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Her emerald eyes glimmer in the pale moon light. The black velvet cloak covering her flows upward and out as the winds howling gusts push by. Her hair wisps in front of her porcelain face with each hesitant step. Walking alone along side a now, nameless street, her memories flooding back. The street was filled with stores and people, exotic smells filling the air, and the sounds of life could be heard in all directions. Yet, along with the city that memory had died ten years past, making it hard to picture what it once was.
The city of Keria, her hometown, was once quite prosperous. It was part of the Mycenean country conquered and left in ruins by Archadia during the five year war. The poor little country was caught in the middle of the conflict between the Archadian Empire and the Etruscan Monarchy. Keria was the staging ground for one of the biggest battles between the two armies. In the end the city was left uninhabitable. She never thought she would return to this place. A decade earlier to the day she would never have thought she would live through the night. The flood gate had been opened, the water rushed forth.
The alarms pierced the night’s air, they were too late. The Mycenean military had not been properly prepared for an invasion on a single front; let alone, an invasion on all fronts by not one but two invading forces. The Mycenean side of the battle was over before it ever started. Awakened by the alarms she stood on the balcony overlooking the city. It was a beautiful view most nights. This night however the moon was glowing crimson. ‘The color of blood.’ she thought; a bad omen. In the distance she could see the smoke rising from the first of the blazes that would soon engulf the city.
As far as she knew, she was the only survivor. Everything and everyone had been taken away in a matter of hours. Nothing would be the same if that fateful night had never occurred. She stopped; a devastated storefront stood before her, tears rolled down her cheeks, a silent river. She felt the harsh hand of the wind brush the tears from her face, it was the only one compassionate enough to wipe them away. She was alone again; just like that night. The river rushed faster.
A slight smile crossed her lips, the color of the deepest red wine. The children were standing, faces pressed to the glass window of the candy shop. A single tear splashed down upon the paving stones, their bodies lie there bent and broken as she was drug past the store front. The children’s eyes were fixated upon the luscious lollipops and the mouth watering chocolate. Another tear joined the first to fall. Blood soaked the dirt in between the paving stones, the viewing window was shattered. The old man who owned the candy shop shared the same sweet tooth his young customers did, he knew her well. Another tear, his body hung limp in front of the shattered window his throat hidden by a rushed hangman’s noose.
She relived her nightmares in the storefront. Relived the night her world had shattered before her very eyes, she had returned. She shifted her gaze downward to the puddle she was leaving on the ground; the river could no longer be contained. She could hear the screams rise from the streets now. The clattering of metal against metal, the thudding of footsteps in the hallway outside her room. The door slammed open, a piercing shriek filled her ears dulling all of her other senses. After what seemed like an eternity her vision came back to her, she realized the shriek had come from her, she was trembling.
Cain stood in the doorway, his face the embodiment of calm; she could never read his face, his eyes gave it all away though she knew him inside and out, he was terrified. Cain was her personal servant; he had been by her side as far back as she could remember.
“Princess, you must come with me, immediately.” His voice showed no more emotion than his face. “Your father has sent me to lead you to safety.”
He stood his hand held out to her. She stood, quickly rushing to his side, placing her tiny hand in the all encompassing grasp of his. He pulled her through the doorway; she stumbled as he nearly dragged her to the ground. His pace was quick and steady; before she knew it they were on the final stretch of their journey.
Cain placed his hand against a small crest protruding from the wall and pushed, a loud grinding noise filled the air as the wall shifted and moved aside for their passage. The way was dark, it didn’t matter, he pulled her once more through the doorway into the passage and down a flight of creaky stairs. They were in a private cellar, a place constructed long before the current nobility came to power. A place constructed for an unknown reason. It didn’t matter. That night it was used to hide.
When had she moved? She was no longer standing before the store front. It was the large wrought iron gates of the palace that stood before her now. They once stood proudly, protecting the royal family of Keria against intruders. Now they could barely stand on their own. The hinges creaked from lack of care, rusted over to the point where she could barely move them. It was the only comforting thing, the gates that had kept her from being normal, and the gates that had tormented her childhood, were nothing more than broken relics of a past best left buried.
Her supple form slipped through the small opening she had managed to make. Walking through the palace courtyard she couldn’t believe it was the same place she had grown up. The gardens were overgrown; thorned ivy had encompassed and killed the flowers that used to comfort her. ‘Killed,’ she thought. ‘Just like everything else. Not even this place could escape the decaying touch of Archadia.’
The once bountiful fountains now stood dry. The stone basins were cracked beyond repair; they would never contain water again. The torrent continued. They had been in the cellar for what seemed like hours; there was no way to really tell time down there. There had been no signs of the conflict that was taking place above them at that very moment. ‘What could be happening?’ she thought to herself, still afraid to speak. As if sensing her thought. From behind, his arms wrapped around her. She knew they were his.
“Don’t worry Princess. They will never find us in this place. “Besides us your mother and father are the only two in the entire city that know of this place.” his voice held the same sure look contained within his eyes this time.
