Dark Heresy is a story set in an eastern land ravaged by one hundred years of bloodshed.
Amidst the ruins, a hardened general returns home after the war is over.
His troubled mind finds solace in the least-likely person—the daughter of the man he killed.
When he closes his eyes each night, she is the one haunting his increasingly vivid dreams.
It's better if you read the story from my website: http://missanne82.livejournal.com/1398.html
The formatting is a bit nicer there; MTS is too wide.
The greatest achievement is selflessness
The greatest worth is self-mastery
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others
The greatest precept is continual awareness
The greatest action is not conforming with the world's ways
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions
The greatest generosity is non-attachment
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind
The greatest patience is humility
The greatest effort is not concerned with results
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances
Chapter 1 - Princess of Nothing
Chapter 2 - The Kingdom of Ash and Bone
Chapter 3 - Realm of Torment
Chapter 4 - Eye of the Storm
Chapter 5 - The Name of Desire
Chapter 6 - The Kiss of Winter
Chapter 7 - See No Evil
Chapter 8 - The Light That Blinds
Chapter 9 - Aaliyah
Chapter 10 - Damnation
Chapter 11 - The Broken Vow
Chapter 12 - The Gates of Dawn
Chapter 13 - Nightfall
Chapter 13 - Children of Sorrow
Chapter 14 - Whore
Chapter 15 -
Chapter 16 - The Ebon Hand
Chapter 17 - Assassin of Kings
From the north-- Drustan
The eastern kingdoms-- Ashara, Valyria, Da'Jin
Asshai, the capital city of Ashara
Note: There are so very few Egyptian-themed items available for TS3, aside from EA stuff. I try to do the best I can with the limited custom content. Hopefully it does not detract too much from the feel of the story. Keep in mind that this place in an ancient era.
Thanks: 9 in 2 Posts
AMAZING WORK. I'm sure you're putting in loads of effort into this story. The descriptions are pirceless, almost tanglible. It feels like I'm reading straight out of a historical fiction book. Do you read Michelle Moran or Philippa Gregory? I honestly love the writing style, the content, especially the description of the necklace. You've got a very keen and amazing understanding of royalty and how things like the royal lines and family works. This story is amazing. I hope it goes on for a long time! Keep the updates coming :D
Thanks: 4 in 1 Posts
I love this first chapter.Not even the images are great (you adapted them very well to Sims 3), but the story itself is great ^^ I can't wait to read the next chapter, so please, don't make us wait too long ^^"
Love your story ^^ My favorite one ^^
Princess of Nothing
( I've put the story within spoiler tags because I'm tired of having to scroll through GIANT WALLS OF TEXT in thread mode).
The Royal Palace
550th Year of the Morning Star
Under the blaze of the hot desert sun, a slave girl stood outside on a balcony of the royal palace overlooking the city. She squinted her eyes and used her hand to shield against the light as she peered out into the horizon.
“Can you see them?” Princess Aaliyah asked from within the bath chamber. She was soaking in a large tub, the water filled with scented oils and rose petals. She laid back, with her head resting by the edge.
“Yes,” Sura answered as she leaned further out the to get a better view. From the northern part of the upper city, she saw a group of Drustanis soldiers riding towards the palace. They wore the colors of House Kartane, carrying black banners edged with crimson.
“How can they bear to wear such armor in all this heat?” Sura muttered. A truly formidable sight they presented, armed as if they were heading towards war. The Drustanis army lived up to its name as the finest warriors in all of the eastern kingdoms.
As Drustanis troops approached closer, Sura quickly scanned through their numbers. Each of them held the same, grim expression. The armor they wore were identical—heavy chainmail with the emblem of a serpentine dragon emblazoned over their black tabards. “I do not think that Prince Ramiz is among them,” Sura said as she turned around to face her mistress.
Aaliyah’s shoulders dropped somewhat, as if disappointed. "I did not expect that he would come himself. I am not important enough to warrant his troubles,” she replied with a hint of bitterness in her voice.
"Nonsense. For Your Highness, he should have to capture the sun and stars."
“Do you think that he will like me?”
"Of course—once he has seen you, he will forget all others. There is not a woman who is more lovely than you in all of the empire."
"There is not a tongue more glib than yours in all of Ashara," Aaliyah admonished in a tone that was not without affection. For the first time, Sura saw her mistress smiled, albeit it was small and brief. “But that was not what I meant. Do you think that he will ever come to love me?” she asked, her voice quiet and anguished.
A frown appeared on Sura's face as she contemplated the absurdity of such a question. "Love would be impossible. After all, Drustanis men do not have hearts."
"Not a single one, Sura?" her mistress asked in a whimsical voice, with one brow raised as if to challenge that claim.
Sura crossed her arms, her expression darkened. "Not a single one. Your Highness knows what they have done to your father; What they have done to all of us."
With that reminder, all humor had left. "I have not forgotten. The Asharan people will always remember blood debts.” That had been spoken like vow.
Two years ago, after Ashara had fallen to the Drustanis Empire, the royal family had been executed after the death of their king. Their bodies had been cremated, deprived even of sacred funeral rites. All members of House Shahrizai had been killed—all but one. Princess Aaliyah, the king's only child, had remained hidden for many years. But at last, they had found her.
The Drustanis had brought Aaliyah back to Asshai, the place of her birth. They treated her with respect, but a gilded cage was still a prison. She was confined to her chambers until her fate had been decided. Sura had always assumed that the princess would be killed along with the rest of House Shahrizai, but that was not so. Rather than execution, it was decided that Aaliyah would be wed to Prince Ramiz, the second son of the Drustanis emperor. Perhaps they had taken pity upon the blind girl, but she would be spared of the same fate as her kin.
Sura had been of the many slave girls assigned to serve the Asharan princess. Never before had she seen someone so beautiful. She was left awestruck and nervous, stammering like an fool every time she spoke before the princess. However, her mistress was kind, never mocking Sura’s clumsiness or scolding her for it. Such kindness was unexpected, especially coming from someone of the royal family. As a slave, she was used to being treated with cruelty or indifference, but her mistress had never spoken to Sura with disdain. Aaliyah’s voice was always gentle and patient.
It was known that the Asharan princess was born blind at birth. Nevertheless, her mistress was always graceful. She moved like a poem, composed of mists and dreams. Despite her lack of sight, Aaliyah could play the qin flawlessly, as she often did—from morning until night—until her fingers blistered from the seven-stringed instrument. Confined to her quarters, there was not much else for her to do.
When Aaliyah played, she fully captured the attention of everyone within the vicinity. Her songs were always beautiful, but so very sad. From its melody, Sura could feel the underlying grief and sorrow of the person who wrote it.
One day, Sura had offered to read to Aaliyah, who could not for she was blind. Day by day, Aaliyah began to feel more at ease. The coldness which had always guarded her wounded heart like a shield was no longer there.
Sura had always sensed that Aaliyah was lonely. Although the princess was constantly attended by servants and courtiers, in her heart she remained abandoned. Sura herself would not dare to consider herself as a friend of Aaliyah’s, for she was unworthy—a lowly slave—but over time, Sura believed that they developed a bond.
Eventually, Sura allowed herself to relax. No longer was she a nervous wretch who stuttered every time she spoke. No longer was she beaten for the slightest of errors, as her former masters have done. Aaliyah was kind. Aaliyah was patient.
With one last glance at the approaching Drustanis troops, Sura retreated from the balcony and returned indoors. She went over to lay out the clothes which the princess would wear—a gown of white silk embroidered with golden threads, and matching slippers adorned with expensive gemstones. She touched the fabric, which was so smooth that it seemed to run through her fingers like water. Never had Sura ever worn something so fine.
Then, she spun around as she heard the sound of the door opening. There had been no knock. It must have been one of the other serving girls, she thought, for no one else would dare intrude.
She looked behind the screen which shielded the bathtub from the entrance. It was Lord Asher, the appointed governor of Asshai, and brother of the former empress. He stood tall and arrogant, a suffocating aura of superiority surrounding him. In his right hand he held a large box. He was staring intently at the screen, as if his gaze could bore holes through it, if he looked hard enough.
The nerve of that man! Sura ran over, placing herself between Lord Asher and the screen. She stood upright before him, acting as if she were a cover to hide her mistress from his piercing eyes. “The princess is still bathing—please come at another time, Your Excellency,” Sura said sternly.
His eyes flared, a dangerous warning. She doubted that anyone has ever challenged him before, and lived long after. Especially not a slave. He struck her across the face, a stinging blow which she had expected to receive. “I ought to have your tongue cut out for your impudence. Now, get out!” he hissed.
Sura stood, holding onto her bruised cheek. She could begin to taste the tang of blood in her mouth. Yet, she did not move, not wanting to leave her mistress alone with that man. She was not sorry for her defiance. For Aaliyah, she would endure.
“Go on, Sura,” said the voice behind the screen. It was spoken in confident, assuring tone, ringing clear throughout the marble bath chamber.
Immediately, she obeyed as she gathered her skirts to leave. Although Sura had left the room, she remained behind the door, listening to them.
Lord Asher had walked around the screen, now standing directly before the princess. The flower petals which lie scattered atop of the bathwater scarcely covered her. His eyes raked slowly across her body, in an appreciative gaze. “You do not disappoint,” he said in a low voice.
Aaliyah continued to wash herself, her face remaining placid as if nothing has happened. “You are not to strike my slaves again, Lord Asher. That girl belongs to me. I—alone—will discipline her as I see fit,” her warning was sharp and commanding, a reminder of her royal lineage.
“One thousand apologies,” Asher said as he bowed low in exaggeration, as if to mock her. “I know you have a gentle heart, but you are far too lenient with the slaves. They should treated more severely, lest they forget their place.”
His words were thinly veiled threat directed towards Aaliyah herself. Although she was a princess, what power she had died along with the destruction of House Shahrizai. Had her father still been in power, a man such as Asher would’ve had his throat slit the moment he stepped foot inside her chambers uninvited.
However, the tides have changed. The Asharan princess was without allies. Now, it was Asher’s men who stand guard outside her door. She was at the mercy of the Drustanis, a pawn within their grasp to use or destroy as they please.
“I have come to inform you that the escorts have arrived—”
Lies. He had come with the intention of watching her bathe.
“It appears that they have sent General Malik Severin. You have heard of him?”
The man responsible for the fall of Ashara, the Black Viper Of Drustan. Everyone in the eastern kingdoms knew of his name. It was he who laid siege on their city walls. It was General Malik who defeated King Fariq, and brought his head before the emperor of Drustan.
It was infuriating that they would send him as an envoy to Ashara out of all people.
“I have heard of him,” Aaliyah answered simply, her tone bored and impassive. Lord Asher watched her intensely, studying her every movement. Surely, he thought to provoke a more powerful reaction, but Aaliyah’s face remained unreadable to him.
