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Chapter 42 of Rebirth

Whoever said that children were the essence of innocence and goodness ought to be wrong, or it might have been that he or she had never encountered a particular child, the one and only Hendrick Vyacheslav. He was too disorderly to have been a victim. I did notice, though, that there seemed to be guards everywhere watching our movements. I could sense their peering eyes and as usual, Lady Fenov monitored us. As for Hendrick, he would order demands at me without even uttering a word. He would point or gesticulate to express his wishes and I would attempt to interpret them by asking him questions to which he would reply with a nod or a shake.
As a master, Hendrick had to be known as a prankster or maybe even a supporter of schadenfreude. He liked watching people fuming with embarrassment. He especially liked laughing at those who were reprimanded for his jokes. He asked me to disrupt one of the Ora ceremonies by screaming, “Long live the Tsar! He lives! He lives!”

During that moment, I also had to run back and forth down pathway leading to the six-layered coffin of Tsar Valerin. The result? I was forcefully escorted by two guards and then dumped in the same prison cell. Again, Dmitry had to release and apologize to me.

Another memorable moment was when Hendrick forced me to throw snow balls at the Countess. The Countess liked to fancy the Ballroom, which was built in a separate building disconnected from the main palace. This was only her excuse to practice her waltzes with her supposed lover, Lord Edwin. To arrive at that location, she would have to cross a small bridge made from traverstine. Now, this bridge was found outdoors making it fairly easy to target her in a matter of minutes. Hendrick, thus, became responsible for rolling the snow into the appropriate sizes while I was ordered to project these missiles at her face.

Countess Barosa had such a fit that her cheeks seemed like tehy had been attacked by a swarm of wasps. She almost demanded her guards to imprison me, but Hendrick had been seen. Because my actions were orders from the Tsarevich, she could do nothing but to sulk. Not to mention, the next day, she had patches of bruises resembling the different shapes of countries on her face.

Crueler acts included: dipping my body in freezing water, crawling like a dog throughout the palace, starving for a few meals and then forcing me to beg him for food, and ripping pages from ancient texts. The worst had to be seducing Dmitry.

“No, we do not play with emotions,” I had repeatedly informed Hendrick, who had frowned. Then, he had brushed his index finger along his own neck after pointing at me. “You’re saying you would kill me if I were to disobey?”

Because of his bobbing head and his stern eyes, I could not have rebelled. I needed to earn his trust. After all, Morganne had had no success in finding the Book. She had rambled how she had gone through every room and secret chambers.

So, the plan was for me to continue to be placed in prison while Dmitry would bail me out.

Eventually, Dmitry pitied me. “I cannot apologize further. Hendrick has suffered much throughout his life. This way of . . . playing could be regarded as his way of showing that he likes your company.”

“You are always so kind. It is a pity that I shall be leaving so soon.” I purposely let loose a smile while remembering to stare at him naively. “I would certainly miss your presence.”

“It is indeed unfortunate that you shall return to your home country.” Again, he offered his hand. It had become rather habitual for us to hold hands after he had liberated me. Even the guards had grown accustomed to our behaviour and had stopped eyeing us.

“Yes, I would love to stay longer.” I squeezed his hand once and felt him strengthen his grip. Responsive and dominant. How unlike his appearance.

He did maintain his manners before turning his heel to say, “There is a way to prolong your stay. There is royal blood running through the Sorcerer and you may . . . well be the Crown Princess.”

“I do not understand what you’re saying. The Sorcerer is—“

“He is the older brother of the Tsar.”

He has one, but . . . that brother of his can never become King.

Too stunned with this revelation, I backed away from Dmitry. “I’m sorry, but I just remembered that I have to go somewhere.”

I had to see Nestor. I had to know the truth.

“Any news?” Every night, I would report my findings to him. Tonight, however, I would question him.

“Why do you not reign as the Tsar? We both know that Hendrick lacks the stamina or the aptitude,” I pointed out.

“Do not underestimate Hendrick.” He looked up from his overloaded stack of papers and books. These days, he was the one who signed the royal papers and attended meetings with other members of the royal family. He had taken over a Tsar’s job.

“Even then, you are still next in line for the throne,” I argued and took a seat in a golden chair in front of his desk.

He scribbled his signature before answering, “I had been the Tsar . . . until I had become aware of my fate.”

“Meaning?”

