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Fantasy Drama Fiction

“So.”

“So.”

“This is the end then.”

“Apparently so.”

His fists clench and unclench as we look over the castle balcony at the armies preparing to fight.

“Not sure I see the fuss, myself,” I say lightly. “Seems like a silly thing to get excited over.”

Orvyn looks at me. His lips quirk at the familiar game; his hands freeze on unclench. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s not like red moons are rare or anything. What’s this one? Third in recorded history? It’s basically mundane now.”

I smirk. “We could tell the diviners if we get a chance. Perhaps someone can write a prophecy about it.”

He snorts. Slowly, his stance relaxes. “Sure. Any on our side yet? Any who aren’t terrified of you, I mean?”

“Ouch!” He laughs; my smile feels more genuine. “Anyway,” I say. “I think it’s all overhyped. Might go to bed and read instead.”

“Alright.” He nods at the armies. “Should I tell them all to go home?”

“Yeah, go on. No, actually, write them a note and get them to pass it along. See how far it gets.”

His laugh is a little shaky now. “I think if you add ‘please’ at the end, it’ll work. I mean, this is all a big misunderstanding really: we accidentally enslaved your people and you accidentally tried to overthrow us.” He squints at me. “Admit it. This was just a school joke that got out of hand.”

My fingers trace the markings that mark me as a Jelni, a slave. “Yeah,” I say. “You got me. Your stupid magic school was too easy. Needed to spice things up.”

Orvyn smirks. “Wait till I tell Emera.” He pauses. “Come to think of it, we sure it’s the prophecy that has their armies marching on us?”

“You think Emera said something to offend them?”

“You take that back. She’s gentle as a newborn lamb, Emera is. No. I just thought she might have asked them here for an orderly transition of power. That’s the sort of thing she’d do, you know.”

We snigger then look around guiltily, as though the commander of my armies might pop her head in and tell us to be more serious. I love her, but she’s never understood how Orvyn and I work. Especially when we’re in trouble.

As Orvyn once said: doesn’t the new regime need laughter?

“You see?” I say. “All you Allets calling me weak and godless for making a woman my commander. Didn’t you realise she’s really just the most diplomatic of all of us?” I sigh. “People get upset so easily over silly things like that.”

“Especially Narelius. He needs to chill out.”

I glance at Narelius’ armies in the distance. They’re loyal to him, of course. He’s their fabled hero: the last saviour of mankind; the Sword of Terengi. And, most importantly, a high-ranking Allet. Fits their narrative perfectly.

I met him once. Before someone connected the prophecy with the pair of us, obviously. He’d seemed a bit up himself but otherwise not a bad guy, even if he did tell me I was godless scum and should burn in hell when I asked if he wanted to join us. I still reckon if he hadn’t escaped, I’d have won him round. Or executed him but with regret.

“He really does,” I say, trying not to think about that missed opportunity. “Honestly. I kill one girlfriend – who, incidentally, was trying to assassinate Emera – and suddenly my cause is unjust and I’m a monster who needs to be slaughtered.”

“It is a real assassination of character,” Orvyn says in an agreeable tone and, despite everything, I’m grateful I let him come up here. “You’ve been the epitome of good behaviour: no smashing of Allet temples, no sacking of cities, no brutal murders of prominent Allet politicians. Just peacefully conquering city after city.”

“Right?”

He sniggers again, really getting into it now – which tells me as much as his clenching fists did. “Really, the Jelni are almost as bad as Narelius. It’s only a bit of slavery, you know. We gave you some very nice slums to live in. And we let you into the Academy. Just because killing you or letting you go free would have likely resulted in your ridiculous levels of magic killing the entire city doesn’t mean we weren’t very generous.”

“That’s true.” Ahead of us, the red moon rises higher. I try to look only at him. “You only sometimes locked me in my room at the school, and I only got a few whippings. And yet, when Emera’s Jelni rights school group wanted to write letters of protest, I repaid you all by convincing them to help me start a coup instead. Very unfair of me.”

We chuckle, then fall silent. I can hear my soldiers getting ready to fight. It’s nearly time for me to speak to them. To encourage them to fight destiny. A fake destiny. One made by the Allets. To tell them: screw it. Tear down the Allets: allow me to rule supreme.

God. I wish I were down there. I wish I believed-

“Reckon anyone will mind if I go fight with everyone else?”

Orvyn shrugs. “Don’t see why not. I know Emera said to stay, use your considerable magic power to fight from here, and not leave – for your own protection, mind you – but who listens to Emera?”

