A/N: I thank everyone for the kind reviews and for waiting this long. As most reviews talked about the Dark Fae culture, I felt compelled to go deep into that - good thing that the story actually needs it. Which also means this chapter it's naturally extremely long and filled with details because I apparently can't write anything short, and it became so long that I had to cut it in two parts. So, this story has 3 chapters, not 2 has I originally planned. The last chapter will come by the end of the week.

Anyway, I hope you have a nice reading!

Oh, and I would recommend reading the first chapter again bc here it comes a lot of information.


Part 2 of 3: the bliss of solitude

It is said that without a sense of appreciation, the capacity for lifelong learning begins to be muted.

Thus, wisdom begins in wonder.

The Dark Fae hold wisdom on their own. Mind you, they were not ancient creatures—but certainly old enough to have gathered knowledge about the world around themselves, unlike the giants who built the now ruins that occupied the former capitals of the world. And all knowledge came in the name of survival, and wisdom was crafted from it, and they were the ones to teach some of the wisdom to humans themselves had, although the same foolishness could be found in both species. Wisdom is as the green leaf in winter—rare and of great value, but of bare use if there is nowhere to find it. So the Dark Fae told stories, and from them they learned, and the wisdom of their ancestors guided the young—the strongest were sought for advice because they were survivors, and survival was the only future that an almost endangered race could hope for.

But pain did not let them cause more pain, for it is not the ability to cause pain that made them fragile, but what they did with that pain.

And pain has only two paths, the wisdom of the Dark Fae says.

If you can face it, body shaken and alone, then you have courage, which leads to wisdom. But if the pain caused to an innocent causes the victim to harm another innocent, there is injustice.

And of injustice—Maleficent knew much. She suffered from the very nature of it—from her lonely childhood with creatures fearing her actions due the human nature of her blood; humans cursing her name and placing bounties on her head due the magical nature of her appearance; her own race ignoring her presence due the impure nature of her being.

Yet she has indeed been the cause of many injustices herself due her lack of wisdom. For many years she fought a battle of no reason, finding amusement in a king's suffering while he did not care about the suffering of his own kingdom. This fuelled the ire of an army against both fae and king, as their names were cursed by man and creature for the selfishness of their acts.

It was ironic to think that so much suffering, so much injustice, was born with the pain caused to her.

But how it was humans say, again? An eye for an eye, they say, and now they claimed to follow a faith of loving thy neighbours as themselves.

If they followed such commandments it was certain that many did not, but the Dark Fae would not deny that there was wisdom to be found even in the decadent humanity that caused so many problems.

And of wisdom—Maleficent knew little.

And so she asked herself for how long this would do.

For of fear she knew much and sometimes fear would overcome any wisdom she may have left, and so she flew aimlessly, restless, unable to find a single place calm enough to let her land and think, for the only place that had made her feel at peace was the place she had just run away from.

The sea was a keeper of secrets. The stars in the sky were guardians. The clouds had long since faded with the force of the wind, and the waves crashing on the rocks brought the scent of salt to her lungs, and the sight of the moon's reflection on the horizon was comforting.

Standing by the sand, the Dark Phoenix took a deep, unsteady breath.

The loneliness she felt was fruit of fear, which brought forth inevitable anger. Wonders on why she felt so alone, why guilt would eat away the bones around her heart, accusations screaming in her mind, memories flashing through her soul, and the usual darkness of her heart whispering plans and revenge.

She has been alone even since she was but a little one, no more than an abandoned soul to a fate in a world dominated by those who killed her parents. And to voice her lack of fortune, she was also ignored by the creatures of the forest, and by those who had saved her life, by her own kin. In early years, she tried to find reason for the abandonment, to justify in herself the guilt for the abandonment, and for many years she blamed herself for the abandonment.

Wisdom to answer those questions was gained through the pain of betrayal—and abandonment itself. For what would a baby know about abandonment? She hadn't known her parents enough to miss them.

She had to be abandoned in a clearing, awakened from dreams of hope not by the sunlight, but by the pain of having her trust violated, her wings stolen, and her heart broken.

Eventually she roamed the prairie, her steps uncertain, and the throbbing of her scars did not stop her, for her aim was obvious: revenge for abandonment, for the rape against her trust, and above all revenge for the sake of it. She needed a reason to breathe again—to lie down at nightfall and raise at dawn, to eat and drink, and to smile, more than anything a reason was needed, as there were plenty of reasons to cry. And if only the death of her enemies would bring her any joy, so be it.

Loneliness persisted—truly and irritably omnipresent.

And then she heard the cry of an abandoned soul similar to hers . . .

Not quite a distress call in itself, but shouts of despair that only someone as desperate as her own could interpret. And perhaps the farmer himself could, and he was glad, for he had succeeded in capturing the creature who had been destroying his crops.

The poor creature nothing more wanted to feed itself and Maleficent allowed her figure to mingle in the high grass, and watched quietly as the farmer grabbed a piece of wood to end the life of his captivated prey: a raven.

"Into a man."

The spell came out of her mouth and she could think of nothing else. The bird gained arms and legs, a pointy nose and black hair, his body growing muscles to the point the net once trapping him was ripped by his arms, and the farmer and his dog fled shouting "demon!", each in their own language.

The bird that became a man understood nothing, and tried to get rid of the remains of the trap that had him captured, and Maleficent took advantage of his inattention to make her presence known. She did with care so not to scare him, for she had no way of knowing what reaction he would have to her—whether he would run in despair like the farmer and his dog, or scream like travellers passing through the forest, or would feel paralysed like any human or magical creature when crossing her path, or would cry like the children of the forest had for years before her will and power.

She was taken aback however when the creature held his gaze to hers and no hesitation was shown. His stance of course was of a raven: stout and proud, perhaps a little recklessly, very curious as well. His human form was thin yet strong, his skin would be pale if not for the dirt around him, and there were scars all over his body, giving voice to his natural state and the magic that now ran through his veins.

Maleficent walked in circles around him, similar to a predator watching their prey, but the creature wouldn't allow himself to be treated as one, and didn't lose her gaze for a moment, keeping his eyes fixed on her figure. There was a certain challenge on his ways, a power she couldn't recognise as her own.

Such bravery evoked respect from within her and she stopped walking, giving the creature chance to speak, as he appeared to want to, and so she waited patiently for a question.

"What have you done to my beautiful self?"

He sounded offended, and in no way fearful. He saw her as an equal, and stared at her in confusion and, now she could see it bluntly—genuine interest.

Never fear.

Maleficent thought she was yet to face anyone who didn't fear her before she could say a word on her own favour, so she decided to test this bold creature, "Would you rather I let them beat you to death?"

His response was preceded by a pause the creature used to look over his shoulder, noting that his tail was missing.

"I'm not certain," he said, petulant and clearly annoyed.

Maleficent had to stop herself from laughing at such creature. She didn't know if she should consider him a fool for meeting her eyes so closely, "Stop complaining," she said, almost kindly. She was fond of the bold, of the honest, and specially of those who didn't fear her out of nothing, "I saved your life."

She thought this wouldn't do and that he was going to complain further. To alter his voice, and therefore force her to abandon him.

And she was surprised again. The raven's eyes, now so human, yet uncharacteristically abnormal, a reminder they didn't hold the sins of humanity by showing humility, had shied away, regretful for their arrogance.

"Forgive me."

Maleficent searched for his eyes, and he took on that, raising them to again meet hers. She wasn't going to hurt him for speaking his mind, and she wanted him to know of that. She wanted him to trust her.

"What do I call you?" She asked then, never minding his apologise, as she didn't know how she should handle one as this was the first one she had ever received.

The raven man strengthened his spine, pride returning to his voice, and immediately replied, "Diaval," and as a raven of honour he was, inclined his head in a reverence, "And in return for saving my life, I'm your servant. Whatever you need."

Her response was loaded by a sigh of regret for her own foolishness, "Wings," she said, and her voice almost failed, for it was the first time since the betrayal she had recognized aloud the lack of what she held more precious, "I need you to be my wings."

And Diaval, though curious for his mistress' intentions, didn't add anything, hoping she would explain what she meant.

Never again has a moment went by when they didn't share day and night, rain and sun, harvest and snow, warmth and cold. And when it came to those three days without him, it was as if her magic knew a presence was missing by her side, and not even the celebrations of her people, so willing to make her feel at home, seemed to matter. Nor Conall's constant lessons about peace or Borra's insistence on warfare seemed to distract her from the fact that she had not been the one who had been abandoned, but the one who abandoned.

For Aurora and Diaval weren't with her—how was she supposed to feel at home?

Which made the reasons for wanting a servant even more complex. Not only to aid on revenge—Maleficent needed someone who was bound to her will, for then she would know that she would never be abandoned again.

But love of ancient tales, the overwhelming passion, the beautiful act that both men and magical creature saw as the greatest commitment anyone could think of offering, the altruism of caring without wanting anything in return . . . those were not what she hoped to harvest.

Knowing she was the target of such things is confusing just as it causes her heart to beat euphorically.

And so she had to be alone, for how could she ever think of him while he was by her side?

And even so, being alone brought only regret and her heart was aching in longing.

