The Dark King's Shadow, Chapter 11


Disappearance

Just a day and a half later, the King and his brigade arrived back in Ostden. Sangsara had pleaded with Avniel to rest after their trek back home, but he insisted he worked on the papers. He'd have to approve and make suggestions to budgets for the economic coordinators to review and edit as they would, especially with the new strict budget they had regarding the cease fire, and he had to run a few pieces of legislation through Ostden in order to finalize the cease fire deal regarding Dellmere troops. He would probably be up for a while.

Sangsara came and checked on him hourly, usually with a glass of tea, and other times with tea and bread. She didn't know why, but the King seemed off since returning. She knew he would grow up to be a busy-body, just like his mother, and forget to look after himself. She just didn't know when it was going to happen, so perhaps now was the time of growing for him. During her next visit, she sat against the desk next to him. "I understand that you're trying very hard for the Kingdom, but I would like to remind you that all work and no rest will only cripple you later."

"Uh," came the tiny grunt from the King.

Sangsara frowned at him. She reached over and pulled his cheek. Avniel protested loudly and slapped at her hand, fixing her with a glare. "Get some rest," she restated.

"I heard you!"

"'Uh' is most certainly not an answer," she retorted. "I am serious! Your mother fell ill a lot because she worked so much. You must keep yourself healthy."

"Alright," Avniel said, exasperated. "I will rest soon. Let me just finish these papers up."

"Excellent," Sangsara said. "And I will stay right here with you to make sure you keep your word." Avniel rolled his eyes, but she saw him clench the pen hard between his fingers and rolled her eyes right back. She checked her nails for dirt in the mean time, glancing over every now and then. "Oh, my liege. Make sure you don't smudge the papers. It is a very inky pen."

"I know," Avniel said, annoyed.

"Well, it is very hard to tell from the amount of smudges on the paper," Sangsara said.

"If you're going to bug me so much over such menial details, then get out!" Avniel said, glaring.

Sangsara flicked his nose and he fell back in his chair, grumbling. She reached over and smooshed his cheeks together. "I'm just so sad! You are growing so fast! I have to find things to pick on you for." After a bit of struggling, Avniel let his cheeks be smooshed, grumbling and glaring still. She released him after a moment and ruffled his hair, smiling affectionately. "I really am proud of your improvement since your father."

She smiled when she caught a hint of red starting at Avniel's ears. "Whatever," he said, shrugging her off and continuing with his work.

Sangsara resisted the urge to coddle him and instead stood back up. She opened her mouth to say something, but snapped it shut when she felt a sting of energy from afar. She paced over to the window and looked outside. Nothing. But then there is was again. She focused in on it, hearing her name faintly until someone had grabbed her wrist.

"Sangsara?" Avniel said, releasing her quickly as she turned around. "Is—something wrong?"

She quickly relaxed her muscles and pulled on a tight smile. "Everything is fine. I just sensed a disturbance." She glanced towards the window quickly and then back to the King. "I will be back soon, my liege. I am going to check on it."

"Take some of the knights with you," Avniel said.

"No time," she said. "What if some cat burgler gets the crops? We have to store what we can." Avniel looked at her, with an expression that she had known only from Avniel's parents—concern. She smiled and pinched his cheeks. "Worry not, young one. I will be back in a while. I promise."

Avniel shook out of her grasp, glaring, but seeming to be pacified by this.

Sangsara wasted no time; the presence was already growing weaker. She lept through the window and into the branches of the trees below her, breaking them as she went down and then landing solidly on a lower one. She jumped down and continued on foot, tracking it through foliage and grapevines, tearing her way through tree roots that tried to drag her down. All the while, something kept prying in the back of her mind.

It was not possible for that man to be alive, whether or not they had a body to prove it. He was dead on the forest ground. But this kind of energy had only been present at any point around the castle when he was alive. Was it a copycat?

While pondering this thought, she heard the forest rustle, and then a figure leaped out towards her. Caught off guard, the side of her neck was sliced into, and blood spewed. She fell and pressed her hand hard against her neck, gritting her teeth. She dodged the next attack and made the attacker stumble over her outstretched leg. She reached for the sword on her back and drew it quickly to protect herself from the next blow, but she faltered due to not being able to use both hands. She was pushed and knocked back into a tree.

"Well, well, well. Look who kneels before me now."

Her eyes widened. "You're dead!" she shouted. It couldn't be. He was dead, she was sure of it! But sure enough, it was him. He stepped into the light, and Sangsara continued staring at him, not able to wrap her mind around the prospect of Dorian's walking corpse. "I identified your body!"

"And you're right Sangsara!" he shouted. "I am dead! But isn't it so wonderful? I was brought back to life, and now? I can't die!"

Sangsara winced when Dorian suddenly stabbed a knife into his neck and then flinched again when he tore it out and splatted her face with blood. She readied her sword. "I am shamed that the prior King chose you of all people to become Avniel's personal guard," she muttered, slicing at him, then realizing the error. He couldn't die? How was she supposed to rid Avniel of this pest?

