Rota fortunae (The Wheel of Fortune)

Submitted into Contest #156 in response to: Write a story where a character is experiencing parallel realities.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Thriller

A rickety rocking chair was swaying in rhythm, simple gravity bringing forth the feeling of unprecedented control. Nothing new and unexpected was happening. One morning, I was perusing the newspaper in my favorite gray and creaky chair, observing the radiant sun emerge from behind the mighty clouds that had settled in the clear sky. The weather was favorable, with optimal humidity and a light wind. But, like every other morning, I was not untroubled. Yet another day consisted of meetings at the Royal Court, where I worked as one of the advisors to the appraised Royal Council.

My duty involved working with prince Julius, a young man in his early twenties. According to popular belief, the subsequent ruler showed promise and was already named our kingdom's savior. Despite the immense love for our current king Lionel, the creator of the Kingdom of Ethican, and the people's deliverer, rumors spread throughout the Kingdom about the reforms our new prince would institute once he stepped on the scene as king. Bringing them forth meant planning, including having a grand council of advisors to which I belonged. My dream job was an alternative my parents accepted after they realized their daughter would not get wealthy overnight by wedding some nobleman.

The meetings were fruitful that day, as my associates respected my ideas, and prince Julius occasionally nodded his head in approval. He constantly looked as if he was most fascinated with everything that happened around him. The prince twirled a lock of his long, wavy brown hair between his fingers, and his black eyes would often sparkle. But it frequently seemed to me that he was not too interested in people, at least the other members of the more comprehensive council of fifteen members, who rarely had anything to contribute and mostly accepted or proposed given patterns of behavior. He appeared to trust me and would be content to listen to me express and implement ideas.

I considered I would make a difference and change the course of events with my contribution, thus creating an obsolete assumption. That wheel formed reality as I imagined how it was unhurriedly turning clockwise, and its particles vibrated around the black center. I found myself in its trajectory. Its shadow could be discerned, and the vibration produced by its movement could be detected, its sound perceived like the light crackling of burning wood in the fireplace.

But sometimes, the wheel would spin counterclockwise. Then problems would arise, so unremarkable in the beginning that they could not be perceived with the naked eye. One day I ended up somewhere else. The sphere of time got tangled up, and there was no room for change – that reality was ruled by forces ungraspable and out of this world. The music there was disharmonious, deafening. Time flew chaotically and was rigid and firm. There was no place for an effortless and genuine change.

I found out about the existence of such a place in the worst possible way when one of the following days, I looked out the window of my room, preparing for a day of meetings with my peers. I saw the enormous birch trees bending from the brisk wind. Initially, nothing seemed different, but when I got up from the table to fetch myself a glass of water from the kitchen, I perceived my shadow, which seemed upside down. Darkness emanated from the shadowed part of the wheel of reality, which vibrated with its otherworldly glow. Every movement I made was distinctive and diverse yet the same, and I could not explain such a turn of events.

But it was time to head to work. I left my room and headed towards the main room, where a meeting of particular importance would take place that morning, as had been announced. I prepared my presentation, hoping that my intervention would bring improvement. Admittedly, I did not comprehend why that particular meeting would be more consequential than others, so I dragged myself towards the spacious office of our Royal Council with a knot in my stomach. Life at court was rarely unpredictable, so every such situation terrified me.

I entered the hall, equipped with a large stone table and dark leather seats, greeted my associates, and sat down, straightening my lucky purple jacket. At that moment, an extraordinary and sudden turn happened again. A raging wind entered the meeting room through a massive open window. Existence seemed easier again and was more meaningful. I noticed that Andy, the king's advisor, who had joined us that morning, a man in his forties with gray hair and blue eyes, was staring at me anxiously, but his eyes were softer than a moment before.

It seemed as if the odds of reality were currently on my side, as if everything had changed with a single gust of wind. The bifurcation of time has occurred.

''Miss Celestia, are you well?'' Andy asked, feigning an interest in me.

''Everything is fine. We can begin'', I lied, and Andy raised an eyebrow but nodded. There was no room for authentic concern nor for revealing any weaknesses. Colleagues filled the room. It was time to start, and that is all that mattered.

I did not want to admit I saw evidence around me of inhabiting two timelines and that I dwelled between them and navigated them with ease. Confident of becoming an even more proficient sailor on those golden waters that lead to heaven or hell, I braced myself for impact. I was inhabiting a timeline full of hope and could succeed in my endeavor.

I stood up and began my presentation under the watchful eyes of the entire Royal Council. Everything was as it should have been, and at the end, I bowed, glancing at prince Julius, who was examining me with his jet-black and bottomless eyes. But it seemed that he was interested in me in that timeline for other reasons than in that other one. At long last, he nodded and spoke in the words of a true diplomatic successor to his father.

''I agree with what you suggest, dear Miss Celestia, but don't you think those methods are too benign? People will not listen and adopt our reforms. Shouldn't we be a little more formidable?'' he asked, flashing me a smile with a seed of mischief.