Diaval loved her.

The fae sighed, and in no way her heart settled. It beat faster than drums of war, blood running wild with the wind, and despair gnawed her bones, giving life, voice and reason to the forgotten and forbidden feeling she didn't allow herself to indulge on for decades.

It made her feel like snapping at herself.

For how in all levels of hell could she not see it before? For it was always there, was it not? Said through timid and at the same time daring actions that showed the same dedication that she had until then, whether rational or not, questioned if only the result of an exacerbated gratitude or nobility out of the ordinary.

But she never dared to think about love.

It was absurd on itself!

Not love.

Never love.

Let alone love for her.

For love—how foolish it was.

Yet as the night came to an end, and the sun was born from the horizon and the moon left to its retreat, to remember all the moments they shared together became inevitable, and her reasoning tried to look for clues she had not seen, for the looks she had ignored, for the affection she had interpreted as merely the duty of an extremely dedicated servant.

And the more she remembered, the more everything became so shamefully obvious and explicit that it was an insult to her pride.

Diaval loved her.

And in so many ways he did.

In the fondness expressed for her presence. The tenderness toward her. Warmth of when trying to calm her down or explain concepts and traditions she couldn't understand or wouldn't allow herself to out of pride. The intimacy earned and shared when being the one tasked to preen her wings. The adoration when speaking of her doings, so proud of her choices, in awe of not only her power, but of her state of not being afraid to be who she was. The devotion when doing whatever she asked. The passion and ardour when confessing his heart. And the pain—the fear of rejection so raw and naked and certain, so sure to be real.

It was suffocating. It burned her soul—screaming at her to come back and apologize while her mind of traumas denied everything and insisted on running to never return.

There were no tears, nor the urge to cry, because there was no sadness in her heart. Neither was there any sense of offense, as her servant certainly thought she would feel for him before his confession. She wouldn't hate him for feeling. For she knew he was sincere and kind and good—she knew he wished her no ill and never would.

There was, however, much surprise at the depth of his confession, as these were not just pretty words, but a heart being exposed, dreams to be told, a soul bared to the cold wind.

Also, the lack of logic annoyed her—it made her head hurt, her blood boil, her magic lose control, and an old tree trunk fell victim to her wrath, shattered after being hit by a blast of greenish fire.

A servant falling in love for his mistress? Nonsense. How could he want her so much? Why her—she wanted to ask, to force him to speak his reasoning, even if by the end she was to find none.

Has she ever been affectionate enough anyway, to deserve a love so great that asked for nothing in return? If so, she was not able to recall such moments. Instead of affection, she remembered offering threats to turn him into animals that he detested—threats that had no strength whatsoever, because both knew she didn't threaten before doing something, she just did it—but there were threats still. Diaval would pester her with questioning and logic, and she would turn him into a raven, and he would test her patience with gifts that she ended up wearing as exotic and even macabre rings and necklaces.

And her heart soared at the thought.

Oh, Diaval.

He had courted her for years without even realizing it. Or perhaps he did realize it, and insisted on doing it to appease his own stubbornness.

Because he already had her in his heart, and he dedicated himself to her out of sheer desire to serve, to be by her side, convincing himself over the years that no love would come from her.

And she, so absorbed in her own pain, did not realize that the love she once sought so much was by her side, being offered to her at no price.

Aurora taught her how to love again. And love the girl she does—it sometimes scared her the extent of how much willing she is to sacrifice anything to keep Aurora safe. When it came to allowing herself be loved by the young queen, it took so many years, for she was never convinced the young queen actually loved her. She deduced that it would be nothing more than a passing curiosity, the silly dream of a little girl who grew up in a somewhat shabby home, raised by three pixies who did not care for her the way she wanted, and therefore she dreamed of the kind and constant presence of a mother, who would tell her stories and kiss her forehead before putting her to bed. She then read stories about fairy godmothers, and saw in a mysterious, horned creature another friend to be made.

Maleficent never expected more than that. She never dared to think that the young princess would see her more than anything but a guardian, and when she kissed her forehead, she did not expect her love to be reciprocal.

It was—it is—and the thought of the young princess as her child made her smile no matter how exhausting her day had been. Aurora was the light of her life. And loving her became natural as the rain falling from the skies on a spring afternoon.

But what protocol to follow when you allow yourself share your soul to another?

Panic was the only response to such a confession.

For there was no one to trust more than Diaval, and loving him would be so easy. The breathe of nature. Warm as fire in winter, joyful as the splash of water in summer, beautiful as the blossom of flowers in spring, and comforting as the fall of leaves in autumn.

Those revelations of love gave birth to all the doubts that she for years tried to find reason.

Diaval brought her food whenever she refused to eat on her own. He would find her gifts, from gemstones to skulls of smaller birds. He cared for Aurora as if she was his own little one. He offered advice when she asked for it, and was patient when she refused to, and knew how to read her mannerisms and jests that demonstrated her emotional state, and did so with such perfection, as someone who has been by her for the millennia, no matter if his own life was at stake, for he trusted that she would take care of him, and she trusted that he would never abandon her.

And he never did, he didn't want to, even given the opportunity to do it fairly. He chose to be with her, and would sacrifice a lifetime of happiness alongside someone who loved him, simply to be able to love the one his heart belonged to.

Such truth did not take long to pacify in her heart.

Diaval loved her.

And of love—he knew everything.

"My lady!"

Udo was walking to her.

So lost on her own thoughts, she didn't notice his approach.

She was too walking by the beach when the Tundra Fae arrived. It took but a second for Maleficent to realize that she had spent the night thinking, and yet she had not reached a sensible conclusion of what she should do even after hours of solitude at her disposal.

Udo used to fly around by the dawn of the day, not on patrol since that was the duty of the Desert Faes, but on the lookout for any remains of human vessels that used to get lost. When however he saw the lonely figure of the Dark Phoenix standing by the shore, he felt something very strange around her usually calm aura, and flew to her, aiming to offer aid.

As much his kindness was genuine, Maleficent had no need for people to fuss around her. She did not mind his presence, per say, but her features reflected distress and torment in ways Udo himself did not think to see it before, having that the Dark Phoenix, despite of an easily defiant temper, did not usually allow others to read what was going through her mind.

"Greetings, my lady," Udo greeted her cordially, and bowed his head slightly. Maleficent merely nodded in response, and grief wouldn't leave her the way her eyes wouldn't leave the waves.

Udo quickly read through her, the insightful man he was, "I take all is well?" he asked then.

Maleficent had no time for small talk, and her voice turned to a formal state, "What is it, Udo? Everything in order?"

The Tundra Fae took a place to stand beside the Dark Phoenix, his gaze to the horizon, his voice enthusiastic, "Very much so, yes, my lady. The Dance will soon take its place. Here on this very beach, in fact. As many of the young will join us, I thought it would be best us to choose an open place for flying. The males are quite eager to have a chance to find their mates."

"As they should," Maleficent commented, and thoughts about the Dance would have little interest to her if raised in a conversation a few hours ago.

Now she couldn't help making the analogy.

The Dance, you may ask yourself, was an event in which mated pairs were affirmed, the very first celebration any Dark Fae was to learn about, for it was their very first celebration and the most sacred, as it was the way the Phoenix chose to show her love for the human she had chosen as a mate.

The ritual itself was simple: females would induce a heat (which would increase their fertility to the point that would lay more than two or three eggs per pregnancy) by releasing 'pheromones'—in the common tongue, a strong, distinctive smell that was unique to a fae's personality traits. The male, purred on by the scent that pleased him the most, would respond to the female's calling with his own pheromones, and they would dance—in other words, they would fly together for hours till they were sure of the commitment. Then, they would find a secluded place, usually the male's nest, to mate and lay eggs. If no scent gets a male's attention, he is allowed to try again on the next day. If more than one male is interested on a female, she would propose a duel of honour—a contest of arms to decide which male was the strongest provider.

The festivities lasted for seven days and seven nights, till all possible pairs were affirmed. It was theorised that Dark Fae magic was the one who sought the magic of another Dark Fae that would supplement their own in body and soul, so it was expected to only strong pairs to be affirmed.

A tribal and primitive way to find love, but to the Dark Fae, it was natural. It was them—an essence. Maleficent would not question such methods, as she herself would know that it would be hypocrisy to do so taking her disastrous past choices regarding a mate—one that resulted on her wings being severed from her back. And what to say against the strange methods of her people, if all the few Dark Fae pairs among the clan who had their mates would look so very happy together?

That didn't make it less unnerving to her.

For Diaval has asked what it took to participate those festivities. Later on, he asked her if she had any intentions of accepting the courting of a male.

What his plan all along to dance for her had she said yes?

She said no, and sudden sadness had taken over her servant's actions and feelings, and now her heart felt guilty. He was so nervous at the possibility of yes—he took great risk by simply asking. And the response, although true, had buried any hopes he might had. It was no wonder he felt ultimately rejected even when confessing his love. It should be no surprise that he didn't expect her to love him. She literally told him she never would even consider trying.

Yet again, the distaste she expressed was when speaking of men, human or creature, was of those who had no intention of knowing her for more than her power and supposedly beauty.

