Forever Wandering, Eventually Forgotten

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A lowly servant with hidden pain can suddenly understand an old and much forgotten language, which the Queen utilizes with a seemingly trivial gift from a noble. There is a promise of immortality, but there is a danger in the horizon as well. Can Cortas direct Queen Dovrin on the right Path, or will he go a more deadly Way?

Submitted: August 10, 2015

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Submitted: August 10, 2015

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May the Everlasting Tanbukki preserve my Way, I have no idea what I'm doing. No, that's not true, but how I wish this would fall onto someone else's Path. If nothing else, the thought that I may lose my Qiltoh - a word in some long lost language meaning "Way to Heaven" - scares me like little else does, something that Queen Nauban Dovrin would laugh at. Although my mother and father died early in my youth, may they have found their Ways sufficient, I have memories of them teaching me Tumya, a religion probably as old as the language we lost. Not many still follow this True Way, but I would spend hours with an old man and woman in the city who were faithful to the Everlasting their whole lives. Like the language it was written in, Tumya is dying. There used to be countless books and speakers, but after a few centuries of the Invaders (never call a Pure-Auc that where he or she can hear) making sure neither survived, no one even remembers what this language was. What few pages we could salvage weren't enough for the scholars to reconstruct, except for several words that were obviously important. But none of that matters, and is far from the reason I cannot sleep tonight.

The Queen is in danger, and I am the only one who knows it. To be fair, there is no possible way for anyone else to know, and I am the one who can save her or doom her depending on when I tell her what I know. I told Queen Dovrin enough to have her go where I want, but as far as she knows, it's her choice. Thinking over that dreaded object and the burden set on my Path, there is no way that I can find sleep tonight, though I haven't rested well since I opened my Forgotten mouth, pardon the language. Why did that thing have to be a gift for the Queen, why did I suddenly understand what was written on it, and why did I have to speak? Had I stayed quiet, none of this would have come to be.

Three days ago, I was carrying a tray of tea and honey to the palace dining room where Queen Dovrin was entertaining Koh-Auc Tamliak Gemmaru who had come from Kinapak in the south. As I set down the tray, Koh-Auc Gemmaru was telling the Queen about his gift that was lying facedown on the table with some strange symbols written on the back that dated well into the time the forgotten language was spoken, yet never seemed to age. Before I knew it, I had read it aloud and the two nobles were looking at me as if I just spat in their tea. I explained that the writing was a phrase that literally meant "The Path of the Blessed, and the Path of the Forgotten," but could be taken figuratively for a life or death choice. Why was I so foolish?

After that, the Queen turned over the disk thing, for lack of a better word, and pointed to the symbols there. Looking at them, I knew exactly how to read and translate it. I explained that it was a sort of riddle seemingly rife with double meanings, all of which hinted that searching for the Drink of the Everlasting Tanbukki, something Tumya only barely touched upon, could very well lead to destruction. And the words that chill me to this day:

Forever Wandering, eventually Forgotten.

The Queen laughed at my response to the referance to Tumya, she herself dedicated to the Tamanershee, which is "Spirits" in that same language that I have somehow learned in the blink of an eye. Immediately, she dismissed Koh-Auc Gemmaru, who openly scowled and grumbled things that should have gotten his head chopped off, and asked me to sit down with her, inviting me to take a cup of tea as if I were a Pure-Auc myself.

"You're one of my servants," Queen Dovrin couldn't keep the disbelief out of her voice.

"Yes, Daughter of the Everlasting," I replied formally, according to Tumya's claims on royalty. My heart says that this Spirit kissing Invader does not deserve that title, but that is not for me to decide.

She answered with a bark of laughter that crinkled her pretty honey eyes before speaking again.

"And a worshipper of Tanbukki besides (her omission of the Everlasting's title made me wince). Tell me, how is it that you, a lowly servant, can read the Language Beyond Memory? You should be busying yourself with your work, not scurrying off to the library to read lost pages."

"That is not it, Daughter of the Everlasting. I can swear to you that before this, I have never studied nor even known a single word of the Language Beyond Memory, or may my Way be taken from beneath my feet. Though, I have been feeling strange of late, and there are times when people say one thing and I understand another. Like, when you said 'Koh-Auc Tamliak Gemmaru,' I heard the first word as 'High Blood.'"