Asher’s eyes narrowed into predatory slits, but his tone remained light and pleasant as always. “I regret that I will not be able to attend the royal wedding myself—I hope that you will not take offense. There is much business to which I must attend to: duties to re-assign, conspiracies to uproot, traitors to execute and such,” he said so blithely.
“Nevertheless, I want to wish you a long and joyous marriage with the prince. Your presence here will forever be missed. Perhaps one day, when my duties will allow, I will visit Drustan. I hope of having the honor to hear you play one of your songs again—”
“—If that is all, then you are dismissed, Lord Asher,” Aaliyah interrupted, “If you must prattle on, then save it for some other time when I am properly dressed. I wish to bathe in peace,” she said dryly.
“Of course,” he replied, although he did not depart right away. For a passing moment he lingered on as he continued to watch her.
An audible sigh was heard. Aaliyah continued bathing as if he were not there, not paying him the slightest attention. She never blushed or attempt to cover herself, but rather the contrary. Every move, every stroke of her hands was seduction, as if to goad him further.
Lord Asher’s fingers were tightly clenched around the box he carried, his knuckles turning white. At once, his pupils darkened as his breathing grew deeper. For all his cunning and ruthlessness, he was still just a man.
The Lord Governor began to clear his throat, “I have brought you a wedding gift. It would please me to see you wear it. You would do me a great honor,” he whispered as he placed the box onto the dresser A smirk appeared on his sharp face. He presented Aaliyah with the same mocking bow as before. In a graceful movement, he turned around and began to leave after one last fleeting glance.
Sura dashed from the door. She stood far away against the wall with her head bowed low, hands clasped together. The Lord Governor passed by Sura, his anger apparently abated as he paid her no further heed. As he walked down the hallway, he began to whistle an Asharan tune.
When Asher was well out of sight, Sura entered the bathroom once again. “After Your Highness has married Prince Ramiz, you should convince him to have Asher’s eyes ripped out,” Sura said fiercely.
Aaliyah laughed in response, “Perhaps I will do just that. Well, what has that old lecher given me?” her mistress asked from behind the screen.
Sura walked over to the dresser, eyeing the box he left with suspicion. It was black velvet, tied by a simple ribbon. She did not dare to touch it, for fear that something horrible would spring out from inside.
Cautiously, Sura untied the ribbon and opened the lid by a small crack. Nothing happened—no scorpions or snakes slithered out of the box as she had half-expected. When Sura opened the lid fully, she gasped.
“A ruby necklace,” Sura answered; Multiple crimson gemstones set on a heavy chain linked together with entwining braids of gold, which would drape across one's chest. The centermost ruby was sculpted into the shape of a heart, nearly large enough as an egg. In the sunlight, it shone and reflected light the color of blood. Indeed, it was a treasure worthy for a queen.
“Blessed Iset, it must be worth over ten thousand gold aureii,” Sura murmured in awe. In the slave markets of Asshai, lives could be bought and sold for much less. A peasant could work his entire life, and still he wouldn’t be able to afford such splendor.
“Pack it with my other belongings,” Aaliyah said dismissively with a wave of her hand.
“Will you not wear it, Princess? It’s beautiful—” even if it had been a gift from the devil.
“I doubt that Asher has given me that necklace out of his generosity. No gift comes without a price,” her mistress said.
That much, Sura knew to be true. Such a grand present was only given freely between the most intimate of lovers. Lord Asher desired Aaliyah, as all men did. Often, Sura would notice him stealing glances at the princess, as he did today, finding any excuse he could to come see her. Had he hoped that she would reciprocate his feelings by this offering? A ridiculous notion.
Although her mistress had been stripped of all power, he would not dare to do more than look. Aaliyah was meant only for Prince Ramiz. Soon, they will depart for Drustan, away from Asshai and its lord governor.
“If the gems are as large as you say, well—I wouldn’t want to strain myself by wearing it,” Aaliyah said with a wry smile. She then slowly got out of the tub, reaching for a towel hanging on a nearby rack.
Sura quickly ran over to aid the blind princess. She had always been there to help Aaliyah dress, whenever she ate, whenever she wanted to hear a story from the books. Throughout the day, Sura remained by the princess’s side, forever a shadow to Aaliyah’s light.
After the princess was dressed, Sura brushed her mistress’s long, silken hair, which cascaded down her shoulders like a river of darkness. She anointed her lady with perfume the scent of jasmine, a dab on each wrist and on the neck.
Aaliyah’s eyes were heavily lined with kohl, bringing out the intensity of its gaze. Her eyes shone brilliantly, the color of a cold winter sky. They were pale blue with flecks of silver. In darkness, they held a slight eerie glow which was both riveting and beautiful, more so than all the jewels of Ashara.
The paleness of her eyes stood out in contrast to her darker skin, which was the color of bronze, kissed by the sun. Her complexion was warm and flawless, untouched by time.
It was said that House Shahrizai was blessed by the Heavens, an ancient bloodline which descended from fallen angels. If there had been any doubt to the validity of that claim, it was dispelled by the mere sight of the Asharan princess. Indeed, Aaliyah must have been the daughter of gods, for no mortal could attain such perfection.
Sura stepped back and admired the princess. “When the prince sees you, he will forget all about Drustan, Ashara, and the war,” she sighed.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Aaliyah said with a quiet smile.
Ashara, it was known was the land of unsurpassed beauty and grace. Although for the Drustanis general, it held memories that were less than pleasant. Malik Severin had these people to thank for every scar, every lash, and every disfigurement inflicted onto his flesh. It was his blood and the blood of his nation which had been spilt onto their soil, forever sown within the roots of their decadence.
The Land of the Golden Sun had been the last of the three eastern kingdoms to fall. Two years ago, the general had laid siege to the great walls of its capital city. Their homes and farmlands, the Drustanis army had sacked. Their temples and statues of false gods have since been torn down, reduced to remnants of memory.
In the Battle of Asshai, the general had slain their king and presented his head before the feet of emperor of Drustan. One hundred years of war has been brought to an end. One hundred years of death and destruction has finally passed. All three kingdoms have been brought to kneel before the might of the Drustanis Empire.
Now, the flames of war have subsided. Through the ashes, the general rode on his dark steed to the palace with fifty armed soldiers in his company. Overhead, black banners edged with crimson flew in the desert wind, trailing after them. They bore the mark of the serpentine dragon—the emblem of House Kartane.
An ominous silence permeated the air as the Drustanis troops rode through the city streets of Asshai once again. Not one voice was spoken. Mothers ushered their children back into houses. Doors and windows were promptly shut. Civilians diverted their eyes and began walking in the opposite direction. Somber expressions were found on every one of their dark faces—subdued, although not fully broken.
The Asharan people remembered Malik Severin well, and it was he who they detested most of all. It was their brothers and fathers who had been slain by Drustanis blades. It was their sisters and daughters who have been violated by Drustanis soldiers—through no order of his own, but it was his face that they’ve attached to the Emperor’s army. It was the General who bore the blunt of their enmity. The Black Viper of Drustan, they called him, as he was known for his poisoned swords.Throughout the eastern lands, his name was spoken with scorn and hatred.
The memories of war and death were still recent in minds of the Asharan people, a wound still fresh and prone to re-open. Severin cursed under his breath as he noted the fear and contempt which was apparent on each one of their faces. Ramiz should not have sent me here. My presence only rouses their anger further.
As the general rode south to the royal palace, his mood blackened, further inflamed by the desert heat. He commanded the loyalty of thirty thousand men, the finest steel forged underneath his leadership. His skill with a blade was without equal, a legend among warriors. For the Drustanis Empire, Severin had conquered the great city of Asshai. Now, here he was—sent back to its cursed lands to fetch the prince’s bride, like some escort.
Ramiz had insisted that Severin himself went. "There is no one else whom I would entrust with the safety of my betrothed, General," the prince had said with an arrogant smile. "Besides, these are times of peace. Your duties are no longer needed here."
That exchange felt like a slap to his face. No longer needed, am I?
Peace, the word itself sounded foreign to the ear and unfamiliar on the tongue. Since the age of fifteen, he had fought in countless battles and never slept without a blade by his side. Two decades of his life had been spent fighting for the Empire, underneath its black banners edged with crimson; Twenty years spent living in a constant turmoil, not knowing whether each day would be his last. But at last, the century-long war has finally been brought to an end.
No. There will never be peace. Not so as long as the hearts of men are filled with greed. The smell of fresh blood will soon draw out the vultures who will fight over what remains.
As Malik Severin made way his through the winding streets of Asshai, he felt a foreboding sense that he was being watched. Atop the highest tower of the palace, a lone figure was perched on the marble balcony. The mid-day sun, radiant and blinding, casted a shadow over his observer so that only a dark outline was distinguishable.
A woman, tall and slender, stood silently as the desert wind wisped at her hair. Seemingly alive, the dark strands danced about her face in a rhythm that was crazed and disorderly. She was standing in the shadows—too far away for the general to clearly discern—but he knew that she was watching him, as he was watching her.
“General Severin!” a voice called out. A group of Drustanis approached him from the royal palace. A man bowed before the general as he announced himself, “I am Rahj, steward to Lord Asher. His Excellency has instructed me to await for your arrival.”
Severin swiftly dismounted from his horse with ease. “Is His Excellency ready to receive me?” he asked.
“Yes—but first, I will show you to your chambers, if you wish you to change or freshen up,” Rahj answered as he looked over the general, who was covered in sand and grime from long weeks of travel. He smelled of sweat and leather, his hair left in disarray from the desert winds.
“There is no need. I wish to see Lord Asher as soon as possible,” Severin answered in a stern voice, with complete disregard of his rugged appearance.
One of the steward’s brows arched upwards in bewilderment, but his breach of etiquette was quickly masked. “As you wish, General. The servants will see that your men are attended to. Please come with me,” he said as he began to lead the general through the palace.
Severin looked up to the balcony where his observer had stood earlier, but the figure was no longer there—and yet, that uncomfortable feeling of being watched still remained with him.
The last time the General had stepped foot in Asshai, his purpose had been to kill. All he could remember was the bodies of dead soldiers—Asharan and Drustanis alike—which littered the ground, the floor soaked in a crimson hue. He could still hear the sounds of swords clashing and the screams of men which rang through the air. Blood and death, were only memories he held from this city.
Although the much of the land had been ransacked and destroyed by the war, the royal palace remained, for the most part, untouched. The bloodstains have since been washed, and a certain allure which had previously been obscured was now more evident.
Ashara, it was known as the land of unsurpassed beauty and grace, allegedly blessed by ancient gods. Indeed, everything about the royal palace of Asshai was ethereal. There were large marble columns supporting the high ceiling, from which sheer draperies hung. Expensive oriental rugs were laid on every pathway. Golden statues with eyes of gemstones carried lit torches, providing a source of light in darker areas. Everything about Asshai—from its architecture to the décor—spoke of wealth and elegance.