As if to spite him though the grinding of the wall destroyed the silence Cain had just broken. Foot steps, and the clanking of metal, could be heard trotting down the stairway at an unsafe pace. The shadows crept away as the light of torches filled the small cellar. A few moments passed as her eyes adjusted to the newly introduced light, when she could finally see clearly the forms of three fully armored beings stood before them.
One stood out beyond the others, his armor was black as the night sky; his helmet horned and crafted to give the appearance of a demon. He raised the sword clenched in his fist; the blade close to five feet long, and jet black like his armor, the edge jagged, blood grooves running down the entire length of the blade. He motioned with the point of his sword toward Cain.
“Take him away.” his voice was completely emotionless, moving the point toward her, “as for her…” his voice trailed off as one of the other armored forms moved forward, “do as you please.”
Cain jumped forward, “Leave her alone! Take me! I’m the one you want!”
The soldier struck out with the back of his gauntleted hand, striking Cain in the side of the head, in answer to his plea. Cain collapsed to the ground, his voice broken and strained,
“I… I’m sorry princess, I always loved…”
The soldier lashed out with his foot the armored boot connecting with Cain’s face, his body no longer moved, blood pooled on the ground around his head. The soldier laughed, it was a hollow laugh coming from inside his helmet. “Your army has been defeated, your citizens slaughtered, your country conquered. Welcome to Archadia.”
The soldier moved forward once more until he was right in front of her. His armor clanking and grinding as he leaned down toward her. He reached his hand out and grabbed hold of her hair yanking her in an upward motion to her feet. Tears filled her eyes. The next three days were torture. She had been cuffed and beaten. Her fragile body pushed to its limits by the officers. She had been treated so cruelly it was a surprise she lasted the entire trip to the capital.
Her gaze shifted up from the fountain as she continued her journey into the palace. Stepping carefully over the rubble strewn tiles she found herself in front of her father’s throne or what was left of it at least. The cushion had been ripped to shreds; gaping holes, once filled with gemstones, seemed to peer at her like empty eye sockets. It no longer held any of its former grace. The undertow of the torrent pulled her under.
The soldiers pushed her down before the king; she collapses on the stairs leading to his throne not even able to raise her gaze to his. Moving with the grace and power of a panther he rises and strides toward her. In one fell motion he drops to his knees. His hand reached out and taking her chin into it. Slowly he raises her head, his face just inches from hers.
“Are you okay, my dear?” Her answer caught in her throat as she could finally focus on his appearance. She lost herself in his baby blue eyes, his jet black hair was long in the front and combed off to the sides, the back was short and stood up in a familiar fashion. ‘Cain.’ She thought to herself. ‘No, it couldn’t be.’ Was the thought that followed. She just couldn’t shake the feeling, his demeanor, his voice, his appearance; it all reminded her of the one she loved.
“She doesn’t talk, she doesn’t eat, she doesn’t do anything sir. Not even struggle. Not anymore at least.” Several of the soldiers chuckled over the last part.
“Enough! Leave now! All of you!” The king ordered.
“But sire...” one of the soldiers began to protest.
“You dare question your king?” His voice held an edge far sharper than any sword. “If you ever question my orders again, I will not only have you relieved of duty, I will have you relieved of your life. Now, leave.”
The soldiers fumbled over each other trying to make their way from the throne room. ‘No, he couldn’t be Cain.’
She was alone with him now, part of her felt comforted by the resemblance to Cain; she was terrified by his last display though. He placed his hands on her hips, she cringed slightly at his touch, he gently pulled her up and she reluctantly made her way to her feet. He was so much taller than her, she felt tiny in his presence.
“You have nothing to fear from me.” His voice was soft again, it seemed to caress her, it washed away all of her fears. “Did they hurt you?”
Tears filled her eyes at the question; she bit her lip and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. She buried her head into his chest and began to sob uncontrollably. She wanted to tell him everything. She couldn’t, she was afraid, still in disbelief of everything that had happened to her. His arms wrapped around her, pulling her closer if it was possible, his voice was the most comforting thing she had ever heard.
“It’s ok. Everything will be fine from here on out.” Everything went black.
‘Fate is a fickle master.’ She stood before a familiar wall. The tapestry hanging from it was long shredded; hanging off to either side. The crest protruding from it still sparkled as brightly as it had that day. She timidly reached her hand out to press it, realizing the closer she came to it the more she trembled. Taking a deep breath to regain her composure she forced her hand forward into the crest. The wall trembled and the sound of grinding filled the air. The undertow pulled her completely under.
Her body jumps, startled, she pulls the blanket up to her neck. Her gaze shifts erratically over the room, trying to take everything in, to figure out what happened, where she’s at. He’s there, it’s Cain, she falls into his arms. ‘Wait.’ She thought, ‘It’s not him.’ His arms wrap around her, pulling her close. His body was warm; she melts into it letting it encompass her. Her breathing unsteady, she’s covered in sweat, she had relived the events of that night, and the ones that followed, in her nightmare.