As Queen Dovrin stared at me, seeming to measure me and my ability to tell the truth, I tried my best not squirm under her gaze, though I failed miserably. It is known that followers of the Everlasting Tanbukki always tell the truth, for every lie that comes from our mouths takes away some of our Way to Heaven that all tread at death. Tumya, though now almost completely oral except for a few old writings no one can read, tells us what adds to our Way and what takes away. We are warned that those who don't have enough Qiltoh come to the end before they reach Heaven. If that happens, they can't proceed, but when they turn back, they won't return to this world even if they run for a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand years. This is what it means when people are forever Wandering, and eventually Forgotten. Not even the Everlasting Tanbukki himself can find us then.

"What is your name?" the Invader Queen frowned.

"I am Shogow Cortas. My family an--" I started, but didn't get a chance to finish.

"Your parents were the ones that were killed all those years ago."

It took the utmost effort not to grind my teeth and glare at the Queen. She and some of the other Koh-Auc were - are - in a covered up yet well known feud over who is fit to rule Elkai, and my parents died in the crossfire at the hands of a filthy, Wandering, Forgotten assassin. I still hold the Queen partly at fault. There were so many times I planned on leaving, but I never get around to it. The Everlasting Tanbukki must have forseen my Path and knew the Queen would need me in this, though whether or not the Everlasting wants to share his Drink of Eternal Life with her is not clear.

That's why I can't sleep tonight. Do I tell her the truth tonight, or give her the deadly answer and have both of us Wander forever and eventually be Forgotten?

In any case, when the Queen invited me to her chambers that night, I found out that the regal queen that I had always seen could slip out of her formalities like one of her dresses. She turned out to be a bit more human than I expected, albeit a little spoiled. It was actually the first time I had seen her private chambers since I was more focused in the guest areas, and the splendor of that room alone equaled the combined beauty of all the others I have seen. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I took in the grandeur of the enormous room, all layed out in deep purples and soft pinks, the colors of Elkain royalty. Then, my eyes really did pop out when Queen Dovrin began undressing, muttering about duties and impossible clothes being uncomfortable of all things. Though I'm sure there are a horde of people to get her ready, her hair and clothes slipped off easily, masterfully made for just that purpose. She motioned me to sit down on a table where she set the artifact. After changing into a pale creamy purple nightrobe, which she managed to look regal in, she sat across from me, looking as if she were going to order me to the Head of Servants.

Or to the headsman.

"Now," she sighed, uncertainty filling her and looking so out of place on a queen's face, "will you tell me about the inscription on Koh-Auc Gemmaru's gift again?"

"Yes, Daughter of--"

"Please, Cortas, stop it with that. I don't follow your Tanbukki."

"Forgive me, Your Majesty," I bowed my head just enough to show respect. "Concerning this...thing, I think it tells us how to reach the Drink of the Everlasting Tanbukki, which Tumya mentions briefly. We are taught that once we reach Heaven and are in the presence of the Everlasting, he offers us a cup of his eternal drink. Nothing more is said, but I believe that it grants immortality for those who find their Way sufficient."

Queen Dovrin looked down at the table silently, her eyes showing that she was deep in thought. But there was more to this than a quest for immortality.

"You don't have to die for this," I added after a few moments. "There are things you must do, though exactly what isn't clear. I imagine you find a Way that leads to Heaven, present yourself to the Everlasting Tanbukki, and come back, but none of this is pointed out. It says, however, that those who seek eternal life in a world of death should reconsider."

With a nod, the Queen resumed pondering the situation, and whether or not she would be willing to be queen forever in Elkai. That would undoubtedly shape the world to her liking, though who can say whether the Drink also bestows invulnerability? As far as I know, it may just keep you from aging, not from dying from other means. But...

"What can you tell me about the first step?" Queen Dovrin asked with that same uncertainty in her eyes. Was this really the same woman who could order a head on a platter and move an entire army with a flick of her finger? And besides, she doesn't even believe in the Everlasting.