The general walked through the grand halls in a dream-like haze, overwhelmed by its magnificence and splendor, lost in a realm which lies between reality and fantasy. In a place such as this, one might be lulled into a sense forgetfulness, where time seemed to stand still. Problems and worries were no longer of consequence.
Ashara was beautiful, Ashara was divine, and Malik Severin hated every inch of it.
At last, they reached a sitting room located within the inner palace. “Please be seated, General. His Excellency will be with you shortly,” the steward said as he bowed before taking his leave.
Long minutes passed but there was still no sign of the Governor. The general began pacing around impatiently. Had Severin been brought to the throne room, he would not be surprised to find Lord Asher himself seated high upon the golden dais.
He keeps me waiting to remind me whose time is more important, Severin scornfully thought to himself, But were it not for me, Ashara might’ve not have fallen to Drustan, and it wouldn’t be Asher’s pompous ass that sits on the throne of Asshai.
It was some time before Lord Asher had finally made his appearance. Severin bowed before the governor as he entered, “Your Excellency,” he addressed respectfully.
“General Severin,” Asher greeted in an amiable voice. He was a handsome man of middle height, with grey-green eyes that never smiled while his lips did. In the passing years since Severin had last seen him, the Lord Governor has aged considerably. The hair that had once been so black and luxurious was now streaked with silver. Many new lines had formed around the corner of his eyes and mouth. Nevertheless, he still walked with the same posture of grace and arrogance that was all too familiar.
“I was not expecting that you’d arrive so soon… but I suppose that’s what all your enemies have said just as you ambushed them in battle,” Asher chuckled at his own little quip.
The general was not amused, his expression remaining humorless. “Is the Asharan princess ready to depart?” he asked bluntly.
Asher nodded, “All the necessary preparations have been taken care of. You must be absolutely weary, General. Has Rahj not shown you to your chambers? Be seated, and take some time to rest,”
“That will not be necessary. I wish to depart for Drustan with all haste while the day is still young.” Severin replied with icy civility. Despite the luxury and comfort of his surroundings, there was something about Asshai that made him highly uneasy. He did not like this place, and liked Asher even less. And then there was that woman, the apparition who had lingered in the darkness of the balcony, watching him.
“Will you at least stay for lunch?” the Lord Governor asked. “There are many rare delicacies which do not come by so easily in Drustan—just one taste and you may find that you cannot live without them,” he said with a smile.
The general refused to be swayed as he well knew that he was not welcome here. He would not have been surprised to find his food poisoned by the kitchen staff, or to find someone wandering into his bedroom late at night to slit his throat in his sleep. The Asharan people do not forget blood debts. The sooner he left the city, the better.
If the Governor was offended by Severin’s hastiness to leave, his face betrayed nothing. “Very well then,” he answered simply in a pleasant voice, “I see that you are still punctual and stringent as always. Must you deny yourself of life’s simple pleasures?”
Asher turned to the guard standing behind him, and ordered the man to call for the princess. “There is something you should probably know, General,” he began, “Princess Aaliyah is blind.”
“Blind?” Severin repeated the word in a abhorrent tone as a crinkle of distaste formed between his brows.
Even the lowliest of servants within the palace of Drustan were chosen for their physical fitness—from every slave who washes the floors, to every scribe, to every warrior who has fought and died underneath the black banners—all must be perfect in order to serve the imperial family.
Drustan was an empire that prided itself in strength. Weakness of any sort was looked down upon. It was not an uncommon practice for children born with deficiencies to be discarded at birth.
"The prince will not be pleased with a blind wife," Severin spoke without intention of voicing his thoughts aloud.
The Lord Governor chuckled, his voice low and rich, "Oh, I’m sure he will change his mind once he has seen her. No wonder Fariq has guarded his daughter so fiercely." His dark eyes narrowed as a more sinister smile appeared on his face. "Besides, our prince only has to marry her. She would be a pretty thing to look upon, and a body to warm his bed. It does not matter whether she has brains or eyes, so as long as she is able to bear his sons," he said dismissively.
Severin nodded absently in agreement. It was really none of his concern whether or not the prince would be satisfied with his bride. The general’s last duty was to escort the Asharan princess to Drustan, and then he would be permitted to retire to his home.
Home, that was another word which sounded foreign to him. The last twenty years of his life had been spent fighting in wars and battles. No longer. Severin let out a long sigh. Perhaps he was weary and needed a rest, just as the Lord Governor had suggested.
The steward who had greeted the general from earlier entered the room along with four Drustanis guards. “Her Highness, Aaliyah of House Shahrizai,” he announced.
The blind princess followed afterwards, holding onto the arm of a slave girl. When she stood before the general, he found that all words had escaped his mind.
He had never seen eyes of such color before—so pale and luminous. To simply say that they were ‘blue’ would being doing them an injustice. Her skin was the color of bronze, kissed by the sunlight yet untouched by time.
Indeed, the Asharan princess was the dream of every artist sculpted into flesh. To describe her fully, as a poet would say, would be to paint a siren’s song—it is a task which could not be done. She was undeniably beautiful, both hard to upon at and even more difficult to look away. Never before had anyone else captured his gaze so fully. It was then that he understood why Icarus had flown too close to the sun and melted his waxen wings.
Without explanation, the general felt the phantom pain of the old scar which ran down the right of his face, a burning sensation which he had not felt for over twenty years. Unconsciously, Severin reached for it, touching his marred skin.
When presented before her, he could not help but to feel acutely aware of his every imperfection. His unkempt appearance, which he had always dismissed so impassively, was now to his chagrin.
Malik Severin stood transfixed as he continued to gaze upon her, unblinking for fear that the vision may vanish before his very eyes. A long silence passed before anyone had moved. The blind princess turned uncertainly to her slave and whispered, “Is the general here yet?”
Lord Asher cleared his throat tactfully.
A hot flush crept up to Severin’s face. Here we stand, the blind and the mute, he cursed himself as he fought to regain his voice. “I am General Malik Severin, here to escort Your Highness to Drustan,” he said as bowed low before her, a civility which was perhaps unnecessary as she could not see him.
He believed that he saw a ghost of a smile appeared on her face, but it quickly vanished. Her expression was set stern and grim as she merely nodded to acknowledge his presence.
Asher sneered inwardly as he watched how Severin reacted to the Asharan princess. The most feared warrior in the eastern kingdoms, struck dumb and speechless before a woman, like some adolescent boy. It was pathetic.
He could not entirely blame the general. Indeed, Aaliyah was beautiful—for that, there was no argument. When Asher had confronted her in the baths earlier, he had nearly forgotten what he had set out to deliver.
The ruby necklace once belonged to his sister, Elia. It had been a gift bestowed by the Emperor of Drustan many years ago, a valued treasure given to the only woman he had ever loved.
However, fate had been unkind. Elia had died not long after childbirth, but her death was no accident. Asher had no proof, but he has always suspected that Lyssa had a hand in it. She was an ambitious noblewoman would do anything to obtain power. Soon after Elia’s death, she had quickly married the Emperor. He neither loved nor wanted her, but he needed the support of her family to win the war in the east.
Now, it was Empress Lyssa who sits on the cold throne of Drustan, seated beside a husband who cared little for her, a husband who has never given her a treasure of equal value as the necklace he once gave to Elia, his beloved first wife.
Elia had always worn it, even upon her death bed. For nearly two decades after her death, Asher had always held on to it as a memento of his sister he lost.
Now at last, Asher had relinquished the ruby necklace, giving it to the Asharan princess. Lyssa would see the her wearing the pendant, and she would understand his message—his taunt, a scathing reminder which cuts to the heart: the Emperor does not love you, and he will never love you.
General Severin stiffly bowed once again, then turned around to lead them out of the palace.
As they walked, Asher glanced sideways at the princess. She had a lovely profile of dignified nobility and a neck that was long and slender, but distinctly absent of a certain ruby necklace. “I see that you are not wearing the gift I’ve given you,” he remarked with disappointment underlying his tone.
The corner of her lips quirked upwards. “I could not bear the weight,” Aaliyah said dryly.
“Soon, you must learn to bear a greater weight,” he replied in a quiet voice, as he pulled her closer to him. “Even when I have become old, and my hair turned grey—when I can remember nothing else, I will still think of that one moment when I saw you earlier today. I will remember your scent, your eyes, your voice, your skin—for what it meant to behold an angel,” he whispered low in her ear.
Someone made a scoffing noise. As Asher turned to the direction of the sound, he realized that it was the same slave who had dared to confront him earlier. Under her breath, she began to mutter something about him. He did not catch the entire gist of it, but the words ‘lecherous’ and ‘old toad’ were heard. The sound of muffled laughter floated to his ears, coming from the back. Some other slave. The Governor turned around and glowered at the group, daring one of them to laugh in front of his face. All held blank expressions, none which returned his gaze.
The audacity! Asher sent the original offender a murderous look. If not for the protection of her mistress, she would not dare to act so boldly to me, he fumed. The Lord Governor curled his fingers into a fist, resisting the itch to throttle her. It would be unseemly of him to break out in a rage in front of everyone.
“Lord Asher, I do not think that my future husband will appreciate your… attentions toward me,” Aaliyah said with a small smile, a warning tone underlying her honeyed voice.
Ah, Prince Ramiz, the vile son of that bitch, Lyssa. It was true that primary reason why Asher had tried to seduce the Asharan princess was to get back at the Empress—a personal mean of vengeance. He wanted her as a lover—not only because she was beautiful—but also because he intended to use her against Lyssa and Ramiz.
However, it was clear now that his advances were going nowhere. Over the past year since Asher has known her, Aaliyah was no warmer to him now than she had been when she was first brought to Asshai. He had attempted to gain her affections with gifts, compliments, and sweet words, but she continually rebuffed him, a refusal which he could not comprehend.
Asher was a man of immense power and wealth who could offer her comfort and protection. Although he was in his autumn years, he was still considered attractive—charismatic and charming when he desired to be so. The Asharan princess was a young girl who helpless and alone, left without friends or family. One would think that it would be easy to manipulate such a person, but that was not so.
As they walked through the royal palace, Asher smiled bitterly at his failure. He glanced sideways at the princess once more, but this time in a different light. He had underestimated her. Underneath the illusion of a frail, blind girl, she possessed a strength of will that was grudgingly admirable.
Something isn’t right about her, Asher decided. Perhaps it was because he felt that she had bewitched him; what he said earlier had not been false flattery. The glimpse of her bathing had been an image forever lingering in the back of his mind ever since, a curling wisp of black smoke which consumed his thoughts with ill deeds and base desires, taunting him. His pulse never failed to beat erratically whenever he thought of her in that moment, his breathing uneven and hoarse.
Calm yourself. You’re almost pathetic as that damn general.