Diaval refused to be those men. He would rather die over a mere comparison. He wished to court her properly, to carve a way into her heart, and when he realised there was nothing he could do for himself, he suggested she may one day choose another who could, for no matter what his feelings had become, he wanted her to be happy, to be safe, to find the joy of building a family, of being a mother to little ones, to allow herself to be loved again.

And it made no sense to her.

Did he plan to simply stay silent while his dream was taken from him? Had this raven no sense of self preservation? Has love made a fool out of him?

Years would go by after these events, and Maleficent still wouldn't understand the mind of her raven.

And not for lack of trying.

"My lady, are you certain you feel well?"

The boldness of the question should not be surprising, as Maleficent was too straight to the point when asking questions, and Dark Faes had no shame in meddling in each other's affairs, as they always considered themselves part of the same being, and therefore took care of each other without limits. They asked about personal things, talked all the time and offered help, a consequence of suffering, where union was more than necessary for the preservation of their species. Maleficent was victim of several questions when she officially joined the Dark Fae, from little ones wanting to touch her wings to young ones asking about Aurora. Older ones would wonder about Diaval and herself. She tried not to feel irritated by the sudden intimacy. She also tried not to be frightened by the willingness of the Dark Fae in helping her in whatever they could—it cost her so much to accept so many gifts to her nest—but what to do when the questions involved whether she was hungry or thirst, if her silence represented her acceptance, or if she really loved the young human queen?

Few of these questions Maleficent allowed to be answered, while Diaval answered all asked him, without however revealing more than he should have when it came to his mistress. He always respected the limits she set, even if it brought him great dissatisfaction.

She sighed and the pain devouring the insides of her heart found a name: longing for the one whose heart apparently belonged to her.

What to do, she asked herself.

What to do . . .

"My lady?"

Udo was talking to her again, and his polite and clearly concerned voice made her turn her gaze to him. She said nothing, and Udo's eyes became kind, "Your aura does feel drained. If there is anything I can do to help . . . ?"

Auras are emanations surrounding Dark Faes regarding their emotions. Dark Faes were taught since a young age on how to read each other's auras for better conviviality. Maleficent held no knowledge on how to do it—yet she was well aware of how she felt.

Drained wasn't even the beginning of it.

She turned to gaze back to the sea bustling by the winds of the north, the sun already fully unsheltered, and she found herself repeating the words of her raven without realizing it, and the lie behind them was exposed . . .

"Nothing of any real consequence."

She wondered, and could not help feeling guilty, about the possible and many times when Diaval exposed a youthful and willing exterior, when in fact his interior was filled with pain and unhappiness.

How was she ever able to see that from someone she really cared about? Has her trauma made her so absorbed in her own thoughts that she became lazy to the world around her?

What wisdom could come from a creature like her?

"I understand," Udo obviously did not believe a word she said. A thought came to him, and he feigned casualness, "I fear I must take my leave now, my lady," politely, he bowed his head and Maleficent returned the gesture, "I wish you and the crow—"

"Raven," she corrected him immediately, as something natural to her, and her voice increased in volume, as well her irritation.

The Tundra Fae bowed again, reverent, balm on a burn, "My apologies. Allow me to correct myself, and wish you and your raven mate a prosperous mating season, and a well fit Dance."

There was a moment of pause in which Maleficent was silent, and the meaning of Udo's words not lost on her no matter how tumorous the thoughts of her mind were, and she questioned, eyes wide in great confusion, "What did you call him?"

Udo took note of her abrupt attitude, but commented nothing on it, "Your raven mate. I apologise, you don't wish me to refer to him as such? It is simply a custom, my lady. And by the time of the Dance, mated pairs do wish blessings upon other mated pairs, as the purpose of which is procreation. And when it comes to soul bonded mates such as you and your raven mate, it is a duty to wish—my lady?"

It was obvious she had stopped listening when the words 'soul bonded mates' reached her ears. Her breathing became more evident and accelerated, panic taking over her soul, and she, in all her regal and usually quiet posture, became more guarded, as a reality so gigantic and beautiful and absurd and natural opened the way inside her mind, making her give in to what her damned pride, and no longer the trauma, didn't want to give in.

It took awhile for the truth to be administered by her mind, and when it happened, it was not pretty.

" . . . soul bonded," and once again faced with a concept she did not know, Maleficent found herself repeating words, and even thought of questioning further, but interrupted herself from abrupt opinions voiced in scurrility. She tried to ponder on proper words, because the concept of what she was dealing with was so foreign that she had no preparation.

The silence was wiser on her part, since she also had no desire to sound disrespectful to anyone who had been anything but reverent and patient. She owed the same consideration.

Shaking her head to ward off the rain of thoughts that fell on her mind, she finally spoke, firm and conscious, "I know not of any soul bond you refer to."

Or at least conscious was what she believed she was, and what Udo doubted, because he frowned at her, although his formerly calm posture became curious rather than confused, "You weren't told of soul bonds?"

In the face of questioning without malice, but bathed in genuine curiosity, insecurity made Maleficent afraid that her voice would disappear, and her throat became dry, and she tried to compose herself, "Of soul bonds, yes, I know little," she said, and not with as much conviction as before, "But I would certainly know if I shared a soul bond myself. I do not. I have no mate."

Pale eyes grew wide, and true surprise now bathed Udo's features, "No mate?"

"No mate," and she spoke with conviction, "Why do you speak as otherwise?"

Udo opened his mouth to reply, his face almost giving way to a joke, as it would really make more sense that the Dark Phoenix was just playing a word game, maybe a test, he couldn't say much because he didn't know her. What he was sure of was that she claiming not to know about her soul bond was too absurd for him to try to understand, or even believe that it was not a bad joke.

But he stopped to read the sincerity of her voice, the rigidity of her posture, and then watched, cunning wit of his finding interest on how Maleficent failed to grasp the impulsive actions about herself.

A river in the desert.

"I made a question, Udo," and he heard the question and it pushed him out of crazy theories, "To be answered immediately."

The Tundra Fae bowed, again, "Forgive me, my lady. I was merely—" he then paused, and contemplated his own words to follow, and rethought on them, "—I fear I was caught by surprise."

Maleficent followed with a single word, and sharp was her voice, impatient for anything else, "Why?"

Udo's gaze was on the sand beneath his feet, an observation that hesitated his reasoning, and a small smile formed on his thin lips.

Then he raised his eyes and said, "You are not aware of your mating status with the raven."

A flame was born on her eyes, a green inferno being fed by fear.

Her voice, in turn, was cold as the winter's breath. Fear was no easily misplaced in the way of reason, and Maleficent sounded so desperately trying to convince herself that what she had just heard was but a jest of fate, "Diaval is not—" the name came naturally, but the next words just couldn't find form, they were so absurd that they seemed to be alive, and her own magic prevented her from proceeding, and her heart was reluctant against the truth that she at all costs tried to deny to herself, "—he is not—"

And nothing came out of her mouth, and she felt foolish and fragile, like a baby who was just learned to babble. Nothing simple was in those words, and at the same time there was, because it seemed so easy for her heart to admit the truth. It was her mind that was indignant, not at the truth itself, but at the ease with which her heart, once so traumatized by memories of distrust, simply accepted to have silly raven as its owner.

Udo tilted his head to the side, curious. He felt sympathetic toward such struggle, having facing them once on his youth, and set out to explain why, to himself and the woman before him, "You cannot say it because your heart knows it is not true, regardless of your denial," and then he offered comfort in a smile, softer, as if saying that there would be no reason to feel ashamed.

Shame was by far not what she felt.

Anger and passion?

Definitely.

But it made her more furious than anything—furious because she apparently was the only one who didn't notice.

"Why do you see him as mine?"

Truth be told, she could not think (read accept) actions that would give others enough justification to believe the opposite of what she was trying to claim. She didn't find any sense she found in the love that the raven felt for her, yet she never considered that others would think she loved him as much—enough to have him seen as her mate. Would it be more logical for the Dark Fae to mock on this love, to laugh at it, because a raven loving a phoenix?

How quaint.

And so a sceptical look painted the response given, "My lady, you dress your hair and robes with his feathers, and the trophies of his victories adorn the rings on your fingers."

Inevitably, the denial of the situation caused embarrassment, and Maleficent became very sensitive on the raven feathers attached to her hair, on the bird skull rings on her fingers, and touched them unconsciously.

Oh.

"You truly weren't aware," Udo commented in the most composed way possible—he was almost fascinated, "Which is logical," he continued, speaking to himself, "You never learned on how to read—"

"Raven feathers were a kindness," Maleficent interrupted and spoke quickly on her explanations, "I do appreciate ravens, as I would appreciate any other creatures similar to me, we . . . resemble one another. Those feathers being Diaval's mean nothing more than a kindness. Unless Dark Fae require only gifts to form a soul bond."

To such rudeness of words, Udo wouldn't usually conceal a bitter response. Dark Faes didn't, as the First Phoenix held no thoughts and so her descendants would be no different. There was little reason to act irrationally though, to engage on a battle of words, but a fear so clear clouded any judgement. It was rather typical too—the usual coldness was lost when protection was needed, and to protect herself, Maleficent justified herself; she convinced herself of how meaninglessness the opinion of others were to her.