"I'm not sure, Daugh--Your Majesty," I quickly corrected myself. "But the way it says 'Step into Your heart' is a little strange. The word for a heart in general is 'ircazoh,' but the word it uses is 'irtegazoh,' which would refer to a heart of stone. How one could step into that is beyond me."

We spent almost the entire night there, almost concluding several times that the heart of stone would be murder - mutual murder - in order to get to our Ways to Heaven. Though we figured out the following night that the "heart of stone" is actually the heart of the palace here. It took a rested mind for me to notice that the pronoun "Your" was a special one used for either the Everlasting, or royalty. After that, Queen Dovrin was almost rabid with her desire, though I could see the apprehension making its way into the edges of her emotions along with a greed for this immortality. I noticed something about the line, "choose your Path wisely" yesterday, but it has yet to pass my lips.

The following time up until this night was used to prepare in secret, though a lot of it on my part. I gathered a bag of bread and tough dried meat, enough for three days, and a knife that might double as a weapon, with a cloak and a walking stick that could also be a weapon. Now, if only the Queen or I knew how to use a knife or a staff in battle. If only the Language Beyond Memory gave me fighting knowledge as well, but we'll have to make do with what we have. And rest, I need my rest as well before the Queen barges in tonight. I can understand why she'd want to leave with the least amount of eyes watching, but she must have also prepared for someone to take care of the queendom in her stead, or at least someone who'll stop the entire land from functioning until she returns. Had she a daughter nearing of age, things would be much less complicated, but her reluctance to marry and bear children remains astounding. Queens are supposed to keep the royal line going.

Before I am even able to fall asleep, I hear the quick footsteps of someone hurrying but trying to be quiet, and I know it's the Queen. I get myself out of bed, not even sleepy after hours of being awake, and put on my traveling wear. My heart pounds again when I think what we're getting ourselves into, meddling with the Everlasting Tanbukki and his Drink when I know things are going to go very badly. The chance to tell the Queen the truth comes once again.

"Are you ready, Cortas?"

And is gone.

I nod to her and follow her down the hallways and stairs to where the center of the palace would be: the throne room. There would be a few servants still bustling about, but their work ended at least an hour before, and most are now in their beds awaiting yet another early morning. Guards are ever present, but they don't say anything to hinder their Queen and her companion. Luckily for us, the throne room is empty, which leaves us to look through the room for anything that might hint at the next step. We inspect the throne itself, the columns, and the ceiling but to no avail. Before any servants decide to get up, Queen Dovrin takes out the stone for me to inspect again and gapes when she notices that the passage on the front was replaced by two words. I come over to read it, and the same look comes over my face.

"Ataucubumik Koh-Auc" - "One drop of High Blood"

After I translate the inscription, Queen Dovrin turns over the disk and notices that a spiral, the symbol of the Everlasting Tanbukki, has appeared and is pulsating. We look at each other uncertainly, with her face wearing that same uncertainty that's been plaguing her. I dig into the pack slung over my shoulder and take out the knife to hand it to the Queen. Hands actually shaking, which I realize I'm staring at, she holds the knife over one of her fingers and quickly slices, squeezing out a drop of blood onto the disk after. Forgetting the pomp of the throne room, we watch in silent amazement as the blood seems to spread out more than a drops' worth on the disk, enveloping it in a sort of sickening blood red glow. The faint light it emits grows until it encases us both, and we hold our breath as we wait for something, anything really, to happen.

Then the bubble pops...and we're still in the throne room.

Behind us, the door opens, admitting a graying, almost familiar woman that makes Queen Dovrin gasp in shock, though I don't know why. The woman's eyes widen and she stands frozen in the doorway, mouth open and not daring to move.

"Koh-Auc Tgutor?" Queen Dovrin gasps when she can finally speak, shaking all three of us from our shock.

"It's Queen Tgutor now, Nauban," the woman smirks. "It has been since you died nearly twenty years ago now."

The Queen...Dovrin and I gasp and my legs give way as I kneel gasping. Even Queen - Dovrin looks almost unable to support her own weight, and if I didn't know any better, she has the look of one who is about to heave. Still weak, I look up at Queen Tgutor and just stare at her, wondering what could have happened in the twenty years the Queen...Dovrin and I were gone. Just what was this disk doing, anyway?