He led the princess over to the large palanquin, which was to be carried by a team of a dozen strong men. Behind them, Drustanis soldiers were mounting their horses as the servants loaded the many carriages with supplies and equipment.
“Well—at last—we must say good-bye, my love. This must be a very difficult time for you. Try not to shed too many tears about having to leave me,” he jested in a good-natured manner.
“I will miss you dearly, Lord Asher,”Aaliyah replied with a sarcastic smile.
“I know,” he said as he held onto her hand and planted a farewell kiss. His lips lingered on for far too long as his fingers lightly brushed the underside of her palm. “You would do me an honor by wearing my necklace at your wedding. That is all I would ask of you,” he whispered.
A brief hint of suspicion flashed on Aaliyah’s face, but she eventually agreed.
Oh, how furious Lyssa would be. Asher smiled triumphantly at the thought. Just the sight of the Empress’s wrath might be worth the trouble of attending the wedding himself. He had to stifle back a laughter as he aided the blind princess into the golden palanquin.
He stood outside and observed Aaliyah through the sheer curtains. She was lying back on the velvet cushions, one arm propped up against her head, the very image of a dainty, eastern princess. But once again, that disconcerting feeling returned to him. Something isn’t right about her, and it wasn’t just how she had entranced him.
The Lord Governor looked over to the caravan group—slaves, chambermaids, cooks, minstrels, and entertainers—an assembly of servants who would accompany Aaliyah to Drustan, along with fifty armed escorts. His attention fell on an unfamiliar girl with braided hair and cowardly face. She will do, he mused.
Asher’s fingers gripped hard around the servant girl’s arms as he dragged her far away from earshot. He tossed her roughly against the wall as he stood towering over her, with both hands placed on beside her head to bar her from escaping. He looked down on the girl as how a wolf might eye its prey.
The servant looked up to the Lord Governor, her eyes wide open in fear. “Y-Your Excellency, have I d-done s-something wrong?” she stuttered. The girl was absolutely terrified of him. Good.
He pressed a coin pouch into her hands, which slightly trembled as she clutched onto it, her breathing withheld as she eyed it warily. When the servant looked inside and found gold, her mouth was agape. It was well greater than what she would earn in a year from working. The girl looked up at him again with the same large eyes filled with bewilderment and fright.
“You will watch the princess closely. Stay by her side day and night. In your letters, you will report to me anything she does that is unusual—take down the names of the people she speak to, and the places where she goes. Do you understand, girl?” his voice was low and menacing.
She nodded quickly enough.
“Will I need to describe what happens should you fail me?” His hand grasped onto her shoulder, digging into her skin to reinforce his threat.
She attempted to stifled back a painful wince but failed. Her voice faltered as she answered, unable to meet his gaze, “N-No, Your Excellency.”
As he released her, Asher presented a smile that was almost affectionate. “Excellent. Now attend to your mistress and get out of my sight,” the Lord Governor said in a voice that was strangely calm, but not absent of malice.
The servant fled as fast as her legs could carry her. The speed at which she ran from him brought a satisfied grin to his face. Ah, and this is how it should be.
Thanks: 9 in 2 Posts
Thanks: 5 in 2 Posts
I could see you are putting a lot of effort into this. Good work =)
Even with minimal custom content, you still make it look so enchanting and divine.
I love the haze (or the light glow) from the Egyptian sun in your pics.
Everything is done to absolute perfection, keep it up
Realm of Torment
For three days the Drustanis traveled through the desert, headed for Nazeen. It was known as the trading center of the world; the bridge between nations and the jewel of the East. Indeed, the magnificence of the great city was apparent for all to see. It was encircled by thick granite walls which stood over thirty feet high, elaborately carved with depictions of great battle scenes. Statues of dead heroes and old gods looked down upon them as they rode through the city streets.
The smell of exotic spices and scented oils drifted from the bazaars, where a hundred merchants and tradesman displayed their goods in the market stalls: bolts of intricate lace and wool dyed in rich colors; copper breastplates and helms hanging from armor racks; rings and bracelets made of every gemstone.
From the entertainment quarter, the sound of music and laughter sundered through the air. Courtesans and prostitutes clothed in vibrant silks stood atop the balconies of the pleasure houses, flirting with men who passed them by. There was an old saying that in Nazeen, anything and anyone can be bought, where price was the only obstacle.
For many centuries, the city of Nazeen has gone without kings or emperors. It was overseen by the Guild of Mercers, but gold was its one true ruler, the universal language understood by all.
The general led the caravan group to the harbor, where their ship lay docked. She was Erasmus, one hundred and thirty tons of Asvatan wood expertly carved into shape of a swan. As the general approached, the crew members immediately stopped to salute him. A rotund man with thick, auburn hair shuffled forth through the crowd. He was Anders Trevalion, the captain of their ship.
“General Severin, I’m afraid that our voyage must be delayed for quite some time,” he said in a dire voice.
“Is there something wrong, Captain?” Severin asked with undisguised irritation.
"A storm is coming—a large one."
The general looked up to the fair sky unconvincingly. The day had been hot and clear, not a cloud spotted in sight.
"I see that you are dubious, but I can feel it in the air—call it a sailor's premonition, if you will," the man quickly added.
Severin glowered at the captain, his disdain made evident by the blackened expression on his face. "I would advise you to place less faith in what the air tells you," the general mocked, "and worry more about what will happen should you encounter my displeasure. This ship will set sail for Drustan within the hour, and I will not be delayed by your nonsense," he snapped. The desert heat was becoming unbearable, pushing him beyond lines of civility. Malik Severin refused to stay in the East for any longer.
He could see a sheen of sweat running down the captain’s temple, whether from heat or nervousness, he did not know. The man began to speak rapidly—some words of apology, most likely—but the general did not deign to care or listen further.
The captain turned and shouted commands to the crew, who hurried to ready the ship for passage. The great white sails were released, revealing the image of a serpentine dragon.
With eyes closed, Severin inhaled a deep breath, tasting the wind and the ocean’s salt breeze. They were heading home. At last.
In her entire life, Sura had stayed within the city walls of Asshai. To see the ocean for the first time, was a moment which took her breath away. The water was liquid gold, a fierce blend of copper and velvet blue; the last reflection of the dying sun. Never had she imagined that the sea would be so vast, stretching well beyond the horizon. It seemed infinite, engulfing her in its dark waters.
She would have liked to stay above deck, content to spend the rest of the trip sleeping outside beneath the open sky, but Aaliyah came before her own desires. They followed the captain below, who showed them to their quarters.
For the next several hours, her mistress played the qin as she usually did, unstopping and unaffected by anyone else, seemingly lost in her own trance. And then, the princess abruptly stopped in the middle of a song, “Find General Severin. I wish to invite him for tea,” Aaliyah said in a blithe manner.
Sura froze as she could only stare at her mistress in complete stupor. “Invite him for tea? He killed your father and slaughtered our people!” Sura yelled in exasperation. One did not simply invite a mass-murderer over for tea as if he were some friendly acquaintance. Perhaps Aaliyah has gone mad, Sura thought. Surely, their taxing journey through the hot desert must’ve driven the princess beyond reason.
“—Have you forgotten about that, my lady?” Sura asked.
Aaliyah sighed in response. “The day which I begin to forget is the day that you should throw my body onto a funeral pyre and burn it—with me dead or alive,” she spoke in a voice devoid of inflection, as if she were reciting some tedious fact to an idiot child.
“I beg for your forgiveness, Princess.”
“Go,” Aaliyah said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
With a bow, Sura took her leave. In agonizing slowness, she walked through the dark corridors to the general’s room, trepidation consuming her thoughts.
For days he had avoided them, riding at the very front of the group, not once looking back. His messages were always sent by a courier, never conveyed directly to the princess. Usually, Aaliyah drew men towards her, but the general was one to keep his distance. Whatever his reasons were, Sura was grateful.
There was not another man whom she found to be more terrifying. He possessed a cold rage chilled into silence, tempered only by the strictest discipline. His anger unleashed was a frightening thought which caused her to shudder involuntarily.
For a quite some time, Sura had stood in front of the general’s door as she cursed Aaliyah for sending her there. At last, she finally knocked.
There had been no response. Perhaps he was asleep, she thought, or perhaps he was elsewhere. Relief washed over her, as she would be spared of having to confront the general. With an exhale of her breath, Sura turned around, eager to leave, but then someone spoke—
Command and total confidence exuded from that single word, spoken in a deep timbre which easily carried through the wooden door. Hesitantly, she walked into the chamber.
The general was lying stretched out across the large bed, not deigning to rise at her entrance, for an insignificant slave who did not warrant his troubles. Rather, he only watched her from the corner of his predatory eyes, silent and unmoving, impatiently waiting for her state the purpose for disturbing his rest. Aside from the twitch of a muscle in his jaw, he might’ve otherwise been carved from stone.
His eyes were black and cold as onyx, deeply set in a cruel face devoid of any kindness. He laid unclothed and unabashed, with only a thin blanket to cover his nakedness. Innumerable scars covered his torso, some old while others were still recent. Time has honed his body into razor sharpness. Across his left pectoral, she could see the faded tattoo of a coiling snake. Indeed, the Viper of Drustan seemed every bit of the devil as he was described.
She felt her pulse quickening as her mouth began to dry, although not from thirst. It was part revulsion, and a more disturbing feeling which she would never admit. "The princess has asked for you," Sura said.
At those words, the general immediately rose as the bed-sheets fell around his waist. With one hand combing through his disheveled hair, he mumbled to her, "I need to get dressed."
Without another glance, she sped from his room and shut the door.
I look like shit, Severin noted as he observed his reflection in the mirror. With bloodshot eyes and a gaunt face covered in ugly scars, he could hardly be described as attractive by anyone. Vanity has never been one of his vices, and yet here he was, fussing over what to wear before the Asharan princess.
This is ridiculous. She is blind. What does it matter what I look like? As the general hastily dressed, he cursed himself for his foolishness. When has he ever been an indecisive man? Or a self-conscious one, for that matter.
He was not himself, and was even more irritable than usual as of late. For the past couple of weeks, his mind has been constantly on edge. The episodes of insomnia, which had tormented his nights for years, has finally returned.
With haste, Severin donned on a pair of trousers and a simple leather jerkin. When he exited his room, he found that the slave girl was still standing in the hallway, waiting for him. As he approached, she eyed him with suspicion, her disdain and hatred unmistakable.
Severin met her scrutiny with an equally venomous look. "What does your lady want with me?"
"Hell, if I know," the girl muttered underneath her breath. She turned around and led him to the princess's quarters, a room not far from his own.
"Your Highness," the general stiffly bowed before the Asharan princess as he approached her, "You have asked for me?"
She sat in a weirwood chair, her expression a blank and inscrutable mask. “Be seated, General. We have much to discuss.”
