Most stories I’ve read began with escaping from dark into the light. I’m starting to forget why that was. I’m forgetting a lot. It’s slipping away. It feels as if my eyes have been plastered open, and all that lies before me is light.
Do all stories have to start with opening the eyes? I wanted to close mine. I wanted to shut out the light. No matter how hard I tried to close them, the light invaded, searing my mind. It’s all slipping away, and I don’t even know what “it” is.
In the distance, somewhere beyond this blinding light, I could hear noises. Screeching. Many voices. Yelling, and twisting metal. A loud crash. Then the lights were cut.
It was all gone, whatever “it” was. I don’t know where I am, nor how I got to this place. Darkness encroached from the corner of my eyes. It was taking over, stealing me from this hellish light.
And when my eyes were finally allowed to shut, the noise silenced for a moment. New sounds took their place, and slowly I felt every other sense coming back to life. Past hearing, the next to recover was feeling, and I wish it wasn’t. I felt a searing burn along my right arm, and another where my left foot was.
I yelled and screamed. I tried to thrash about, but I had no strength. When my voice went quiet, my throat unable to produce a sound, other voices took its place. I still could not see. Though I strained, my muscles would not obey, staying stagnant and frozen.
The pain was slowly subsiding, but enough remained to wish to return to the place of light. The burn of the light through my eyes didn’t compare to the pain I could feel now.
All I could do was take deep breaths. Every breath slowly brought strength back to me, what little I had at least. I focused on clearing my foggy mind. I still could not remember a thing beyond the light.
When I tried to, a pain wracked my head and my weak voice could only release a groan. It was then I felt something dig into my side and voices began to fill my ears.
A gruff one came first, a powerful baritone from a man right beside me, though I still could not see. “My lady, we have no time to spare on a peasant like him. He’s too far gone. You can see it in his eyes, his mind has left him. It would be best to put him out of his misery now."
Next, a sharp voice. The voice sounded so calm, and so aloof, yet with every word I felt a chill begin to crawl over my spine. It was a woman’s voice. “Silence Andrei. Let your ears think before you speak with your tongue.”
And so there was a brief silence, before the woman continued, “Can you hear those breaths? Do you not see his chest rise and fall so determinedly? He seeks life.”
Then the man replied briskly, “That may be true milady, but he will only be a burden. He is weak, and will take our food and our time. We don’t have the freedom to save every dying soul we come across. Your father’s last order to me was to get you to the Alliance Embassy safely. This man may even come to be an enemy! He is clearly a foreigner.”
With her next words, the woman’s voice effect only grew, causing me to unconsciously shiver. “Andrei, if an invalid poses a danger to my safety, then it should be your shame. If you cannot dispatch a cripple then you don’t deserve the title of an Imperial Knight. My father ordered you to escort me. His last order. Now, as the last Ice Queen of the Northern Empire, I order you to load this man into the wagon so we may continue.”
There was no dispute. Slowly, my vision was being filled with more than darkness. It was still very blurry, but I could see the large shape of the man standing beside me, his foot digging into my back. Beyond him was what looked to be a wagon where the woman’s voice came from.
Suddenly, I felt my whole body lurch as my vision spun. The movement elicited a sharp cry of pain from my throat. I felt myself lifted, and heard heavy footsteps before my body was made weightless again before impacting a solid surface. Quite painfully at that.
I could only groan, my voice hoarse and gone. My eyelids receded and came, and in these brief periods of distorted vision I could see someone sitting near me, a small body, staring back at me, silent. Before I could make out any more details, my consciousness slipped from me.
The Queen’s POV
Seeing that man’s body finally set reality to stone for me. The events of the past night weighed heavily on my mind. The sun was finally rising upon this bloody day. The day that would go down in history.
A night before I had been sitting with my family for dinner. It had been so quiet…
The Night Before...
I lay my head back for a moment, stretching my neck, straining to sit still in this uncomfortable dress my maids had forced me into. Looking around the long table, it seemed my brothers were having the same issue. My eldest brother had decided to have a staring contest with his plate to escape the tension.
The atmosphere had grown heavy, and we all shared its weight. My mother’s eyes were solemn, and her features were blank. She had already resigned herself to her fate. My father, at the head of the table, slowly brought his eye over each of us.
His giant hands lay folded in front of his face, his broad stature lending to the intimidating pressure his gaze brought. With only his one good eye he could bring a man to his knees with a glance. The Ruler of the Northern Empire. My father. It was hard to distinguish between the two.