With all of the arrogance of a self-important noble, Queen Tgutor strides up to sit on the throne and looks down on us from the height. The doors open again to admit servants and other nobles who are here for the hearings. As soon as they realize who is standing beside me with a still disbelieving expression on her face, the crowd coming in becomes dead silent, even the servants. They all stare at her as if at a ghost, which we probably are now, and no one moves. The new Queen is the only one who seems to be breathing, and her face says that she has victory over Dovrin (do I still call her Queen Dovrin?).

"Is that you, Nauban?" one of the older men comes from the crowd and gapes. After a moment of silence from their staring at each other, Queen Dovrin's eyes fill with a sort of warmth that I've never seen before, certainly not while she was playing elaborate Noble Chess with everyone.

"Yes, it's me," Queen Dovrin speaks quietly, "Koh-Auc Ipiak."

Before that has a chance to sink in, Queen Dovrin grabs my arm and we walk out quite ungracefully from the throne room with Koh-Auc Ipiak on our tail. I want to ask her what she's planning to do now that we've basically been eradicated from memory, but her face and step is so determined that there is nothing for me but to try to keep up with her. And behind us, Koh-Auc Ipiak looks like he could run down a raging bull without any effort. The room full of Pure-Auc nobles and non-Auc servants make no move to hinder us, but blocking the way of a dead Queen and a Koh-Auc who look like this would be very unwise anyway.

Once outside in the halls, Queen Dovrin stops and waits for Koh-Auc Ipiak to catch up with us, and when he does, both of the Pure-Auc nobles look really bleak. The Queen - my Queen - in particular looks like she's going to throw up, but she holds herself together. Though I am sure I'm shaking, Koh-Auc Ipiak's face still makes him seem as sturdy as steel, which I'm desperately hoping he will prove to be.

"Nauban," the Koh-Auc whispered, "you are in danger now."

"You don't think I know that?" Queen Dovrin snapped. "That bitch has been after the throne since she was old enough to know not to offend the Tamanershee. Now that I'm back from whatever it is that took me away, her right to the throne is unstable. If I could rally--"

"I'm afraid that's not possible, Nauban. You were no longer recognized as the Elkain Queen when your body, and your non-Auc companion's, was burned as an offering to the Tamane--"

"What!?" I forget my place as a non-Auc and get angry. "You burned my body for your Spirits? I follow Tumya and not your silly superstitions! Where did you put my remains? I will--"

"For the love of Agam," Queen Dovrin hits my stomach with quiet but forceful words, "look at yourself. You're not dead, yet you're griping about your remains like you've gone to the Realm of the Tamanershee. Get a hold of yourself, Cortas, we've no time for this nonsense."

"Nevertheless," Koh-Auc Ipiak continues, "Queen Tgutor will hunt you down for fear of your old, albeit now invalid, claim to the throne. But it does not make sense, Nauban. There was no mistaking your body in the throne room twenty years ago, so how is it that you're standing in front of me unchanged? I have missed you so much."

"I don't know, Irkinzoh. One moment we're in the throne room looking for the Everlasting Drink, and the next, Tgutor walks in having aged twenty years with my crown on her head. If I'm not dreaming, then this is truly something even the Tamanershee Agam cannot save us from."

The two Pure-Aucs look at each other with an almost longing look, and I can't help but feel as if I'm invading some intimate moment. Luckily, they don't do anything, but Koh-Auc Ipiak tells us that we must be far away from the palace before Queen Tgutor has a chance to finish her hearings. She'll surely hunt us down then. Queen Dovrin, really, but I don't think the new Queen will chance someone that she had been lying dead with twenty years prior. This stone really is the strangest thing. I really hope we make it to the Everlasting Tanbukki's presense in one piece.

Before Queen Dovrin and I go on our way, I ask Koh-Auc Ipiak where they buried us, much to the dismay of my Queen. He tells us that our ashes lay in the cemetary in special places, as due royalty. They didn't know what a non-Auc was doing with her, but they apparently decided that I had to have been important if I lay dying with her holding the strange disk in our hands, and so buried me next to her. Also, Queen Dovrin didn't have a husband or children that would accompany her grave, so I was put there instead. I thank him before making my way to the cemetary with my Queen following close behind me.

