Chapter no 23

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)


Iblees had tortured him until long after darkness had shed its skin upon the sky. Alizeh, who knew how to mark time with only her hands and the movements of the sun, had been able to estimate the time they’d lost, the hours Cyrus had been brutalized by the devil. The flower field, which had been so colorful and ethereal in daylight, was rendered a vast lake of pitch in the night. Alizeh did not know where they were; she did not know how to get back to the castle; and every time she closed her eyes for even a moment, she heard Cyrus screaming.

For what had seemed an eternity, she’d watched him suffer.

Bruises had bloomed and diminished all along his face and, she had to assume, his body, where the bluish stains occasionally spread just beyond his collar or cuffs; but the lesions never lasted longer than a minute. His ribs never seemed to break, though he’d clutched them many times in agony. His skin revealed no lacerations, though he’d bled for hours.

When Cyrus had finally stopped seizing, the moon stood high and bright in the sky, and Alizeh had held on to this miracle of light like a lifeline, terrified she’d succumb to her own fears before he even awoke.

Distraught, Alizeh had drawn Cyrus’s heavy head into her lap, assessing up close the evidence of his suffering. His face was nearly unrecognizable in such a grisly state, but his clothes and coat, at least, had absorbed most of the evening’s bloodshed. The moon occasionally threw into stark relief the damp stains glimmering across his garments, provoking in her each time a new wave of heartache. She’d mopped the remaining blood from his face with the skirt of her white dress, and used the wet of her own silent, unceasing tears to gently scrub the lingering stickiness from his eyes, his

skin. Then, when none of this seemed to rouse him, she’d stroked his hair in careful, tender motions. Even then she marveled at the thick silk of his copper locks, the way they gleamed in the moonlight.

She’d begged him to wake. He did not stir.

It’d been at least thirty minutes since the creases between his brows had smoothed and his body had stabilized, during which time Alizeh had lived with the terrifying likelihood that Cyrus might be dead. It shocked her to discover how much this possibility affected her. She should have rejoiced in his pain; she should have fled while he was unconscious; instead, she astonished herself by remaining firmly by his side, fearing for him, pleading with him to open his eyes.

These were feelings she did not wish to examine.

With a fumbling effort she’d discovered a weak pulse at his throat, giving her reason to hope; but alone in the expansive darkness her imagination was unkind to her. Her memories replayed the last hours on a sickening loop, and the more she turned over the devil’s savagery in her mind, the more she felt a spiraling trepidation—a fear of what was yet to come.

Alizeh wiped desperately at her tears.

She watched Cyrus’s closed eyes for any sign of life, but his rust- colored lashes rested heavily, undisturbed. Only then, when she was feeling quite desperate, did she dare to touch her trembling fingers to his face, drawing her hand down the stunning softness of his cheek. When still he was unresponsive, her motions grew more assured, more intentional. She caressed him with great care, brushed the backs of her knuckles along the sharp line of his jaw, grazed the elegant slope of his nose. It was strange to see him so defenseless, his expression so unguarded. The harsh edges of his tense and stoic expressions were smoothed away in sleep, the planes of his face rendered milky in the starlight.

She would never again deny that he was beautiful.

She whispered to him over and over, beseeching him to return to his body, to this present moment, and was again stroking the curve of his cheek when he caught her hand—weakly—and she went suddenly, deathly still.

Relief flooded through her even as her pulse sped up, for his fingers slowly closed around her own. He drew the back of her hand gently against his lips, and then, so softly she might’ve imagined it, he kissed her.

Alizeh’s heart beat chaotically in her chest.

“Cyrus,” she said, hating the broken sound of her voice. “Are you awake?”

He moved only a little, letting their clasped hands fall against his cheek. He did not let go. He did not open his eyes. He tore open his mouth with some difficulty, wetting his lips before he drew a deep breath. On an exhale he said, “No.”

Alizeh didn’t know what to do.

