III.

The smell was unbearable. By the time Lord Francis arrived with his men, the beasts of nature had already dined on innocent blood and flesh while flies borne their children to make quick work of the rest.

“There are no traces of survivors, My Lord.”

“I see…go see if the diggers require any assistance.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

Francis watched without comprehending how the gravediggers summon such courage, unearthing pits directly next to carcasses with only a thin cloth about their faces to mask the odor while some picked up the maggot-fests without a stir before depositing them deep into the earth.

“My Lord!”

“Ah, Abel, what is with you?”

“We…believe that we found him…General Shalot…” Francis immediately followed the page to the edge of town where a loose circle of rebels paid their respects through curious inspection.

Francis covered his hand with his handkerchief before he turn over the slumped body felled upon a sword; the movement unleashed a cloud of flies and someone among the circle broke away to gag. Francis squinted hard and found upon the cadaver’s finger a familiar ring. He then wrenched the sword free: the fine smithwork and the handle worn from battles spoke volumes of the way the General chose death.

“Bury him with the honor he deserves,” He managed to scatter the rebels to find a spade, handing the sword for his page to keep.

“You shouldn’t take from the dead, Lord Francis,” He snapped around to face the lecturer, a young man magnified by the pair of feathered wings folded against his back that reached the floor like a cape made of the night.

“Ah, Aldebaran, you never cease to sneak up on me…good afternoon to you, too,” Francis beheld the Nokshan, for even after months of collaboration he still questioned the existence of this mystified creature.

“Still, taking from the dead is almost as bad as cheating the poor,” Aldebaran’s impassive gaze unsettled Francis, though the rebel leader mumbled and chose to move on.

“Why are you here now, Alde?”

“A…request, a simple one.”

“If it is within my power, I would grant it. What is it?”

“Allow me to assassinate the Emperor.”

“…what? That is no simple request! Even if I have the jurisdiction over your life, I cannot condone such a suicide. I have no doubt for your extraordinary powers, but should you fail–”

“–It would be the death of me, perhaps worse, I know. But, what is that to this?” He gestured to the burnt village. “If I should fail, the fact that there was an attempt would still amount to precedent.”

“You are too important for us to lose…”

“Are these innocent villagers any less important to a revolution whose sole existence was to free the people?”

“But you…”

“…I am not the only Nokshan in existence who would gladly help your fight. Now, just promise me one thing.”

“What is it, Alde?”

“The moment I leave this place, consider me dead unless I should return.”

“How can I merely cast you aside after all that you’ve accomplished for the rebellion?”

“…Do as you did with your displaced books; bury me into the depth of memory besides them, so I shall be well forgotten until someone ask for me,” Seeing the desired effect of his jab at the Lord’s forgetfulness, Aldebaran pointed at the remains before them. “Or do as you will with him; bury me into the depth of the earth, erect a tombstone if you so desire. There is no potion as potent at erasing one’s existence than the poison that reduces the colors of lives into a cold white stone with a simple label that symbolizes your family more than you, perhaps with dates indicating your short walk on earth, and a single line at the bottom to generalize your character with more societal labels. I’ve always wanted to be remembered that way.”

“Aren’t you talkative today?”

“Perhaps I am merely getting my share of lines in the narrative before my doom.”

“Why even ask me if you will attempt the assassination anyway?”

“You are the head of the rebellion: my actions would definitely turn it.”

“How unfair, that you should be allowed to turn my will for your own, while I cannot even hope to change yours…very well, I have but one condition.”

“What is it?”

“Return alive.”

Aldebaran scoffed at the request, “I cannot make an empty promise.”

“Then fulfill it…I will save my blessings for when you return,” The rebellion’s leader took hold of Aldebaran’s forearms and gripped it in an unwilling send off before the Nokshan left, accepting the shade offered by the forest as he retraced his path.

What is it then, Alde questioned himself as he glared at the dark earth and wondered if it was washed by blood, that still unsettled him so much despite Francis’s permission? What is that voice that admonished his disobedience and crushed his heart, reading to him his destined doom?

It was the voice of reason, the voice of the Creator, and yet he chose to ignore it.

He then looked into the pale blue sky that reminded him of his little sister’s wings; when he left, the fledgling’s blue jay plumes were already more vibrant than this sky, on the verge of tears for the slaughter it witnessed.

“Ha, I am a fool,” His own voice betrayed him to the Creator, and Alde could only agree. Yes, a stubborn fool. As much as he understand the way of the Nokshans being one stringently following doctrines, how could he forget that night?

He squeezed his eyes shut, and despite the distance his hesitance steps had placed between him and the burnt village, the sharp tang of decay and coal revived painful memories: the cries, his agony, and…and…

He gasped and returned to his spot amongst the dense covers of trees. The Emperor will fall. And, at the next gentle breeze, the Nokshan went on.

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