The last time he had spoken to princess was when he first received her in Asshai. Not a single word had been exchanged between them until now. By keeping at a distance, the general had hoped to avoid conflict, but perhaps such a confrontation was inevitable. So, the time has come for debts to be paid and for scores to be settled.
Severin took his place in the chair opposite from her, a small table dividing them. He sat in silence, waiting for the Asharan princess to speak as the slave girl began to pour him a cup of tea.
“Lumesian tea is made from a rare flower which only blooms once every spring,” Aaliyah began, “It can taste the very sweetest or the most bitter, depending on how it is prepared; a most grueling process which may take hours, but the end result is always worth it, I believe. I beg you to try some, General,” she spoke in a leveled voice which revealed nothing.
The slave girl had placed the cup before him, but none was offered for her mistress, as Severin noted.
Poison. There had been no doubt in his mind that they intended to kill him with whatever was in that drink.
With narrowed eyes, he met her gaze with a vicious look, "I am not thirsty," he replied in a steady voice that matched her tone.
"—but I insist."
He could have refused. He could have walked away then and she would be unable to force him to do anything. And yet, Severin remained seated as he stared at the steam which rose from the cup.
'All men will die', he could hear it now—that voice which had spoken to him to many years ago, 'Whether it will be the next day, the next month, or the next year—there is no difference. Death comes to all of us.'
As the general looked down into the chalice, he took a moment to reflect upon his life. He had nothing to live for, and nothing to lose. No one to mourn. Only misery followed his path, inflicting death and pain upon to those who were around him.
He held the cup against his lips and drained it in one gulp. His tongue had burned as he forced the scorching liquid down his throat, but not once had he stop or hesitate. One life in payment for another. That was fair.
When the general was finished, he slammed the empty cup back onto the table, signaling to her that he had drank all of it. Severin sat slouched back in his chair, with both hands clenched until his knuckles turned white. With eyes closed, he waited for death to come.
Would it be quick and painless? Or had she meant for me to suffer first? He had not tasted anything out of the ordinary, but some of the deadliest poisons were undetectable, as he well knew.
So, this is where the story ends—the famed general who has never been bested in combat, would meet his unfortunate demise in the hands of a blind girl and her slave, Severin thought bitterly to himself. He had always hoped to die in battle, with a sword in hand—a warrior’s death—an honorable death. Oh, how his enemies would laugh at him now.
The beating of his heart began to slow to quiet pace. He opened his eyes and found her smiling at him, in that mocking way of hers. "Is vengeance everything you had hoped it would be?" he murmured.
“Vengeance?” Her face lit in amusement as a wicked glint flashed in her unnatural eyes. "Did you believe that I had tampered with your drink?”
And why wouldn’t she?
"I killed your father—" and a great many deal of others.
"Well, General Severin,” Aaliyah began as she leaned forth, her voice dropping to a low hush, “There is one thing that you should know about me—I would never spoil good tea. Now that would be a most unforgivable crime.” she said with a sardonic smile.
She was toying with him. So, suffering it was. The beating of his heart, which had previously slowed even pace, began to quicken as a flush of irritation stirred within him, resentful of being subjected to ridicule by a girl half his age. He might’ve liked to strangle her, but then the Empress would never forgive him.
“Did you enjoy the taste?” Aaliyah asked.
The general did not answer, but only scowled in response. The animosity in his expression might have appalled her had she been able to see it. Perhaps then, she would not be smiling so pleasantly.
“The tea is made from the petals of the Lumesia flower, which blooms near the temple where I once took sanctuary. Every spring, the hillside would be covered in magnificent blue flowers. It is a most lovely sight to behold, or so it is said. I regret that I’ve never been able to see it for myself, but I will always remember the smell. It reminds me very much of home,“ Aaliyah said with a nostalgic sigh, “I would have been content to spend the rest of my life there, as a priestess of Iset—”
“A priestess?” Severin could not help but to scoff in disbelief, as he regarded Aaliyah with a critical look. There was not another woman who was more unlikely.
She had lips which beckoned to be kissed, a mouth that could tempt any man to sin. His gaze dropped from her face to her body, resting at the top of her breasts. That day, she had worn a sheer gown that was low cut, revealing too much, and at the same time, not enough. The dress clung to her skin, highlighting every tantalizing curve.
The provocative way which she sat caused him to briefly ponder whether she had chosen such a scandalous garment to purposefully goad him. She was far too devious, and far too coquettish. A woman such as her was not meant to lead a chaste life. A wasted life.
His heavy-lidded eyes met her gaze once again. “If you are a priestess, then I am Queen of Drustan,” Severin remarked dryly.
“Oh, but I assure you that I am,” Aaliyah said with a wry smile. “I can even be your confessor, if you so desire. Are there any sins which you’d like me to absolve you from, General?” she teased.
He wouldn’t even know where to begin.
With both hands placed on the table, Severin leaned forth until her face was mere inches from his, her breath warm on his skin. She smelled of perfume of a light, exotic scent. With his gaze lingering on her lips, and in a brief moment of sheer insanity, he wondered if she would taste just as sweet.
But that fleeting notion quickly dissipated, as the stark reality returned. Even as they sat together, they were still apart, separated by a gulf wider than any difference of race or birth. Above all, they were enemies, a fact that was unalterable. "I am in no mood for your games," he growled in a low voice, “Speak what you have to say, and then leave me be.”
And with those threatening words, any trace of humor had left. The Asharan princess leaned back in her chair as the mask returned, concealing all thought and emotion. Her expression was set stern as she spoke to him in that leveled voice devoid of inflection, “There is something that I’ve been wondering—for many generations, House Kartane has been too proud to intermarry with outsiders. They firmly believe that the imperial bloodline must be kept ‘pure’. So, why now? Why must I wed Ramiz? We both know that the Drustanis will never accept me as one of their own.”
Severin hesitated for some time before responding. Meanwhile, his suspicion of her only grew. “We have word that Kantha has built a large fleet,” he began as he eyed the Asharan princess warily, watching for any subtle gestures which may betray her thoughts. “They are mobilizing their troops. Drustan may risk the possibility of an invasion in the near future,” he answered truthfully.
“Ah,” she breathed as her grin returned, no doubt relishing from hearing the fact. “But, do you truly believe that Ashara will ever support Drustan? After you have butchered our king, slaughtered our people, and desecrated our sacred temples?” she asked so nonchalantly.
The general himself doubted such an alliance, but his duty was to obey, not to question. He would escort her safely to capital, as commanded. What happens afterwards was none of his concern.
“When the time has come, and if the Asharans refuse to cooperate—will I face the same fate as my kin, when I am no longer of use?”
He did not contradict her. “Take my advice—do not ask too many questions. You will not like the answers you find. Life in the Drustanis court is nothing like the sheltered existence which you've led in your temples with your priests,” he spat out the word with contempt.
There was not a group of people whom Malik Severin despised more. They would sit in their temples, chanting their false prayers and doing nothing of value or importance, growing fat off the charity of gullible imbeciles who funded their schemes.
“Exaggerate your helplessness. Play the part of the witless blind girl, if you wish to live for long,” he hissed. And with that brusque advice, Severin abruptly stood to take his leave.
The general stood on top of the human bones which lie scattered across the dark caverns, in a never-ending sea of dead corpses. The stench of blood and rot permeated the atmosphere, suffocating his lungs. He could not breathe. He could not think.
He could hear it now—that voice which had spoken to him so many years before.
The voice echoed throughout the caverns in a maddening repetition which would not cease no matter how much he wished for it to stop. It taunted him. It called to him.
“A dog without honor…”
His will was not his own. An omnipotent force compelled his body to move, no matter how hard he tried to resist. The general followed the source of the sound, which led him to a pathway that spired to the upper level. Barefooted, he climbed five thousand agonizing steps. Shards of rock pierced the soles of his feet, until his flesh was raw and crimson, a trail of blood left in his path.
At last, the general reached his destination—the source of his despair. It was here where the voice was clearest. He stood in a room for which there was no ceiling, where only darkness loomed above.
Four burning trees lie ahead, one carved with a face that was old ancient as time itself. Its eyes were two endless black voids, all-knowing and all-seeing. They seared into his soul, stripping him of his flesh until he shivered, presented naked before them as the day he was born. Nowhere to run. Nothing to hide under.
When the voice had spoken again, its lips would move,
“How many of your brethren have you killed?”
The general fell to his knees and wept, begging for forgiveness.
“Your deeds are beyond repentance...”
The flames had quickly spread, consuming his body in an inferno. An excruciating pain overtook his mind, banishing all other thought aside from the agony. He opened his mouth to scream, but the sound of his anguish was drowned in the crackling of the fire.
Severin's eyes opened to the first sound of thunder, a deafening roar which jolted his mind completely awake. He sat in the darkness, breathing deeply as his pulse raced. His stomach was still in vicious knots, sickened by the sights which he had seen.
For twenty long years, he has suffered from restless nights and dreams plagued by memories which refused to be repressed. Malik Severin had never wanted a conscience, and yet here it was, manifesting itself in his nightmares. A mere unwelcomed annoyance.
The sound of rainfall soon filled the emptiness of his room, followed by thunder. He could feel the sharp sway of the ship, no doubt from the clashing waves.
It was the beginnings of a storm. So, that fool of a captain had been right after all. Malik Severin should have been afraid, and yet, he felt oddly calm.
With a heavy sigh, he fell back onto the bed, waiting for sleep to claim him, but in such conditions he knew that sleep would be near impossible. With his keen senses, he could almost hear the splatter of each raindrop, the splashing of ocean waves, and the creaking of every wooden plank.
And then, an entirely new melody drifted to his ears—the sound of a woman singing, in a voice that was low and haunting. It was not loud— scarcely above a maiden’s whisper—and yet he could still hear it clearly all the same.
He rose in an eerie way, as one who was under the spell of a siren’s song. He did not remember going, but the general eventually found himself standing in front of her room once more—outside the very room which he had left in hurry earlier that day.
Her door had been left open. Inside, the Asharan princess was sitting in the darkness of her bedchambers, unlit by any candle. It must have been in the late hours of night then, as the others were all fast asleep, but for the two of them it seemed.
Despite her lack of sight, she could play the qin flawlessly with a precision which he could not help but to admire. She had the most exquisite hands, graced with long, elegant fingers. They glided in waves over the silken strings, producing harmonic notes which floated through the air. Her expression held a tranquil look, her eyes fully closed. Severin closed his own, joining her in the dark.
He did not understand the words which she sung, but one did not need to know the lyrics of a song to appreciate its beauty. Her voice had lulled him into the first sense of peace he experienced in a long time. In that moment, they were the only two people who existed in the world. He could hear of nothing else—not the pounding rain or roaring thunder—but only her.
As the final note was struck, the general opened his eyes. The noise from the storm slowly filled room once again, as he was brought back to reality. When the song had ended, Severin turned and began to walk away. The wooden floorboards of the ship creaked underneath his weight, betraying his position.
