IX. The Contract

“…we are beginning to think that this might be a serious issue, Your Excellency, as they conferred with authorities of different fields and all came to the same conclusion that rainfall is greatly decreased, which may…”

“My Lord!”

Luctus shut up the babbling scholar and preferred his attention to the messenger, “Pray tell.”

“General Lucius sought your immediate audience, Your Excellency.”

Oh, that stupid little boy, “Very well, show him in then.”

The scholar, only then realizing that he was being casted aside, panicked at the imminent consequences of his concerns, “Your Excellency, what is the Empire to do in prevention for the next years?”

“Go confer with your scholars some more and maybe they could invest their time in conjuring a spell to create water as supposed to be panicking about a probable hypothesis.”

“But, Your Excellency…” The scholar was ushered out without much of a struggle, while Lucius passed the man’s distress as he entered.

“Your Excellency.” Luctus grew suspicious of the boy’s unusual solemnity.

“Hrmmm, what do you want from me, Lucius?”

“Why must you assume that I am here to beg? Perhaps I am here to bid you a final farewell since I am set to leave for battle in the matter of hours?”

“Final? I suspect you misspoke, Lucius, since I am sure that you would return in the matter of a month at most.”

“Alive though?”

Luctus knew what his little brother was after, “What makes you think otherwise.”

“If even Lucem is struggling to overcome the Amzra Kingdom with his men, I don’t expect my puny squad of 500 composed of clueless recruits to do much other than being massacred.”

“Perhaps you underestimate yourself, little brother?”

“Is it really against your wish to send more reinforcement for the defensive effort?”

“I believe Commander Lucem said himself that the enemies are no match for our imperial forces: the fact that the invasion has been prolonged so much only shows that he boasts?”

A stern look set upon the boy’s face in a way that Luctus was unaware he was capable of, “Can we speak privately?”

That would probably serve our purpose the best. So, Luctus excused the guards and servants despite their chagrin, and the hall emptied until only the brothers remained.

“Pray continue, Lucius.”

“You are just trying to get Lucem killed, aren’t you? Any idiot could really tell since you insisted naming him chief of this defense.”

“Why, that is not how you speak to your elders, Lucius,” Luctus allowed himself the luxury of leaving the petrified perch upon his throne, pacing around the hall to stretch instead while Lucius followed him with his eyes. “Those bold, baseless accusations would get you nowhere.”

“Accusations are not baseless if they are true.”

“Then yours are indeed baseless: why would I dream of harming my own brother?”

“Jealousy.”

Luctus paused in his pacing, facing the blundering youngster with his back, How dare he speak with such arrogance, “Explain what ludicrous dreams suggested your theory.”

“You are simply jealous of Lucem because of Morgain,” Lucius did not seem to be sensible of his audience’s rising anger. “Silence!” Luctus had enough of the boy’s diagnosis. “How could a mere boy who doesn’t even understand love be able to judge?”

At this Lucius colored with a dangerous concoction of anger and embarrassment and vengeance that made him undo the calm he had tried so hard to maintain and blurt out, “Because this ‘mere boy’ would have never even conceive the idea of defiling anyone against their will, much less his very own brother’s lover!”

Luctus froze, swallowing hard as he weighed Lucius’s comment along with his sudden interest in a small golden dragon the size of his palm displayed immediately before him on an excessively carved table against the wall.

Lucius began, his voice cracking under his tremor, “I don’t understand you…you have the entire empire of women dying to be even considered for your hand and yet you have to lust after the one that is already betrothed to your brother?”

The silence was a cipher that Lucius misinterpreted for Luctus’s quiet realization of remorse, prompting him to carry himself towards the slightly hunched figure on light, hesitant steps, his hand reaching out for a shoulder and reconciliation.

Then he did it. The second Luctus felt the weight of his brother’s hand upon his shoulder he snapped, seizing the hand and pulling the boy forward into the lethal blow: gold spiked and scaled with diamonds cut flesh and crushed skull, the perpetual moment slowed and blurred and imprinted into eternity by wrath as a horrible cry knocked on the door of death. And, death answered.

Luctus exhaled a breath he knew not he held, noticing for the first time the mess upon him, the broken display, and…his eyes stoop to the floor and the pooling crimson. Blank eyes pleaded with him, and he wanted to utter something but only retched. Then, the golden dragon fell from his hand to crash against the floor.

“Lucius?”

The stare bore into his soul mockingly, “No, no, no, what have I done…” He stretched out a hand in hopes of remembering some spells for revival, only to realize his trembling had immobilized him. “Lu…cius…?” Now the corner of the mouth seemed to stretch upward into a sneer, the mere boy who would forever laugh at his sins. Luctus started away from the blood, yet every fiber of his being screamed and cackled and laughed in dread, and among the madness his steps gave away as though the cold grasp of death found him and he, too, fell against the floor.

Then the quiet greeted him like a warm breath upon frozen grounds. Rise, you fool. Whose voice was it, always there to plague him with temptations? He was but a fool, easily swayed by simple words. And you are but a weakling, easily stirred at the very breath of opposition.

Who spoke, who taunted, whose lips offered promises of power and glory and satisfaction? Luctus looked towards the shadow casted by the throne, growing longer every second. He knew the voice, he heard the voice now, a collection of multitudes of all that touched his life.

“Lu…,” When he called he forgot other syllables, forgot that it was he who spoke for he heard a different voice that uttered the monosyllable.

The same that sighed and shivered in a drug-induced trance, moaning scrambled words as powerless hands that intended to harm and push could only caressed and burnt him. The recent remembrance darkened the hall until the ethereal wind overshadowed him, taking concrete form as it stood over him. Take our powers, become ours…The voice chose one out of the legion that most claimed his spirit.

Paralyzed, he allowed the wind to lift him up, tilting his chin for him to look into the eyes of purgatory before he uttered.

“Y-Yes…”

Then the contract was complete.

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