The Broken Soul: Promises and War - Part Five
The pressure of the day was almost crushing, but it always was this way. Each day he faced some new, seemingly impossible challenge, and each day he found a way to conquer it. But it was that journey between the beginning and his success that was so terrible, because there was always the uncertainty that he wouldn’t be the perfect king for all of his citizens, that he couldn’t solve all of their problems.
He had to find a way to do so, however, because they looked up to and trusted him. They trusted him with their lives and their families, and a gift like that could not be taken lightly, even when it seemed more like a burden. He’d been born to this fate, and he had to play the cards he had in hand.
Still, it was tiring to be the poster of perfection, the image that everyone looked toward when in need of support. He couldn’t show his weaknesses. He had to hide his weariness when he grew tired. His anger, when ignited, had to be stifled. His tears and sorrow had to be swallowed and forgotten. Everything had to be glossed over with a smile and a display of utmost confidence.
There was no room for anything but that smile. Any other emotions and the expressions connected to them had to be stuffed into the darkest recesses of his soul and left abandoned. He couldn’t afford them.
Staring into his mirror, Cove stood in his bed chamber touching his Scarab necklace lightly. It had been forged of gold and encrusted with jewels, shaped into a creature with six legs. It was his symbol and his small token of support. From this single piece of jewelry he drew a small deal of confidence—the thing that he needed the most—by touching what had become known as his symbol of power.
His father’s had been a ruby Geb with three eyes, a symbol of an all-seeing, all-knowing king. His grandfather’s had been a Scarabug with two sets of wings, because he had been swift in all measures of his rulership. Cove had chosen the six-armed Scarab, because he preferred to think that he had a hand in every aspect of his kingdom and people.
Despite their symbols, each Draik had successfully ruled a peaceful life in the Draik’s Claw, their own slice of the Lost Desert.
Or, at least, Cove had until that day.
On that day, he had woken early in the morning, feeling slightly sick and a little disoriented. He’d been plagued with dreams of hatred and war, and it had disturbed him greatly. It had been as if, in his dreams, all of the darkest feelings that he’d kept suppressed had been unleashed, and they’d grown so strong during their years of oppression that saying they’d created havoc was an understatement.
Cove, however, had shaken off this foreboding feeling and had begun getting dressed for a long day of fixing all the woes and troubles of everyone around him. He’d tried to forget that this was the third consecutive week in which he’d woken with unbridled feelings of resentment and thoughts that he’d sworn he’d locked away after the first time they’d crossed his mind.
It had been disconcerting to wake to thoughts of how, weeks ago, he’d been momentarily annoyed with Giles, a peasant farmer that had come to see him about plants dying from lack of an irrigation system that he’d been trying to push onto Cove for months. Cove had—for a fleeting second—imagined telling Giles to shove off and go to Brightvale if he was looking for a proper climate to be a farmer. This was the Lost Desert, after all. Did he expect him to be able to make it rain as well?
Cove had been appalled by this nasty retort the moment he’d thought it and had promptly stuffed it away, only to have been disgruntled to remember it with such stunning clarity on that morning. It was memories like that that kept reoccurring to him in his defenseless hours of sleep, and some were nastier than the others. He’d become fitfully ashamed of himself.
He hadn’t been able to explain the sporadic surfacing of his less pleasing emotions. Not until that day when he’d stood, staring at himself in the mirror, touching his necklace. He’d been preparing a speech to be given from his balcony in a few hours, giving himself a little pep talk.
And then it had happened.
All at once he’d been blinded by an overpowering sense of disgust and hatred, so strong that it had been physically painful, causing him to double over, choking and coughing. That pain had been coupled with a pounding, ferocious drum in his head as it felt like all his blood rushed up toward his brain, surging hot and strong, compelling a thousand dark thoughts through his body. All of those thoughts being ones like that of Giles, the farmer.
“Fool!” a voice had hissed. “Pathetic fool!”
He’d started coughing up a silver liquid then, but he’d barely seen it. He could barely breathe for coughing, and the pain had focused itself around his stomach, just above his hip. He’d groped blindly at his scales there, thinking he’d suffered some sort of mortal wound, but he couldn’t feel anything but a white hot fire focused there.
And then, that fire had been too much, and he’d lost consciousness.
