"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it." –Martin Luther King, Jr.
After leaving our small oasis and walking for what seemed like hours, we had arrived at the front gate of Skotadi's former home and we were face to face with the castle guards. The guards looked exactly like Narcissus's soldiers in Chorio. Their black armor was coated with a thin layer of dust-like dirt and their blood red eyes were clearly visible through their visors. If I didn't know any better, I would certainly think that they could have been some of the men we had run away from back in the village. I shied behind my partner, positive that Skotadi had been wrong and that there was no way that these men would let us just waltz in. They probably weren't even going to let us live.
"Lord Narcissus has been expecting you. Follow me." His words were commanding and harsh, but I had no reason to expect anything else. At least he didn't kill us outright.
We weaved through an endless number of dark corridors, lit only by a small candle every few yards before arriving at our destination. One guard glared at Skotadi and me while the second gave Skotadi a pained look before pulling on the doors leading to Narcissus's throne room. Skotadi gave a small nod to the second guard before ushering me through the doorway.
The room was more brightly lit than the halls of the castle, but whatever colors may have existed were still shades of grey. Shadows bounced off walls and pillars as candles and lamps flickered in the stagnant air. I briefly considered what could be lurking in the darkness and then figured that it would be best not to know. My eyes adjusted to the differences in light and I saw Narcissus sitting on Skotadi's throne in the front of the room. The royal chair was intricately carved gold with pictures that I assumed told a story thousands of years old. Shadows bounced off the carvings, giving them the illusion of movement. On either side of the chair and Narcissus stood a total of four men. They must be his advisors, I thought. All four of them scowled at us as Skotadi and I walked up to the throne. We did not kneel or bow and Narcissus's men looked as though they were going to slip up and kill us themselves. Narcissus, however, had a look of amusement on his pale face.
"Skotadi, dear brother. You will never change. Why don't you bow to the rightful heir to the throne of Kolasi?"
"Do not patronize me, Narcissus. But, I will humor you. The answer is simple—I cannot bow to myself," Skotadi replied with a slight smile on his face. Apparently Narcissus did not appreciate this smart remark, as he jumped from his throne to his feet with a black fire in his dark eyes. "You fool. You dare insult me? I will kill you myself!" Skotadi looked into his brother's eyes at his proclamation.
"Your highness, please allow us…" the man closest to the left side of the throne had started to speak but Narcissus cut him off.
"No. I will handle this. Once I dispose of my brother and his pet, I can truly claim my right to the throne and I will rule over Kolasi without anyone to question my authority."
Skotadi growled under his breath. "Only if you can do so over your dead body." At first, Narcissus gave Skotadi a puzzled look, but then he broke out into laughter and said, "I believe the saying goes, over my dead body."
A wave of feeling swept over me for the man who had saved me from the darkness, the man I stood next to. I looked at him, and in a strange revelation, I knew exactly what he was thinking.
"Precisely," I said, my voice echoing through the grand hall. "We don't plan on dying."
As soon as the words left my mouth, I was knocked to the ground by a force so powerful, I knew that Narcissus had attacked me. Shadows started to creep into the corners of my eyes, but I could still make out Skotadi's expression as he looked at me. His eyes were full of concern and rage, the former for me and the latter for Narcissus, as I could see no logical reason for the two to be reversed.
I managed to get back up on my feet without any help from Skotadi. His brother's attack hadn't hurt me in the slightest, which was good because Skotadi was a bit preoccupied with Narcissus. The tyrant was taunting my companion in an attempt to throw off his game, but Skotadi would have nothing of it. He would smirk as he deflected Narcissus's attacks and sent his own right back at his brother. They were evenly matched. Shadows flew across the throne room, ricocheting off walls and destroying any solid matter they came in contact with. This needed to end soon, or else Skotadi wouldn't have a throne to reclaim. And by the looks of things, he needed my help, as his own magics were now having much effect on Narcissus.
"Skotadi!" I shouted to catch his attention. Of course, at this, Narcissus also directed his attention towards me.
"Why won't you die?" he exclaimed, obviously displeased at the fact that I was still standing, even after his surprise assault. He turned toward me. I heard Skotadi yell my name, but all I saw was Narcissus's smoldering black eyes. He stalked towards me and I felt like I was rooted to the spot.
"Anabo!" Skotadi yelled again. "Narcissus, do not even think about hurting her!" In response, Narcissus reached a hand behind him as though he was reaching back for Skotadi. Shadows left his hand like a bullet, taking on a net-like structure and hit Skotadi square in the chest. My companion hit the floor rolling and stopped, laying on his stomach, check pressed to the cold surface. He didn't move.