She felt a bit mortified to have been discovered petting him, and she was more than a little unbalanced by the tenderness of his kiss. She sat very, very still in the dark, too aware of their held hands resting against his cheek, and waited for Cyrus to shake off the last of his stupor. She hoped her pounding heart was not audible in the silence, though she feared that it was.

“Touch me,” he whispered.

Her heart beat only harder. “What?”

He released her hand, but only to press her open palm firmly against his face. For a moment his eyelashes fluttered, and then, quite contentedly, he sighed.

Alizeh realized, with a shock, that he was dreaming.

She knew she had to wake him—that the hour was growing only later; that her fear of the dark was growing only more acute; that she would eventually freeze to death even on this false summer night; and that, more important, they’d be missed—but she agonized over the decision, for he’d endured such brutality for so long she didn’t think she could bring herself to disturb what appeared to be a truly restful sleep.

So she stalled.

Cyrus appeared to be in some in-between state of alertness, aware enough for speech, but too dormant to know he straddled two worlds. She would wait a bit longer, she told herself, to see if he’d find consciousness on his own. Alizeh didn’t know why he’d fallen into such a strange stupor in the aftermath of his encounter with Iblees; but if Cyrus was still under the influence of dark magic, she worried forcing him to wake would end poorly.

In the interim, Alizeh gave in and did as he asked, caressing his face in careful, steady motions, occasionally drawing her hand over his hair, smoothing the strands away from his eyes. He soon made a soft, satisfied sound, so gentle and unaffected it made her chest ache; and then, like a

child, he turned his head in her lap, sliding his hand up the inside of her naked thigh like it might’ve been a pillow.

Alizeh nearly screamed.

Earlier, she’d tugged up the hem of her frock, for she’d used her skirt to mop up Cyrus’s blood, and had then knotted this heavily sullied hem in hopes of mitigating any further transfer of the red stain. And while, yes, she’d noticed that the dress had hitched above her knees—exposing several inches of bare skin beyond the lace trim of her stockings—she’d paid this small impropriety no mind, for the possible exposure of her thighs in almost perfect darkness had been the least of her concerns thirty minutes prior, when she’d thought Cyrus was dead.

Now, she could hardly breathe.

His hand was warm and heavy, his fingers splayed possessively across the innermost expanse of her upper leg, and worse, they were dangerously close to skimming the seam of her undergarments. Already the weight of his touch in so intimate a place had left her feeling a bit faint; if his hand moved even a little higher, she feared she might actually scream.

His head, at least, was holding her dress quite firmly in place—a fact she took comfort in remembering—but she didn’t know what to do. If she were to fling his hand off her leg she would almost certainly—and jarringly

—wake him. She’d not hesitate to do so under any other circumstance, but she still lacked the conviction to disturb him any further on so difficult a night, and worse, she didn’t know what would happen if she did.

He exhaled heavily in his sleep then, his warm breath grazing her already sensitive skin, and Alizeh nearly whimpered. She was breathing too fast, alternately wondering whether she shouldn’t just wake him and be done with it, and whether she might not be overreacting altogether.

He was sleeping, after all.

He’d not meant to touch her like this. In fact, she knew him well enough by now to speculate that if he’d any idea his hand was right now resting in such a scandalous place under her skirt, he’d be horrified. He only needed a little rest, she reasoned. Perhaps if his hand stayed exactly where it was, things might turn out just fine.

So when moments later he shifted an inch and his hand moved farther up her thigh, she nearly bit through her tongue to keep from making a sound. His fingers had much more than grazed the silky edge of her underwear, and Alizeh thought she might expire.

“Cyrus,” she said, panicking. “Please wake up.” He said nothing.



Her heart was beating too hard. “Are you— Are you awake now? Please tell me you’re awake.”

When, after a long beat, he didn’t answer, she knew she had to do something; she couldn’t sit here in the dark with the heat of his touch searing her; she feared the inside of her head would catch fire. Carefully, she hitched her skirt up a bit higher and prized his wandering hand off her thigh, but she’d hardly breathed a sigh of relief before her fears came at once to fruition. The abrupt motion startled him, and he immediately sat straight up with a gasp, looked around himself in an unsteady motion, and met her eyes. Even in the moonlight, she could tell he was disoriented.