It was pointless.

"We do not," and Udo had to intervene before any more regretful words were said, "A soul bond is formed by the spirit, my lady," and his voice was louder and more imposing so the importance of what he meant could be felt, for the meaning of his words was as important as his own people, "Spirits are bonds formed by love—shared and cherished. We are taught on reading the strength of spirits from a very young age," his smile grew wide at his own memories of childhood, "The stronger the love shared, the stronger the spirit becomes, and the more we can read them. Those considered the strongest are called soul bonds. And soul bonds are a blessing like no other, my lady, as most of us won't see half of that. One of the pair was always hunted down before their spirits were strong enough to be felt."

Maleficent felt dread, a knot on her throat, her voice becoming harsh. It took her a few seconds to ask, " . . . what of the other mate?"

Udo's expression became sad, "A spirit rarely survives without the ones who make them alive. They do if the pairs has little ones of their own. If not, it is rare for the remaining mate to survive alone. Death is often preferable."

Maleficent raised her chin, a sign that she would speak arrogantly, and questioned, "I was killed by Ingrith and Diaval was not distraught that he would rather have died."

Unfair to say that with Diaval running up to her like a lost puppy and his eyes shining with so hope and joy and pride, and seeing him for the first time in three days made her sigh, because heavens, she missed him—but it wasn't like she was able to think rationally, and so she didn't realize how contradictory it was to be against the concept of having Diaval as her mate while being irritated that Diaval hadn't preferred death when in face of hers, a sign that he was her mate according to the Dark Fae. It was a game of contradictions of unravelling in infinite pieces, years of resistance being destroyed on a breath.

Udo found it rather amusing.

"Diaval is no Dark Fae," he clarified, "He cannot read spirits, nor feel the shatter of soul bonds, even if his," and while still noticing the reluctance, doubt and uncertainty, he came to repeat what one day was said to him, "But I do feel it," and commented in a subtle way, trying not to scare Maleficent at what he would say next, "We all do, my lady."

And if her pride was already hurt because she had never noticed the feelings Diaval had nurtured for her all these years, to face that she also did not notice how a soul bond had been formed between them, so great that no Dark Fae would question it, so beautiful that every Dark Fae seemed to admire it, and so powerful that it made her magic more powerful, so pure that it made her tremble, well, it made her furious.

At herself.

What to expect of someone who has denied herself the opportunity to feel for so long? The fear on her actions did not go unnoticed.

It was not the idea of loving him that baffled her, but the ease with which her mind adapted to that scenario—it despaired her, and how she did not realize that she acted in a way that ended up giving her raven the hope that she could love him, and herself saying that she would never be able to do it, not for lack of will, but for lack of knowledge.

Questions tormented her soul. Because of love, what did she know?

And why did she tremble with fear at such things?

Maleficent sighed without realising, a result of several memories forming before her eyes, flashes of sunny days, a raven playing with a girl with golden hair, and a fae in black robes hidden in the branches of a tree, just watching the scene, her small, unusual family, the one she always wanted to build, the one she didn't realize she had built.

And with a raven, on top of that.

"My lady?"

Her eyes turned to him.

"Magic can be sought in a variety of ways. The magic of spirits has been passed down to us, from generation to generation. Do you wish to learn on how to read them?"

And Maleficent can do nothing but nod and accept the offer so kindly made.

"Show me."

The sage extended his hands, "Allow me to hold your hands, and my forehead to touch yours, so that my knowledge is passed on to you, just as Conall did once."

The Dark Phoenix seemed to hesitate for an instant, and Udo thought she had decided against her own will, but in the end she gave in. Her staff rested by the sand and Udo held her hands, and taking a step closer, his forehead touched hers, eyes closed.

A wave of magic enveloped them, and the sand on the beach rose together with the sea water.

"Now think of him," came the instruction, "Reach for his soul."

Maleficent pressed her eyes closed, brow frowning in concentration, and her mind seemed to burn with magic now being impregnated into her soul.

The result was catastrophic to any walls she might had built around her heart. For her wings spread with the song of birds above the fields of harvest, and the cry of dogs and men. Her lungs heaved in ardour and passion with the dragon's gnashing teeth when spitting fire. Her mind travelled to the howling of the pack before the moonlight and iron soldiers. Her body was filled with chills at the power of a black bear's grunt in the middle of a battle. Her heartbeat as the horse waltzing on the prairies. Finally, she heard the roar of a lion, felt the warmth of his mane, and the strength of his muscles and the passion of his actions.

She felt love more than ever before, more than she could dare of hoping, more than even one day she found herself worthy of receiving, and it enveloped her body and surrounded her soul and embraced her heart till she forgot to breathe.

She opened her eyes suddenly, and took unsteady steps back, her wings wrapping around herself in a cape of feathers.

Udo said nothing—he smiled respectfully, joining his hands behind his back and waiting for the Dark Phoenix to say the first word that would break the almost unsettling silence that had been established.

She didn't. She breathed heavily and her skin felt warm, sweating and burning—body shaking, and in no way did her wings could calm her heart, which was beating wildly against her chest, and lonely ached for someone who was not there.

She was startled and lost.

Words lacked to describe what she felt, and so it was vain to try to say them. For how the infinite, the no end, the extent that it seemed impossible, could be reduced to a single phrase, a single word?

It was enough to feel, and she did now, the dimension of love—similar to the force of a hurricane, and instead of trees and life, the resistance she had built around her heart was destroyed, walls falling apart like sand of pillars when the waves arrive. She felt fragile, yet not weak. Tired, ultimately. And so, so precious, worthy of absurd care, overwhelming passion, unconditional love that gave place to colossal happiness. She wanted to laugh, because it was so simple. It was always so obvious—such a wonderful and beautiful and pure and gentle and true.

But she had no idea what to do with it.

For there was no doubt now. There couldn't be.

Diaval loved her.

So, so much.

What to do?

The fear that corrupted the chains around her heart laid broken at last. Which gave way to tears falling freely down on her cheeks, and it was so sudden and unexpected that she only realized when a drop ran down her parted lips, and the taste of salt similar to the sea touched her tongue. Raising a trembling, pale hand, she touched her tears, and she regretted that the one who loves her was not there to wipe them away.

And although extremely practical, Maleficent felt the need for a curse to be placed upon herself, because, "How?" she asked out of spite at her magic telling and showing and making her feel with such intensity everything that her raven had in his heart, it was very difficult for her to reason something that only her heart could tell.

"Love and intimacy are not exclusively romantic, as you well know," she heard Udo approach her cautiously, and her expression was filled with melancholy that she didn't bother to hide. The Tundra Fae smiled then, sympathetically, "To reach the power of the Phoenix, however, it required a bond of decades, at least. Only a Dark Fae whose spirit was strong as yours could reach such perfection. For when we are born, our souls endlessly look for the one that will live in our hearts," suddenly, Udo's eyes conveyed great sadness and longing for a friend who was no longer there, "Conall knew of that—he was watching you. We felt your spirit's strength and what a curious sight that was, yes? A Dark Fae mated to a raven, and a human woman as their offspring."

"It doesn't bother you," she had wondered why the Dark Fae had accepted Diaval under no complains, while not sharing the same appreciation when it comes to Aurora, to whom Maleficent had been open in her maternal love. Seeing her servant being greeted with smiles and curious questions, on the same level as she had been, caused her an enormous sense of inquiry, but she had little time to look for the reasons behind this peculiar behaviour. She deduced they were merely curious at his shapeshifter abilities.

Now she understood—they treated him as an ally, or the few who didn't like him wouldn't dare disrespecting him openly, because the soul bond they shared had him as her mate, her equal, and if a simple raven was capable of loving a Dark Fae so intensely, he was worthy of respect.

"Diaval is . . . quite an interesting one," the admission made Maleficent look at Udo with a frown, and the Tundra Fae cleared his throat, fearing his choice on an adjective had been poor, "He is much like us, my lady. Loyal and of principle. Speaks his mind to everything. It's no wonder he seemed to fit so well amount us. Or why the little ones adore him."

Remembering how happy Diaval was at being able to play with the little ones, Maleficent ended up smiling, and her heart was filled with affection at the memory, "Indeed."

Udo just nodded, and waited for Maleficent to ask him more.

She didn't.

For although her thoughts never left her raven within those hours she spent on the beach, for the first time her mind took her to how her servant begged for her not to abandon him, not to leave him behind again, and to understand what she had done, leaving him there all night with no answer, she didn't imagine what he might be feeling—she literally felt his agony, and the loneliness she felt gained reason, not just at her for not to having him with her, but to know that he was also without her.

And so she finally asked herself:

Why am I not with him?

"Father!"

A Tundra Fae, barely nine to ten summers, was flying desperately towards them, his wings flapping without any coordination, so clumsy due to his despair that he ended up falling on his face when he tried to land. He was too too young to fly as fast as it seemed.

"Lito!"

As Udo rushed to the little one and helped him unto his feet, Maleficent immediately became alert, her staff back flew to her hand, steading herself, and her own problems were put aside for the moment. She could sense the agony of that little one, and it distressed her to think of anyone daring to harm such an innocent.