"I wouldn't dare," Narcissus said with an evil smirk in my direction.
"Skotadi!" I screamed. "Skotadi!" I collapsed next to a pillar, leaning against it for support. Any feeling of invincibility that I had melted away. I was still on the floor, not because I couldn't move, but because I didn't want to.
"Hush, hush, hush," Narcissus said. He kneeled in front of me and tilted his head. "Are you familiar with the orthonomai, what does he call you…anabo?"
I shook my head. There was no point in fighting anymore. I couldn't do this without Skotadi. And he didn't look like he was going to get up anytime soon.
"It's a brilliant idea, really. You see, anyone who enters Kolasi is immediately put under a spell that prohibits him or her from movement of any kind. It's a natural kind of security. Anyone we don't want walking around just wastes away." He paused to study my face. His voice was entirely too conversational for the situation. He was talking about the exact scenario that had happened to me when I first arrived in this place. "Just look," he continued. He leaned slightly so that I saw Skotadi past his shoulder. "Unless I release him with the orthonomai, he will stay like that until he dies, completely conscious and aware."
"Narcissus!" I gasped weakly.
"Yes, dear?" he said, grinning when I cringed.
"Please stop. Please, let him go. Kill me if you have to, but let your brother go." My sentences were interrupted with awkward pauses so that I could catch my breath in between words. Narcissus's eyes narrowed, and then he closed them thoughtfully and turned his head slightly to the side.
"No. I'd rather not." He opened his eyes and looked at his hand. Shadows were coiling and pulsing around it. The darkness itself morphed and then materialized into a black metal knife right in his hand.
"So what…" I swallowed audibly, "what are you doing?" Narcissus ran the blade of the knife over my bicep painfully slow. I gasped when I felt the metal bite into my skin. No blood was drawn, and instead a small yellow light burned through my skin. I still flinched away, but his next words stopped my movement.
"I am trying to decide what would be the most painful way for you to die. That way, if I ever release my brother, he will be begging for his own death, simply because he was forced to watch me kill you."
I glared at him as he cut through my jeans into my right thigh and then again right below my left knee. "Have you decided yet?" I asked through gritted teeth. My jeans were turning red with blood. My heart was torn between giving up and resisting against Narcissus.
"Not yet," he answered. "But I was thinking I would just go with whatever came to mind." At that, he tapped the point of the knife on my skull and then brought it to my check and dragged it down to my jaw.
"Is there any chance you'll just kill me quickly?" I said after he had removed the knife from my face. I did not want to deal with his torturous antics, especially if Skotadi was gone.
He paused, and then shook his head. He smiled at me and said, "I think not."
"Bastard," I said. The end of the word was distorted when Narcissus placed the flat side of his knife flush against my lips.
"None of that," he said with a menacing twist in his voice. "Now, where were we?"
Out of nowhere, a roar erupted from behind Narcissus. The four bodies of his advisors hit four different walls and crumbled to the floor. I saw Skotadi launch a shadow attack at Narcissus, and right when he was about to dodge it, I kicked my torturer with the last of the strength in my leg so that the shadows hit him square between the shoulder blades. His knife clinked across the floor a safe distance away and he fell to my side.
Skotadi ran to me and picked me up in his arms. I looked up at him, utterly confused.
"Remember when you first got here and you could not stand and I had to help you up? That's what Narcissus was referring to when he mentioned the orthonomai." I nodded my understanding so that he would continue. "Unfortunately for Narcissus, he was unaware that his own brother is the only person in all of Kolasi who is unaffected by his spell and can stand without the orthonomai."
"That is incredible. Lucky, but incredible."
"I seemed to think so, too."
A couple of yards away, Narcissus stirred. Seeing this out of the corner of my eye, I moved further away from him, successfully untangling myself from Skotadi's arms.
"What did you do to him?" I asked.
"I am sure I only knocked him out. I would think that he should come around soon."
"Ah. Can we just get this over with before he does?"
He looked at me. "If you wish. It certainly would be easier that way. Are you ready, anabo?"
"Who are you trying to kid? I still don't have a clue what I'm doing. But that has never stopped me before," I replied, trying to keep some of my good humor in this less than humorous situation. "Besides, Narcissus deserves what's coming to him."
"Ah, anabo. Let's go."