“See, I think she’s reading that prophecy all wrong,” I say. “When it says I’ll be cleaved in two when the light of the red moon fades, well, the chandelier’s pretty vicious. Has anyone checked it’s properly attached to the ceiling?”

Orvyn glances up, and I can almost miss the downward curl of his lips at my comment. “The real question is whether the guy who put it up was the Sword of Terengi? Think: which guild was he from?”

“That wasn’t a no…”

Now, he smiles. It almost reaches his eyes. “Forgive me, my tenebrous leader. Should I call someone up to check? I don’t think they’re busy at all.” I make a rude gesture; he laughs. “Maybe we should put you at the front. You could have a one-on-one duel with Narelius. Very honourable.”

“I’m known for my honour too?”

“Oh, yeah. Nobody would accuse you of underhanded tactics. That poison you put in the water supply of Veler was…” He sees my expression and coughs. “Anyway. You’re a saint. If you go down there, do I have to go as well?”

“People do think you’re my bodyguard.”

“I am your bodyguard.”

We look at each other and start to laugh again.

“One day, we’ll have to tell people what your job is,” I say.

“One day, you’ll have to tell me what my job is,” he replies, but he’s smiling fondly. It’s a running joke that most people don’t know what Orvyn does. They know he’s always with me. That whatever I ask, he’ll do, and will pull out all the stops to achieve.  But only Emera really understands. Her and Orvyn, anyway. “Anyway, if I don’t have to take an arrow for you, sure. It’s boring up here. And if you go and get cleaved in two down there, your army would probably be spared. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a meaningless sacrifice at all and I’ll be able to grab drinks with Emera.”

Except he’s stopped looking at me, and I wonder if he knows what I’m thinking. I hope not. He doesn’t deserve that.

But, I say, “Well, it all starts and ends with me, doesn’t it?”

He looks back. “Someone thinks a lot of themselves…”

“I am pretty great.” That wins a flicker of a smile. “But I mean, if I die, there’s no way the thousands of people who believe in my cause couldn’t keep it going. The prophecy was clear about that.”

His mouth twists for a second. When he speaks, there’s a tension in the lightness of his tone; a spit to his words. “Yeah, the death of our beloved leader, and the most powerful magician the country has seen for centuries, wouldn’t be demoralising at all. The fulfilment of a prophecy that’s definitely going to come true because they always do, obviously, wouldn’t suggest that we Allets were right to enslave you Jelni.”

My smile feels like a rictus on my face. “My cause is pretty ego-centric, unfortunately. It’s a cult of personality, not an idea about something basically right that people were fighting before I did. Doubt it could keep going if I were a martyr.”

“Well,” Orvyn says, voice airy and cold, attention apparently on the wall, “if you did die, I reckon the Allet Council and Narelius would stop at you. They’d never kill all your leaders and allies in case we did something like start a new rebellion. They’re known for their mercy like that.”

I shrug, trying to meet his eyes. “Yeah, you’re right. And if you weren’t, well, I’d just suggest my people wait to die. No escaping for them – face death with honour.”

“Who knows?” The airiness is gone now; his voice is all bite. “We are pretty cowardly. Happy to leave all those people fighting for you to their fates.”

“Disloyal too. Would never obey an order to pull out if I gave a signal and leave me to face my fate alone.”

His eyes flash in anger. “Because it’s easy for you to do that without Emera and I knowing, of course.”

“Not at all. I never have private communications with my other leaders that I might not mention to the two people I love the most in my life, just in case.”

He’s by me in a flash, hand on my shoulder, knuckles white. “You-” He pauses, then shakes his head. He tries to smile. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps Emera will let you die. She’s cold-hearted like that.”

“True.” My voice is still light. “Means I didn’t have to think of what to do if she wasn’t. Didn’t have to make contingency plans to make sure she gets out whether she likes it or not. Very useful.”

He draws in breath sharply. “And I’m also a cold-hearted bastard, I guess. I’d abandon you in a heartbeat.”

I feel tired, suddenly, of this game. I shouldn’t have let it turn out like this. I shouldn’t have given in. I’m supposed to be brave and strong. So, maybe I should go to the front of my army and fight them there.

All these people willing to die for me.

All these people who want to kill me.