"You're being foolish, Cortas," she sneers at me along the way. "Don't you realize that you're not even dead? What would be the point in carrying out your Tanbukki's ways on yourself? That's ridiculous."

"Forgive me, Your Majesty," I purposely use that title to get to her, "but if this Forgotten quest for immortality has killed us but somehow not as well, I intend to give my body the respect it deserves according to Tumya. You may start running away now if you wish, but I will go to my body first."

Shaking her head, Queen Dovrin doesn't say anything more as she follows me to the cemetary, several of the servants gawking at the Queen they had served twenty years prior. It's a wonder that we don't run into trouble with so many people staring, but we make it to the cemetary in good time. I look around the grave stones and look for one with Queen Dovrin's name on it. There are quite a few graves here, most of which would be my Queen's family and ancestors, all Pure-Auc without a hint of non-Auc blood in them. I must be the only non-Auc in this entire graveyard.

When I finally find Queen Dovrin's grave and mine, I bring my right hand to chest level, palm facing left, and bow my head in prayer. The Queen keeps muttering about this being a waste of time when our lives may be in danger, but I tell her that it might be well for her to give her remains the respect it deserves. She scoffs and says that the Tamanershee have already been satisfied with the offering. Trying not to scowl, I sit down and cross my legs without my hand moving and begin to sing softly, which brings a strange sort of resonance in my heart. Whatever is reacting to my singing is behind me, and close.

Suddenly, Queen Dovrin behind me gasps and I turn around to see what happened. She has the disk in her hand and that resonance seems to become stronger. I tell her to sit down and sing with me, and she amazingly doesn't argue, body awkwardly trying to imitate what I'm doing with adequete success. Putting the disk between us, I teach her the Grave Song that we followers of the Everlasting Tanbukki sing. Once we start together, that resonance intensifies almost unbearably, and I start shivering. Beside me, the Queen seems to find something in herself that might possibly start to admit that the Everlasting Tanbukki is real, and she looks at me with a sense of wonder and uncertainty. I wouldn't be surprised if tears were to spring forth from her eyes.

As soon as we're finished with the Song, Queen Dovrin grabs the disk and asks me to read what we saw in the throne room twenty years before: "One drop of High Blood." I quickly bring the knife back out from my pack and hand it to her. She immediately slices one of her fingers lightly and a drop falls onto the disk--

Forgetting the pomp of the throne room, we watch in silent amazement as the blood seems to spread out more than a drops' worth on the disk, enveloping it in a sort of sickening blood red glow. The faint light it emits grows until it encases us both, and we hold our breath as we wait for something, anything really, to happen.

Then the bubble pops...and we're still in the throne room.

Behind us, the door opens, admitting a pair of servants whose familiar faces almost make my knees buckle under me. I try to call out "Mom, Dad," but my mouth can't bring those words out. It's like something is blocking them. My parents look at Queen Dovrin and me with stern looks, and I have to keep myself from crying because of how much I've missed those gazes.

"What are you two doing in here?" Mom runs over and grabs us each by the arm. "This is no place for new servants. Go to the kitchen and see if you can get Ryokni to give you some work."

"How dare you?" Queen Dovrin exclaimed incredulously. "I am Qu--" her words stop short. "I am Qu--" Again. "I am Qu--...oh, Tukam's wrath, why can't I say it? I am Qu--"

"Mr. and Mrs. Cortas," I say with a forced smile, apparently unable to call them my parents, "you have to forgive us. She still doesn't know her place." I lean over to them and whisper very quietly. "She's a Pure-Auc."

My parents' jaws drop and they are struck speechless by what I said. There hasn't been a Pure-Auc servant in many years since that role is reserved for non-Aucs. The Invaders take every job available and leave the rest of us to carry their meals on trays and scurry right behind their feet. That's not to say that no Pure-Auc has ever been demoted so shamefully before, but it still isn't a pleasant experience either for the Invader, or those unfortunate enough to be around him or her. There's also a little spark of satisfaction in seeing Queen Dovrin's face in shock as well.

