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vielle

the future and what we make of it

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• • •

 

before ;

 

There is a time and a season, as all things seem to have, when the desire to run is overcome by the capacity for it. And Samael is so, so tired.

He feels withered. He feels ancient. Somewhere in the year or so he had spent traveling the world, he had aged a thousand more, and there is only so much more of this vagrancy he can take. He has killed, he has destroyed; he has healed, he has mourned. A hundred lifetimes, shrunk down into months and months of blood and guilt and so much of death, it clings to him like perfume, and what does he have to show for it?

When he had been nothing but an innocent, unknowing babe at the foot of the Commander, he had no dreams: the timeless vacuum of the unwaking had been silent. Then came the nightmares, both sleeping and waking. Now, the dreams are different, twisted—but in a way that is suspiciously benign. Childlike fantasies: soft playthings, a caring family, a kind of love he had never once felt in the real world. They’re impossible hopes and dreams and he clings to them with all the strength he has, but in the end, they always dissipate into the morning light. Vicarious. Fleeting.

Still.

He’s the most broken he’s ever been, he thinks, in body, mind, and soul, but the dreams, somehow—they make him feel whole.

(It’s only telling, that everything good to him only occurs in a place he cannot touch.)

 

 

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• • •

 

When he tells Ephah he wishes to take up the offering that had been posed to them a few days back in Avylon, she simply levels her gaze at him and nods. Do you trust her, she asks. Yes, I do, he answers—and that had been the end of that. She would follow him to the ends of the earth, she had declared, no matter the hurt and the grievances and the guilt that lies between them.

A most loyal one, she is. A most courageous one, she is. He doesn’t know where he’d be without her.

He uses the power of Ophiuchus to call upon the woman he had aided in her fight against the divinity, employing the essence of the god they had laid to rest together, and receives a single word in response: come.

Back, then, to where he had first been discovered. Back to the land he had been seemingly born in, weeping and shaking and a world away from what he is now.

Arende had offered, and so he goes.

 

 

Edited by vielle

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• • •

 

JULY, 598 WTA ;

 

“The past is dead,” says Arende—says the Empress—as their feet touch the ground. She holds the godstaff in one hand, the crystal snake coiled around its pommel.

Taen’s lush forest is a stark contrast to Nehalen’s burning, pockmarked jungles. He still sees flames, still sees destruction painted across the back of his eyelids, each time he blinks. Samael makes it a point to keep his gaze pointed only at the Empress herself.

She stands before them in her true form now. Six wings, black as shadow. Golden skin. Handsome, sculpted features. Eyes like void. Inhuman, yet her sympathetic expression is genuine.

“Believe me. I have blood on my own hands as well. But there is no changing the past—only the ever-approaching future, and what we choose to make of it in the present.”

 

 

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She leads both of them, him and Ephah, up the trail. Packed dirt turns to cobblestones behind their feet as they clear the edge of the forest. Ahead, an ancient castle’s stone walls rise from the lush jungle, towers entwined in ivy. Golden light shines from its windows, and crowds of people trail in and out of its grand entrance. As Rozharon strides forward, the boy’s hand clutched in hers, every passerby stares, bowed, and backs away from their path—whether it was for fear of her or of him, one can only guess. Ephah follows behind like a spectre, silent and expressionless.

They sweep past the public spaces, past hallway after hallway. Samael catches glimpses of some of the Cair’s public spaces: a vast library, a bustling restaurant, lush gardens. Rozharon leads him up a flight of stairs, then another, and another.

“It may be difficult to navigate at first, but the castle obeys those who inhabit it. I hope you will, in time, think of this as home.”

Samael can only muster a nod in reply, still overwhelmed with the sights and sceneries as they move ever upward.

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The rooms are smaller here. More intimate. They pass halls full of paintings, indoor gardens, offices, balconies, and all sorts of drawing rooms. Another flight of stairs, then the empress stops.

