Resisting Maxu: Epilogue

“Hurry—it’s starting soon,” Tara yelled over her shoulder. She sat with Daunet’s hand clutched in hers while Daunet rubbed slow circles over her arm.

Meg settled into the seat next to them, but Maxu didn’t sit. He paced behind their backs, occasionally stopping to flatten his palms on Meg’s shoulders before pacing again. Meg sipped some of the mott she’d gotten for herself so she’d have something to do, but her stomach was too tied up in knots. The liquid settled in her throat.

For the last week, they’d been hiding out in Maxu’s safe house. After their escape from Vrulatica, they’d come to an agreement that this would be the best place to wait until they knew more. Thank God her mate was the cautious sort, having built this place years before on the chance he one day might need to hide from angry ex-employers or victims from his past.

From what the group could gather, the Queen had been assassinated. The question remained, by whom? There were too many suspects. Angry politicians across the planet who’d wanted her resignation. Insurgents hiding in plain sight who hadn’t appreciated her razing their operations, or Insurgent members looking to regain their foothold in power.

They’d had some limited communication with Maxu’s brothers, along with a few of his seedy contacts across the planet, but no one seemed to know much. It felt as though the world was holding its breath until the interim queen, Vila, could ascend.

And now, in only a matter of minutes, she would.

Her first address would be broadcast to cities around the world. No one knew exactly what she would say, but whatever it was would set the precedent moving forward. Meg, for one, was terrified.

Heleax and Nirato were patrolling the perimeter of Maxu’s fortress, while the rest of them crowded around the projection cube where the image of Vila would be displayed in real time.

“This is much too fast,” Malinu muttered for the thousandth time. “New Queens don’t ascend until a vote with the entire council has been taken. Kel and I—”

“They’re claiming we’re dead or lost, you know that,” Uthen grumbled. “They don’t have to wait for you if they think you aren’t coming back.”

Camille sat with her elbows on her knees and fidgeted, picking at her nails while staring intently at the space where the holographic projection would emerge. “No, he’s right. Something’s up. This all feels wrong. Vila always had it out for the Queen. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d planned this all herself.”

“Doubtful, considering the Queen was her mother.” Kel, who’d taken to cleaning Maxu out of his mott supply, shrugged at the open-mouthed stares of everyone in the room.

“What?” Tara asked.

“Kel,” Malinu admonished.

“What?” Kel shrugged. “The Queen gives up her name and all her family—past, present, and future—for as long as she reigns. She paints her hands and becomes the mother of us all. But she’s dead now.” His voice cracked a little. “What does it matter if they know?”

Lucy opened her mouth, about to say something, when Vila materialized in the center of the room. She looked exactly as Meg remembered—lean, stoic, dressed to perfection, yet now she wore a lavender robe. The Queen’s colors. Her eyes, the regal lift of her chin. Meg couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen the resemblance before.

Maxu’s heavy palms came to rest on her shoulders as they waited for Vila to speak.

“We’ve suffered a loss,” she began, staring ahead. “Our Queen was tragically killed one week ago. No words can fill the void she’s left.”

Lucy snorted from across the room. “I don’t trust that bitch for one minute,” she hissed. Harsh shushes echoed through the space. She crossed her arms over her chest.

“We won’t rest until we find her killer, but at present, our world is in crisis. This is a time of change, and I know our Queen would understand the shift in focus. As named successor, I’m ready to take her place. For the first time in a hundred years, her name shall be spoken, and mine shall be locked away until I’ve either stepped down or moved to my next life. Nabiora Vilafina, you ruled with benevolence and grace, and you’ll be missed.”

Vila’s lips thinned ever so slightly as she stared into the distance, allowing a moment of silence. “Nabiora was fair and kind. Perhaps to a fault.”

Whispered curses echoed around the room as the tone of Vila’s address shifted.

“She sacrificed in a way that made sense in the moment. She kept the humans safe. She kept them happy. But she did so by awarding them freedoms that not even her own people possess.”

Meg’s breath caught in her chest.

“The humans of Tremanta were not required to engage in marriage ceremonies. They weren’t required even to socialize with the public, though it’s been proven they spark recognition wherever they go. Through study, we’ve learned that humans come from Clecanian stock. Their ancestors are our ancestors. Yet we don’t treat them as Clecanians. We don’t hold them to the same standards. Is that not an insult to them? It’s no wonder we’ve struggled to draft an argument strong enough to support the reclassification of Earth. How can we argue humans are equal to us in intellect and ability if we don’t treat them as we treat each other? If we don’t have them abide by the same laws we abide by?”

Maxu’s grip on her shoulders was growing too tight. Meg lifted her hand, resting it over one of his. He moved away, resuming his pacing behind the long built-in seating that divided the kitchen area from the sunken communal room.