I am about to take Queen Dovrin to the kitchens though my heart begs me to stay in my parents' presence when their eyes go wide and their legs give way. They hit the floor and I want to scream when I see the knives on their backs, but I run to the open doorway instead and peek both ways, looking for the assassin. The dark halls provide enough shadow for someone in dark clothing to scurry around unnoticed, so I'm careful not to bring my head out too much. My eyes dart left and right through the hallway until I'm certain there's some movement down to the right. Grabbing my staff from the floor, I quickly sneak toward the assassin with Queen Dovrin behind me saying I've lost my mind, and I have a strong feeling that she's right.

The murderer runs through more halls until he comes near the Queen's Chambers and readies another knife. He's about to throw something to the door as a fake knock when I spring on him with my staff, hitting him hard on the stomach and following it with a blow to his head, rendering him unconscious. When the adrenaline wears off and Queen Dovrin catches up to me, the risk I took sinks in and I can't believe myself. After all of these years, reopening this wound brought out something in me that even I'm unable to recognize.

"By the grace of Agam," she mutters, "you really have gone mad."

"He killed my parents," is all I'm able to say before a decision comes to mind. I bring out a piece of rope I packed and use it to tie the assassin's feet and hands, and tie his head coverings over his eyes for good measure. The Queen asks where I'm taking him, but I only answer that it's something very important to a follower of Tumya. As soon as I say that, something from the Queen's bag seems to resonate with my heart, and I find myself looking at her in confusion. Bringing myself out of that, I pick up the assassin and drag him out to the stable to get a barrow that I make sure has some horse dung in it. We walk out of the palace grounds into the city to somewhere close by. Even after their deaths, I still remember where they lived in my childhood where I started to go after my parents died to learn about Tumya. Silent tears escape during our walk.

Deep in the night, the Queen and I look at a poor looking shop in a street full of them that I know doubles as a home. We go to a house in the back corner where I know the servants dwell. I knock on the door quite loudly and wait. It takes several tries, but there's finally some footsteps approaching from the inside and they don't sound happy in the least. The door opens to a very familiar, albeit much younger, face of a man who's just beginning to be called old. He has a fighting staff in his hands, but I know he doesn't know how to use it any more than I do mine. I have to fight back a smile at seeing that dear face.

"Are you the Oshista?" I ask him, and his face softens.

The Oshista looks around the area before motioning us to enter with our very unique cargo, which he looks at warily. He leads us into the living room where we can have the barrow between us, though he scrunches his face when he smells the horse dung. Emotions rampage inside me of seeing my parents and my Tumya teacher - my Oshista - in one night, but the pressing matter leaves me able to mask them all. I have to keep myself from staring at the Oshista longingly.

"What brings you here?" he frowns at both of us standing across from him.

"It concerns...a loss," I choke out those last two words. "This man," I point to the barrow with the assassin, "killed my parents. According to the laws of the Everlasting Tanbukki, I am to bring him to an Oshista and have him or her decide the punishment."

There it is again, that strange resonance.

"The laws of the queendom are different," Queen Dovrin speaks up. "They state that a murderer must be brought before the Queen so as to give him a chance to explain his or her actions."

"He deserves no chance," I growl, but remind myself that it's the Oshista who'll decide the punishment. Oh, how I hope he rules it as worthy of death, and I will deal it out myself.

The Oshista heaves a sigh and he brings a hand to his chin in thought just as the assassin stirs in the barrow, though not quite coming to life yet. My head is clouded by rage and hate toward this Wandering murderer, but I take a few breaths to try to steady myself. If I act out rashly, I may do something that may take away my entire Way from under my feet. As if I'm not going to already. Beside me, the Queen taps her foor impatiently, evidently not even caring how I'm feeling about all of this, though she does know a pair of servants were killed in her palace during her neverending game with the Koh-Aucs. It takes a lot for me not to give her the slap she deserves.

Before saying anything, the Oshista leaves the room and rummages in his kitchen for a bit, then comes back out with a pitcher full of water. I expect him to offer us glasses, even though there's no cups, but he dumps it onto the assassin instead who jerks awake and struggles against his fetters. The hood and blindfold hide his emotions, but something in me hopes he's scared, and wants to make him if he's not.

"I would like to hear you explain yourself," the Oshista says solemnly as he begins to reveal the murderer's face, making the Queen gasp. I look at her, but she doesn't say anything.