“The fourth floor is our residence. There are plenty of bedrooms here you can choose from.” The Empress turns to Ephah. “Will you be staying here as well?”

The dark-haired woman’s gaze falls on Samael, who wordlessly looks back at her, before she manages a nod. “Where the boy goes, I follow.”

“All right. You can stay here in the Cair as well, if you wish, or in the nearby city.”

A herald appears, leading Ephah away presumably to her own room, and then the boy and the Empress are alone.

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Rozharon looks around, seeming to choose a door at random, then opens it. Within is a room perfectly suited to a boy his age. 

Wooden floors. Wide windows. A work desk, stocked with papers, paints, writing instruments, and even a number of crafting tools. Couches and pillows. Several shelves full of books with brightly-painted signs. Several potted plants. A bathroom with a large bathtub, several jars and bottles of soap on the shelves—with a few labelled “bubbles.”

The empress appears to be satisfied by the sight. “This is good.”

Before the woman can take her leave, Samael finally finds the courage to speak the words that have been simmering low at the back of his mind ever since he had first stepped foot into Taen. “Why—why are you doing this? For me? For us?

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Rozharon shrugs. “Why not? You’re young. You’ve just had the misfortune of being skillful enough to be used and manipulated by those who sought to exploit your gifts. Whatever you did as a member of that silly group was not of your own will, You deserve your freedom. A new start in life.”

Samael clasps his hands together. “She had been a mother to me, I think.” Mother. The empress winces at that word, but he has no other words to use in its stead. He does not think he needs to say the name of the individual he is referring to, nor does he think he deserves to. “She said she wanted to make me strong. That power was all that was important in this world. And—And I did believe her.” 

The answer is power and will always be power. Without it, you are nothing.

The Lunar Soldier had been built on the foundations of that belief. He really had believed it, once.

(But what good, then, is power if he cannot save the people he loves?)

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The empress must have some hidden power to read his mind, because her next words fuel the underlying doubt in his mind about the mindset that had been instilled in him by his previous caretakers. “Power is important, yes, perhaps. But it is just a means to an end; to pursue it as an end in itself is futile. What were you pursuing power for?”

And what are you, Samael? Are you a slave? A servant? A simple boy trembling in despair before the big bad necromancer?

What are you, Samael? Is that a death you wish to die? 

He shakes himself free of the memory, clears his throat as he answers. “I—I wanted to be strong. Be. . . of use. Maybe then I could figure out why I can’t remember my past, and what brought me here.”

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Rozharon sighs. “I understand. Some things are better left forgotten, buried in the past. If you truly wish to seek answers,  I can help.” 

For the briefest moment, her form flickers: wings folding into themselves, the dark receding into her eyes. She winces. 

“Well, not immediately. But I, and my children, will help you be able to find the answers yourself. But if your desire is to be strong, to be of use—I can give you that. True strength does not lie in the power to harm others, grinding others under one’s heel. It lies in binding a world together, in uniting disparate parts into a whole. You can certainly help with that, in Taen.” She smiles at him.

Samael is silent for a moment. “But I hurt people.” He gazes at his hands, his teeth worrying his bottom lip. “Won’t they be afraid of me?” What help can he possibly offer, him with blood still drying under his fingernails and nightmares ravaging even his waking moments?

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“So did I. More than you did. More than all who’ve walked the face of this world. But I chose to put those lives behind. I move onward. I’ve built an empire, one that offers a new start to all. We are not what we have done—we are who we choose to become, every moment in the present. You can begin now, here, and you can do as I did. The difference now, is that you are free—free of those lunar marks, free of that woman’s delusions. You choose your path now.”

(Is it really that simple?)

“Free,” he echoes, still unbelieving, still mired in confusion and doubt. Nevertheless, the empress speaks with conviction, a belief so unshakable and ironclad with her words that he almost begins to believe it.

“Perhaps,” he finally says.  “A-and what about you and your empire? What if they know you're harboring someone like me? They,” he sighs, curls his spine as he hunches his shoulders, makes himself smaller under her all-seeing gaze. “A criminal, a murderer. They must have my face etched all over the news now. They know who I am, where I came from. Will they not speak against you?”