She blocked, then attacked. And all of her attacks connected damn it! But Dorian—or whatever spell was placed on him—was resilient. Dorian only laughed and hacked away at her more, clipping the hand that held her sword and causing her to drop it. Her vision blurred from blood loss when she whipped her head towards the fallen weapon and made a wild jump for it. All this trouble because she wasn't able to block one stupid attack...

A blade was wrenched into her shoulder and she gasped, falling and laying flat on her belly in pain while Dorian slashed into her back with the dagger. He wasn't trying to kill her, at least not yet—

She choked and gasped when the tip was driven into her shoulder. So excruciating was the pain the tears came to her eyes and she let out a hoarse cry, crawling away with both hands now and letting her neck bleed freely. Dorian got off her, and for a moment, she thought he was going to flee. Then she thought bitterly, oh, wouldn't that have been nice.

Instead, he grabbed and yanked her shoulder, making her roll onto her back. "This is the end, Sangsara," he said.

The tip of the knife came down towards her throat. Her eyes widened and she shouted, flinging her hand forward and catching the knife in her hand—literally. She yelled and groaned at the pain of the knife impaling her hand. Gritting her teeth, she wrapped her hand around it, keeping Dorian from withdrawing it. She panted, then coughed and tasted iron.

Dorian looked at her, confused. "Why do you cling so much to this life that you hate?" he said. Upon seeing her own confused gaze, he laughed. "Oh, I always knew. You never wanted to be in this place. You didn't even want to exist. You existed because you had to. Or so I heard from Avniel's father. So what changed?"

She hacked and coughed, then gave a weak laugh of her own. She noticed her face felt wet. Was it raining? "Of course," she wheezed, "it's because I promised Avniel I would return shortly..."

Dorian huffed a sigh, looking bored with Sangsara's answer. In a swift motion, he stood and stomped down on Sangsara's stomach. She coughed and momentarily loosened her grip. The blade was ripped from her hand; Sangsara closed her eyes and screamed. "This is a promise you are going to break," Dorian said.

Sangsara opened her eyes, just long enough to see Dorian's maddened gaze as the knife went plunging tip-first into her throat. She choked a little, coughed, and then went slack, and she saw no more.

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Avniel tossed and turned in his bed, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. A memory—or more like a nightmare. Specifically the time when his father had shoved him into the pool with no prior experience of swimming. Sangsara pulled him out then, when he had stopped breathing, and performed a resuscitation. He probably would have drown if it had not been for her. She had disobeyed his father just to save him and was severely scolded later. With lashings.

He broke out of his sleep at last, panting. He sat up and sighed, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Sangsara," he called. It was weird, not hearing her voice first thing in the morning. Too weird... He looked around, still dazed from his dream and now confused. "Sangsara?"

She wasn't in his room. She had somehow always managed to pick the lock on his door in time for a breakfast in bed each morning, and Avniel had gotten used to it after some amount of years. He stood from his bed and walked to the door. He was just about to open it when he heard a knock. He flung the door open, nearly knocking himself over. "Sangsara?" he said.

Lester was standing outside his door, eyebrows raised. "Just me..." Lester said.

"Where is Sangsara?" Avniel said.

"How should I know?" Lester's reply was short and clipped. Avniel found himself not caring as much as he thought he would at the current moment.

Where would Sangsara be if not with Avniel? The kitchen?

He turned on his heels towards the kitchen. How long had it been since he had been down there? A while, it seemed. What was the cook's name? Ch-... James. He walked down, turning the heads of the kitchen staff as he did. "Where is James?" he asked. They pointed, and he went. "James?" Avniel tested.

The man turned around. He was a bigger, plumper man than most, probably because he spent all his time taste-testing. Avniel couldn't blame him. "I'm surprised you still remember my name," he said, smiling thoughtfully.

Avniel attempted a smile, but he thought it must have looked more ugly than he would like and stopped. "Has Sangsara been by?"

"No..." James said, cupping his chin. "It's odd. She hasn't missed a day in years. Do you know where she is?"

Avniel wanted to reply, 'Of course not, or I wouldn't be asking you.' He shook his head instead. "Let me know if you see her," he said.

He stopped in the knight's barracks next. They all stopped chattering as he came by.

Avniel looked around at them and cleared his throat. "Have any of you seen Sangsara?" he said, then felt the foolish need to excuse himself. "She was not at her post this morning."

Nobody replied right away, but then the captain of the guard said, "None of us have seen her. Shall we dispatch a few units to search?"

"Yes," Avniel replied right away. "Report back if you find anything."

With that he left. And he searched. Sangsara had left through the study balcony last night, so he went and stood outside of it, looking up, then around. He could see the broken branches in the tree that Sangsara had landed in. He followed the path he thought she might take, looking up, down, and all around in search for something that maybe she had left behind. Occasionally, he saw a faded footprint, but then nothing more, until he came across some peculiar bushes. It looked as if someone had fallen into them. He looked for other things, but didn't find anything else and sighed, slowly dragging his feet back to the castle. The guards would have heard if something had happened here, so it was probably someone just laying around.

The day passed and Avniel grew increasingly more worried. Every time the door opened, he had expected to see Sangsara standing there. It never was. He slept badly that night.

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A/N: I'm just... gonna go sit over in that corner over there.