XXI.

What could be told under this grey, crying sky as he watched the dark green stain formed by dry tea leaves cuddling at the bottom of his chipped ceramic cup? He knew what would happen when he reached out for the pot of hot water still bubbling with remaining rage for being boiled, how the liquid would bleed gradual green as each bunched leaf relax, reach out, blossom into thin veils swirling in the heat of the water. Still, he could not help but stare, glare deeply into the cloud, the clot of forest greens as though it was his prophecy.

The images of the unfurling tea leaves unfolded a part of his mind long locked away. Perhaps the gentle drizzle of rain rusted the lock and chains sealing the horrid remembrances, and the gentlest motion of the imagined tea leaves was enough to dissolve all restraints and set free a scene whose backdrop was, too, a grey, crying sky.

He was young, then, powerful with greed and selfishness. It really didn’t help that he was commissioned by the Emperor himself upon this peculiar mission, the large sum, imperial seal, and a sword supposedly instrumental to this operation with its overpowering aura of what he at first attributed to history and fine craftsmanship all but bolstering his arrogance as a huntsman.

“I want all of them,” His imperial employed emphasized. “Leave not a single feather.” He was supposed to prove such by returning with his targets’ wings, bounded pairs severed. “At least a few hundreds, I expect,” A chuckle, then a wave to shoo him off. “It should bear no difficulties for a man of your skills and with my little…gift.”

At this point of his remembrances his fingers, wrinkled by time, finally noticed the heat of his cup, its boiling content too eager to share its perception of warmth. Strange, as he let go of the little thing he thought to himself. He never recalled pouring the water just yet. But, it was all too fitting. As he studied his reddened skin hinting at a potential blister he knew that this is nothing compared to the pit of hell he threw those creatures into, nothing compared to the eternal fires that he deserves to be plunged in.

The grey crying sky was blackened by smoke, screams and scarlet while he darted from one tree to another within the village, never before so agile, empowered with this new blade the Emperor so graciously granted. He didn’t think much of these peoples, then, who were content with their elaborate huts of straws nested upon trees that outlived time hiding incredible crafts and wealth that he only realized when he broke ope the latched doors. He tried to not think much of it, to not be too awed by the pulse of nature so palpable in the thin air, as he allowed his blade to drink its fill, gliding across necks, rolling heads, all a perfect harmony in minor. Most of his first targets appeared juvenile, their parents summoned from their nests to uphold the spiritual barrier that he had wrought down with the Emperor’s instrument.

As he tested his blade against the sinews connecting the magnificent feathered wings caping these humanoids the ease surprised him: there wasn’t even enough time for him to notice the dangle of the limp, headless fledgling before his underlings took good care to bind and clean the harvest.

He wasn’t unopposed for long, however, when he found himself making his bloody path towards the heart of the village, a tree that might’ve been a god, a colossus unyielding in the face of tragedy.

It only occurred to him then, as the tip of his boot splashed into a pond formed by the thick roots and its infinitely many divisions like oddly leveled stairs made of green glass, that he was committing a grave crime. As he looked down at the small, still waters he expected filth and mulch, but only find a thing worse: a legion of his bloodshot eyes, cruel looks pursed in numbness to the massacre he authored. He scoffed, waded through the mirrors in hopes of shattering them; some of his men had already beat him to it, turning the glasses dim by thickening the pure dew and rain with crimson. Still, as he paused amidst the steps his red self peered over the shoulder of a wingless angel, writhing, weeping. A realm tugged at a corner of his mind, a realm that he wanted to build for himself with the Emperor’s large sums, where he can pretend that he never picked up his cursed blade, never dreamt of tainting this land, never resorted to returning the hatred the world hurled at him.

The red mirror grinned, “You are only part of this cycle.”

No, I am so much more than those cowards, He insisted, I am not like them, they…they…He blinded himself with rage as he shattered the mirror with another resolute step, continuing chase after the little flurries of bright plumage that led him there to the old tree in the first place. He rounded the trunk, wading without grace, caught a flash of movement and spun, countered and kicked.

He saw his latest victim another one of these creatures, female, her wings darker than an eclipsed night bristling after catching herself from the impact. His eyes swept over her, her sword poised behind her to hide her tightly clutched hand smarting from the fracture, the other hand instinctively assuring the slight swell of her abdomen. His mouth tasted more bitter than his tea when that notice was made, and he almost ignored the flock of juveniles taking refuge behind her.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?” He was surprised by her authority and her perfect accent, though the quiver of her paled lips and the wrath twisting her beautiful features were not unnoticed.

He wasn’t sure how to answer, but his sword answered for him.

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