This story is by Jeremiah Chersin and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The air still smells of ash. Shattered stone covers the blackened marble floor, barely visible in the torchlight. My legs tremble beneath me. They always tremble here, but that never stops me from coming. I am able to subdue the feeling elsewhere, but here it is raw, powerful, addicting, convicting. I fumble with the vial in my pocket, a relaxing agent made from the Yalisi plant. Enough to knock a man out.
Nita steps up beside me, leans her head against my shoulder. “So, you still plan to go through with this then?” she asks. My body tenses at her words.
“I miss her.” I say, kicking a small stone. A small piece of the roof that should have killed Mesrour, not… her. I grind my teeth together. “Can you not see that I have to do this?”
Nita places her hand over my heart and tilts her head back so that she looks into my eyes. She is still as beautiful as the first day I saw her, age has had no affect. “I know. Thalonis, I of all people can see the heaviness on your heart, but you can’t shed the weight of pain by adding guilt.”
I step back so that her head falls away from my shoulder. A fire kindles in my gut, grows and begins to rage. I could stop it, but I don’t want to. “This can’t be fixed your way.” I sweep my torch over the room. The light glints off the destruction of the Council chamber. The pain swells within me, it can’t be cut off, only appeased. “You can’t stop this,” I say turning on my heals, “so stop trying.” I leave Nita alone amid the Council chamber ruins.
Soon I will be free.
Two Ryatha guardsmen, wielding ceremonial pikes and dressed in the black and red livery of royalty, allow me entrance to Mesrour’s quarters. Lightstones, instead of torches, illuminate the room. Mesrour stands at his balcony overlooking the Cidron sea, shoulders slouched, glass of wine in hand. “Ah,” he says, turning, “my faithful adviser come to ferry me to the feet of the Council.”
I stand next to Mesrour. His breath reeks of alcohol. Mesrour the son of Tal the great, practically drunk before a Council meeting. I grind my teeth together to hold myself back from reaching out and choking the life out of him. Not now-not yet.
Mesrour is clean shaven with smooth dark skin; a man who hasn’t seen the elements of life as his people have. He has only seen extravagant parties and the bottoms of bottles. Tal was remembered as the great Orack, and high hope was held for his son to carry on the legacy. It was an ill placed hope. Tal was a man of honor and integrity, but those qualities were lost on Mesrour.
“You are the Orack of Ryatha, you sit at the feet of no one.” I say, taking the glass from Mesrour and dumping the wine into a Shade bush by the balcony door. I clench my hands, one held tight over the glass, the other balled into a fist. “Unless you fall at their feet in drunkenness.”
Mesrour smiles. “Well, that would make for a splendid story, wouldn’t it?”
“Hardly. The remaining Council members are convening in the lower chambers of Rygotha to discuss the insurgent uprising-and the possibility of another attempt on your life.” The words feel like blades against my throat. If I didn’t want the pleasure myself, I’d be more than obliging to let the people kill him. All but four of the Council died in the bombing. Even my beloved.
Mesrour laughs, “Let them come, they can’t kill me. I’m Mesrour, the… invincible,” he smiles at his own title, “they failed miserably the last time.”
My heart stops. Then starts again with a thunderous beat. I’m conscience of every article of clothing on me, like great weights upon my shoulders-the vial in my pocket, heavy against my leg.
“Be that as it may,” I say through gritted teeth, “there are others who do not feel the same way. You are the Orack, but the Council’s recommendations must still be taken into account. As well as my own counsel.” My advice has always been lost on Mesrour: a child of few principles.
“Fine. At this rate the Council won’t be around much longer anyway.”
“Good.” I nod and gesture towards the door, trying hard to conceal the tension within. Mesrour opens his chamber door with a regal motion, and exits. I follow him into the palace halls. My heart beats faster as the hour has come.
Firelight casts dancing shadows over the sitting room as I wait. Wait for the end. A cool breeze blows in from the open porch doors which overlook the Cidron sea. Those doors lead onto the porch where Nita and I would watch the moons, Anthor and Rodaan, rise in the night sky, as if born out of the sea. We would whisper in each-others ears of our great love. This was our home.
Sirens still ring in the night air, distant and mournful. I turn the pistol over and over in my hand, its hums and clicks barely noticeable over the muffled sirens. Its only a matter of time before guardsmen discover that I drugged Mesrour prior to the Council meeting. Only a matter of time before they come for me.
Mesrour is unconscious a few feet away from me, tied to a chair. His face shifts with the darkness, first innocent then malevolent. Two sides of the same coin. He still smells of alcohol. Another sign of Mesrour’s impudence. My teeth grind and my muscles quiver with tension. I consider shooting him now, but I can’t. Not until I say my piece. Not until he understands.
Nita sits on one of the lounge pillows next to me. She stares at Mesrour with solemn eyes. “Its still not too late, you know. You don’t have to kill him.”