“Cyrus,” she said, overcome with relief. “You’re awake—”

“Alizeh?” he whispered, exhaustion weakening his voice. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean?” She tensed. “We’re in the flower field, remember?”

“No,” he said, and he seemed to lose steam all at once, his head beginning to droop. “How did you”—he blinked very slowly—“how’d you get in my room? You’re not supposed to be here.”

Alizeh’s relief became alarm.

“We’re not in your room,” she said, fighting back her panic. “It’s just that the sun has gone down, and it’s very dark now. And cold, actually, so if you wouldn’t mind taking us back—”

“I’m so tired, Alizeh,” he said, stumbling over the words. He sounded delirious. “Let’s go back to bed, Alizeh.”


He laughed a little, like he was drunk. “I do say it a lot.” “What?” she said, going briefly still.

“Your name,” he said, and closed his eyes. He nearly fell over, catching himself at the last second. “I didn’t know your name for so long, angel. I love the way it feels in my mouth.”

Alizeh’s confusion was outweighed by the physical shock she felt at his casual affection, the endearment embedding in her chest, causing chaos.

“Cyrus,” she said, feeling suddenly close to tears. “What’s happening to you? Are you sick?”

“Oh yes.” He nodded. “It’s t-terrible.”

“Is it magic?” Her fears ratcheted only higher. “Are you under a spell right now?”

“Mmmm yes always happens,” he murmured. “Part of the cycle.” “What always happens?” she asked urgently. “What cycle? What are

you talking about?”

He didn’t respond; instead, he clapped a heavy hand against his cheek and frowned. “Did you wash my face, sweetheart?”

A new tenderness; another blow to her chest. “Yes,” she whispered.

“How?” His hand fell away, and he squinted into the darkness. “Did you call for a maid?”

“No.” Her head felt strange. Overheated. This time when he swayed, he fell.

Alizeh caught him with a soft oof, and his head landed with a gentle thud against her chest, where, without the heft of her golden necklace, the low neckline of her bodice was nearly indecent. Cyrus turned his head, pressed his face to the exposed skin of her breasts, and made a sound deep in his throat, something like a groan.

“You’re so soft,” he said, slurring the words. “So sweet.”

Alizeh worked desperately to compartmentalize the torrent of sensation awakening in her body.

Something was very, very wrong. “You feel so real,” he whispered.

“Cyrus,” she said. “You’re frightening me.”

He shook his head and took a deep, shuddering breath, unselfconsciously inhaling the scent of her. “Don’t be afraid of me, angel. I won’t hurt you. I’ll never hurt you.”

Alizeh’s chest constricted, her heart frantic. He was a ton of dead weight; so heavy she didn’t know how to get his head off her chest without shoving him to the ground.

“Listen, I know you’re very tired,” she said nervously. “But I need your help, sleepy boy. Can you do something for me?”

“Anything.” He drew his nose along the swell of her breasts, kissing the smooth skin there once, twice, until she made a desperate, broken sound

and he swore, low, under his breath. “Alizeh,” he said, sounding drugged. “Can I taste you?”

She was shaking so hard the tremors were beyond her control now, and if Cyrus weren’t half out of his mind she’d have been too mortified to speak. Her breath was coming in fast, in fits. She had to get herself in order or else she’d lose this struggle entirely.

“Listen to me,” she said breathlessly, “I need you to get us back to the castle. Can you please do that for me, Cyrus? Can you use a bit of magic to return us to the palace—”

“Mmm,” he said softly. “Yes, back to bed, warmer there—”

“No,” she hastened to say, “not back to bed, no bed, just the castle—” Alizeh bit back a shriek.

She went briefly weightless as the scene blurred, sounds merged, her stomach dropped, and she fell hard onto something soft and dense. The sound of crickets gave way to silence, the chilly darkness replaced by pools of warm, dim light that illuminated the shapes and contours of lush, decadent quarters she had to assume belonged to Cyrus.

And if this was his room, then she was lying on his bed.

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