But only for a few minutes. He couldn’t have been out for very long before he’d slowly come back to the painful clarity of reality. He’d been on his back on the floor of his bed chamber. For a moment, he’d been a little uncertain as to whether or not he had been awake. His vision had been consumed by the light of a silvery image that seemed to waver, solidify, and waver again until, finally, it became whole.
The glow dimmed, and in its place was the distinct outline of a Draik. She’d been tall and slender—almost willowy—with the brightest green scales he had ever seen. He’d blinked several times before he’d realized that the white dots he’d been seeing were speckled all over her scales. The last things he’d noticed were her ruby red hair and the brilliancy of her green eyes that seemed to shine with a more powerful sense of life than he’d ever felt.
But who was she? And how had she gotten here?
Cove’s claw went to his side again, hovering over the spot just above his hip that had seemingly burst into flames only moments ago. Had it been her doing? Had he been poisoned?
“Who...? Who are you?” he managed.
The Draik smiled down at him, looking almost beautiful had the light in her eyes not been so positively wicked. She took a moment to answer him, flexing her claws as if it was the first time she’d ever extended her fingers. Her wonder at it was almost childlike, but it was impossible to believe—though he didn’t understand why—that there was something that innocent about her. It was almost innate feeling he had about her, as if his entire body was tuned to understand and translate evil when it was near him.
“Mahyla,” she’d said, finally.
Her voice was deeper, gruffer than he’d imagined, and much more angry than his. She smiled as she said it, as if it was the first time she was hearing her voice as well. He half-expected her to repeat herself just to hear it again.
“Mahyla?” he repeated dumbly. “Where...? How...? Are you... Are you me?”
It seemed like an absurd question, and he hadn’t meant to ask it, but all at once it made a horrible amount of sense. It seemed too true to his own ears, though those types of things were impossible. Cove Macduff didn’t believe in magic at the time, or the tremendous powers of the soul when it was so inclined. But something... something about this question made sense, and so he’d asked it.
But Mahyla had merely shook her head, that strangely wicked light sparking in her eyes, and that daunting smile still on her long snout.
“No,” she answered, her smile looking ironically soft. “I’m better.”
This answer sent a chill down his spine, so frosty that he felt the cold might never leave his bones. As he looked upon her, he thought he might never know a greater sense of evil. As if negative forces were simply magnetised to her. All he knew was that he wanted her gone, or he might never feel the warmth of happiness again.
He pushed to his feet, feeling weak and vulnerable on the floor, but that feeling hardly subsided as he stood eye-to-eye with her.
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you’d better leave,” he warned her.
She shook her head, shifting her red hair so that her curls bounced airily. Again, his feelings warred between being at ease with her and being repelled by her.
“I’m not the one that will be leaving,” she replied.
There was such conviction in her voice that it had almost been impossible to question. It made him feel slightly less sane.
Cove’s eyes narrowed. “What do you want?”
It took her hardly any time to respond, “Everything you have.”
Before he could stop himself, Cove's jaws went slack, and his mouth fell open. Who was this? What was this? No one had ever dared to say such a thing to his face, to challenge his leadership. What was going on? A world that had seemed so black and white before suddenly made no sense.
Then he snorted out a puff of smoke through his nostrils and gritted his teeth.
He was stubborn at first. “You can’t have anything of mine.”
She chuckled then, as if divulging in some private joke. He hadn’t known it then, but she’d truly had half of everything of his.
At first, he had fought with her, raged at her to be gone, but she’d only stood against his torrent of commands and listened with a smile, shaking her head in an almost chiding fashion. She’d let him rage, she’d let him wind himself. And then she’d kicked the foundations of his world out from under him and broken him down, piece by piece.
Though he couldn’t explain it, let alone hardly believe it, Mahyla had told him the story of how she’d come to be. She’d told him that she had existed, always, as a part of him. She’d been the part of his soul onto which he’d piled his darkest feelings, hiding them from the light of day. She was his resentment, his anger, his sorrow, and his bitterness, and she was also the most stubborn piece of his soul. With this will to be free of a creature that ignored his more radical emotions, she began to exist on her own. It was only a matter of time before she’d broken free completely.
And now here she was, and being what she was, she knew all of his secrets, all of his darkest thoughts. She knew everything that could bring him down, humiliate, and degrade him in the eyes of his citizens. And she would do exactly that.
Unless he left, right then and there, saying nothing to anyone and disappearing for good.
To be continued...