Ironic taking her past, she knew.

"Father, stop!" the little one complained as Udo examined him for any wounds. He then licked his thumb and wiped the blood off the small cut on little one's right cheek. The boy grimaced and squirmed, but Udo grabbed him by the shoulders, and continued to check for injuries, this time on his snow-coloured wings.

"I'm fine, Father!" the boy stated, "I had to find you!"

"No excuse, Lito," Udo scolded him gently, "Why the rush landing? You could have broken your wings."

The boy shook his head, and kept protesting, "But Father!"

"No excuse."

The boy's eyes widened when they saw the Dark Phoenix. Udo got to his feet and put a trusting hand on his son's shoulder, giving it a little squeeze, urging him to say his greetings.

Lito instead exclaimed, "Dark Phoenix! You're here!"

Maleficent smiled slightly with the sincere awe in that boy's honey-coloured eyes.

"Tell me, little wolf," Maleficent moved her fingers over the boy's cheek, and the wound healed in a flash of golden magic, "What are you in such a hurry you risk harming such beautiful wings?"

Lito took a moment to breathe, his chubby cheeks burning in red, "B-beautiful?"

Udo chuckled, "Answer the question, Lito."

The boy seemed to remember what prompted him to fly in such a hurry, "Yes!" he turned to his father and said, "A duel! Mother was there and—" the boy's breathing became more laboured, not because of tiredness, but because of the despair that began to take hold of him. His eyes were filled with agony, "It's getting badly, Father. Blood, and spears and Dali took one look and—" he mimicked a vomiting sound, "Mother sent us back to the nest. Big brother got us there. But I wanted to see the duel. So I hid when Hiro wasn't looking."

Udo raised an eyebrow, "And why openly confess this to me?"

Lito didn't seem to follow the logic, "You said things wrong, we find you and—"

"A duel of honour, you say?" the little boy nodded, "And your mother is there?" another nod, "Then traditions were respected, Lito. There is nothing I can do about it, however brutal it must have been and," his gentle expression turned into a serious one, "and your mother was right: little ones are not allowed at duels of honour. You should've go to the nest. Your brothers must be very worried about you."

"But Father! It ain't fair!" the little boy pulled away from his father and his eyes become more desperate as he turned to Maleficent, "Dark Phoenix—Ma'am—My lady—"

"Maleficent," and she could tell that the boy was trying to be too polite, probably following his parents' instructions, but his brain was still full of the energy from his flight, and so his thoughts came to his mouth without any filter.

"Maleficent," the boy repeated with a firm, respectful nod, "Do you care for Borra?"

The fae raised an eyebrow, stealing a glance at Udo before asking, "Why do you ask?"

"He was angry. Borra was angry!" Lito's little frown would be considered adorable if not for the seriousness of the situation, "He attacked! Very, very, hard! And over and over and over again and—" his voice broke, and his eyes turned to the Dark Phoenix, now seeming to hold an accusation, "—Diaval is good! He plays and tells stories! You care for him too? He is not a warrior—"

"Hold, little one," Udo grabbed the boy by the shoulders, and looked him straight in the eye, "It is Diaval the one Borra challenged?"

Lito nodded twice, "Yes, Father! But Diaval said no and Borra hurt him and no one helped! Mother said he deserved to die and that's wrong and I thought—"

He couldn't finish explaining. A strong wave of wind hit them both, to the point Udo had to embrace Lito so the boy wouldn't fall to the ground.

And the speed at which the Dark Phoenix flew away was equivalent to the strength of a hurricane.


Borra considered himself a good male. As much as possible to his breed and size, he tried to show his strength and potential—he had a lot, as it was the duty of the strong to protect the weak. Borra has proved over the years that he was an exceptional warrior and caretaker. He was kind to children. They were innocent, and he had no favour in being rude to them. He wasn't good on telling them stories, but he played with them, and he took time to teach them about the various things he had learned through his life.

And similar to children, Borra absolutely did not know how to accept defeat. When he wants something, he gets it—a consequence of a life where one ends up receiving too much praise. The person delights in pampering, and gets used to perks, and when adversity comes, they does not know how to act.

Please, do not take Borra as a bad example. For any other Dark Fae, Borra was worthy of praise for his deeds, as every child of the desert should be. He fulfilled his role with great pride. He was fast and strong, and his wings were well cared for. He was the target of the attention of several females, something natural taking into account how many times he has already demonstrated that he can be a good provider.

However, he refused to take a mate. As much he wanted to, it would be dangerous to care for a family in a world that could take them from him in the blink of an eye. Borra knew very well that he could not fight for his people if he had a mate and little ones to worry about. He refused to focus halfway. He would either be a warrior and free his people from human oppression, or he would be a provider. He couldn't do both, and Udo once praised him for being aware of it, for wanting to give himself completely to the cause.

And everything was fine to him—he was in no hurry to start a family. He had his people and his brothers, and occasionally a bed partner, but that didn't distract him from his target. He would free his people.

Then he learned of the sleeping curse.

He had not heard of the story behind it, nor would he care to know of a fae who allowed herself to trust a human. Conall seemed, and always was, more optimistic about who this female might be, and he started to watch her from afar, even risking his own neck so much.

Nothing seemed to be a big deal, until the moment when, many years of struggle afterwards, and the possibility that Peaceforest was weakened, Conall told Borra about the soul bond that a wingless dark fae shared . . .

. . . with a bird.

The strongest soul bond in centuries.

"This is blasphemous!" Borra had complained, "A raven is an animal, not one of us!"

Conall did not share such beliefs, "The Phoenix herself loved a human, and here we are, my friend. Do not forget our origins."

Borra didn't and that was the whole point.

"How could I, if said origins haunt us all the time? What do you intend to do with her? Ask for her help? Does she even know about us?"

She didn't, but Conall seemed eager to talk to her. And he almost did when the death of the human king came to his ears through the buzz of the bees. The only reason he couldn't was because Maleficent ended up being the one who broke her own curse, and no one believed that a young human queen, being the daughter of a cruel man, could show compassion for such an unknown and yet so hated race.

How to trust Maleficent if they couldn't trust those around her?

The clan's sages prevented Conall from taking any action and for years his plans were delayed. Borra focused on training new warriors and guard his people—he had no time to foolish hopes on a new leader.

He knew Conall wouldn't give up so easily, however. Convinced by ideals of peace that Borra did not share, Conall saved the Dark Phoenix.

She was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.

A Forest Fae.

There was none of them left.

Desert Faes were warriors and hunters.

Tundra Faes were sages and artisans.

Jungle Faes were farmers and healers.

Forest Faes were political—leaders to all.

Maleficent was the embodiment of power.

And Borra was fascinated—by her power, beauty, strength and determination. He saw her love for the young queen as a weakness and did everything to make her forget about it and focus on what matter the most—their people. But he knew, deep down he knew, that the refugee she had found on her people made her miserable only because she missed the one known as Sleeping Beauty, but also because her raven was not with her.

Borra could feel their soul bond weakening as three days passed by, but it was still so present that he felt foolish for considering a duel. Later on, peace once impossible was established, and Borra found himself in a world where his strength and agility were no longer needed. He was a warrior in a world without war, a survivor in a world of abundance. But given the huge losses of his people, Borra felt compelled to act, to do something, because stagnation would kill him.

So he proposed the Dance.

Because he wanted the chance to be able to dance for her.

The obstacle would be the bird, whose spirit was weak; his aura, almost of all sadness; his love, present yet full of doubts.

Borra would not miss the opportunity.

He waited for the sun to come out, and flew to the nest by the edge of the abyss. He had groomed himself with the best armour one could craft, and his feathers shined. War paint decorated his face and arms and a dagger fell heavy on his belt.

Combing his hair for the last time, he landed by the nest's entrance and spoke, loud and clear:

"Dark Phoenix, may I come in?"

He heard no sound of her voice, nor the flapping of her wings, nor her powerful aura calling for him, and he wondered if he would have to start looking for her elsewhere, or worse, if she would have gone to the human kingdom with the raven creature.

" . . . Borra?"

But the bird abomination was there, by the entrance, and his condition was deplorable: eyes red from crying, sunken from lack of sleep, clothes crumpled from carelessness, and his naturally raspy voice almost became a whisper of so weak.

Easy prey, Borra thought. Pathetic, really. Ravens might have be the most intelligent of birds, but in strength they were much lesser than eagles. And eagles attack suddenly, ambushing their victims, peak and claws ready to kill.

Borra was no different.

"May I help you?" the raven asked him, and the expression on his body showed a zeal that had wisdom, even though his voice was not afraid at all.

Borra grunted, his teeth bared, and his words came out in a snap, "Where's the Dark Phoenix, crow?"

Diaval, not surprised by the lack of politeness, responded, "Mistress is not here—"

"What a stupid way to call her," Borra interrupted him with a growl, not being one to judged the way mates treat each other, but finding no honour in a male who let himself be treated as a mere servant by his female.

"It's the way she wishes me to call her," Diaval replied, and the offense was clear. He would never pretend to have any affection for Borra, since the Desert Fae would not do that either, but he would not be humiliated just because he knew the warrior was stronger. Ravens also had their honour to protect.