The light from my hands shone through the room that almost completely eradicating the flickering shadow shapes on the walls and matched the white-hot fire behind my eyes. Living darkness snaked over my partner's hands. Skotadi and I moved in unison, as if we had planned the assault. We shifted our weight back, hands to one side, slightly behind our bodies, ready to hurl an attack directly at Narcissus. The light between my fingers was blinding, so instead of looking at it, I glared at my target still lying on the floor. I knew that Skotadi was next to me, preparing the black energy in his hands. I heard him muttering to the shadows, calling upon them to help him. I wished with all of my soul that they would comply. Then, without knowing where the words came from, Skotadi and I spoke in unison, with the volume of a whisper but all the power of a shout,
"Light and Shadow, we call on you. Show us the true King of Kolasi."
With all of my might, I thrust the light in my hands at Narcissus and I saw Skotadi do the same with the shadows. Before my eyes, the light and the shadow twisted together and mixed into a sacred union. I was amazed that one didn't engulf the other. But I was more amazed when I saw Narcissus, who had somehow climbed to his feet in fractions of a second, simply hold up his hand and catch the magics that we had shot at him in one fluid motion and sent it right back at us—right back at me.
"May whatever deity you pray to help you now, child."
Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. I was getting myself into trouble. I was falling for the one person I could not fall for, and the part of my mind that loved her could not be reasoned with. It governed all of my actions and I felt like I was just along for the ride. I knew I had to get Narcissus off of my throne as soon as I could, but all I could think about was spending more time with the girl.
I made the excuse that we were both tired after our small endeavor in Chorio, so I ventured off to find a small, secluded place for us to rest. I managed to come across the perfect refuge in a clearing in a forest between Chorio and the castle. I did not know that such a place existed and I promised myself that when I was back on the throne, I would make a point of exploring Kolasi even more.
Anabo made a point of cleaning herself off and making use of the spring water in the clearing. It was apparent that she was feeling self-conscious after going without bathing for a long while. I only looked at it as an excuse to sleep, since I was sure that she wanted her privacy and I was finding it harder and harder to keep myself occupied without her. I found myself cherishing every second I spent with her because I knew my seconds were numbered. She would leave soon, but not before we put her training with Abdias to good use.
She would mostly practice while I was sleeping, but she would also get bored when she was by herself so I would practice with her. She would do so well that I did not realize that I would fight her at near full strength until I caught the only mistake she made and hit her unshielded shoulder. I cursed myself for being so careless. She insisted that I had not hurt her. She did not bleed. Instead, a light shone dimly from the break in her skin. She truly was made of light. Her wound healed fast, but I could not help being more protective of her, even if I was only protecting her from myself. She had enough on her plate with the battle with Narcissus looming ahead.
One night, when I was particularly restless and itching for revenge against my brother, I asked if she felt ready to face him.
She seemed unsure. So I did the only thing I knew of in order to comfort her.
Magics were an ideal cover. She did not suspect a thing until my shadows were gone and by then it was too late. She sighed and closed her eyes, accepting of my ulterior motive.
"You could have just asked, you know," she said. I smirked to myself. Well, yes, I could have. But why ask? That was much more fun. I had accomplished my goal, and I could not ask for anything more than that. And I did not have to ask, because I knew that anabo would act for me no matter the circumstances.
I must have been in a trance for the entirety of our travels to the castle, because the next time I was aware of my surroundings, we were standing in the throne room before my kin and Narcissus was addressing me as his "dear brother."
Everything was happening too fast. First, Narcissus and I were exchanging heated words, and then anabo was knocked off of her feet by an underhanded attack from my brother. I growled low in my throat and leapt at my brother.
"You dare defile my kingdom! You gamble with the lives of its citizens!" I snarled as I dodged one of Narcissus's attacks, which continued behind me and knocked out one of my brother's advisors. "What makes you think that you have any right?"
"I merely wish to save Kolasi from your impudence. You, brother, are the last thing that Kolasi needed," he shot back. He was not as quick on his feet as I was, and he was using up a lot of energy by shielding my attacks. He was not as skilled in the shadows as I, evidenced by how his shields would deflect my attacks to the areas around us, effectively destroying parts of the room. Narcissus continued to lash out at me, but I tried to block him out and searched for anabo in my peripheral vision. My apprehension was starting to cost me, so relief flooded my body when I heard her call out at last.
"Skotadi!" she yelled, which not only accomplished gaining my attention but that of Narcissus as well.
Narcissus barked something unintelligible to my ears and made his way towards anabo. He was closer to her than I; my mind supplied with nothing to do other than yell for her and hiss a threat at my brother. And then I was hit.