“As my first action, I decree humans will be subject to our laws.” Vila paused there.

Addresses like this weren’t given in front of live crowds on Clecania. They were projected from a private location, but the pointed pause and arrogant lift of her chin made Meg’s insides roil. It was as though she were holding for the invisible hoots of applause to die down.

“Furthermore, I feel in this time of upheaval and transformation, our cities need to come together. Only united can we move forward with the heavy task that will be acclimating a Class Three planet to our existence. For that reason, I’ve decided to disperse the humans. Unmated Earthlings will be sent abroad to reside in cities across the planet. Not temporarily on a tour but permanently. There’s no reason that Tremantians should have more of a chance to recognize a mate than anyone else.”

Vila kept talking, but Meg could barely listen. Everyone in the room began murmuring, their anger building in volume until they were shouting into the air.

“‘Disperse them’? As if they’re airlifting goods to cities in need. We’re people!” Lucy shouted.

Tara gripped Daunet’s hand a little harder.

“So, if we’re unmated, we’re just gonna be sent off in the hopes we get recognized somewhere? With no say?” Rita shot to her feet. “I’m in a loving relationship, but I doubt they’ll care about that.”

“We’re not going back, that’s for sure.” Camille laughed humorlessly, nail firmly between her teeth. She glanced up to Maxu. “You can’t drag me out of here.”

Maxu kept pacing but lifted his hands, palms forward. “You’ll hear no argument from me.”

Ice crystallized over Meg’s spine. Vila was making it seem as if she were merely holding the humans to follow the same rules as everyone else, but that was absolute bullshit. The rest of the world would see that, surely.

The new ruler went on, talking about specifics, outlining her plans for the leaders’ summit, and reminding her audience that a new ambassador needed to be elected. But Meg was done listening.

Sophia was still trapped in Vrulatica. Guilt clawed Meg’s insides with every day that went by without a plan to break her free. But now…?

What about all the women left in Tremanta? What about the ones still asleep in their pods?

Meg staunchly believed that the old Queen had been in their corner. Now? She didn’t know who was fighting for them now.

The energy of the house was somber after that. Maxu’s guests wandered around like ghosts, making food and not eating it. Sitting, then immediately rising. Rita spent most of her time asleep, the events of the last week smudging out the confident, dreamy happiness that always clung to her.

Meg curled into the sheets as Maxu did his final patrols of the snowy mountain where he’d built his safe house. When he got into bed behind her, silently pulling her against his chest, she closed her eyes, forcing her mind to go blank.

“We’ll be okay, vahpti. Vila’s actions won’t stand.”

Meg gnawed on her lip, stress causing a headache to build between her eyes.

He gave her a little shake, then pressed her back into the bed and gazed down at her. “One day, things will be normal again. I promise you.”

“You don’t know that.” She smiled at him anyway, loving the certainty in his deep voice.

“I do know. You won’t be happy until your people are safe. And the only thing I want is for you to be happy. So, I know. If I must steal every single human and hide them away or ferry them back to Earth, I’ll do it just to see you glow again.”

Warmth spread through her chest, and she allowed herself to feel a moment of bliss at his words. She stretched up and kissed him. “I wish it wasn’t so hard for you, sometimes,” she admitted, curling her leg over his hip. At his furrowed brows, she explained, “The mate bond. I know you feel this drive to fix everything and make me happy because of it. It seems unfair. It makes me feel that your life with me will always be one big chore after another.”

Maxu’s naked chest expanded against her side as he stared down at her. “Since the moment I breathed you in back in Vondale, I’ve found joy in the world in a way I never have before. Even in dark times, like these, I still see beauty in places it never used to be. That’s because of you.” He swept her hair behind her ear. “I’m using you, love. Using you for your light and your morality.” His hand skimmed down her bare back. He palmed her ass and sent her a wolfish grin. “I’m using you for your body.” His touch softened. “And your warmth, your smiles, your tears, your mouth.” He added with a soft kiss, “It’s only fair I make up for all my greediness by devoting my life to you. You don’t just make me happy, Meg, you make me alive.”

Silent tears fell over Meg’s cheeks, tickling her ear. She smiled, sucking in a small sob. “I suppose it’s a fair trade, then,” she said with a long-suffering sigh and a roll of her eyes.

Maxu chuckled, his hand on her ass squeezing as he used his body weight to roll on top of her.

“Have I told you I love you yet today?” she whispered, brushing her hands down the powerful muscles of his back. The purr started up in his chest almost instantly.

“Not yet in words today.”

“I love you,” she breathed.

His purr vibrated through her whole body as he whispered back, “I love you.”


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