And I am af-

“You’re right,” I say. “It’s what I’ve always loved about you. You’re so cold and awful. Otherwise, I don’t really care if you die with me. Wouldn’t crush me at all. Wouldn’t make me hate myself, for dragging you into this rebellion when all you wanted was to be happy and with … me.”

Behind him, the red moon hangs high in the sky. It’s nearly time. Like the prophecy said.

“My life would be simpler without you,” he says. His fists are clenching and unclenching again and I know I’ve failed. “I wouldn’t be haunted by letting you die. Because I hate you with every breath I have, obviously. And I’m a really effective leader. Everyone respects my opinion. I can see why I’m so valuable to the cause.”

“Orvyn…”

His jaw is clenched. “You really want me to leave you?”

I don’t answer.

His expression is hard. “You expected me to listen to you, I suppose. You didn’t have a back-up plan.”

I say nothing. He looks around wildly, then sees my expression. His softens. “Did you?”

I smile weakly. “I guess I just figured, if all else failed, you could stab Narelius in the back while I’m being cleaved in two. Take up my mantle as the Ruler of Blood. Which, by the way, is not a stupid name at all.”

There’s relief in his face. A hand cups my cheek and I hate myself for this. “Bold of you to assume I won’t be holding you down.”

I close my eyes, enjoying the familiar feeling, for what will be the last time.

“D’you think it hurts?” I say quietly.

“What? Being cleaved in two?” I nod. “Nah. Painless I imagine.” He sees my expression and his own quivers. So, I give in. He needs our stupid levity, our stupid game. He needs me to be strong so he can be too. And he has given up so much for me: his life, his dreams, his family. He’s done so many things that have stained his soul for me, things he didn’t agree with but he trusted me to be right about. He’s talked me out of so many worse things, stopped me from losing myself completely. Even now, he came up here because he knew I couldn’t wait this out alone. I can keep this going until it ends.

“Well, tell Narelius to take his time then,” I say with a forced grin. “I’m the Ruler of Blood: the biggest threat the world has ever seen. I should go out the most painful way possible. It’s only fitting.”

“Will do.” He smiles, hand stroking my cheek. I can’t bear the look in his eyes. “My parents should be proud. I grew up and got a job working for the villain.” He pauses. “Then possibly died working for the villain. Guess I should keep up appearances as your bodyguard.”

I nod and glance behind me.

“I’m not that bad really. I’m pretty honest, I guess.”

He just smiles. “Not as honest as me though. I’m so honest that if one of your personal guard told me you planned to remove me from here, I’d let them go through with it instead of making sure they were waylaid. Stopped all your other ones though.”

My heart stops. “Orvyn, no-”

A trumpet blasts and we step apart to look out at the balcony. The red moon is high in the sky.

“Orvyn,” I say again. “I’m serious. You need to lea-”

“Do you believe in the prophecy?” he says.

“…You know I don’t.”

“Well,” he says. “I don’t either. So, why would I run away and leave you to get all the glory alone? My place is by your side and I’m not scared. We’ll be fine. Together.”

We look at each other and I know the fear in his eyes is matched by the terror in mine.

“Orvyn…” I say.

But his hand meets mine, our fingers intertwine and I know he’ll only leave if I use my magic on him. And I won’t. I can’t. I can’t risk hurting him with it. Not even now.

God. There are so many things I want to say. So many apologies I want to make. But that’s not us. This is the game we play and the more trouble we’re in, the harder we play it.

So, I say, “We’re going to be fine, you know. We’re too young and gorgeous to die.”

He laughs, a shaky, fake thing. “Damn right.” He squeezes my hand. His other hand freezes on clench. “Let’s go kill destiny then. Let’s kick its ass.”

January 16, 2021 00:21

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4 comments

Sam W
22:01 Jan 27, 2021

I haven't read a story this satisfying in a long time, K. Excellent rapport between the two characters, and their sarcasm leaves just enough confusion to make me want to read this again. Well done. I'd love to see more of these two and their universe.

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K Lewis
23:30 Jan 29, 2021

Thanks very much - I'm glad you enjoyed. I have to admit, I've tried to write the wider story a few times but never quite managed it. The wider idea was a lot more complex than this one though!

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Sam W
23:44 Jan 29, 2021

It often is! Keep writing, and if you ever publish a more complete version, let me know. I had a similar dilemma with my piece “A Coward” which is only a part of a much bigger idea. If you could give it a read, I’d love to know what you think.

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K Lewis
23:18 Jan 31, 2021

Thanks and will do :) I've left you some feedback - thanks for directing me to your story!

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