if Zeydar were placed in the same situation now? He was not so certain he’d be able to keep his mind above the belt. Zeydar licked his lips at the thought of touching Evester.
“Uly sent the report last night.” Europa’s voice was a soft reprieve for Zeydar to focus. He had gotten distracted again and there was no time for distraction. Turning all his attention to Europa he listened to her every word as if it were gospel. “It isn’t good news, but they are alive.”
“How bad was their attack?” Phil asked. Zeydar was confused how that wasn’t good news? Was she expecting Uly to say he was on his way back with the final reports made for the final three choices?
“They are operating as if they are dead.” Europa answered. “As in, only during the day, not at night, having to hide in plain site.”
“Why don’t they just leave?” Endwin asked. Zeydar had a hundred reasons in his mind. Maverin was still a technical missing person. If he came back he’d have to be debriefed and that would take weeks. Evester was a criminal according to law, having kidnapped Zeydar and running from his hearing. Even if the Tower had collapsed at the time Evester technically had not been pardoned. Uly had not yet completed the final reports and calculations for the possibilities of their home. The few reports he gave would not be enough to sedate questions if he were back in the city.
“Zeydar.” Europa said and Zeydar looked up at his name. She was not talking to him.
“Zeydar is home.” Endwin pointed to Zeydar.
“The Superiors still want punishment.” Europa stopped for a moment. “And Uly has to make the best decision for everyone somewhere, where politics aren’t involved. So they are operating as if they are dead.” Everyone wanted control and as much as Europa and Estashia held control, they’d not be able to maintain impartiality if their loved ones returned.
“You know what to say right?” Phil asked Kony.
“Yes.” Kony nodded. He was a bit more hardened from his days at the Star Campus. His hair had grown back a bit but was still cut in a Star student style. His eyes were sharper from the lack of sleep that came with the study rather than his race to stay alive. His accent had shifted from the day in and day out indoctrination at the school. He sat straighter. He held his hands on his laps as if he had his staff in them, despite it being with Zeydar. Kony was poised to fight at any moment, with every muscle coiled in tension. Unlike before, however, Kony did not betray that. He still laughed awkwardly. He still smiled with a lopsided grin. He scratched the back of his head when nervous.
Kony learned quick. Zeydar had to amplify his training soon. Soon the Stars would realize what sort of threat he was, and he would no longer be able to hide it. That would be when the Superiors would circle like vultures. Kony was a viper in the making and Zeydar had to make sure his bike was as good as his act.
“Evester is an idiot.” Endwin sighed. Zeydar had missed part of their conversation. Looking over, Zeydar saw Endwin holding papers from Europa. Both of them seemed to sense that Zeydar was looking at them.
“I need you to speak to your friends and confirm their engagement.” Europa told Endwin as she starred at Zeydar.
“Ah yes. Graceon will love to talk to me.” Endwin handed the papers back to Europa. “Did you read what Evester said to him? Or did you just skim it and see the words.”
“What Evester said is of no consequence.” Europa took the papers back. “Take Zeydar with you.”
Zeydar thought of Graceon Phyn. Where the Phyn family was the second most powerful family in Valaria, they fought for control in larger cities. They weren’t like the Rayblays or the Igilistals. The Rayblays were the family of political opposition of the Iglistals, backing all other families everywhere. They were the third most powerful family in Valaria before, but the second most powerful family in the world. Graceon and Evester had been friends before Evester met Uly. Evester met Uly when he went to Ovaria with his dad, and became best friends with Uly over Graceon — Zeydar figured.
Graceon had always been friends with Evester. Zeydar remembered seeing the pictures of them circling the online sites. Graceon and Evester met often enough but they were compared like two sides of the same coin. Where Evester was rough and charismatic, Graceon was poised and pristine. In order to maintain the relationship with the Phyn’s, Endwin had taken over being their friend. Zeydar doubt that such a transactional relationship sat well for any of them.
Zeydar thought of how Graceon had wanted to push Evester with the Sweet Dreams that night at the party. He had suspected Evester of being Aether. He knew Evester well enough to see through the disguise, but… What had Evester done to piss him off? He said something that struck Graceon but meant nothing to Evester. What was it?
“It’s beginning.” Phil called to them and they went silent. Endwin motioned for Zeydar to follow him out. Zeydar handed Kony’s Staff to Phil, before he headed out. The door closed without a sound and Zeydar followed after Endwin down the hall. They walked in silence far from the recorded studio. Zeydar wondered if he’d have to be prepped for the meeting. Would Shawn be able to go? Or Phil? Or neither?
Where were Shawn and May? Should Zeydar go to the courtyard to practice on his own? He really did not want to interrupt the two of them again. They were under the impression that Zeydar would watch the talks. Zeydar had thought he would too.
“Why did I need to leave?” Zeydar finally asked when he was certain he could speak without it interfering with the recording.
“I will facilitate the meeting, but be advised…” Endwin stopped walking. He faced down the hall and refused to turn to Zeydar for a few seconds, when he turned, his eyes held frustration. “What do you know about the relationship between Evester and Graceon.”