Nestor at last rested his quill and stretched his arms. “The Oracle had visited me during the first years of my reign.” He took a sip of tea from the cup that was balanced atop of a grey book. “She informed me of my identity, and as expected, I did not believe her. I only believed her when I began to recall my memories. You see . . . the Oracle was responsible for finding and awakening the four other Sceptians.”

“So, you abdicated your ruling?”

“My brother, Valerin, and I staged my death. The coffin that held my body actually holds the remains of an ill peasant,” Nestor even chuckled. “But . . . why notified you of my past?”

“The Countess’ son.”

“Smart lad!” Nestor laughed even harder, almost falling off of his chair. “Even with this beard and hair of mine, he can still recognize me.”

I tried envisioning Nestor as a Tsar dressed with splendour. First, I had to snip his beard from his mind. Then, I had to cut his long hair to a short, smoother version. Finally, I replaced his cloak with a navy blazer dazzled with gold chains and the Slianvwi’s coat of arms. Out of the corner of my eye, I recognized a small portrait of a young, handsome man.

I gazed back at Nestor. “So, you found me out of all the paintings!” He chuckled with his serene, steel blue eyes.

In that painting, he had looked so austere, yet prestigious; he had certainly exhibited a man of high standing, a man worthy of the people’s respect and love. I didn’t understand how it was possible for someone to bestow supremacy. How could anyone discard safety for a life of obscurity? This was too irrational for my liking and too unlike Nestor.

“Why . . . would you—“

“Because I made a grave mistake in the past,” he murmured, “and this cycle will persist until I mend my error.”

“What . . . was that mistake?”

“I abandoned my daughter.” Nestor looked as though he were about to sob, but truthfully, it was I who wanted to weep. There was an unusual knot pressing against my throat and an irrepressible feeling of sorrow probing my mind. When our eyes met, he and I both shared the same thought. “I am sorry. Please pardon me. Please.” His hand was quivering and reaching forward for clemency.

A raging blaze was combusting in my clenched fist. I didn’t know how I could become so irritated; I even swiped all of the books from his desk to the floor.

“You believe that regret would be enough?” I blurted. “What of my life? My happiness? Tell me! Who ruined everything?”

“I did . . . but I know of my blunders. Please . . . forgive me.” He sounded so desperate to the point of deterioration. He was a broken man, unable to piece himself together. How could a pot in shards be repaired without the aid of an artist?

Still, I resisted. “Have I not told you that I will never forgive you? Must I tell you again?”

“Please,” he begged again, but this time on his knees. His hands were tugging at my dress and his eyes were gleaming in tears.

Feeling aggravated by his movements, I pulled at the skirt of my dress and retreated too far that my back knocked the wall. The impact of my back against the wall caused a portrait to tumble. This portrait was Ghislaine. I immediately identified her due to her cold expression.

Those icy eyes portrayed nothing but hostility. As my focus shifted back to Nestor, who didn’t dare advance towards me, I apprehended what I had to do. I had, too easily, permitted her to occupy my emotions. Past lives, just like Nestor had warned me a long time ago, could dictate the present.

Inhaling a deep breath, I stated, “I forgive you . . . Papa.”

“You do?” His body shivered.

“I do and I have forgiven Mother as well.”

He couldn’t speak properly for his tears garrotted his voice and his thoughts. I saw a reminiscent and appreciative smile lurk from his lips. I believed that he had said: “Do what you would like to do this time.”

It was such as simple phrase, yet it was such a comforting one. The echo of his voice brought a warming sensation in my chest, making me feel at home. Familiarity, I felt.

“Thank you,” I murmured.

I let a tear drop onto the resting portrait. This tear landed right under Ghislaine’s right eye. I knew . . . that we were both wailing. There was no need to suppress our emotions, and no need to act strong. To cry was to be fearless. To be fearless was to progress. We accepted, and so we advanced.

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Chapter 41 of Rebirth

Enraged would have been the exact word to describe Nestor’s mood. We were behind schedule and we were not even acting according to his scheme.