I did not see the shadows as they made the short and fast journey for me. I was so concentrated on anabo's green eyes that were so full of fright that I did not bother to defend myself against them. The shadow net hit me and then constricted, attempting to prevent my movement. I stayed still, in case Narcissus decided to take a peek back at me, but as it were, he had his full attention on anabo.
They were speaking in low voices and I could not make out the words. Anabo's face was sullen and there was no fight left in the rest of her body. Do not give in, I wanted to yell, but I had to wait for the right time. Right now, the element of surprise was my greatest ally. I held myself back until I saw the dark glint of a shadow knife in Narcissus's hand. He planned to kill her.
I broke my bonds with ease and adrenaline ripped through my throat with a roar. The force of the bonds breaking hit Narcissus's advisors into the walls of the room. They would not be bothering us. I locked eyes with anabo and then launched an attack at Narcissus. She kicked him to the side when he tried to dodge and the shadows hit him between his shoulder blades. Unable to bear the slow pace of walking, I ran to anabo and threw my arms around her. When she looked at me without a hint of understanding, I realized that Narcissus had been telling her that I would need the orthonomai in order to stand on my own and that she would have no way of knowing what Narcissus was also unaware of.
"Remember when you first got here and you could not stand and I had to help you up? That's what Narcissus was referring to when he mentioned the orthonomai. Unfortunately for Narcissus, he was unaware that his own brother is the only person in all of Kolasi who is unaffected by his spell and can stand without the orthonomai."
Narcissus must have stirred and startled anabo, because she skirted away from me in order to get further away from him. She asked if we could "get this over with," which I considered. It seemed strange to take out my brother when he was knocked out, but there was no doubt that it would be easier.
I waited for anabo to summon her magics before I began with mine. I almost was unable to do so when I saw the beauty in her hands. The light from her hands was so bright that it lit up the entire room. A ring of light appeared around her pupils and enhanced the shimmering emerald of her irises. I am unsure if she would be able to recognize herself. The girl beside me was the embodiment of light power.
I summoned the shadows to my hands and then nodded to anabo. We moved and spoke together, as though it was meant to be.
"Light and Shadow, we call on you. Show us the true King of Kolasi."
The magics left our hands with speed and morphed together with grace. I had been right. We would know what to do when the time came. We would know to trust each other. Anabo had helped me get my throne back and I would help her leave Kolasi, despite my own interests. I thought I knew how everything would play out until I heard Narcissus's rumbling voice,
"May whatever deity you pray to help you now, child."
The lights and shadows hit her before I had time to react.
Bright white darkness bombarded me and I fell. So this is what it came to? It had happened so quickly. I felt no pain, but I knew it was because I was in shock. I was only a sacrifice. I couldn't do anything for Skotadi but die—but give myself up for a greater purpose. If I had any air in my lungs, I would have dispelled it with a sigh. I suppose I could live with that. An image of Skotadi sitting on his throne flashed in my mind. His blue eyes were a mess of emotions; they were full of caring, remorse, gratitude, and knowledge. He had a sad smile on his face. I smiled at the vision. So, we had succeeded. He nodded and I understood. I knew I would see him again. I could live with that. The vision faded and I was surrounded by white. I remembered. I lived. I fell.
I opened my eyes. I was sitting against a brick wall in a dark alleyway. The brightest light was provided by a lone yellow streetlamp half a block away that still managed to illuminate the surrounding area. In the horizon, the sun started to peak over the tumbling clouds. With the light of the new dawn, I could see just how nauseating a situation I had been in. I shifted slightly and gritted my teeth from the pain that followed.
My arms and legs stung something horrible. I looked down at myself and saw that I was covered in long, drawn out cuts. My jeans were ripped and torn, presumably from the knife that was sitting next to me. The denim around the tears was turning a rusty brown color from soaking in my blood from my cuts. For as much blood I seemed to have lost, I didn't feel faint. I felt completely aware of my surroundings, but it was taking me longer than normal to get a grip on the area around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a man lying on the ground a few yards away. His blonde hair was held in place with solidified grime and his black eyes were open and lifeless. His pale skin was white as death. His hand was holding tight to a pistol. He had been dead a while.
My vision came back to center. A man about four inches taller than me stood before me, with confidence radiating from his posture. He looked absolutely regal, the very picture of what his name stood for—crowned one. He tossed his head so that his brown hair flew out of his range of vision to reveal his ice blue eyes. They shone with a light of brilliant emotion. I knew those eyes. I knew him. A smile crossed my face and I said,
The corners of his mouth turned up into a smile as he held his arms out, ready to embrace me.
"Ana, my love. You've returned to me."