"Where have you taken me?" the killer asks after looking around at the three of us almost in panic.

"You heard him," I snap in my emotional turmoil. "Explain yourself, and the Oshista will decide how you are to be punished for murder."

"May the Everlasting Tanbukki direct my Path," the assassin mutters, and my breath catches in my throat. I should've guessed that this man is a non-Auc; no Pure-Auc would adopt our religion. This man must be some poor servant undoubtedly promised some sort of place or favor among his masters, doing worse and worse deeds to do so. I'm just surprised that he didn't renounce Tumya for the Tamanershee as so many servants are so willing to do. Something inside of me is even more angry that the man who killed my parents knew the Everlasting Tanbukki as well. Now I really hope I get to kill him.

"First of all," the Oshista resumes the interrogation, "why did you kill his parents?"

After clearing his throat, the assassin lowers his head and speaks. "My masters convened and told me that I must...do this if I am to live."

My throat tightens, wishing I could spare this man his fate and punish whoever put him up to this. If I can just find out who that is, I swear I will do whatever it takes to avenge my parents.

"Oshista," I say more strongly than I feel, "may I suggest that his punishment be lighter if he provides the names of those who made him do this? If not..." I smile in what I hope is a menacing way to intimidate him.

"I agree," the Teacher nods.

A moment of consideration passed, and the assassin actually looks as if he would be willing to provide the names. What a loyal servant they would lose if he doesn't. I look at the Queen to try to figure out what her thoughts are on this whole ordeal, but her eyes are cast down and she refuses to even acknowledge that I'm looking right at her. This is way more uncertainty in the Queen in one night than I thought I would ever see in my lifetime. Perhaps she really is human.

"I cannot say," the assassin finally sighs. "My masters just told me to go meet a woman in a tavern one night, and I did. She gave me enough gold to buy any sort of deed, but it was almost not enough for what I was told to do. Her voice was completely unfamiliar to me, but I expect she disguised it in any way she could to prevent recognition. The deed she requested was as strange as could be too. She told me to sneak into the palace and kill practically anyone I saw and make my way to the Queen, but she told me not to succeed in assassinating her. Why anyone would ask that is beyond me."

It is strange indeed, and I can barely fathom the reasons behind this. It's almost as if someone wanted to make a show of an attempted assassination, but why? The Oshista and I look at each other uncertainly, and I have to fight back the urge to run into his arms like I did so many times in childhood. Even the notion brings a warmth to my heart I didn't even know was missing until now. Then I look at the Queen to ask her what she makes of this whole ordeal when something clicks in my head. And it changes everything.

The Koh-Aucs are notorious for their elaborate schemes against one another, and it should be no surprise that the Queen can't look at me now. Paying someone to fake an attempted murder against her would give her the leverage to put down anyone she chose, if she could get a "confession" that would probably end in this murderer's release. I find myself backing away from Queen Dovrin.

"You were the woman," I say quietly, and I need no answer when a look of guilt washes over her face. Some part of me wants to take my knife and thrust it through her right then, but a madman's laugh almost comes out of my lips when I think back to what was written on the artifact she received from Koh-Auc Gemmaru:

"Choose your Path wisely."

"Oshista," I'm glad my voice is so calm, "I think he told the truth. Now choose his punishment."

Beside me, the Queen is still keeping her eyes on the ground, and the assassin looks between me and the Oshista uncertainly, as if he doesn't believe the bargain we made. At this point, all is up to the Teacher. He frowns as he stares off at nothing, trying to combine the wisdom needed in these situations and the grace that the Everlasting would show. Finally, he looks at the assassin with a stern expression.

"You are to be beaten."

That resonance with something in the Queen's back comes back strong with those words.

Taking him out from the barrow, I pick up my staff and tears run steadily out of my eyes as I bring about the assassin's punishment. From the corner of my eye, I can see the Queen flinching at every blow, no doubt wondering if she's up next. I would like to do the same to her for killing my parents indirectly, but I hold myself back with another deadly promise that she'll get what she deserves.