"Is someone there?" Aaliyah asked as she turned in his direction..
The general stood perfectly still, debating over his next step. His inner voice told him to leave, but his body would not obey. “I had meant to apologize for my behavior. It was... rude of me," he said at last. A strange feeling overcame him. Severin could not remember the last time he apologized to anyone. Remorse and regret was not something which he had ever allowed himself to feel. A man of his profession could not afford to.
"It is forgotten," she said simply.
He lingered by the entrance in awkward silence, not wanting to leave and not knowing what else to say. Idle conversation was never something which Severin cared for, a meaningless diversion which he has always attributed to flatterers and fools. Nonetheless, he now found himself wanting just that, if only to hear the sound of her voice in response. "That song... what is it called?" he asked.
The Asharan princess smiled at him so sweetly that he might’ve been led to believe that she truly bore him no ill will, were he a less cautious man. "It is an old Malazan tune about an angel; Raziel is his name. He is the guardian of the shadow realms, the punisher of wicked souls—" she answered.
Malik Severin did not believe in Hell, but if such a place existed, he would be in it.
"—The legends say that once every ten thousand years, he is reincarnated as a mortal so that he would understand the pain and suffering of man," Aaliyah continued, "It is said that when Raziel is reborn, the skies will turn completely red to mark of his coming. Or at least, that is what the Malazan people believed."
"Their empire had been destroyed over five centuries ago. I'm surprised to find anyone that still speaks their language." Especially one so young, Severin might've added. He did not know her exact age, but the Asharan princess could not have been much older than seventeen or eighteen, at most. And yet, she carried herself in a way that seemed wiser than her years.
"I speak many languages, General. The priests have taught me more than just prayers, you know," Aaliyah said with a sardonic quirk of her lips.
"Do you miss them?"
"Not single a day pass where I do not think of them. They were the only family I had ever known. When I was very young, my father had sent me away, believing that I would remain safe if his enemies do not find me,” Aaliyah turned towards him with an ironic lift of her eyebrow. “The priests raised me since I was a child. I loved them deeply, even more than own father. Is that such an awful thing to admit?"
Severin did not know whether she had actually expected an answer from him, but he had none to give. He was an orphan himself, never knowing the love of a parent. In this matter, he had no words to offer.
"When the Drustanis came, they had refused to give me up, even when subjected to torture. All of them had been executed and the temple was burned to the ground. Their only crime was sheltering me," she said bitterly.
“Don’t you desire vengeance for their deaths?” he asked in a ruthless voice, but there had been no contempt or accusation.
She shook her head slowly, her eyes downcast. “Blood only leads to more blood. Where does it end? I do not despise you, General, or any other Drustanis. Iset teaches us to forgive. ‘The greatest mediation is a mind that lets go.’ Those are her words.”
Her voice had been pained, and her sorrow genuine. As much as he wanted to believe her, Severin found that he could not. Benevolence was not a trait which he possessed or readily understood.
"Just what will you do if after you have died, you've come to find that no such gods exist? And if your entire life had been wasted, spent idolizing something which was never real? What then?" he asked.
Aaliyah tilted her head to the side, as if in contemplation. Then she shrugged. It was done so carelessly and without thought that he believed she was toying with him again. A woman such as her never gave straight answers.
Severin could do naught else but to glower at her in response, a barrier of silence erected between them. And then, she had said something which completely perplexed him—
“Are you married, General?”
Every muscle in his body tensed. Severin stared at her in puzzlement, as if she’d asked whether he had three heads or six arms. That had been one question which he did not expect to receive, the furthest thought from his mind. “No, Your Highness,” he replied in a gruff voice which he’d hardly recognized as his own, “I have never wed.”
“No?” Aaliyah asked with a slight teasing in her quiet voice. “But you must be over fifty now—”
“I am thirty-seven,” he corrected quickly enough.
“Ah. Since I was a young girl, I have heard tales of you. I have always envisioned you as someone… older.”
“I've held a sword since I was ten, and have fought in battles at the age of fourteen.”
"You were practically still a child then," she remarked in horror. "Does the Drustanis army usually recruit boys so young?"
"No." He had been a special case.
Aaliyah waited patiently for him to elaborate, but the general remained silent. Sensing that he was uncomfortable to speak more about the matter, she changed the subject, “And now that the war is over, what will you do?”
"The Emperor has granted me some land for my services," Severin answered humbly. In truth, the Emperor had rewarded with him enough wealth to live out the rest of his life in luxury, along with a castle surrounded by two hundred acres of lush soil.
"I've never had the opportunity to see it for myself," he admitted, "Perhaps, I will finally retire to my home and tend to the land—sow some seeds and watch the crops grow," Severin answered in jest. The life of a farmer was even more mundane than the life of a priestess.
And with that, Aaliyah laughed. He did not think that it was possible for her to be any more exquisite, but when she laughed, her entire face transformed. She became very much alive, possessing the radiance of a thousand splendid suns. The sound of her delight was far lovelier than any nightingale's song.
Her laughter. Her smile. A man almost could start believing in angels and paradise. And then, it was gone, fading perhaps too quickly. He did not want it to disappear. Severin began to wonder what it would take to make her laugh again. He might’ve given anything, if just to see her smile, a genuine smile that wasn’t feigned for once.
And what a novel sight that would be, he cynically thought.
"I must confess, I cannot picture you doing such a thing. From the horrible stories they tell of you, I would imagine you were..." she trailed off, unable to find the right word.
"...Some demon?" he interjected.
The briefest hint of a grimace flickered across his face. He has been called by every foul name which existed. Bastard. Devil. Traitor. Most have been rightly deserved. But of course, no one has ever dared to call him by such names in his presence. People who crossed Malik Severin never lived to tell about it.
He decided to humor her notions of him, “Did you know, Your Highness, that once every full moon, I sprout horns and grow fangs?”
Aaliyah’s mouth curved the tiniest bit upwards. It was almost a smile. “Is that it? I expected wings and a tail. You disappoint me, General.”
“Alas, I am a simple man, made of flesh and blood as any other.”
"No, not simple at all, I believe." she remarked quietly. Her pale eyes were downcast as she spoke in a more dire tone, "Men who are accustomed to war often find themselves restless in times of peace. Tell me, would you ever be content living the life a civilian?"
It was his turn to be without an answer. War had been the only thing which Severin knew. And now that it was over, an empty feeling gripped his heart. His days were plagued by melancholy and a sense of longing. He craved for the rush adrenaline, for the blood coursing through his veins. The only time he had ever truly felt alive was when he fought.
Severin opened his mouth to respond, but no words formed on his lips. He was spared of having to answer her question when a commotion came about—he could hear the shouting men above the deck. The sound of people running sundered through the halls. As he looked out the door, Severin saw that Captain Trevalion was frantically rushing towards him.
“What is it?” Severin asked.
The captain looked up to him in utter terror. “General—the ship is under attack.”
Thanks: 4 in 1 Posts
As I have said before, I just love how you write ... The photos are great too and maybe it would be a little tiring to read the story without them, but your style ... is amazing! ^^ I love the descriptions and I have to say that the characters' thoughts are my favorite part ^^ I wish I could write like you in English ^^
Now I can't wait to see what happens to the Princess and to Severin ^^
Thanks: 7 in 2 Posts
They attacked at midnight, under the guise of the brutal storm to shield of their arrival. Over a hundred armed men assailed the ship, slaughtering every Drusanis aboard.
They wore no symbols and carried no banners—no outwardly signs of allegiance to any particular faction. At first glimpse, one would assume that they were corsairs, but to the trained eye that was not so.
Their numbers were far too plenty, unusually large for a group of marauders. They attacked in trained formation, with a discipline which equaled to that of Northern warriors, and no less savage or fearsome. Although the Emperor's soldiers were the undisputedly the best, these men proved to be no easy foe.
But one thing was certain—they must be simply mad to have chosen to assault a Drustanis ship.
For many centuries, even the most daring of pirates have left the merchant ships pass unmolested through the Jade Seas. Its formidable sails, emblazoned with the serpentine dragon of Kartane, served as a warning to all: an attack on any Drustanis—no matter how small or insignificant—was an act of open aggression against Drustan as a whole.
Just when one war had ended, it now seemed that another may soon begin.
Twenty years of warfare has honed the general into a weapon that killed with merciless efficiency. This was what he was forged to do; what he had trained for.
The Viper of Drustan, they called him, for his sword was coated with a toxin so deadly that it took only one cut to bring down any opponent—no matter strong or weak, small or large—for once the venom has entered into the bloodstream, the heart will cease to function.
He was outnumbered, but not outmatched. He was too fast, and too illusive.
One by one, they came at him.
Many times, he had dodged their blows and sliced through the weak gaps within their armor. And each time he would smile as he slit open an opponent's throat with his sword.
And one by one, they fell to his blade.
The wooden floorboards of the ship, previously a dull shade of mahogany, was now painted crimson with the blood of men. A red taint covered the entirety of its surface, running so thick as it even failed to be wholly washed with the pounding rain.
And such a pretty color it was—Red for hate. Red for anger. Red for passion. In comparison, everything else seemed muted. Colorless. Monotonous. Lifeless.
The leather jerkin he wore was now also stained in blood; some being his, while most belonged to others. The numerous gashes he endured was only a dull sting barely realized, as they did not hinder his movement by the very least. But after such a long period of apathy and numbness, he even welcomed the pain, if only a testament to the fact that he could still feel.
In that moment, he recalled the question posed to him earlier before. Every word had been eternally seared into his memory: 'Men who are accustomed to war often find themselves restless in times of peace. Tell me, General, would you ever be content living the life of a civilian?'
She had spoken so simply without ever knowing how intently those words had affected him, or the weight of which he regarded them. And now, they were forever echoing in the back of his mind as realization dawned: Indeed, this was what he had longed for during the past year—what he craved so desperately during those endless nights—the feel of battle. How intensely he had wished to experience the rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins once more as the cold air filled his lungs.
And now, he deeply inhaled, which had felt like the first breath drawn after a lifetime of suffocation. It was almost euphoric, overwhelming his senses. Had anything else ever tasted as sweet? The violence readily embraced him, with the familiarity of an old friend and the warmth of a lover's caress.
But why is it that the only time he ever felt alive was when he fought? Why does his heart only beat in the presence of violence? What perverse cruelty afflicted him with the desire to inflict pain onto others?
His brief moment of self-reflection was soon broken by the sound of a woman's shriek. In the far distance, he saw the slave girl who had attended to the Asharan princess. Her hair was left in disarray, windblown and drenched by the fierce storm. She was chasing after two men who had gotten a hold of her mistress.
However, her efforts to free the princess were in vain, as she was no match for their sheer strength. The corsairs had treated her as a mere annoyance at first—brusquely shoving her aside—but she proved to be a stubborn sort, rising again and again after each time she fell, determined to save her lady.