Finally, his gaze settled on me, and unlike the other’s I stared back. His face revealed nothing. The creases of his forehead had grown, and the eyepatch he wore stretched into his thinning gray hairs.
The Emperor once thought to be immortal was running out of time.
He broke the silence with a grunt, raising his broad stature far over the table. “Gavrie, are you ready?”
He addressed this question to my eldest brother, who finally raised his gaze to meet my father’s. He nodded slowly, “Yes father, I’ve had the stablemaster ready my horse. I’ve gone over the plan many times.”
“Good, Fyodor, you will ride beside him.”
My younger, Fyodor, nodded silently. His hands shook. I barely noticed. I knew he was scared. It’d be strange if he wasn’t. I would not be the one riding into the hell to come, yet I too was scared.
“Kira, you will meet with Andrei at the stable’s, he knows what to do from there. Look after young Feliks.”
He nodded to me, not waiting for an answer, then to Feliks, my youngest sibling, and the fourth and final child of the One-eyed Emperor Aleksander. We exchanged a brief glance before my father began speaking again.
“The fate of our empire’s future depends on this night. Our people have given their lives time and time again to secure our future. It is time we return the favor.”
He said no more, rising from his seat and departing with his two closest Imperial Guards. As soon as the door shut and his heavy footsteps faded, the atmosphere finally thinned, and it seemed like the entire table let out the breath it was holding.
None of us had touched the food set before us. Not that it would be good to. We all were rushing to our deaths on this night. My eldest brother Gavrie took a deep breath and stood up next. He grasped Fyodor by the arm and addressed the rest of us, “It’s time to prepare. If all goes well, I shall see your faces at this very table in the morning.”
He mustered up a smile before dragging the silent Fyodor from the room. My mother reached out desperately, but didn’t rise from her seat. Her small form trembled, looking on the verge of shattering like a fragile vase.
I grasped Feliks’ hand beside me. It was cold and clammy. He clung onto mine desperately, as if fearing I would abandon him. Slowly, I rose and approached my mother’s chair.
“It will be alright, mother. Father is strong. Gavrie and Fyodor have lived up to their name as his sons. There is no one out there that can face them. Have faith.”
I laid a hand gently upon her shoulder, which she softly grasped before finally strengthening her resolve and standing. She no longer shook like a leaf in the wind, but rather stood tall with her shoulders back. She had never inherited the title of the Ice Queen due to her fragile condition, but she was strong nonetheless.
Her gaze turned to me before she smiled warmly and ushered me out, “You have your duties Kira. Carry yourself dutifully, my daughter.” Her eyes twinkled in the candlelight, as the moon showed itself out the grand palace window.
I bowed my head before I turned away and walked out. I didn’t dare look back. I wouldn’t be able to leave if I turned back now. What lay ahead of my heavy steps was a dangerous path. I had to shoulder the burden of mine and my brother’s lives for the sake of the empire.
I swiftly made my way through the palace, which was already deep in chaos. Servants of every kind rushed about, while guards shouted orders with grim faces. In the windows, I watched the entire city turn upside down. The glint of steel could be seen on every street. War beasts were being ushered through to the gates.
Ballistae on the walls were loaded, Within the wall’s, archers lined up behind arrow slits. Above, armored soldiers awaited the coming conflict on the battlements. The sounds of the city roared in defiance. In the distance, smoke could be seen intermittently, where the moon could not shine.
Averting my gaze, I tried to clear my mind. Young Feliks continued to grasp my hand, his nails digging into my skin. I said nothing. He had every right to be afraid. He was still too young to understand what was going on.
Having barely reached the age of ten, he was not yet fit for battle. Meanwhile, Fyodor was 17, and Gavrie had already reached 22. Both had undergone the rigorous training expected of one inheriting the Emperor’s blood.
Rushing down the final steps to the palace outdoors, I tore through crowds to make a way for Feliks and I. The citizens were already rushing to the last bastion of the city in fear, taking refuge within the palace walls. No guards stopped them. My father had ordered it so.
Horns blared over the city wall’s, and the first sounds of war finally breached into the night sky. Huge flaming bolts soared into the air, creating a scene of shooting stars. They disappeared in the distance.
Still I struggled to focus. My breaths became shallow as the air grew heavy once again. I was afraid. I clutched at my chest in hopes of stopping my fast-beating heart, but to no avail.
We had made it into the palace courtyard, the stables lying just outside the eastern wall. Fifty paces away, then thirty. Only a few more steps and we’d be where we needed to. Then, the night sky lit up.