XXII. Ring

It was not until a week after did Soulran realize that one who can ruthlessly snap the neck of a wild beast is but a greater monster.

The realization came as his father summoned him one morning to the lesser courts. Luctus took his hand as though to guide him into a new wonderful world as they ascended an endless spiral of stairs leading to the tower in the center of court.

The only thing new about the lesser courts was its inhabitant, the Consort Sapphira stripped of her Imperial crown, and her usual iciness embittered with sorrows wasn’t all that wonderful. Soulran kept telling himself that the black cloud of crows shrouding the East city gate visible just out the opened windows with their “caw”s were but the manifestation of his remorse, and not the birds’ feasting over the severed corpses of a once beloved servant.

As the two were ushered into Sapphira’s presence by a nervous servant girl, the former Empress sighed: her unadorned hands rested upon her lap, Sapphira sit in her degraded throne with her back to the intruders, her raw eyes fixated upon the same object the boy dreaded. “Why do you loathes me so, My Lord?”

“Can one blame another for being disapproving of treason? Adultery?”

“My Kingdom will not forgive you,” She said through gritted teeth.

“And you think I should fear a nation whose King was groveling before me for forgiveness days before?”

Sapphira rose from her perch, striding in measured steps to the window to gaze upon the murder of crows as her inquiries were left unanswered. “If you are here to take justice in your own hand, so be it. I doubt my execution should have anything to do with justice, but the obstruction of it: you are merely afraid that I would tell the world of what you did…Who did you think told me these things but they themselves?”

“…”

“You cannot kill the truths, Luctus, for as long as Morgain and your brothers are wronged, they will continue to tell of your deeds. Have you fallen so far that you can’t even hear them?”

The serenity upon the woman’s face accentuated her resemblance to another, and the reminder only made him more desperate, “Silence!” He knew not if the command was directed at the woman before her or the multitudes that murmured by his ears.

Yes, he hears them too: cursing, condemning, or prophesying his doom.

He fought them to reach out and grasp Sapphira’s mind, and she fell under his command, seized with suppressed terror. Her limbs were out of her control, carrying her in gradual steps to the window until she was standing on the frame, eddies beckoning her to continue into thin air.

The voices grew, raising and deteriorating into a low roar that nearly deafened him until a tug at his sleeve pulled him back.

“Papa?” The legion silenced, not at Luctus’s command, but the voice of the child. “…Please don’t hurt her.”

“…Why do you side with her?”

“If you kill her, you only hurt yourself more.”

It was not Soulran that spoke: it was the prodigy, the commander, the bastard son…or was it the prophetic, the blessed, the perfection? No…the child did not share anything with his parents that he never met saved for a foolish capacity to trust, to tug on the sleeve of a monster that robbed him of his birthright to familial love. He could only do so since he does not understand…

Indeed, Soulran could not understand the sting that sent him tumbling to the floor. Father struck him, and it hurted too much, “Pa…”

“Would you have cared if you know that you are no child of mine?” The Emperor’s voice was harsher than the blow. “That I killed your uncle, father, and…mother? Would you have cared?” How could a mere boy answer? Luctus wanted no more but to rob him of that blissful ignorance. What does he think he is to pity?

Soulran wanted to scream, but he knew not of what. As he saw the blur at the window and heard the horrible shriek he rushed to it, thrusting his hand out the window to grasp at the escaping fabrics of Her Majesty’s robes and watching in helpless horror her descend until she bashed into the stones below, grey smudged with ruinous red and matters that made Soulran spring back from the window and vomit.

Before the Emperor left he heard the boy choked out, “…Why…”

Luctus paused at the door, slightly distracted by the growing commotion below, before deciding to leave the boy drowning in his distress.

*******

Soulran had never felt so sick in his life. The suspicion of him killing the former Empress’s death punished him into being forever regarded with judgment and loneliness. Not a day went by without the nightmare of how he would reach out for her, sometimes it may even seem closer, yet never enough, and he would watch her crash against the floor. He would wake without one to cry to, and the bedtime stories and kisses were but another dream turned to dust.

He tried many things. He stopped eating to see if anyone cared, purposely failed his lessons to test Mentor Sariel’s sympathy, and yet all he earned was more negligence.

He resorted to kicking pebbles along the creek in the gardens, contemplating the Emperor’s cruelty, the revelation of his parentage, his parents’ unexplained deaths. Nothing made sense, and with a hard kick a pebble splashed into a pond where the creeks met.

He didn’t want to return to the palace just yet today; instead, he paused, and looked into the water at the despondent face glaring back. He wished more than ever that the beast in the forest killed him.

Then a voice startled him: beyond the murmuring creek and frogs and leaves, laughter in a musical tone. He first attributed it to some adventurous fairy, and was drawn inevitably towards it. As he walked to the voice it never got closer, so he pursued down the winding paths. He never remembered the gardens being so large.

It wasn’t until he found himself before a dense covering of old trees creating a cave of darkness that Soulran realized that he was not in the gardens anymore. He wanted to retrace his steps, but the paths led him back to the dark cave. He knew not what to do.

Soulran, child, do not be afraid, He said in his usual tenderness.

“Who are you?”

Go on, Soulran, you will be safe there, She added without intentions to explain.

“What..are you?” Soulran saw them then, juxtaposed against the darkness of the cave, and he recognized and approached them. Each step he took brought him closer to cold air. As he chased after them the cold only grew increasingly unbearable, biting at him until he hid his face behind his arms to not be blinded.

“Where are you taking me?”

To the beginning.

When he saw again it was of a word of darkness where sharp bristles of snow cut at him in the howling wind.

Do not lose heart, child.

Soulran gasped to regain his breath, and only sucked in a mouthful of icy wind, “I can’t…”

You don’t have to do it alone.

Then from his chest a new warmth found him, and he realized that it was from his ring, hanging like a pendant upon a chain about his neck. He grasped it and its energy shield him from the cold, and from that same warmth two figures seemed to have held his hands and guided him to a great mansion, the only light dotting the dark, white world.

He did not know how, but he slipped past its gates and found its large mahogany doors.

Go on, we will be right here.

The second his knuckled made contact against the door, his warmth left him, and his strengths gave way to darkness while he muttered.

“Pa…?…Ma…?”

And the doors opened.

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