“Graceon has known Evester since they were babies. Evester became friends with Kim better and then Uly. Effectively Evester tossed Graceon aside when he moved to Ovaria.” Zeydar knew he was adding a lot of subtext to the context of their relationship. For the world it had never seemed that way but Zeydar had figured it out from the way that Evester acted with his friends versus those shots of him with Graceon. Evester thought of their relationship transactional even if, perhaps, Graceon did not view it the same. Graceon and Endwin most certainly viewed their that way.
Endwin nodded. “Graceon and Evester played at friends for years but Graceon always assumed…” Endwin sighed, rubbing his hand across his face. “What do you know about Igilistal relationships exactly?”
“All of them. Friendships, Lovers, Spouses, every type of relationship.”
“They’re all calculated.” Zeydar paused. What had Europa said? “Emotions are irrelevant.” It was only after he said the words that it kicked him in the gut.
“What matters are results, communications, and what is best for our people.” She had said.
But, Europa liked Uly. Zeydar was sure that Evester liked him. Zeydar felt hollowed out for a second trying to understand and connect the dots. The Igilistals planned every one of their actions. They chose their children’s friendships. They held control over all the Circle families through these transactions and deals.
“I’ve known who I was going to marry since I was five years old.” Endwin slipped his hands into his pocket and starred at Zeydar with a bit of disdain. “I always knew. She had no clue. I knew that I had to become the perfect person for her, so I always was paying attention to what she liked and what she didn’t like. Failed relationships are unacceptable.”
“What if she never loved you?
“Love? My position and name would be more than enough for her family to accept. It would be up to me to convince her that I was perfect. She would love me. Or at the very least like me and tolerate me.” But that was not to say that Endwin would ever love her. He had known about it since he was a child. It was a duty for him, nothing more. “Any affairs or lovers would be a calculated move to get more power or things for my sister. For Europa I was to be her shadow. If she needed something done under the table it would be up to me to do.”
The longer that Endwin stood before Zeydar, the scarier he seemed to begin. Perhaps it was the fact that Zeydar’s ears were so sensitive to slight intonation changes. Nothing about Endwin had physically changed, but there was a tingle on Zeydar’s spine telling him to flee.
“My grandfather gave me this task.”
Zeydar thought of Evescar Igilistal. He had died many years ago, before the Catastrophe. He had been against the separation of Maverin and Estashia, in public, but it was calculated to get Maverin space to do his work. Evescar Igilistal’s brother had died in a flying accident and his sister had died from a drug overdose. There was thought of foul play but it had never been confirmed.
“He told me to always act in her benefit or he would make sure I never saw the next dawn.” Endwin’s words chilled Zeydar. How could a grandfather say that to his grandchildren? “Mother had no siblings because grandfather was betrayed by his. He made sure that Evester and I could not betray this family, when Europa was chosen as the heir. Our friends were picked. Our enemies chosen. Our lovers. Our futures were laid out on gold pieces of paper that we had to memorize before we were ten.”
“Evester was different.” Endwin’s tone returned to normal. Zeydar wondered if his face had betrayed his question. “Father said he needed Evester for his project and thus grandfather had been different with Evester for his education. Evester is loyal to this family.” Zeydar knew that. “But he has more freedom than either me or Europa. For me, even if I knew who I was to marry I had the freedom to decide how I did it. I am allowed to make it look like a true love romance. Europa? Everyone knows that who she picks will be because its a logical choice or a political one. Emotions can not be involved in her choice. It’s going to be Uly, as of right now.”
“What?” But didn’t Europa like Uly.
Endwin cocked an eyebrow and then nodded. “Mother loves father. That is why her choice was scrutinized and demonized. People expect it to be a loveless match for the heirs. Unlike father, however, Uly is already highly idolized by the public. He will be the logical choice with everything he is accomplishing.”
“Evester gets to pick his relationships. He was taught that every one of them means something. However father and grandfather let him make EverDanger. Each member was vetted and accepted. He could have had his friends rejected, but father thought it important for the Project that Evester truly trusted them. It had to be a real relationship, not something manufactured for power, control, or money.”
Zeydar tried to picture EverDanger functioning with that sort of relationship. They would not have hunted for Evester when the world wanted him. They would not have staid in the collapsing Tower. They would not have fought for Zeydar. They would not have traveled on the Lowerlands for Maverin. EverDanger was as pivotal to the saving of the world as Evester, Heia, and Zeydar were.
“However, Evester always was told that his choice had to be a political one. It has the same weight as Europa’s. When he was given freedom, everyone will watch it the same way. Who he picks will be a statement, and he has always known that. That was why he was taught never to make a choice. He was built to be a playboy. He was shown to throw people away after a single night. The only people he could trust were his friends, because love would be used against him, and used to strangle his freedom. For Evester like the three of us, divorce, and end to the relationship, is not an option. Once we go in, we take it for what it is and will weave whatever narrative that we can. The only out is death. Estana Igilistal took that option with her first husband when he hit her. She poisoned him through an allergic reaction that was staged and chalked up as a terrible accident.”
