CW: very brief mention of physical violence
I stiffen. I can hear him coming, sharp black shoes against marble floors, the sound echoing and bouncing against the empty walls. Closer and closer and closer, until he is just around the corner.
I turn away from his direction, trying to assume innocence, feign dignity, hope he doesn't see me. I don't want to be the one to do it. Again.
He pauses for a second, and I hear nothing, just quiet breaths. He's probably reading a report. Or plotting the takeover of another continent, or thinking about what he will eat for lunch, chicken or ham.
I never know with him. His eyes seem to delve deeper, see more than he should, the bright forest green more disarming than beautiful. They make him impossible to read. The only emotions I've seen him show are annoyance and anger.
The footsteps begin again. Clack, clack, clack, until he's only a few paces behind me. It's too late to escape or make an excuse. I dare not wait for him to call out to me, turning on my heel with a sharp, clean spin.
“Good morning, Sir Kaje.” His voice is calm, flat, with no discernable emotion or mood.
No characteristic sleepiness from his unusually long night, no hoarse rasp from the early morning. Not even a hair is out of place.
“Good morning, my Lord.” I, too, keep my voice as flat as possible. Better for all involved if he gets no clues as to what I'm thinking or feeling.
His face, a disturbingly perfect bust sculpted from cream porcelain, doesn't twitch. At first, I wonder if it's my lucky day.
“There’s a girl in my room. Dispose of her.”
Today is not my lucky day.
He walks away with barely a sigh. Barely a blink. How could he be so callous, so unfeeling? So entirely without fear?
I stopped wondering a long time ago.
I make my way to his room, hearing as the clicking of his dress shoes against the marble floor slowly fades, replaced by a rhythmic beating that pulses through every part of me.
My racing heart.
I dread this part of my job.
How does a typical child, a playful, innocent, dark-haired child
turn into a murderer?
It happened seemingly overnight, like the snap of a finger or a broken neck. One day I woke up and I knew.
I walk through the corridors, my own shoes echoing against the walls, clicking on the marble floors.
I pass a painting, one of the only ones in this madhouse disguised as a palace. It consists of a single red drop against a white background. The artist had apparently attempted to convey the finality of life and the purity of blood.
What utter drivel.
I knew the artist, in fact. He was a pretentious fool. I believe he was the only one I have no regrets about killing.
Suddenly, the dark wooden door looms before me. I resist the urge to trace the familiar graceful carvings. I've stood in front of this door many times, never for any good reason.
Actually, one good reason. Serving my lord. Biding by his wishes.
It hasn't always been a good reason.
I turn the door knob slowly, relishing the satisfying sound of metal clicking against wood as the lock slides open.
There she is. His Lord’s latest addition to an ever growing list of women he’s loved.
She's lying in the huge bed, draped in white sheets. Her eyes are open, but I know they are unfocused, unclear. I've learned from years of performing this task not to look them in the eyes.
I unsheath my dagger, my hand beginning its characteristic quiver.
Get a hold of yourself.
I approach the bed, my breathing getting faster and faster, my heart beating so fast I can see the pulsation in my eyes, feel it in my head, faster and harder and faster.
It's like being on a high cliff, inches away from your death, except there's not a single drop of adrenaline. Just a crushing lump of pitch-black fear.
After countless murders, innumerable nameless faces I’ve had the duty of disposing of, you’d think it would be easier.
I was wrong.
And I remember all of them.
Her head turns towards me, her eyes drooping in a lazy, drug-induced gaze that turns my stomach. “Who are you?” Her voice is slurred, with a general thickness in her throat that I immediately recognize as a side effect of the events of the previous night.
I force myself to speak, to attempt to explain myself, though I know it doesn't mean anything, won't mean anything in only a few measly minutes.
“By order of the high king, you are sentenced to death. You have had the honor of being one of his loved ones.” I almost choke on the horrible, practiced words. “His Lord wishes me to convey his deepest apologies, but you cannot remain alive.”
A single tear runs down her face.
And I would most certainly deny it if asked, but I am almost certain an identical tear runs down my face.
“You’re going to kill me?” The whimper in her voice very nearly breaks my already tenuous resolve.
The fear that fests in my heart keeps me stable, upright. It's a complex thing, this fear.
I fear killing. I fear the future, what the stars will have to do with me once I must face my fate. I fear the crushing guilt that will surely come one of these days, stronger than the fear and just as motivating.
But right now, I fear my Lord, what he will say if I do not carry out my assignment, my sacred, horrid duty as one of his two executioners.
The moment I slide the blade across her delicate throat is the moment another piece of my soul leaves. By this point, I am nothing but empty space where a conscience should be.
What a burden, this obedience. This servitude.
What a burden, this fear.
This is how monsters are made.
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