At last, one of them had driven a sword point into her abdomen. From the corner of his eye, he saw her fell onto the floor as dark blood seeped from her wound. The crimson liquid pooled around her lifeless corpse and mingled with the blood of fallen. One more body had been added to the countless others which lie scattered across the deck, to be trampled upon by those who still stood fighting.
One of the marauders had caught the Asharan princess in his arms, laughing as he pulled her closer; then another struck him hard atop the head with axe-hilt, as someone else grabbed her from behind. They were quarreling amongst themselves over who would have her first.
In a frenzied state, the general fought desperately to get to her side, slashing through anyone who stood in his path. However, their numbers were far too great, and he could not get to her quickly enough.
"Malik Severin!" A loud voice called out to him, piercing through the sound of the pouring rain and the clashing of swords.
His head whipped around to face the man who had shouted his name. A sense of horror gripped him when he saw her, with a blade pressed underneath her chin. His gaze immediately shifted from the Asharan princess to the man who was holding her captive.
There, he met a pair of eyes which mirrored his own—black and cold as onyx—set in a gaunt face devoid of any warmth. It was a vaguely familiar sight, a long-forgotten visage. Where had he seen those eyes before? He could not recall.
He knows my name. It was then that Severin understood—that they were no ordinary corsairs. The attack on the ship had been a premeditated one, no random chance encounter. These men had come for blood, and not for gold. Above all, it was he whom they personally sought.
"Drop your weapon," the man threatened as he held a dagger to Aaliyah's throat.
The general hesitated. She was only a woman and an Asharan one, no less—a group of people whom he despised most of all. How many of them had he personally killed over the years without a passing thought? Why would he be affected by the very least on whether she lives or dies? The simple fact that he was even considering to surrender was incomprehensible.
When the man saw that the general was unyielding, he pressed the knife harder against her throat to reinforce his threat. A trickle of blood ran down her neck, followed by more drops of crimson. And yet, she never flinched or cried out, but only stood with her heavy-lidded eyes downcast, her gaze hollow and vacant.The Asharan princess did not plead, nor did she begged.
Severin stood motionlessly, refusing to submit, but neither did he attack. In a silent understanding, Aaliyah turned her face away, as if she could no longer bear to tolerate his presence.
Had she possess so little faith in him all along? Was it disgust or disappointment which had brought her to turn from him, a devil known to be absent of the slightest shred of honor or compassion. She would not be wrong to regard him with such disdain. This would not have been the first time in which he betrayed another's trust.
In that moment, lighting illuminated the entire sky in a bright flash of white, casting dark shadows over the ship. His heart began to sped to a deafening pace as an unfamiliar emotion tore at his chest, deepening as he saw the pained expression which she tried to hide. Was it dread that he was feeling? Or concern? —for her?
Certainly not. Severin quickly dismissed the notion. He had sworn a vow to look after her safety—that was all. Surely, his failure in his duty was the only explanation.
His hands went limp, dropping the blade which he had kept by his side for over twenty years. As his sword fell onto the floor, it made a clanging noise which rang above all other distractions. It was then that time seemed to have stopped, as he could no longer hear of anything else—not of the rain, not of the thunder. Unconsciously, his fingers flexed, reaching for a illusory weapon that was no longer there. His sword hand felt oddly lighter—unfamiliar—as if missing an essential part of his person.
His gaze left the Asharan princess, resting back on her captor. Instead of finding a look of satisfaction as he had expected, there was only a fleeting glimpse of shock coupled with amusement. Had the man doubted that the general would relent? Severin himself was equally surprised by his own action.
What have I done? he silently asked. He no longer breathed, and for a prolonged period, it seemed as if his heart had ceased to beat.
The man had lifted the dagger from her neck but still he held a firm grip on her arm. With one hand raised, he signaled to his comrades.
Two men approached from behind. The general did not resist, but only stood in silence as they tightly bound his hands together with rope, leaving no room for him to move even if he had tried.
However, there was not a chance of his surrender being mistaken for submission. His eyes seethed only of hatred, darkening with each passing second as his gaze rested on cut marring her skin. An inexplicable, possessive rage built within his chest as he looked at the arm draped around her shoulders, its rough fingers digging into her flesh.
Inwardly, Severin began to curse himself. And to think, that he had so foolishly thought she would be spared—only from a certain death it now seemed, but not from a worse fate. A beautiful woman such as her would not be relinquished untouched. Perhaps it would have been kinder of him to let her die that day—buried at sea—without shame, and without suffering.
While it was true that that the general was greatly outnumbered, he would have been able to slay a dozen more before following her to the afterlife. With a blade in hand, he would have died a warrior's death; an honorable death. But his indecision, in turn, had possibly doomed them both.
Unbeknownst to the general, their captor was studying his every reaction with a peculiar interest. A mocking smile formed on the man's lips, ugly and twisted, as he shouted the last orders to his crew, "Take these two as prisoners. Kill the rest."
Six days had passed since the attack on Erasmus. For six agonizing days, they had endured the journey to this place. It was a fortress built with thick walls of heavy stone, windowless save for the towers.
Its dungeons lie beneath the fortress, a countless number of prison cells. As they were led through its winding corridors, Severin could feel the vast weight of it all pressing down on him from above, a tremendous sense of mass and confinement. Faint sounds echoed through its halls--
But even the sounds were not the worst part of it.
Ultimately, it was the stench. The smell of death and decay clung heavily to each chamber they visited.
As they passed by one cell, a prisoner threw up his forearm to shield against the lantern light. His hair was greying, disheveled and matted through long years of neglect. In another cell, Severin spotted a figure of a man--or what it appeared to be--crouching at the wall below his window, scraping at the stones with long, curved nails. Dried blood mixed with dirt was caked beneath them.
The other captives fared no better. All of them were dirty and threadbare, with faces lacking any sign of life. The odor of human waste wafted through the air from the chamber pots too-seldomly emptied, coupled with the faint smell of decomposition.
How long had they been kept here? Would he be left in this place to rot like the others?
When they had stopped, he was roughly pushed into a cell along with the Asharan princess. The thick wooden bars slammed shut, chained in place by a single lock.
Their own prison was a stony chamber not even ten paces wide. It held a pallet of straw ticking, a low wooden stool and two buckets; one containing water to drink and the other to be used as a bedpan. High on the opposite wall, there was a single window from which a chilling breeze drifted through.
North. They were somewhere north.
Twice a day, a guard brought in food, varying in quality and quantity alike. Sometimes they were given nothing more than stale bread and old porridge, and at other times it was fish broth or a slab of mutton. At first, Severin had been scarcely able to keep it down, but when the hunger came, one could hardly be fastidious. And so, he forced himself to eat.
But she did not.
Their journey had been carried out in silence as neither one spoke to the other. Since their imprisonment, the Asharan princess sat huddled in the far corner of their cell, facing the stone wall and unmoving from her spot. For the past few days, she did not eat. She did not sleep.
Was she ill? His heartbeat sped at the possibility.
"Here," Severin offered as he carried a bowl of soup over to her, "You should try and eat something to keep up your strength."
"I'm not hungry," Aaliyah answered as she simply turned away from him.
For once, he had sought to do someone else a kindness, only to have his efforts dismissed. Did she take him for some tedious servant? A scowl formed on his scarred face. "Then starve to death if that is your wish," Severin said, more harshly than he intended as he placed the bowl onto the floor beside her. His eyes narrowed vehemently as he waited for a response. When she made no movement, he continued, "My conscience is not so fragile as to try and save your life against your will. If death is what you wanted, then I should have let him kill you and save us both the trouble--"
"Why didn't you?" she asked in a strange intonation.
His body stilled. Why he had surrendered, he did not completely understand. A part of him did not want to see her die, as so many others had died by his hands. Despite the war between Ashara and Drustan--regardless of all hatreds justified and imagined--she was personally blameless.
There was another reason; one closer to heart. Throughout the years, he had watched men live and die on the battlefields. The women and the children--they were no exceptions either. He had watched families torn apart, and he had heard their cries of sorrow.
But a large part of him was desensitized to a great many deal of things. Perhaps that was for the best. A man such as he could not afford to feel. Saying farewell was a thousand times more painful when it is said to someone whom you love. That had been the reason why he chose to distance himself from others. He did not want to love. He did not want to care.
And yet, that night on the ship when they last spoke, he had felt something. As the general listened to her song, he dreamt not of an empire borne from war and death, but a place of grace and beauty. He imagined a life not filled with bloodshed, where each day was lived in uncertainty whether he would see the next rise of dawn.
He had tried to envision the homeland which he had never been a part of--a house built by a river's edge, surrounded by lush fields of swaying grass. He would've had a wife and children, and a family to call his own. It was something which he had never sought for himself, until she had briefly mentioned it.
It was a strange notion.
Would he even be the same person? Had history been different, they might have been friends instead of enemies.
What might have been. What could have been. Those words belonged only in dreams and songs--intangible and meaningless--for they held no purpose in the present world. There was no point in wallowing in regret or sorrow, as history still remains unaltered. Despite her assurance of otherwise, a part of her will always despise him for who he is and for what he's done.
He stood before her now as a remorseless killer, undeserving of any sympathy. His hands were stained in blood, a taint which could not be washed clean by any method.
"I had acted rashly in a moment of weakness," Severin answered bitterly, "A mistake now sorely realized. Do not take it for a kindness." He did not know he had expected from her--not tears of gratitude, surely--but even a simple acknowledgement would have sufficed. A sliver of his subconscious had hoped for something more than indifference.
The Asharan princess opened her mouth to respond, but then closed it and said nothing more. The silence between them was soon filled with a quiet prayer, for the girl who had died the night on the ship, so that her soul might be guided to the afterlife.
Was this the reason for her refusal to eat? She was grieving over the worthless life of serving girl? It was absurd. "She was just a slave," Severin remarked callously.
The Asharan princess turned to him with an angered expression on her face, one which he had never seen before. "She was my friend."
"If you must pray, then pray to your gods to release us from this hell... and what ever good that will do," Severin mocked. "Perhaps Setesh will be moved by your pleas, and come flying here on his great winged horse to whisk us away," he added in a sarcastic tone.
The general was being deliberately cruel again. Of this, he was well aware. It was an inherent facet of himself which had never been fully tempered, and the unpleasant surroundings further brought out the worst in him.
It was this place. It was the stench. It was never-ending screams which faintly echoed through the dark corridors, slowing driving him into insanity.
But his point still stands, as her effort was for naught. The gods have never answered to prayers. They did not listen, nor do they care.
A woman dressed in grey garb stood leaning by the entrance. Vex was her name--not the one she was born with--but the one that she was given when she had joined the guild as so many others had done before.