Borra knew very well how to exploit this, "Where is she?" he asked harshly, "Do you not know where your mistress is?"

Diaval became restless in his place, and a sigh sadness washed over him. He seemed embarrassed, but he would not let Borra see it in its fullness.

"Mistress didn't tell me where she was going."

Borra barked a sarcastic, dry laugh, "You mean she left you behind."

Diaval's posture dissolved, and his discomfort was evident. He knew that he should not induce a clash full of meaningless jealousy, for Borra was not an option for his mistress, according to her own words, and so there was no point in intimidating a mere servant. Maleficent would never give her heart to neither of them. There was no point in fighting.

However, he would not let himself to be humiliated by a fight that was not his place to be.

"Mistress owes me no explanations," he repeated her words, and his own heart ached when remembering in which circumstances she said those words.

Don't fool yourself, he was upset. His night had been difficult, and he had never cried so much in his life, plagued by thoughts of despair and anguish for hours on end, where he hated anyone more than himself for his recklessness, and blamed no one more than himself for being abandoned.

But never his pain would make him harm another, let alone fear anything, because what he feared most had already happened—Maleficent had left him behind. He would be lucky if she decided to sent him away never to return.

Therefore, he had no time for such a pointless debate. He was not afraid of Borra as he was not afraid of anyone or anything. He had faced wolves and dogs, human soldiers, an iron army, a power hunger king and a mad queen. A Desert Fae would not intimidate him.

Death was the least of his problems.

"Is that all you wish?" he tried to be polite, even if Borra would not.

The warrior didn't even try, and his wings spread, clear the attempted intimidation, and approached in steps steady until his breathing could be felt, "I challenge you for a duel."

Diaval's eyes widened, "A what?"

Borra showed his teeth in a grunt that would have been that of an angry lion, "Do you not have ears to listen, crow?"

Diaval held a sigh on his lungs, and remained steadfast in self control, "I understood what you said, Borra," he clarified, "What I don't understand are your intentions. A duel for what?"

Borra took a lot of air to fill his lungs, his nostrils flared, and his chest heaved in his proud speech, "Tradition grants me the right to challenge any male for a female's affections," and to put more emphasis, he immediately gave a strong push on Diaval's chest, and the crow ended up taking three steps back, and almost lost his balance, "And I challenge you for the right to be Maleficent's mate!"

Contrary perhaps to what Borra hoped, Diaval was usually unaffected by brutality or violence. Ravens did not engage on battle unless provoked. And although it would take more than an idiot to make them act without any conscience, Diaval felt his tranquillity was gradually losing strength. He may consider himself controlled and mature enough to deal with brutes such as Borra, and yet he had not perfected his patience to the point of not losing it when in face of much disrespect.

He cleaned his throat and spoke out, "I have no idea why you would think me as your rival but—"

"I do not care for what you have ideas about!" Borra grunted a harsh interruption, "I challenge you for a duel. What there is more to say, crow?"

"Raven, not a crow," Diaval stated, and he did it proudly, "And Mistress is not a prize to be won. A duel would mean nothing to her."

"Duels are tradition," Borra argued, "The Dark Phoenix must follow them all as we do."

"I am no Dark Fae," Diaval tried to reason, "Must I follow your traditions?"

Borra's low voice dropped two tones, reminiscent of thunder in the storm, a closed fist beating against his own heart, "You live among us, eats with us, drinks with us, celebrates with us, has a nest amount us! You cannot disrespect nor ignore traditions as ancient as we are!"

"And if I do decline, what then?" Diaval was the one to challenge this time, "You will kill me and be done with it? Will you force Mistress to accept you? She will never stand for that."

"If you deny," and Borra spit words like a snake spits out poison when it feels threatened, "Then you are not worthy of the Dark Phoenix!"

And need I say he wanted a duel because he felt threatened?

I believe not.

"What makes you think that I consider myself worthy of her?"

The question implied was: what makes you think you are?

And so Borra's wings extended more, so much was his anger, and he bared his teeth, a dog barking at the wrong tree, "A coward is what you are, crow, afraid to duel me!"

"I see not point on it!" Diaval tried to maintain his reasoning. Ravens were diplomatic creatures, in a comical, and above all, practical way. They knew how to choose their battles. And Diaval refused to be reduced to something as low and petty as giving in to the wounded pride of another, "You can leave," he then suggested, "If you wait for her, the choice is yours. I care not either way. My answer will not change. I refuse to indulge on any of this."

And he turned to walk out of the nest and wait near the waterfall, because if Borra wanted to attack him, it would be easier for others to see and help.

To his bad luck, Borra wouldn't take no for an answer.

He grabbed the raven by the collar of his shirt and took off.

Diaval whelped, then screamed, legs kicking and arms trying to break the reach of Borra's hands on his clothes, calls for help getting the attention of the others, who interesting in what was to happen, followed Borra's trail to Sanctuary.

Many were gathered there already. The Dance would only take its place by noon, and therefore the public to watch the duel was mostly of young ones, eager for the fight Borra had promised them earlier.

War cries were heard from the audience, the most enthusiastic pounding their own chests, and drums emitted a tribal song, faster like the beating of a heart that celebrated what one could conclude to be an event of great honour for the Dark Fae.

The sight of Borra flying by and dropping Diaval in the middle of the arena with such brutality caught everyone's attention, including Ini's, who was there waiting, a set of spears and starves meticulously arranged on a wooden rack right beside her.

"Borra," the Tundra Fae watched as the Desert Fae flew to her, a nod as greetings.

"Is everything prepared?" Borra asked as he walked over to the weapon rack in order to choose one of his liking.

Ini was about to answer him when she narrowed her eyes at the sight of a lonely raven in the middle of the arena, "Where's the Dark Phoenix?" she asked instead.

"She wasn't in the nest," Borra hummed to himself as he grabbed a long spear, testing the weapon's flexibility and reach, "The crow doesn't know where she went, either."

Ini wondered on whatever reasons that might be, and watched as Diaval get up from the floor and dust his clothes, "There can be too many reasons for that," she commented.

Borra snorted, "Which reasons has a female to keep secrets from her mate?"

"I don't speak of secrets," Ini tried to look him in the eye, trying to make him understand the consequences of his actions, "Mates do not always agree on matters, Borra. The Dark Phoenix could be searching for him right now, for all we know. What will she do to you then, a male who dared harming the mate whose life was shared with her for more than twenty winters?"

The warrior stopped his movements with the spear, and looked at Ini, baring his teeth in a hiss, "It is within my right as male to challenge another male for a female's affections!"

Ini was completely unaffected by the attempt display of power, "Those affections you speak of have lasted more than any known to our clan," and so she reminded him of what he has been ignoring, "The Dark Phoenix was not fond of you purposefully misleading her mate's species, why do you think she would be fond of you challenging their bond?"

"A bond with no children.

I can challenge that. You cannot deny me that."

Ini huffed, "That's not the point! No good shall come from this madness!"

"And what good can come from that?" Borra asked, and the air of arrogance enveloped his entire aura, to the point that Ini made a face of disgust. Borra ignored her, and his vision landed on the lost figure of Diaval in the middle of the arena. The poor raven was being greeted by several young faes, mostly women of no more than thirteen or fourteen springs, and his fear and confusion was so great that he babbled words without being able to formulate a coherent sentence. There is against proof, older faes, but still young, remained in the stands to insult his masculinity. The raven did not seem to take offense at the allegations; not when so many faes talking to him at the same time.

A sense of innocence that irritated Borra much further than he let it show.

"Look at him, Ini," he urged her, "He is an abnormality. His cock won't even work. How good is a mate who can't give children for his mate to be proud of?"

"They seem rather proud of the queen."

"The queen is human. The Dark Phoenix's legacy will not be perpetuated through her. She needs true Dark Fae children—little ones to share her power with."

"And you would be her sire?"

"Who better than?" to make his point clear, he hit himself in the chest with a closed fist.

Ini rolled her eyes, but made no comment on that. Borra's nature was to be crude in his sayings, but he knew well about his rights. That wasn't the problem in hand. Yes, any bond could only be challenged if the pair has no children. A human child is no Dark Fae offspring, and that meant the Dark Phoenix's bond with the raven wasn't solidified, not fully, despise the years they had shared together. Ini, a peacemaker to those challenges no matter how violent some of them were to be, was to talk to the contestants and reason with them so they were sure of what they were doing. Today in special, she was having a little more trouble. Not only because Borra refused to listen to reason, but because she knew that the Dark Phoenix would probably end up trying to kill him for his bullshit, and Ini couldn't allow that to happen, even though Borra deserved a few knocks on the head.

Many did too, they were curious of the outcome of such challenge, explaining why the arena was so filled with people.

Ini internally groaned—she felt the beginning of a headache.

"Why the grimace, Ini?" Borra asked, noting the Tundra Fae's sudden silence, "I hoped you would feel happy for me. You always complained about me not having a mate."

"I did, but that doesn't mean I wish you to die."