Zeydar thought of the Igilistal past. He knew a bit about it, but not the intricacies of every member. How many relationships had ever failed? How many mysterious deaths had occurred? How had the power dynamics shifted because of the choices made? It was all a game to them, or people and moves. Every move was for some purpose. The siblings. Their friends. EverDanger…
EverDanger were not allowed to have sex relationships between the members. They could love each others but in the platonic sense, never anything close to romance. It was to keep them focused and balanced as a group. Right?
Endwin approached Zeydar. His eyes traveled over Zeydar slowly and then he motioned for Zeydar to keep walking. Endwin turned on his heels and Zeydar knew that the whole of the Igilistal family knew that Evester liked Zeydar. The weight of what that emotion meant, weighed heavily on Zeydar for a moment.
“Graceon suggested to change the relationship.” Endwin went on. “Evester said no that he would not ever get in a romance. ‘And besides I don’t like you.'”
Zeydar could hear Evester saying the words. He would have been nonchalant about it. He would have winked and laughed it off. He would have forgotten all about it because that was who he used to be.
“Graceon took it that Evester didn’t like him as a person, rather than love.”
“Love is a fickle word in this family. I love my family. I love my friends. Evester loves his friends. Europa loves her family. We say that to each other at all times. We toss the word around as if it has no meaning. However, like? Sure we might like people. We might appreciate them as humans. However when we like someone, that is something to control because that means we might love them.”
And love was not permitted for them.
“Has Evester ever said he loves you?” Endwin whispered.
Zeydar thought about it for a long moment. “No.”
There was a long silence. “Graceon took it the wrong way because he doesn’t understand the intricacies of the family politics. Outsiders never do until they are pulled into the family to learn about it. EverDanger knows about it in brief. They’re the first outsiders to know without being married to a family member. Uly and Kim know every rule and every secret.”
“Is Kim the one you are supposed to marry?” The thought ripped through Zeydar’s mind and out his mouth faster than he could stop it. Endwin shot Zeydar a look and shrugged.
Zeydar thought of Uly, Kim, and Evester who had a thorough relationship. No it did not make sense for Kim to be the one they picked for Endwin. She didn’t have the political pull. Kim and Uly were built as choices for Europa to control Evester. Both were tied to the Yasloughve Project. Both were part of EverDanger and Evester’s closest friends. Both were excellent choices for two different reasons, and regardless of the choice, Evester would be thoroughly bound to the family even with the freedom he was given. In a world where Uly’s gifts were not needed, perhaps Kim would have been the choice Europa made because of logic. However, if the world had not ended Kim would have been better. She was charismatic, a person of the people. It would have been a strategic choice to unite the Igilistals with the common folk.
“Uly and Europa have liked each other for years. We all saw it and knew it. Both knew better than…” Endwin stopped talking. “They knew that whatever tenuous relationship they had could not see the light of day.” Which meant they had been sleeping together. Zeydar wondered for how long? Zeydar then thought to Kim and Heia. It was so apparent how much Kim liked Heia, upon introspection but had Zeydar ever heard of Kim being in long relationships with people? Uly was unattainable. He’d never seemed to show interest in anyone. Evester courted everyone and as did Kim. Neither ever had long standing relationships. Was that because Kim knew her role in the Igilistal’s play?
How long had she been prepared to lay down her freedom for it? Would there have been secret affairs in backrooms or would that have ended with their marriage? Yes? Because all affairs had to be calculated and the heir would be too scrutinized? Would they have existed within proximity without emotions for each other knowing that Europa wanted someone else? Would they have slowly learned to care for each other more?
What did that mean for Zeydar? “What do you need me to do with Graceon?”
“For now? Nothing.” Endwin pulled at his collar. “Europa wanted you out of that room, not to go with me to confront my friends. She wanted to make sure you understood what you are getting into. The choice remains in your hands. If you reject our brother there is absolutely nothing he can do.”
They were warning Zeydar of what it would take to be a part of their family. Zeydar wasn’t even sure he wanted that. He wanted to sleep with Evester, sure. He wanted to be friends with Evester. He wanted to get to know Evester better. But to tie his entire future to a person because of family rules and politics that he did not even know? Suddenly the relationship that he had with Evester seemed simple and innocent, childish almost in face of the gargantuan force that was the pressure of the Igilistals.
Endwin stopped walking and opened the door to Evester’s room. He pushed open the door. Zeydar looked inside. What more about Evester would he find in this space? He had not wanted to intrude on it. The idea of it seemed wrong, but Phil had gotten a pillow from the very room. Endwin said nothing else as he walked way leaving Zeydar alone.
Zeydar waited a long time starring at the room shroud in darkness due to the drawn curtains, before he pulled the door shut and walked to the training grounds. He needed to first clear his head. Then he would think. A familiar thump repeated in his mind as a calming melody, and Zeydar clenched his chest. He would need to study up on the Igilistal history. He needed to rewatch all the EverDanger streams and read all the interviews. He needed to look at everything he could find. Not as a fanboy. Not as someone who was obsessed.
His life depended on it.