She was nearly six feet in height--taller than most men and no less fiercesome to those who knew her well. Her light hair was cropped short, highlighting the prominent bone structure of her face. And it was a solemn face; one which never smiled. Indeed, there was nothing pretty about her save for hereyes, which were the color of amber in sunlight. And now, Cadeon found himself under the scrutiny of its golden gaze.
"You called for me?" she asked in a bored voice.
"Have the Asharan princess bathed and brought to my room."
"I am not your servant, Cadeon," she replied indignantly with arms crossed against her chest, one brow raised as if to challenge him.
"Yes, but I still outrank you," he answered in an even tone, "And besides, you're the only other woman here."
For a long time she stood in perfect silence, causing him to wonder if she had heard. Finally, she spoke, "Why is the girl still here? You know what the orders were--"
"I do not need you to lecture me," he interrupted. "Go, and do as you're told."
"Fine. But don't expect me to be the new caretaker for your little pet," she answered curtly as she turned around to leave.
Cadeon sighed wearily as he listened to the sound of her footsteps echoing as she walked down the hallway.
Vex. There was not a more fitting name for one such as her. Although she followed his every command with exact precision, there was always a look of disdain in her eyes. A silent defiance. But despite her troublesome nature, she was useful enough.
Aaliyah, he whispered. Now that was a pretty name, one which brought a smile to lips.
Thanks: 1 in 1 Posts
"Do you... trust me?" she asked.
What? His head whipped around as he turned to stare at her. The girl had a habit of asking the strangest questions."Why do you want to know?" he questioned her with a suspicious look.
"Do you?" she repeated more persistently.
"What does it does matter, when we are both likely to die soon?" he countered.
"You have not answered my question, General."
"Well, I do not," he replied in a flat voice after a moment's hesitation. It was an honest answer. There was little that he knew about her in the short period which they've spent together. As a rule, Severin despised everyone, but he despised her less so. Trust was another matter. The only person he could rely on was himself.
She sat for long moments in quiet contemplation, her expression inscrutable. At last, Aaliyah spoke, "I can... get us out of here."
She was definitely ill.
"The hunger must have affected your mind," Severin remarked as a frown deepened on his face. Despite her refusal to eat, he knew that she could not last much longer. The healthy glow had longed left her skin, as dark shadows were now prominent underneath her eyes. She was too thin and too frail. "There is some leftover bread which you can you eat," he offered. Their food ration was scarce--hardly enough for a single person--but he had saved some for her in spite of his own gnawing hunger.
Aaliyah shook her head.
Damnable girl. "If you have death-wish, then I will not interfere. Perhaps it's better to die of starvation than to repeatedly raped by a bunch of mercenaries."
She flinched at his harsh words, her pale gaze averted.
Any of the other men would jump at the chance to claim her as their conquest. If not for her beauty, then for her title. How many of them would love to boast of having bedded her? It was a wonder that she remained unmolested thus far.
He has seen the way the guards looked at her. The desire which lurked beneath their heated stares was undeniable. But they did not dare to do more than look.
The murderous glares that he sent their way was threatening enough. It might've been worse for her, Severin thought, if he was not here.
"Why am I not surprised?" Vex asked with an exasperated sigh as she approached their table, "It's hardly passed mid-day and already the two of you are drunker than monkey's uncle."
Devin promptly rose from his seat at her arrival. "Have you come to see me, love?" he teased.
She scoffed at his remark, "I've come for the girl. The bastard has asked for her."
"Now, that's no way to speak about our dear brother," Szeth chimed in.
"Just how far is your tongue shoved up his ass?"
"Hurry up and open the lock, Devin."
"Fine, fine," he muttered as he grabbed the keys.
From the corner of the cell, the general watched the three of them approached--
The one with spiked, silver hair entered first. From afar, he had initially mistaken her for a man. She had the height and shoulders of one, although slimmer in build.
The brutish one in the middle, Severin recognized to be a guard by the name of Devin, as the others called him. Even at a distance, the general could almost smell the ale coming from the man's breath. He was also one of the guards who leered at Aaliyah. Most of them did.
To the right stood a man with long, red hair and emerald green eyes. His features were delicate and fair, bordering on feminine. But despite his seraphic appearance, he was probably the most dangerous of the three. There was a sadistic gleam in his eyes, as he was probably one to take pleasure in pain.
All of them were staring at the Asharan princess.
"Get up," the woman commanded in a sharp tone.
When the Asharan princess remained unresponsive, she went over to yank her up by arm, as if the girl weighed no more than a rag doll.
"A beauty, isn't she?" the red-haired man remarked as he gazed at her appreciatively.
"Do you think that Cadeon will let us have a turn after he's done fucking her?"
That comment had been the breaking point of the general's temper--
He leapt from his position and tackled the man onto the floor, not giving anyone time to respond. Immediately, his fist connected to the man's face, making a loud cracking noise. There was not a more satisfying sound.
"Stop them!" the woman shouted.
The sound of the commotion--the yells, the screams--soon attracted the attention of the other guards who came running forth.
But still, Severin had refused to stop, and began to punch even harder. If he was to die today, then so be it.
They would not have her--not while he still drew breath. She was the bride of Ramiz, his prince and master. That should have been the reason why he felt the need to defend her honor. Duty would dictate that he protect her life with his.
However, the savagery and viciousness of his attack told of a more personal reason.
The general froze. It was the first time that Aaliyah had called out his name, he realized. Why did it sound so strange, when delivered from her lips?
"Enough," she whispered. There was a quiet plea in her voice which would have gone unnoticed had he not listened carefully. That single word had been spoken so simply--so softly--and yet it held an unexplained power over him that was absolute.
"Ah, gods--he broke my nose!" Devin yelled out as he held on onto his face, blood gushing through his fingers. Holding onto the wooden bars for support, he was able to heave himself upwards.
"I say we kill him now," Devin hissed between ragged breaths, "He's already killed a dozen of our men on the ship--"
"No!" the woman shouted as she got between them. "Our orders were to capture him alive. He is not to be harmed."
"Szeth! Devin! Come, we are leaving. Now."
"How does my nose look?"
"I would say that it's an improvement."
"You fatherless, son of a whore. And just how long were you planning to stand there as I was getting my face pummeled in?"
Szeth shrugged. "You've had it coming, my friend."
For hours, he had paced back and forth in the emptiness of his cell, waiting for her.
But Aaliyah did not return that night, or even the nights thereafter. He had earlier realized that she would that she would not be returning at all.
Although she was long gone, the sound of her voice still lingered. I can get us out of here, she had said.
By what means? Had she thought that if she offered her body willingly, their captors would agree to release the two of them? It was a fool's hope. They would have raped her again and again. If she were not already dead, she would soon wish that it was so. Meanwhile he was left to rot in this cage, helpless and unable to do anything.
A priestess. She had told him once that she would have been a priestess. He laughed bitterly at the memory. Truly, what justice was there in this world? One such as her did not deserve a fate such as this.
With a final yell of frustration, Severin fell back against the stone wall, and slumped onto the floor. His body was trembling, he realized, either from rage or grief he could not imagine.
With vacant eyes, he looked to the spot where she had stood days before. With one hand outstretched, he grasped at the air, reaching for an essence of her that still remained--or so he had imagined.
Aaliyah, he whispered her name.
Solitude was once something he readily embraced. But now, for the first time in his life, Severin understood the true despair of being utterly alone.
For hours it seemed, Cadeon had stood on the balcony of the fortress overlooking the area.
When nightfall came, it was oddly beautiful. He has watched as the violent shadows deepened to indigo, lengthening across the endless sky. Only from a high vantage point can one see how far light travels unimpeded, and darkness the same.
In the absence of sunlight, the temperature fell to harsh levels. But he was used to the cold by now, and readily welcomed the crisp tundra air.
Underneath the canopy of stars, a thick fog began to cover the surrounding forest, burying all which stood in its path within a white haze.
Immediately, his gaze was drawn to her--
Aaliyah. She was the last of the Shahrizai bloodline and sole heir to the throne of Ashara, were it not under the control of the Drustanis. For many years, the Empire had searched desperately for her, but only to lose her. She appeared before him now--without chains or bindings--but still a prisoner all the same.
“Leave us,” he commanded to Vex. “No one else is allowed to step foot within this room,” Cadeon ordered in a tone which dared her to say otherwise.
In a few broad steps, he quickly closed the distance between them. Two times he circled around her, assessing her from every angle as if she were a prospective purchase. Approval flashed in his hooded eyes, satisfied with what he has seen.
That eve, she wore a brown leather corset and leggings, an attire unworthy for Asharan royalty. Nevertheless, she still looked like a queen and carried herself with a grace which befitted divinity.
In the darkness of the storm, she had been lovely. Now, in the light, he saw that she was riveting.
“Leather suits you better than silks and velvet, I believe.” Cadeon murmured as he devoured her sight.
The Asharan princess stood in perfect silence as if he were not there, his remark entirely ignored.
“The guards tell me that you have not eaten in the past few days,” he continued with a quiet concern in his voice.
“I do not care for the taste of shit,” she emphasized the word as she turned her vehement gaze toward his direction.
The corner of his mouth curved upwards despite himself. “A princess of royal blood should not being using such language,” Cadeon tsked in a mocking disapproval, taking no offense at her insult.
“I would like you to join me for dinner. There is venison and Dornish wine. I do not know your preferences, but I believe that you will find it preferable to food served below,” Cadeon remarked with a wry grin, referring to the abhorrent food served to prisoners. “You would do me an honor by dining with me tonight.”
“Do I have a choice?” she asked dryly.
“No,” he answered with a half-smile.
“Come,” he held out an outstretched arm, directing her to the dining chair.
She did not move.
“Forgive me. I've forgotten that you are blind,” Cadeon remarked in a mocking voice, “Perhaps you should sit on my lap, and I will feed you from my very hands. Would you like that?”
“How considerate of you,” she answered in a contemptuous voice, “For a soulless murderer.”
“This humble servant is here to serve Your Highness in every way,” he drawled the last words in sensual tone as he presented her with an exaggerated bow.
“I'm afraid that I do not have such appetite.”
He chuckled at that. “Tonight, I wish to only speak with you. Nothing more... unless you have something else in mind?” he lightly teased. He had hoped to lessen the tension, but her face only hardened as she stood in silence.
Very well. If she had no desire to humor him, then he would press on further. This time, without false pretense of civility, “What relationship do you have with the General?” he asked bluntly.
Her fine brow arched at his crude questioning. “There is no relationship which I am aware of.”
He did not believe her. For what other reason would a man throw away his life for a woman? Honor? The bastard had none. “Why else would he laid down his sword for you?” Cadeon questioned.
“I do not know.”
He searched her face for any signs of a lie, but there was none which he could discern. Her voice was consistently even, her expression stoic and unreadable; close to boredom. She was irritatingly calm, for a girl whose life he held in his hands so completely; to kill as he desired. And yet, there she stood--without the least bit of fear.