Only when I think my tears have reached their end, I stop swinging my staff, panting from the effort it required. The Oshista looks as solemn as can be, and I look at the Queen with my face dark. She shies away from me, flinching when I raise my hand toward her, but I only dig into her pack for that disk that she received. The words on it are the same as they were back in the palace:

"One drop of High Blood."

Taking out my knife, I point it at the frightened Queen and give her a slash on one of her raised hands, putting the strange disk below it to get a drop of blood--

Forgetting the pomp of the throne room, we watch in silent amazement as the blood seems to spread out more than a drops' worth on the disk, enveloping it in a sort of sickening blood red glow. The faint light it emits grows until it encases us both, and we hold our breath as we wait for something, anything really, to happen.

Then the bubble pops...and the memories come rushing back, knocking both the Queen and me to our knees. I look up at her and the same anger wells up in me, but I suppress it. She refrains from looking at me and covers it with trying to recover from the shock of memories coming all at once in what seems like a moment. A smile comes over my face, and the Queen seems to take it as a sign of forgiveness, but she's wrong.

Looking up, both of us are surprised to see that we're in what seems to be a great cloudy pink, blue, and yellow void with a path of sparkling stars under our feet, just wide enough for two with a comfortable margin on either side. We start on our Way and don't say a word. The road seems to go on forever, Queen Dovrin walking in that haughty way Koh-Aucs have, and me tagging along like a hound at her feet. I imagine what it's going to be like to see the Everlasting Tanbukki, my heart filling with an immeasurable elation and also a sense of anxiety as well. And beside me, the Queen walks on totally oblivious.

Some time passes, I'm not sure how much, before a bright coastline appears in the empty horizon, and Queen Dovrin and I pick up our tired feet to go faster. The closer we get, the more I notice that the land is too bright for me to see clearly, but I can just barely make out some details. It seems to have a lot of flowers and some trees that I can't quite identify, along with what looks like a river of some sort, all centered around a great giant throne where the most radiant being is sitting.

The Everlasting Tanbukki.

My heart takes over my senses and I find myself running as fast as I can with Queen Dovrin through the last of the Way and the vegetation. The land seems to expand forever when we step off the Way, which disappears behind us and is replaced with more land, and is filled with many radiant beings that are singing and seeming to prepare for a great feast. I suddenly long for my parents and the Oshista and his wife, wishing I could see them among this place. Instead, Queen Dovrin leads me into the space in front of the Throne of the Everlasting where we kneel.

"Everlasting Tanbukki," Queen Dovrin calls out, "I am Queen Nauban Dovrin, Daughter of the Everlasting. I have come for your Drink which will make me immortal."

"You have done well to make it past the illusions," the Everlasting bellows, though I get the feeling that he's just whispering, "but are you sure about this, Nauban Dovrin?"

"Yes, Everlasting Tanbukki."

The Everlasting lifts his huge hand to take his cup and sets it down in front of Queen Dovrin. When she reaches out to take it, her hands bring up a cup that's small enough for her. She looks at me with an almost greedy gaze and empties the Everlasting's Drink, claiming she feels revitalized and strong.

"Shogow Cortas," the Everlasting bellows again, "my faithful servant. Do you also wish to parttake in this?"

"No," I answer. "Just keep watch over my Path and my Way."

Just as the Queen and I are about to rise, she clutches her stomach and keels over, unable to support herself and crying out in pain. The smile returns on my lips as I look at her. She calls out to me to help her, but gives a pause when she sees my expression.

"'Choose your Path wisely,'" I chuckle, "my Queen."

"You have strayed," the Everlasting's voice is tinged with a bit of sorrow. "The Path you followed desecrated your heart. You will never be my Daughter, nor will you live another day, much less an eternity."

The Everlasting Tanbukki nods his head to me sadly and the Way appears behind me again, allowing me to go back to the land of the living. I take one last look at the Queen who was willing to sacrifice her own servants to solidify her hold on the throne and don't feel any remorse when she doesn't move. Knowing that my Way is probably all gone now, in the presence of the Everlasting no less, I take the Way back home with a smile ever present on my lips.

Without the Queen to rule, there will be turmoil.

With no hope of my Way reaching Heaven now, I am a very dangerous man.


© Copyright 2020 AntiMonomorphism. All rights reserved.

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