“Where am I? What happened?” her voice heavy with confusion.
“You’re in the capital city of the Archadian Empire my dear. The King’s palace to be more precise, his… my bedchambers to be exact.”
“What happened? Who are you?” her voice straining over the questions.
“I am the king silly girl. My name is Ren. I apologize for not using your title; however, you’re no longer deserving of it. There is no Keira anymore. Your country, along with your countrymen, is extinct; with the exception of you of course.”
“No… This has to be a nightmare. Please let me wake soon...” her voice trails off knowing that her plea is useless.
“No, I’m sorry. This is neither a dream nor a nightmare. You’re quite awake.” his voice was filled with compassion, his eyes filled with sadness.
As she begins to collect her thoughts Ren cuts her off. “It’s late my dear. You’ve been through much and need your sleep. Please rest. I have duties I must attend to. I will be back for you in the morning.” He reaches out with his hand caressing her cheek. “Good night and sweet dreams, my dear.” With that he began his short walk to the door.
“Wait!” she exclaims. “Please, don’t leave me alone. I’m scared… Could you… No, would you please stay with me tonight? Err, I mean…” a slight flush comes to her cheeks as she realizes how the last part sounds.
His lips twist into a wry grin, with a slight chuckle, “No, it’s quite alright my dear. I will stay.”
He walks back to the edge of the bed and seats himself upon it. Reaching out he takes her hand into his, caressing it gently.
Her voice trembles, “Is it alright if you hold me?”
Without response, he gets up and slides in behind her, his back against the headboard, he wraps his long arms once again around her and pulls her to his chest. With a single kiss to the top of her head she’s sound asleep.
She woke to the suns rays glaring through the balconies double doors. Hesitant to move she looks around, she was still in Ren’s arms. Cautiously, sliding out of his grasp, so as not to wake him, she makes her way out of the bed and to the balcony doors. Reaching out she pushes them open the suns rays warm against her skin. The view was breathtaking.
Mountains filled the distance as far as the eye could see; closer was a vibrant forest of jade clashing with the pond of the deepest cerulean. All of this was surrounded by a limestone walkway. Her gaze shifts back to the sleeping Ren, reassuring herself that he hasn’t moved. She steps out onto the balcony enveloping herself in a part of the world she never even knew existed. The taste of the crisp air circulated through her.
“The view, It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
‘It was his voice.’ She thought, ‘Cain’s… no Ren’s…’ eventually she would have to make herself think of him as Ren. Cain is dead, he had to be. “Yes, it is. Good morning your Majesty. I…”
Cutting her off, “Ren, just Ren please.”
“I apologize, your Ma… Ren” She was still hesitant at calling her captor, the king of Archadia by his first name.
“Come with me.” He slides his arm in the crook of her elbow and pulls her from the balcony, servants stared as the two walked arm in arm through the corridors. The silence was nearly deafening as he pulled her along next to him. They eventually reach an open archway leading out into the palace garden, there were flowers of every type and color it was magnificent. He led her to his favorite spot; a small bench that overlooked the pond, beyond that was the forest. He dropped himself down upon the bench pulling her down next to him, refraining from removing his arm from hers. He looked serious now, it bothered her.
“Now, I need you to tell me what happened. What you can recall at least.”
“Well…” The tears hadn’t once stopped since the store front. Her vision blurred as she made her way down the stairway toward the cellar. She was lost, drowning in an ocean.
She was sobbing uncontrollably.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean for them to…”
Realizing now that he was truly the king of Archadia she cut him short screaming at him, “It was you! You handed down the orders to destroy my country! I…”
With that she ripped her arm free of his and ran off into the maze of the garden. She didn’t stop until her legs gave way, collapsing to the ground she curled into a ball sobbing violently. She was lost, scared, she didn’t know what to do anymore.
She could hear Ren in the distance calling for her, his voice was desperate. He was genuinely worried. His voice soon grew faint; he was heading away from her. She ignored his cries, content to be alone in her misery. After what seemed like forever she could no longer hear his voice. She was nervous about being alone, yet, she forced herself to her feet pulling the strength deep from within. She began her journey, to find her way back to the palace.
After some time, the sun began to sink, the sky darkened. Frustrated, she gave in and screamed for him, screamed his name. Only moments later, from behind, his arms wrapped around her. She knew they were his.
“Don’t ever run off like that again. You had me worried. It’s easy to get lost out here, you’re lucky I managed to find you. I want to apologize once more, for your country. To apologize for my soldiers. Their orders were to find me, to let nothing stand in their way. My father, the former king had given them.”
Her heart stopped briefly, only to begin again a hundred times faster. Her voice trembling,
“You are him. You’re Cain. How?” she stumbled over the words. “When?” She couldn’t focus any longer. “Oh, Cain!” She turned in his arms, wrapping her own around him.
From behind, his arms wrapped around her. She knew they were his. The ocean, the undertow, the torrent, the river, the flood, all gone. The gates were closed again. She was rescued.