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“Perhaps. But my judgement is sound.” She tilts her head. “We can make it a deal. You use your skills and abilities to serve me and my family, working for the benefit of our empire. We’ll offer you amnesty and protect you from those seeking to harm you for your past, and if needed, mediate between you and others who seek repayment for what you have taken from them.”

You can do that, he is about to ask, but then stops himself—he is, in fact, speaking to the Empress of Taen, who definitely can do what she had just offered him. He is silent for a few moments, mulling it over, and then hesitantly nods, bowing his head towards her: subject to ruler. “Yes. Yes, alright. Whatever you will of me. I will serve you to the best of my ability.”

The empress holds out her hand. “That’s a deal.”

The world seems to dim as he grasps her hand, only a brief moment of hesitation before he does so. When they touch, Samael feels something shift in the air, between the breaths: a knot tied between them, an invisible tether that binds them together. His eyes shine sickly green for a moment, responding to the tangible taste of power in the air, before it slowly recedes into nothingness.

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Rozharon presses a finger to her temple, looking tired. “Now. . . I’ll leave you here in Taen. I’ve overexerted myself fighting Ophiuchus. I’ll be gone for a few months, but Pallas knows of our agreement now.”

It’s more than what he deserves, truly, but he’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, not after the overwhelming stack of evidence pointing to the fact that he is welcome to stay here, as long as he wants. If not for himself, then for his traveling companion.

“O-of course. Thank you, your majesty, for bringing me and Ephah here.”

Rozharon nods. She strides off, the fragment of a dead god in her hands, and disappears into a doorway.

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• • •

 

As what must apparently be the first order of business, Samael decides to seek out the Empress’ family members, one by one. The halls of Cair Loeren all seem to be endless corridors and winding staircases to him, as of now, and so when he finally manages to find someone of the imperial bloodline, he has to lean against the doorway to catch his breath.

A young man sits on the floor, in front of an open window that floods the space with pale daylight. On the floor, around him, several stacks of papers are arranged seemingly-haphazardly, but with a strange neatness that suggests a semblance of complicated organization. On the man’s head, on his shoulder, on the windowsill, and on few of the paper stacks, perch a few black-feathered, golden-eyed birds.

Samael stands there by the entryway for a few minutes, overcome by a sudden wave of shyness. Still, he cannot stand here speechless forever, and so he tries to casually greet the man, but his anxiety causes his voice to stutter, too-loud in the silence of the room. “H-hello!”

 

 

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The man looks up from the page in his hand. His eyes are gold, not black—but the cool intensity of his stare is unnervingly similar to the one worn by the empress. The inhuman aura quickly dissipates, however, when he pushes back a lock of dark hair, then sighs as it flops back into place. He gives the boy a tired, lopsided smile. 

“Hello Samael. Sam? What do you prefer to be called? I’m Pallas. Mom told me you’d be staying with us.”

“Er,” he twiddles his thumbs together, and then continues, “Samael is what I prefer but. You can call me whatever you like. I was, uh, just looking to greet you, seeing as I might be staying here for the foreseeable future.”

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“Mhm.” Pallas returns his gaze to the papers before him. “She’s already told you, but you have to let the castle know where you want to go. Kitchen, bedroom, there’s a few gardens. We usually eat together at seven, twelve, and six—you can join us if you want, but otherwise the kitchen’s always full of food. Ask the castle to bring you to the seneschal, Miss Melissa, if you need help getting around or want to leave.”

He hands the page to one of the birds, which takes it delicately in its beak, then places it onto another pile. 

“Oh, and take this.” Pallas turns his wrist, and for a moment, his arm isn’t there—a wing black as ink, feathers in place of fingers. In a blink, the image is gone; the prince hands out an amber ring to Samael. Within the golden resin the thinnest black pinion is enclosed, encircling the ring’s perimeter.

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