He had first frowned. “Your hand.” After the three of us had arrived at Nestor’s chamber, Morganne had shared her idea with him. Just as we had expected, he had grumbled, “You do understand how preposterous this sounds?” Continue reading

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Chapter 40 of Rebirth

Chapter 40: A Smile

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          Although we were pressed for time, Morganne had still explained why the Book of Winds was treated as the Royal Papers of Slianvwi. In essence, the first entry dictated the origins of Slianvwi and also how the first King arose from his nation. Before I could inquire more, she had snapped, “You will learn more from Nestor. Now, we must quicken our steps.” Continue reading

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Chapter 39 of Rebirth

Chapter 39: Execution Square

        It was daunting to enter the village centre by myself. I scanned the area, trying to recall the images of this vibrant city. I thought I would be able to see people trading at the markets or buying goods for their family or even kids dashing through the streets. Instead, I had caught the stares of ravenous and fatigued women, distressed sellers and of young peddlers. Although it would have been expected for the streets to be vacant, people still began to prepare for work when the sun rose. This ominous atmosphere should not have existed; every sunrise should have been a new beginning. That was merely an old saying that reflected the optimism of the citizens. Where was this optimism then? Continue reading

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Chapter 38 of Rebirth

Chapter 38: Journey

      It was not long before I received an owl. What I meant was that an owl had repeatedly used its beak to knock on my bedroom window. At first, I had ignored this pesky creature, but once I saw what was attached to its left foot, a scroll tucked in a bottle, I knew I had to welcome this owl. Calla was by my side again, and she had hopped from where she had been sitting to examine what I had obtained.

          “From a secret admirer?” she giggled and kept squeezing by my side to read what I was about to unravel.

          The burning of your heart says that the next awakening of light brings forth a devil at its death.    

          That was the message that was written on an old, tattered sheet of paper. I could not recognize the penmanship nor could I understand, in the beginning, what the message meant. “No,” I responded to Calla.

          “This ought to be some hoax.” She had managed to glimpse at the note.

          I knew it had to be more than a hoax. Pranksters did not spend time to send forth a trained owl, which had already departed after I had unhooked the bottle from its ankle. Looking at the window, I could still see where it was headed. It was heading north. North . . . must have been where its owner was. Who did I know lived northwards?

          Perplexed by my own observation, I took another look at the letter, dissecting each word now. The burning of your heart. It could not have been an anagram; that would have been too long. What burned in my heart? Longing? Wanting? Wishing?

          “Oh my goodness.” I almost dropped the sheet onto the ground.

          It stood for desire. Desire was related to Desiderium. Replacing the phrase with the new word, I reread the message.

Desiderium says that the next awakening of light brings forth a devil at its death.

What could have signified the next awakening of light? Light could mean fire, the moon, goodness, the day, the . . . sun. This had to be an indication of the time: sunrise. The next sunrise. I was eager now to decode the latter of the cryptic phrase, brings for a devil at its death. If this note had already given the author, the time, then what had to be missing was the location. Where in Urcis would a devil be brought to death? I envisioned all of the areas in the palace. None of them seemed to match the description. Perhaps, the Prison Tower, but being a prisoner did not necessarily mean death.

          Frustrated with what was impeding me, I paced back and forth.

          “I must say that your pacing reminds me of a recent story I heard,” Calla remarked. “A little boy had stolen a piece of bread and the baker was chasing after him all over town with a baton! When the baker caught the little thief, he dragged the poor boy to the town square and told everyone to watch him beat that ‘ragged boy’.”

          I was about to reproach Calla for interrupting my thinking, yet I leapt to thank her. “You are brilliant, Calla! Absolutely brilliant!” I kept shaking her hands that she couldn’t bear looking at me. I knew exactly where to go now. “Calla, I need you to do me a favour.” I eyed her carefully. “No, several.”

          “Purpose of departure?” the guard armoured in silver asked in a bucolic voice. “And identification?” He then leaned in closer to examine my face. “I do not recall your entry to court,” he ordered. “Ramsey! Fetch the list!”

          This was the Gate Guards’ responsibilities: to verify anyone that passed through the main gates of the Palace. There will typically two Gate Guards positioned on each side of the entrance and this time, the one to the right had caught onto me. There was no sense in worrying for I had already taken all precautions. Calla had spent a few hours observing the process of entering and exiting the Palace, and had concluded that I had to either prepare a signed document from the King, or obtain a signet ring of a high-classed noble along with the ribbon or bowtie that had the matching family crest of the ring. Most importantly, I needed to have entered first before exiting.

          “Perhaps, it would be better to find a secret route,” Calla had suggested during our discussion of my flight.

          Actually, I knew of Theo’s secret path, but it would have taken too long to reach the town. Suspicion from the townspeople would arise if they were to see my tattered clothing. Moreover, I could not afford to change into a separate outfit. The easiest, yet also the riskiest method would be to leave directly from the gates.   