I snort and run a hand through my graying hair. We were to grow old together, hair turning to the wizened whiteness of elders. “I’ve already kidnapped the Orack. Its too late now.”
“You can still leave. Run now before your fate is sealed.”
Mesrour groans and stirs, my pulse begins to race. Nita remains motionless. Mesrour examines the room with heavy eyes, his gaze coming to rest on me. I see an expression, fear or confusion, but it quickly vanishes, undoubtedly replaced by arrogance.
“So, I’m not dead after all,” Mesrour says, flexing against his restraints, “what a relief.”
“Not dead,” I say, smoothing my hair.
Mesrour watches me with pinched eyes, “An adviser, attacking the Orack.” His voice is calculated, confident. Heat prickles at the back of my neck. “I’ve never heard of that before. What for, I wonder?”
I tighten my grip on the pistol in my palm. I could shoot him now. I could…
Mesrour glances at the gun and sneers, “Are you going to shoot me?”
Yes. Maybe… I can. I will.
I take down a picture that hangs in prominence above the hearth. A picture of Nita. “Nita was a faithful servant of the Court,” my voice betrays the turmoil inside, “of your father and mother.” I work my eyes over every feature of her face. The strong edges of her jaw. Her vibrant green eyes. “And of you. She gave her life for Ryatha. For the Oracks. Where were you when that happened? What have you given in return?”
“I’m hardly responsible for her death.” Mesrour says. Heat pinches at my skin. I cover the distance between us in two strides, my fist connecting with his jaw and snapping his head to the side. Pain throbs through my knuckles. Every part of me feels like it might snap with tension.
“Are you not, though?” I say to Mesrour, massaging my knuckles, heat still flushing my skin. “You’ve made enemies of your constituents, you’ve thrown my advice to the wayside. The people hate you. They bombed the Council because of you, but you were too busy flirting with the chambermaids instead of looking to your people. I count that to your fault. I count her death to your fault.”
“This won’t free you,” Nita says softly. She stands behind Mesrour now, eyes pleading with me. Pleading with me to save this man’s life. How could she? “Pain isn’t a prison. But this will be.”
Pain is a prison. One I’ve been trapped in since her death. Mesrour is the key to that prison. He can release me.
Mesrour works his jaw and spits blood. “I’m the Orack. I can do whatever pleases me.”
“Its only an anchor,” she says, “cut the cord and be free.”
I ignore her.
I stand back from Mesrour and point my pistol at him, “Your a disgrace to the Orack legacy.”
“You’re not the judge of that,” Mesrour says.
“This will eat you from the inside,” Nita says, “this isn’t the way.” I’ve already been eaten from the inside. She should see that.
“This is the way.” I growl through gritted teeth. It has to be the way. life for life is how it must be. Mesrour is responsible for the death of what I care about most, so I’ll be the death of what he cares about most: himself.
“The fact that I’m here, talking to you now, is proof enough that you know this isn’t the only way. That this isn’t the right way.” Nita smiles, an almost imperceptible, pleading smile.
“Shut up!” I scream, focusing on Nita, “Shut up and let me finish this!” She can’t be right. How can letting Mesrour live be right?
Mesrour looks over his shoulder, his bloodied lips tilting up. “Who are you talking to? The fairy maids?”
“I can kill you right now, Mesrour,” I say through strained breaths and clench the pistol tighter, “does not even that make you think twice?”
“Your not going to kill me.” Says Mesrour, “Your my adviser, not a killer.”
I’m not a killer. But I can be.
“It’s finished,” Nita says, “this chapter is over. I’m gone but your still here. Don’t waste that gift.”
“It’s not a gift!” I fire the pistol. The marble pillar behind Nita’s head explodes into shards. My ears ring. “How would you know what she wanted?”
Nita shakes her head, “You know I do.”
Mesrour laughs, long and guttural. “Just put the gun down, Thalonis. Before you hurt yourself. Our physicians can have you sorted out in no time.”
“How is that a gift!” If it’s a gift, I don’t want it. I won’t take it.
Mesrour tilts his head, “We-”
Nita shakes her head. “Life, or the continuation of it, is always a gift. Dying for treason is a waste. Why waste it?”
My body shakes vehemently. Waste it? Mesrour wasted it already; destroyed it when he put himself before his people, when Nita died. The beating of my heart is like pounding waves against a cliff. I grip the pistol as hard as I can, and focus on Mesrour. “Why waste away in this pain any longer when I can appease it?” I struggle to keep my hands steady. Mesrour is the source of my pain. I will be free of him, of it.
Nita opens her mouth but I don’t let her speak. I pull the trigger. Once. Twice. Three times. Mesrour tips backward and crashes at Nita’s feet with three bullets in his chest. The space is filled with ringing. My breathing is heavy. The tension in my muscles uncoil and the pistol falls to the ground. Guilt isn’t given out for the death of the guilty. Nita searches me with her somber eyes.
I am free.