XXXIII.

Propelled by her friend’s enthusiasm, Doctor Denthea was thrusted into the solid crowd of spectator flooding the main square, wondering why the Emperor himself might deign be here.

She resurfaced from the other side of the throng, immediately before the soldiers forming a respectable wall about their ruler, who seemed more interested in the banyan tree that sheltered him than the attention. Her eyes briefly defected to the winged humanoid by the Emperor’s side, feathers a darkness silenced under the tree’s shade. Then the Emperor turned about, strolling into the light with his royal indifference while the silent angel followed a step behind.

“My good people of Arkmend,” The voice was surprisingly calm. “This town has always hold a place in my heart, for it is from this good township that my late brothers’ mother, consort Dia, came. For that, I am ever thankful.” Doth a town like theirs deserve the thanks of the heaven-sent? “So, imagine my disappointment to find myself with company all but good. Captain Fortin, is it?”

The named captain jolted, and Doctor Denthea remembered that cruel face in her office days ago, “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Here is this man I saw, attempting to harass my citizen over what? An empty accusation of theft?”

“Your humble servant was merely attempting to assure the safety — “

“– What is ‘safe’ about bothering a lad of seventeen walking down the street?”

“I was afraid he was armed, Your Majesty.”

“Armed with what? A mouth and eyes to read your gross incompetence? Relieve him of his duty, good men,” And so the captain was seized by his own comrades, struggled in desperate plea and dragged off the scene forever. “The pest dealt with, I should execute my original intent: it is to issue a declaration, to which I find this town most worthy to bear witness to. Today, our Empire faces dilemmas most dire: rebels uprising in violence and a traitor of treacherous means. The latter, High Priest Claud, has abandoned his post of worship to wage war against the people he was supposed to pray for. By a power most accursed he had the Capitol under his spells, and in their cultish rituals ousted the wise and good.”

The crowd murmured at the implications, shadows of doubts surfaced from faltering admiration.

“That is why I stand before you today, my citizens, accompanied by the messenger of the Creator,” And that sufficed as the winged one’s introduction. “For even if I have the command of the army of this land, I am not willing to use it: what Emperor am I if I raise a hand against my own people? Let Lord Claud take the blame, for the men who were led astray by him were merely lost lambs needed guidance.”

The tone of mercy was a new tune, and at some point of incredulous unbelief, the people of Arkmend beheld the declaration.

“I am no tyrant of rebellious missions, ravaging the countryside for a cause contradictory. I am no hypocritical priest sucking the souls of the empire for my own strengths. I am Luctus, son of Lucifer, rightful Emperor to this land, and upon the name of my father and those before, I swear to restore order, to uphold justice, and to correct wrongs.”

The Emperor read the silence of his audience: Doctor Denthea reckoned with the promises towards mere peasants from the heaven-sent, unprecedented. A villager enunciated such sentiments, rallied, “Long live Emperor Luctus!”

The declaration was made, the witnesses elevated, while Lyra, on the other hand, hated the voice that came from her mouth, the words composed by her mind and twisted by a major lie.

She had always dreamt of this moment, delivering promises to her people for a better future. Yet, she had to resort to this devil’s facade, revise the speech intended for her own glorified day (that she knew would never come because of her sex) to fit a monster. Oh, she pretends the declaration was her own, knowing this was the closest she will ever get to speak like such. She raised a hand that was not her own, accepted the blessings, tempted to strip off her disguise and yell at these fools. She suppressed.

“As witnesses of my oath, you shall testify to the Creator my actions’ match to my words: for I shall quench the rebellion and the traitor. In this process, no harm from either side are you allowed to suffer by the law of the Creator.” The village, acknowledging the implications, embraced their immunity from war. “With this my words are done, and my deeds begin.”

As Lyra hid her hurry to leave, she wrenched at her tunic, her heart twisted and the cheers muffled by distance and the rage drumming at her ears. A guard inquired after the Emperor’s health, and she waved them away before storming off. Only one dared to interfere.

“Lyra,” She paused, saw the shadow that cut across her path and stood before her. “Are you alright?”

The question was rhetorical, for they both knew the negative. But, they were alone, at least, and Lyra casted the hateful skin from herself and sighed. She looked up at the only one amongst the hundreds to see her pain, then the complaints blubbered forth naturally, “Why does he deserve such power? Why does his words worth more than mine? What does that make me? If I am to accomplish what we set out to do, it would all be in his name. I can see it: Luctus the Just, the Righteous, the–”

Aldebaran pulled her into his arms, velvet wings enveloping, “Stop it. You’ve already done too much.”

She tested the warmth and security she never imagined the world can offer, grasped it, and buried herself there. Still, a stray thought escaped her cocoon.

“Why must it be so?”

He knew that he, too, is a questioner, so answered in the only way he can: silent fellowship. She finally stopped suppressing and allowed herself to weep.

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