It seemed as if that timeline offered the potential to head in a similar direction as the other one. The exact meeting must have occurred there, but with different consequences. After all, nothing in itself was either good or bad. I nodded, regretting my false assumption that I would be the appropriate person to carry the burden of essential changes, and then spoke again.

‘’What would be the alternative, your Highness?’’

''I expected you would be able to advise me since you have designed the current course of our new campaign,'' he said.

I could discern a shady intention behind the prince's harmonious features across both timelines. He crossed his slender arms on his chest and waited for my answer with a slight smile on his face, slight provocation and delight emanating from every pore of his being.

Before speaking, my left ear plugged, and I knew what would follow. I did not comprehend the reason for a rash new leap. How could I be expected to steer many timelines? And who expected me to do so? And why now? What was my responsibility? The threads of the golden wheel now bled black blood and were tainted by the same hopelessness I plunged into. It was as if a mournful violin was playing the eternal doom soundtrack in the background. While reality turned and rumbled like a mill in my head, prince Julius was waiting for my reply. I felt the weight of accountability on my shoulders and froze in place.

His mocking smile grew as my silence and immobility prolonged, and I decided to swallow my hesitation and speak up.

‘’I believe in restraint and discipline, but I cannot approve the use of force on the people.’’

Prince Julius frowned, and his perfect thin eyebrows rose.

''Who said I was suggesting the use of force? I want to resort to more rigorous methods so that rules can be explained to our fellow citizens. Our city has become too unrestrained. I can't allow such behavior to spread like a disease.''

‘’With all due respect, bans and restrictions will achieve nothing. We should educate them instead.’’, I retorted.

''Alright, you do speak within reason. Figure out how to educate people, present me with a solid plan, and I'll reconsider.''

I believed I had made progress even on the sinister side of the wheel. Thus, I nodded in both timelines and assumed there was no reason to worry as the situation would play out well.

Then, the wheel turned again, and I witnessed a further development of events. After a short but unpleasant silence, the prince continued:

''But I can assure you that after we educate them, those who do not allow themselves to be enlightened will still face the same punishments that I had in mind, if not even harsher ones.''

His voice echoed through the hall, and the silhouettes of his advisers seemed nothing more than faceless shadows, heartless and crisp demons seated around the prince. The everlasting winter and dark, in which nothing blossomed and matured, devoured them long ago. 

The chilly breeze blew again, and I knew what would ensue. The prince looked at me with dark eyes as if an idea dawned on him in the undying dusk. It seemed like a demonic manifestation would be born out of his soul. The demons were sitting next to him. Both facets of the coin were the same – as if the timelines had merged into one. The occurrence was as if the wheel turned into an amorphous mass. The gold strings melted into black ones, and there were no more distinctions. Such a shift petrified me.

The sad violin was a constant, as was the increasing darkness. The wind grew more powerful, and our metropolis of light, the capital of the kingdom, Lumence, went out on its own like a stick candle. All that remained around me was extreme coldness and utter apathy.

I vaguely discerned an unspecified being moving toward me with a light step in that darkness. Then, it planted itself before me, and I could make out its features. It was a young man with short blonde hair, round glasses on a pointed nose, vibrant green eyes, dressed in a brown vintage suit and a modern sable coat. He smiled at me and whispered my name. I answered, and he smiled again. He then said the following words in a gentle fashion:

''Dear Celestia, I wish I could save and protect you, but you chose the wrong river branch, and you are too far gone for me to pull you out with ease.''

I was no longer in the golden or black timeline, as I suspected. I was in the fixed center of the circle that towed me into its abyss. I was drowning in it as if in quicksand. Only the prince's eyes shone their malicious intent from the pitch-black.

The man who understood what happened to me vanished. But, before dissipating into obscurity, he vowed to me that he would do everything in his power to deliver me but that it might take time. I did not discover who he was, but he might have been a fellow traveler through timelines.

The specters around the black-clad prince Julius seemed to laugh at my failure. In the center of the wheel of fortune, there was only darkness. The other two realities, those that revolved around the immovable center, could play out according to various possibilities and thus remained open. But why did I end up in that particular timeline and thus annihilate my chances and myself?

In the center of the vicious circle, there was no potential. It was a point of no return. Not even the shadow resided there, which would act as a contrast to the light. All that existed there was predetermined, despairing, and desperate, as these forces wanted it to be. The true intentions of prince Julius, the rightful heir to the crown, were revealed there. The era will begin and end with our King of Light, Lionel. Someone will have to stop the prince at all costs. Perhaps, in another timeline, there will be an opportunity for that: my current one could be discarded as a failure. I have chosen the wrong path, thinking I could change the pattern. The eternal war will end by choosing a different reality, by those who are aware and who will stand up for something larger than themselves.

July 29, 2022 04:00

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