          I vividly remembered Calla’s ghastly face when I told her of my plan. “We devise a new way.”

          I had beamed an exquisite smile. Now, I grinned for Cael had been right. People could follow the rules of a board game and learn all of its loopholes and strategies, but sometimes, it was more useful just to become the creator of a game.

          As the producer of this game, I relied on one rule and that was that social status determined people’s powers. Because a princess was much higher in rank than a Gate Guard, the plan ought to have succeeded. All that needed to occur was for Calla to act her part. I had done mine by boldly encountering the Gate Guards.

          Like we had rehearsed, Calla had appeared with haste. She was panting as she ran towards the entryway, calling, “Ren, Ren, you f-f-forgot t-t-this!”

          Dressed in a pair of baggy trousers, an ivory shirt that was purposely unbuttoned to reveal my neck, a simple, black vest, and a cap to mask my long hair, I had once again retained my identity as Ren, the faraway cousin of Prince Cael and Princess Ghislaine. To differentiate myself further, I had also worn make-up to darken my skin and to change the shape of my eyebrows. Calla, on the other hand, had borrowed one of my empire-waist dresses and had a disoriented ribbon tied at her ribs. There was something peculiar about this dress; it had a few buttons running up the neck to act as a turtle neck but they were unbuttoned just to the point that still masked her scars. The intention? To expose her neck as well.

          The Gate Guard had taken a minute to assess the situation and his eyes were immediately drawn to the royal crest on Calla’s ribbon. His tone had immediately changed and even his aggressive body language had morphed to a meek one. “Your highness—“

          “Oh, Ren.” Calla threw a piece of white cloth around my neck and began to knot it into a bow. “You forgot this . . . again.” She eyed me like she would to a lover. I felt one side of my mouth jolt upwards. Our rehearsals had been meaningful then since she had become a great actress. It was mostly due to my diligence that she was able to persevere. I had asked her to think of the man that she adored.

          “Just pretend that I’m Prince Kuro,” I had instructed to which she blushed for ages.

          That, however, was her cue to pretend as though she adored me. It helped too with my screenplay. I had melded a situation, where it was undeniable that we were lovers. A man’s bowtie in Urcis was only handed to his significant other as a sign of his love and commitment. A bowtie, the equivalent of a woman’s ribbon, denoted a man’s social status. If a man had discarded his social status for a woman, then it could merely mean one thing: he was in love.

          Surely, to further convince the Gate Guards, I had pinched the skin of Calla’s neck a few times and had even used leeches to exacerbate the redness of the areas of interest. She too had inflicted some marks on my neck. These had become the final elements of our costumes. These definitely highlighted the doings of lovers.

          I could see one of the Gate Guards blushing, while the other remained unconvinced. So, I pulled Calla closer with our bodies pressing against one another and kissed her neck. She almost pushed me away, but I held onto her tighter and whispered in her ear, “Just follow my lead and do pretend that I’m Kuro.” Without any other warning, one of my hands brushed by her bottom while the other caressed her neck. I placed my lips to the right of her neck and along with a grin, I stared at the other Gate Guard, who had gulped and even looked away once our eyes met. “Say your line now,” I demanded in a soft voice.

          “D-d-don’t Ren,” she pretended to groan. “They-they’re watching.”

          “Don’t worry about them. Let’s continue from where we ended,”

          “N-N-No, I can’t,” she whimpered. “N-n-next time . . . when you’re back from your journey.”

          “Fine, I’ll release you this time,” I muttered while maintaining eye contact with the guards. “However, I think you owe me a farewell kiss.”

          Subsequently, I forcefully hauled Call towards me and angled ourselves so that it seemed as though we were kissing. I had, instead, kissed my own hand, and they had like cowards peevishly darted their eyes to our direction. Tainted were their once righteous visages, and those images could only make me sneer.

          I’ll tell you what sells, baby. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but you know I’d skip out all three, just to be with you.

            How foolish I had been then. Men were all the same: tenacious, lustful, and hormone-driven. People said Kings sometimes had concubines or mistresses to bear them heirs, but I would rather believe that they were satiating their physical needs. Women, for all they cared, were like toys, dispensable and renewable. As for love, it had to be archaic. Romantic love didn’t exist anymore in this world, but people could always persuade each other that it did. Persuasion did not mean conversion, however. This was not like proselytism.