Borra was silent at that, and Ini knew he was glaring at her, yet she did not back down. She meant exactly what she said. Her words were no longer about wisdom, neither her duty to was to make sure that contestants were certain of their convictions. Borra realized that his old friend had no faith in him—as a peacemaker, Ini thought he would lose.

And that irritated him deeply.

"You believe in my defeat."

Ini sighed this time, and the irritation she felt dissipated a little, and her eyes became sad.

She knew there was no real evil in Borra's heart. He could be absurdly stubborn and rude most of times, but he had good intentions. He loved his people and wanted them safe and well.

But what he wanted to do was madness—delusion—that's what this situation was born from and Ini finally decided it was of no use to try to convince Borra of the errors on his nonsense of a plan.

Sure, it wasn't that others hadn't considered this, so to speak. As a peacemaker, Ini was to be approached by any contestant before the challenge was made. She couldn't forbid the duel, but if she understood it was a bad idea, she would try to convince the contestant to give up. She didn't use to do it much because duels were quite rare amount the people. So imagine her struggle when suddenly many young males came to her asking her opinions? Only Ini knew how much she trouble she had convincing those young males that wanting to indulge in a duel because they were charmed by the Dark Phoenix was not a good idea at all.

Though, she didn't blame them for the sudden fascination. She understood—Maleficent was a desirable mate, she was power and Dark Fae were attracted to power as bees were to honey and flowers. And so many young males who wished to win her affections. But Ini had been successful to dismantle their plans with a simple argument: that a soul bond such as this has not been felt in centuries, and so trying to break it would be beyond foolish.

The only one who didn't want to listen to her was Borra. And it seemed ironic that an adult fae would have less wisdom than young ones with barely sixteen springs of life.

What Borra was about to do was ultimately careless, a fruit of his pride, and perhaps stagnation after the battle, Borra was addicted to excitement. Still, it didn't excuse him to act like an idiot. Ini worried for him. For she was sure of the terrible punishment that could come to anyone if they offended such a strong bond that was shared between the Dark Phoenix and her raven—who she prided herself on presenting as her wings—the one who, alongside her, raised the little human thing that now ruled over a kingdom.

Diaval had smiled so openly, so happily and the Dark Fae could do nothing more than welcome him. After all, how could it be any different? A simple raven building such a strong soul bond with the Dark Phoenix herself, of all creatures. And ravens mate for life, so it was certain such bond was built from truth. And the love in his eyes was as clear as day, shining with the sunrise. The Dark Phoenix was much more discreet in her affections, but the fact that she refused to part ways with him said enough. Diaval was her heart, and she was happy with him. Ini understood by observing the pair only once, why the Dark Phoenix had been so lonely the first time she was with her people. Now, although she would sigh, missing the little human every time, consolation could be found by having her love by her side and that was enough for her to smile.

Wasn't Borra so blinded by his own convictions, perhaps he too would see the obvious.

But some people, Ini knew it well, would only learn through pain.

Lots of it.

"Your arrogance will kill you, Borra," Ini spoke then, a finger pointed to a strong chest, "and you will have no one else to blame than yourself."

Borra grabbed her wrist, uncharacteristically kind, and put her hand down. The Tundra Fae had no struggle to find released from his grasp. She crossed her arms over her chest and raised her chin in defiance.

"Was their love so strong, would I have been able to bring him here?" the warrior asked then, and dug the tip of the spear hard into the ground, a fist closed tightly around the hilt as he took a step closer to Ini, the difference on their height now more evident as he looked down to her eyes and asked, "Would the Dark Phoenix have allowed me?"

"How would she if you say she was not there to allow or deny anything?"

"Because she left!" the warrior hissed, "At the dawn of the Dance! She left him and he denied me a duel!"

Ini's eyebrows raised, so much was her surprise, "He denied?"

The warrior smirked, "You can ask him yourself."

The Tundra Fae did as told. She spread her wings and flew to the middle of the arena—to Diaval.

"Lady Ini!"

The raven man run to her, and his fear was written in his features. He recognized Ini as the long-haired, white-haired Tundra Fae mted to Udo, the storyteller, and she was so kind to him when on his first night at the Sanctuary, and a feeling of relief washed over his face to see her there.

"Lady Ini, goodness, I'm happy to see you!" he exclaimed and the Tundra Fae smiled at him, "Can you tell me what is going on?"

Borra had landed right behind her, and Ini basically felt the gratifying smile the warrior had on his lips.

"Please, help me," Diaval pleaded, in a whisper so that the people around him would not listen, "I didn't agree to any of this! I wish no part on any duels!"

But the cry for help was answered with silence, and the Tundra Fae stared at him for a long time.

She was discredited. A raven so devoted to his mate would give up such a powerful soul bond overnight? She remembered them the night before, shared meals, laughs and feathers. She saw the jest on his eyes when offering grapes to his mate, the tease when refilling her goblet, the trust, the care when insisting that she eat more of the stew prepared for her. And she saw the jealousy showed to young ones crossing the sky, and the protection showed by not allowing anyone his mate didn't trust to approach her.

And suddenly, it was all gone?

Ravens mated for life, it couldn't be all gone. Denial was the same as refusing to fight for your love. Those who denied gave up on the commitment. And so Ini was unable to understand, she found no logic in such a sudden change, and even though she found it strange that the Dark Phoenix was not with her raven by the dawn of the Dance, there must be another reason on why Diaval would vehemently deny a duel.

A possibility came very quickly to her mind.

"You were not even told what a duel entails, were you? Is that why you deny?"

"I have no skills in fighting!" Diaval replied exasperatly, "A duel against a warrior would only result on my death!"

Then, Ini let out a light laugh that caught Diaval out of guard, "Willingness is seen through passion, which is not the same as brutality. The Phoenix herself fought for the heart of a human, and so we honour their love through duels. You must be willing to do the same, otherwise why stay by her side?"

"I am no Dark Fae," Diaval thought he had to say this since it seemed like it wasn't clear enough, "How am I supposed to fight?"

Ini shook her head, "Murder is not allowed. Duels are no battles, but contests. Melee and without magic. Certainly not to the death. Any indication of it and interference is allowed," she touched her own chest with a fist, "I am the one to guard traditions so they are respected. You can trust me, raven man."

"What of mistress?" Diaval made sure to ask, "Hers should be one whose opinion you should consider on this. Does her will matters not?"

"It does, yes," Ini answered, "The Dark Phoenix is the one to decide whoever wins this duel."

Diaval's eyes widened, "You mean mistress is expected to be here?"

"Duels can only go on with the female's presence, yes. I shall send a messenger for her," Ini raised her hand and one of the spears by the weapon rack flew up to her in a wave of magic, so that she could hand the weapon over to Diaval. He held the weapon with difficulty, its excessive weight as the main problem, "Meanwhile, prepare yourself. When a bond is challenged, a contest is to progress as they do. The female makes the final choice."

Diaval paused, and his attention seemed to hover in the air. His face turned uncharacteristically serious.

Then, "And if I refuse?"

Ini turned serious, suddenly frustrated that a refusal was truly being considered, and so she warned, "Denial is equal to withdrawal, Diaval. And if you do this, the Dark Fae see you with no honour. You'll be seen as a traitor to our laws, as not worthy of her."

Diaval frowned, "I never did see myself as anything but unworthy of her."

"And yet you stayed by her side," Ini commented.

Diaval's expression became sad, "There is no place I rather be."

Ini nodded, and adjusted the spear in Diaval's hands so that he could hold it more efficiently. More closely, she whispered to his ear, "Borra has the wings of a hawk, but he acts like a peacock. Watch for the moment he shows himself to the public, and attack. It will be enough to keep him busy and the audience amused."

Diaval blinked a couple of times before whispering back, "You can offer advice to a contestant?"

Ini smiled broadly and mischievously, "Why, it seems fair. And Borra needs to learn to think with his head."

"And you must learn not to waste time on a coward, Ini."

Borra was by the field, spear on hand, being played at impressive moves that seemed to cheer the younger audience. Diaval saw how Ini rolled her eyes at such display of arrogance, knowing too well Borra had somehow listened to their small banter.

"Is your eloquence so limited that you can only indulge on conversations if there are insults?" the raven man asked then, and that drew laughs from Ini, as well as the audience.

And of course it made Borra even more angry.

"I am no coward like yourself, crow," the Desert Fae continued on his accusations while offering Diaval a look of disgust bathed in a feeling of superiority.

The raven man sighed, already regretful of what he was about to do, "If you wish to conquer her heart by the remembrance of any of her nightmares," he paused to sigh, "this is not the way. Battle has brought mistress nothing but misery—"

"What a strange way to call her," Ini couldn't help but say. Her voice wasn't judgemental as Borra's has been, however.

"It is the title she feels most comfortable with," Diaval felt tired at explaining this more so many times, but he understood people's confusion. Maleficent and he had developed an intimacy of friends. It wasn't what he wanted, it was enough for him. He didn't need more. He was happy to be a servant.

At least, for the time left till his mistress came back and said what she thought of his feelings.

He shook his head.

He didn't want to think about it, because he was going to start crying again. His gaze fell to the weapon on his hands. He bit his own tongue and said no more. What was he to say anyway? That it would take one contest and then his bones and skin are broken, but no more than his heart?

For the Dark Phoenix wouldn't choose him. What the hell made them think she would? It would be for no reason at all, and would end up in a void deeper than the one he felt in his chest, or increase it in unmeasured proportions.

What outcome to expect if not defeat? And in defeat, another confirmation that his mistress would never love him. Diaval had no need for public humiliation. He was no lover of pain. And as much he earned to do anything to prove his love, a duel would not do. Those Dark Faes did not know his mistress. She may respect their laws yet she saw no use in most of them. For she was not raised amount them. She made use of violence only when necessary.

And a fray would not impress her at all.

"I refuse to be part of this."

Insults were shouted from the audience. Ini's jaw dropped, so much was her surprise and Diaval paid her no mind. He looked around, realising that he would not find a way to the nest without his raven form. He could ask someone for help to return to his nest, but at the several insults from the young ones who were waiting for the duel, and while insults he could handle, the pride of a Dark Fae would be far worse than he could have imagined.

"Do you confess then, before the community," Ini gestured around her, to the many Dark Fae were there watching, "that the bond you share with the Dark Phoenix no longer exists? Do you, Diaval of the Moors, loves her no more?"

He loved her with everything in his life and it would be so simple to just say it.

He didn't.

It was strange to think, and a contrast to see, as he spent so many years hiding his feelings, and could only demonstrate them in timid gestures. Now that everything was finally out of his chest, it was a relief to his heart, which had no fear of repeating what he felt. For he would never be ashamed of what he felt. He was ashamed of having dared to let himself hope for something that would never be his, for having been foolish enough to dream of having his mistress' love for himself.

And he would never forgive himself if she hated him for it.

"May I delight myself on eliminating this one or you will prevent me again, Ini?"

A pause.

Diaval blinked twice, then—"Excuse me?"

"You refused, crow" Borra spoke lowly, and savoured the words as one does when drinking, "You have no honour! And ultimately, you are no longer one of us! I shall be to her what a good mate is!" the warrior approached him, wings spread, teeth exposed, and the muscles in his arms were contracted, veins showing with his blood pulsing with hatred.

Diaval panicked, and pleaded Ini to help him, "What does that mean? What is he talking about?!"

But the Tundra Fae walked past him, straight to the audience, and spoke, authoritative yet saddened, "If you have no wish to follow our laws, they no longer apply to you. I never thought I would see a bond dissolve like this."

Borra snarled a brawl to later let out a wolf-like growl, "And now he pays."

And it was bloody.

Brutal.

For Diaval, naturally. Borra was an experienced warrior, it was very obvious that he would fight with extreme ease.

But win in fact he didn't, because he seemed to speak more than he wanted to act. He was too proud, and did not respect his opponent, and exalted himself to the public whenever he knocked his opponent to the hard ground, dust rising in the air. The public shouted celebrations and insults, divided between those who seemed to revel in the violence and those who realized from the beginning the tragedy that everything would end if someone did not interfere.

But Ini refused. She literally crossed her arms and watched what one might call cowardice.

Yet law was clear. Denial equal dishonor. If you love someone, you fight for them, you fight to preserve what you have built together, you fight to defend the honor that was insulted by the duel. Without a duel, Diaval was no longer considered an equal as he had been before. And no one there owed him any respect or kindness.

And Borra bragged at the opportunity to strike a final blow at his rival.

Diaval took advantage of his distraction to recover his spear from the ground, and wound Borra in the face. The cut was deep, the skin broke and Borra grunted in pain, almost falling to his side, his faced bathed blood.

The audience gasped, so surprised, and cheers and more insults filled the small arena. A duel to demonstrate the love made before the image of the Phoenix was one of the greatest honours to any Dark Fae, as they were born out of the love of the Phoenix, and so the fought for it—they survived through it.

Diaval was out of breathe, exhausted by the strength he had to use and the pain all over his body. His face was swollen from so many punches and kicks, and he could tell that he lost one or two of his teeth. Blood and sweat dripped from his scars, and his shirt was in rags, his coat having been removed brutally as the fight got heated.

To Borra, on the other hand, only a cut on his cheek was enough. His pride was more than wounded, in the face of the public's joy in his humiliation, and he rebelled with strength, his wings spreading. Diaval waited for an opportunity. He knew he would not win, it was foolish to think he would have any chance, but he would not allow himself to be overthrown so easily. If ravens fall, they fall with honour, resisting till the last moment.

And resist he did. For almost half an hour, which was much longer than duels usually lasted. That's because when they fought each other, the Dark Fae spared no effort and soon got tired. Or else, the female whose love was disputed would intervene. For the winner of the duel would not be the one who stood without a wound, but the one the female would choose, whatever choice factor she was to use. It could be the strongest, the fastest, or the most passionate or determined.

Diaval didn't know that. Borra knew, and since Maleficent has not yet appeared to protect her raven, he understood that she had no will in doing so.

That's why he fought with great pleasure. For the absence of the Dark Phoenix told him that she wished the crow to be eliminated by the one who proved to be the strongest.

Borra let out a battle cry, and those who hoped for his victory shouted his name. Diaval was throw against a wall, to fall on his left side, and the weight of his body fell over his arm, breaking it in half. The noise was so loud that the audience was suddenly silent. Diaval cried and clung his broken arm against his chest, and his head hurt, having hitting the ground when he fell and his vision was blurred. The world around him was spinning and his ears were deaf, the screams and insults of the public were no longer understandable. His left side hurt a lot, and he could barely breathe.

His spear snapped in half, and he knew it then that his undoing was near. His arm was broken, and his ribs were certain to be, his jaw was swollen, his clothes were torn and blood spilled from the deep cut on his forehead.

But his pride has never been better, as he had been seen as an opponent. A rival. He had been seen as worthy of fear..

He thought of Aurora for a moment and apologized for his lack of wisdom.

"You fought well," he looked up to a muscular figure with a spear in his hand, "For a raven."

Diaval said nothing. Could not. The pain he felt was too disorienting.

"Worry not. It shall be quick."

Borra rested the point of the spear against his chest, and pressed slowly.

Diaval screamed.

His right hand found the spear's hilt, trying to prevent the tip from sinking further into his chest. It had no effect, and the pain only multiplied infinitely. His heart was beating too fast, and it was almost poetic that the fight would end with a spear going through his chest.

He closed his eyes and hoped that everything would end peacefully.

The public's voices were cut by a curtain of wind hitting their faces. Then, restless murmurs. Borra turned and the tip of his wings hit Diaval's face. He could not see what or who had caused the interruption.

A hurricane instead of a wind, and the wall behind him prevented him from being carried away to the precipice. Suddenly the feathers on his face were gone, and only the spear on his chest remained. The audience around him was shouting, mostly celebrations, and just a name he had heard about for a long time, the name that would reign in his thoughts if they were your last moments.

". . . mistress."

He would recognize her magic anywhere. Sadly, he was too dizzy to be able to open his eyes and appreciate what was happening. It would be narrated to him much later, as the years passed as he aged, and such tale would be known to all Dark Fae, how the Dark Phoenix cut the sky in a blast of poisoned fire. How Borra screamed in terror and despair when arms made of weeds wrapped around his ankles and threw him to the dust. How the Dark Phoenix's wings extended, flapping to reaffirm her dominance, so that no one there would dare challenge it. How her hatred was so eminent. And of course, how those in audience were absolutely paralysed in their places—how all bowed their heads in respect and fear.

Diaval too trembled with fear, not at his mistress, but there was nothing he could do but sense her anger, even when it was not directed at him. It was aimed at the people, who were quiet the instant Maleficent seemed to land in pure hatred before them. Her presence was warm to Diaval, though, and her wings covered around his body gently, a shelter against the world, and his head rested on her legs, and he sighed in relief, for he never had any desire to die so horribly, even if it seemed so.

"Mistress—" he tried to speak, but his pain was much greater and he could only grunt.

"Don't talk," he heard her whisper, voice trembling and too kind, and then he knew it was all a hallucination. He was already dead and his mind was playing tricks on him. Perhaps the other life would be your dream come true? And then the love of your life would appear and show their love and save you and everything would be fine?

"Be still."

He didn't even have time to answer. For the spear on his chest was removed, and he screamed very loudly, his back arched and then he fell back again. Only this time, a pair of hands held his face, and magic was already running through his veins and it was as if a welcoming fire soothed him. The pain suddenly didn't even seem to matter as a forehead touched his.

Only when he opened his eyes and literally felt the sentiment behind those golden eyes, and then he realized what had happened—his wounds had disappeared, and he didn't even notice, yet he never felt so tired in his life. He fell on his back, heard voices of fear, grunts of protest and more war cries rebuked by waves of cursed and poisonous fire.

Then there was silence, and the dust raised by the turmoil subsided, and magic coursed through his body to reduce him to what he once was, when they first met, a raven about to die, an analogy of fate to what happened on that autumn afternoon, when a raven was saved by a phoenix who had not been reborn yet.

And the Dark Phoenix secured a small bird against her chest before flying away from everything that had happened.

The raven remembered nothing.


A/N: Next chapter will out out soon :)