          Regardless of conversion, I had managed to temporarily persuade the guards of our amorous behaviour. As Calla returned in the direction of my bedroom, I cocked a smile at the two guards, who was now unlocking the cumbersome gates.

          “You lucky chap.” I heard one of them scoff. “Kissin’ the Princess like that.”

          I pretended to act like a dimwit. “Is she fairly popular?” I decided to ask.

          “By George, she is! With those puckering cherry lips of hers and that exotic face of hers . . . what fortune you had to savour her!”

          I laughed at the other guard’s reactions. So, this was what these men thought of me. A pin-up girl? They must have been trapped in this place for too long or the population of Urcis inhabited mostly banal-looking girls.

          “But, you know, your fortune’s ending,” the older guard responded. “Heard she’s marryin’ some Prince from Kosei.”

          “Which Prince?” That was the question that had bothered me for too long, a question of mine that had to be resolved.

          The younger, skinnier guard murmured, “No one knows. Rumour has it that it’ll be the eighth prince or some other useless prince.”

          “Useless prince?”

          “Yeah, you know, you can’t be havin’ the future Crown Prince to be marryin’ the Princess,” the older guard explained. “We all know that the Princess has to rule with another Prince at Yuron. But, think ‘bout it. That’s just a way of keeping peace, but poor gal, has to marry poorly.”

          “Marry poorly?” I eyed him.

          He shook his head in disbelief. “No one cares ‘bout that little bit of land. I think ya never been there huh?”

          “No?”

          “It’s where the Kuyaza supposedly lives, where they are the real rulers.”

          “Real rulers?” I couldn’t believe I was repeating the key words he said.

          The other guard added with a sigh, “And to think you looked Koseian. Royalty doesn’t exist there. It’s all for show. The Prince and Princess are puppets controlled by the Kuyaza.” He leaned closer to whisper in my ear. “Don’t spread the word, but I hear . . . that the Emperor of Kosei has some connections with the Kuyaza. It’s some type of agreement letting them do whatever they want. Oh . . . and didn’t I tell you to be patient?”

          I had found myself dumbfounded now that I had recognized this man’s voice. It was . . . the one who had been after Desiderium and me. He was in yet another disguise. He had to be a master impersonator. I was completely fooled by his accent and even by his manners. “Y-You—“

          Again, he murmured in my ear, “We’re watching, Kamikaze . . . every move that you make, we’re watching. Now, I don’t know where you’re headed, but do not cause more trouble than you have already done. Also . . . return before the end of fall.”

          Then, he pushed me forward and reported to his senior that he had been examining me further.

          Scrambling to find the proper pace, I took in more breaths than I should have. I didn’t know what to think. Had the Kuyaza sent for this man to spy on me and for what reason? Was it just because the Queen had given me her the black fox tail? That seemed like ludicrous thinking, yet there was no other reason that could have prompted a member of the Kuyaza to stalk me.

          Suddenly, a haunting voice reverberated in my mind. It was the voice of the Oracle telling me to find the book.

          The book.

          I had almost forgotten it after receiving Desiderium’s message. Making a mental note to myself, I knew what sort of questions I had to ask Desiderium and Nestor. They were questions that the Oracle had not had the chance to answer.

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Chapter 37 of Rebirth

Chapter 37: Amour Fatal

          I didn’t think I would need to worry these days. There was a moment of celebration flourishing throughout the palace because there would soon be a wedding, the date of Theo and Verrill’s wedding had been set. They would wed when spring blossomed to summer. With a limited amount of freedom left, Theo had proudly informed me, “I must frolic as much as possible and I believe you are in need of a frolic.” Because I was to be Theo’s Blessed Lady, who would be by her side at all times up till the wedding to guide her and to share my luck with her, I was permitted to attend Theo’s adventures. Of course, no one knew they were adventures. Everyone just assumed that I was restricting her from her fun. In actuality, she was showing me what fun was. Continue reading

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Chapter 36 of Rebirth

Chapter 36: Water

“You’re awake.” I heard an apprehensive, yet affectionate voice.

          I felt droplets of water trickling on my face and strands of long hair prodding my eyes.  I struggled to open them, and as he moved away from me, I saw a drenched, almost half-naked man gawking at me. His almond eyes were perpetually cobalt, reminding me of a summer’s beach, and his prominent nose was situated symmetrically to serve as the perfect border between his eyes. What complimented his voice was his lightly tanned and angular face, which revealed his strong jaw. Continue reading